"Attention, please!" boomed the impersonal voice of the loudspeaker at Cleveland's Municipal Stadium, breaking in on the second game of the Indians' Sunday double-header with the New York Yankees. "Today's paid attendance is 84,587, the most that ever saw a regular season major league game." The crowd applauded but quieted down when the speaker boomed again. "Attention, please. Today's attendance, including passes, is 86,563, the most that ever saw a major league game." This time the crowd was permitted to cheer its own magnificence without interruption.
This impressive compliment fully digested, the largest crowd that ever gathered to watch a baseball game went back to the fascinated contemplation of what had brought most of them to Municipal Stadium in the first place—the Cleveland Indians' effective demonstration that they are a better team than the five-time World Champion New York Yankees. As drama, it might very well have been entitled The Twilight of the Gods. While a band played brassily in left field, the Yankees followed Thor and Wotan into eclipse.
The inevitable end of the champions did not dull the spectacle. The Yankees died hard, and Cleveland watched with deep-grained satisfaction. Yankee Manager Casey Stengel chose one of his best, 25-year-old Left-hander Whitey Ford, to pitch the first game. Cleveland's Al Lopez reached into his deep bin of pitchers—richest in baseball—and picked Right-hander Bob Lemon, winner of 21 games this year. For a while, until Ford wrenched his shoulder with a side-arm throw, it was a pitchers' game: 1-1 in the sixth. Then Casey Stengel called on Allie Reynolds, 37, once the possessor of the most effective fast ball in the league.
THEY NEVER HAD A CHANCE
Al Rosen, third baseman for the Indians, stepped to the plate. He was a college boy when Allie Reynolds was a major leaguer. With two men on base, he hit a slider into right center field. The ball skipped past Mickey Mantle for a two-base hit and two runs scored. After that, Bob Lemon never gave the Yankees a chance. At the end of the first game the score was 3-1 for the Indians, and the Yankees were 7½ games out of first place.
Stengel had lost with his best. For the second game he turned to an old Yankee castoff—Tommy Byrne, the 34-year-old left-hander who had been hurriedly called in from Seattle only 10 days before. Against him Al Lopez sent Gus Wynn (20-11 for the season). Wynn throws every known pitch, including a wildly breaking knuckle ball, and in the first inning Yogi Berra, the Yankee catcher, hit one of them into the upper right-field stands for a two-run homer.
The Yankees held on until the fifth. Then the Indians caught up with Tommy Byrne. Wynn singled, Rookie Al Smith singled and hard-hitting Bobby Avila, the league's likely batting champion, singled again. Home came Wynn, barely safe under a high throw from the outfield. "Just missed him," said a Yankee on the bench.
"He threw it bad," muttered Casey Stengel, sensing catastrophe. "Too high to be cut off."
Stengel was right, as usual. Another hit, a double by Wally Westlake, sent two more Indians home. After that, the Indians left it to Gus Wynn, and in the fading light he almost seemed to toy with the World Champions. After the first inning, the Yankees got only one hit, and that was a bunt.
Casey Stengel was not through. He called on Enos Slaughter, the old Cardinal, to pinch-hit in the ninth. Slaughter let a knuckle ball sweep by for the third strike. Now came Mickey Mantle, the 22-year-old picked to replace the great Joe DiMaggio. Mantle struck out, for the 100th time this season.
STRIKE-OUT NO. 12
Finally it was the turn of Yogi Berra, the 29-year-old gnome around whom the Yankees of 1955 can hope to rebuild. A home run would have tied the score, and Yogi had hit 20 this season. But Gus Wynn had given up his home run for the day. The Yankee catcher swung mightily and became his twelfth strike-out victim.
Some of Wynn's fellow Indians hugged him as he walked from the pitcher's mound. Others turned and shouted "Choke-ups!" in the direction of the Yankee bench.
No one had taunted the Yankees in this manner for years, but the Indians had full right to their moment. For three years in a row they have finished second to the Yankees. They have heard, for the three years, the intolerable chant that they were the ones who choked up in the pennant stretch. This spring, the Indians' captain, Al Rosen, took up the "choke-up" charge in an exasperated declaration: "We don't lose to the Yankees because we choke up. We lose to the Yankees because they're a better team."
