This week, as the 1962 World Series moved into its final month and the lobby of San Francisco's Palace Hotel rang to the anguished cries of baseball writers who had neglected to send out their laundry on Friday, several fascinating questions arose concerning the future of the game as related to events just past. The most important of these, by far, was not whether the Giants would beat out the Dodgers again in the last gasp of '63—or whether the Pirates would beat out the Cubs, or the Mets beat out...well, maybe that is carrying things too far, but it does illustrate the type of baseball one has come to expect from the National League. It is assumed and accepted that there will be a pennant race over there. The big question is whether the Yankees can beat the American League again with a three-man pitching staff.
Should Whitcy Ford win 25 games, as he did in '61, or only 17, as this year, Ralph Houk has a right to expect Ralph Terry to come through with another big season and to count on Bill Stafford for improvement, since both are young pitchers with a great deal of talent. But the American League season is not a best-of-seven affair, broken up by travel dales; it is a long, weary marathon of 162 ball games, and three pitchers are hardly enough. Ford, Terry and Stafford managed to turn in generally sound performances against the Giants, holding San Francisco's power hitters in check. But one could only imagine, with a shudder, what might have happened to Roland Sheldon or Jim Bouton had one of these had to plug the gap. Well, the Giants are only a good team, not a great one, and with the exception of Willie Mays, who comes not from a different league but a different planet, the Twins and the Tigers and the Angels have hitters just as dangerous as these. The Yankees are hurting, the rest of the American League is catching up and this is the best news that baseball has had in years.
If this sounds like heresy to a generation that has been raised on Yankee lore, there are several items that should be pointed out before the storm. First, the only two teams that could be considered logical challengers to the Yankees defected early in '62. Detroit lost Al Kaline for almost half a season, and Frank Lary was as useless as a snowman with a frozen arm after pitching through an abominable blizzard on opening day. Baltimore, thanks to President Kennedy's concern for the national welfare, lost both Ron Hansen and Steve Barber to the Army Reserves, placing the Orioles in wonderful shape to fight a war but a little short in the ball park. Yet the Yankees had to flee in fear of their lives, almost to the final week of the season, from the double pursuit of the Los Angeles Angels, no less, and the Minnesota Twins. The fact that both were able to remain in sight of the Yankees well past Labor Day, that fear-inspiring date following which the Yankees usually rise up and send the opposition howling back to the rear, makes it fair to wonder if the dynasty that began with the first pennant strung up in The Bronx by old Jake Ruppert way back in 1921 is not at long last finally approaching its end.
Yankee lovers, the less appealing half of a psychotically related breed, point to the admirable 1962 performance of young Tom Tresh and insist that the Yankees will continue to mend their imperfections as before. What they overlook is that, of the seven Yankee farm clubs, only Fort Lauderdale of the Class D Florida State League finished higher than fifth this year. If there is another Tom Tresh down there, he should stand up and shout. There is no Mickey Mantle in sight, and even the Yankees admit that.
The harpy thought that the American League might begin to rival the National in producing a pennant race as a regular, scheduled event was the most important development of 1962 but not the only one. It was discovered during the year that the process of dressing a warm body in a major league uniform does not convince the object inside that the Polo Grounds is different from Des Moines. Thus the New York Metropolitans—even with George Weiss in the front office, Casey Stengel on the dugout steps and Marv Throneberry at first base—managed to lose the remarkable total of 120 ball games in just one year. Maury Wills, a skinny little guy with a disarming smile and larceny in his liver, proved that stealing a base, when repeated 104 times, can be as spectacular as the longest home run ever hit. And speaking of home runs, Roger Maris hit 33 instead of 61, a decrease some are inclined to attribute less to the way in which Roger swung a bat than to the careless fashion in which those little old ladies at A.G. Spalding and Bros. Inc. wrapped the yarn around the baseballs this year. The same neglect, no matter what Ford Frick says, undoubtedly helped Ray Herbert, among seven others, win 20 games and people like Earl Wilson, Jack Kralick, Bo Belinsky and Bill Monbouquette pitch no-hitters.
Sandy Koufax threw a no-hitter, too, but then Sandy was the best pitcher in baseball for half a season and would almost certainly have pitched the Dodgers to the pennant in a breeze, had not a blood clot lodged in the palm of his left hand. Koufax, with a 14-4 record and 208 strikeouts at this point, couldn't strike out your little sister the rest of the way.
One change in format
As for the World Series itself, it proved again that the two league champions are remarkably well matched. Only twice in recent years—when the Dodgers beat the White Sox in six games in '59, and last year when the Yankees won in five—has a Series failed to go the full route. The rain was all that made 1962 different, and as this was hardly a welcome departure the commissioner might consider one change in the format: in the event that the Giants win the pennant again in 1963, would it not be wise to schedule the Series for Mount Waialeale, Hawaii, where the mean annual rainfall of 471.68 inches is spread out over the entire year, rather than descending entirely in the month of October?