The fifth game of the 1954 World Series was played here last Friday, despite the determined efforts of everyone concerned to pass it off as another spring training game. Technically, factually, literally, it was just another spring training game, the first of 18 such exhibitions that the New York Giants and the Cleveland Indians will play against each other before the major league pennant races get under way officially in April.
Yet, unlike the second spring training game (which the Indians won 4-3) or the third (also the Indians, 13-6) or any of the succeeding 15, this first game of the year between the Indians and the Giants was in everyone's mind an extension of the remarkable World Series of 1954 when the heavily favored but bumbling Indians were crushed four straight times by the alert, aggressive Giants. It is not easy to forget the sweetest of victories or the bitterest of defeats, and no one—Giant, Indian, baseball writer or fan—forgot the Series for an instant. The parallels were ever before you. This was the fifth game of the World Series.
For instance, there was ceremony. Before the game, the city of Phoenix formally welcomed the Giants, with whom the city of Phoenix is in love. A parade of 21 glistening convertibles, separated at intervals by gaily costumed high school bands, carried the Giants, two by two, down Central Avenue, the main street of Phoenix, through the heart of town and out south to the ball park, which is a mile or two from the center of this sprawling, ever-growing city. Phoenicians—winter visitors and local citizens alike—lined Central Avenue as the cavalcade passed slowly by. Applause greeted each car. Particular heroes were, to no one's great surprise, Willie Mays and Dusty Rhodes. Manager Leo Durocher rode at the head of the parade with Mayor Frank Murphy of Phoenix. Chris Durocher, Leo's blond, freckle-faced, 8-year-old son, turned down a ride with his father and the mayor to sit between Willie Mays and Monte Irvin. ("What's this?" Leo barked in mock anger. "What's this!")
March 21, 1955
It was an intimate, friendly, almost casual parade. As it passed the Hotel Adams in the very center of the city, Mays threw a rubber ball up to a friend watching from a balcony; rookie Infielder Foster Castleman asked his wife with words and pantomime if she had his western tie. (She did and held it up for him to see.)
At the ball park, the Giants (not the Indians—who train at rival Tucson and thus are not loved by Phoenix) lined up along the foul lines and listened to adulation from the mayor and others, and received individual gifts, (a monogrammed leather toilet kit) from the local merchants' association. The Star-Spangled Banner was played, and the Giants raced out on the field to the applause of the 6,263 fans who overflowed the grandstand and bleachers of small, well-kept Municipal Stadium. The sunny day was warm (75°), the grass was green, the fans were ready. Jim Hearn took the mound for the Giants. Eddie Joost stepped into the batter's box for the Indians. Everyone waited for the first pitch.
It was not a game to be long remembered. Before it was over, immortal feet had turned to clay, and the action on the field occasionally resembled the comic pantomimes of Nick Altrock and Al Schacht (see page SO). The Indians' Vic Wertz took a throw in the pit of his stomach instead of his glove. A sharply hit ground ball went through both Alvin Dark at shortstop and Willie Mays in center field. And finally, Dusty Rhodes himself, stepping up to pinch-hit with the bases loaded, grounded into a double play.
Yet, if it is considerately remembered that this was only March, the very beginning of the exhibition season, the resemblance of this game to the 1954 World Series was remarkable. The Giants won, and won handily 8-3, to run their string of victories over the Indians to five (or six, if you care to include the last game of the 1954 training season). The Giant pitching was a little better, the Giant hitting more timely, the Giant base running more daring. The Giants were alive and alert and seemed eager to play. The Indians were quiet and methodical and were losing, and they seemed used to it.
A SURPRISE IN THE STOMACH
The first inning was the ball game. Hearn was behind to the first four batters, and almost at once there were two men on base and only one out with Rosen, Kiner and Wertz, the Indians' sluggers, coming up. But, as in the World Series, the Indians' sluggers did not deliver. Rosen took a called third strike and Kiner lofted a high fly to left center which Mays took belly-high for the third out.
In the Giants' half of the inning Mays came to bat with Al Dark on second and one out. He rapped the first ball back to Pitcher Don Mossi, who turned and cocked his arm to throw to Third Baseman Rosen. Quick as a flash Rosen yelled "first base." Quick as a flash Mossi wheeled and fired to First Baseman Wertz, who stood with his hands out as if to receive the ball. But Vic was apparently watching Rosen and Dark, and Mossi's throw came as such a complete surprise that it took him in the stomach. Mays was safe at first, Dark was safe at third. Before the inning was over, the Giants, who should not have scored, had a 4-0 lead and the ball game.
