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Each afternoon after practice in Dodgertown, the converted Air Force base in Vero Beach, Fla. where the Brooklyn Dodgers train, Manager Walter Alston and his coaches gather in their dressing room in an unintentional parody of the classic meeting of the board of directors. There, in various stages of dress and undress as they shed the flannels and spikes of the ball field for the sport shirt and slacks of the Florida vacationer, they talk over the problems of their business: not questions of production and sales and profits, but whether Stan Williams, a promising rookie pitcher, is getting his fast ball over; and whether Jim Gentile, a promising rookie first baseman, is still swinging too hard at the plate; and how Pee Wee Reese's back is, and which of the young infielders (one or more of whom may be called upon to fill in for the ailing Reese) look particularly good.
These are all specifics of the general problem facing this half-dressed board of directors. Last year they won the baseball championship of the world. This year they have to do it all over again to please their vociferous stockholders.
Last year their problems were pretty much the same as this year and probably every spring in baseball: work the veterans into shape, teach the rookies, develop a balanced pitching staff, choose the strongest combination of players for the season-long roster. There was, however, one notable difference. Last spring, "dissension" was the headline word out of Dodgertown. The Dodgers were quarreling, reports said. Morale was low, it was claimed. This year, that, at least, is different.
Last week, before the Dodgers flew out of Dodgertown to open their spring exhibition schedule with the Boston Red Sox in Miami (they lost a pair to the sprightly young Sox as Alston studied six shaky rookie pitchers with a patient endurance that during the regular season would be unthinkable), there was an intersquad game at Dodgertown, and in the intersquad game there was a misplay. An outfielder made a wobbly throw and the second baseman relayed it poorly to the plate. In the confusion a run scored. A mild but spirited dispute arose in the tiny press box over whether the error should be charged to the inflelder or the outfielder. Fresco Thompson, Dodger vice-president in charge that day of handling the public address system, listened to the argument and then in his best Edward R. Murrow voice stated dramatically, "The writers fail to see eye to eye! Dissension is rife in the press box!"
It was a cheerful if not particularly subtle way to remind the sportswriters that last spring about this time their copy seemed to consist almost entirely of stories about seething discontent within the Dodger squad: of Jackie Robinson boiling in anger at Walter Alston because the manager had kept him on the bench, of Alston losing his temper and snapping at both Robinson and the press, of Russ Meyer complaining of not being pitched often enough, of Roy Campanella's protesting because he had been placed eighth in the batting order and, finally, after the season got under way, the great explosion when Don Newcombe refused to pitch batting practice and Alston promptly suspended him.
From it all (and Fresco Thompson's point was, of course, that last year's dissension and bickering were a lot less important than the writers made it appear) Walter Alston, the beleaguered manager, emerged as unquestioned leader of the team, and the Dodgers emerged as unquestioned leaders of their league (22 victories in their first 24 games, a commanding lead they never relinquished, a final margin of victory of 13� games over the second-place Milwaukee Braves). Then, of course, they won a dramatic and fitting victory over the omnipotent New York Yankees in the World Series to climax the most satisfying season in Brooklyn Dodger history.
And now, this spring, the snail's on the thorn, God's in His heaven and all's right with the world and the Brooklyn Dodgers. Peace reigns. Everyone is happy, so much so that Fresco Thompson could have a little fun about it with the sportswriters.
The Dodgers are a loose, happy, hard-working, confident and very impressive ball club. In Vero Beach they'd start each day with a fast 10 minutes of calisthenics. Everyone took part- Roy Campanella, Most Valuable Player in the National League, and Mike Napoli, .269 with Elmira; Jackie Robinson, whom everyone has heard of, and Jasper Spears, who is well known in Cheraw, S.C. Everyone would end up running in place, first slowly and then more and more rapidly until, inevitably, some one would yell, "slide!"
Then they'd break up into two squads for batting practice. Walter Alston would stand behind the batting cage, studying each pitcher and batter. He watched intently as Johnny Podres pitched. Alston is reconciled to losing Podres in the draft and in none of his plans for the season does he include the brilliant young left-hander who achieved pitching maturity in the 1955 World Series. But nevertheless he watched him, perhaps hoping a little.
Dixie Howell, the old catcher, came near the cage, looked at Podres and then said to Alston, "He looks as though he's throwing bullets. Is he?" And Alston, agreeing, said, "He's throwing pretty good."