The next day I carried the rule book to home plate. I read the rule off and then I said, "Now I am going to explain to you what this rule means." Very carefully, I ripped the page out, tore it into little pieces and threw the pieces into the air. That was my explanation. "In fact," I said, "this whole book doesn't mean a damn thing." I tore it up and let it all go flying.
When I left the Cubs in July 1972, I was sure my baseball career was over. A month later my wife and I were lying in bed, with the television set on, planning our itinerary for a trip through the Far East. We had our passports and we had taken our shots. The phone rang, and it was Spec Richardson, an old friend. "Come on," he said. "You're not going to retire, are you? I want you to manage my ball club." Could I get on a plane and be there the next morning?
I told him I'd call him back. Then I looked at Lynne. " Seoul... Honolulu... Tokyo... Bangkok... Singapore...Houston?" she said.
If Houston had been the kind of club I had taken over at Chicago, a second-division team in need of rebuilding, I wouldn't even have considered it. But it was a good club. The Astros had made some good trades the previous winter and had been favorites to win their division. I asked myself only one question: Can I win with this club next year? My answer was yes. They were a solid ball club, it seemed to me, and they had the best young player in baseball, Cesar Cedeno.
I went down to Houston in August and told the players that I was just going to sit there and make notes for the final four or five weeks and try to figure out why the club hadn't done better. Never opened my mouth. We finished second, which was where they were when I got there, but when it came time to vote their World Series shares, they gave me a full share and talked about cutting out Harry Walker, the manager I'd succeeded. You have to communicate, but Walker apparently had overcommunicated. Yakking away at them all the time. I had to warn them that the commissioner undoubtedly wouldn't approve the Walker deal. I begged them to change their minds. They voted him a half share.
The next year, I decided I was going to do something I had never done before. I would be one of the boys. A pal. A buddy. The times had changed, and you had to change with them. I was going to do it their way. I'd play cards with them for half an hour before we went out, spin stories, listen to theirs. I was always there to be communicated with. They could rib me, call me anything. I had one of the best spring training camps I ever had, and by the time the season started I had communicated away all my authority. "One of the boys" means they are going to walk all over you. Give them an inch means they are going to take a yard.
I tried to keep a bandage across my lips. When a player fouled up, I'd go down in the little room behind the dugout, light a cigarette and mumble to myself. Didn't do a bit of good. The guy's roommate would be sitting there and he'd tell him I was mumbling about him.
Not that they were bad kids taken as individuals. Some of them were great. Jimmy Wynn. Lee May. Doug Rader. The only one who was real trouble on the Houston club was a pitcher, Jerry Reuss. As good an arm as you'd want to see. All his trouble was in his head. If you asked anybody on the Houston club what was wrong with Reuss, they'd have told you, "Well, there's not too much wrong with him. He's just a little flaky." Half the time, his wife would take the road trips with him, traveling from town to town by commercial plane. Any trip she didn't take with us, there he'd be, two or three days before the trip was over, telling me he wanted to go home. "It's my wife, she's going to the hospital to be operated on."
Maybe once or twice he finished a road trip with me, and if his wife ever was operated on I never heard about it.
Gratitude? Hell, no. He was always mad at me. I gave him the ball and let him pitch. He won 16 games for me, more than he ever had won anywhere in his life. Why shouldn't he be mad at me?