SENECA IN BOSTON
There was a moment in Boston on Friday night when thousands of people in Fenway Park began sketching out in their minds the rough blueprint of a miracle. The beloved Boston Red Sox were no longer able to win the pennant but perhaps they could keep the New York Yankees from winning it. Already that day Boston had beaten New York once...
The second game was going against Boston but in the seventh inning the Red Sox got two men on base with only one out. From the visitors' dugout climbed the Senecan figure of Casey Stengel, clad in his usual loose-fitting Yankee toga, to wave in a new pitcher. No customary relief pitcher, either, but Whitey Ford, the best the Yankees have. And then, in the crisp night air, the Yankees' best pitcher could not find the plate—and now there were three men on base and Ted Williams, Boston's incomparable Ted, standing up at the plate.
The blueprint was clear enough to read in the darkest corners of the right-field stands. A home run, or even a hit, and the Yankees could be beaten again.
October 2, 1955
And then Whitey Ford threw to Ted Williams, and the bat came around, and the ball bounded to the waiting Yankee infield for a double play. And the inning was over and they could roll up the blueprint. Fenway Park uttered a long mass sigh.
So the Yankees went on to win the game and the pennant again. In the dressing room Casey Stengel grimaced for the photographers and made a little speech before changing out of his toga. He complimented the three teams that raced with the Yankees all through the late summer. The Red Sox: "Wonderful manager and ownership...certainly kept us right on edge up until a few minutes ago." The Chicago White Sox: "Wonderful because they had an aged pitching staff and was bothered by injuries like to Kell." The Cleveland Indians: "They had wonderful relief pitching but were also handicapped by cripples.... Al Lopez is a wonderful manager but I'm not going to sympathize with him."
Then he bowed to the 1955 New York Yankees, the 21st Yankee team to win an American League pennant. "They came from behind to win," he said proudly, "and that is the best kind to win."
NO, BUT MAYBE
Eighteen games out of first place as the season ended, Manager Leo Durocher decided to quit the New York Giants and baseball in general (see page 43), perhaps to go into the beer business via an Anheuser-Busch distributorship. No, he said, "the performance of the Giants had nothing to do" with his retirement. No, he said, an Anheuser-Busch job didn't mean that he would soon be managing Gussie Busch's Cardinals. Never again then, Leo? "It could be," admitted the man who has spent 31 years at it, "that I'll get bored being away from baseball."
AFTER THE FIGHT
A few hours after he was counted out at Yankee Stadium (see page 36) Archie Moore was sitting in Greenwich Village's Cafe Bohemia, his foot tapping to the blue rhythms of his friend and favorite saxophone player, Lucky Thompson. Archie's right eye was closed tight. The eye showed a lump the size of a half-imbedded golf ball. For all that, Archie looked like a happy, contented man. With the philosophical outlook of one who has lost before, but never so profitably, he summed it up:
"The crowd enjoyed the fight. I enjoyed it. I think the future will mold itself."
The future may well mold itself into a return match, if only to resolve the question raised by that stunning second round when Archie Moore stood for a flimsy few moments on the brink of the heavyweight championship. Had a bemused referee, working in his first heavyweight championship fight, stopped counting at two—which was when Champion Rocky Marciano rose with heedless, instinctive courage to his uncertain feet—would Archie have finished the champion? Perhaps. But Referee Harry Kessler went on counting to four. For a little significant while, Referee Kessler seemed to have forgotten that the mandatory eight-count does not apply in championship fights. For a little significant while Archie Moore hesitated to push this fuddled symbol of authority aside and get on with his work.
While Archie soothed himself with Village jazz and left the future to its own inscrutable devisings, his conqueror paced the kitchen of a Bronx hotel suite. Where Archie's right eye was closed and swollen, Rocky's left eye was damaged. While Archie shrugged off tomorrow, Rocky fought it. He could not decide what tomorrow would be. He wondered whether to quit the prize ring undefeated and thus—like any other normal Brockton, Massachusetts young man—spend more than a few weeks of the year with his family. His father, mother and wife asked him to quit. They scored heavily with Rocky, who has been conscience-stricken that his 3-year-old daughter did not at first recognize him after his long training period.
But his manager, Al Weill, to whom a scruple still weighs as little as it did in Roman times (1/24th of an ounce), quashed this qualm with a few words.
