It was the best oftimes, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age offoolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, itwas the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring ofhope, it was the winter of despair...
No one everaccused Charley Dickens of being a baseball writer but, give or take a fewVictorian adjectives, Old Chuck might almost have been telling A Tale of TwoBoroughs last week.
In darkestBrooklyn the New York Giants sent Sal Maglie, the blue-jowled right-hander,against the Dodgers. The Giants needed one game to win the National Leaguepennant. Maglie, aging, backsore but courageous, had been winning needed gamesall season. This time he started slowly, walked two in the first inning. Thenhe threw a double-play ball to Duke Snider. Then he never gave the Dodgersanother chance.
At Ebbets Fieldthe fans of Brooklyn hooted Maglie. Sal had heard—and ignored—their hootsbefore. Between innings Maglie rushed to the Giant clubhouse so that a trainercould knead the twisted muscles in his back. On the field he relentlessly benthis curve ball past Dodger bats.
In the ninthinning Maglie snapped one final curve and Roy Campanella drove it slowly to themound. Maglie clutched the ball, ran toward first base and tossed to WhiteyLockman. Lights went out all over Brooklyn. Manhattan, from Toots Shor's bar toTallulah Bank-head's dressing room, rejoiced.
Lockman, ball inglove, jumped at Maglie and landed halfway up the tired pitcher's frame. It wasa scene that will be remembered when baseball fans turn back their albums tothe season of 1954.
In Milwaukeeanother picture will haunt memories: the brilliant Bobby Thomson stretched outin the sand of a training camp infield at St. Petersburg, Fla. (opposite page).Back there in March even the most sanguine of Milwaukee rooters suspected thattheir pennant chances lay with Thomson in the dust at second base. The Braves,without the slugging outfielder until August, finished third.
There were otherscenes that will be remembered and embroidered during the chilly winter monthsby baseball fans who live to relive baseball. Ted Williams of the Boston RedSox broke a collarbone on his first spring training day and did not returnuntil May. With a metal pin holding the broken bones together, Williams playedboth games of a double-header in Detroit and lashed eight hits, including twohome runs, in nine turns at bat.
"It hurt likehell," Williams said.
"When theytake that pin out," said the Yankees' Casey Stengel, "I want it. Wannastick it into a coupla my guys."
HIGH ABOVE BIGKLU
On a May afternoonin St. Louis the Cardinals' Stan Musial, uncoiling from his frightening crouch,pounded five home runs during a double-header with the Giants. On a Septemberday in Brooklyn, Ted Kluszewski, his shirtsleeves cut off at the shoulders andhis biceps casting a shadow over the mound, hit just one. It was his 49th ofthe season.
High in the standswhen the Reds' Kluszewski homered, when Maglie pitched, sat an official scorer.Nobody took his picture or marveled at whatever biceps he had. No one fought toshake his hand or to get his autograph. As usual over the scheduled 1,232 gamesof the 1954 season, the scorer just sat and kept score. But at the end of theseason last Sunday the scorer's books told stories, too.
After 11 years,after 12 years, after 13 years, the figures said, three of the biggest stars inbaseball had grown dim. With Yankee Shortstop Phil Rizzuto, 36, it was a caseof slower reflexes, a higher arc on his throw to first base and finally, nearthe end of the season, eyeglasses. Rizzuto's batting average sagged to .194,lowest of any major league regular.
With Preacher Roe,36, the Dodgers' best left-handed pitcher, it was a curve ball breaking lesssharply, a slider forgetting to slide. Three years ago Roe won 22, lost three.In 1952 he won 11, lost two. Last year he won 11, lost three. In 1954, thescorebook reported impersonally, Preacher Roe won three, lost four.
The scorebook toldmore subtly of Allie Reynolds, 36-year-old Yankee right-hander. Reynolds' backgave out but the records showed that he still won 11 and lost four for theyear. The records showed, too, that Reynolds, once a man annoyed because hecould not pitch every day, won only three games after July.
Some of thefigures in the scorebook will help when it comes time to pick baseball's MostValuable Players. They showed that Willie Mays had won the National Leaguebatting championship in his first full season with a mark of .345. They showedthat Mays was third in runs scored with 119, first in triples with 13, secondin total bases with 377 and first in slugging percentage with .667.
They revealed thatKluszewski's 49 home runs made him the first Cincinnati player to lead themajors in home runs since a worthy named Fred Odwell hit nine in 1905. And theyshowed that Kluszewski's 49 were only three homers less than the entire rosterof Baltimore Orioles hit all year.
The Dodgers' DukeSnider fulfilled his long-predicted promise by hitting .341 with 40 home runs.Stan Musial continued to surpass reasonable promise by batting .330, fourthbest in the league. In his 12 full seasons, Musial has always been among hisleague's six top hitters, with six firsts, two seconds, two thirds, a fourthand a sixth in 1947 when he was suffering from chronic appendicitis.
LAST ON MERIT
The pitchingstatistics showed that Bob Lemon had won 23 games for Cleveland, beatingBaltimore, Philadelphia, Boston, Detroit and Washington a total of 18 times.Lemon matched teammate Early Wynn with 23 victories, matched Washington's BobPorterfield with 21 complete games. Both figures were league highs.
The scorebooksshowed that Bobby Avila, the Indians' second baseman, had been the mostsignificantly improved hitter. His .341—a big jump for a man who had never donebetter than .305—had won him the batting championship. The books also showedthat Cleveland's Larry Doby had hit 32 homers to win the title in hisleague.
