BASEBALL GOES NATIONAL
Baseball was trying this week to make some sense out of its several predicaments—and by thus flouting its own tradition of simple drift it threw the whole country into an uproar. Mayors flitted back and forth across the nation or pouted in their chambers; state legislatures jammed through bills, and governors hastened to sign them; there were shouts from the halls of Congress, a statement from the Federal Communications Commission and a flurry in Wall Street. Private citizens hastily formed committees and planned syndicates. The hullabaloo was everywhere. Well, not quite everywhere: the Borough of Brooklyn (which stood to lose its Dodgers) remained strangely calm.
The sense that baseball is trying to make consists of facing the following facts:
1) Just as the discovery of gold made it inevitable that California would be admitted to the Union, so the population explosion in southern California has made it inevitable that Los Angeles would be admitted to the Majors. At the same time it has become advantageous to establish a second big league outpost at San Francisco. Air transport makes both moves eminently practical.
June 9, 1957
2) Television has presented baseball with the greatest following in its history, and baseball is entitled to draw direct strength from this following. One obvious, if costly, way is to provide bigger, better and more accessible ball parks and entice some of the new fans into the open air. Another way is to deliver the games to U.S. homes, extracting a small charge for the now free show.
Reading the writing in the sky, the National League has managed to act before the American League. Meeting in Chicago last week, the National League owners gave the Brooklyn Dodgers permission to move to Los Angeles and the New York Giants a green light into San Francisco. By thus approving a total withdrawal from the nation's largest city, the Nationals seemed, to many observers, to have taken leave of their senses. But then came a sense-making report that Skiatron TV, Inc. of New York was prepared to guarantee both the Dodgers and the Giants $2 million a year for pay-as-you-look-television rights on the West Coast. This caused the Wall Street flurry in Skiatron stock although Walter O'Malley, president of the Brooklyn Dodgers and the real master strategist of the projected upheaval, declared himself innocent of any involvement in the TV deal.
At this point a slight digression is in order if one is to digest this heady baseball chowder. As indicated, all these fast-breaking developments represent baseball's attempt to make sense out of its abrupt collision with the facts of mid-century life.
For years it was not necessary for baseball to make sense. Before the coming of television, the big league game operated as a sort of provincial entertainment whose excitements were largely a matter of hearsay to a good two-thirds of the country. Nobody, in those old days, doubted that Babe Ruth existed, but only a comparative handful (as measured against today's television audiences) had seen him mince to the plate on those toothpick legs and belt the ball into the adjacent streets. Small boys in Arkansas, say, could not imitate his batting style as they can Mickey Mantle's. Big league baseball was a tight little world, and old-line baseball men liked it that way. They presented a united front in resisting the numbering of players' uniforms, and they considered the scoring of hits and errors to be trade secrets not to be divulged to paying customers. Balls fouled into the stands they regarded as club property still, and they sent ushers scurrying to retrieve them. In extreme cases ushers were authorized to offer a pass for the next day's game in exchange for the ball. Apparently, the owners considered the model T Ford to be the ultimate advancement of the automotive industry and confidently expected that a few vacant lots in the neighborhood would accommodate as many as could be sold locally. Seat cushions, rented at 10¢, seemed a daring but worthwhile concession to spectator comfort.
It was no wonder that the Supreme Court of the United States looked upon this innocent-appearing enterprise as a kind of business not subject to the restrictions of other businesses operating across state lines. This affectionate attitude toward baseball persisted even when smart operators like Larry MacPhail put over night baseball and Lou Perini of Boston engineered the first modern shift of a franchise, even when radio and television rights brought the clubs handsome profits to add to those of the concessions and the parking lots.
But now, baseball may have hastened the day of reckoning which has already overtaken professional football and made it subject to the antitrust laws. Representative Emanuel Celler of New York has announced that he will take advantage of a previously scheduled hearing (set for June 17) to inquire into the "big business" aspects of the proposed shifts and the financial affairs of the clubs involved. Meanwhile, Representative Kenneth B. Keating of New York is ready with a bill that would make some of baseball's affairs (television contracts, etc.) subject to regulation while safeguarding the present player contract with its reserve clause.
One thing seems certain: the National League has reached a point of no return. It is abundantly clear that Mr. O'Malley of Brooklyn is not interested in anything New York City now proposes to hold on to the Dodgers. Looking back on his successive maneuvers (scheduling games in Jersey City, buying the Los Angeles franchise, acquiring a 44-passenger airplane), it is plain that he had his eye on the rich Los Angeles market all the while.
