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"I don't know if I am a .330 hitter," he said calmly, and the implication was clear that he felt that his hitting slump was probably a leveling off process, working in accordance with the immutable laws of chance, and that an average of .306 or so was nothing that a second-year man in the major leagues need be ashamed of. He seemed mildly disturbed that others should blame his hitting decline on his personality.
"Lane talked to me," Boyer said. "He's talked about drive and aggressiveness. I don't think I really know what he means. I know that I try, that I give everything I have. I don't loaf. I know that all my life people have been saying that to me, that I don't look as if I'm trying. I guess I don't look as if I'm putting out. But I am.
"I don't think hustle is something you can see all the time. Like Enos Slaughter. Everybody talks about the way he runs in and off the field between innings. That's the least important part of Slaughter's hustle. The thing that counts is the way he runs on the bases and in the outfield. That's what makes him a hustling ballplayer, not the way he runs off the field.
"Take Musial. I heard about him for years and when I sit next to him on the bench I know that he wants to win in the worst way. He hustles. His legs aren't so good now as they were, but he used to be going for the extra base all the time. But you didn't see him breaking his back running in off the field. Or Alvin Dark. Anyone will tell you Dark's a hustling ballplayer. Or Robinson. I don't believe there's anyone who hustles more than Robinson does. And he walks off the field between innings."
Boyer insists that he hustles, and anyone who has watched him streak back at an angle into left field foul territory after a shallow foul fly understands that he does. But perhaps it's true, too, that he does not have that innate compulsion to succeed, to win, at all costs.
BETTER THAN MICKEY
Boyer was born in 1931 in Liberty, Mo., which is near Kansas City, but his home town—that is, the town he really grew up in—is Alba, a small place not too far outside of Joplin, in southwestern Missouri. He had six brothers (and five sisters) and across the street from his home the town was thoughtful enough to build a ball park. The Boyer brothers and the boys of three neighboring families took over the park, more or less. As they grew older they played together pretty much as a unit in the same league for several years. Ken, third in age of the Boyer brothers, played shortstop. One of his opponents was a stocky, blond shortstop on the Baxter Springs ( Kan.) team named Mickey Mantle, who was five months younger than Boyer and not as good a ballplayer at that time. Boyer was the league's All-Star shortstop in three different seasons.
Buford Cooper, the team's coach, was a St. Louis Cardinal "bird dog," a volunteer scout who received a flat fee of $250 for snaring a good prospect for the Cardinals and a $1,000 bonus if the boy became established in the majors. (Cooper received his bonus for Ken Boyer just a few months ago.) Cloyd Boyer, Ken's oldest brother, signed with St. Louis and pitched for both the Cardinals and the Kansas City Athletics. Wayne, the second brother, was an excellent prospect and played minor league ball before giving up baseball to study dentistry. Ken signed at 18 after his graduation from high school. His younger brother, Lynn, was a good first baseman in minor league ball, but he broke his wrist this season and has decided to quit baseball and go to college. The next younger brother, Cletis, signed a bonus contract with the Kansas City Athletics last year. (Cloyd since has gone back down to the minors, to Sacramento, but in 1955 three Boyer brothers were active major leaguers at the same time, thus joining the Wrights, the Delahantys, the Sewells and the DiMaggios in a unique group of families that could boast of three brothers simultaneously in the major leagues.)
In all, nine of the dozen or so boys in the four families in the Boyers' immediate neighborhood later played professional baseball. In this remarkably gifted group of young athletes, Boyer was outstanding. He was a high 'school basketball player of great skill and had athletic scholarships offered to him from more than a dozen major colleges. When he signed with the Cardinals he could have received a sizeable bonus.
Boyer spent only two minor league seasons as a third baseman before becoming the St. Louis regular at that position in 1955, though it took six years, counting two during which the Cardinals experimented with him as a pitcher and two more in the Army. The idea persists that inwardly Boyer feels that if he had been started at 18 as a third baseman he would have made it up to the Cardinals that much faster. Did he, he was asked, ever have any doubts that he would reach the major leagues? He considered the question seriously, trying to remember.