The most cheerful thing about last week's All-Star Game in Milwaukee was the city of Milwaukee itself. The city named each year as the site of baseball's big game is chosen according to a rather ramshackle order of succession and not, usually, for any particular merit in the actual year of selection. Baseball players are chosen that way, but not cities. Nevertheless, Milwaukee managed to convey the impression that it was picked as host for this year's All-Star Game because it was, on its record, the best of all possible choices for the honor.
For Milwaukee is a baseball town, by far the best in the major leagues. Baseball there is part of the civic personality, just as theaters are in New York, and motion pictures are in Los Angeles and culture used to be in Boston. It's as personal a part of the town as beer, and the Milwaukee Braves are, with the breweries, part of Milwaukee's civic pride.
Milwaukeeans don't really act foolish about the Braves. But they are fond of them. And there are some things that ring of midsummer madness: a fan or two with a clanking cowbell or a shrieking siren, an occasional automobile with "Milwaukee Braves" written in reflecting tape across the bumper, an advertisement in a gasoline station with a postscript: "Go get 'em, Braves!" There is also at least one big welcome-to-the-city sign that refers to Milwaukee as "the land of the free and the home of the Braves."
But this is just fun. Under it and over it and beyond it is the impressive fact that everywhere you go people talk baseball. Baseball, like the weather, is part of the atmosphere. It serves to make going to a baseball game a real pleasure.
July 24, 1955
You could feel this in County Stadium during the All-Star Game. There was red-white-and-blue bunting on the fences, and a band playing, and hundreds of reporters and photographers assembled from all over the country. Here and there were celebrities hanging on the fringe of the crowd. It was just like the first game of a World Series, but with one major exception: the crowd knew its baseball.
You know how a World Series crowd is. Tickets seem to find their way into special hands. Many of the people who end up at the game are pleasant enough, but they tend to be sedate and neither knowing nor excited. They act as if all this were interesting and probably important, but they never seem quite sure what to cheer for.
Well, at Milwaukee last week the crowd was pleasant enough too, but it was not sedate (it was loudly pro-National League and anti-Baseball Writer, particularly those writers who were blocking the view of home plate during batting practice). It knew precisely what to cheer for and did so vigorously. You've probably heard that Milwaukee crowds are "Ladies Day crowds," meaning that they'll cheer wildly and indiscriminately at anything, even foul balls. Don't be misled. This crowd yelled with unrestrained enthusiasm but, except for some disproportionately loud cheers for the Milwaukee players, they yelled at the right places and for the right things. It was a knowing, enthusiastic baseball crowd and it certainly helped to make the game the success it was.
Perhaps it was the crowd that was responsible for another cheerful thing: the fun the players themselves seemed to get out of the game. Many respected authorities, including our own Red Smith (SI, July 11), hold to a theory that the All-Star Game is a dreary duty for everybody but the fans, that the ballplayers just go through the motions and can't wait for the thing to be over. This has been true in the past and may be true again in the future, but it wasn't last week.
"I tell you, they were like college kids," Leo Durocher said in the clubhouse after the game. "Yelling and jumping up and down the bench. They wanted to win. They weren't fooling around." He spoke for the National League, but the American League was equally keyed up.
Ted Williams bounced around before the game like the small boy he always seems to be when he has a bat in his hands. When he wasn't hitting in batting practice himself he was watching others hit, never missing a thing. Surrounded by reporters, holding six conversations at once, Williams moved his head like an ever-alert bird, here, there, everywhere, talking, smiling, nodding, but always, whenever the batting-practice pitcher threw and the ball approached the plate, turning to watch the batter follow through on his swing.
He batted against Steve Gromek in practice, with poor success.
"Man, I never could hit him!" he growled. He paced around behind the batting cage and glinted his eyes in at broad young Mickey Mantle. Mantle fouled one into the dirt.
"He's tough to hit, hey, Mick!" Williams gibed.
Mantle swung again and drove the ball high and far into the right-field seats. He came out of the cage and walked back towards the dugout and as he did he looked over at Williams like a little boy at his big brother and smiled cockily. Williams grinned. Later, in the first inning, after Mantle had hit his immensely high and long home run over the center-field fence, Williams, who had been on base, waited for him and gave him a delighted little poke in the ribs, as if to say that's the way to do it!
When Stan Musial hit his game-winning home run in the 12th inning Willie Mays, who was waiting to bat next, went high on his toes in anticipation as the ball sailed towards the fence. When it cleared it he gave a little leap and then turned to greet Musial at the plate. The rest of the National League players flowed off the bench and up to the plate to join him. Leo Durocher leaned way over until his face was only inches from the ground, watching home plate intently until Musial, his quiet face split into a great, wide smile, stepped on it. Musial was surrounded, clobbered on head and back, hugged, lifted, and escorted gaily off the field.
Willie Mays, who seemed just a little disappointed at the loss of another turn at bat, followed wistfully behind. Don Newcombe, the Brooklyn Dodger pitcher who had worked the seventh inning for the National League and who had since showered and was now dressed in slacks and a sport jacket, put a huge arm around Willie, hugged him and ran with him after the crowd.
Inside the clubhouse, as they dressed slowly after the initial excitement had died down, the players rehashed the high points of the game: Mantle's homer, Musial's homer, Pierce's pitching, Nuxhall's pitching, Conley's pitching, Kluszewski's fine all-round play, Mays's catch, Schoendienst's great play on Berra.
Schoendienst, listening to the talk, said to Gil Hodges, "Why can't we have a team like this in the league?"
Hodges smiled quietly.
"Boy, if we did, I'd sure like to be on it," he said.
KEY TO GROUP PICTURE ON PAGES 26-27
1. Lloyd Mangrum
2. Max Elbin (golf pro, Burning Tree CC)
3. Ford Frick
4. Gene Tunney
5. Ruth Hirschland (physical fitness researcher)
6. William Woodward Jr.
7. Kevin McCann (Presidential assistant)
8. Jack Kramer
9. Dr. Hans Kraus (professor, New York University)
10. Maj. Sammy Lee
11. Archie Moore
12. Barbara Romack
13. Ralph Guglielmi
14. Isaac Grainger (president, USGA)
15. Billy Joe Patton
16. Kenneth Wilson
17. the President
18. Harry Moffitt (president, PGA)
19. Willie Mays
20. Bill Russell
21. John Schiff (president, Boy Scouts of America)
22. Mal Whitfield
23. Jack Fleck
24. Hank Greenberg
25. Norbert Schemansky
26. Wes Santee
27. Tony Trabert
28. Eddie Erdelatz
29. John B. Kelly
30. Bob Cousy
31. Gov. Howard Pyle
32. Sen. James Duff
33. Jack Kelly Jr.
34. Earl Blaik.