The old man, John J. McGraw, used to say, "The team that gets off to a good start wins pennants." McGraw drove the Giants through spring training with a relentless intimidation that had us all wishing we'd taken up steeple-jacking for a trade. Now Fred Haney seems to have gotten the same idea. SPORTS ILLUSTRATED reports (March 18) that the "new" Milwaukee Braves have been out on the field, sunshine or downpour, from 10:30 to 4:30, sliding, practicing starts, rundowns and cutoff plays, and running every place. They didn't last year. Like some other major leaguers, they trained in country club surroundings, played golf, swam and, about two hours every day, played ball. Haney thought the boys would hate his guts for the tough schedule, but they like it. The Braves may finally win the pennant because they've been training seriously.
The Giants of long ago won their pennants in the spring. During my first spring training at San Antonio in 1920 I woke at seven and walked four miles to the ball park. At nine I was jogging around the field on a five-lap workout. I hit, fielded, threw and slid until noon. I lunched on cheese sandwiches and milk. I hit, fielded, threw and slid until dusk and exhaustion. I walked four miles back to the Menger Hotel. I dined on thick Kansas City beef, lobby-sat and tumbled into bed.
I slept the sleep of the slave. I was always hungry. One noon I was so hungry that I hopped a truck to the hotel and feasted on a six-course luncheon. Mr. McGraw confronted me on my return. "You son of a rich Dutch merchant, you college rockhead, you!" he bellowed. "Next time I catch you riding anywhere I'll fine you five bucks a mile! You know what legs are for."
In a calmer moment Mr. McGraw explained: "When a man's legs are in shape, he's in shape." He made so sure that my legs were in perfect shape that I led the National League in stolen bases in 1921, 1927 and 1931.
Many modern training camps are little colleges of baseball knowledge, equipped with classrooms, visual aid charts, pitching machines, psychologists and sundry professors. Mr. McGraw delivered no lectures. His language was salty, punchy and profane. He called each Giant by his last name or by a sobriquet, mine being "Cement-head." He'd had little formal education and saw no reason why a man should know more than how to play winning baseball. And to play winning baseball a man had to hit his peak of physical perfection in the spring.
He made me concentrate not on what I did best but on what I did worst. I could not slide to my left until he made me slide to my left a few thousand times. I could not hit southpaws until he ordered me to switch-hit in a few thousand practice swings. Southpaws became my meat.
Each April when we arrived at the Polo Grounds, I was 10 pounds underweight. "Stop griping, Cementhead!" he barked. "You'll pick up poundage loafing on rainy days." He slapped my belly. "Keep those guts flat!"
One morning we trudged to the San Antonio ball park and found no Mr. McGraw. We took our time dressing. We lounged on the bench. Casey Stengel walloped me with a wet towel. Bill Cunningham dropped ice down a rookie's neck. We skipped pepper practice. We frolicked in the field. Casey caught a fly ball in his cap.
Suddenly, from an upper tier in the center field bleachers, resounded the voice of doom. "Ya bums! Ya rich, lazy, good-for-nothing, soldiering rumdums! Puttin' something over on the Old Man, are ya? Two hours extra practice after today's game!"
One spring night in my rookie year four roughhousing veterans invaded my hotel room. A pillow flew through a window, landing on a high iron fence.