Surgeons repaired Harvey Kuenn's heart in 1977, cut open his stomach twice in 1979 and took off his right leg from the knee down in 1980. During "the stomach thing," as Kuenn refers to it, his wife telephoned his boss, Harry Dalton, and said, "Harry, the doctors say Harvey won't live through the night."
The heart's plumbing was so bad it delivered about half the blood it promised. An inflammation of the colon preceded uremic poisoning and kidney failure. Artery collapse led to the amputation. Kuenn stood up today and tapped first his chest, then his stomach and last his knee.
"Just went right down," he said, smiling. "It's done."
They call him Archie in Milwaukee because, like television's Archie Bunker, Harvey Kuenn lives behind a tavern he owns and operates. You've seen Kuenn on television himself lately, always with a plug of chewing tobacco distorting his reddish face. He took over the Milwaukee Brewers' managing job in midstream this summer, when the team resented Buck Rodgers' tight rein, and now Harvey Kuenn has it in the World Series.
Every player gives credit to Kuenn. Rodgers overmanaged. They don't say it so bluntly. The euphemism is that he was the wrong personality for the wrong team. The fact is, after General Manager Dalton moved Kuenn from a coach's job into the manager's office, the Brewers moved from one game under .500 to 30 over, baseball's best record.
"Harvey told us to relax, have fun and hit the ball out of the park," said Gorman Thomas, the center fielder who hit 39 of Milwaukee's major-league leading 216 home runs.
"They were trying to do too much," Kuenn said of the Brewers under Buck Rodgers. "Each guy was getting out of his limitations. Singles hitters trying to hit home runs. Pitchers throwing too hard."
It's not that simple, but neither is it much more complex. Given good talent and great expectations, it is easy for a manager to make a botch of things. Walter Alston's chief skill in 23 extraordinary seasons was that he allowed the Dodgers' superior players to play simple baseball. Over the long haul, undisturbed talent will overwhelm lesser teams.
The California Angels have four players who have been MVPs. Their manager, Gene Mauch, used 70 different batting orders this season. Some call Mauch a genius. As Sparky Anderson did with the mighty Reds of the mid-'70s, Kuenn used the same order every chance he had. This calls for no genius; it calls for common sense. In 23 seasons, Mauch has not won a pennant. In his first season, Kuenn wins.
"We're not going to try anything tricky," Kuenn said today. "We play fundamental baseball. I've seen too many trick plays backfire. You try some trick with runners on first and third, and the guy on first falls down. I've got more confidence in my team that they'll do something good rather than waiting for the other team to make a mistake."
Kuenn worried that moving into the manager's office would change the fundamentalist, conservative way he thought. He is 51. He hit .303 in 15 major league seasons with five teams. He has seen managers fly away on ego trips unending. He didn't want anyone to call him a genius, he only wanted to win ball games.
"I told my players when I took the job, 'If any one of you see me change in any way, I want you to let me know.' I've seen managers change their personalities and change their philosophies. Not one of those 25 players have come and told me yet. And they would."
What we have here, in Harvey Kuenn, is what Archie Bunker would call "da real ting." How can there be any pretense in a one-legged, tobacco chewing bartender with new plumbing upstairs and down?
"You go through these slim periods I did, you're just grateful you're here," he said. "After losing a game, I tell everybody the world's not coming to an end. And if it is, you're not going to be here, anyway."
He woke up tired one day in 1977. A doctor who had had heart surgery himself stopped in the tavern that day. He told Kuenn to have a stress test. The surgery followed immediately.
"The first question I asked after the heart thing was, 'Will I be able to coach and play golf?' The doctor said that was up to me. 'If you put your mind to it, yes.' So I told him, 'Then I'll be doing it.' "
He did, until a sudden pain two years later. They opened his stomach and sewed it shut without doing anything. "I was scared. 'Tell me the truth,' I said. They said it was an inflammation of the colon and I was fine. But then it became uremic poisoning and kidney failure at the same time. That's when my wife called Harry."
After 10 weeks of intravenous feeding, Kuenn, a 200-pounder most times, weighed 139. A second operation fixed him that time.
A year later, the leg thing.
"I played golf six weeks after I had the prosthesis put on."
His wife, Audrey, went out to play golf. Kuenn said he would ride along in the cart.
"I slipped my nine-iron, seven-iron and putter into her bag. She said, 'What are you doing with those extra clubs?' I said, 'You never can tell.' "
Soon enough, Kuenn chipped with the nine-iron.
Next hole, he took a bigger swing, with the seven-iron.
He putted out.
"Audrey had a driver. On the ninth hole, after she hit, I said, 'Let me see that.' She said, 'You're not,' and I said, 'I'll give it a whirl. They taught me how to get up after I fall on my butt.' I hit the drive right down the middle."
Two days later, Harvey Kuenn played 18 holes.