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Royals May Need All of Their Resiliency in Series With Cards

October 20, 1985|THOMAS BOSWELL | The Washington Post

We reveal ourselves in proportion to the depth of our emotion. Success can disgrace us. Tears can have dignity.

Wednesday, the Los Angeles Dodgers lost well, the Toronto Blue Jays poorly. The Kansas City Royals won well, the St. Louis Cardinals less excellently.

Casey Stengel once told his barber, "Don't slit my throat. I may want to do that myself later."

Tommy Lasorda took his own season-ending mistake at least that hard. After the man he decided not to walk with two outs in the ninth inning had homered, Lasorda wept before his team and blamed himself for losing the pennant.

"I feel like jumping off the nearest bridge," the Los Angeles manager said. "If Jack Clark makes an out, I look good. But he hits a homer, and even my wife knows I should've walked him."

In the worst moment of his career, Lasorda took the blame and acted like a leader. He sought out Tom Niedenfuer and told him, "Be a man. Face it."

Because Lasorda cried, because he second-guessed himself more profoundly than anyone else could, others were ready to console him.

Sure, it was boneheaded to let Clark hit when Lasorda had the choice of forcing Andy Van Slyke (.091 in the playoffs) to face Niedenfuer, or else making Brian Harper (.000) win the pennant against left-hander Jerry Reuss, who has the best (for a starter) ERA in baseball over the past five years.

Throughout the playoffs, Lasorda reversed the wisdom of all recent baseball statisticians: intentional walks are awful early, suspect in midgame but useful in the late innings against proven stars.

Nobody ever called Lasorda a brilliant tactician. An ex-Dodger, Don Stanhouse, once said, "I'm in favor of the designated hitter for the National League because it would cut down on Mr. Lasorda's mistakes."

However, Lasorda has compensating virtues, especially in an organization that plans for the long haul. In part because Lasorda showed Niedenfuer how, the 230-pounder nicknamed "Buffalo Head" seemed undamaged by a room-service gopher ball that could have scared a career or even a personality. He even smiled.

"I'm proud that I have the ability to be the person on the mound in that situation. ... I wanted to succeed, but I failed. ... In about four days, I'll start working out, trying to improve for next year." That really is Dodger pride.

Jack Clark, tagged a Me Guy in San Francisco, seemed humbled by his good fortune. He found inventive ways to draw teammates into his success, made cogent excuses for Lasorda, pointed out that he hadn't done much for two months (one homer) and it was about time he helped.

Clark, who hated being trapped with the losing Giants for eight seasons, even volunteered that "coaches in San Francisco prepared me for this."

Whitey Herzog was less gracious. He refused to let his team be introduced before the game and still was steamed afterward that a marching band had prevented his Cardinals from taking infield practice.

Herzog said, "I don't want some team to tell me I can't take infield. And I think that's more important than getting introduced. . . . They give us that Dodger-tradition BS. Tradition, my. . . . "

The truth of his point was defeated, turned back against him, by the way he said it. Herzog had a good playoff as a manager, a bad playoff as a talker.

He was probably searching for motivational ways to counteract the home-field advantage that had produced 13 straight home wins in the NL playoffs before Wednesday. But, after winning, he could have dropped his bludgeon.

He was quoted as ripping the Dodgers when his team trailed, 2-0, in the series. Maybe that stick-it- in-your-ear helped the Cardinals become the seventh team in baseball history to come back from a 2-0 deficit to win a seven-game postseason series.

The cost, however, is substantial. Should the expression be changed to Cardinal Blue?

From the taut dignity of Ozzie Smith to the humility of Willie McGee to the cheerful smile of Tito Landrum, the Cardinals won stylishly. If John Tudor was icy and Joaquin Andujar bitter, they didn't mar the group portrait much.

Some players can only be appreciated if they are seen every day. Ozzie Smith is one. Anytime he plays on national TV, every fan is richer.

The misfortune of the playoffs was the black eye that bad-tempered George Bell helped inflict on Toronto. When a team has a 3-1 lead and the final two games at its own park, then loses, the umpires didn't lose it for you.

Bell aside, the Blue Jays' long suit is nice guys. But the team flaw has been, and remains, a lack of players who face failure with strength. They could use a Lasorda speech.

The core of the Kansas City Royals team has endured so many disappointments in October that gentlemen such as George Brett, Hal McRae, Dan Quisenberry, Frank White and Dick Howser have developed an almost ideal competitive temperament.

Several teams have more talent than the Royals from the neck down, but not one club in the game is less afraid of failure. "I used to walk on water," said Quisenberry after losing two games. "Now, I get wet sometimes." He saved the last two.

You can beat the Royals, but it's tough to embarrass them. That could be important in the Series.

The Cardinals depend heavily on humiliating foes with their speed and making them quit. Against Vince Coleman (110 steals) and Tudor (21-2 since June 1), the Royals may need all their resiliency, their capacity for instant forgetfulness, if they are to force a long Series that tests character as much as talent.

"Baseball is designed to break your heart," wrote A. Bartlett Giamatti, president of Yale.

That's a certainty. It's what you do after it's broken that counts.

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