It used to be that a man could step into any barbershop or bar and, for the price of a shave and a haircut or two short beers, find out who was going to win the National League pennant. But no more. Things are so mixed up these days even the cab drivers aren't sure.
The sportswriters have all made their predictions, changed their minds and made them again. Television and radio commentators waver, between commercials. And the players on the three contending teams are no help at all; each is supremely confident of victory. Well, anyway they're pretty sure.
In Milwaukee, fans say the Braves are still the team to beat—which is exactly what one might expect in Milwaukee. But in Los Angeles, where they booed the Dodgers last year, they now look upon Duke Snider and that monstrosity of a screen with affection and blow trumpets, when the heroes appear. The least of San Francisco's troubles is the pennant (the Giants are a shoo-in); they're more worried that the new ball park may not be ready for the World Series.
So, last week, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED decided to ask the members of the five National League teams that are apparently out of the race how they thought this thing would come out; buffeted about for more than four months, they should have a good idea by now. And aside from Cub Ernie Banks, who thought the Chicago Cubs would win, and Pirate Bob Skinner, who voted for the Pittsburgh Pirates, they did. They liked the Braves, the Giants and the Dodgers. All three. Of course, ballplayers get haircuts and ride in taxicabs, too. They have even been known to go into bars.
The poll did produce a winner, however, and according to the more respected bookmaking houses, the players picked the long shot of the three. The Dodgers, said the also-rans, will win the pennant. Not the Giants, who were leading when the poll was taken, nor the defending champion Braves, but the Dodgers, who finished seventh last year.
In individual balloting, the Dodgers received 42 first-place votes, the Braves 37, and the Giants 35. In voting by teams, the Phils, Reds and Cubs said that Los Angeles would win. The Pirates were strong for Milwaukee, and the Cardinals made San Francisco an overwhelming choice. In most cases the voting reflected the results of the season series between the voting teams and each of the contenders. The Giants have clobbered the Cards with regularity, so the Giants were the choice of the Cards. Pittsburgh, which has played well against the other two, can't beat Milwaukee, so the Pirates voted for the Braves. Only Cincinnati chose to be different; the Reds, who have a lopsided losing record against the Giants, voted for the Dodgers, a team they had beaten 11 times.
Disagreement seems to center on the merits of the three pitching staffs, considered by almost every ballplayer questioned as the key factor in a tight pennant race.
"Los Angeles," said Harvey Haddix of the Pirates, "has got the pitching."
"Down the stretch," said Richie Ashburn of the Phils, "good pitching every day is important and Milwaukee has it."
"San Francisco," said Al Dark of the Cubs, "has three topflight starters in Antonelli, Jones and Sanford. The spot they're supposed to be weak in, they're not weak."
Here is some of the stronger testimony in favor of each club:
FOR THE DODGERS: Gene Freese, Phillies: "Los Angeles has the top pitching staff: four good left-handers and reliable right-handers, good relief men in Labine and Fowler. The Dodgers are becoming accustomed to that park, taking advantage of it now. They have good infield defense, and Gilliam showed me he's one of the best at third. The club's not giving up many runs, so good pitching can carry it all the way. If Mays doesn't hit, the Giants might as well forget about the pennant. He has to get on base a lot."
Jim Brosnan, Reds: "Los Angeles can beat Milwaukee and San Francisco. San Francisco can't beat Milwaukee or Los Angeles. And Milwaukee can't beat Los Angeles. Quod erat demonstrandum."
FOR THE BRAVES: Gene Conley, Phillies: "I like Milwaukee because of its experience of going through pennant races the last three years. The Braves have a dependable starter or two more than the Giants or Dodgers, including a couple of 20-game winners who thrive on work in the stretch. Milwaukee has a better schedule than 'Frisco. And remember, the Braves didn't fall back despite the serious losing streak."
Richie Ashburn, Phillies: "Milwaukee will win because of its power—Mathews and Aaron—and that good pitching, starting and relieving. The Braves don't have to hit too much with their kind of pitching. Adcock is a good streak hitter and can carry a club in a stretch drive."
FOR THE GIANTS: Bob Friend, Pirates: "If 'Frisco wasn't going to win it, they wouldn't be up where they are now. They've got speed and they haven't any injuries. Several guys are having their best years—Cepeda and that kid Bressoud at shortstop. McCovey has picked them up. And they've got depth, enough depth in pitching for the tough games. Sanford, Jones and Antonelli are great and McCormick isn't too bad, either."
Hal Smith, Cardinals: "Those Giants have the best pitching, hitting, defense and speed. They aren't afraid to take a chance and use their speed, especially Mays and Kirkland. Ed Bressoud is a big difference at shortstop. The Los Angeles hitting isn't as good as the other two clubs', and the L.A. defense isn't up to 'Frisco's. The Braves still have weak spots at second base and in left field."
Johnny Temple, Reds: "If Sam Jones keeps winning, they'll win the pennant. He's the key man. Sam can beat anybody. They wouldn't miss any guy like they'd miss him. They expect Antonelli to win. He's going to win, but they have to have someone to go with him. Los Angeles can be handled by a left-hand pitcher. It's not a good club against a lefthander. The Giants can throw Antonelli and McCormick against them. Drysdale will have a tougher time against the Giants than Antonelli will against the Dodgers. The Giants can put left-handed hitters in against Drysdale."
CONTRARY PREDICTIONS on pennant race are made by Philly Teammates Gene Freese (left) and Gene Conley, Pirate Pitcher Bob Friend (right). Freese picks Dodgers ("top pitching"), Conley the Braves ("experience"), Friend the Giants ("depth").