In consequence of all this, Manager Lou Boudreau is regarded in Kansas City as a wonder-worker who has played it by ear from day to day and improvised as skillfully as a trumpet player in a jam session. Similarly, Owner Arnold Johnson is looked upon as a kindly Daddy Warbucks who, like Little Orphan Annie's Daddy, is frequently absent from the scene but always there with his checkbook when an Enos Slaughter or a Vic Raschi turns up on the open market or the scouts flush a likely prospect in the back country. A standing Johnson order has been: "If he's worth it, pay the boy enough to make sure we get him." Following instructions, the scouts have signed 144 boys and assigned them to farm clubs.
The Athletics fans' loyalty in attendance was just another example of their adherence to the Kansas City code which is that if you call a man your friend, you don't quit on him when the going is tough. Following the code, 5,000 fans were at the airport to cheer the team after a disastrous road trip; they turned out in force again the day after the A's suffered one of the most catastrophic defeats in baseball history: a 29-6 shellacking by Chicago. This particular demonstration of faith so inspired Alex Kellner that he pitched a shutout against the White Sox.
In this atmosphere, a number of players have undergone startling transformations. Vic Power, a .255 hitter in Philadelphia and a rather listless performer generally, has hit well over .300 all season and, in the opinion of Boudreau, is the best first baseman in the league. Elmer Valo, for years an unsensational hitter, has developed into a dangerous man in the clutch and has wound up hitting in the neighborhood of .360. Slaughter has sparked the team with his enthusiasm and performance. Up and down the line, oldsters and youngsters have outdone themselves—even if they didn't have a lot to outdo.
Do they dream now of first division in Kansas City? Not if the ball club's officials can help it. The fans are reminded that first division is still years away. That's probably O.K. with the fans because, as they say in K.C., what's a few years among friends?
GEESE AT THE RACES
Strange are the tales told by the horse players and weird and awesome are the things that will happen around a track, often unbeknownst to the mob at large. Like a fellow will think he has torn up a winning ticket and is about to blow his brains out when he stops to lift a little old lady up to the $2 window and then, after this act of charity, will find the winning ticket stuck in his hatband, it being the Chinese laundryman's ticket he tore up and threw away. As the song says, who can explain it, who can tell you why?
Who, take an example, can explain the geese at Centennial Race Track, the track in Denver? When it first opened in 1950, these geese flew in from Canada and took a gander, so to speak, at the track and settled down on the infield. There were about 75 of them. They waddled around, casing the joint, then eased on over to the starting gate and looked over the horses. Never went out on the track, just looked around, honking among themselves. Between races, people would notice them and laugh and make remarks and the track brass, seeing a free attraction, passed the word that some whole wheat and cracked corn were to be passed out to the geese, what did it cost?
So the geese go for it and stay all through the meeting, watching each race like they had money on it, but never getting in the way. Every afternoon after the last race, they honk it up and fly off to this lake out of town. Next day they're back for the first race and stay right through the last one. Finally, on the last day of the meeting, everybody began wondering what they would do now. Would they hang around after the track shut down? Not on your life. Immediately after the racing season, they took off, wheeled into the V-formation and headed for the Deep South.
Next year they were back for the first day of the meeting, stayed through until the last race on the last day, took off and headed south. And it's been the same story every year since. Only this season, there were about 200 of them on the infield. Same thing: show up the first day, take off after the last race the last day. Ask Ivan Thomas, the track's general manager; ask Lanny Leighninger, the official state steward. Ask anybody that follows the horses in Denver. Every one of them will tell you the same thing.
One guy says the geese come back because the track feeds them. Another guy says, "So how do they know when it's opening day and when it's closing day?" Another character claims it's the result of the hydrogen bomb tests, the atmosphere is changing and geese are getting smarter than people. It figures when you stop to think about it. Here are these honkers getting free food, making no sucker bets, and then flying south and probably working the same dodge at the Florida tracks. Dog tracks. The flamingos have got the concession at Hialeah.