Lack of fuss is no doubt easier to come by on the 1954 Cleveland club than on many another. For one thing, the Indians rejoice in the strongest pitching staff in baseball. Bob Lemon, Early Wynn, Mike Garcia and Art Houtteman—Manager Lopez's big four—have averaged 17 victories apiece so far. Then there are the wondrous new rookie relief pitchers, Ray Narleski and Don Mossi, sporting some of the lowest earned-run averages in baseball—not to mention the veteran Hal Newhouser and Bobby Feller, who has won 11 games as a spot pitcher. But the lack of fuss around the Cleveland team is also a matter of philosophy.
At 46, Lopez has developed a firm belief that might be expressed: He manages best who manages least. Lopez is the exact opposite of the baseball leader who pretends to be a mastermind manipulating his players like a chess champion his pawns. "All the managers," he says in his unaffected voice and unaffected grammar, "know baseball pretty good. You're not going to outsmart anybody."
Lopez will occasionally order extra batting practice when his team is hitting poorly, but he has never yet been known to push or nag a star hitter who has fallen into a slump. He will advise the player as best he can if asked, but if the player says nothing he keeps silent also. "A slump is mostly a matter of having your timing go off," he says. "Then you start fighting yourself; then you lose your confidence. It's a simple thing but it can feed on itself, especially if somebody is hollering at you to do better. I like to let the boys alone and have them think for themselves." Even if he overhears another player talking to the man in the slump, and offering advice that he considers 100% wrong, he forces himself to hold his tongue. "The poor fellow has enough on his mind," he says, "without hearing two other guys argue what's wrong with him."
Lopez seldom calls a clubhouse meeting to discuss strategy or give his men a pep talk. "I attended hundreds of those clubhouse meetings as a player," he says, "and most of them were a waste of time." He does invariably call one at the beginning of the season and make an annual apology to the substitutes. With slow, rather painful elocution he explains that you can't have a good club with fewer than 25 men, that only nine can play at any given moment but that the others are important too, even down to the merest third-string infielder who will never break into the lineup barring a mass accident or an epidemic. "I really feel for those fellows," he has said of the bench warmers. "They're in the game because they like to play ball and I sure don't blame them. Hell, I always wanted to play too. That's why I was a catcher, where I could keep busy and handle the ball a lot."
WESTERNS FOR SLEEPLESSNESS
Lopez is an insomnia victim who often, after a night game, has to read until 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning before he can get to sleep. (His favorite fare is westerns and whodunits, but last month during the tensest part of the pennant race he was tackling the Morton Thompson bestseller, Not As a Stranger, recommended by his wife. His summary of the plot may be of interest to litterateurs: "There's this poor so-and-so that wants to be a doctor but he's got a miserable dad and his mother's a psycho case. I tell you he has a rough time of it.") Yet no Cleveland player need worry that Lopez will take advantage of his insomnia to go tiptoeing down hotel halls in search of late revelers or curfew violators. As a disciplinarian, Lopez has handed out only one fine to a player in nearly four full seasons, and this in a case where he had no choice. One of his young pitchers began to develop a great weakness for missing trains, an offense which by baseball custom calls for a jolting fine. The first time Lopez had the train held in the Cleveland suburbs until the pitcher arrived; the next time the pitcher missed it altogether. Even then, on the player's promise never to let it happen again, Lopez remitted half the fine. More cynical managers might laugh at this, but the fact is that the pitcher has never been late since.
After Lopez took over the Indians in 1951, following 18 years of big-league catching and three years as a highly successful manager in the Pittsburgh farm system at Indianapolis, he had a revealing encounter with Mike Garcia, the fiery Latin member of Cleveland's pitching staff. Garcia, after going nicely through the early innings and building up a big lead, was starting to take some lumps. Lopez walked out to the mound and Garcia, who hates perhaps even more than most pitchers to be sent to the showers, went mildly wild. "Now wait a minute," said Lopez in his most conciliatory tone. "I didn't come out here to take you out. I'm not doing you any harm at all. It's those big so-and-so's with the bats. Now let's take it easy and figure how we're going to pitch to this next guy."
'A REAL TOUGH JOB'
Even the umpires love Lopez. They know he will seldom give them any kind of an argument and almost never a frivolous one. Towards the end of August he was thrown out of an important game in Detroit, the second time this season an umpire had chased him. The next day a reporter, looking for some good angry quotes, asked him how he felt about it. Lopez looked thoughtfully into the distance and said, "Well, it's a tough job, that umpiring. Yes sir, a real tough job."
All Cleveland players know, on the other hand, that their manager is in his own quiet and secret way a great worrier and a hard loser. From spring training until the last game is played, he appears to be in a state of almost continual exhaustion. After a game he can sometimes hardly talk. "I don't know what it is," he once said in a rare outburst of self-analysis, "but it makes me more tired to sit in the cool of the dugout as a manager than it ever did to squat out there in the sun catching a double-header." He is an avid golfer in the wintertime when free from a manager's oppressions but never carries his clubs around and seldom gets in even nine holes during the ball season. "I wish I could play some golf because I know it would relax me," he says, "but I'm just too tired."