But the fans of Cleveland, some of whom had come from hundreds of miles, were gentle. There was little booing of the dying gods. Most of them knew—the Yankees knew, that the 1954 Yankees were finishing one of their best seasons. At week's end, and with 11 more games to play, the World Champions had won 95 games. In most seasons that many victories would have won the American League pennant (see box). But this time even the Yankees seemed to sense that time had run out on them. They tried to joke about it before the double-header.
In the morning, as buses and trains and planes poured fans into Cleveland, the Yankees ate breakfast at the Hotel Cleveland.
"Did you come to bury us?" Jerry Coleman, an alert infielder, asked a visiting writer from New York.
"The slowly dying Yankees," Charlie Silvera, substitute catcher, read aloud from a local newspaper. "The slowly dying Yankees," he repeated. "Very funny."
"I defy anyone," Manager Casey Stengel barked, "to say this team ain't worth a quarter. I don't want to blow up another club because the race is still going, you can be sure, and we get paid to win, not blow up other clubs, but Cleveland has played tree-mendous and we been trying to catch 'em, so how can you say our team ain't worth a quarter?"
Around the batting cage before the game the Indians matched the Yankee edginess with nonchalance. "It's not rough," said Bobby Avila. "All year we play, now we play. We play okay."
Said Al Lopez: "I don't have to go in there to talk to my players and hold their hands. We've got players now who like to play. They know what's going on. I don't have to go in there and talk to them like they were children."
After the double-header was over, Casey Stengel was still giving out his own brand of unpunctuated chatter. "I ain't conceding," he said, "but they won because they got amazing pitching like I have never seen in six years in the league and they was well-managed and they won all those games from those other clubs which makes me wonder why some of those other clubs that is always worrying about the Yankees this the Yankees that don't get the idea and start worrying about themselves."
STENGEL'S BIG SIX
In six years as manager of the Yankees, Casey Stengel has won five World Championships. This year, ironically, the Yankees have played at a better clip than ever. Yankee victories (with 11 games to play) as compared with their full-season totals in the past:
Cleveland, with 104 victories, 40 losses, was .722 this week. If the Indians maintain this pace in their remaining 10 games, they will win the pennant with the highest average in American League history.
...AND THE PERILS OF PAULINE
Meanwhile, back at the ranch...The Milwaukee Braves got lost in a hurricane, the Brooklyn Dodgers just missed being scalped and the New York Giants walked innocently into the path of an onrushing express train. In short, The Perils of Pauline, National League style, was an erratic story with each exciting episode ending in near disaster.
The Milwaukee Braves roared into Brooklyn riding a 10-game winning streak as the Brooklyn fans hissed to the last man. The Milwaukee villains had won 15 games out of 18, 36 out of 45, to move from fourth place, 15 games back, to second, only 3½ games behind the league-leading Giants. They were new characters in the thickening plot, suddenly a greater threat to the Giants than the Dodgers. A fearful Giant was heard to ask, "Don't those guys ever lose?"
They did, all right, but to a hurricane named Edna. Edna was passing Long Island on Friday night and she spewed rain on Ebbets Field. A fine, drifting spray began soon after the game got under way and kept up until the umpires had to call time in the last of the fourth with Brooklyn leading 2-1. After an hour and five minutes, play was resumed, though Edna was still getting in her wet licks. Five outs and 16 minutes later, time was called again. But those five outs stretched the game to 4½ innings, making the game legal in baseball's fine print (see Red Smith, p. 64.) The umpires, the ballplayers and the crowd (which gradually shrank from 13,906 to a handful of huddled die-hards) waited again, two full hours, until 12:50 a.m. Then the game was called off. In the stands, a musician with a sense of timing stood up under an umbrella and played Taps. Milwaukee had lost.
After that it was curtains for the Braves. They lost three straight, while Brooklyn returned from the near dead with a five-game winning streak to recapture second place.
Came the dawn on Monday and the Giants were still first. But there were perils yet to come in the last act. The script called for the Giants to play 12 more games—and half of them were with the Braves and Dodgers.