I played a lot of ball when young, and for a bunch of good people.

First up, with Hollywood in the 9-10 minors, was Bernie Ginsburg. Early on I’d advised him of desire to play outfield. (These were the days of Rocky Colavito and I pictured it like on TV, with me garnering flies in right/center. Little did I know that at nine it didn’t go that way). Mr. Ginsburg did though. Ignoring me, bypassing an older Andy Press, he put me behind the plate, where I stayed for my life.

The Majors came next, then Pony League. Fred Wendel, Dave Bowman, my Dad, Mr. Minadeo: all nice men….warm, paternal, and they even knew baseball. None of them, however, NONE of them, could shine the cleats of the best skipper I ever played for: one Alan Vernon Wieder.

Much has been said about this Jewish Lombardi. It’s all been covered: from Wied’s iconic appeal in a blow-out game of the runner from third (even as they carried the guy—compound fracture and all— from the field on a stretcher), to his stubborn side, when if he wasn’t in the mood, every reasonable request could be met with his rhythmic “No,” (which meant don’t even bother asking later).

And yet, there was more. There was the “Inner Al”, comprised of things he did with the camera perhaps on others. This is what set him apart, made him more than just our friend with a fire in his belly, and placed him in the hierarchy of 20th century field generals.

Alan Wieder wanted to win more than he wanted to keep friends. In the process, he did both.

Growth can mean rough transition. The pickup games at Rowland: everyone played. Even the uncoordinated kids, (“easy outs” if you will), got to bat. Organized ball, however, was different. From adolescence on, players from other schools expanded the talent pool, the umps were paid for, and some teams even, had uniforms. Indeed, the price of poker had risen.

And through it all, Alan V threaded needles:

Meticulously, almost without sound, he pruned our roster of life-long mates, quietly exorcizing the weaker remnants from that first squad, Waxman Plumbing Supply. (It
was the late 60’s and while Soviet Russia had its KGB, we had Wido. One day a guy would be out there playing right next to you—someone you’d known since grade school perhaps. A week later he was gone… without a sound. Vanished! No fanfare, no warning—just gone… replaced by a lesser-known face with more evident ability. Ouch! Nice guys on the team, though, never got fingers dirty and other guys didn’t care. All we knew is that Alan’d handled things, Alan’d found talent, and we kept getting better.

So Myers left early and Marvin left later. Fromin went underground and Will went to the Tribe. The beat went on, we kept getting stronger, and heck, even Pollack threw lifelong friends to the curb to be a part of the juggernaut dubbed Sol’s Boys.

Hindsight is 20/20. It wasn’t that we were that good, (‘though we were). It was the other stuff—the fundamentals. Be it the gazelle Racila in left or a blue collar backstop like me, we each knew where to be and what to do…always. In an era known for anarchy, our ten played with discipline. Steadfast discipline.

We had to, by the way. If we didn’t there were consequences. What WERE the consequences? (you ask). They were Wieder.

Screw up and you got the glare.

Words can’t describe, film can’t depict the icy grimace that steeled from his face. God forbid you didn’t back up in the infield, heaven help you if you missed a cutoff from the outfield. From the back of the mound he’d just look out and stare. And stare.
(Not that when Al finally turned back to pitch it was over. Hell no! If further runs scored as result of your miscue, Wieder’d slam his mitt to the ground, and—once he had our attention, kick it. (Ed. Note: One time he kicked it toward me. It wasn’t my fault; I think Arthur’s throw was errant. I remember being scared though, and worried. Was I to run out and retrieve the glove and get it to him or just let it play out. He was snarling).

—-And with all this regimen, we won. Often. And we played with swagger. Always.
It wasn’t that we’d win each game so much as that we truly expected to. Always.

Thank you, Alan, for a squad that was better than most but played better than everyone.

Not that he didn’t have a soft side. Hardly.

We were closing out the season, 1969, at Gordon Park. Arriving for the meaningless doubleheader, (the pennant was clinched), Alan greeted me with news.

“You’re leading off today”, he told me quietly. Turned out he’d gotten stats from Ruby Wolfe, (these were pre-computer days), and going into the last week I was second in the league in hitting, just Robby Heiser. “You need more at bats,” Wieder noted. So he moved me up—from 10th in the lineup, to first.

And perhaps feeling pressure, I hit 1 for 8.
And on another diamond was Heiser; he went 0 for 9.

It would my first batting title and I’d always be grateful.

Oft over years have I mentioned this story. Al and I’ve discussed it on many occasions.
Looking back we just laugh. Perhaps not so surprisingly, I’ve never asked him whether he’d have moved me up if we hadn’t already clinched the pennant. (I don’t know if I’m afraid of his “No”, or just getting the glare).

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