A euphoric fallout drifted across the country, saturating the baseball community. League officials loved owners, owners loved managers, managers spoke highly of players, and Casey Stengel talked pleasantly to a photographer. It was a time of year when even the Kansas City fans, enjoying a heady sniff of major league baseball without yet having to swallow a performance by the Athletics, dreamt of finishing seventh.
Expert opinion prevailed that Cleveland would retain its American League pennant and meet Milwaukee in the World Series. In Las Vegas, where the prophets back their predictions with hard cash, the odds were out and went like this:
If it's any comfort, Las Vegas last year picked the winning Indians and Giants to finish second and fourth respectively.
THE FIRST PITCH
Having learned his lesson in 1953 when he came near missing the event in favor of golf, Dwight Eisenhower once more opened the baseball season. Standing in the flag-draped Presidential box in Washington, Ike faced the cameras and assembled ballplayers, pounded his glove and lobbed a pitch to Infielder Pete Runnells.
The first first-ball pitcher was a portly right-hander from Cincinnati named William Howard Taft, who threw from under a tall silk hat his first time out. The year was 1910, and Taft opened the baseball season at the request of Ban Johnson, president of the American League. Johnson thought the Presidential appearance would give a lift to sagging attendance, and it did. Twelve thousand fans—a record Washington turnout—were on hand to cheer Taft and the baseball Senators. Although Taft's ample girth was not prohibitive for a pitcher, as Fred Fitzsimmons and Hugh Casey later proved in competition, he was wild. Having shed his gray kid gloves, he wound up and let fly towards Catcher Gabby Street, who was waiting at home plate. To everyone's surprise, the ball sailed off to starboard and into the glove of Pitcher Walter Johnson, who was observing the event from the mound.
Two years later an enterprising pitcher named Clark Griffith took over the management of the Washington club. He asked Taft to repeat the opening-pitch ceremony, and the President obliged with a performance that showed marked improvement in his control.
Clark Griffith has observed 44 first pitches by eight White House hurlers and 11 by Vice Presidents summoned from the bull pen when the President was unavailable. Of these, Griffith rates austere Woodrow Wilson as the most genuine ball fan. During the closing years of his life, when he was crippled by a stroke, Wilson frequently drove to the ball park and watched the game from the tonneau of his car parked near the right-field fence. Griffith generally sent an idle player out that way to protect Wilson from errant fly balls.
Warren Harding displayed the only real Presidential fireball, but he had a head start. Back in Marion, Ohio, Harding once owned a ball team of his own. Calvin Coolidge could take baseball or leave it alone, preferably the latter, and he looked as uncomfortable trying to throw a baseball as he did in the feathered headdress of an Indian chief. However, Mrs. Coolidge loved the game and always marked her scorecard diligently. Once at a World Series game between the Senators and Giants, Coolidge started to leave early, but Mrs. Coolidge grabbed his coat tail and hauled him back into his seat.
Like Wilson, Herbert Hoover once managed his college ball team (Stanford), so he had more than a nodding acquaintance with the game. Hoover's throwing was both slow and wild, and twice he completely missed the crowd of players assembled in front of the Presidential box (by that time it was customary for the players to scramble for the first pitch, with the winner taking the ball to the President for an autograph). On both those occasions the ball was retrieved by an umpire, who was allowed to keep it.
Naturally, Franklin Roosevelt threw in more first balls (eight) than anyone else. He was exceptionally wild for a right-hander, once hitting the camera of one of the vast battery of photographers who always assemble in front of the Presidential box for the rite. The ball bounced into the hands of a cop who kept it. Roosevelt was not a ball park regular, but he could talk about baseball knowledgeably and frequently discussed the state of the Senators with Griffith. A few days before he died he said to Griffith: "I feel just like a baseball club would feel going into the ninth inning when they had only eight men to play the game."
Harry Truman, whose boyhood athletics were restricted by poor eyesight, threw the ball awkwardly, but he had one edge over all other opening-day pitchers: he was ambidextrous. He used to get laughs by crossing up the photographers and throwing from the side they least expected. Bess Truman and Margaret were the fans in the Truman family, although Harry enjoyed the afternoons in the Presidential box with his family and White House pals.
In scolding Eisenhower for his failure to put the 1953 opener on his schedule, Washington Post Sports Editor Bus Ham summed up the meaning of the opening day at Griffith Stadium. "It lets the entire nation know it is now time to play ball."
