ATLANTA - Gather the Atlanta Braves coaching staff together in a room and listen to the stories pour forth from men who have spent a combined two centuries in professional ball.
But approach them individually and ask for their favorite tales from days riding minor-league buses or from life in the big leagues and they stammer like school boys.
Nonetheless, everyone has a favorite story, whether it be Clarence Jones on his days in Japan, Jim Beauchamp on a crazy teammate or Pat Corrales on saving a general manager some money. All it takes is some patience and some prodding and the stories begin, first as a trickle, then as a Texas gusher.
Beauchamp has been in pro ball as a player, coach and manager since 1958. He recalls a day in the early 1970s when he was with the New York Mets and ...
"It was spring training and we were playing the Cardinals at Al Lang Field. When we got there the Cards were taking batting practice, so Rube Walker and I sat down on the bench and waited. Well, Jack Buck is doing a pregame show from behind the batting cage and he's picking his guests at random. When Yogi Berra comes by, Jack grabs him to do an interview. So, we sit there and watch Yogi and when the interview is over, we see Jack hand him a check for $50 for being a guest.
"As soon as Yogi gets to our dugout, he looks at us and says, `Hey, Rube, they didn't even spell my name right.'
"The check said, Pay To Bearer."
Bullpen coach Ned Yost spent 14 years as a player, including five years in the majors, serving as a backup catcher for the Brewers and Rangers. He remembered one day in Milwaukee...
"Reggie Cleveland used to bring a newspaper to the bullpen and read during the first few innings of the game. He was sitting there one day, his legs crossed, reading the sports section. Well, Charlie Moore brought a little bottle of alcohol out one day and poured in on Reggie's cap and lit it on fire. There was a flame about a foot high, but Reggie just sat there reading the paper and didn't even know his cap was on fire.
"Charlie finally panicked and threw a towel over him and put it out."
Corrales, in his 39th season of pro ball, remembers a spring day in Florida when he was manager of the Texas Rangers.
"It was in Ft. Lauderdale and I went over to pick up a buddy at his condo. I was waiting downstairs in the lounge for him and at the other end of the room there were two guys and a woman. They're talking and I'm listening and when my buddy comes in and sees me eavesdropping, he asks me what I'm doing.
"I tell him, `I'm listening to Pat Corrales, manager of the Texas Rangers.' This guy is holding court, pretending to be me. The bartender went over and said, `Hey, do you want to meet the real Pat Corrales?'
"The guy went out the back door."
Jones, who has been the Braves hitting coach since 1988, spent eight seasons in Japan and in 1974 became the first American player to win the home run crown. But, when he first arrived in Japan, he figured he wouldn't last one season.
"It was misery. I couldn't speak their language and I didn't like their food. The turning point came one day when a rookie who didn't know any English decided he wanted to communicate with me. He began taking me to eat after practice, then we'd go to a Japanese movie. He would try to explain the movie to me and we'd end up laughing and we became pretty good friends.
"I started liking the food and I ended up liking the people and I stayed for eight years."
Pitching coach Leo Mazzone's playing and coaching career has spanned four decades. After years of riding the buses from Amarillo to Monterrey, he became the Braves pitching coach in 1990. He remembers his most embarrassing moment came the next season, during a game against the Expos, with Juan Berenguer on the mound.
"Bobby (Cox) had gone out and visited the mound and a little while later Berenguer threw a pitch wild high and I thought he'd hurt his arm. So I ran out of the dugout to the mound and I didn't say anything to the umpire.
"You talk about feeling foolish. The entire world was beating down on my neck. The other team was yelling, `Two visits, he has to go.' I told Juan, `Don't say anything, I already feel bad.'
"Bobby came up behind me and said, `Who can pitch without a warmup and I said, `Stanton.' So, Mike came in and Marquis Grissom hit it right at David Justice to end the inning. We won the game 7-6 and we won the pennant by one game.
"(General manager) John Schuerholz said later that if he'd had a gun he would have shot me from his box. It wasn't funny then, but it is now."
One of Mazzone's favorite memories is of September 1991, during the pennant race with the Dodgers.
"I'll always remember playing them in Atlanta and the excitement we felt in the stadium. I can remember sitting on the bench as the crowd was going crazy and thinking back on all the hard work and all the years I spent in the minor leagues and thinking to myself, `We have arrived.'
"It was the greatest feeling in the world."
Among Jones' favorite stories is the occasion during the 1990 season when Justice was a rookie and struggling at the plate. Jones had been trying for months to get Justice to move closer to the plate, but he had resisted.
