It’s the all-star break Dodger fans, and what better time to do the second part of our three part book review series of “Chasing October” David Plaut’s amazing book, that captures every moment of the 1962 National league pennant race between the Dodgers and the Giants in amazing detail. In this article we will take a look at the two managers, Walter Alston Dodger’s manager, and Alvin Dark, Giants manager. Both managers were of stark contrast, two completely different men, with two completely different styles of managing. David goes on to describe both men’s childhood, and upbringing, while analyzing each men’s strengths and weaknesses in the dugout.
Walter Alston, the Dodger’s manager was born in a Venice Ohio farmland, the son of an automobile worker, was known as “Smokey”, and was one of the fastest pitchers on his small town team.
Walter Emmons Alston, as David describes him was in his ninth season as Dodger’s skipper entering the 1962 season. Alston was known as an Organization man. He was dependable, although he would normally sign one year contract extensions every year. But he was also was an intimidating force. At 6’2 and 210 pounds, Alston often was as large, or larger than most of his players. He was known to be cool, or aloof (much like our current manager Don Mattingly), as Vin Scully once described Alston,
"“I used to always say that he should have ridden shotgun through Indian country during the days of the covered wagons.“ – Vin Scully"
Alston was also known to be a very good pool player, and David even goes into detail about a famous pool game between Alston, and coach Leo Durocher. The game showcased both men’s skills with a billiard cue. David goes on to explain that Durocher, had spent a good amount of time in pool halls growing up and was quite a fierce competitor. Nobody could best him in a game of pool, nobody save for Walter Alston that is. After Maury Wills had suggested Alston stay and shoot some pool during one night in spring training when the men had been there for hours that night watching Durocher clean up. The guys had decided that the only man who had a chance of beating Durocher was Alston himself. Alston had walked in to see what all the commotion was about, and Maury Wills had said to Alston to “stay and shoot some pool skip”. Durocher turned around, and there was Alston standing there holding a pool cue, and the match was on. During the beginning of the game, Alston nearly ran the table, taking a huge lead. Finally he missed a shot, and Durocher was allowed back into the game. Durocher would rally to tie Alston, and finally take the lead on some difficult shots. Alston needed to sink two more shots to tie Durocher, which he did with ease. The crowd of Dodgers were growing intensely interested in the outcome of the Pool game. Once the game was tied, Alston put down his pool cue, looked at his watch, and said “meeting at 8:30”, and walked out. The two men would never play billiards again. The game ended in a draw, but somehow the legends of both men grew to epic proportions after such a thing.
Alston was a former player, a career minor leaguer for the Cardinal’s organization, but was blocked for nearly 13 years by some of the greatest players of that time. By 1940, Alston was offered a minor league managerial assignment, and took the job. Alston also was teaching Biomechanics, and mechanical drawing while playing and managing in Baseball.
After the Brooklyn Dodgers hired Alston to manage their New Hampshire minor league club in 1946, Alston climbed the Dodgers ranks quickly, and in 1954 was hired as manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Once made manager, the newspaper headlines read “Walter who?”. Alston went on to be one of the most successful managers in Dodger’s history. Alston won four World Series Championships, including the Dodgers very first in 1955, and seven league pennants. He managed for 22 years, while speaking very few words. As a Manager Alston was known as a by the book guy, but loved to take bold risks on the field with hit and run plays, and straight steals throughout the game. Alston would platoon players, and make defensive switches, but otherwise took very little outside risks. David describes him as a manager who didn’t manage much. Alston would let his player’s natural abilities come out and win games for him, and he was known for his patience.
However Alston’s managerial counterpart, in the other dugout, Giants manager, Alvin Dark was often unconventional in his approach. Dark the former rookie of the year shortstop would embody his strict southern Baptist upbringing, and always brought a bible with him while on road trips. Dark the son of an oil well engineer, spent most of his early years in Louisiana, raised in a very strict southern home. Dark’s unconventional ways spurred controversy, when he ordered his Latin players to stop speaking Spanish in the clubhouse. That obviously did not go over well with such players as Felipe Alou, and Orlando Cepeda. Dark was also known for his competitive nature. David even goes into detail about an incident where Dark turned over a food table after a few losses in a row, accidentally ruining one of Willie McCovey’s suits. Dark’s managerial style was completely different than that of Walter Alston. Dark would play match-ups, juggle lineups, use relievers as decoys, and switch positions defensively, based on what direction the Candlestick Park wind was blowing. While Alston’s style was laid back and patient, Dark was known to over-manage, and people began to call him “The mad scientist”, for tinkering too much with the lineups.
Despite both men having totally different managerial styles and personalities, each man shared one trait in common, a fiery temper. Normally Alston was as cool as the other side of the pillow, but on occasion, his temper would show. While Dark was throwing tables, and ruining suits, Alston was punching holes in walls. Case in point, David goes on to describe one story of Pitchers Sandy Koufax, and Larry Sherry coming back late from curfew one spring training. Alston had been waiting for the two men in their barracks. Alston asked them why they had broken curfew and after neither men would answer, Alston become so enraged, he punched a hole in the wall, splitting the stone on his 1959 World Series ring in half. Needless to say, Nobody broke curfew for the rest of that spring.
When I asked David, who he thought had the best managerial style, or who he thought was the best overall manager, he had this to say….
"If you go by the numbers, Alston won more pennants and championships. Dark did win one with Oakland. But they were totally different people with their own strengths and weaknesses. Neither of them sought attention, or were flamboyant. They just had different styles. Each brought certain strengths to each team, and both were very smart men. Dark was at one time a great Baseball player, which could have helped him, but both were smart guys. Dark came up with his own rating systems, which might have hurt him, but he was very candid, and a good guy. They were different but both good."
These two men, were the leaders of the two teams that would battle for the NL pennant. David’s book, Chasing October is the definitive documentation, of perhaps what is considered the greatest pennant race of all time. David captures the epic battle between the Dodgers and the Giants for the 1962 pennant race, in what is considered by many as the greatest pennant race of all time in Major League Baseball history. This was a dogfight, a brutal fight for the top spot in the National League, and it would go down to the final inning before being decided. This season we could be seeing another memorable dogfight for first place between the Dodgers and the Giants.
In the third part of my three post review series on Chasing October, I’ll take a look at the three game playoff series that eventually decided the pennant. You can find David’s book here at his website www.chasingoctoberbook.com You can purchase a copy of the book here at this Amazon link Chasing-October-ebook The book is also available at Barnes and Noble online, and is also available for download on Itunes as well.