Garry Templeton had cards in one hand, a cigarette in the other. He didn't like the cards. "Misdeal," he yelled, looking at them. The other five players in the game laughed. Templeton smiled, apparently pleased at the reaction.
An intruder approached. For 10 days now, every time Templeton has turned around someone has wanted to talk to him. They want him to talk about the night of Aug. 26. That evening, in St. Louis, Templeton, the highest paid shortstop in baseball at $690,000 a season, was unceremoniously removed from the field by his manager, Whitey Herzog, after the player made a series of obscene gestures to the fans.
Herzog suspended Templeton and told him he could not return until he apologized to the team and the public. One week later, Templeton did both. Since then, he has hit .450, with 16 hits in nine games, and has helped the Cardinals hang onto first place in the National League East. Wednesday, he will play in St. Louis for the first time since the incident, and teammates concede he may be uptight about the reception he will receive.
Now, Templeton looked up from his cards. "What do you want from me?" he asked. Informed, he shook his head. "I'm not doing any talking about anything right now," he said. "I'm through talking."
His tone was soft, almost apologetic. It gave the impression that he might change his mind. The intruder persisted. Now, the other card players were upset.
"Hey, leave him alone, he said he didn't want to talk," said one.
"Yeah, scram, he's busy," said another.
Templeton was almost pleading now. "Really, if you don't mind, I don't want to talk. I'm tired of it. I just want to play the game."
The scene today in the Cardinal clubhouse at Wrigley Field was more significant than might be imagined. When Templeton was suspended, a number of his teammates were publicly critical of him, saying he was bad for the club, that they would be just as happy if he never returned.
"A lot of guys didn't really understand what was happening," said first baseman Keith Hernandez. "I think they're sorry now for some of the things they said. I'm really happy that he's been able to come back and play so well."
When he has talked about his return, Templeton has told reporters that the suspension was a blessing in disguise and "the best thing that could have happened to me."
He is seeing a psychiatrist now, largely because the incident in St. Louis was not an isolated incident. In his five years with the Cardinals, Templeton has done two things consistently: hit and find trouble.
As a 21-year-old rookie in 1977, he hit .322. He has a career batting average of .307 and averaged 200 hits a year for his first four seasons. But he has also had his problems. He refused to go to the All-Star Game two years ago when he was not chosen as a starter.
He fought with Cardinal management over hitting second rather than leadoff and got angry when the team announced at one point that former shortstop Dal Maxvill would be working with Templeton on fielding fundamentals rather than saying he would be working with all the infielders. And, he feuded with the Cardinals over money until he got the big contract last winter.
"Really, though, Garry's a good kid," said Bob Harrison, the scout who signed him out of Santa Ana, Calif., in 1974 after he was the 13th player chosen in the draft. "He's always had brushes with trouble, ever since he was a kid, but it's never been anything really bad."
Harrison began scouting Templeton when he was in the ninth grade. Templeton, whose family lived on welfare, was a great all-round athlete -- a wide receiver in football, a sprint star (without ever practicing) on the track team. He was good enough in football to be offered a scholarship to Arizona State. But first, he was a baseball player.
"Just a natural hitter," Harrison said. "You could always see that. But there were days where he didn't really go all out for some reason. He wouldn't run hard or wouldn't throw hard. Sometimes a scout would catch him on a day like that and not think much of him. I knew different because I saw him all the time."
Templeton was thrown off his high school team twice as a senior, once when he was one of a group arrested during a fight at school in which a teacher trying to break it up was injured (the charges were later dropped), and another time when he was caught smoking a cigarette.
"But he was a good person, I was convinced of that," Harrison said. "When I signed him, he kept holding out for $50,000. I asked him why the extra money was so important. This was at his parents' house. He pointed at a baby his mother was holding and said, 'I have to support my baby.' His intentions were usually good. Things just didn't always work out."
Now, Herzog says the suspension is a closed incident and he won't talk about whether he will try to trade Templeton in the offseason.
"He's done everything I asked him to," he said. "We met, I told him what I expected, and he's done everything. His first game back he hit four ropes (line drives) in Montreal and he's just gone from there. Some guys can fall out of bed and hit on Christmas."
How the fans will react Wednesday, no one, including Herzog, knows. "We'll have to see," he said. "I don't know how they'll feel."
But that is not Herzog's or Templeton's main concern. It was the clubhouse they were most worried about. Judging by today's card game, Templeton is, at least right now, doing just fine.
And right now, all Templeton is worried about is right now.