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Fanning's career as the Montreal general manager was marred by the trade of stars Ken Singleton and Mike Torrez to the Baltimore Orioles for a washed-up Dave McNally, Bill Kirkpatrick and Rich Coggins. Shortly thereafter, by mutual agreement, he became VP for player development. Dawson, Cromartie, Carter, Parrish, Raines and four of the Expos' top five starting pitchers came up through his system. One year Fanning participated in the Expos' Instructional League as a coach. Three years ago he managed Montreal's St. Petersburg club for a week. Little did he know the experience would come in handy.
When he got McHale's call on Sept. 7 Fanning, too, was surprised, but he accepted without hesitation. Williams also handled the news with class, saying, "The team could go all the way this year. I'm only disappointed I won't be there." McHale said, "Dick was much easier on us than we were on him. I hate to do that to a guy. I prefer the Japanese way. When a manager knows his days are numbered over there, he just stops showing up at the ball park."
Fanning flew into Philadelphia on Tuesday morning and met with the press at 12:30. He talked with his coaches at 1:15. Besides not knowing whether to lace his shoes above or below the flap, he didn't have a numbered uniform. "I did remember how to put a jockstrap on," he said. He met with the players en masse for 10 minutes. "I told them they had 27 tough and difficult days ahead, and that we could get through it by working together, playing hard and trying to win every game by hustling. It wasn't so much a peptalk as a statement of fact." A rain delay enabled him to talk to most of the players one-on-one. Then the Expos went out and stunk up Veterans Stadium. Fanning used 19 players, some of whose numbers seemed to indicate they had escaped from the Montreal Alouettes' offensive line.
On Wednesday night Fanning all but cleared his bench again, using 18 Expos. "He just needed to get his feet on the ground," says McHale. "He wanted to know his best lineup, and he just became terribly involved." The "terribly" was an unfortunate choice of words. In the eighth inning Wednesday, Fanning had Parrish bunting with two strikes, and Parrish fouled the ball off for a third strike. In the eighth, he kept the infield in when perhaps he shouldn't have, and the Phillies got an important single out of it. He also had Charlie Lea, who had a tender elbow, up and throwing in the bullpen several times before he was brought in. Lea gave up a three-run homer.
But Fanning patiently explained each of his moves to the press and to the players involved. "Dick would never have done that," said Parrish. Fanning doesn't quite know where to sit and stand in the dugout, and he can often be seen talking to the hitters in the on-deck circle. "Just like in the Instructional League," Dawson says. "I think it's kind of refreshing having a manager who tries to communicate with you," Rogers says.
When the team was boarding the flight to Chicago that night, Fanning asked someone, "First seat, right?" Before Friday's game, he held another clubhouse meeting, just to go over the Cubs. In four days he had held two more clubhouse meetings than anyone could remember Williams' holding in five years.
The Expos quickly fell behind 5-0 on Friday, and going into the eighth, they trailed 6-2. They scored twice in the eighth and would have got more had Dawson not hit into a bases-loaded double play with none out. In the meantime Fanning antsily strolled the dugout, at one point going out on the field to retrieve a ball that had strayed from the bullpen. Managers are not supposed to do that. In the ninth the Expos snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. With runners on first and third and no one out, Cromartie struck out against Willie Hernandez. On a 3-2 count the next batter, Raines, swung and missed while Wallace Johnson was running. Johnson was thrown out by Jody Davis to end the game. If you've never heard of Wallace Johnson (No. 62), you've probably never heard of Bryn Smith (No. 66) either. He pitched two very good innings. Fanning employed 21 players and gave Jerry Manuel his first start, at second base, since April 29 and Jerry White his first start, in right, since June 4, benching Scott and Cromartie, neither of whom took it very well.
"You could write a short story about that game," said Fanning.
There was much griping and snickering among the players about Fanning's gung-hoism and tactics. But Dawson said, "You can't blame the man for trying." Said Fryman, "The club was dead-ass until he started using all these players." Rogers said, "If we had won those games, everybody would be saying, 'He's really into the game.' When he loses, we'll be saying, 'Why doesn't he sit down?' Winning takes care of a lot of problems."
There were few problems on Saturday, when the Expos won 2-0. Rogers pitched valiantly until he aggravated his rib injury batting in the seventh, Fryman held the fort for one inning, and Reardon came on to throw his fastball for his fourth save as an Expo. On Sunday, Montreal had it easy, winning 10-6 on three RBIs apiece by Dawson and Parrish, to remain 2½ games behind St. Louis. There was no snickering when Fanning came around to pat his players on the back. Having conquered his shoelaces, he now has only a pennant race to worry about.