"He told me," said Tanner, recalling the colloquy, "that his proudest moment in baseball was when I was named manager of the year and that he'd leave before he'd hurt me. That's the kind of person he is." Tanner said his response to this unthinkable proposal was, "You're never gonna leave, kid. My shoulders are broad. Nobody's gonna hurt you. You can play for me as long as you want to."
Allen's public utterances since the Grimsley episode have been about as frequent as Spiro Agnew's. His business manager, Mel Leshinsky, even advised this publication that Allen was obliged to keep mum because of a commitment to a publishing company that is putting out his biography. And last Friday, Allen wagged his 40-ounce bat like some massive extension of his forefinger in the face of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED'S Heinz Kluetmeier to emphasize his reluctance to be photographed. Any more pictures, Allen told the photographer, "and I'll send your camera back in pieces." He did, however, speak at greater length, if with no more wisdom, to
Chicago Daily News Columnist Dave Nightingale the same day.
"Look, buddy," Nightingale quoted Allen as saying, "you gotta understand. I just don't care anymore. I've had it. I'm just going to do what I'm told. This is just another job. That's the way I feel."
Tanner dismissed this ominous outburst as yet another manifestation of Allen's extraordinary sensitivity. "He's been hurt a lot by what people have been saying about him," said Tanner. "I told him I wouldn't let them hurt him anymore, if I could possibly help it. All he has to do for me is play ball and forget about everything else. I'll tell you one thing, he doesn't just go through the motions when he's out there. Between those white lines, nobody plays any harder than Dick Allen."
Tanner's office walls are decorated with such inspirational messages as, "There are few, if any, jobs in which ability alone is sufficient. Needed also are loyalty, sincerity, enthusiasm and team play." He believes in such things. And yet of all major league managers, he is least likely to impose a philosophy of life on his charges. Tanner is a pleasant-looking, relentlessly affable man of 44, only a dozen years older than Allen and the willing bearer of his burdens. He may be baseball's first genuinely modern manager in that he believes responsibility must come from within. He has infinite faith that Allen will meet his responsibilities. And so will the others.
"I don't have one rule for 25 players," he said last weekend, puffing thoughtfully on an immense black cigar, "I have 25 rules. I think communication is more important than regimentation. You don't treat a fellow of 30 the way you treat one who is 19 or 20. I remember when I was with the old Milwaukee Braves, I saw a 34-year-old Warren Spahn running up to his room just to beat curfew. Warren Spahn, mind you. Why, a man like that at least ought to be allowed to walk.
"I love managing. I love putting the uniform on. I love it when a young player comes along or when somebody like Bill Melton wins a home-run championship. I'm interested in my players not just as athletes, but as men. And I'll tell you, Dick Allen is one helluva man."
Tanner's hometown of New Castle, Pa. is a short distance from Wampum, where Allen was born and reared. Tanner knows the Allen family. And he obviously knows Allen better than anyone else has been permitted to in recent months.
"He has played for me hurt," said Tanner. "The other night, when the temperature was down in the low 40s, his right hand, the one he hurt pushing a car a few years ago, was completely numb. His leg pains him, too, in weather like that. But with one hand and one leg, Dick Allen is better than anyone. He has a magnetism—like Clark Gable, say, or Marilyn Monroe. He's above the ordinary. But he's a quiet, sensitive guy. And the other players really love him."
This observation seems somehow to be fairly accurate.