Baseball men love the spring. They love the summer, too, especially when the pennant races are sizzling. They love the fall, when the long season ends in the great climax of the World Series. They even love the winter, when they can rest or go to meetings and banquets and meet old friends and talk it all over.
But mostly they love the spring.
They love spring the way a gardener does, because it's a rebirth, a renewal, another chance to watch the old, familiar, but always different pageant of life. Spring means it's time to plant new things and watch them grow (a likely-looking rookie is a seed of hope), time to see if old plants can be nurtured through yet another year (for hardy perennial substitute hardy veteran, an Enos Slaughter or an Ellis Kinder).
Baseball men love spring so much that years ago they stopped waiting for spring to come to them and instead went out and made their own spring in the Deep South in the dead of winter. They thus created an artificial season in the American lexicon, one that starts when snow is on the ground in Wrigley Field or the Polo Grounds but which everyone nonetheless calls spring training.
Spring training has been going on to some extent here and there for a month now, but this week it shifts into high gear. March 1 is the day when all the players on all the major league teams are expected to be in camp in uniform hard at work. Every day from now until April 15, when the first game of the regular season is played, major league ballplayers in 16 training sites in Arizona and Florida will run and slide and field and throw and hit. And every day baseball men—in uniform and out—will watch and thrill to the sight of it all.
Put a baseball man like Casey Stengel in uniform and place a bat in his hands. Let an alert photographer like Hy Peskin happen by, and, presto, you have the scene pictured on the opposite page. Consider it. When you get right down to it, what is a 66-year-old man doing with a bat in his hands? If he actually tried to stand up to the plate with a bat against the likes of a Herb Score he'd be killed. Then why the bat?
Well, undoubtedly Stengel has thought of one more variation in the ancient theme he knows so well and he's playing it, with the bat as his instrument, for two of his Yankees—Bill Skowron (with glove) and brash Billy Martin. His aim is not to amuse but to inform, because Manager Stengel devoutly believes that the more you put into a player the more you'll get out, someday, in a game. (The garden reflects the work of the gardener.)
Now, that is the prime reason why Casey is at the bat. But there are other reasons. One has to be that Casey, like all baseball fans, young or old, likes the feel of a bat. And, like all people who are in love with baseball, he has an unquenchable need to talk about the game. And because people in love with baseball like to listen, too, he will be heard. Let Skowron and Martin turn their eyes to the diamond, let the baseball writers drift away, Stengel will always have an audience.
Look again at the picture opposite. Above Stengel, behind the protective screen, a man nibbles thoughtfully on his hand, watches intently and listens. He is Joseph E. Cronin, vice-president, treasurer and general manager of the Boston Red Sox. He managed an American League pennant winner before Stengel was ever in the league. He was so great a player that he was elected to baseball's Hall of Fame, an honor that Stengel, a very good player himself, did not attain. Cronin played in 2,124 major league games and has seen at least a thousand more. Think of the sheer quantity of experience he possesses. Yet here he sits, fascinated by the sight and sound of an old man with a bat talking about baseball. True, the man is the unique Stengel, who could fascinate the Sphinx. But rest assured that Cronin, as a baseball man and a baseball fan, would be caught and held by almost any baseball man talking baseball, or any player playing.
Particularly in the spring, when it's all so fresh and new again.
Spring-training spectators, behind screen, have close-up listening post for Casey Stengel lecture
Hero worship and professional curiosity blend together in a typically informal spring-training setting as Dodger players, small boys and sport-shirted onlooker crowd around Ted Williams demonstrating batting techniques
Palm trees wave in the background while sun-drenched fans watch Minnie Minoso swing with midseason form