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With a tear in his fountain pen, Bill Stewart, the umpire, quoted Birdie Tebbetts to Warren Giles, President of the National League: "You're a lousy umpire. You booted it in the World Series. You booted it in the All-Star game. You're just a lousy umpire."
"I wouldn't say a thing like that to an umpire," Tebbetts protested.
He could be mistaken about that. From time to time managers of baseball teams have been known to use language within earshot of umpires, and language is a tool which Tebbetts employs with facility. Yet when he says he did not say what Stewart says he said, it is difficult to believe he did, for the manager of the Reds is a freak among baseball men. He never says, "I was misquoted," unless he was.
When he was a member of the Boston Red Sox, the papers quoted his estimate of his playmates: "Moronic malcontents." He did not disown the happy phrase.
ANOTHER HAPPY PHRASE
When Charley Dressen, as manager of the Dodgers in 1951, publicly accused a Brooklyn pitcher of cowardice, Tebbetts made a speech. He said Dressen was not a nice man and that ball players all over had rejoiced that his Dodgers lost the pennant. Birdie did not back down.
This is Tebbetts' first season as Resident Djinn of a major league team, but he was marked for such an office by the time he got out of Providence College. It is a tenet of baseball faith that man thinks best from a squat. Hide his comely features behind an iron mask, sheathe bosom and shins in armor, put a big liver-shaped mitt on his left paw, and when he goes into a squat his brain gives off sparks. Machiavellian stratagem and weighty decisions become as child's play to him.
That is why so many used catchers, from Connie Mack to Al Lopez, have been elevated to godship and awarded a private dressing room for changing their underwear and holding press conferences. Tebbetts is not only a used catcher, but one with an intellect as sharp as a buccaneer's dirk.
Moreover he is a dedicated man, a monk in flannels pledged to baseball by holy vows. Baseball is all he cares about, all he thinks about. On winter evenings he sits at home staring vacantly into the fire, lips moving silently. "Well," his wife will say, "what inning are we in now?"