Yeager popped three outside fastballs to right. Walker winced. Then he said, "I can't push him more. Ballplayers have changed. On the old Tigers, nobody told you anything. Only Charlie Gehringer—he wasn't a coach but a player—said I should go the other way."
"You think this guy is working?" the pitcher said.
"I think so," Walker said. "But if I push him too hard—it's this new generation—he'll work against me. Against you."
Tom Lasorda, the third-base coach, discoursed on imposing team spirit. "You know, there are guys like Bill Russell, our shortstop, who will get down on their knees at parties and say, 'I'm a Dodger. I love the Dodgers.' " Lasorda gazed into a glass of soda water. "I love the Dodgers. Cut my own veins, I'll bleed Dodger blue."
Steve Garvey, the first baseman, offered his theory on California crowds. "Friday night they're mad. They've worked a long hard week. Make some errors early on a Friday night and the people at Dodger Stadium crucify you. Saturday is date night. Medium. Sunday is easy. You can play real bad, but the fathers are out here with their sons. Nobody boos." Garvey touched his chin. "Monday and Tuesday nights you get the people who know baseball."
Dusty Baker, an outfielder fairly fresh from Atlanta, discussed a difference between the Dodgers and the Braves. "In Atlanta, you hoped to win. Out here, it's expected."
I had come to Los Angeles to consider the Dodgers for three days. I stayed for five. On each of the first two nights they drew over 50,000 as they split a series with the Reds. Then the Braves flew in. Andy Messersmith had not begun to win, and the Braves were playing the dreariest baseball extant. Still, Dodger crowds hovered around 30,000. Friday night brought the Houston Astros and Cap Night. Buy a ticket and you get a baseball cap worth about $1 for free. Once again attendance soared over 50,000.
The Dodgers are contenders, as they have been through most of Alston's three generations of Los Angeles teams. They run well, play tight defense, gamble, hit to right, but it would be stretching things to claim that they look as strong as the Reds. Quite simply, the Dodgers, a good team, are this: the most valuable franchise in baseball.
The Dodgers win games. They make money. They are a rousing team to watch, and that all leads back to the 73-year-old man sitting in a glass-walled office and glowering at a distant figure costing him money behind a hose.
I don't think the Brooklyn Dodgers, a glorious and profitable franchise, should have been moved 18 seasons ago. A strong commissioner would have vetoed the transmigration as contrary to the best interests of baseball. The West then could have opened logically, with nascent franchises wriggling toward victory in San Francisco and L.A. I don't blame O'Malley, a graduate of Culver Military Academy and the University of Pennsylvania and once a hustling lawyer, for trying to move above the American middle class. Ford Frick, the commissioner in 1957, was all elocution and putty. Frick is a pleasant, pensioned fellow who these days likes to discuss the sport of curling. Sweep, sweep, Ford Frick. Walter O'Malley, conniving, serious baseball man, one word is owed to you and your Los Angeles success. Congratulations.