SI went to its first World Series last week.
For the players, the World Series began to be real on Tuesday, the day before the first game. The regular season was, by then, really over. The heady elation that flooded the dressing room the day the pennant had been clinched was a memory. The satisfaction that came of reading the final standings (with the Yankees beaten, the Dodgers beaten, and the Indians and Giants forever in first place) was something that had been savored the day before, on Monday. Now, on Tuesday, practice was scheduled, the last, the only workout for the Series.
The Polo Grounds was soaked in bright, hot sun. The grass was as green and moist as spring. The players dressed in the high old clubhouse in center field, the Giants first, the Indians later, and came out into the strange, cheerful morning light a little shy, almost self-conscious. It was like the last rehearsal before opening night, on an empty stage before an empty house, with a throng of friends, well-wishers, publicity men and fellow professionals looking on. For one last time they ran through what they knew so well—how to hit, how to pitch, how to field.
October 11, 1954
For one actor the center of the stage, even in rehearsal, was where he liked to be, and the seats, though empty, were still a challenge. Dusty Rhodes, the Giants' pinch-hitting star, likes to stand at home plate and hit, even in an empty park. Rhodes has scant regard for fielding, even less for throwing and not too much for base running, except as it helps him to make base hits. "Baseball is hitting," Dusty Rhodes says. In batting practice he likes the pitcher to give him something he can wallop, like a nice, fat, fast ball. But this day, the day before the World Series began, with George Spencer pitching, Rhodes thought of the Series and the pitches he has trouble with. "George," he said, with some distaste, "flip me up one of them slow curves."
Later, with young Paul Giel throwing, Dusty stood in the spotlight again. The pace was a little quicker now, the pitcher throwing harder, the batter more intent. Though the batter might stay up for five or ten swings, both pitcher and batter were serious, acting as if this were real, that this ball and that strike counted. Young Giel fooled Rhodes twice with a curve and a change-up and had, theoretically, two strikes on Dusty. Rhodes waited, his bat cocked, watching Giel. Out of the corner of his mouth he spoke softly to Joe Garagiola, the catcher the Giants bought from the Cubs in September. "Fast ball," he said knowingly. "Fast ball," Garagiola agreed sadly. Giel set himself and threw, trying to blow the ball past Rhodes. It was a fast ball. Rhodes, waiting, met it perfectly and hit it high and far into the empty seats in the upper stands in right. Garagiola stood and watched the flight of the ball. He looked admiringly at Rhodes. "Damn," he said. "That was always happening to the Cubs."
The next day it happened to the Indians. Something like it happened the day after, and the day after that. On the first day, after Rhodes had homered to win the first game of the Series for the Giants, Garagiola leaned against a trunk in the Giants' dressing room and shook his head. He was watching Rhodes as the photographers mobbed him, posing him this way and that, shouting and yelling at him, flashing light bulbs in his face.
"Fabulous," Joe Garagiola said, looking at Rhodes. "Fabulous."
Rebirth at the Polo Grounds
For a half century Americans have engaged in a lamentable and self-conscious effort to smother their proud national genius for vulgarity—a trait which, when it flourished free, made them veritable princes among men. Consider, for instance, that glittering symbol of the untrammeled human spirit, the polished brass goboon. What human gesture ever combined artistry and true aristocracy of mien so eloquently as that with which the devotee turned, sighted, allowed his eyelids to droop, fired and turned loftily away—as if the soul-satisfying clang and the silent admiration of his fellows were as nothing to the superior man? Where is the goboon today? Buried in bubble gum and genteel admonitions from Emily Post; gone the way of the growler, the barroom nude, the direct editorial insult and the diamond stickpin.
But all, dear friends, is not lost. The baseball parks of the nation still shelter and nurture vulgarity against the return of better days. It may be a sort of hothouse variety, limited, licensed and proof against social disapproval. (Mrs. Post herself could boo at Ebbets Field if she chose the correct moment, and Amy Vanderbilt could get away with the owl's love cry, or Bronx cheer.) Nevertheless it lives on—as was hearteningly demonstrated at the Polo Grounds in New York in the fifth inning of the second game of the 1954 World Series last week.
