The Adventures of A Baseball Vagabond
by Bill Lee and Richard Lally
Have Glove Will Travel
Adventures of A Baseball Vagabond
The Expos’ front office did not share Williams’s high opinion of Scott. As soon as Dick left the organization in the middle of the 1981 season, his successor, Jim Fanning, began searching for an alternative at second base. The quest bordered on an obsession for Jim. After the 1981 season ended, Fanning and I occasionally ran into each other in the Olympic Stadium Nautilus room. He knew I considered Rodney my best friend on the team and I guess he wanted to send a message. No matter where our conversations started, they invariably ended in the middle of the Expos diamond. I might say, “Jim, did you see where the price of gold dropped again?” and Fanning would reply, “Yes, but can we afford to keep Rodney at second base next season?”
My answer was always the same emphatic yes. Rodney had established himself as the Expos’ most reliable infielder, an important consideration for a team that played its home games in Olympic Stadium, a park that suppresses run scoring. We also depended on our second baseman to jump-start our offense. Whenever Rodney worked his way on base, the threat his base-stealing skills represented so distracted pitchers, they often forgot to concentrate on the hitter. As Ken Griffey Sr. once said to a sportswriter, “No one in baseball can drive a pitcher crazy like the Breeze.” I also pointed to the team’s record over the last few years. Montreal did not emerge as a bona fide contender until Rodney entered our lineup as a regular.
Fanning usually nodded and tried to look thoughtful, as if my arguments just might sway him. Then he would change the subject. Apparently nothing I nor any other player said in support of Rodney exerted any impact. The Expos started the 1982 season with rookie Wallace Johnson playing second base. Wallace had flashed some skills the few times I saw him play. A line drive hitter. Good power to the gaps. Excellent speed. The flip side: Johnson possessed little aptitude for defense. He reacted slowly to balls off the bat and lacked the delicate rhythm and footwork a second baseman needs to consistently turn the double play. Once Wallace stopped hitting, his weak glove forced Fanning to remove him from the lineup. In Johnson’s place, he used every infielder on our roster. Everyone except Rodney. I think even Margaret Trudeau took a turn at second. Rodney stayed the good soldier. He did not complain or demand more playing time, just came to the park every night ready to help us win. Scott’s professionalism did not persuade Fanning to return him to the regular lineup. On the evening of May 8 I entered our clubhouse after a pregame workout to find Rodney at his locker packing his bags. His movements appeared slow and disoriented. He looked around the room through car crash victim eyes. He did not say a word. He was not Rodney.
Someone asked what he was doing. “Leaving. Fanning just released me.” All right, you don’t want Rodney starting for the team, fine. But he still could have made significant contributions to the Expos as the perfect utility player: a switch-hitter who could get on base and a versatile fielder equally adept at second, short, or third. Rodney even had enough talent to play the outfield in an emergency, and no manager could ever find a better pinch runner. Releasing him for no good reason struck me as pure vendetta, a move so mean-spirited and idiotic, I had to protest. When the trainer brought over my game uniform for that night, I ripped it down the middle and draped it over Fanning’s desk.
I scribbled a note, informing the manager that one of his pitchers had just gone AWOL. “I cannot put up with this bullshit,” I wrote. “Going over to the bar at Brasserie 77. If you want to, come and get me.” Read those words as a deliberate challenge. That very morning Fanning had made a clubhouse speech before the entire team. We had lost to the Dodgers the night before in a sloppily played game, and he thought we needed a kick in the rump. Fanning did not pull a Knute Rockne, imploring us to win one for the Gipper. Instead, he adopted a tough-love approach. He told us we did not deserve to be on the field with Los Angeles. We were not as classy as the Dodgers. We did not execute plays as well as they did. Even their uniforms looked better than ours. We were an embarrassment to the organization. A disgrace to the city.
Fanning had finished his tirade by going weirdly John Wayne on us. He recalled how his father had once given him a pair of white boxing gloves for Christmas, and he told us he knew how to lace them on again should anyone care to challenge his authority. Why he needed to wave his macho before a roomful of powerful young athletes—any one of whom could have stuffed him in the nearest wastepaper basket—I will leave for the armchair psychiatrists among you to analyze. Remembering his words pushed enough of my own silly buttons to inspire the addition of this P.S. to my note: “Bring along those lily-white gloves your dad gave you.”
Copyright © 2005 by Bill Lee and Richard Lally