The next day on their own campgrounds, the Indians broke the long Giant spell with the kind of last-minute rally that brought them last year's American League pennant. Trailing 3-0 in the last of the ninth, they tied the game with a Rosen homer, two singles and a pair of Giant errors. In the tenth, Second Baseman Sam Dente put the first pitch into the stands for the ball game.
The teams were back in Phoenix again on Sunday, and after a seemingly endless stream of errors, during the last few innings, the Indians buried the Giants under a 13-6 avalanche. The only bright spots for the Giants were four innings of shutout pitching by old Sal Maglie and Monte Irvin's crisp batting.
A few practice games do not a season make, but the Indians showed early that they will almost certainly be the same type of club they were last year—a precarious balance of powerful hitting here (Third Baseman Rosen, Second Baseman Avila, First Baseman Wertz, Outfielder Kiner) and fine fielding there (Catcher Hegan, Shortstop Strickland, Outfielder Philley), with only Outfielders Al Smith and Larry Doby equally proficient both at bat and in the field, and with the whole patchwork squad most seriously dependent on the pitching staff, which is admittedly the best in baseball: Bob Lemon (23-7 last year); Early Wynn (23-11); Mike Garcia (19-8); Art Houtteman (15-7); Bob Feller (13-3); Don Mossi and Ray Narleski, the brilliant relief pitchers; and an array of rookies and semi-rookies that includes 21-year-old Herb Score, who won 22 games and struck out 330 batters at Indianapolis. With luck, Manager Al Lopez might find valuable help in the lush rookie crop that came up from Indianapolis, the 1954 American Association pennant winners. These include Score, Pitchers Howie Rodemoyer (12-7) and Dick Tomanek (6-9), Catcher Hank Foiles (.332), First Baseman Joe Altobelli (.287), Infielder Billy Harrell (.307), and Outfielders Caffie (.288), Colavito (.271 but 38 home runs), and Harry Simpson (.282).
The Giants, on the other hand, seem much better balanced than the Indians, with their less powerful pitching staff ably abetted by excellent fielding. Willie Mays seems as brilliant as ever both at bat and in the field, and the same holds for such complete ballplayers as Shortstop Dark, Third Baseman Thompson and First Baseman Lock-man. Where Second Baseman Williams trails off in hitting, he makes up in fielding, and the converse holds true for Right Fielder Mueller. The pitching staff is led by Johnny Antonelli, whose casual confidence this spring stems from his brilliant 1954 season (21-7, a 2.29 earned-run average, both league-leading figures). Right-handers Gomez and Maglie and left-hander Liddle follow Antonelli as starters, and relief Pitchers Wilhelm, Grissom and McCall follow them, as they seemed to do all last season. The bench seems strong, with veterans Rhodes, Hofman, Grasso, Taylor and Gardner, leaving scant room for an exceptional group of rookies, which includes Infielder Foster Castleman (.317) and First Baseman Gail Harris (.309 and 34 home runs) from Minneapolis, and Outfielders Bob Lennon (.345 and 64 home runs) and Eric Rodin (.336 and 18 home runs) from Nashville. One rookie who might stick for bench purposes is skinny Ron Samford, who looks like Billy Cox, fields like him and, unfortunately, also hits like him.
Durocher's two big problems are to find a left fielder and a right-handed pitcher. Ideally he has both in Monte Irvin and Jim Hearn. If they can play as they did in, say, 1951 (Irvin: .312; Hearn: 17-9), the Giants are in clover. If they fail, the Giants will have a long hard pull trying to come up with capable replacements and a second consecutive championship.
These are the problems to which Durocher and Lopez will address themselves as their teams finish out their annual series in Knoxville on April 7. As last year, when the Giants wound up with a 13-8 edge, the series may throw some light on the respective merits of the teams (although experience proves that few are inclined to believe these portents). But 154 games in their own leagues still stand between the spring rivals and another official World Series engagement.
SCRIPT FOR SMALL TALK BETWEEN MANAGERS
Durocher: You look fine, Al. Had a nice winter?
Lopez: Not bad, Leo. Plenty of golf, few speeches now and then. How was yours?
Durocher: Nothing but banquets and interviews on how we beat you in the Series.
Lopez: By the way, how did you?
Durocher: That's easy. All you need is guys like Mays and Dark and Rhodes.
Lopez: Got any more like 'em? I sure could use a couple.
Durocher: I was about to ask you the same thing. The boys can't last forever.
Lopez: That's the best news yet, Leo.