No sport inspires and nourishes so vast and dedicated a body of thinkers as baseball; the 1957 baseball season began, in the minds of millions, the day after the 1956 World Series, and has long since been played and won a thousand different ways. This is not to say that the baseball fan is slipshod, whimsical or careless in constructing his edifices of imagination. He is painstaking in the extreme. He is informed. He is as logical as a Premier of France. It is easy to discover these sterling qualities in him because he is also evangelistic, and once he has weighed the evidence and viewed the exhibits and retired to his chambers and discovered the winners of the forthcoming major league races, he says so, verbally and in print.
A good many of him have given SPORTS ILLUSTRATED the benefit of their reasoning during recent weeks, and these documents (see 19th HOLE) are models of sober, measured and even witty prose. Take, for instance, the American League race as viewed by David Balkin of Syracuse, N.Y. "Being of reasonably sound mind and body," he writes, "I predict the Yankee dynasty is at an end this year and the Red Sox are going to win the pennant." Here, obviously, is a man of judiciousness and restraint, who feels impelled, simply by the overwhelming weight of evidence, to make a flat statement. He is, he says, of "reasonably" sound mind. Not a man with a chip on his shoulder. A man, obviously, who is perfectly capable of admitting his own shortcomings. But he knows something and feels duty bound, as a good fellow, to pass the information on. How are we to doubt him—even though virtually everybody else in the United States feels certain that the Yankees are going to do it again? It seems almost a shame at this time of year that the baseball season is about to begin, and that the pitchers will be forced to throw actual baseballs at the batters, and that disconcerting reality is about to wash up and crash again upon the sand castles built with such loving care through the winter months. But we need shed no tears.
The Red Sox, or the Detroit Tigers, or even Baltimore could win the pennant. But if they do not, the winter thinker who lifted them to the heights will not be proved wrong. Reality in baseball—and perhaps this helps explain the game's enormous fascination—exists only by permission of the man in the stands, and who is to say he is wrong if he believes that fate, rather than any human agency, is responsible for the setbacks incurred by his current set of heroes? Who can really dispute him if he cries—as thousands of him will cry in September—that his team could have done it and should have done it and would have done it if? Who will not admire him when he sets out, devotedly as a homeless beaver, to rebuild his structure of logic next fall? If his team wins in 1957, of course the blighter is going to be insufferable, simply insufferable. Play ball!
April 15, 1957
Without doubt the Masters is the greatest event of the golf year to the hundreds of thousands of golf spectators who have traveled south for nearly a quarter of a century to the enchantment of the flowering green acres of Augusta, where spring seems trapped for a brief moment before being released to the rest of the country. Anyone who has spent a week or even a day there since the inception of the tournament in 1934 surely has recorded it in his memory book as one of his unforgettable experiences. What winter-weary soul could long remain insensitive to the lovely rolling fairways, the greener, jewellike greens, the gay chorus of azalea and dogwood blooms and the towering pines of this cathedral of golf? What golf-starved wanderer could miss the giddy and sentimental fact that here in this golfers' heaven he is being treated to the rare privilege of seeing the living masters of the game perform as if for him alone?
Augusta National is no ordinary course, and the Masters HAS BEEN no ordinary tournament. The HAS BEEN in the previous sentence is capitalized to indicate a tear stain, for it is with sadness that we must record the opinion that this year was the year of disenchantment for the Masters. It is difficult to comprehend how the same geniuses (golf's nonpareil, Bob Jones, and golf's shrewdest statesman, Cliff Roberts) who conceived and conducted the Masters so masterfully could have installed a new rule that this year swept more than half the masters off the course after the first two days of the tournament, thus making it impossible for the vast Saturday-Sunday crowds to see them at all.
Horton Smith, who won the first tournament in 1934 and has played in every round since, was speaking strictly for himself and his eliminated colleagues when he said: "It's like being invited to a home for dinner and being told to get up and get out before they serve the dessert." Let us speak for the paying spectators: It's like paying for a full meal and then being told that you'll have to skip the main course.
When General William Tecumseh Sherman headed southeast from Atlanta and marched through Georgia to Savannah, he proved that, as he may have said, war is all hell. He laid waste the countryside and burned a few fields which, without doubt, have since been made into golf courses. On these courses, fighting the battles of the game, legions of golfers have without doubt agreed that golf, too, can be hell. This creates a sort of tenuous link between Sherman and golf, and the Civil War and golf, and might have served for the tiny excuse General George H. Decker needed back in 1948 when he decided to install a golf course at Fort Jackson, on the outskirts of Columbia, S.C. and not too far from the scene of Sherman's depredations. At any rate, General Decker ordered that a course be built and, to lend a fillip of military flavor to the project, he decreed that each hole should be named after a Civil War general—nine Confederates, nine Unions—and that each hole should be tailored to fit the personality of its namesake.
