"One thing you've got to remember," emphasizes Tighe. "Kuenn wants to make the move. It's not a case of the management forcing him against his wishes. He told me he wanted to play center field."
So far, Harvey Kuenn has shown that he can play the outfield. Tighe concludes: "Kuenn is a highly intelligent man and knows a lot about baseball. You won't see an infielder's throw out there. He knows how to throw overhand with a snap. Harvey Kuenn's arm right now is better than Jim Piersall's. From what Kuenn is doing down here he looks like he'll make it. But I want to reserve final judgment until he gets around the various parks in the league. Then we'll know for sure whether he can play center field."
Even more baseball people scoffed at the idea of Martin at shortstop. "That's all right with me," reacts Martin. "I'm glad they say I can't make it at short. It just makes me want to do it that much more."
ALREADY AT HOME
In his own not-so-quiet way, Martin has been showing the Tigers that he will be able to play shortstop. "I'm confident. It just takes time. You have to get the feel of it. Already I'm starting to feel at home there."
This spring Martin came into the Tiger camp five days early and started right in. Johnny Pesky, the former Red Sox shortstop and now a Detroit minor league manager, worked with him for two weeks. While Martin was on the field, Pesky kept a notebook on everything he did. Then the two would go over it. "He's going to be a good shortstop," says Pesky enthusiastically. "He learns fast. He's quick-moving, both with his hands and with his feet. Don't worry about his arm. He can make the deep throws. He's got it up here."
"Martin's first big trouble," says Tighe, "was daring the runner with his arm. You can't do that at short. So he's working to get rid of the ball fast. I didn't want him to feel that he had to make this team at shortstop and thus put too much pressure on him. So I told him that if he ever feels he can't play short, to tell me. Martin looked at me as if I was crazy and said, 'I'll never be in to see you. I'm going to be your shortstop.' That guy wants to play short so bad he can taste it."
Martin has already given Detroit a lift defensively—and morally. "There is something different about this club this year," Tighe finds. "There's spirit here. And it's due to one guy—Billy Martin. There's even been singing on the bus, and we never had that before. On our last bus trip to Sarasota Billy carried song sheets aboard, started everyone off.
"But that's only one of many small things. Martin keeps talking about winning, and the players think they can win. The way they're playing here convinces me. They want to play and they're playing harder. It's something you can see when you're close to a team. I looked for it last year and thought it was there. But it wasn't true. This year it seems these guys really believe themselves.
"You can pin a lot of it on Martin. If a guy makes a good play, he's right over there to tell him. Every action of his is to win. He tells the others it doesn't matter how good you hit if your effort doesn't help the ball club. It's bound to be contagious. The big thing he's going to do for us is make those players realize how good they are. He can get a guy to play better baseball. He's a natural leader, and he'll be in the spot on our club where it will show. He's right in the middle of all the activity where he can radiate that spirit. His own physical performance may not always help you to win, but what he does for the others is what may do it. That applies to Jim Hegan, too, in a different way. What he can get that pitcher to do is the most important thing, not his batting average."