"He ain't quittin'," Weill snapped. "That's just talk."
"It's just talk," Rocky agreed. Next day at his press conference he was obediently firm that he would defend his title, perhaps after an elimination tournament among such dubious hopefuls as Nino Valdes, Bob Baker (both beaten previously by Moore), the preposterous Hurricane Jackson and even the very young and still very light Floyd Patterson. To Weill, and thereby to Rocky, the future loomed only as a golden imperative.
February and Miami appealed to the International Boxing Club (James D. Norris, president) as the time and place for a rematch, but Weill would just as soon let Archie grow a year older. Time, he calculates, is on his side.
THE CORINTHIANS DINE
The 60,000 fight fans who saw Rocky Marciano knock out Archie Moore included a fair sprinkling of the famous—John Foster Dulles and Lauren Bacall, for instance. But for concentration of eminence the gathering at Yankee Stadium was far outshown two evenings before when a mere 300 gentlemen in dinner jackets sat down at the famous old Cafe Royal on Regent Street, London, to dine, wine and see a few fights. These were members of London's famed old (since 1891) National Sporting Club, and they were meeting for the first time since World War II in quarters suited to the fastidious tradition of their organization. Their intent: to enjoy a good dinner and then settle down with brandy and cigars to the quiet contemplation of fist fighting. It would be quiet because the Club rules forbid unseemly shouting or any applause beyond the patter of hands between rounds.
"They are," explained 61-year-old John Harding, general manager of the Club, "the last of the Corinthians." He adjusted his monocle to define a Corinthian as "a man who does everything for the sake of sport, who fosters sport but who is upright and honest and makes no illegal profit from sport." Lord Byron, he decided, was a fine example of the "perfect Corinthian."
At the Cafe Royal, which about the time the Club was founded had become a favorite restaurant of Edward VII, Oscar Wilde and Lily Langtry, members arrived the other night in dinner jackets at 7:15. They had drinks in the Pompadour Room and a half hour later moved into the candlelit Brasserie Room for dinner. The menu: smoked salmon, lobster cocktail or cantaloupe; green turtle or cream of tomato soup; steak, kidney and grouse pie (the favorite), charcoal-grilled fillet of beef or breast of chicken; National Sporting Club ice, fresh fruit salad and double cream; cheese and coffee. Prix fixe: 25 shillings, plus 15 guineas annual dues. Champagne and bets came extra.
At 9 sharp the members transferred to a large, rectangular, pinkish room with a balcony—the Louis XVI Suite. About 50 men in business suits, marking them as uncles of fighters or cousins of waiters, occupied the balcony. The Club members took seats at small tables set on the main floor around a boxing ring.
During the next two hours, today's Corinthians watched five bouts, signaling from time to time to white-coated waiters when a glass turned up empty. Talk was subdued but now and then a voice would rise in volume to utter something like: "I'll lay you a pound the colored boy doesn't last this round." Twice excitement overcame the Corinthians. They clapped and shouted. Each time the master of ceremonies warned them: "Gentlemen! Gentlemen! You know we do not applaud during a fight."
An especially exciting bout, won by Oliver Paul of Nigeria over Teddy Barker of Swindon, so delighted the members that they responded with a shower of "nobbins"—coins and bills tossed into the ring. And when game loser Pat McCoy of Ireland left the ring after the fourth fight (against Bola Lawal of Nigeria), his blood-smeared gloves were stuffed with pound notes. In addition to this largesse the boxers earned between ¬£15 and ¬£125, depending on their reputations.
None had reputations like others who have fought for the National Sporting Club: Sam Langford, Terrible Terry McGovern, Kid Lewis, Kid McCoy, Peter Jackson, Tommy Ryan. In the opinion of the 10th Marquess of Queensberry (the eighth Marquess composed modern boxing's rules and was a visitor to the Club), "the greatest heavyweight battle ever staged in any ring" was a Club affair between Peter Jackson and Frank Slavin. When Jackson was declared the winner after 10 rounds "the ordinarily staid members so far forgot themselves as to burst out into a veritable bedlam of cheering." In 1916 the 22-year-old Prince of Wales (now the 61-year-old Duke of Windsor) so far forgot himself as to climb into the ring to congratulate winners, the first time royalty had visited the Club.
