Last week in Detroit, for instance, there were two taxicab drivers. Each declared he was a dedicated Tiger fan. The Tuesday cab driver said the Tigers' troubles were Manager Jack Tighe's fault: "He's too soft on the players. They have it too easy. He ought to stir them up." The Wednesday cab driver also blamed Jack Tighe: "He's always bawling those guys out. How can they play ball? There's dissension on the club."
Ridiculous as each unsupported opinion may sound, it sometimes reaches the ears and affects the judgement of club owners. Arnold Johnson, the businessman who owns the Kansas City Athletics, fired Lou Boudreau because he felt Boudreau's personality was a prime reason for the precipitous decline in Kansas City attendance. Ignoring the possibility that the decline in attendance in Kansas City might be a normal reaction to a miserable eighth-place ball club (and apparently deciding not to explore the reasons why it was a miserable eighth-place ball club), Johnson exiled Boudreau from Kansas City.
Such tactics are not lost on managers. Kerby Farrell, the wizened, somewhat eccentric manager of the Cleveland Indians—who has been having troubles of his own this year—brought his Indians into Detroit last week just after Boudreau and Pittsburgh's Bobby Bragan had been fired. Both Boudreau and Bragan had been succeeded by their third base coaches.
Now, Farrell's third base coach is Eddie Stanky, and Tighe's is Billy Hitchcock. During batting practice Farrell sidled over to Tighe and in a conspiratorial whisper said: "Hey, did you hear about Boudreau? Did you hear about Bragan? Keep an eye on that Hitchcock. I'm watching Stanky every minute." Then, grinning at his own joke, he scuttled away.
Laughing, Tighe returned to the Tiger dugout, where he passed along Farrell's mot to the assembled baseball writers. Then, with mock disappointment, Tighe reproached one for a story in which he had said that the Detroit manager could not help but be aware of the fate of Bragan and Boudreau.
"Don't go putting ideas in their heads," Tighe said, grinning. " John Fetzer reads that stuff of yours."
Fetzer, of course, is chairman of the board of the Detroit club. Publicly, Fetzer and his associates say that the operation of the team is strictly the responsibility of General Manager John McHale, who succeeded former owner Walter O. (Spike) Briggs in that post this past April after Briggs was asked to resign. Actually, McHale and Fetzer both know that the feelings of all 11 men on the board of directors (which consists of the nine owners and two nonstockholding members) will prevail. If they panic—and it's easy for baseball men to panic—Tighe will be out of a job. If they are patient, realizing that Tighe is as new in his job as manager as they are in their job as clubowners or John McHale is in his job as general manager, the future may be bright after all.
For this is a new organization that should mature slowly, learning and improving as it goes. The team may be maturing the same way. It is a young team and certainly not as bad as it has appeared. Carping critics blame this year's failure on a succession of factors beyond the hitting: lack of aggressive team spirit, lack of speed, mediocre fielding, poor reserve strength, paucity of relief pitching, turmoil in the front office resulting from last year's sale of the club and this year's overhauling of front-office operations.
But while it is obvious that improvement in all these things is desirable and would certainly help to counteract the club's present difficulties, the fact remains that the mass hitting slump is the basic reason for Detroit's troubles. And hitting slumps have to end.
The cure for Detroit's troubles? Patience, fortitude, and the old Dodger recipe: "Wait till next year."