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Next week in Tampa, Florida, a cheerful, florid, round-faced man named George Robert (Birdie) Tebbetts resumes his active, in-uniform duties as manager of the Cincinnati Redlegs. The major leagues' Manager of the Year for 1956 will direct his players in their early spring-training workouts, supervise his coaches and discuss the merits of his various players with his coaches and with his boss, the general manager of the Redlegs, Gabe Paul.
Frequently he'll find time to sit in the shade of the dugout or the cool of the hotel lobby, and there hold court for succeeding clusters of baseball writers. He will discourse, with wit and knowledge and a nice command of the language, on a variety of subjects, most of them, though not all, dealing with baseball. Watching him, as he puts in a day (or a week, or a season) as manager of the Redlegs, you might be moved to observe that here was a man completely at home in the world, a man perfectly in tune with his environment—which in his case is the warm, hustling arena of baseball.
In this observation you would be correct, of course, but if you were to go a step further and assume that this was the only place for Birdie Tebbetts, that away from the lively, public glare of the game he would be out of his element, you would err. Short weeks ago this same round, fleshy face—surmounted then by a fedora hat and all but encircled by the upturned collar of an overcoat—squinted over the steering wheel of an Oldsmobile sedan and through its ice-encrusted windshield at a driving snowstorm. This was on the road from Nashua, New Hampshire, where Tebbetts grew up and where he lives in the off season, to Andover, Massachusetts, where he was to speak at a luncheon of insurance men. He wore rubbers over his shoes, had snowtread tires on the rear wheels of his Olds and carried an ice scraper for the windshield in the glove compartment. He seemed very much at home.
"Snow like this would cripple New York," he said with cheerful smugness. "Up here we're used to it. We know how to handle it. They have accidents in New York in snow like this because they're not used to it. Up here we respect the snow. We know how to drive in it. We take it slow and..."
A car came from behind, swung out, passed Tebbetts in an interrupting cloud of snow and barreled on down the road. Tebbetts stared after it glumly.
"...except for damn fools like that."
He stopped the car carefully by the side of the road, reached in the glove compartment for the scraper and opened the door. In the car Paul Sadler, head of the insurance agency in Nashua with which Tebbetts has been associated for the past 10 years, looked back at the road and said in his quiet, mannerly way, "Be careful, Bird."
Tebbetts made sure the road was clear, then scraped the ice from the windshield, brushed the snow from his coat, got back in the car and continued on his way.
"People ask me why I live up here, in all this snow. Freddy Hutchinson [the manager of the St. Louis Cardinals] is always after me about it. Hutch lives down there in Florida. He says you buy a T shirt and a pair of dungarees for the kids and that's all there is to it. No expense, and they're out playing in the sun all winter. Up here I have to buy snowsuits and sweaters and galoshes for my kids. Every time they come in the house or go out of it, they've got to be dressed or undressed."
Tebbetts pondered on this, thinking perhaps of Hutchinson's children, who at that very moment might well be scampering along the beaches of Anna Maria Island under the Florida sun. Then he justified his existence: