OLD GAME, NEW BLOOD
Baseball has commanded the attention of Americans for more years and for a longer period each year—the better part of six months—than any other sport. It arouses sectional pride and passion, and it is the native American sport. While it doesn't travel well everywhere outside our borders, it has been exported successfully to countries of such diverse temperaments as Cuba and Japan.
Baseball magnates have been charged with monopoly, criticized for standpatism, characterized as flesh peddlers. Baseball players in recent years have been as conscious of their capital gains, pension rights and income taxes as their averages. But with all these developments in the direction of big business and the urge for security, the old game still has refreshing vitality.
Attendance this season has been way up in most cities, despite television. It is pretty well settled that before two years are up there will be two more teams in each league, whether the vested interests of Dan Topping or Walter O'Malley like it or not.
Meanwhile, the current race for pennants and World Series fame and money is more exciting than usual. In the American League the New York Yankees, with big bats, established glory and professional experience on their side, are battling for their 25th pennant against the Baltimore Orioles, representing youth and desire. In the National League the rejuvenated and hustling Pittsburgh Pirates, whose last pennant was won in 1927, are virtually assured of success this year. The Pirates, with fewer big names, less power and less pitching than the Los Angeles, Milwaukee and San Francisco clubs, have outdone them all.
It would be nice to see a World Series played in Pittsburgh and Baltimore. These two clubs have none of the complacency which sometimes characterizes professionals who have played in too many World Series in recent years and whose salaries have reached a level where taxes destroy the incentive represented by the bonus that comes from Series money. These are clubs animated by that most American quality in baseball—a desperate determination to beat the other guy.
Because some American athletes in Rome have not done as well as their admirers anticipated, dramatic or romantic explanations have been offered for their failure to win. These excuses, ranging from claims of unfair judges to charges of wild nightlife, seem to us on the puerile side.
Over-all, the U.S. performance has been just about as expected. Our individuals and teams were rated early (SI, Aug. 15) as likely to finish second to the Russians and ahead of the Germans, and as of now that is the way the form is working.
It is true that along with some unexpected successes we have had some startling disappointments. But this is not 1948 or 1952, when Americans swept all before them. Young Europeans, coming to maturity during postwar prosperity instead of depression and war, represent more formidable competition. This applies particularly to the Germans. (The West Germans are winning more than twice as many gold medals as their teammates and compatriots from the East.)
We do not know how many Europeans, Asians and Africans stayed up late nights and thereafter won or lost. We do know that some Americans who shun nightlife lost and some who like late hours won. If excuses are needed, and we don't think they are, attribute some results to the Roman water rather than the Roman wine. Most of our athletes, equally with those of other nations, suffered from intestinal disorders. Others were overtrained and overworked, and in some cases they were a lot too sure of their superiority.
The plain fact is that we had many athletes on our team who were good enough to win, many who were not, and some who had the physical skills and attributes but not the mental poise. We shall try to do better next time, and we are doing pretty well this time.