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Still A Grand Old Game
Roger Kahn
August 16, 1976
In the first of a three-part pilgrimage, the author of "The Boys of Summer" finds baseball retains all its charm, whether played in suburbia, in the Ozarks or at Chavez Ravine. It fails only when its overseers fail it
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August 16, 1976

Still A Grand Old Game

In the first of a three-part pilgrimage, the author of "The Boys of Summer" finds baseball retains all its charm, whether played in suburbia, in the Ozarks or at Chavez Ravine. It fails only when its overseers fail it

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O'Malley and I go back four decades, not only to a single borough, but to a single neighborhood and a single private school. "You know," O'Malley said, mingling sentiment and blarney, "I take pride in being the man who handed you a diploma when you graduated from Froebel Academy. You certainly looked at things more positively then."

Like Joseph Kennedy or F.D.R., O'Malley is an indefatigable one-upman. Like them he is a master of his trade. That trade is major league baseball.

"You want to know about our success out here," O'Malley said. "First, we're not a syndicate. The Dodgers are a family corporation. Second, we don't have absentee ownership. Third, the chairman of the board, with whom you're sitting and who isn't getting any younger, comes to work at 8:30 on the morning after a night game. When the board chairman shows up that early, the rest of the staff tends to do the same."

O'Malley approaches me with suspicion because I write, as I approach him carefully because he criticizes. Still, Fred Claire, the Dodger vice-president for public relations, set up a schedule of interviews that taxed my ability to assimilate and caused one cassette recorder to expire.

Al Campanis, the vice-president of player personnel, opened a drawer and showed me his private treasury. Fourteen transcriptions of Branch Rickey on baseball. No one studied baseball more passionately than Rickey, and every Dodger employee now hears, directly or indirectly, from the source.

"We wouldn't want this stuff to get around," Campanis said. Then, with a Byzantine flourish, he showed me some extrapolations.

"Thou shalt not steal," Rickey said. "I mean defensively. On offense, indeed thou shalt steal and thou must."

Amid such platitudes lies baseball gold. According to Rickey, the change of pace is a magnificent pitch. Instruct young pitchers in the art of changing speeds. But first let them master the fastball and control. Teach changing speeds in Double A or Triple A. On tape Rickey suggests that they will have gained confidence and sophistication at that level. Look for ballplayers who run and hit with power. Neither speed nor distance hitting can be taught. Consider the present and, simultaneously, plan for the future. Luck is the residue of design. Once Rickey assembled his staff and cried out in the voice of Job, "I stand on a cliff. On the edge of an abyss. I lose my footing. I stumble toward the yawning gates of hell. One man can save me. Only one. I ask each of you, who is that man?" This meant the Dodger bullpen was uncertain and Rickey wanted a consensus on the best minor league reliever to call up. His name was Phil Haugstad. He won none and lost one.

In the dugout Walter Alston reviewed his 22 years of Dodger managing. "We've had three eras out West," he said. " Carl Furillo, Duke Snider and the rest were past their prime when they got to Los Angeles. Wally Moon helped the club. Next, there was a fast team. It had fine pitching with Sandy Koufax, whose perfectionism I admire. Now this good team—Steve Garvey, Ron Cey and Davey Lopes. How long will I keep managing? It's always been a one-year contract. I wouldn't stay anyplace where I wasn't wanted. I can teach school, you know. Used to do that in Ohio. But I'll make my decision next October. I make it every October. Meanwhile, I have a delightful job."

Dixie Walker, the batting coach, instructed Steve Yeager, a good young catcher, with side comments to a relief pitcher and me. As a batting-practice pitcher threw, Walker chattered caressingly: "Think opposite field, Steve. Think other way. They're going to give you outside sliders, Steve. No one can pull them. Don't worry about the other, the inside stuff. Your hands are so quick, you'll pull everything there, the way Babe Ruth did. I played with Ruth."

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