Today 20% of the members are Americans—among them Rear Admiral Tully Shelley—and Britons include Lord Selsdon, the Earl of Middleton, Sir Leslie Joseph and naturally enough the present Marquess of Queensberry.
After the fights, the members drifted back to the long Pompadour Room bar to drink, talk boxing and pay bets. A member who could not pay immediately was expected to send his check to the Club secretary, using not the name but the number of the member he owed. Thus, the British right of privacy is preserved. At any rate it is acknowledged and that, of course, is what really counts.
About midnight the Corinthians began to leave the bar. They ambled out into the cool of the evening and waited as their cars—Humbers, Rolls-Royces and Bentleys—purred along Regent Street to pick them up. In two weeks they would be back again for more beef, more brandy, more boxing.
THE ELEGANT A'S
A motley of has-beens and hopefuls, stiff-legged veterans and raw recruits, the Kansas City Athletics were picked to finish a horrible last in the American League. Instead, they have made certain of finishing an elegant sixth and, in the process, have had more than a little to say about the pennant. During the latter days of the season, they have buzzed the league leaders like gadflies, at one time or another knocking the Yankees and White Sox out of first place and all but extinguishing the last flickering hope of the Boston Red Sox.
In consequence of all this, Manager Lou Boudreau is regarded in Kansas City as a wonder-worker who has played it by ear from day to day and improvised as skillfully as a trumpet player in a jam session. Similarly, Owner Arnold Johnson is looked upon as a kindly Daddy Warbucks who, like Little Orphan Annie's Daddy, is frequently absent from the scene but always there with his checkbook when an Enos Slaughter or a Vic Raschi turns up on the open market or the scouts flush a likely prospect in the back country. A standing Johnson order has been: "If he's worth it, pay the boy enough to make sure we get him." Following instructions, the scouts have signed 144 boys and assigned them to farm clubs.
The Athletics fans' loyalty in attendance was just another example of their adherence to the Kansas City code which is that if you call a man your friend, you don't quit on him when the going is tough. Following the code, 5,000 fans were at the airport to cheer the team after a disastrous road trip; they turned out in force again the day after the A's suffered one of the most catastrophic defeats in baseball history: a 29-6 shellacking by Chicago. This particular demonstration of faith so inspired Alex Kellner that he pitched a shutout against the White Sox.
In this atmosphere, a number of players have undergone startling transformations. Vic Power, a .255 hitter in Philadelphia and a rather listless performer generally, has hit well over .300 all season and, in the opinion of Boudreau, is the best first baseman in the league. Elmer Valo, for years an unsensational hitter, has developed into a dangerous man in the clutch and has wound up hitting in the neighborhood of .360. Slaughter has sparked the team with his enthusiasm and performance. Up and down the line, oldsters and youngsters have outdone themselves—even if they didn't have a lot to outdo.
Do they dream now of first division in Kansas City? Not if the ball club's officials can help it. The fans are reminded that first division is still years away. That's probably O.K. with the fans because, as they say in K.C., what's a few years among friends?
GEESE AT THE RACES
Strange are the tales told by the horse players and weird and awesome are the things that will happen around a track, often unbeknownst to the mob at large. Like a fellow will think he has torn up a winning ticket and is about to blow his brains out when he stops to lift a little old lady up to the $2 window and then, after this act of charity, will find the winning ticket stuck in his hatband, it being the Chinese laundryman's ticket he tore up and threw away. As the song says, who can explain it, who can tell you why?
Who, take an example, can explain the geese at Centennial Race Track, the track in Denver? When it first opened in 1950, these geese flew in from Canada and took a gander, so to speak, at the track and settled down on the infield. There were about 75 of them. They waddled around, casing the joint, then eased on over to the starting gate and looked over the horses. Never went out on the track, just looked around, honking among themselves. Between races, people would notice them and laugh and make remarks and the track brass, seeing a free attraction, passed the word that some whole wheat and cracked corn were to be passed out to the geese, what did it cost?
So the geese go for it and stay all through the meeting, watching each race like they had money on it, but never getting in the way. Every afternoon after the last race, they honk it up and fly off to this lake out of town. Next day they're back for the first race and stay right through the last one. Finally, on the last day of the meeting, everybody began wondering what they would do now. Would they hang around after the track shut down? Not on your life. Immediately after the racing season, they took off, wheeled into the V-formation and headed for the Deep South.
