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If the New York Yankees fail to win their sixth straight American League pennant this fall, which at this moment looms as a distinct possibility, the man in the Yankee organization who will show the least outward concern is George Martin Weiss, the Bombers' portly, moon-faced general manager. Win or lose, already clicking in Weiss's mechanical baseball brain, where 41 years of fine diamond dust help grind the gears with awesome precision, is a whole revolving series of plots and schemes affecting not only next year's Yankees but Yankee teams for the next decade. Ancient pitchers, over-the-hill outfielders and end-of-the-road shortstops will, in Weiss's calculation, be removed from the works like so many tired and rusty bolts and screws. Their places will be taken by shiny new contrivances, many of them still on minor-league drafting boards.
The overhaul process actually began in Weiss's mind last spring. Perhaps only Weiss himself was aware of the true significance of his decision to sell Pitcher Vic Raschi, a 34-year-old holdout with one of the best winning percentages in baseball, to the St. Louis Cardinals for $80,000. Weiss announced that Vic was traded because of a general condition of "complacency," the team's as well as Vic's. Not complacency on the ball field, but complacency vis-a-vis the front office, which means Weiss.
AN OBJECT LESSON
Weiss had already made up his mind that either Raschi or Allie Reynolds, another top pitcher who was holding out, would go. Not only was he looking ahead to building a younger team, but an object lesson was needed, he felt, to bring eleven other Yankee holdouts around. As he now puts it, "We've made at least eight of our players independently wealthy and they were acting as if we had to get down on our hands and knees and beg them to play for us."
What Weiss may have forgotten was that these plush players helped make the Yankees independently wealthy too. No doubt, after five straight pennants, a few New York stars were taking life easier. Raschi was on ungentlemanly grounds himself when he refused to answer mail or get in touch with the Yankee office to discuss a 25% salary cut, but this did not excuse the fact that he was apprised of his sale by a photographer. The only word he ever had from the Yankee organization was a routine telegram telling him he was to report to St. Louis. For his years of brilliant pitching he received the kind regards of exactly no one. The cold, impersonal method in his treatment, or some unsentimental variation of it, is patently part of Weiss's success. It has also been reflected, many fans think, in Weiss's handling of the ticket problem, with what they consider an attitude of contempt shown them in contrast to the solicitude extended big executives and celebrities, who always seem to get the best seats in the house.
Possibly because he knows that the Yanks' almost unbelievable record of 14 pennants and 13 World Series victories in the 22 years of his regime never has been matched, Weiss remains unperturbed. Even more proudly, he can point to the consistent profits of the team, although in the last six years attendance has dropped off one million at the Stadium. For this Weiss is inclined to blame the newspapers, which give the Yankees the worst press of the three metropolitan teams. But he must also wonder why more baseball fans throughout the country are rooting for the Indians this fall than for any other team in years?possibly excepting the 1947 or 1949 Dodgers.
SUPREMACY IS BORING
The simple explanation is that Americans like underdogs, and supremacy bores them. But there's more to the "I hate the Yanks" campaign than resentment over a constant, if sometimes dull, winner. A man who knows Weiss well and has respect for his keen knowledge of baseball sums it up this way, "George is the most impersonal man I have ever known. Maybe he doesn't mean to be, maybe he just doesn't know how to be any different, but he simply has never realized that ballplayers are also personalities."
The late Grantland Rice, on the other hand, once described Weiss as a man who is "quiet, rather shy and happens to be able." The fact remains that Weiss, while he lets his hair down on occasion and is a most gracious host, is not an especially outgiving or vibrant person. He is stolid and efficient, all business during the waking hours. He operates on the perfectly sound principle that baseball teams go broke when they are so bad the fans won't come out to see them.
Weiss has often been compared to Branch Rickey, his only competitor as a baseball brain, who operates out of a vast and colorful mystique of his own and approaches baseball as if he were guided by a kind of private Bhagavad-Gita. Weiss, on the other hand, gives the impression that he's carrying an IBM machine around with him. Which may be why Rickey is imaginatively capable of introducing a Jackie Robinson to baseball and nursing him tenderly through the toughest dugouts, whereas last spring Weiss traded Vic Power, a top Negro outfield prospect, before Power even had a chance to wear his Yankee uniform. Many fans felt that Power should have been kept in view of the Yanks' tardiness (by contrast with the Dodgers and Giants) in bringing up Negro players. Weiss denies any bias, says he has tried in the past to obtain Negroes, and defends the trade by saying the Yanks needed pitching more than P(p)ower.