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Original Issue


William Leggett is a marked man, but then he always is, one way or another, come spring. For 10 years now he has been writing baseball for SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, which means he spends his March days beside the batting cages and out where the fungoes fall, assessing team strengths and weaknesses for our annual baseball issue. It is a process that leaves him wide open to psychic bruises—from dissenting readers—and old-fashioned purple bruises from baseballs. A meticulous man about statistics, as baseball people tend to be, Bill to date reports four BHLs (ball hits Leggett), two batted, two thrown. That is a long-standing hazard of his occupation. A newer difficulty is that baseball is clearly no longer the summer game. The action runs from February to late October, and its passions smolder on right through winter, what with the labor brawls, interleague trading, franchise shifts—threatened or real—and other peripheral excitements of the sport. Moreover, baseball now involves 24 teams, four divisions, two leagues (can it be only 13 years ago that those totals were 16-0-2?) and this presents some crushing problems of attention and logistics.

To cope with them, Leggett sees 130 or so games a year in person and a great many more on television, but there is more to the big picture than the tube. He had to try at least half a dozen radios, but reports that he finally reached a veritable zenith with a Zenith: from his home in Flushing, N.Y. he can pick up broadcasts of almost all the games in the major leagues.

The real difficulty about keeping up with baseball to this degree is that it cuts into Leggett's time for his other serious pursuits, which include horse racing, beer, the making of exotic bets, a family of six and close attention to what might be called creative parsimony—all of the former being somewhat at odds with the latter, though he did once manage to combine two of them by calling a friend in New York from California, collect, to ask him to get down a $2 bet. (On the other hand, it may be a mere rumor that he buys his Christmas cards at reduced rates after the holiday and blames their late arrival on the U.S. mail.) When Sonny Liston fought Albert Westphal some years ago it was Leggett who had a bet not on who would win, but to which point of the compass Westphal would fall. And just this week he cashed in on a preseason bet that the NHL New York Islanders would win more games than the NBA Philadelphia 76ers. That one was a squeaker for months. Leggett and the Islanders finally pulled it out 12-9, as a result of which he is expected to not buy a round for the house.

These enthusiasms all give rise to a reasonable question. In the dark of the night, as Leggett sits watching the Mets and the Cardinals on TV while his Zenith filters in the play-by-play of Twins vs. Royals, does there ever rise within him a fan's judgment-blinding, odds-defying enthusiasm for one team, his team? Yes. The Phillies. You can't get much more odds-defying than that.