The Western Clubs in the National League moved into the East this week, and for the first time in a decade it was no cliché to speak of "invasion." For at this early stage the balance of power in the league has swung to the West.
There is a very real cyclical movement between East and West. Consider: from 1901 to 1910 the West won eight of 10 pennants, while the East took 12 of the next 14. The West then ran off with 18 of the next 22, but since 1947, eastern teams have won the pennant nine straight times and dominated the first division.
Now, however, three western clubs scramble with Brooklyn for first place. Milwaukee, St. Louis and Cincinnati swagger eastward with the confidence of success. Will they go home swaggering or limping?
Of the western teams, the Cincinnati Redlegs are especially appealing. For one thing, they have not been out of the second division since 1944, while every other major league club has had at least one first-division finish since then.
May 20, 1956
Secondly, they have an imposing array of big, hairy-backed hitters who are delighting crowds with a record number of home runs (43 in their first 21 games).
Finally they have as manager, the round-faced Mr. George Robert Tebbetts. Birdie, who majored in philosophy at college, is a thinker and a talker, and last week he was thinking and talking about the pennant race.
"This league better stop Milwaukee," he warned. "They're apt to do just what Brooklyn did last year: get so far ahead no one will catch them. They're a good solid team. Still, anyone who wins this pennant has got to beat Brooklyn. Don't forget that. The Cardinals are playing great ball. They're a lot like us. They score a lot of runs, but they give a lot away. We have a little more power than they have; they have a little more speed."
He paused for effect.
"There's going to be a real race in this league this year. Nobody's easy. You used to get mad when the Pirates beat you. Now you can't get mad. The Pirates with their pitching might come in anytime and knock the block right off you.
"Our team," he said, "is improved. Right now I have the only catcher in the big leagues with a lifetime batting average over .300, and where is he—on the bench!" (Fat little Smokey Burgess has been kept out by young Ed Bailey's fine playing.)
When Milwaukee came into Cincinnati last week another reliable baseball cliché—"crucial series"—was dusted off and run out to describe the four games scheduled between the two clubs. Of course, the cliché was justified, for after Birdie's warning that "someone better stop the Braves," it was clearly Cincinnati's duty to be that someone.
The first game was, in a word, memorable. The Braves won 9-8 in 10 innings, but only after the Redlegs' manager, a coach and two players had been thrown out of the game.
The trouble started in the fourth inning when Tebbetts objected to Umpire Vic Delmore's decision that one of Hal Jeffcoat's pitches was a ball. Birdie strode toward the pitcher's mound and called comfortingly, "Don't worry about it, Hal; it was a good pitch. He's just not seeing very well tonight." Birdie's fine tenor voice has a splendid carry and had no trouble reaching Delmore's ears. Tebbetts was out of the game. A rainfall of disapproving jeers fell on the umpire.
It was only the beginning. In the seventh, Jeffcoat dove off the mound for a little pop fly, but Delmore ruled that he failed to catch it. Jeffcoat rose in anger and raged at the umpire, bumping against him in fury. That put Jeffcoat out of the game too, and the already excited crowd forgot it was in sedate Cincinnati. Boos swelled in the night, and paper cups, rubber balls, cigaret packs and at least one whisky bottle (a pint, it was reported) fell on the field. The uproar was splendid fun until the public address announcer pleaded: "A little boy—a little boy was just hurt. Please, ladies and gentlemen, don't throw things!"
In the 10th Ed Bailey was forced out at second on a very close play. He objected strenuously but finally headed for the Redleg dugout. Surprisingly enough Umpire Hal Dixon followed him, continuing the discussion. Acting Manager Jimmy Dykes hurried out as peacemaker, but too late. Bailey had been thrown out.
Dykes in righteous wrath told Dixon: "You blankety-blanks are ruining the game."
"You're out too!" Dixon shouted back.
Umpire Jocko Conlon, an old friend of Dykes who had had a quiet night at first base, came over. Dykes turned to Jocko appealingly.
"Don't look at me, Jim," Jocko warned. "I don't know what's going on."
"Well, join them other three," Dykes retorted. "They don't either."
Coach Frank McCormick followed Dykes for the last two outs, the third Cincinnati manager of the evening, and an equally unsuccessful one, as the Braves won out 9-8.
Next day the Redlegs did stop Milwaukee in a wild 14-10 game, but on Sunday the Braves crushed Cincinnati twice. Birdie's boys had not done much to slow Milwaukee down, but they headed East hopefully in search of more docile opponents.