"One day after a game he came over and sat right by my locker on the floor and said, `I'll do anything you say.' So I said, `Let's start tomorrow.' I told him that if he moved up on the plate and listened, he'd be Rookie of the Year.
"So, I moved him right on top of the plate and he hit 21 homers the second half and became Rookie of the Year."
Beauchamp recalled a day in Tulsa in 1963 when Pepper Martin, a member of the old Cardinals' Gas House Gang, told a story on the bench during a rain delay. Martin, then in his 60s and a coach, remembered the day Cards manager Frankie Frisch decided he'd make a change in the spring training routine.
"Martin said one day Frisch stood up in the clubhouse and said, `Boys, the Yankees are working out twice a day across town. They've won championship after championship following the same pattern spring after spring, so starting tomorrow we're going to do the same thing. We're going to work out twice a day too.
"Martin stood up and said, `Mr. Frisch, I got this [filtered word] back in Oklahoma and I can work him from sunup to sundown and he'll never win the Kentucky Derby.' "
"We all laughed so hard I don't know if they ever had two workouts a day or not."
Corrales remembers the day he was given authorization by the Indians to sign pitcher Rick Sutcliffe, so he could be traded.
"I was told I could go as high as $1 million. So I met him and we had lunch and some drinks and I told him we were a very poor ballclub and $800,000 was as much as I could go. Well, Sutcliffe said okay and I called up my boss and told him I'd just saved him $200,000.
"Later, I told Sutcliffe and he laughed and laughed."
Soon after Mazzone joined the Braves, he went out to the mound during a game Charlie Leibrandt was pitching.
"Jerry Crawford was umpiring and when I went out Charlie said, `He's squeezing me.' I thought I'd show the Braves pitchers that I'm taking up for them, so I said to Jerry, `Your strike zone looks a little tight.' He said, `Get out of here' and he threw me out.
"Bobby (Cox) said after the game, `You may have been able to intimidate the umps in the minors, but you can't do it here.' The next day my picture was in the paper and when Jerry saw me he said, `Hey, Leo, I made you famous.' I made a motion that I was zipping my mouth and we've been good friends ever since."
Still, that didn't prevent Mazzone from speaking up during a game Greg Maddux was pitching last year in Philadelphia, with Crawford again working the plate.
"Maddux kept hitting his target and Jerry wasn't calling many strikes and I was saying, `Jeez, gosh, where was that?' Well, the stands were empty and Jerry could hear everything I said.
"Finally, he took off his mask and turned to me and said, `Leo, Maddux is hitting his target, but the catcher is setting up a foot outside. Then he made a zipping motion with his hand and I said, `OK.' "
Corrales and Beauchamp were teammates on the Indianapolis team, the Reds' top affiliate, in 1968 and were in Oklahoma City for a series. Beauchamp had a good friend named Bob Wallace, who bore a remarkable resemblance to the late actor Brian Keith, and he came to visit while the team was in town.
Together, they decided to pull a prank on a gullible teammate named Bill Faul.
Beauchamp: "I told him Brian Keith and I were real good friends and that he was coming to visit and, of course, Bill's mouth dropped open. Well, when Bob showed up, I couldn't get together with him because Bill wouldn't let him out of his sight. He was waving to him during the game, then we went to a bar afterward and Bill asks how he can get in the movies. Bob tells him he can get him in, but he'll probably have to start off in villain roles.
"Then, after he's a villain, he can probably get him into some musicals. Bill is believing every word of this. Bob asked him if he could dance and Bill says, `Heck, yes, I can dance', and he gets up and grabs a lady on the dance floor and starts dancing, then dips her and drops her.
"So now Bill is convinced this is really Brian Keith and he won't let Bob out of his sight. A couple of days later, about 4 a.m., there's a knock on my door and it's Bob and he says, `I gotta get out of here, this guy is crazy,' and he takes off."
"Now I'm afraid how Bill is going to react. He's crazy and I figure he might shoot me if he finds out the truth. Well, the next day he comes up to me and says, `Hey, I called Hollywood and found out Brian Keith isn't in Oklahoma City' and he's real mad and I do some quick thinking.
"I said, `Yeah, Bob is my best friend, but he gets in these spells when he thinks he's Brian Keith and there's nothing anybody can do about it. I want to thank you very much for helping me out and letting him think he was Brian Keith.
"And, Bill looks sort of surprised, then nods and says, `Sure, sure, no problem. Glad to be able to help.' "
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