Oliver is also a hard worker. "You won't see any other centerfielder shag flies as much as he does," says Pirate Announcer Nellie King. On a team of spotty fielders, Oliver is consistently good. "And when everybody was feeling sorry for the Pirates for not having a free day between June 5 and the All-Star break, Al said, 'That's great. When you see pitching every day, that's when you hit,' " King adds.
A different attitude toward time off is held by Ellis, who is working on a book entitled Stay Up and who lately has been pitching well after an early-season slump that left him with a 2-3 record. "A ballplayer has fewer days off than the average working man," Ellis says. "Did you know that? I worked it out. I nearly took off to Florida the other day to stay between starts. The only reason I'm playing anyway is to keep in shape, and for my momma and my baby. So my momma can talk and my baby can talk."
Ellis, who shakes with people left-handed in order to avoid any injury to his pitching hand, continues to create controversy without trying. "Things just arise," he says. "They had a big story in Pittsburgh quoting me saying the people aren't coming out to see us because so many of us are black. I been saying that for eight years."
Nonetheless, Ellis' emotional keel seems even. He remains at peace with baseball by enjoying such minor aspects of the game as the opportunity to shout at confused fans in a convincing vendor's voice, "Hey, get your scorecards! Score-cards here! Popcorn!"
Pirate pitching tends to be looked upon as secondary to their hitting, and the pitchers do not seem to enjoy being asked, "Isn't it nice to pitch on a team that hits so well?"
"I'd like to make a living pitching against our hitters," says Ellis. "I'd throw in the dirt, like the Dodgers' Don Sutton does to 'em. Keep throwing in the dirt, and they'll keep swinging. Of course, then one of 'em will hit it, too."
In fact, the Pittsburgh earned run average (3.10) so far this year is only a hair above that of the Padres and Dodgers, who are one-two in the league. Jerry Reuss, 9-6 with a 2.31 ERA, has been the ace. In the off-season he had his keel evened out by Arthur Ellen, the same L.A. hypnotist who eased the mind of Sutton last year. Whenever he begins to press, instead of just doing his best from one pitch to another, Reuss is supposed to push his thumbtip and fingertip together. He has not had to do that since early in the season. "The guy just told me, 'You need to relax. So do a lot of other people. The only way you're different is that you admit it.' I don't know how much credit to give the guy, but I've had good confidence all year."
No greater confidence than young Candelaria has shown in running his record to 3 and 1 in five starts. He is not brash, but when he first walked into the Pirate dressing room he acted as if he had been there all his life. Candelaria throws two different fastballs and three different curves with amazing control and sense of mixology for one so young. He grew up in Brooklyn. When he was three years old, his father managed the baseball team that represented Friendly Tavern in Central Park. He remembers with pleasure going with his father to those games. Then his parents separated, and his father went back to Puerto Rico.
"That helped," he says. "I don't mean it helped me in the long run, but it made me more independent. I started throwing curves when I was eight. When I was 14, people started telling me I would hurt my arm throwing them, but I figured I'd done whatever damage I was going to do. Then when I was 16, people started making me pitch too much, wearing me out, and I quit to play basketball. I'd already talked to the big-league scouts."
Sure enough, when he graduated from high school they drafted him on the basis of what they had seen three years before. Now, two years later, he is helping the Pirates even-keel haul the National League.