Four men gathered last month in Gussie Busch's plush office beneath the bright, clean, richly decorated grandstand of Busch Stadium, home of the St. Louis Cardinals. Three of the men were looking intently at the rock-hard face of Fred Hutchinson, a face that might have been hacked out by an angry sculptor with a dull chisel. Hutchinson, manager of the Cardinals, had called the three together. He spoke softly, so low that at times his words were almost inaudible.
The men who listened were August Anheuser Busch Jr., the baronial-born president of the Cardinals; Richard A. Meyer, the team's executive vice-president and a ranking lieutenant in Busch's beer and baseball combine. Finally, there was General Manager Frank Lane, the stormy extrovert, a man of constant opinions, who seldom lowers his voice below a shout. These men are not accustomed to listening, but now they heard the manager out.
Hutchinson was quietly calling his bosses down on Gussie Busch's thick carpet. This was a month before the National League pennant race fell apart under the sudden weight of the Milwaukee Braves' ten-game winning streak, and the Cardinals were still eagerly fighting for the league lead. "You all want a pennant, and we can have it," he was saying. "We've got an outside chance. But I've got to be left alone to do my job. It's hard enough to fight the opposition on the field every day without answering to my own front office in the newspapers. Criticize me all you want. Second-guess me in private. I get paid to take that. But when your criticism hits every newspaper in the country, it can wreck the morale of this ball club. That's one thing we can't stand."
The meeting in Busch's office was the breaking point in a curious, panicky sort of pennant fever that gripped St. Louis in mid-July. Off to a slow start, the Cardinals abruptly burst three games in front of the five-team National League dogfight for first place. But, just as quickly, the lead disappeared. Four straight losses on an eastern road trip dropped the Cards into second place. Then the blowup came. In a final series game at Brooklyn on July 18, the Cardinals rallied for seven runs in the ninth inning to take a 9-4 lead. With one run across and the bases full of Dodgers, Hutchinson grimly ignored accepted baseball practice when he left Wilmer (Vinegar Bend) Mizell, a lefthander, in the game against Gil Hodges, Brooklyn's right-handed power hitter. Hodges slammed a bases-loaded home run to tie up the game 9-9, and Brooklyn went on to win 10-9 in 11 innings.
St. Louis fans exploded with outrage. Irate calls flooded newspapers, radio stations and the Cardinal office. Many demanded a change "while there's still time." Hutchinson made his own plight worse by barring the clubhouse door to St. Louis writers. Frank Lane, a volatile critic and enthusiastic second-guesser, openly raged at his manager's judgment. Meyer, the vice-president, publicly called the game "pitiful, tragic and disastrous." He also scorched Hutchinson for resting Alvin Dark in the ninth inning "when you know that Dark is the glue that holds the infield together and keeps the pitchers on their toes." Wire services carried stories quoting Lane and Meyer, hinting club dissension, a Cardinal collapse and the finish of Hutchinson.
None of this bothered Hutch except the public blasting he took from Meyer and Lane. A column by Al Abrams of the
, which discussed the executive criticism of the Cardinal manager, triggered one of baseball's most violent tempers. Hutchinson searched out Al Fleishman, of the Fleishman-Hillard public relations firm, which handles the Anheuser-Busch account. "How much of this can a man stand!" roared Hutchinson, hands raised and fists clenched in controlled fury. "Get 'em all together before they wreck us!" Fleishman paled, then helped arrange the meeting in St. Louis. It lasted only 20 minutes. And Hutchinson, a man whose tantrums have shattered the furniture in a dozen clubhouses, was calm and forceful in the way he made his point: "Let me alone to do my job." Then he walked out of Gussie Busch's office and continued doing his job, which, despite an inexplicable midseason hitting slump that plunged his team into a nine-game losing streak, had kept the Cardinals 10-1 outsiders in spring handicaps, a persistent second in the wildest National League pennant race in decades.
Of all the 16 major league baseball managers, Hutchinson is perhaps the least known, the least understood. American Leaguers remember him as a plate-shaving control pitcher, a murderously grim and intelligent competitor; or they remember him as a firm, diplomatic player representative, who helped gain or preserve such benefits as minimum salaries, training-camp expenses and pension funds. And in Detroit they remember him as a young and successful manager, who turned his back on a $40,000 contract to go back and manage in his home town of Seattle.
But St. Louis doesn't know him well. For two years Hutchinson has worked quietly under the publicized, player-swapping Frank Lane and wealthy, flamboyant Gussie Busch. Unlike either Lane or Busch, Hutchinson rarely indulges the private luxury of merely listening to his own voice. Off the field, he is gentle, affable, even courtly. But on his own professional grounds, where success is determined by an uncompromising scoreboard, he shows little except a monumental rage to win.
Hutchinson looks at the world through an angry scowl, but this is partly a facade. "He's really kind of a happy guy inside," says Joe Garagiola, former Cardinal catcher, now a St. Louis television commentator, "only his face doesn't know it." Some of baseball's best quips have bounced off the stony Hutchinson exterior. He can't find it in himself to laugh when he doesn't feel the joke. Nor can his thin, compressed lips form the safe, comfortable "yes" if what he really thinks is "no." Some time ago, Owner Busch developed a fondness for a certain player on the Cardinal roster. His fondness bordered on an outright order to play him in the Cardinal lineup.
Hutchinson studied his boss, who rarely hears a "no" from a subordinate. "Mr. Busch," he said, "do you want me to say what I really think, or what you want to hear? If I wanted to play a clown, I'd go hire Emmett Kelly." With that, he stalked out of the room.