In Vaudeville the expression was, "Change your act, or back to the woods." In baseball the same act, the same old act, the World Series, opens next Wednesday in Milwaukee's shiny County Stadium, but—honest, Charley, you got to listen, I'm telling you the truth—this year it looks better than ever.
There's the character, Lew Burdette, who was such a smash last year. He's back again, and in rehearsal through the last half of the season he looked great. He won almost 20 games, squirming around out on the mound, jittering, fidgeting, pretending to spit on the ball (I admit it's old stuff, Charley. I admit he's done the act before. But it's a classic, right?).
And the funny little man, Yogi Berra—you remember, he kept flipping big Don Newcombe into the showers a couple of years ago—well, he's in it again. What's more, he's altered his routine a little. He has an outfielding bit now, and occasionally that's good for some real laughs.
There're Mantle and Aaron, doing the strong-man stuff, and Spahn and Ford, the left-handed magicians, and Covington (do you recall that daredevil leap-against-the-fence turn he did last year?), and Turley and Red Schoendienst. And Enos Slaughter, the oldest man alive.
There's no question but that it will be a wonderful show. It always is. Think back to last year.... No. Go farther back.
Go back to 1905, when Christy Mathewson pitched three shutouts in six days. Or 1906. The Chicago Cubs won 116 games in the National League that year, the most ever won by a team in one season in major league history. These were the famous Cubs of Tinker to Evers to Chance, of Circus Solly Hofman, of Jimmy Sheckard and Harry Steinfeldt and Johnny Kling and Wildfire Schulte, of master pitchers like Three Finger Brown, Ed Reulbach, Orvie Overall and Jack Pfiester. Challenging this truly great team was a sad array of Chicago White Sox, known, with good reason, as the "Hitless Wonders." Naturally, as befits the melodrama that is so often baseball, the Hitless Wonders clobbered the great Cubs.
In 1911 the mildly named Frank Baker hit two tremendously important home runs against the New York Giants and gained thereby not just fame but the gloriously indelible nickname "Home Run." In 1912 Fred Snodgrass made his "$100,000 muff" of a fly ball in the last half of the last inning of the last game. In 1914 the "Miracle Braves," residents of Boston then rather than Milwaukee, came from last place in midseason to win the pennant by 10½ games and then in the World Series ran right through Connie Mack's Philadelphia Athletics. In 1916 two names to reckon with in later baseball history were entered in World Series starting lineups for the first time: Babe Ruth was one name, Casey Stengel the other.
In 1919 came the infamous Chicago "Black Sox," deliberately losing the Series to Cincinnati in a gambling plot. In 1921, to wash out the bad taste of the Black Sox, came Babe Ruth again, in the first of his seven Series with the New York Yankees. In 1927 he batted .400 and hit the only home runs of the Series. In 1928 he batted .625 and hit three homers in the final game. In 1932 he hit his last Series home runs, one of them the legendary pointing-to-the-bleachers poke off Charley Root.
The Playbill of the Series is filled with items: the Philadelphia Athletics' 10-run inning in 1929; Pepper Martin running wild in 1931; Frank Frisch and Dizzy Dean beating Detroit in 1934; Detroit losing again in 1940, but with flamboyant Bobo Newsom getting more praise for his gutty pitching in a losing Series than he ever did for all the 211 regular-season games he won in his long major league career.
There were the Dodgers of 1941, losing to the Yankees, and the racehorse young Cardinals of 1942, beating them. There was Cookie Lavagetto in 1947, breaking up a no-hitter with a game-winning double in the last half of the ninth inning. There was the game of Oct. 10, 1948, in Cleveland, when 86,288 people paid their way in, the biggest crowd in major league history (a young lefthander named Warren Spahn was the winning pitcher that day).
There was the epic Yankee-Dodger Series in 1952, and the Indians' fall before Dusty Rhodes and the Giants in 1954. There was Johnny Podres, stopping the Yankees in 1955, Don Larsen and his perfect game in 1956, and Burdette last year.
With all this in mind—this lush history of things happening, of great moments, of epic heroes and monumental goats—the baseball fan approaches the World Series. The fun for the fan who, unhappily, is neither rabidly pro-Milwaukee nor casually pro-New York lies in the anticipation of what might happen when these two fine teams meet again; and, further, in the enjoyment of whatever does happen at the time it occurs. (This ignores, of course, the pleasure of reflecting on past wonders which will occupy the baseball buff's mind through the long cold winter of basketball.)
Specifically, we who are hopelessly smitten by the unparalleled beauty of a well-played baseball game ignore the matters of attendance and gate receipts and TV commercials and intra-squad jealousies to wonder whether Burdette can possibly be as good again this year as he was last, and we wait eagerly for the actual enjoyment that will come when Burdette spits, wriggles and throws, and we sit back to see if he'll come driving through in fine style or get his ears pinned back.