History books were drawn from the post library, historians and golfers studied them carefully and the Fort Jackson course was born, leading off with a par-5 General Ulysses S. Grant and winding up with a par-4 General George Thomas. General Sherman sprawls over No. 17, a 352-yard par-4 which demands "logical, active, alert, determined, daring" play. Surprisingly, General Sherman is not the roughest hole on the course. General Henry Halleck (389 yards, par 4, No. 4) and General Joseph Johnston (413 yards, par 4, No. 14) are the stickiest problems on the course. General Halleck, who proved too bookish to be effective as a field commander and wound up as chief of staff for the Federals, lends the proper note of caution to No. 4, whose green is guarded by strategically placed traps which require an accurate tee shot for a playable approach; Johnston, who was known principally for his mastery of the art of strategic retreat, is dignified by the planning and concentration required to play No. 14, where the golfer's second shot must have backspin to stay on.
All in all, the well-planned, handsome layout offers a real test of a golfer's skill and, as lagniappe, a brief course in Civil War military history. Herewith, as a refresher in history and as a set of hortatory maxims for the golf season coming up, is the Fort Jackson layout:
No. 1: 514 yards, par 5. Ulysses Grant ("determination").
No. 2: 449 yards, par 4. Phil Sheridan, of Winchester and Chickamauga ("an accurate estimation of the situation").
No. 3: 214 yards, par 3. Stonewall Jackson, of Bull Run, The Valley and Chancellorsville ("singleness of purpose").
No. 4: Halleck.
No. 5: 431 yards, par 4. Jeb Stuart, of the Peninsula and the Seven Days ("use of a cavalryman's initiative").
No. 6: 538 yards, par 5. Dutch Long-street, of Second Bull Run and Gettysburg ("self-discipline").
No. 7: 380 yards, par 4. Jubal Early, of Winchester and Cedar Creek ("courage").
No. 8: 167 yards, par 3. Harvey Hill, of the Seven Days and Richmond ("precision").
No. 9: 408 yards, par 4. John Magruder, of Yorktown and Galveston ("cleverness").
No. 10: 400 yards, par 4. Wade Hampton, of Bull Run and the Seven Pines ("accuracy").
No. 11: 183 yards, par 3. George B. McClellan, of Seven Pines and Antietam ("caution").
No. 12: 440 yards, par 4. Robert E. Lee ("careful planning").
No. 13: 530 yards, par 5. George Meade, of Second Bull Run and Gettysburg ("strength").
No. 14: Johnston.
No. 15: 187 yards, par 3. Joe Hooker, of Chancellorsville and Lookout Mountain ("bravery and skill").
No. 16: 600 yards, par 5. Ambrose E. Burnside, of Spottsylvania and Cold Harbor ("power").
No. 17: Sherman.
No. 18: 407 yards, par 4. George Thomas, of Logan's Cross Roads and Chickamauga ("poise").
LET BRAZIL DO IT?
It has been apparent for some time that the city of Cleveland is unable—or unwilling—to bear the whole cost of financing the Pan-American Games in 1959. Congress, it became plain last week, will refuse to appropriate $5 million to make up the difference and will thus end all hope for a project which has been rickety and ill-conceived from the beginning. Although everyone concerned is able to say, and with certain justification, that the fault is not his, this rejection of the games will nevertheless create a lamentable impression upon our neighbors. Having bid for the games—an American pre-Olympic sport carnival begun at Buenos Aires in 1951 and restaged at Mexico City two years ago—the U.S. is now saying, in effect, that it is just too busy or too bored to go on with them.
The progressive muddle over the proposed Cleveland games was probably inevitable from the beginning, for Cleveland never sought them; they were the brain child of just one man, Ohio's state auditor, James A. Rhodes. The auditor, a big, ebullient promoter-politician, is also a former president of the AAU with a deep interest in athletics. He burst in upon Cleveland's Mayor Anthony J. Celebrezze just before the Mexico City games in 1955, and announced that he wanted to make a bid, on Cleveland's behalf, for the next ones. The mayor apparently believed that any bid so blithely conceived could only be considered a piece of civic politeness. At any rate he gave Rhodes a letter to the Pan-American Games executive committee and forgot about it. To say that he was astounded when Rhodes triumphantly informed him that Cleveland's bid had been accepted would be the grossest understatement. Cleveland officialdom, which had been largely ignorant of Rhodes' plan, felt that it had been stuck with a white elephant.
Once stuck, however, the city set out to prepare; if it was less than enthusiastic it nevertheless appointed a games committee and drew plans for donating a half-million dollars worth of land and—with the state and county—for raising $7 million of the $13 million needed to finance the big show. It agreed to build a big stadium, a velodrome and a swimming pool. Meanwhile Ohio's Republican Senator George G. Bender, on whose influence Rhodes had counted in making his bid in the first place, got a resolution authorizing $5 million in federal funds through the Senate. GOP Congress-woman Frances Bolton got the same resolution through the House.
