It is possible that history will not care particularly that this year's World Series will be the first one to be played in the Central Time Zone since 1946. Even the world of baseball, which treasures an infinite variety of strange records (page 198 of One For the Book, 1957 edition, has, for example, "Most Games Won In One Season For One Club By Two Bespectacled Pitchers"), neglects to list "Most Consecutive World Series Played East of Toledo, Ohio."
But it's been a complete decade. Ten long years, during which only Cleveland in the great heartland of the nation had a chance to see Series bunting decorating the grandstand fence. And Cleveland, as any Kansan will tell you, is more a part of the Effete East (this is always capitalized in Topeka) than it is of the broad, wide-open Middle West.
In ten years, during which 59 separate and reasonably distinct World Series games were played, 54 were played in the East. Worse (this is being slanted for Midwesterners), 49 of the 54 were played in New York City. The World Series, the greatest sports event on the American scene, greater than the New Year's Day bowl games, greater than the Kentucky Derby, greater than the National Open, had deteriorated into just one more Sight To See in New York, ranking well ahead of Grant's Tomb but slightly behind the Empire State Building.
And now, all of a sudden, that era ended. The New York Yankees still have a bulldog grip on the American League's share of the Series, but New York the city has relinquished its monopoly. When you get right down to it, the most appealing thing about the 1957 Series is the fact that the Brooklyn Dodgers aren't in it. This is said with full and appreciative realization that the Brooklyn team now quietly shriveling on the vine of age has been for 10 years one of the truly great baseball teams of all time. Neither you (who have watched the ever-changing Yankees) nor your grandfather (who raved about Frank Chance and Harry Steinfeldt and the old Cubs) ever saw a better one for skill-plus-longevity.
September 29, 1957
But its irritating habit of winning National League pennants at the same time the Yankees were ringing up championships in the American League led to a tedious procession: four times in the past five years did the Yankees and Dodgers meet in the World Series; five times in the last eight; seven times in the last 16. Inevitably, the answer to the annual question—Who would win the Series this year?—tended to become, as Brooklyn and the Yankees met year after year after year—Who cares?
And if the mere absence of Brooklyn makes the Series more appealing, the most refreshing and delightful thing—and, for non-Californians at any rate, the most cheerful aspect of the Dodgers' imminent transfer to Los Angeles-is the realization that at long last (and about time) the New York Yankee-Brooklyn Dodger World Series routine is over, done with, finished, as dead as vaudeville. The Subway Series—and at this point one must recall that the San Francisco-bound New York Giants played six Series against the Yankees, compared to the Dodgers' seven—is, blessed be diversification, now and forever no more.
Now, when Mickey Mantle swings his bat in the on-deck circle waiting his turn in the first inning of the third game of the 1957 Series, he will do it in County Stadium in Milwaukee instead of Ebbets Field. Now it will be another setting for the old, old fascination attending battles of champions: how will the Hero do against the New Challenger?
Of course, the most potent arm of the New Challenger belongs to one Warren Spahn, who won 20 games in the major leagues the summer that Mickey Mantle was a 15-year-old kid playing sandlot ball in the Ozark country. Nevertheless, Spahn at 36 has played in only one World Series while Mantle at 25 is entering his sixth. Mickey has proved himself in Series competition; Warren will be on trial. Mickey will bat right-handed against Warren (who is the only left-hander on the Braves' pitching staff, except for part-time workmen Juan Pizarro and Taylor Phillips), and students of the game, who are as fascinated by the individual components of the drama as they are by the whole, will watch this duel between the powerful young hitter and the shrewd old pitcher intently.
A SYMBOL NAMED MICKEY
That Mantle and Spahn should be symbolic of Yankees and Braves is a singular compliment to each, because each has as teammates some of the most remarkable ballplayers in the major leagues. Mantle has Yogi Berra; Spahn has Henry Aaron. Mantle has Gil McDougald; Spahn the incomparable Red Schoendienst. But Mantle is the New York Yankees, the home-run hitter, the powerful slugger, the one player all kids know about, and all old men. And Spahn is the Milwaukee Braves, after years of trying finally making it, the highly skilled artisan now called to the middle of the stage for the crucial test. How Mantle and Spahn do against one another may be symbolic, too, of the way the Series turns.
The odds will undoubtedly favor the Yankees and, by extension, Mantle. This reflects a widespread and rather unjustified lack of confidence in Milwaukee, as well as a time-honored faith in the Yankees. This distrust derives from the Braves' failure to win pennants in previous seasons, most notably 1955 (early-season collapse) and 1956 (late-season collapse), and from the Braves' spectacular streak of ineptitude during September's first two weeks.
Milwaukee lost eight of 11 games in that September soft spot, and of course it came at precisely the time when the second-place St. Louis Cardinals, a gifted and colorful but definitely erratic club, were putting on a flamboyant late-season winning rush. The Braves had in August opened up a commanding lead by staging a winning streak during a simultaneous slump by St. Louis and the three other pennant-contending teams, and now it seemed a dramatically perfect time for an antipodean movement. The Braves lost, the Cardinals won, and the Milwaukee lead of 8½ games diminished to 2½ games. Two and a half games never looked smaller. In Milwaukee, frustrated citizens, wholly identified with their failure-ridden Braves, wandered away from the ball park and morosely eyed the murky waters of the dark Milwaukee River.
NO DARK RIVER
But without too much fanfare the Braves came out of their slump, won, won again, and then again. Suddenly they were on a winning streak. The Cardinals, meanwhile, lost a game, and a day or so later another. The 2½-game lead opened up to five. Things were back to normal in Milwaukee. The river wasn't murky after all; just oily. The losing spell, said postoperative diagnoses (a medical term for second guess), was just a matter of the team not hitting for a few days. It seemed that true and simple now that the Braves were back in high gear, the pitching good most of the way, and the hitting sharp and timely every day.
What with the Yankees idling along, casually conserving their lead—which most of the time was actually not much better than the Braves' lead in the National League—and losing nearly as often as they won, it really seemed that the odds makers should take some note of momentum, that inclination toward continuing in the same path. Milwaukee's path was victory, and it was aimed right at the Series.
Certainly it is true that anyone who might possibly be having trouble getting a bet down on the Yankees to beat the Braves can solve his problem easily by mentioning it anywhere in the Midwest. Even in St. Louis, where for a wild week or two hope flamed with the Cardinals, the rooting will be almost solidly pro-Milwaukee and anti-New York.
As this issue of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED went to press, St. Louis still held a small mortgage on a miracle. The miracle (a Cardinal pennant) required six St. Louis victories and at least five Milwaukee defeats in the last six games of the season. Foreclosure was extremely unlikely.
But even in defeat the Cardinals rated, and indeed had received on more than one occasion last week a standing ovation from baseball fans who had been led to believe that the National League pennant race was over and done with several weeks ago. No team fought more desperately to win; the word "desperately" is overworked, perhaps, but no other adverb describes the way the Cardinals scrambled from behind in game after game to stay in the race. No man in baseball has more right to feel self-satisfied than Frank Lane, the Cardinals' general manager, whose ruthless trading angered St. Louis and shook the morale of the ball club. Yet his judgments and decisions, which included the hiring of Fred Hutchinson—a respected manager with a great quality of leadership—were primarily responsible for the Cardinals rising from seventh to fourth to pennant contention in two seasons.
St. Louis and Milwaukee made the most of the National League season. Now it will be Milwaukee by itself trying to make the most of its chance against the Yankees.