BILLY JOE, 1955
At Augusta's Masters Tournament-the sensation of last year's event, Billy Joe Patton, played himself out of the running on the first round with a 79 and subsequently became just another player—almost. The difference implied in the "almost" was twofold. First, throughout his remaining three rounds Billy Joe, while never catching fire, always was escorted by a fairly large-sized gallery of golf fans who had never before seen the young man from Morganton in action and were naturally curious to observe "The Golfer of 1954." And second, the man they watched, scoring so unsensationally, was still Billy Joe Patton, an extraordinary guy able to ride out disappointment with the same expressive poise with which he handled the sudden fame that came his way a year ago.
At the end of his first round, as Billy Joe walked off the course, he came upon a covey of reporters. "Say," he called over with humor in his voice, "I don't notice you fellows tagging after me for my life story after that 79." The next day, as he approached the first tee to begin his second round, a friend in the gallery called him over to introduce a Billy Joe fan from the West Coast who wished him a very hot round. "I doubt very much if I have one in my system," Patton replied. "You're just a year too late."
Since many golf fans are inclined to be critical when a publicized star scores well into the 70s let alone fails to hole out five-irons, some of the spectators who saw William J. Patton for the first time may have felt let down. The majority didn't. The amateur from Morganton always manages to get across. "I sure wished I could have got rolling," he sighed when the tournament was over, "but a fellow like me who plays in streaks has to take the cold with the hot. That's really the way it goes for all of us, and any man who tangles with golf learns that he can't allow his play in any one tournament to mar his enjoyment of the game.
"I just hope I'm a few degrees nearer the boiling point when we play those Walker Cup matches in Scotland. I could be. I hear there's hardly any shrubbery at all to get into on St. Andrews."
THE ROARING ROAD
One of the first American hot-rodders was a man named William K. Vanderbilt, founder of the Vanderbilt Cup Races (1904-37), which deprived Long Island potato farmers of their highway rights and riled them to the point of rebellion until they discovered that they could charge $25 a car for parking space to those who wanted to gape at the racers. On a recent night the ghost of William K. was heard to emit a low, throaty growl, much like that of a car with a cutout muffler, as New Jersey police grappled with the hot-rod problem and in doing so arrested 62 hot-rodders.
New Jersey is so traffic-laden that all its highways are heavily traveled. Route 72, though, the main highway from Philadelphia to the Jersey shore, is one of the state's few lightly traveled roads during the winter months and especially at night. It has, furthermore, a straight stretch of some 14 miles, ideal for hot-rodding.
The stretch has been so used. The murmuring pines of Burlington County have been bending low to the whoosh of speeding cars. The sleep of those who live along Route 72 has been ravaged by the roar of racing engines.
But the state police were unable to catch the rodders at it. The racers, with an eye to safety and for the appearance of speed cops, were informed by signals from a railroad overpass whenever police appeared or traffic impeded the road. It worked fine until State Trooper Leonard Miller stepped out onto the road and waved a flashlight at a couple of on-rushing cars. Brakes squealed and the drivers came to a dutiful, abashed halt. Other troopers then rounded up 61 men and a young woman who was gallantly released as a mere spectator. Most were either racers or clockers. They, too, were released, on their own recognizance, pending the drawing up of charges. The clockers may present something of a legal problem. What can a clocker be accused of?
New Jersey now for the first time encounters a puzzle which has been solved quite simply in other states, starting with California, where police for years have cooperated with the hot-rodders, providing tracks and drag-strips on which they can race to their engines' content. The Automobile Timing Association of America and similar groups have worked to systematize the sport, establishing safety rules and classification standards for racing. It has worked out very well in California, Illinois, Ohio, Texas, New York, Michigan, Oregon, Washington, Florida and other states.
Furthermore, the dignity of the hot-rodder has been elevated in the public eye, sometimes inclined to see him as a speed maniac. The ATAA has come up with a definition of him which goes, a little stuffily, like this:
"A law-abiding mechanical hobbyist who alters his vehicle to give it increased safety and better performance." While the definition might easily fit a cyclist who puts snow tires on his bike, it serves to distinguish the hot-rodder from the-shot-rodder: "A lawless, speed-crazy motorist who races his souped-up car on public streets, recklessly endangering the lives of pedestrians and other motorists."
