It's late September, and the big glistening clock of football is wound up and ready to strike—so Sports Illustrated devotes all but a portion of this issue to the coming season. But no American could lose himself purely in football anticipation last week; far too much else was stirring in The Wonderful World of Sport...in baseball where the race for the National League pennant was so close it was easy to overlook the fact the Yankees all but sewed up the pennant in the other league...in racing, boxing, golf (see next six pages).
A hero should be a handsome young man with full wavy hair, a warm smile and a physique that would make a Greek god cry with envy. But baseball (a game that requires of its heroes only skill and a fair sense of dramatic timing) put on its pedestal last week a soft-bellied thin-haired 39-year-old gaffer who needed a shave.
Sal Maglie came to the Brooklyn Dodgers last May when the Cleveland Indians discarded him as a washed-up veteran, even as the New York Giants had done nine months before that. But last week when the Dodgers rose through the standings to challenge the Milwaukee Braves for the league lead and the pennant, and the Braves (seemingly recovered from their chilling five-game losing streak of the week before) marched into Ebbets Field to smack the Dodgers down, it was Maglie whom Manager Walter Alston sent out to pitch the opening game of the brief but terribly important series. If Brooklyn lost the first game, they'd be two games behind the Braves and on the edge of oblivion. Maglie, pitching with overwhelming skill, won it, 4-2.
In that game it was Maglie who stood in the glare of the crowd, relishing the drama and the moment, when young Bob Buhl of the Braves faltered and walked the bases full in the fourth inning. It was Maglie who rode with the count until it was 3 and 2 and then reached out and poked Buhl's carefully aimed fast ball into right center field for two runs and, in effect, the ball game. The partisan Brooklyn crowd, which had seethed with envy and hatred of Maglie's skills in the years that he pitched for the New York Giants, gave vent to a full-throated roar of glee, appreciation and, most of all, welcome to a Maglie whose heart now, they knew at last, was certainly pure.
September 23, 1956
That was Tuesday night. On Sunday, with the Dodgers two percentage points in first place and the Braves not playing because of rain, the slugging Cincinnati Redlegs, third member of the National League's pennant-chasing triumvirate, came into Ebbets Field, nearly out of the race but eager to cause somebody some trouble. If they beat Brooklyn in the first game of their series, the Dodgers would tumble out of first place and take on once more the unenviable job of chasing the Braves. Again it was Maglie who was given the task of beating the big team in the big game. He smothered the Reds, holding them runless until two were out in the ninth and winning 3-2. That was shaving it close but that's Sal the Barber's style, and in any event it was Milwaukee's edgy Braves (see next page) who Sunday night were the team in second place desperately trying to catch up.
With two weeks to go it was still anybody's pennant. But Sal Maglie had pulled the Brooklyns to the top of the heap one day and had held them up there another. Who was to say he couldn't go on doing that the last dozen days of the season?