March 8, 2014
The Long Season, Jim Brosnan (1960)
March 9, 1959 - Cardinals' spring training at St. Petersburg FL. Manager Solly Hemus and coach Johnny Keane are going over the signs for the season.
Hemus called a meeting for the last workout before the start of the exhibition season. "We're going to use the same signs in these games as we will all year. So let's pay attention." He turned to Johnny Keane. "John?"
Keane jumped onto a bat trunk waving his ever-present fungo stick for quiet. [P Ernie] Broglio murmured to me, "I think he sleeps with that goddamn bat."
"These are the signs we're gonna give from 3B. Solly will be on the bench." Keane waved his bat, relegating Hemus forever to the dugout. "You pitchers get together with the catchers later and work out your own signs. These are for the hitters, and we don't want anybody missing signs, 'cause it just messes up everybody, including the guy who messes it up. Now, then, we're gonna have an Indicator, signs for bunting, taking, and hit-andrun. We're gonna have a take-off sign, and a sign for the squeeze play.
L-R: Solly Hemus, Johnny Keane, Jim Brosnan
"The most important sign is the Indicator. When I rub my hand over the Cardinal on my shirt, that means a sign is on. You see me rub the bird and you watch my right hand - right hand only. Forget I got a left hand. With my right hand I'm' gonna touch some part of my uniform or body. One touch ... it might be my cap, or neck, or pants, or arm sleeve ... one touch, and you're taking. Two touches and you're bunting, three touches, hit-and-run ... on that pitch, 'cause the runner is going. Those are the three signs you gotta look for when you go up to hit.
"Now, when you're at the plate, look down at me on every pitch. Maybe I don't wanna give you a sign, but I may be pulling at my pants leg, or rubbing my ear, or tugging at my cap, anyway. They will be looking at me, too, trying to steal the signs, so I'll be trying to confuse them by doing the same things when I'm not giving sign as I do when I am. Get me? Only when you see me hit that bird do you know something's on. And when I give you the Indicator, count the number of touches that follows. Maybe I'll give you more than three signs! Maybe I'll give you four or five! I'm just doing that as a decoy, in case they start to pick something up, or we suspect they might. It only means something if I use one, two, or three touches after the Indicator."
Keane had the earnest manner of a second lieutenant outlining the intricacies of an espionage deal. All major league clubs use Indicators, decoys, and signs for everything but nose-blowing. The passion for disguising these signs defies reason, although it does give the players on the bench something to do. (The manager will say, "Try to get their signs, boys.") Yet, 90 per cent of the time, the situation determines the strategy, and an experienced player knows who will bunt or when the batter is taking. Even more predictable are the steal and hit-and-run, since there are only a few men on each club that can do either one. What's more incongruous, although mathematical progression makes it improbable, I've seen the same sign used by two different clubs in the same game!
"The steal sign," Keane went on, "will be given to the runner only after the batter gets the Take. We don't want you hitting when that runner is trying to steal. If we did we'd give the hit-and-run. The steal sign is either hand gripping the opposite elbow. It's a figure 4, and that's for stealing." He grinned. Nobody seemed to get it. "Let's not be missing the steal sign. You don't have to go on that particular pitch, if you don't get a good jump on the pitch. If you slip in starting, or don't think you can make it, stay on first. The only time you have to go is the hit-and-run, 'cause that hitter is swinging at the ball no matter where it is. If you don't go, you penalize the batter for no good reason. We're gonna run a lot this year 'cause we got a running club ā€¦ that right, Solly?"
Hemus nodded. "Whatever John says you can consider it came from me."
"Now there's the squeeze. We have just one squeeze play. Suicide! You gotta bunt the ball! So you gotta know the play's on, and we gotta know you know it. So with a man on 3B I run across the bird, and touch my pants leg. One touch after the Indicator! You're bunting. You answer me, telling me you got the sign, by showing me the palm of your hand. Don't wave your hand at me. Pick up some dirt, look the other way, and rub the back of your hand across your back pocket. Then I see your palm and I know you got the squeeze.
"Now, I yell to the runner on third, 'Make the ball go through!' and that's the sign to him that he's going in on the next pitch. Got that, you runners? If the batter answers the sign by showing you the palm of his hand, you still gotta wait for me to say, 'Make the ball go through!'"
Keane cupped his hands at his mouth as he described what he would do during a squeeze play. His fungo bat slipped to the floor, its clatter echoing in the tense silence. The squeeze play commands breathless attention from ballplayers. Actually, major league clubs don't us it but twenty times a year, and it works only half the time, but the great importance of the squeeze is vividly impressed on the mind because of the depth of managerial despair at its failure. "That'll cost you fifty bucks, Brosnan! For Christ's sake, all you gotta do is bunt the ball!"
Coach Ray Kaat whispered to Julio Gotay, the nineteen-year-old Puerto Rican phenom who was to open the exhibition season at SS. Julio's command of English was giving him a stomach-ache - his vocabulary was not equal to ordering a decent meal - and Katt was translating Keane's instructions.
"Do you understand, Julio?" asked Keane.
Gotay shook his head.
"Well," Keane frowned, "we'll go over them again tomorrow."