A great deal of credit for the dramatic qualities of the fateful fifth must be given, at the outset, to Cleveland's Pitcher Early (Gus) Wynn, a man constructed by nature in the mold of the villain and one whom the 49,099 Giant fans in the big stadium loved to hate from the moment he stepped to the mound. Wynn is a black-haired, black-browed man with a back as broad as a beer wagon. He stares at batters with the same churlishness and contempt as Simon Legree exhibited when facing poor old Uncle Tom in 19th Century productions of The Cabin of You Know Who. By the fifth he could have stalked out of the dugout in black boots, flowing mustachios and bull whip, and no soul in the great assemblage would have noticed the change—Cleveland led, 1 to 0, and not a Giant had gotten to first base.
But in the fifth awful things began to happen to him. He walked Willie Mays. Thompson lined a single to right, sending Mays to third. Then, while the crowd rumbled with undisguised glee and defiance, Leo Durocher sent his peerless pinch hitter, James (Dusty) Rhodes to the plate to bat for Outfielder Monty Irvin. It was a genuinely lovely moment. Wynn, goaded to new ferocity by the ruination of his no-hitter, glared as horribly at his foe as if he proposed to cook and eat him for dinner. Rhodes responded, with consummate effrontery, by carefully crowding the plate.
Something had to give. Rhodes did, for Wynn quickly proved himself a man dedicated to the true spirit of American baseball. To put it delicately, he brushed the batter back with a close one. To put it specifically, he threw his fast ball at a point precisely between the batter's eyes and failed in cleanly decapitating him only by virtue of the victim's almost inhuman agility.
Was the crowd disturbed? Indeed not. It simply expelled one, enormous "o-o-o-o-h" of admiration at the logic and beauty of the thing, and betrayed no hint of dismay at all until it discovered that its hero was obviously a shaken man as he rose numbly from the dirt. It sat silent as Rhodes waved limply at the next pitch and missed. But then it emitted such a howl of joy and gloating as must have echoed through the Colosseum when the lions were in good fettle and the captive virgins slow of foot. For Dusty had done it again—hit a blooper to the outfield, sent Mays home for the tying run, set up the Giants' victory and perhaps, as things turned out, even their Series sweep.
It was a sound rich with spontaneous, unsportsmanlike jeering and the howl of partisan delight—simple, direct, sweetly vulgar, and aimed without repression at the burly, discomfited tyrant on the mound. In the Cleveland dressing room, when the day was done, it was impossible not to feel genuinely sorry for Early Wynn as he sat slumped on a bench, a paper cup of beer in one hand, staring in awful silence at the wall. But no such delicacy of feeling filtered out into the park where knots of the more rabid Giant fans waited in the hope of booing the enemy once again.
Among those who leaned over the wall above the entrance to the Cleveland dressing room was a patient young lady from Spanish Harlem, done up in Sunday finery, be-carmined with lipstick and fashionably ajangle with beads and earrings. "Why," called a tired guard, craning upwards, "don't you just go home, lady? Game's over. Nothing's gonna happen now."
"I want," she cried, with a flash of pearly teeth, "to see that Early Wynn."
"Wynn ain't coming out for a long time," said the guard. "Go on home."
"I'll wait," she answered with a peal of chilling female laughter. "Wanna see if that Early Wynn's still sweatin' from what Dusty done to 'im."
Who says the Republic is not still strong?
No. 1 fan
The title of No. 1 fan at the World Series clearly belonged to a businessman from Denver named A. B. (for Albert Bernard) Hirschfeld, who saw his first Series in 1919, has seen 32 others since. Judging from Mr. Hirschfeld's enjoyment of this year's affair, they are getting better all the time.
Matter of fact, the first series A.B. saw was the crooked one involving the notorious Chicago Black Sox. At the time, A.B. himself suspected nothing, but he wouldn't be likely to in the excitement of seeing his first Series from a $2 seat in that now-vanished department of a ball park: the pavilion. A.B. was then a young apprentice printer in Denver. In the years between, he has risen to proprietorship of Denver's largest printing plant (built on the site of the old ball park, with A.B.'s office smack in center field), has served 14 years in the Colorado legislature and is currently a director of the Denver ball club in the Western League.
"But, heck!" cried A.B., now bald, plump, pink-cheeked and 66, "that's all coincidental! Now I pick the Giants, although by rights I should be rooting for Cleveland because I was born in the good old Buckeye State. I'd like to string along with Lopez, but I can't. He's got no bench—and that's what will lick him."
This was on the eve of the first game and A.B. could hardly bear his happy anticipation. As the phone rang in his New York hotel room, he pounced on it and shouted into it: "Play ball!" The caller was one of A.B.'s friends who take a personal interest in seeing him maintain his World Series record. "A box for the second game?" exclaimed A.B. "Sure I want it! Send 'em right over!"
