As a player, Dark had been an integral part of two New York Giants teams, the 1951 team which lost to the Yankees in the World Series and the 1954 team which had swept the favored Cleveland Indians. He was a leader on the field, and it was that reputation which led Giants owner Horace Stoneham to name him manager at the start of the 1961 season.
In other regards, though, Dark was a poor choice because he was ill-equipped emotionally to deal with a team which had so many players with dark skins. He had the attitude toward American blacks that you would expect from a native of Louisiana, though he always made an exception for Willie Mays, a teammate in New York. In addition, the Giants had a near monopoly on players from the Caribbean, including future Hall of Famers Juan Marichal and Orlando Cepeda.
Dark insisted that everybody speak English in the clubhouse. Marichal and Cepeda eventually learned to speak it well and Felipe Alou speaks three languages but at the time, all of them spoke only Spanish with any fluency. They regarded it as an insult when two of them sitting side-by-side in the dressing room were supposed to talk in English rather than their own language.
Dark’s racial attitudes betrayed him in other areas. Cepeda had 142 RBIs in 1961 but Dark claimed that his statistical analysis showed that very few of them came in critical situations. He never showed those calculations to anybody else but it’s hard to imagine a player not having a significant effect on games when he had 142 RBIs.
He also decided that Willie McCovey could not hit lefthanded pitching, so he platooned him in 1962. McCovey had only 229 at-bats that year but hit 20 homers. When he got the opportunity with other managers to play every day, McCovey went on a Hall of Fame career.
Dark also had a tendency to overmanage to try to outwit the other manager. This reached an extreme when he managed against the Phillies Gene Mauch, who was the same type. Both of them, for instance, liked to load up their lineups with right-handed hitters if the opposing starting pitcher threw left-handed (or vice versa), so Dark and/or Mauch would start, say,
a left-handed pitcher and then, after one batter, bring in a righthander.
There was more. At that time, starters were expected to pitch at least most, if not all, of the game but Dark and Mauch would make frequent pitching changes during a game, always trying to get an edge. The games seemed endless when they matched up.
Dark was never that extreme against other managers and, truthfully, he was good on strategy during the game. But the questions about his racial attitudes persisted. During a road trip to New York, Stan Isaacs quoted him as saying that black players were slower mentally than whites. I wasn’t there so I can’t say for certain whether the quotes were accurate but they were certainly indicative of Dark’s attitude.
That wasn’t what got him fired, though. Giants owner Horace Stoneham, a legendary drinker, always wanted his managers to drink with him after a game. (Horace always kept the press room well stocked with alcohol, too, and I drank my share of it after night games.) He excused Dark because Alvin was a non-drinker because of his religious beliefs. Then, Stoneham learned that Dark was having an affair with a stewardess and fired him. As it turned out, it was much more than an affair because Dark got a divorce from his first wife and he and Jackie were married for the last 54 years of his life.
Dark re-surfaced in the Bay Area as manager of the 1974 Oakland A’s. After the second game of the 1973 World Series, when second baseman Mike Andrews had made two errors, A’s owner Charlie Finley forced him to sign a note saying he was injured (he was not), so the A’s could open up a roster spot for Manny Trillo. When manager Dick Williams heard of this, he told the team he was resigning after the Series. The A’s won the Series. They were accustomed to high drama in the Finley years.
Dark was a good replacement for Williams, though the A’s players were slow to accept him. After a game in which his strategic moves backfired, I was at the door of the dressing room when a very angry Sal Bando threw his glove against the ball and shouted, “He couldn’t manage a f---ing meat market.”
Soon, though, players realized Dark’s strategy was sound. He wasn’t playing the matchup games he had as a Giants manager and he had a very sure touch with pitchers, knowing exactly when to take a starter out – or when to leave him in the game.
With Dark as manager, the A’s won their third straight World Series, the most by any American League club not playing in New York. But, Catfish Hunter was declared a free agent by an arbitrator after Finley failed to pay for an insurance policy, which was part of Hunter’s contract. Without Hunter, the A’s fell short in their quest for a fourth straight World Championship.
Meanwhile, Dark declared during a church service that Finley had not found God, an indisputable fact but a statement that did not endear him to the A’s owner. He was fired after the 1975 season. He was hired by the San Diego Padres in 1977 but fired during the season. He never attempted to manage again.
Though he retired to his home in South Carolina, Dark made visits to the Bay Area, usually when the Giants had reunion ceremonies with former players. I talked to him at those events, and they were enjoyable visits. We had both mellowed over the years and his insights into baseball strategy were helpful to me.
Like him or not , one thing was always true about Alvin Dark: He was true to his beliefs.
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