Recorded figureswill help to decide the Rookies-of-the-Year. The Yankees' Bob Grim was thefirst 20-game-winning freshman since 1948. The Indians' Don Mossi had an earnedrun average of 1.94, or only slightly more incredible than his teammate RayNarleski's 2.22. The Cardinals' Wally Moon hit .304, stole 18 bases. TheCardinals' Joe Frazier collected 20 pinch hits.
Usually, teamaverages were a fair reflection. The Indians set an American League record with111 victories and their pitching staff compiled an earned-run average of 2.79,best since that record began in 1930.
The Yankees set aleague record for victories by a second-place team: 103, and led in batting andruns scored.
The BaltimoreOrioles scored fewer runs, hit fewer home runs than any team in the majors. TheBaltimore Orioles finished seventh only because....
The PhiladelphiaAthletics, with the lowest team batting average in the major leagues—.235—wereworse.
The Giants, firstNational League team to jump from the second division to the pennant since the1934 Cardinals, were baseball's finest opportunists. The scorebooks showed thatthe Giants pinch-hit 10 homers, three more than any other team in history.
The PittsburghPirates, by way of confirming General Manager Branch Rickey's statement thatthe team was last on merit, finished last in the National League in batting,pitching, fielding, homers, runs, and, for good measure, stolen bases.
Much of the spacein the scorebooks was oddity material.
Murry Dickson wona great deal of sympathy in 1952 when he lost 21 games with the last-placePirates. Dickson was traded last winter to the vastly superior PhiladelphiaPhils. This year with the vastly superior Phils Dickson lost 20.
Mike Garcia, oneof Cleveland's best pitchers, uses a fast ball as his best pitch. Most homeruns are hit off fast balls but Garcia, in 257 innings, allowed just six homeruns.
Robin Roberts,possessor of one of the best fast balls in the game, led the National Leaguewith 23 victories. But Roberts also led in home-run balls. He threw 36.
Bill Bruton stole34 bases for the Milwaukee Braves. As a team, the champion Giants stole 29, thechampion Indians 30.
Milwaukee's fans,who give their players everything from Cadillacs to sausages, supposedly givethe Braves strength through ardent home town cheering. The scorer, smilingpleasantly, noted that Milwaukee won 43 games at home, but won 46 away fromhome.
None of thesestatistics in the score-books altered the two big ones—the Giants and Indianswon pennants. No statistic was much help in remembering Sal Maglie pitchingwith a twisted back or Ted Williams slugging with a pin in his shoulder. Nor,for that matter, could any statistic explain the phenomenon of Willie HowardMays Jr.
No scorer's bookcould contain Willie Mays. He jumped at you, larger than life on the field, theway he did one brisk September night when Willie's Giants were still strugglingfor the pennant.
Robin Roberts wasto pitch against the Giants and in September races the sight of Robertsheightens the tenseness and the weariness of ball players.
While other Giantssat stiffly on the bench and waited for the game to start, tense, weary WillieMays propped an empty ice bucket on a bat rack, took his glove from his pocketand began a makeshift game. Willie tossed his glove at the bucket and someoneelse tossed it back. Mays laughed when the glove went into the bucket andglowered when it missed.
Like the scorers'books, Mays was telling a story. "Baseball," Willie Mays was saying inthe tension of September 1954, "is fun."
[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]
WAIT TILL NEXT YEAR DEPT.
In New York, Casey Stengel signed a new Yankeecontract. "I told them, they ought to fire me if I didn't win," Caseysaid, "and I didn't and they shoulda but they didn't. Now I got to find away to catch the Indians."
In Washington, the Senators said Bucky Harris had"resigned." Harris, bitter, said "It's cheaper to fire the managerthan to buy good players." Cheaper or no, the Senators looked to next yearwith Charley Dressen, once Harris' assistant (see Red Smith, p. 64).
In St. Louis, Eddie Stanky was retained as manager ofthe disappointing (sixth-place) Cardinals. Owner Gussie Busch explained, "Ibelieve in giving a man a hell of a chance."
In Pittsburgh, Branch Rickey looked past the Pirates'last-place finish, predicted a pennant one of these years. Then he added,sadly, "But I don't think I'll be alive to see it."
In Brooklyn, two days after the Giants crushed theDodgers to clinch the pennant, Rookie Karl Spooner brought life back tomoribund Brooklyn by stopping the Giants cold, 3-0, and striking out 15. Fourdays later he fanned 12 Pirates, shut them out too. This gaudy debut roused theDodgers, revived the classic Flatbush watchword: "Wait till nextyear!"
One of the big turns of fate of 1954—Bobby Thomson, slugging outfielder of the Milwaukee Braves, lies in the dust of a Florida training-camp field with a broken right ankle. The accident may well have cost Milwaukee the pennant.
ROOKIE: Wally Moon of Cardinals hit .304 for season.
ROOKIE: Bob Grim, Yankee pitcher, was 20-game winner.
ROOKIE: Don Mossi of Indians had 1.94 earned run average.
ROOKIE: Ray Narleski, another Indian, posted 2.22.
VETERAN: Phil Rizzuto of the Yankees hit only .194 for year.
VETERAN: Allie Reynolds of Yankees won only three after July.
VETERAN: Preacher Roe Dodgers won only 3, lost 4.
THE UNVANQUISHED: CASEY STENGEL
THE CONQUERING HERO: KARL SPOONER