Walter E. Alston, 72, a rugged, quiet-spoken former schoolteacher who became one of baseball's most successful managers, leading the Dodgers -- first in Brooklyn and then in Los Angeles -- to seven pennants and four world championships, died yesterday in Ohio.
Mr. Alston, who retired from his post at the end of the 1976 season after 23 years at the helm of one of baseball's best-known teams, died at McCullough Hyde Memorial Hospital in Oxford. He had suffered a heart attack last year and his death was attributed to subsequent heart problems.
A man who had struck out in his only appearance at bat in the major leagues, Mr. Alston went on to lead a team that included some of the diamond's most glittering stars, and was elected last year to join the game's other immortal figures in baseball's Hall of Fame.
He won the first world championship in the long history of the old Brooklyn Dodgers, and was the last manager of the team in the legendary Ebbetts Field. Only a year after the move to California, he brought the new Los Angeles Dodgers their first pennant and world series victory. And in all his 23 years as the team's on-field leader, he managed on a series of one-year contracts.
Although a quiet, patient, seemingly colorless man who held a job in cities often thought to put a premium on flamboyance and display, Mr. Alston appeared confident that he could nevertheless win the respect of his players and assert his authority over his teams -- a confidence that proved well placed.
While stolid and reticent, he carried more than 200 pounds on a sturdy 6- foot, 2-inch frame, and occasionally gave his men good reason to suspect that a fierce anger might lurk behind the cold composure that was his trademark.
Among those who played for him from the time he took over the Dodgers in 1954 were the veteran Brooklyn players celebrated as the "Boys of Summer," including Pee Wee Reese, Jackie Robinson, Carl Erskine, Gil Hodges, Carl Furillo and Roy Campanella.
Esteemed for his versatility, his ability to adapt his style and strategy to the gifts and abilities of his players, Mr. Alston won with these players, as well as with their successors, who included such luminaries as Maury Wills, Steve Garvey, Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax.
One of his most satisfying seasons came in 1959, in which the Dodgers, in only their second year in California, were playing at an improvised facility in the Coliseum while their new stadium was being built in Chavez Ravine.
The year before, the team, less liberally stocked with stars than in many seasons, had floundered. Mr. Alston had been hung in effigy at a gasoline station in San Pedro, and admiration for his "quiet man" reputation did not seem high.
On May 6, 1959, the Dodgers, in seventh place in the standings, had lost to the Pirates in Pittsburgh. On the bus taking the team back from the ballpark, players began to grumble. The subjects of their complaints spread to include the bus they were in.
Suddenly Mr. Alston ordered the driver to pull to the side of the road.
"I say this bus is good enough for us," he told his players. "If any of you don't think so, we'll step outside and discuss it."
None of the players accepted the challenge, and Mr. Alston denied later that it was a challenge. But the team's fortunes improved; the Dodgers, who had been conceded little chance, won the pennant and defeated the Chicago White Sox in the World Series.
The incident on the bus and the team's subsequent improvement seemed a reprise of events from Mr. Alston's early career with the team, when then team owner Walter O'Malley brought him from obscurity to Brooklyn to manage the Dodgers in 1954 as the replacement for Charlie Dressen.
Widely viewed as a team in its prime, the Dodgers were expected to win the pennant in Mr. Alston's first year, but they lost the flag to their bitter rivals, the old New York Giants, and Mr. Alston found many detractors among both his players and their sharp-tongued Brooklyn fans.
In reference to the long managerial apprenticeship he had spent in baseball's minor leagues, he was called "the Big Busher." In recognition of the off-season months he habitually spent teaching shop and science in his native state, he was called "that Ohio schoolteacher."
Early in the season of 1955, Mr. Alston once recalled, he could see that his team, despite a number of on-the-field victories, was having problems.
"I couldn't see what the problem could be," he said. "But I sure as hell wanted to find out. So I called a meeting."
At its climax, he confronted one of his most discontented players. "We can talk," he said. "We can talk right here, right now, or you and I can go outside and talk." he said. Nobody left the clubhouse. The team went on to win the pennant, and to face the New York Yankees in the World Series.
The Yankees had beaten the Dodgers in the series five times since 1941. The Dodgers had never beaten the Yankees or anyone else in a series. In 1955, under the calm guidance of Mr. Alston, the Dodgers finally won, four games to three.
The next year, the Dodgers won the pennant again, but were defeated by the Yankees in the World Series. In 1957, the Milwaukee Braves won the National League pennant, and the year after that the Dodgers were in Los Angeles.
In addition to the 1959 pennant, the Dodgers won National League championships under Mr. Alston in 1963, 1965, 1966 and 1974. In 1963, they beat the Yankees in the World Series and in 1965 defeated the Minnesota Twins. In 1966, they lost to the Baltimore Orioles and in 1974 to the Oakland A's.
While Mr. Alston's moments of anger appeared memorable for their efficacy, they were also notable for their rarity. He said he aimed to get results by other means.
"I know they say I lack color and I know this is a fault," he once said. "But if I tried to change, I might not get the job done as well."
"I just try to do things the way they should be done," he said. "I think it is more important to keep the players as content and relaxed as possible than to know when to bunt and steal a base or put on the hit and run."
In his early days in Brooklyn, Mr. Alston managed teams of stars in their prime and, before he left, teams on which his stars were declining. His first teams in Los Angeles were patchworks of fading stars and young newcomers. He had teams with power and teams with speed. His last teams included many of the players who eventually won pennants under his successor, Tommy Lasorda.
"You have to handle every situation differently," Mr. Alston said. Different players also had to be handled differently. "You've got to encourage some, you've got to drive others."
Mr. Alston was born Dec. 1, 1911 at Venice, Ohio. His father, who had been a farmer and an auto worker, taught him to play baseball. A pitcher in high school, he played baseball and basketball at Miami University, in Oxford, Ohio, near Darrtown, where he lived. He also earned money shooting pool.
Having switched to the infield during college, he signed a minor league contract after his 1935 graduation, and during the 1936 season was brought to St. Louis for his only big league at-bat.
"I fouled off a couple, then struck out," he recalled.
By 1940 he was a player-manager in the minors, and he kept managing after he was forced to quit playing. Success with the Dodgers' top minor league teams finally brought him to the big leagues.
But the 1976 season was the last."There comes a time," he said, "when you get enough of anything."