What the ATAA wants is for states like New Jersey to give their hot-rodders a few fundamental facilities where they can, without surreptitious-ness, try out their ideas for mechanical improvement of their cars. One of the fundamentals is a drag-strip—a half-mile paved area, four lanes wide—where the rodders can test their cars in competition. In many areas unused airports, some of which were abandoned after World War II, have proved ideal.
PARLOR GAMES & FREE BEER
New York is full of people who care deeply about night harness races. When the season opened at Westbury, L.I. on April 1, an enterprising TV station 40 miles away in Newark, N.J. soon began telecasting the whole card, eight races a night.
This was smart promotional ingenuity, all right, but it hardly deserves to be ranked with the real ingenuity displayed by a number of gaming entrepreneurs (on police blotters they are defined more simply as bookies) who took the tidings from Newark as a signal to emerge from the cracks of Manhattan's sidewalks and venture forth into the lucrative world of television entertainment. The bookies put some solid thinking into the state of harness racing and television, and out of their whirling brains came a dandy scheme to save all race-goers a lot of trouble: Why not hold the nightly trotting sessions in their own parlors?
Likely recruits for these peaceful, relaxing evenings-at-home were roped in from bus terminals or from taxi drivers or from a crew of game guys and dolls who simply love to bet—and would, even if it were only on the outcome of a turtle race in Times Square.
Some of the gaming parlors, so the report goes, really put on the dog on racing nights. The host, who was never too busy to take his guests' betting money, graciously offered his visitors free beer and cold cuts, and between races those who weren't tackling statistics for the next heat were cordially invited to pass the time with a dance step or two. Meanwhile, a well-conditioned running accomplice at the track would gallop (no trotter he) to the nearest phone after each race and flash the official payoff to his television headquarters. One payoff over, all hands would squint into their wide screen all over again—and again and again through half the night.
But, alas, this was all too good to last. It took less than one week for alert Sportswriter Jimmy Cannon of the New York Post to learn of the parlor doings and break the story of how gamblers were putting television to busy but illegal use. Westbury officials may have known something besides a harness whip was in the wind, too, for attendance had been down 3,000 to 5,000 since the telecasting began. From now on the Newark station will televise only one race a night—a situation which leaves the gaming set the alternative of learning to enjoy more living-room dancing or getting their money out to Westbury in person.
INDOOR IZAAK WALTON
It is hard not to feel that Jerome Anthony Cefalu, 19, is the most fiendishly efficient indoor trout fisherman in the world, resounding though that claim may sound. There can be no doubt at all, however, that he is the undisputed champion indoor trout snaffler of Milwaukee, Wis. In fact, he has been barred from the fishing pool of the Milwaukee Sentinel's annual sports show (50¢ for 15 minutes of dabbling a fly over stage-struck hatchery trout) on the grounds of being a public nuisance.
Most fishermen shudder at the idea of standing over a sports-show pool surrounded by giggling housewives and pushing teen-agers and fishing with a four-foot line and a limp fly. Not Jerry. Most of the housewives and teen-agers discover that the trout are too startled by public life to do more than roll their eyes in horror. But Jerry has learned ways of charming them. The thing to do, he says, is pick a white fly. Drop it behind a swimming fish (a trout who is simply finning will not feed), let it sink, yank it along parallel to the intended victim and then at a 45° angle past his nose. Twitch it enticingly. The trout will grab it.
In his three years of utilizing this technique at the Sentinel's annual show alone Jerry has practically cleaned out the trout concession, its fish, its prizes, its good will toward men. In 1953 he won a free vacation and spent it fishing for trout. Last year he won a $2,500 log cabin (for catching a two-pound four-ounce rainbow), a Minnesota canoe trip (for catching another big fish) and a week in northern Wisconsin (during which he and a pal caught 72 walleyed pike in three days). This year he won a free trip to Las Vegas and three one-week vacations in northern Wisconsin for having made the biggest catches on three different days.
It was not easy. Jerry showed up as soon as the show opened in the morning, bought a ticket, fished his 15 minutes, bought another ticket and waited in line for a place at the pool again. He fished nearly 10 hours a day, lived on hot dogs and spent some $50 for tickets. He caught more than 100 trout (which he cleaned meticulously and gave away to family and friends) before he was approached on the third hour of the seventh day and asked to turn in his rod and depart. But Jerry was incensed. So was his family. They hired a lawyer who got a court order restraining the pool operators from restraining Jerry from fishing during the last days of the show. The operators, apparently driven to distraction, barred him anyhow. As the show closed, the lawyer prepared to seek damages for the "embarrassment and humiliation" caused his client. Jerry was pretty sore. Jerry is a fellow who likes to fish.
