The all-star game has come and gone, and the hot humid days of midsummer are turning baseball diamonds into sweltering outdoor ovens. Now is the time for second-division teams to turn in their springtime hopes and play out the rest of the season in leisurely fashion. Not so, though, in sixth-place Baltimore, where every game is fought as if the Orioles had been hurled into the broiling National League pennant race.
Unnoticed everywhere, except of course in Baltimore, has been the Orioles' unheralded success since Memorial Day. In those two months, only the Yankees have played better ball in the American League. Baltimore has not only ceased to be another breather on the schedule of the pennant contenders, but also has become a particularly obnoxious thorn in their paths. The White Sox found this out when they lost five out of seven games to the Orioles in June, just when their pennant hopes were starting to rise, and then dropped two out of three to the Orioles in July, when Chicago was trying vainly to get back into contention.
For one glorious day, right after the All-Star break, the Orioles sat giddily in the first division, above such established names as Detroit and Cleveland. Less than 48 hours later they had lost two bitter games to the Indians and were back in the frustrating confines of sixth place.
Manager Paul Richards dressed quickly after the second loss and was the first one out of the locker room. He strode quickly from Municipal Stadium, his lean, loose-jointed figure tense with the bitterness of losing. The players were going directly to Detroit by bus for a double-header the next day. Richards and his coaches were going on a luxury liner that made the trip across Lake Erie in a leisurely six hours.
Stretched out in a reclining chair on the deck of the S.S. Aquarama as it steamed along, Richards tried to unwind his taut nerves.
"We have come to where we are so damned close to the kind of ball club I'm trying to build," he said quietly while lighting a cigaret. "What kind of team is it I'm trying to build? I'm going by the old maxim developed by John McGraw and used to good advantage by Bill Terry after him. I want a team that can get somebody out. A ball club that can play defensively and let the other team beat itself. I'll continue along these lines until somebody comes along with a bat big enough to displace the defensive player. In my opinion, it will be that way forever."
Richards leaned forward and flipped his cigaret over the rail. He lit another and flopped back in his chair. "It's rumored that I'm a magician in taking pitchers nobody else wants and making winners out of them. Nonsense. I saw a good arm on every one of those pitchers. You've got to have a good arm and be able to take criticism.
"There's no magic formula. We don't try to teach anyone a mysterious pitch. We try to win his confidence. Try to find out what can help him. Then we try to get the best from him. The main thing is to establish a routine for his throwing, his conditioning, his running—his entire life between starts. A lot of pitchers don't know how to bring themselves up to that first pitch in a ball game."
Richards paused and stared out over the water. "A pitcher may need just one more pitch to be a winner. You can teach him if he has a good arm and wants to learn. He has to learn rhythm—that is, an ability to throw all his pitches with the same motion.
"You must not teach a pitcher according to the same way someone else did it. Each one is a different person, and the technique changes with each. Harry Brecheen, our pitching coach, is a keen student of pitchers and their personalities. He's very good with young kids and has a good approach with the older guys. We both have the same attitude toward pitching."