There were sighs of relief around the cage, some nervous laughter. Otis stared at Boros as if to say "Satisfied?" Boros ignored the look. He calmly stepped over to the first-base line and set up again. The pitcher threw. Otis dropped another perfect bunt.
"How's that, Steve?" Otis asked sarcastically as Boros picked up the bat and walked away.
"They'll do," Boros said quietly. He grabbed a ball and hit a grounder to one of the infielders.
Otis wanted the last word. He bunted the next three pitches and ambled out of the cage. "You trying to throw your weight around?" he yelled to Boros.
Boros ignored him.
In the clubhouse afterward, Boros shrugged off the incident. "I made my bed, and I had to lie in it," he said with a wink. "It's just one of those things."
Maybe. I, for one, have witnessed few comparable feats of rock-jawed courage on a baseball field.
Years passed. Boros went on to coach at Montreal, to manage at Oakland and finally to wear street clothes as an ex-manager. In September he returned to Kansas City as a scout for the San Diego Padres. I found him in the press box at Royals Stadium, dressed in jeans and a sweater, and got him to talk for a few minutes about "toughness"—the trait he had supposedly lacked as a manager in Oakland.
"When they talk about toughness," he said, "they always talk about arguing bad calls, spitting in an umpire's eye, kicking dust—all that macho image stuff. But that's not the tough part of managing. The tough part is deciding who's going to play and who's not, taking a pitcher out of the rotation...perhaps releasing a player. It takes a certain mental toughness to make those decisions, but that kind of toughness isn't taken into consideration in evaluating a manager."
"The fans expect you to abuse umpires and throw tantrums," I said. "It's right there in the job description."