Only once during the New York Giants' annihilation of the Cleveland Indians did Al Lopez, the Cleveland manager, permit himself the luxury of rage.
For four days Lopez suffered in reflected humiliation while the Giants swept the 1954 World Series from the Indians, four games to none. The sweep was an achievement baseball men had insisted was impossible. Bookmakers admitted it was possible, but rated the possibility at 22-to-l. Yet as the incredible victimized him, Al Lopez remained soft-spoken save for a single interlude after the second game when Early Wynn failed, when the Indian attack failed for the second time and when ultimate defeat became a clear and present danger.
Reporters were admitted to the visitors' clubhouse at the Polo Grounds five minutes after the second game ended. They gathered in a tight circle about Lopez. There were some good questions and some bad. At first Lopez answered in whispers.
"What was the turning point today?" one reporter asked.
"There wasn't any turning point," Lopez murmured.
"There's got to be a turning point," the reporter insisted. "What was it?"
"There wasn't any, I'm telling you," Lopez repeated, breaking out of a whisper.
"Was the turning point when Doby couldn't catch that ball Rhodes hit?" the reporter persisted thickly.
"Now goddam," Lopez shouted. "What are you trying to do. Ask your questions and answer them, too? Goddam. What are you trying to do?"
When the Series ended Saturday some reporters tried to plant in Lopez' mouth more words about a turning point. With considerable difficulty synthetic quotes were created. Actually, as Lopez knew, the 1954 World Series was without one single hinge. There were a great many points at which things turned against the Indians. To equate one against the other is to equate the destructiveness of a teaspoonful against a tablespoon of uranium.
The first game, which the Giants won 5 to 2, was a turning point because it had been generally assumed that Bob Lemon, Cleveland's starting pitcher, was stronger and better than the Giants' Sal Maglie.
The second game, which the Giants won 3-to-l, was a turning point because it had been generally assumed that Early Wynn, pitcher of three two-hit games in September, was unbeatable in a clutch.
The third game, which the Giants won 6-to-2, was a turning point because it had been generally assumed that the Indians were waiting to sandbag the Giants at Cleveland's Municipal Stadium.
The fourth game, which the Giants won 7-to-4, was a turning point because it had been generally assumed that the Indians would win the World Series.
In the first inning of the first game the Indians looked good. They scored two runs when Vic Wertz made the first of his eight hits, a triple to right center field that batted in Al Smith and Bobby Avila. Then the Indians, winners of more games than any American League team in history, went into a miniature decline and fall. The Giants tied the score in the third inning. In the sixth, with Wertz at third base, Jim Hegan bounced fiercely to Henry Thompson at third. Thompson fought the grounder with both hands until it surrendered (see pages 20-21). His throw to first base was in time by half a step.
"When that ball squirted away," Thompson said, "all I was thinking was I gotta get that son of a buck over to first base."
In the eighth inning, with two Indians on base and no one out, Vic Wertz hit a ball 450 feet, where Willie Mays caught it (see pages 22-23). Never before had so unbelievable a catch been seen and disbelieved by so many.
"Was it real?" someone asked Al Dark, the Giants' captain, later.
"It was real," Dark said, as though he had only then convinced himself.
But there was at least one more turning point in that first game. With two Giants on base in the tenth inning, a high-living Southerner named Jim Rhodes pinch-hit for Monte Irvin and lifted a fly into the breeze that blew toward right field. Bobby Avila, Cleveland's second baseman, started back for the ball. A customer in the right-field stands muffed it. Three runs scored; the Giants had won.
Next afternoon at the Polo Grounds the crowd sagged below 50,000 and there were proportionately fewer turning points. Johnny Antonelli, the Giants' young left-hander, made his first pitch a fast ball and Al Smith, Cleveland's young left fielder, hit the fast ball to the roof of the upper deck. Thereafter 13 Indians reached base and though none was observed biting dust, none scored, either.
Early Wynn pitched four perfect innings, then two Giants reached base and Rhodes again hit for Irvin. This time he pinch-popped a single to short center field beyond the reach of Larry Doby. The Indians were impaled on a sharp new turning point.
"He's a pretty fair hitter," said Giant Scout Tom Sheehan of Rhodes.
"He's a County Fair hitter. He goes up there and swings."
Then the Series moved to Cleveland where one store was caught with a sign showing. "Congratulations, Indians," the sign in the window read. "You're sitting on top of the world."
A BIG DEAD SALAMI
Lemon and Wynn had been beaten. Al Rosen, Cleveland's clean-up hitter, was crippled by a pulled leg muscle. Rosen sat down as Mike Garcia got up to pitch the third game. A 37-year-old veteran named Hank Majeski took over third base from Rosen. All season subs had come through for Cleveland, but by this time a great many points had turned. Majeski went hitless, Rhodes pinch-hit a two-run single, Ruben Gomez outpitched Garcia and the Indians were down three games.
"No sense waiting for the spring," Rosen said a day later as he prepared to go back to third base. "Lemon goes fine with two days' rest," said Al Lopez when someone wondered what had become of Bobby Feller.
A small left-hander named Don Liddle held the Indians while Lemon did not go fine and the Giants moved ahead, 7-to-0. Cleveland fought back too late when Majeski pinch-hit a three-run homer and when a rally knocked out Liddle for Hoyt Wilhelm in the seventh. Wilhelm stopped it, but another rally knocked him out for Antonelli with one out in the eighth. Johnny whipped a curve past Wertz's bat for a second out. With two strikes on Wally Westlake, Antonelli tossed a change-up pitch and Westlake watched it drift over the plate. When he did so, Cleveland's hotelkeepers who had raised prices for rooms, barkeeps who had raised prices for drinks and Cleveland's fans who had wanted to see another game on Sunday, knew what the Indians knew, too. The Giants were in.
"A big dead salami," the Giants' Joe Garagiola shouted during the clubhouse celebration. "Johnny threw Westlake a big dead salami."
"The boys did it all," Manager Leo Durocher shouted.
"Leo," said a moist-eyed reporter. "You managed great."
"The boys did it all," Durocher said in normal tones.
"World Champions," Whitey Lockman, the first baseman, said quietly. "What do you know? But I bet they'd like another crack at us."
Big Jim Rhodes spoke for the majority. Big Jim stuck a cigar in his mouth. "Hey!" he shouted, "Where's the champagne?"
Afterward there came perspective and with perspective came questions. Were the Indians' 111 victories merely the reflection of a fairly good team in a terribly weak American League? Had Rosen's leg been sound and Larry Doby's shoulder uninjured, would there have been a struggle? Or were the Giants baseball's supreme opportunists, unbeatable always in 1954 because of a Mays catch, a Thompson stop or a Rhodes pinch-hit home run? The answers, if they exist at all, are as elusive as that single turning point the reporter tried to get from Al Lopez.
But one Giant official had all the answers he needed. "We didn't just beat Cleveland," he insisted. "We showed those Yankees up but good."