It makes sense. And when the dust settles, when the Pacific Coast League is placated, Congressmen talked hoarse, stadiums built, television coin boxes installed—and maybe one or two more teams shifted to baseball-hungry cities like Minneapolis, Denver and Fort Worth—major league baseball may at long last become in truth the U.S. national game.
MAN IN THE LEAD
As the field of brightly colored, snarling machines took to the track in last week's Indianapolis "500," a powerful yellow car was in the lead. It sped through the south turn, up the long backstretch past the golf course, through the north turn and down along the hallowed bricks of the homestretch, maintaining a steady advantage. At the end of one more lap it was still ahead, and again at the end of three. But this time it stopped, and out stepped a man wearing a light blue suit and vest. The car he had been driving, a 1957 Mercury Convertible Cruiser, was, of course, the pace car, and the man was Francis Carlson (Jack) Reith, 42, general manager of the Mercury Division of Ford Motor Company.
Jack Reith had just come about as close as any nondriver does to the sensation of actually driving a racing car in the "500." His mission was to lead the drivers around the track in formation and to give them a flying send-off at the starting line. He had had the assignment for months, and he had approached it with the thoroughness one would expect of a member of the group of young Ford executives who are known as the Whiz Kids.
Bill Stroppe, the man who prepares Mercury's racing stock cars, equipped the pace car with racing shock absorbers and tuned its 290-hp engine. Jack Reith came to the speedway early and practiced conscientiously. He received tips from Drivers Sam Hanks and Jimmy Bryan. On race morning he was outwardly calm and chipper. "This may be false optimism," he said, "but I think everything will go very well."
For Reith, it did. But for the drivers who were sent off this year from the pits to search out their proper positions during two pace laps, it was, as Speedway President Tony Hulman Jr. said later, "lousy." The start for the racers was ragged, indeed.
Reith had to lead a third pace lap after one racing car bumped another on the first one. He executed it smoothly, at 50 to 60 mph, and stepped hard on the accelerator as he came into the homestretch for the last time. He swerved smartly onto the pit apron, gunned the convertible to 100 mph, and the race was on.
Afterward Reith admitted that he had a nightmare on the eve of the race. "I was not afraid for my personal safety," he said. "It's a good car, and it was in perfect shape. But I saw myself getting stalled on the backstretch, with all those racing cars fouled up behind me. And worst of all, the Buick people at the race were laughing their heads off."
But it was only a nightmare.
PRIDE OF MEXICO
The young featherweight climbed through the ropes and into the ring. He stood in his corner somber and heavy-lidded, draped in a black velvet robe. His hawklike features were impassive, frozen—a proud young man conscious of his role and dignity. He waited for the fight to start.
The crowd of nearly 14,000 which jammed Hollywood's Gilmore Field saw him and broke into a singsong chant: "Pa-jaro, Pa-jaro, Pa-ja-r-r-r-r-ito," over and over. They were mostly Mexicans. Many had come all the way from Tijuana to see Ricardo Moreno, the man in the black velvet robe, the man they called "Pajarito"—"Little Bird." They were proud of him. His great heart and his fists had brought him from the obscurity of Chalchihuites, Mexico to Hollywood, big-time U.S.A. To them he was symbolic of Mexican pride and manhood.
The newspapers called him a killer. He was. Every one of his 32 victories had been by knockout. Twice he had lost decisions, but mostly he punched them silly.
On the other side of the ring was José Luis Cotero, born in Mexico City. He appeared to be the perfect kind of opponent to serve up to the Little Bird in his third U.S. prize fight—not too fierce, not too tame, not too good, but no pushover. Cotero was wrapped in an old blanket, huddled almost as if in misery. The crowd scarcely noticed him. He was just the catcher for Pajarito's punches. If he had any of the Little Bird's pride, it was hidden somewhere, possibly beneath the folds of the old blanket. In any case, Cotero did not display it until the bell rang. Then one of the bloodiest fights in West Coast ring history got under way.
It was over in the seventh round. Moreno, the Little Bird, just sat down, and it was over. He had been punched senseless. His eyes stared, unseeing, as the referee began the count. His legs, stretched out in front of him, could not lift his body.
The stunned crowd saw Cotero's arm raised in victory. They saw something—was it pride?—shining from his one good eye; the other had been squashed like a ripe tomato by a savage Moreno left hook in the fifth round. Cotero was bloody and dazed, but he knew he had won, and he smiled with satisfaction as he wrapped himself in his old blanket. He was lifted high in the air by his jubilant handlers so the newspapers could get a better picture of his poor broken face. He looked like the loser, yet his hand was held high in the air. Across the ring Pajarito sat gently smoothing his long, straight black hair. He looked curiously at the goings-on in Cotero's corner. Curiously, but respectfully. So did the others.