But in November Senator Bender was beaten for re-election by Ohio's Democratic Governor Frank Lausche—and Senator Lausche disapproved of the expenditure of federal funds for the games. The State Department, into whose budget the $5 million had been written—mostly because nobody seemed to know where else to put it—likewise threw a monkey wrench into the machinery. It did not disapprove of the games as such but did not think it had any business promoting athletic contests.
Meanwhile Congress became increasingly engrossed in reduction of the budget; the fact that President Eisenhower spoke up for the games at a press conference last month affected this attitude not a whit, and last week a House appropriations subcommittee voted the $5 million down.
Few voices were raised in protest. A good many of Cleveland's leading lights seemed downright relieved. Auditor Rhodes was mum, Washington Republicans uninterested. Cleveland will not actually lose the games until May 1; Congress, in theory, could restore the Pan-American Games appropriation before that time. The odds, however, are one in a million. The games will go to Rio de Janeiro—if that city is able, at this late date, to prepare for them. If not they will doubtless be remembered in Latin America as the wonderful athletic contest which was destroyed by the arrogant Yankees.
DEBT IN THE AFTERNOON
The shrunken—and still shrinking—minors; the reluctance of city administrations to finance new ball parks; a Congress whose members (being politically sagacious) are baseball lovers to a man but seem bent on reclassifying the national game as a business—these are some of the headaches which plague baseball's impresarios. But any impresario who wants quick relief might look south to Mexico City, where bullfighting is in such sad shape that it makes American baseball appear to be square in the middle of a Golden Age.
For the last five Sundays the Plaza Mexico, the biggest bull ring in the world, has been empty and silent. Its impresario, Dr. Alfonso Gaona, is bankrupt. He owes 2½ million pesos to bull breeders, matadors and helpers for fights that have already taken place. And the breeders have declared they will supply no more bulls, and the performers no more performances, until Dr. Gaona—or somebody—pays up in full.
Gaona's bankruptcy is not due to woolly-headed management. He is known as a clever, and sometimes cold-blooded, operator. But he faces a combination of factors which make it necessary to sell out the 50,000-seat bull ring virtually every Sunday of the season just in order to survive; anything less means disaster.
The Plaza Mexico is the property of a rich Spaniard named Cosío. His contracts with Promoter Gaona keep all the concessions—cushions, advertising, the sale of beer—for himself, along with a generous cut of the reserved seat sales. The Mexican government takes nearly a third of all gate receipts in taxes; and, as costs have risen, it has kept the scale of ticket prices firmly frozen at six to 75 pesos per ticket (a peso is worth about eight cents in American money).
All this is hard on a promoter, but on top of everything else neither the bulls nor the matadors are as rousing as they used to be. This view, it is claimed, is not just a rose-colored glance at the past, but a fact. Bullfighting has always gone in cycles, and since the death of Manolete and the semiretirement of Dominguín and Carlos Arruza, no one has quite come along to take their places. As for the bulls, a treaty between the United States and Mexico which forbids the importing of fresh Spanish breeding stock has led to the exhaustion of bloodlines on Mexican bull ranches. (The treaty was meant to help stop the spread of hoof-and-mouth disease among North American cattle.)
The decline in quality of the corridas has led to smaller crowds; and these in turn have meant bankruptcy for the promoter. So the whole great structure of big-time bullfighting in Mexico, with its color and courage and crowds, has come tumbling down. It will take someone with at least four million pesos in ready cash to pay off old debts and put new wheels in motion for next year. That someone may be hard to find—unless, of course, the Spanish season, which begins Easter Week, discloses a new matador whose arrogance, skill, grace and courage make the afición both remember and forget Manolete. Then the olé's! of Madrid will echo in Mexico City, and the pesos will be forthcoming.
The homers that boom in the spring, tra-la,
Bounce happily over the wall
As we merrily dance and we sing, tra-la,
Of winning the pennant by fall.
But that lad with the powerful swing, tra-la,
Will seldom be prancing off base,
For the homers that boom in the spring, tra-la,
Have little to do with the race.
—IRWIN L. STEIN
CURRENT WEEK & WHAT'S AHEAD
A majority of Congressmen will repair to Griffith Stadium Monday for the first day of the baseball season. For the first time, pondering baseball's status under the antitrust laws, they can say it is a business trip.
•Spring Training for Ted
Ted Williams, the adult enfant terrible of the baseball world, wound up his spring vocal training with a blast at the U.S. Marine Corps and politicos who let the Marines recall him to service in Korea, later beat a tactical retreat, said he loved the Marines, tapered off grumbling about Joe Louis' tax bill.
The Soviet Union, which has claimed the invention of everything from the electric light bulb to the airplane, has invented a new inner history of the 1956 Olympics. Allen Dulles' CIA, say the Soviets, tempted Red athletes with toothsome blondes and propaganda at Melbourne, while Allen's brother John Foster (oddly enough) forbade American athletes to fraternize with their Russian counterparts.
•Out of the Alley
The American Bowling Congress, squeamish about the connotation of the word "alley," has started a quiet campaign among its members to call the bowling arena a lane, thus rescuing its membership from an alley environment.