- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
The year may be 1906 or it may be 1956 but, if you are a baseball manager, the routine rarely varies. You watch your team come off the field after a game, and then, win or lose, you go home at night and pray for more pitching. Sometimes, of course, you pray for more pitching even before you go home. For whoever you are, even if you are Casey Stengel and your Yankees have the pennant almost wrapped up and tucked away by midseason, you never have enough of that one priceless commodity: the guy who can throw a baseball that other guys cannot hit.
Unless, of course, you happen to be Fred Haney of the 1956 Milwaukee Braves, whereupon the routine varies to this extent: you watch your team come off the field after a game, and then, win or lose, you go home at night and pray for more hitting.
"The pitching," says Haney, "I got." In midsummer of 1956 the best pitching staff in baseball no longer consists of people with famous names like Lemon and Wynn, Garcia and Score and Narleski, but, instead, of people with the sometimes rather obscure names of Burdette and Buhl, Conley and Crone and Spahn. With some recent spectacular help from Joe Adcock, Hank Aaron and the other heavy Braves bats, Haney's Big Five has pitched Milwaukee smack into the forefront of the frantic scramble which goes by the name of National League pennant race and made the Braves, in the words of those who know baseball best, the team to beat.
"Pitching," says Manager Birdie Tebbetts of the second-place Cincinnati Redlegs, "will be the key to the pennant, and the Braves have both quantity and quality...pitching that could win 15 games in a row."
To all of which Fred Girard Haney merely grins and shrugs and admits the pitching looks good. "But," he was until recently wont to admit, "if only we were hitting a little bit, this club could be out in front by five or six games. And I'd get a good night's sleep."
Even so, the little red-faced Irishman has probably spent fewer sleepless nights than he anticipated when he took over the floundering Braves from no-longer-Jolly Cholly Grimm on the morning of June 17. For one thing, Haney's previous experiences as a big league manager had done nothing to indicate that the midway point of any campaign was a time for sheer joy. In six years of managing the old St. Louis Browns and the new Pittsburgh Pirates—perhaps major league teams by definition only—Haney achieved the rare distinction of never finishing higher than sixth, and on four occasions he finished in the cellar. For another, despite Owner Lou Perini's preseason boast that "This is a club that should win the pennant," someone had evidently forgotten to tell the Braves themselves. They started off well enough and actually were in first place, although only by the slenderest of margins, through most of the months of April and May. But then came a disastrous streak in which the Braves lost 10 of 15 games at home, two more on the road and plummeted all the way down to fifth place, four full games behind the startling young Pittsburgh Pirates. It was then that Haney was elevated from the coaching ranks to succeed his old friend Grimm and handed a ball club which was supposed to win Milwaukee's first pennant but had, in some way, managed to get headed in the opposite direction. At this point the prospects of Fred Haney's catching up on his sleep were pretty dim.
But almost immediately the new Milwaukee manager might have indulged in all the well-earned slumber his heart could crave—had he not felt it necessary to remain awake and pinch himself at regular intervals just to be sure he wasn't asleep and dreaming after all. For the Braves began to win. The pitching, which had been carrying all the load, began to get even better, and at least two of the Milwaukee batsmen, Hank Aaron and Joe Adcock, began to connect with something resembling regularity. In a period of only four days the club was back in first place, and it was 11 games later before they finally lost one at all, a string of events which not only made Fred Haney's 1956 managerial debut a roaring success but also gave the Braves the longest winning streak of the year in the National League and the longest in Milwaukee's entire major league history. And since then the Braves have been looking better and better—and getting closer and closer to that pennant they were supposed to win. They have won 12 of their 14 games since the All-Star break.
Haney, with classic modesty—and a classic gesture toward an old friend—denies that he personally has had much to do with the new success story or that he has really done anything which Charlie Grimm could not have done just as well. But everyone in Milwaukee, from the highest club official down to the smallest fan, knew that it was time for a change, and even the ballplayers themselves—who had a deep personal affection for their easygoing old manager—admit the change was undoubtedly for the best. Haney, although no Leo Durocher or Rogers Hornsby type manager, is also not exactly the Charlie Grimm type either. He has cracked the whip over the club's handful of playboys and demanded just a little more spirit on the field, a little more attention to the job at hand.
In a tactical sense, Haney made only one important change: under his direction the Braves became, at least temporarily, a team of bunt and squeeze-play specialists. "This is a team of free swingers," he explained right after the All-Star Game break, looking around at Adcock and Aaron and Mathews and Bobby Thomson and Wes Covington, "and if they had all been hitting like they should, it's doubtful that I would have changed a thing from the way Charlie was managing.