HORSE RACE: PARIS, SPRING
On a soft spring afternoon, the prospect of handsome Group Captain Peter Townsend up in a race at Maisons-Laffitte was enough to make the heart of Paris skip a romantic beat. It did. When the gentlemen jockeys trooped to the scales of the half-timbered old Norman paddock the area was a crush of happy, misty-eyed faces, mostly young and pretty.
"Qu'il est beau," emanated from a hundred pretty throats. "Win it for Margaret." It seemed highly appropriate that one of the horses entered in the event, the 3-million-franc Prix Henri de Vésian, was a filly named Princesse Charmante (owned, however, by Prince Aly Khan).
Though he had ridden in races for gentlemen jockeys at Brussels, to which he was brusquely transferred as air attaché in the British embassy as soon as rumors about his friendship with Princess Margaret reached print, Townsend was making his Paris debut. Rising early on race day, he drove to Maisons-Laffitte and had a look at his mount, a good-looking dappled gray named Nemrod. Then he changed into boots and a sweater and breezed two horses in exercise. The railbirds clucked approvingly: "Mais tr√®s bien. Strong arms and a good seat."
As a matter of fact, Townsend is rated good with a horse, a dog or a gun, and in 1950 he placed second in the King's Cup air race while flying Princess Margaret's plane. As equerry to King George VI he charmed the sports-loving king and the rest of the British royal family with his abilities as a crack shot and a raconteur about dogs and hunting.
By race time Nemrod, owned by Carol Hanna of London, was a 5-4 favorite. The distance, 1,800 meters, was right for him, but in view of doubts about his ability in soft going it was suggested that sentimental bets had something to do with the short odds.
The Prix de Vésian started on the far side of the turf track. It was a sunny, warm day, but the going underfoot was heavy.
After milling behind the wire the horses broke in a bunch—except for Nemrod. He was far back. After two furlongs, Townsend and Nemrod still were running last. Then Townsend took his mount inside at the head of the stretch, and in the stretch it was Dojana first, Princesse Charmante second, with Nemrod closing fast.
In a driving finish Nemrod clipped Dojana by a head, with Princesse Charmante third.
"He came, we saw him and he conquered," wrote the ordinarily crisp Paris Turf.
No longer tense;
See how he soars
Above the fence!
—IRWIN L. STEIN
"Go ahead. We're looking for an earring and a wrist watch."
CURRENT WEEK & WHAT'S AHEAD
Bookies in Philadelphia (Blinky Palermo's home grounds), Wilmington and Trenton were simultaneously deluged with bets on underdog Tony DeMarco just a few hours before Blinky's 3-1 favorite, Johnny Saxton, lost the title to Tony in Boston...Eddie Arcaro got a 10-day suspension for careless riding at Bowie, Md., will be unable to ride Nashua in his heralded encounter with Summer Tan in the Wood Memorial—his replacement will be Ted Atkinson...17-year-old Swimmer Shelley Mann, who recovered from a disappointing performance at the Pan-Am Games by gulping vitamin pills and reading both The Power of Positive Thinking and a Donald Duck comic book, re-established herself as the hottest U.S. woman swimmer by a triple victory (100- and 250-yard freestyle, the 400-yard individual medley) in the Woman's National AAU meet at Daytona Beach...college rowing begins this week (Navy meets Princeton, Columbia meets Rutgers) with eastern experts, among them Coach Rusty Callow, author of Navy's three-year winning streak, touting Cornell as the "crew of the year"...U.S. Olympic prospects (for 1960) received a boost when a North Phoenix, Ariz. high school sophomore named Jim Brewer pole-vaulted 13 feet 9½ inches in his bare feet...meanwhile, Olympic Official Avery Brundage bluntly complained (in Brisbane) that Australian preparations for the 1956 games are lagging badly...The Masters golf tournament dramatized indomitable Ben Hogan's age (42) and aches—he limped noticeably as Winner Cary Middlecoff pulled out to a seven-stroke lead in the final round...the Fort Wayne Pistons, who have never won a basketball game in Syracuse, had to play four of seven NBA championship games there against the Syracuse Nationals and lost the title (natch) four games to three.