Mr. Hirschfeld has been forced to pay scalpers' prices only once since 1919. He didn't like to do it, but there was no other way. Now he does the best he can by writing in early, but he never worries if he is turned down. He comes on to the Series anyway and somehow tickets are pressed on him by friends. "And I swear," said A.B., "it's all coincidental!"
At the ball park, A.B. is enthusiastic, but fairly restrained. He keeps score in a primitive way and cries out confidently to predict a play now and then. He has worked out an almost foolproof system to avoid embarrassment for guessing wrong. If, say, he should cry out, "Williams will bunt here!" and then Davey Williams takes a cut at the ball, A.B. is ready with an almost monumental non sequitur as a cover-up. "Listen," he may exclaim, whirling on a neighbor, "give a thought to the umpires! Was there ever a breath of scandal connected with those boys in blue? There was not!"
Hirschfeld is all fan. He never played a game of baseball in his life, mostly because he started to work at the age of 10. During the regular season, he never misses a home game of the Denver club. Even at 66 he is able to subsist almost entirely during the World Series on the fan's diet: hot dogs and soda pop. He lets no inconvenience dismay him; he even enjoys the New York subway jam after the game, conducting spirited nose-to-nose conversations with perfect strangers all the way downtown and exhibiting to them his rain check from the 1919 series.
It is the Hirschfeld ambition to run his string of World Series to 35. Then he plans to take his grandson, A.B. II, to the big show and turn the tradition over to him. He has already confided this scheme to his grandson, now 12, who had this comment: "Grandpa, you're a character!"
The greatest ballplayer A.B. has ever seen? Lou Gehrig. The greatest ball club? Those Chicago White Sox of 1919—before the Sox turned black.
Henry Thompson scudded over the foul line, almost awkward in his anxiety, and clutched the weak little pop foul. He jumped up and down in excitement, waved the ball over his head, ran over to Pitcher John Antonelli for a moment and then turned, still clutching the ball, and made for the Giant dugout. It was the third out of the ninth inning of the fourth game. The World Series was over. Cleveland had lost.
Under the grandstands a fat-faced hawker held the price on miniature celluloid baseball dolls at a dollar.
"The Series is over," a prospective buyer said. "I'll give you half a buck."
The hawker was impassive.
"You can't bargain with me," he said. "The price is a dollar."
"The Series is over," the buyer insisted. "When do you think you're going to sell them? Tomorrow?"
The hawker looked away, his face still impassive.
"The price is a dollar," he said, almost sullenly.
It was difficult for anyone from out of town to understand the hawker's attitude, but the city of Cleveland knew how he felt.
The elderly chambermaid in the Hotel Cleveland said, "Oh, it's too bad they couldn't have won today so there'd be a game tomorrow. So many folks had planned to go on Sunday."
The room clerks at the Cleveland and the Hollenden and the Manger and the other hotels knew how he felt. Only the day before, on Friday, their lobbies had been swollen with angry, shouting people, all of them fighting to get a room, any room, any size, any price. Now, on Saturday, the hotels were suddenly emptying, guests leaving their hard-won rooms like feeding birds startled from a lawn. And Sunday, the big day, had not even come.
Everybody was leaving Cleveland. The railroad terminal was packed, long lines of people radiating from the semicircular Pullman counter. Airline offices were jammed, the clerks busy phoning back and forth from one line to another, looking for space. The Giants dressed hurriedly and left Cleveland Airport by plane less than three hours after the game. Everybody was leaving Cleveland.
The hawker with his dollar dolls, the room clerk with his empty rooms, the chambermaid with her disappointed friends, watched them go. They were Cleveland after the fourth game of the World Series. It was all over, everything was over, and the picnic was not supposed to be till Sunday.
Thank you very much
In their dressing room in Cleveland's Municipal Stadium after the final game, the New York Giants were mildly ecstatic. Not quite so ecstatic, perhaps, as the photographers endeavored to make them, but in reasonably good cheer. It was a happy time, people laughing, shouting, cheering, congratulating one another.
A few hundred feet to the south, in another part of the forest, Al Lopez, manager of the Cleveland Indians, sat quietly behind his desk in the small, bare, white room that serves as his office. A dozen or so reporters filed into the room and stood awkwardly around the desk. Those who knew Lopez well shook hands with him and murmured, "Sorry, Al," or, "Too bad, Al," or, "Tough, Al. I'm sorry." Lopez, his face heavy with weariness and defeat, his voice so low it was almost inaudible, answered, "Thank you, Dick. Thanks. Thank you. Thank you, Lou."
