The Los Angeles Dodgers are back in the thick of the National League pennant race and two men are responsible. Their names are not Snider and Hodges, nor are they Sherry and Drysdale. In fact, the men are not even players. Their names are Griffin and Roth. One is a clubhouse man, the other a statistician.
John Griffin is an odd-looking person, tubby, unkempt and usually sweaty. His habitat is the locker room of the Dodgers and his duties include gathering soiled towels, distributing razor blades to bearded players and guarding wallets during games. While he works, Griffin often wears a grass skirt, or a flowered hat, or a kimono—always something ludicrous. The Dodgers, however, never laugh at him. Griffin's costumes are part of an old superstition, and ballplayers are as superstitious as primitive man.
This is how it works: if John Griffin dresses like Bloody Mary before a game, and the Dodgers win that game, Griffin will remain Bloody Mary just as long as the team keeps winning. When the Dodgers lose, Griffin will switch to, say, Charlie Chaplin (charcoal mustache, a silly grin) in the hope of launching a new winning streak.
Griffin's magic became especially effective in late June and continued that way through July and into early August. During that time the Dodgers never lost two games in a row and several times went on winning for as long as three and four days. In the process they moved from sixth place (Griffin had a bad spring) to third, grouped with Milwaukee and the surprising St. Louis Cardinals, the three of them just a few strides behind Pittsburgh. Griffin is sure he can come up with enough costume changes to pull the Dodgers through to another pennant.
Allan Roth, a hefty 43-year-old who moved from Long Island to Los Angeles when the Dodgers went West, takes a more scientific approach. Roth has been keeping statistics for the club since 1947. His, however, are not just ordinary publicity-type statistics. Roth records every pitch of every game the Dodgers play. He registers the hits: who made them, where they went, who was pitching, what the count was and how many men were on base. He knows (or can look up) how many hits Gil Hodges has made off Lou Burdette since 1952. Some people might not care how many hits Hodges has made off Burdette, but Walt Alston, manager of the Dodgers, does, and very much.
Roth has two sets of 5-inch-by-8-inch cards which Coach Pete Reiser keeps in the dugout during games. One set is blue; on each blue card is the name of an opposing National League pitcher and also the names of all the Dodger batters and how they have done against that pitcher, in 1960, in 1959, and lifetime. If Milwaukee brings in Joey Jay to pitch and Alston wants a pinch hitter, he will call down the bench to Reiser and ask, "Who hits Jay?" Reiser, after consulting the " Jay" card, may call back "Essegian." In which case it is likely that Chuck Essegian will pinch-hit and, of course, hit a home run.
The other set of cards is yellow, one for every opposing batter in the league. Also on these cards are the names of the Dodger pitchers. Now Alston can see which of his pitchers, especially his relief pitchers, have had the best luck against Spencer, Kirk-land or Altman.
" Alston doesn't make a move without consulting Roth," said one Los Angeles writer last week. But Roth himself made it clear that he is in no way a second manager.
"My cards are just a guide," Roth said. "I sit in the radio booth, not on the bench. Walt makes all the decisions."
Nevertheless, one Roth suggestion contributed directly to a Dodger victory recently. Alston was inclined to start Rookie Tommy Davis against Bob Friend of Pittsburgh. Roth pointed out that both Wally Moon and Duke Snider had good records against Friend. So Alston started them both in the outfield, along with Frank Howard. Moon hit a two-run homer to win the 3-1 game. Snider hit a triple.