A week or so ago, when we had a warmish day between blustery snowstorms here in the East, I caught a glimpse of the first sure sign of spring. A couple of 12-year-old kids had baseball gloves on and were playing catch—in February. Of course, it was colder than they had assumed and they didn't keep it up very long, but there it was: baseball was back.
Despite such eager kids, the season really begins for me each year when we print our first baseball cover—as we do this week. Opening Day is still six weeks off, but our cover says that right now the ballplayers are in the sun country and the training camps are moving into high gear. And the feeling is good.
Unlike pro football, which explodes onto the stage each year with preseason all-star games, baseball sort of sidles into your consciousness. No games at all, let alone all-star games, are played between the clubs until near the middle of March, and then they are only meaningless exhibitions.
That is baseball's way. It builds up slowly and deliberately to its peaks of excitement, and perhaps it is that slowness, that time to anticipate action—to wonder what is going to happen—that makes baseball's high points so universally appealing (the World Series is still the most popular sports event in America, if attendance, news coverage and radio and television audiences mean anything).
February 28, 1966
This year, now, the baseball fan waits gleefully for the return to action of the two gentlemen on our cover. Neither Leo Durocher nor Eddie Stanky has managed a major league team since 1955, yet so electric is each in personality and approach to the game that Chicago, in particular, and baseball, in general, are revitalized by their presence. Bill Veeck says, "Both clubs will profit from this. I figure that Durocher alone is worth 200,000 admissions."
In the White Sox, Stanky takes over a much better club than Durocher has in the Cubs, but the challenge to him is fully as great. The White Sox are always a threat to win, but they tend to collapse under pressure. It will be Stanky's job to be ambitious and demanding, to drive his team hard toward victory in spring training and all season long. This may cause friction and controversy; it may also bring Chicago the pennant.
Durocher, of course, walks in controversy. His former boss, Buzzie Bavasi of the Dodgers, surmised a few months ago that, in the 10 years since Leo had managed, the game had passed him by. Bill Leggett, who wrote this week's cover story (page 26), asked Leo about Bavasi's comment. "No way!" Leo snapped. "No way! They still play it with a bat and ball, don't they? Three strikes and you're out? Did somebody come in and make it more than 90 feet between the bases?"
Then how will Durocher act when he and his Cubs first venture into Chavez Ravine to play the Dodgers this season?
"I'm going to do something," he promised. "They'll be laying for me, and a lot of people will come out to boo me. I've been thinking about what to do to kind of stir things up."
Then he gave Leggett that curious Durocher grin—half tough guy, half charmer—and added, "We gotta have some fun in baseball. What the heck, I know I'm a controversial guy. I didn"t have to go to school to learn how to eat my lunch. We'll have some fun."
I'm looking forward to it.