It was very quiet. No one seemed to know what to say. Someone asked him about the turning point of the Series. Lopez shrugged his shoulders.
Other questions were put, quiet questions, gentle questions. Lopez answered them, though he didn't seem to want to. He was very patient, very quiet, very tired, but very patient.
Did he think the Giants were that much better than the Indians, he was asked.
"That's hard to say," he answered. "They played like hell and we played the worst we did all season. Excuse me," he said. He stood up and came around the desk. Ford Frick, the Commissioner of Baseball, had come into the office.
"Not much I can say, Al," Frick said. "I know you did your best. You were beginning to come in that last game, but I guess it was too late then."
"I guess it was," he said.
"Well, good luck, Al," Frick said.
"Thank you," Lopez said. They shook hands and Frick left. Lopez sat down again and looked around patiently for more questions. A photographer came in and knelt by the front of the desk. He focused his camera, set his exposure and then he spoke, quietly, to Lopez, sitting behind the desk.
"Al," he said, "would you lean your head on your hand?"
Lopez leaned his head on his hand. Then he straightened up.
"That's too uncomfortable," he said. He grinned. "If you want a sad picture you shouldn't have any trouble. Not if I look like I feel." He grinned broadly and looked around at the others in the room. One or two smiled back, briefly. The photographer waited until Lopez' grin subsided and the wistful sadness returned.
Lopez answered a few more questions in the same quiet voice. Then he excused himself again and rose and came around the desk to speak to someone standing outside in the hall.
The reporters, almost on signal, filed out after him and went past him into the players' dressing room. One reporter went past Lopez, stopped and came back to him.
"Al," he said, "I'm awfully sorry you lost the Series."
They shook hands.
"Thank you," Lopez said. "Thank you very much."
If the 1954 season really marked the end of Ted Williams' spectacular career in baseball, he can be remembered as one of the few ever to take his departure from the national sport in a private railroad car. The private Pullman was sent to Boston by Curtis M. Hutchins, president of Maine's Bangor & Aroostook Railroad (a rabid Williams fan but one who has yet to meet his hero) to start the Red Sox star on the first lap of an autumn fishing trip; four hours after the final game was over, Williams and a half dozen fly rods were trundling luxuriously through the night toward the northern village of Presque Isle.
The next day the outfielder, and a handful of admiring Maine sportsmen, climbed aboard a plane chartered by their host-in-absentia—and flew to Fish River Lake, a five-mile stretch of forest-rimmed water accessible only by air. Then, for four days (Maine's trout season runs until Sept. 30th) Williams relaxed in an angler's paradise. He rose in his cabin at five each day, consumed astounding breakfasts (sample: two glasses of grapefruit juice, one whole trout, five flapjacks, two eggs, two freshly fried doughnuts and three cups of coffee) and launched a canoe in pursuit of fish.
There are few more able anglers in the U.S., and his flowing 80-and 90-foot casts left his colleagues gaping. Fishing only with dry flies, most of them tied on tiny No. 14 and No. 16 hooks, he landed a four-pound landlocked salmon and 15 bright brook trout all of which weighed more than two pounds. He carefully turned back those he did not need for food. These, however, were few—he ate trout for breakfast, trout chowder for lunch and trout for dinner each day.
Before the World Series began he made an astoundingly accurate prediction: that the Giants' Dusty Rhodes and Cleveland's Vic Wertz were the "Series sleepers." After the games began, he hung over the camp's cranky, battery-powered radio to hear the play-by-play. "Guess the kid knows how to pick," he beamed. "What did I tell you about that Rhodes and Wertz? Two good strong guys." His admiring colleagues asked him, as he packed up his rods to leave, when would he be coming north again. "Next June," said Ted, "for more fishing."
HAIL AND FAREWELL
Hence twirlers, Texas Leaguers, sox,
Walks, balks, fouls, pitcher's box,
A vaunt shortstops, third basemen, flies,
Strikes, balls, doubles, stealing tries!
Exit all such, admit punts tossed;
Fullbacks, ends, yards gained, yards lost,
Headgear, cleats, and T formations,
Reverse, line plunge, tackling sensations.
Pack suits, socks, caps in naphthalene,
For sunny climes depart, to dream
Of contracts fat, embodying raises,
And next year's fans to sing your praises.
Arise cheer leaders, students, bucket-handler,
Fight, team fight, for dear old Chandler,
Pill, horsehide sphere, hail and farewell,
Come oblate spheroid and college yell!