Next year they were back for the first day of the meeting, stayed through until the last race on the last day, took off and headed south. And it's been the same story every year since. Only this season, there were about 200 of them on the infield. Same thing: show up the first day, take off after the last race the last day. Ask Ivan Thomas, the track's general manager; ask Lanny Leighninger, the official state steward. Ask anybody that follows the horses in Denver. Every one of them will tell you the same thing.
One guy says the geese come back because the track feeds them. Another guy says, "So how do they know when it's opening day and when it's closing day?" Another character claims it's the result of the hydrogen bomb tests, the atmosphere is changing and geese are getting smarter than people. It figures when you stop to think about it. Here are these honkers getting free food, making no sucker bets, and then flying south and probably working the same dodge at the Florida tracks. Dog tracks. The flamingos have got the concession at Hialeah.
For a few weeks before the Marciano-Moore fight there was a lull in New York Boxing Commissioner Julius Helfand's investigation into the dark ways and vain tricks of boxing's more devious elements. He had suspended a slew of managers for refusing to testify about the inner workings of their guild, had established quite clearly that Welterweight Vince Martinez was being boycotted by the managers. The Pennsylvania commission was pushing its own investigation vigorously. It seemed reasonable to think that Helfand, when he let the curtain fall, had made only a tentative step toward uncovering what he set out to uncover. It was assumed that the curtain would rise again after the big fight, that the intermission was meant only to clear the sports pages for pre-fight ballyhoo.
But the managers are a hopeful lot and out of the side streets around Madison Square Garden there crept rumors that Helfand had been ordered from on high—by State Boss and Tammany Chieftain Carmine De Sapio, perhaps—to let his investigation die.
The day after the fight Helfand was interviewed on CBS radio by Bill Leonard, whose nightly program covers feature aspects of New York City life. Helfand did not sound like a man who was letting matters slide.
"We have been able to develop evidence," he said, "which throws great suspicion on the fact that there are undesirable elements in the fight game. Of that I'm convinced."
"And you would continue to pursue this course of investigation?" Leonard asked.
"Not that I will continue to pursue, I am continuing to pursue it to drive those elements out of business if I can. That, I think, is the primary responsibility of this commission because, whether this is a good or bad sport, it cannot possibly survive if those elements are in it, and so first you must...convince the public...that this is an honest sport and is not a racket. If you can't convince them of that you might just as well give up the whole business."
Next rumor, please.
He's a four-letter man
At college, we hear.
That's the number of times
He writes home each year.
CURRENT WEEK & WHAT'S AHEAD
Rocky Marciano faces a problem not unlike Alexander the Great's: no more heavyweight contenders much worth conquering at the moment. But look for a surge in the demand for a Marciano-Moore rematch in Miami in February.
Earl Blaik's Army football team opened the season by running up the day's biggest score (and the biggest Cadet point spree since Davis and Blanchard) while crushing Furman 81-0. Don Holleder, the converted All-America end, failed to receive any real test as a quarterback but can expect it against strong Penn State this week.
Max Hirsch, 74-year-old trainer for Bob Kleberg's King Ranch, gained a verdict over Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons, 81-year-old trainer for Belair Stud, as High Gun, leading 3-year-old of 1954, gave Nashua, the current sophomore champion, five pounds and a sound licking in the rich and muddy Sysonby at Belmont.
Three Ball Clubs, already rebuilding for 1956, started at the top. Mrs. Grace Comiskey of the White Sox accepted the resignation of stormy General Manager Frank Lane, Horace Stoneham of the Giants did the same for even stormier Manager Leo Durocher, and Branch Rickey of the Pirates fired peaceful Manager Fred Haney on the last day of the season.
Willie Mays, whose batting average fell from first in the National League in 1954 to second in 1955 while his New York Giants were falling even farther, had further statistics to apply toward a raise in pay: most home runs in the majors (51), 127 runs batted in, 122 runs scored, 24 stolen bases, a .319 batting average.
The Denver Conference to discuss a national fitness program this week, which President Eisenhower was to have addressed, was postponed, possibly until this winter, after the President's heart attack.