This anticipation of things to come in the Series goes beyond the obvious, like Burdette this year (or the coming test under fire of the ailing and questionable pitching arms of the Yankees' Whitey Ford and Don Larsen), to the completely unpredictable: Burdette last year, for instance, or Larsen the year before, or Podres the year before that and Rhodes the year before that. The point is, something will happen, something always does, something delightful, rich, unforgettable.
Consider the arenas, the stadiums—the one jammed into the teeming Bronx, crowded by antenna-topped apartment houses, the other sitting by itself in a roomy hollow in the low Wisconsin hills. One has a parking problem, the other has it solved. One is old (if 35 years is old) and storied; the other is new (if six is new) and relatively innocent of glory. One was built by a rich man to house his favorite hobby, the other by a band of practical politicians with their eye out for something that would benefit their city. One has been a real-estate football, the other an example of smart community planning. Either is worth close study (and, indeed, thousands on thousands of words have been written and hundreds of pictures taken to describe the stadiums and the operations required to keep them functioning efficiently).
THE IMPORTANT THINGS
Yet ask the baseball fan about them. He'll tell you the important things, the successes that ballplayers have had here, and the failures. Here, in Yankee Stadium, high, high up on the right-field fa√ßade, at the lip of the right-field roof, is where Mickey Mantle hit a tremendous home run in 1956, a home run that came within a foot or two of being the only fair ball ever hit out of this famous ball park. Then, over a bit, in center field, is where Mantle misjudged Henry Aaron's long fly in the second inning of the second Series game last year. Mickey played the ball into a triple and unintentionally set up the important run that Aaron scored moments later. Over still farther, toward the sunny seats on the left-field side of the Stadium, is the place where Wes Covington made his remarkable catch of Bobby Shantz' dangerous line drive in the same inning of the same game, just a few minutes after Mantle had misplayed Aaron's fly.
In a bit more is third base, where Ed Mathews made his even more remarkable play on Bill Skowron's hard-hit ground ball down the third-base foul line in the last inning of the last game. That was the play that ended the game, the play that gave Burdette his third victory, the play that finally brought their first World Championship to Milwaukee.
It also saved Burdette's shutout (his second in a row), and it enabled him to stretch his streak of scoreless World Series innings pitched to 24. The record is 29‚Öî innings, held by that fellow Ruth, whose home runs are mentioned at some length above. Before he became a great hitter, the Babe was a great pitcher; this 40-year-old Series pitching record is clear evidence of that. But if Burdette can keep the Yankees from scoring through the first six innings he pitches in this year's Series, the record will be his.
Here, in Milwaukee's County Stadium, is where Lew will try, when he goes at the Yanks in either the first or second game. If he comes through against them as he did last year, there's a chance that a solid gold monument will be erected on the pitcher's mound. Till that time the most revered sites in the Milwaukee ball park are in the outfield. Henry Aaron hit the home run that won the game that gave the Braves their first pennant a year ago over the center-field fence. And over the right-field fence sailed Eddie Mathews' home run in the 10th inning of the fourth Series game last year.
That was the game that the Braves were winning so easily, 4-1 in the ninth inning, with two out and two strikes on the batter. But then Elston Howard, that two-strike batter, hit a game-tying home run over that other fence, the one in left, and in the 10th inning Hank Bauer tripled home the tie-breaking run. Thus, the dejected Braves were now losing 5-4 in the 10th, and the loss would give the Yankees a 3-1 edge in the Series and almost certain victory. But then, you see, there was Eddie Mathews, and that fence, that fence right out there near the scoreboard. He hit a two-run homer, the Braves won the game after all, the Series was all even, and the way ahead was bright.
It was completely improbable, wildly melodramatic, awful corn. But it was true, and it happened, and something like it—or something like Burdette, or Larsen—is going to happen again this year.
I'm telling you the truth, Charley.
THE BIG MEN again this year are the Yankees' grinning Mickey Mantle (left) and the Braves' carefree Henry Aaron.
MILWAUKEE'S COUNTY STADIUM, squatting in a hollow a few miles west of downtown, was finished just in time to welcome the Braves from Boston in 1953 and is now one of the focal points of the state of Wisconsin. In the six seasons that the stadium has had major league baseball, an average of nearly 2 million spectators a year have seen the Braves in action.
THERE HAVE BEEN YEARS—1954, for instance—when the World Series was not played at Yankee Stadium, but they don't happen often. Indeed, 57 Series games have been played there, a record. The stadium is located in The Bronx, a 20-minute cab or subway ride from midtown Manhattan. It seats 67,000, has mountainous triple-decked grandstands and an aura of greatness.
FOR SCOUTING REPORTS ON THE BRAVES AND THE YANKEES, TURN TO PAGE 60
FOR A CRITIQUE ON EACH TEAM'S CHANCES IN THE SERIES, TURN TO PAGE 64