Sparky Anderson, speaking last week at one of those interminable Southern California celebrity luncheons, addressed himself to a question that has been vexing most of the civilized world for the better part of a century: What earthly good is a baseball manager?
"A baseball manager," the manager of the Cincinnati Reds said forthrightly, "is a necessary evil."
There are those—players mostly—who would cavil at the use of "necessary" in that postulate, but they would agree that old Sparky does have a point. It is just that he has not carried his reasoning to the logical extreme, for it seemed apparent during the tumultuous series between the Reds and the Dodgers last week that a baseball manager is a necessary evil because, if for no other reason, he is the purest reflection of the mood of his team. The tensions, the triumphs, the frustrations, the petty bickering—all shine through the seamed countenance of the man in charge.
The white-haired, long-faced Anderson actually looked to be the embodiment of the Reds of early August 1974—a craggy facescape, inscribed with hills and valleys, the stern jaw suggesting true grit. Even before the first game with Walter Alston's Dodgers, Anderson seemed like a man peering into an abyss.
"They got us on a cliff," he said, "and we're hanging on loosely. If we split these games [a mathematical impossibility in a three-game series; he evidently meant lose two of three], we'll have to win all six of the games we have left with them."
But like the perpetually imperiled Pauline, he could see hope in the hopelessness. "We're not out of it," he said, "but it will be an awfully hard grind if we lose here this week."
If Anderson looked like a Red, Alston was an artful Dodger. He has always appeared to be someone who is privy to classified information. The sly smile and the twinkling blue eyes in the old face seem always to say "Gotcha."
"I am more concerned about our injuries," said he, looking unconcerned, "than I am about winning these games."
In truth, Alston's team had been muddling through the past few weeks without star Pitchers Tommy John and Jim Brewer, and in this series alone three more prize athletes would be wounded. Still, the team had won seven straight games before the Reds came to town and was 6� games in front of Cincinnati in a National League West race that had settled down to the two of them. In the nine games already played between the teams before last week, the Dodgers had won eight and, even with ranks depleted, they were leading the league in just about every batting and pitching category. Alston was in the catbird seat.
Don Gullett, the only Reds pitcher who had beaten the Dodgers up to last week, was the starter in the nationally televised opener, a game that started at 5:15 p.m. Pacific Coast Time as an accommodation for Eastern audiences. The setting California sun cast a golden light on the brown and green hills and the tall bent palms that are the stunning backdrop for beautiful Dodger Stadium. The sun also made it virtually impossible for the players to see the ball through the first six innings.