In moments of crisis Les Peden manager of The Alexandria Dukes sometimes cracks under the pressure of Carolina League life and blinks an eye.

When his pitchers walk the house or his runners get picked off or his fielders start pelting the customers with their throws Peden will clear his throat, get to his feet and do . . . nothing.

That is the secret of managing an

"Les may not be too colorful," one Duke regular said "but he's a good manager for us. He knows the fundamentals of the game, he played in the majors himself and he calms us by never panicking."

To many Dukes collide on a foul pop in front of the Alexandria dugout, the ball drops directly at Peden's feet. Instead of throwing a fit, Peden spits - spraying tobacco juice on the field and squeezing a word out the side of his mouth.

"Les got everybody all excited the other day," said Dick Phillips a Duke fan. "He uncrossed his arms.

"I saw LES heading to the mound to replace a pitcher one night, so I went to the hot dog line. When I got back, he still hadn't reached the mound."

Playing in the deep minors is difficult; managing there is impossible. Only a man with the nervous system of a rock could survive.

Peden, in his 13th year as a minor league skipper, is doing fine. When the Dukes were rained out 16 times early in the season - a disaster that slew both pitching staff and attendance - peden looked on the bright side.

"At least none of 'em were flukes," he said. "It rained so hard we'd have been rained out in the Astrodome.

"The roof would have leaked."

When the Dukes' few affiliated players are called to another team by the parent club (Seattle), Peden patches the holes.When his shortstop asks for permission to try out with another team, Peden says sure, go ahead, better yourself.

If the world were just, Peden would win the lottery. Or at least inherit the earth.

Instead, he has to sit in the same dugout with 25 players in smelly uniforms. Well, sometimes.

"Les doesn't want us to wash our uniforms until we win," said former Duke Hunt Mitchell earlier this season, when the team was in a losing streak. "If we don't win soon, my uniform will be strong enough to play without me."

Peden, a bear of a man whose playing size was 6-foot-2, 212 pounds, many McDonald's stops and bus rides ago, knows more about his game than most of hs players will probably ever need to know.

Peden remembers the greatest day of his nine-game career with the Washington Senators in 1953. Typical of his nature, Peden does not cite his lone big league home run.

Though he worked only eight big league games behind the plate, one of them was the day Mickey Mantle hit a tape-measure home run - a 565-foot blast in old Griffith Stadium many claim is the longest ever measured accurately.

"It was a letter-high fast ball, just the pitch we didn't want to throw," Peden recalled. "Geez, Mickey gave it some kinda charge. It disappeared like a golf ball.

The next day around the battling cage, somebody had a fake telegram from the Hall of Fame. It said they wanted Mickey Mantle's bat. Chuck Stobbs' arm and Les Peden's brain.

"Stobbs got mad and looked for someone to poke."