WITH THE PIONEERS
An ancient problem of anglers has been to cast a light lure or fly a long distance. One solution is the modern spinning outfit. Another and more effervescent answer was proposed last week by Ben Callaway, a Denver outdoor columnist. Take along some Alka-Seltzer tablets, he advised frustrated fishermen, and bore a small hole in each one. With a short length of string, tie a nut or bolt or other weight to the tablet. Then run your line or leader through the same hole. With the added weight, you can cast far out. When the tablet hits the water it will dissolve and release the weight, and you're in business.
Almost simultaneously Mr. Robert Gatley of Raleigh, N.C. announced a new lure of his own invention, the Bubble-Burper. Before casting his plug Mr. Gatley inserts an Alka-Seltzer tablet in a built-in holder. He claims that fish come clear from the other end of the lake to investigate the bubbly bait. To prove his point, Mr. Gatley actually catches bass on the plug.
We're not sure yet whether this is a trend, but to be on the safe side we turned it over to one of our fishing editors last week. He has just come up with his own contribution: a hollow plug into which a seven-to-one Martini is poured. When the plug is cast and drawn through the water the Martini dribbles out through a tiny hole, attracting fish (he says) that would spurn any ordinary lure. "What's more," he claims, "after you've fished that lure for a few hours, refilling when necessary, you can switch to the Alka-Seltzer job. By that time there'll be a real market for a hangover remedy, and you can take your limit in no time at all."
Our fishing editor is a knowledgeable chap, and we respect his opinions in such matters. All the same, we can think of other uses for a pitcher of ice-cold Martinis.
You see this bat boy? Do not frown
Or, nervous, twist your hats.
He simply hangs there upside down
Just like the other bats.
CURRENT WEEK & WHAT'S AHEAD
Southern Californians are taking the shift of the Dodgers for granted. Headline there one day last week: REESE'S ERROR LETS BUCS BEAT OUR BUMS. San Francisco is more cautious. Sample headline: SF (?) GIANTS TRIP LA (?) BUMS.
•Boxing's New Era
In the brand-new age of competition, Promoter Emil Lence had progress to report: the Floyd Patterson-Hurricane Jackson heavyweight championship fight will be scheduled for New York's Polo Grounds on the night of July 29, will be televised by NBC, hitherto a mainstay of Jim Norris' IBC, and will be sponsored by a distinguished newcomer to the boxing beat—General Motors.
American drivers, at least, are ready for the long-anticipated invasion of Italy's classic Monza race. Indianapolis veterans willing to go abroad for the June 29 event include Pat O'Connor, Johnnie Parsons, Troy Ruttman, Jim Bryan, Andy Linden, Bob Veith, Rodger Ward, Tony Bettenhausen, Eddie Sachs and Paul Russo. Chief concern now is the lag in European entries for the event.
Texas A&M got NCAA probation lifted after Basketball Coach Ken Loeffler played the rueful scapegoat. He resigned—rather than fight charges of recruiting excesses—lest the NCAA extend A&M's painful two-year probation for football sins.
'THE WINNER: DON BOWDEN'
In the three years since Dr. Roger Bannister of England led the world's milers across the four-minute barrier, five Americans have come close and failed. As other milers crowded the barrier, a gangling 17-year-old, Donald Paul Bowden, was developing into a remarkable half-miler in San Jose, Calif., setting a new high school record of 1:52.3. As a college freshman, Bowden also ran the mile as a sideline and set a freshman record of 4:11.7. Last year, Half-Miler Bowden's sideline won him a spot on the Olympic team in the 1,500 meters. This spring again, Bowden ran the half and occasionally the mile. In a relay race four weeks ago, Bowden was clocked in 4:01.6 for the mile—a potential four-minute man well worth watching.
Last weekend—when almost no one was watching—Don Bowden decided to break the barrier. Feeling a bit poorly after a week of exams, Bowden drove 75 miles to Stockton, Calif., where a gallery half filling the 6,000-capacity stadium was watching a modest show of strength in a regional AAU meet. If it was windy and cold, Bowden planned to run the half. It was mild and almost windless, so Bowden entered the mile. "If you hit the half in 2:01," Coach Brutus Hamilton counseled him, "go ahead." Bowden hit the half in 2:00.8, the field already strung behind him. Bowden went on, unpaced, against the clock, gathering up the cheers of the crowd with each long, loose stride to the tape. Then as he got his wind, came the announcement many an American miler has been hoping to hear: "The winner, Don Bowden. Time: 3:58.7. He is the first American to run a four-minute mile."