While Phillie Manager Dallas Green kiddingly calls Trillo's deliberation "an excellent example of mental preparation," others haven't been as charitable. They have accused Trillo of being a hot dog or, worse, indifferent to the game. Actually, Trillo says he pauses so he won't overthrow first base; the appearance of cool just goes along with it.
Trillo's lithe body and supple movements have prompted teammate Tim McCarver to call Manny "Nureyev," after the great ballet dancer. But as it is with any artist, Trillo's work has sometimes been misunderstood.
"If I tried to play like Pete Rose or one of the old-fashioned guys, I would look very bad," he says. "It would be the same thing if they tried to play like me. Rose's style is not mine."
Trillo, who signed his first professional contract with the Phillies in 1968, is popular among the players, who recognize him not only as a fine athlete but also as an easy mark at cards. One of his best friends on the team, Rightfielder Bake McBride, says, "He's a great ballplayer and quite a gentleman, but what a lousy cardplayer. He's my No. 1 fish." In an ongoing gin game the two play on road trips, McBride has opened up a 9-6 lead, but Trillo is sure he'll make a comeback. "I'm determined," he says.
Trillo has been that way since his youth in Caritito, Venezuela, where he learned to play baseball at age 6 under the eye of the town's sports instructor, Romulo Ortiz. Trillo soon became the teacher's pet. "On weekends Romulo and I would drive to Caracas to see a pro team play," Trillo says. "I would have to watch everything that went on so I could explain it to everyone back home."
That alertness was necessary later, when his team's regular catcher was hurt and Trillo—all 60 or so pounds of him—moved grudgingly from shortstop to fill in. He cried during his first game behind the plate, but he came to love the position and was still a catcher when he signed with the Phillies at age 17. It was Green, his first manager, at Huron, S. Dak., who moved him back to the infield. Trillo made it to the majors with Oakland five years later.
Unfortunately, this was too late for Trillo to keep a promise made to Ortiz. "When I was little I talked about playing in the majors," Trillo says. "I told him that when I did, I would buy him a new car for taking me around so much, but he died when I was in Class A."
Now Trillo is the teacher, conducting off-season clinics back home, where he is a national hero. He has played ball in Venezuela every winter since 1967, but the grind of year-round baseball limits him to 30 off-season games.
Trillo says his courtship of his wife, Maria, was "the best play I ever made," but in truth he barely qualifies for an assist. They met when Trillo returned home after the 1973 World Series. That was a difficult time for him personally, because he was the player whom Charlie Finley had tried to activate when the A's owner attempted to put Mike Andrews on the disabled list after Game 2, a controversial episode.
"All I wanted to do was get home," Trillo says, "but this girl came up to me in the Miami airport and started talking. Then she sat down behind me on the plane and kept talking. I've been listening ever since."