November 15, 2008

A JOYFULL MAN:

Mr. Rickey And The Game (Gerald Holland, 3/07/55, Sports Illustrated)

The luncheon order given, Rickey excused himself and made a brief telephone call at the headwaiter's desk. Returning to the table, he sat down and began to speak of pitchers.

"The greatest pitchers I have ever seen," he said, "were Christy Mathewson and Jerome Dean."

( Rickey likes to address a man by his proper given name. He is especially fond of referring to Dizzy Dean as "Jerome.")

" Mathewson ," Rickey continued, "could throw every pitch in the book. But he was economical. If he saw that he could win a game with three kinds of pitches, he would use only three. Jerome, on the other hand, had a tendency to run in the direction of experimentation. Murry Dickson (formerly of the Pirates , now of the Phillies) has a fine assortment of pitches, but he feels an obligation to run through his entire repertory in every game."

The food had arrived and Rickey picked up knife and fork and, eying Mrs. Rickey closely, began to speak more rapidly.

"Yes," he said loudly, "Murry is the sort of pitcher who will go along splendidly until the eighth inning and then apparently say to himself: 'Oh, dear me, I have forgotten to throw my half-speed ball!' And then and there he will throw it."

Abruptly, Rickey made a lightning thrust with his fork in the direction of a pan-browned potato on the platter. Mrs. Rickey , alert for just such a stratagem, met the thrust with her own fork and they fenced for a few seconds in mid-air.

"Jane!" pleaded Rickey , abandoning the duel.

Mrs. Rickey deposited the potato on her own plate and passed over a small dish of broccoli.

"This will be better for you," she said quietly. "You know you're not to have potatoes."

Rickey grumbled: "I am weary of this diet. It is a cruel and inhuman thing."

"Eat the broccoli," Mrs. Rickey said.

"Jane," said Rickey , "there are times in a man's life when he wants above everything else in the world to have a potato."

"You get plenty to eat," said Mrs. Rickey . "Didn't you enjoy the meat patty at breakfast?"

Rickey shrugged his shoulders, conceding the point, and attacked his roast beef and broccoli with gusto.

"The subject of my retirement comes up from time to time," he said. "And to the direct question, 'When will you retire from baseball?' my answer is, 'Never!' But I qualify that. Now, I do foresee the day, likely next year, when I shall spend less time at my desk, at my office. I shall spend more time in the field, scouting, looking at prospects, and leave the arduous responsibilities of the general manager's position to other hands."

He looked admiringly at the baked apple before him. He put his hand on the pitcher of rich cream beside it and glanced inquiringly across the table. This time the veto was not invoked and, happily, Rickey drained the pitcher over his dessert.

After he had dropped a saccharin tablet in his coffee, he leaned back and smiled at Mrs. Rickey. Then he leaned forward again and rubbed his chin, seeming to debate something with himself. He grasped the sides of the table and spoke with the air of a conspirator.

"Here is something I intend to do," he said. "My next thing. A completely new idea in spring training."

He arranged the silverware to illustrate the story.

"A permanent training camp, designed and built for that purpose. Twin motels—not hotels, motels—with four playing fields in between as a sort of quadrangle. A public address system. Especially designed press accommodations. Now. One motel would be occupied by the Pittsburgh club, the other by an American League club. They would play a series of exhibition games and would draw better than two teams from the same league. Everything that went into the camp would be the result of our experience with training camps all through the years. It would be foolproof. And it would pay for itself because it would be operated for tourists after spring training. I have the land. At Fort Myers , Florida , the finest training site in the country for my money. I have an American League Club ready to go along with me. I have two thirds of the financial backing necessary."

THE SUMMING UP

Rickey leaned back in triumph, then came forward quickly again.

"Everybody concerned is ready to put up the cash now," he whispered, "except me!"

He paused for effect, then suddenly realized he had not said exactly what he intended. He burst into laughter.

"Sh-h-h," said Mrs. Rickey .

"What I mean," he said, sobering, "is that I can't go along with the plan until we have a contending ball club. But we'll get there. We'll put over this thing. It will revolutionize spring training."

It was time to get back to the office. Rickey was for sprinting down the stairs to the first floor, but Mrs. Rickey reminded him of his trick knee.

"Ah, yes, Mother," he said. "We will take the elevator."

On the street outside, Rickey remembered he had sent his car home.

"We'll get a cab down at the corner," he said. "I've got a meeting at the office. Where can I drop you, Mother?"

"Well," said Mrs. Rickey , "I thought I'd go look at some lamps."

"Oh, yes," Rickey exclaimed. "Go to that store I showed you. Mother, I understand they have the largest selection of lamps in town."

Mrs. Rickey looked at him and shook her head and smiled.

Rickey , already thinking of something else, studied the sidewalk. He raised his head and spoke firmly over the traffic.

"The game of baseball," he said, "has given me a life of joy. I would not have exchanged it for any other."

He took Mrs. Rickey by the arm. They turned and walked down the street together and vanished into the crowd.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at November 15, 2008 6:00 AM
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