Of all the games played in the world, baseball is most completely a fan's game. Other sports have spectators, but a spectator is not the same thing as a fan. A fan is a student, a critic, an appraiser of performances; he knows values and appreciates them. Now and then you'll find, say, a football fan who can discourse for hours on the intricacies of line play, or a track fan who can analyze the variations in baton-passing in relay races. But most of the loyal followers of such sports follow them primarily for pure emotion, to glory in victory or suffer in defeat. Baseball fans glory and suffer too but, at the same time, they can appreciate the fine points of play that cause the emotional reaction.
The faces of a baseball crowd are gay, happy, ecstatic, sad, glum, disgusted. There are women in the crowd, old men with cigars, kids with gloves. They vary tremendously from person to person, but they have a common denominator: a detailed and constantly growing knowledge of the game.
Take the lady in Clearwater, Fla., watching the Philadelphia Phillies day after day in practice, watching her favorite team develop as another lady would watch her garden grow. She's a fan. Take Casey Stengel or Branch Rickey, men of exceptional (though differing) intelligence, almost all of which is dedicated to a continuing study of the never-ending complexities that vary the basic simplicity of baseball. They're fans.
Take Dwight D. Eisenhower, President of the United States. He would rather play golf than watch a baseball game but he's still a fan, and he proved it unconsciously last fall after watching Sal Maglie beat the New York Yankees in the first game of the World Series. Ike told Maglie's boss, Walter O'Malley: "Please tell Sal I thought he pitched a hell of a game."
Take the boy pictured above, watching the catcher come back for a foul fly ball. He's a fan too, and a student of the game. He, as well as the catcher, is judging the flight of the ball and its relation to the speed and position of the catcher and the location of the fence. He probably knows as much baseball right now as you do, but he's learning, too, every time he sees a pop fly or a ground ball.
And when he's middle-aged and gray and a success in the world—like United Steel Workers President David McDonald (second picture from left)—you'll find him at the ball park in a good seat with his score card handy. He'll still know what's going on. Because he's a baseball fan.
SOME LAST-MINUTE NEWS FOR THE FAN
As the 16 major league teams moved into the final week of spring training and set their course north, the Yankees, despite a puzzling—and surely temporary—ineptness at the plate, and the Indians, despite several major problems, seemed to remain the big teams of the American League. In the National, although the exhibition standings revealed those early-blooming Pirates still on top, the Braves were hot on their track. And what about the Dodgers? Well, maybe they were just resting their aging bones until winning ball games really became important.
Although every team had its last-minute problems, none loomed larger than the gaping hole at shortstop on the Philadelphia Phillies (see page 77). In an attempt to do something about it, the Phils finally quit talking and made a trade. To the Dodgers (who were looking for a reliable pinch-hitter), they sent steady old Elmer Valo, four lesser players and a bundle of cash for a 25-year-old Cuban named Chico Fernandez. Never able to make the Brooklyn lineup because of Pee Wee Reese, the slick-fielding Fernandez was almost certain to help shore up the porous Phillies.