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For Stan Wasiak, manager of the Vero Beach Dodgers of the Class A Florida State League, now in his 36th season of filling out minor league lineup cards, the years seem to meld into one long bus ride. Oh, he has won 20 divisional titles and nine league championships, but a mention of 1958 doesn't recall Great Falls, Mont, and the Pioneer League so much as the advent of reclining seats. The 1972 season? El Paso won the Texas League title, but more important, it was the first full year of air-conditioning.
Last Thursday in Vero Beach, Wasiak passed a milestone that made all those bus trips worthwhile. His Dodgers beat West Palm Beach 11-2 for Wasiak's 2,497th career victory, one more than the minor league record held by Bob Coleman, who managed between 1919 and 1957. As Wasiak's wife, Barbara, hugged him after the game, the crowd of 1,518 stood and cheered. Wasiak got a champagne shampoo from his players, and his cap and lineup card were packed up for Cooperstown. Said Wasiak, "This is my finest hour."
Who knows how many hours Wasiak has spent with 17 clubs in 13 states and 14 leagues. To his occasional regret, the only big league city Wasiak ever managed in was Green Bay, and then he was in the wrong sport. The Dodgers, who brought him to L.A. to throw out the first ball at a 1978 game after he won his 2,000th, hail him as King of the Minors. It's a nice title, but he wouldn't have minded being an occasional Foot Soldier in the Majors.
Wasiak also holds the unofficial record for most buses. His current chariot is a 1969 GMC Model 4903, commonly known as the Buffalo. The Buffalo is working on its second odometer and third engine, and driver Bob (Bullet) Francis guesses it has traveled more than a million miles. After triple bypass surgery and a case of hepatitis, the 65-year-old Wasiak thinks he too has covered more than a million miles, and says that his face has worn out three bodies.
There isn't much that can happen on a baseball field that he hasn't seen, like the time the opposing manager bit a hole in his pitcher's ear. Wasiak had a team that made two triple plays in one game. He missed Sandy Koufax, who never played in the minors, but he did manage Drysdale. Unfortunately, it was John, not Don, and he had a 6.00 ERA at Class A Salem, Ore. in 1962.
Wasiak has watched eight no-hitters thrown for him, and as many thrown against him. "Just when you think he's getting old," says Barry Wohler, who on July 17 pitched the most recent one, "he'll mention something to you that was right there that you didn't see."
As a young player begins to realize how much he has yet to learn, Wasiak's quiet way of teaching makes it easy for him to adjust. Says 10-year major league veteran Jerry Royster, a Wasiak pupil, "He had a knack for making me feel special. That's important. The minor leagues aren't an easy time of your life."
They certainly weren't for Wasiak, whose career as an infielder sputtered in 1949 at Double A in Mobile, Ala. after six seasons. At spring training the following year, the 30-year-old Chicago native realized he would never play in the majors and took his first managing job.
On the Dodger ladder to the bigs, Valdosta, Ga. of the Class D Georgia-Florida League wasn't the last rung, but you couldn't get hurt jumping off. Playing second during his rookie managerial season (indeed, he was active until 1959), Wasiak had 91 RBIs, despite hitting only three homers, a statistic he has recited to his singles hitters for 35 years.
There followed a Greyhound schedule of stops: Class C Greenwood. Class B Newport News. (That's where Norfolk manager Mickey Owen charged Newport News pitcher Owen Maguire and bit a 20-stitch hole in his right ear.) Mobile. Valdosta again, this time in the Tigers' organization. Class C Great Falls. Class B Green Bay, under the Dodgers' aegis once more. Salem. For the White Sox, Class A Fox Cities and Lynchburg.