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Bill Rigney, manager of the brand-new 1961 Los Angeles Angels, was entertaining a distinguished Palm Springs visitor just before the start of a spring training game there when the idea hit him.
"Say, Mr. President," Rig said to Dwight David Eisenhower, "why don't you manage this team for a couple of innings?"
"Oh, no," Ike protested. "I can't do that."
"Why not?" responded Rig. "You managed the entire country for eight years."
"But I don't know your signs."
"No problem," said Rig, gesturing toward the greenhorns, misfits and has-beens that formed the nucleus of his expansion team. "Neither do they."
And so the 34th president of the United States did, in fact, manage the fledgling Angels—without incident—during the middle innings of a spring training game, an event largely unrecorded by Eisenhower biographers. And though managing this team without incident may not have been an accomplishment comparable to the invasion of Normandy, which Ike also managed, it was, as Rigney knew all too well, no mean feat.
Doing his job that year gave poor Rig an ulcer, which he pacified by ingesting milk and cake in the dugout, at least on those increasingly rare occasions when he could get to his "medicine" before his players wolfed the stuff down. Not that milk and cake were ballplayer staples in the early 1960s; whiskey and pretzels were more like it, for this was perhaps the last generation of a hell-raising baseball breed that dated to a time when the salaries were low and the living high. The after-hours shenanigans of his happy warriors kept Rigney's ulcer in business.
There was the time, for example, when a fire in the team's Boston hotel routed guests at four in the morning. As Rigney and hundreds of others stood shivering outside on the sidewalk in various stages of undress, he spotted Art Fowler and Ryne Duren, road roommates and key members of the Angel bullpen, bemusedly taking in the spectacle. Both were dressed to the nines in suits and ties and neither looked especially discomfited by the conflagration. Fowler, smiling mischievously, approached his manager. "Well, Skip," he said in his Carolina drawl, "I bet you don't know whether we're just getting up or just coming in."
"No," admitted Rigney, "and I don't want to know."