Friday, February 23, 2001
Rigney's tales spanned generations
By David Bush
Special to ESPN.com
Statistics don't tell the story of Bill Rigney, but telling stories is
certainly what he did best. When Rigney, the former major league player and manager, died Tuesday morning baseball lost a part of its history, not only in the making, but more importantly in the preservation.
When Rigney signed his first professional contract, Lou Gerhig and Babe Ruth
were still active players. When he joined the New York Giants, Mel Ott was a
teammate. His second big league season was Jackie Robinson's first and
Rigney was in the dugout for Bobby Thomson's pennant winning home run in
1951. He managed Willie Mays and Willie McCovey.
As an executive he helped build the Oakland A's three-time pennant winners and world champs of the late
1980s. And he could talk about it all.
But his value to baseball was words, not numbers. He knew personalities were as much a part of the game as the pitcher's
mound, and had plenty of first hand experience with some of zaniest. As
manager of the Angels in 1962, he took a second-year expansion team of
characters and castoffs and put the fear of God into the Maris-Mantle-Ford
Yankees. Rig's crazy Angels led the league on September 12 before fading to
third. Of all the teams he played for or managed. Rigney loved that one
"Bo Belinsky," he would say, and then shake his head knowing that uttering
the name of the colorful pitcher was enough. It was, but Rig never stopped an anecdote short.
"Bo had a bright red Cadillac, and everybody in town knew where he was at night," recalled Rigney often. "So I said, 'Why don't you at least get a less conspicuous
car and get rid of that red thing?'
One day he came in and said, "Hey, Skip,
I got a new car.'
"I said, "Great, what did you get?"
"Fine, what color is it?"
That was Bo, who now admits had he listened to Rigney his career would have
been longer. And listening to Rigney was very easy to do.
"It is so ironic that he died at the beginning of spring training," said
Lon Simmons, the long time announcer for the Giants and the A's and one of
Rigney's closest friends. "That was his stage."
And the world was his audience. Many's the night a group of us would sit at
the Pink Pony Steakhouse, the traditional baseball hangout in Scottsdale,
Ariz., and listen to Rigney hold court. His hands would fly, illustrating
his points with the same grace he skill he once used to remove the ball from
the glove and turn the double play. Rigney could re-tell a story innumerable
times and captivate the same audience. You knew the punchline, but never
tired of the delivery.
The tales spanned the generations. Like the one about Hall of Famer Johnnie
Mize, who habitially dropped his sweat soaked uniform on the clubhouse
floor. Once when Mize was showering, Rigney drenched the uniform top with
lighter fluid. When Mize returned Rigney told him that last night's Scotch
was coming out his pores. Mize was skeptical until Rigney tossed a match on
the sweatshirt to prove his point. As it burst into flames the flabbergasted
Mize forever changed his perception of how a body assimilates alcohol.
On would come the tales of Hubbell, Ott, Mays, Campanella, Robinson,
McCovey, Aaron, Henderson and Canseco. Rig had something entertaining to say
about all of them and he wasn't particular about his audience. If you wanted
to listen, you were welcome.
"He had so much knowledge, but he never talked down to people," said Sandy
Alderson, former A's GM and now assistant to commissioner Bud Selig. "There
was room for everybody in his world, he never turned anybody away who had a
love of baseball."
"Certain people should just last forever so every generation gets a chance
to enjoy them," said Simmons. "Rig was one of those."
He certainly was, and I'm just glad that my generation was one that had that
David Bush has been a sportswriter for the San Francisco Chronicle since
1972, and a friend of Bill Rigney's since the mid 1970s. Bush covered
baseball full time from 1983-1997, spending much time with Rigney in the
process. A Bay Area native he grew up a Giants fan, but in 1962 fell in love
with Rigney's upstart Angels.
|Bill Rigney managed the Giants from 1956-60, serving as the team's first manager in San Francisco.|
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