And yet, Bannister can sometimes be positively stoic in the face of adversity. In a game against Kansas City last year, he was hit in the throat by a batted ball in the first inning, but he hung in and pitched seven, bravely. At the start of this season, facing all sorts of questions, even innuendo—Can the millionaire lefthander win with a contender when it counts?—Bannister first suffered a strained abductor muscle and then endured an extraordinary run of bad luck: In his nine defeats before the All-Star break his teammates hit .160 for him, eking out 13 runs. Yet he never alibied or tried to shift the blame, thereby gaining. La Russa says, "tremendous respect" from the others—all the more an accomplishment in that Bannister keeps so to himself, seldom even acknowledging the most proximate clubhouse horseplay. Because the Chisox appear to be on the way to their first title in a generation, there is an increasing tendency to inquire again if Bannister can handle the pressure. That may be missing the point. Pressure should be quite easy to handle for someone so good—7-0 since the break—and as guarded as Bannister, especially wherever precision trumps passion.
At the start of spring training the betting was that Burns, Bannister, Hoyt and Dotson would be the top four in The Rotation, with Lamp or Koosman the fifth man. And into August there it was. But what kind of odds could you have gotten that the Pale Hose would be in first place, even though right through July old Koosman had more wins than both Burns and Bannister, and that these two, the glamour portsiders, would be far back of the righthanders?
Both Dotson and Hoyt were minor league throw-ins in major league deals, and neither quite looks the pitcher's part, Dotson resembling a rosy-cheeked preppie, Hoyt exhibiting considerable adiposity, even on a club that Koosman concedes is "mildly plump." Besides, Hoyt is a blue-collar pitcher and not complicated; his idea of pitching is to put it over the fringes of the plate and see what they can do with it. He calls his style "relaxed aggression."
Typical was a recent game against Cleveland, when Hoyt faced 25 batters, throwing strikes on the first pitch to 21 of them. Down 0 and 1, 0 and 2, the Indians hit a lot of warning-track flies. Long outs. "I found my fielders," Hoyt explained. Isn't it funny how it's the good pitchers who give up long outs and loud fouls? Then, when Hoyt got ahead 5-0 with two service breaks, he gave up a home run. "I was just playing around a little then," he explained. "Tell you the truth, I didn't think he could hit it out of here." Hoyt is the kind of pitcher who gives when it is tolerable to give. It's like Cakes, the Orioles' underwear model, who has allowed 293 homers over nearly 3,900 innings pitched but never once let a man take him for a grand slam.
However, unlike Cakes, Hoyt is not pretty. His ERA is fatter than it's supposed to be; also the rest of him. The Chisox have petitioned him to slim down. Dewey LaMarr—The Lammer—understands. "Well, I imagine they do that because it just don't look right," he opines, "a fat guy with a beard and long hair."
He's up to 240 now and is the ace of the staff at 15-10; worst year he ever had, he played at a svelte 165.
He was in the Yankee system then, and one day in spring training he just sidled over to Catfish in the outfield and asked him what advice he had to offer about pitching. "Well," Catfish ventured, "a man can make a living on the outside of the plate."
"I got it so now," the Lammer explains, "a lefthander can't even touch a pitch of mine outside the black. I mean, he can't even foul it off. The only trouble with me is, I haven't hit a man all year. And they know it. They stay in on me and hit some good pitches they oughtn't."
He shrugs and takes another swallow of lager, resembling all the more a Hals painting. Or Mickey Lolich. Whatever, the one thing everybody says about Hoyt is: LaMarr keeps you in the game. From the beginning of last season through the end of last week he had started 58 games and come away with 55 decisions—which figures out to one of the highest percentages in history for staying in the game. Did even old Iron Man Joe McGinnity keep you in the game like that, 58 for 55? Nowadays they have relievers, too. LaMarr, what's that mean exactly, you keep them in the game?
"Well, it means you don't give up a run till they give up a run."