By and large the athlete's wife could give Miss America a run for her money, and why not? An athlete gets around, takes his pick. His wife is usually the sharpest, prettiest girl in her crowd. She is his high school or college sweetheart, or a homecoming queen, a stewardess, a registered nurse, a schoolteacher. She is almost never the girl who hangs around arenas and ball parks. The sports wife is fiercely independent—a quality that seems more innate than acquired. Her ego is highly developed. She does not take kindly to cages. "A clinging vine does not survive," said one wife. She has a problem: establishing an identity in a spotlight that seeks out only him. Another problem: she must actively work at handling the strain of a playoff, a World Series, a Super Bowl or the sudden screech of tires at Indy. Otherwise, being married to an athlete is much like being married to anyone else: squabbles, adjustments, the birth of babies, the marking of time—the agonies a bit more exquisite, perhaps, because he marches to a louder drummer.... If she is smart, the athlete's wife develops a sense of humor.
Diane Sadecki's husband, Ray, likes to tell about the time he was to be demoted to the Cardinals' Atlanta farm team. "I went home and told my wife, 'I've got bad news for you. We're being sent down to the minors.' Diane gives me a look, and says, 'Oh, no. I married a major-leaguer. You got sent down. I'm staying here.' "
What I've been reading and hearing all winter is that the Giants don't want me. I think I'm in my prime.
—HAL LANIER, 1970
Three years ago, in December of 1969 to be exact, Nancy Lanier, wife of the then San Francisco Giant shortstop, Hal Lanier, telephoned some of the other baseball wives in the Bay Area. Have you heard? the conversation began each time. Have you heard that Diane Sadecki has been traded to the Mets? In 1972, by her own account, Nancy got traded to the Yankees. Well, obviously, the wives get traded too, along with babies, the washing machine, stereos and all the other stuff that will make a house a home—somewhere.
Tall and shapely, Nancy's long fingers curled around a vodka martini at the bar of a restaurant called Shadows in San Mateo, Calif. "We knew for about two years that it was going to come sometime," she said. "It was like standing around waiting for the ax to fall. You know it's going to drop, but you don't know when. Don't ever let a player tell you that he's perfectly happy and on top of things, and then to his astonishment gets traded."
Hal Lanier had spent his entire career with the Giants. Most of the players called him Maxie after his father. Pitcher Max Lanier. Willie Mays started that when Hal was 10 years old.
"This was home to Hal, security," said Nancy. "His ego was involved. What hurt him most was leaving his friends. I felt the hurt he was feeling. But after you get over the initial shock, you dry your tears and say, 'Hey, this is great! Now, I've got a whole new start, a new chance, a great ball club to play for.' Then you start making plans, and this whole thing takes place in 48 hours. You don't have time to sit around licking your wounds. You lick them once and get going." But a licked wound is not necessarily a healed wound. Of course, anyone with intelligence understands the owner's point of view, Nancy conceded. "It would be like someone who had a cattle ranch and made a pet of all of his cows. He wouldn't want to send them to market, would he? So the owner remains detached."
The waiter bustled over. "Well, Mrs. Lanier," he said. "I guess we can't use that old joke anymore, can we? You know, the one that goes, the Giants aren't drinking beer anymore, they've lost their openers." He laughed and retreated.
Nancy shook her head. "Obviously, he doesn't know I've been traded."
They gripe like Army drifters, the girls do, but few would deny the compensations: the nonregimentation, the peculiar mobility, the excitement of homecomings, long winter or summer holidays together, depending upon the sport. But glamorous? About as glamorous as being married to a traveling salesman, said one wife. He's gone and before he gets back the plumbing goes haywire, the car breaks down, she's standing in grass up to her kneecaps.