What the Braves have finally worked out is a system in which they don't replace Schoendienst in either of his roles. Red is feeling much better, fat and healthy after his tuberculosis attack and determined to play baseball again, if not late this year at least in 1960. Still, he is unavailable. So is Mel Roach, who did such a fine job filling in when necessary last year but who has been unable to play an inning yet this season because of an injured and slow-to-heal knee.
In the absence of these two, the Braves have gone along with the material at hand: Chuck Cottier, classified by the Braves as a sort of teenage Schoendienst and given a brief fling at the job before being sent down to Louisville, where he is still labeled promising but not yet prepared; Felix Mantilla, a good journeyman ballplayer chronically afflicted with weariness (he plays baseball all winter in Puerto Rico and therefore has a good excuse); Joe Morgan, the good-hit, seldom-catch guy; and Johnny O'Brien, the All-America basketball twin with the big chaw of tobacco, the infectious sense of humor and a batting average which will never match his free-throw record.
None is sensational, each is adequate, and as long as the rest of the Braves hit and pitch as they do, Haney's Aunt Bertha could play second base for this ball club and it would get by.
NO LEADER IN SIGHT
Neither Mantilla nor Morgan (nor Aunt Bertha) could hope to replace Schoendienst as an inspirational force, however, and before the season began it was felt that this might be of more importance in the pennant race than more material factors. The Braves, with Aaron and Mathews and Spahn and Burdette and the rest, couldn't win the pennant in 1956 nor were they winning it in 1957 until Schoendienst joined the team. With the Redhead gone, there was some question of a relapse this year.
Leadership, in baseball, is a strange and puzzling thing. It depends not only upon the individual but upon the team, and a man who can inspire one ball club might be laughed off the field by another. Sometimes, without the necessary ability in the lineup, all the leadership in the world isn't going to do as much good as a few base hits. In other situations one player—perhaps he can't hit or field a lick—can lift a ball club with sheer burning spirit.
Billy Martin, with his chatter and constant display of aggressiveness, did a job like this for the Yankees; he helped soup up a club that was technically very, very proficient but needed an occasional jab of the needle.
There are players who lead simply by virtue of their own great talent. It rubs off on everyone and shames the less accomplished into doing better than their best. Joe DiMaggio's contributions included a good bit of this.
And then there are teams which use a blend of leadership, extracting a certain quality from one player and a different brand of inspiration from another. On the 1951 Giants, Eddie Stanky, something of a Billy Martin type, and Alvin Dark, more like DiMaggio, fused their sparks to make a real explosion.
There are also a few very fortunate teams which seem to have nothing but leaders—veteran, experienced ballplayers who work so well together that inspiration floats off them like a Los Angeles smog. The Dodgers of Reese and Robinson and Campanella and Snider and Hodges were like that, a collection of real old pros.