There will come a day, perhaps, when baseball will have two (or even three) major leagues. At the moment, it has only one—the National. Last week's two All-Star Games revealed how weak the American League has become.
The National League won the first game, played in Kansas City, 5-3, and the second, played in New York, 6-0. Willie Mays—who proved to everyone that he is still the finest player alive—hit a triple, single, double, single, home run and single in eight tries. Stan Musial (see pages 22-23) pinch-hit twice and had a single and a home run. Ernie Banks hit a home run, double and single. Eddie Mathews hit a home run. Ken Boyer hit a home run. So did Del Crandall. And there were eight other assorted hits, making a total of 22.
Meanwhile, 10 National League pitchers were holding the American, or Little, League to 14 hits—12 singles, one double and one home run. In the second game six pitchers combined to throw the shutout. On two occasions, Roger Maris, the American League's leading home run hitter, went out tamely with the bases loaded.
All-Star Game results have long been used as a launching pad from which the winning league and its followers could hurl boasts of their superiority over the other. But because it was only one game a year, the losers usually could laugh it off. Now the American League has been defeated, and decisively, twice in three days, making nine times in the last 13 games. The American League is not laughing.
Furthermore, the American League will find no solace from recent World Series. The National League has won four out of six. Last year the Chicago White Sox were easily the best team in the American League, beating the Cleveland Indians by five games and the New York Yankees by 15. The National League had a close three-team race between the Los Angeles Dodgers, Milwaukee Braves and San Francisco Giants, which the Dodgers won in a playoff with the Braves. Yet the Dodgers had no trouble with the White Sox in the Series. They beat them so easily it was clear that either the second-place Braves or the third-place Giants could have done the same thing.
One reason for the current superiority of the National League is the decline of the Yankees, for years the standard bearer of the American League. Throughout the '30s, '40s and early '50s, when the American was the stronger of the two leagues, it was the Yankees who gave it that reputation. From 1932 to 1953 the Yankees won 14 pennants and 13 World Series. Of the 10 other American League teams that have won pennants since 1932, only three have won the Series. The most disastrous blow to the league's prestige came in 1954. The Cleveland Indians, who had set an alltime American League record by winning 111 games during the season, lost four straight to the New York Giants.
It was in 1955 that the Yankees began to crack. The Dodgers, after years of trying, finally beat them in the Series. The Yankees got revenge the next year, but in 1957 they lost again, this time to the Braves. In 1958 the Yankees lost three of the first four games to the Braves before coming back to win. After the seventh game Casey Stengel told a group of reporters: "Well, now we've proved we had a good enough ball club to play in the National League." Obviously, he had worried that they hadn't.
Not the old Yanks
Now the Yankees, after their collapse last year, have returned as a power in the American League. But they are not the old Yankees, not the terrors of baseball. The National League had no trouble at all with them in the All-Star Games. The Yankee bloc (Maris, Mantle, Skowron and Berra batted in succession) managed only three hits, all singles, in 18 at-bats for a .167 average. And Whitey Ford, the Yankees' best pitcher, gave up five hits, two of them home runs, thus losing the second game.
While the American League has weakened, the National League, thanks to a steady influx of talented Negro ballplayers, has improved. The National League has four times as many Negroes as the American has, and certainly all the outstanding ones. Perhaps this is because Jackie Robinson, the first Negro big leaguer, played in the National League. Maybe it is because American League club owners were slow in yielding to the changing times. In any case, the Negro ballplayer has made the National League a better league.
The top three hitters in baseball today—Henry Aaron, Willie Mays and Ernie Banks—are all Negroes and all in the National League. Not far behind stand Frank Robinson, Orlando Cepeda, Vada Pinson, Roberto Clemente and Bill White. Negro players have won the National League's most-valuable-player award nine times since 1949, including the last seven years in a row. During the last 13 years Negroes have won the National League's rookie-of-the-year award nine times. It is significant that in the seventh inning of the New York All-Star Game the National League fielded six Negroes at one time.
The American League has never had a Negro who was the most valuable player or rookie of the year. There are Minnie Minoso, Vic Power, Elston Howard and Al Smith, but they can hardly be compared to Mays, Banks and Aaron, or to Robinson and Roy Campanella, who won so many pennants for Brooklyn.
Aside from All-Star Games and World Series, the best way to compare the strength of the two leagues is through the records of players who have been in each league. Currently there are four interesting cases.
One is Cal McLish, who labored unsuccessfully in the National League for many years, then became a big winner when traded to the American. Last year, after winning 19 games for Cleveland, he was traded back to the National League. This season he has won only three games, has lost five and has a 5.10 earned run average.
Then there is Jim Gentile, the big first baseman who hit minor league pitching with ease but failed both times he was brought up to the Dodgers. Now, in his first year with Baltimore in the American League, Gentile is leading the league in batting and is second in runs batted in. His good hitting earned him a position on the American League All-Star team.
Gerry Staley was washed up in the National League in 1955 after two straight losing seasons. Traded into the American League, he has since won 34 games while losing 18. His relief work, along with that of another discarded National Leaguer, Turk Lown, was a large factor in the White Sox pennant last year.
And there is Ted Kluszewski, who also contributed to the White Sox cause last year after fading out of the National League. Klu's heavy hitting was the only bright spot in an otherwise bleak World Series for Chicago.
The next chance to compare the two leagues comes in October with the 1960 World Series. It is, of course, too early to tell which team will win the National League pennant. Pittsburgh has a slight lead, but Milwaukee, Los Angeles and San Francisco cannot be counted out yet. Even St. Louis has an outside chance. In any case, no matter which team wins, bet National in the Series.
WILLIE MAYS, THE BEST BASEBALL PLAYER IN THE WORLD, SLIDES INTO THIRD WITH A STOLEN BASE AS FRANK MALZONE MAKES TAG TOO LATE IN SWIRL OF DUST