Milwaukee, August 1: If Willie Mays's singularity was limited to the awesome statistics of his record, or to his pay check, there would be no problem. Unfortunately, Willie also sets himself apart from his teammates off the field. He rooms alone, goes to the ball park by himself, goes out socially with nonbaseball friends. This can be irritating, particularly when the star is not performing with distinction. And certainly this is not one of Willie's best years. He hasn't hit a home run since July 2; he hasn't batted in a run in the last 13 games.
This background on Willie's on-and-off field behavior serves to point up a little drama which occurred during batting practice before today's opening game with the Braves. Willie was waiting his turn and Daryl Spencer was hitting fungos to the outfield a few feet away. As Willie moved toward the cage, Spencer's light bat slipped; it flew through the air and caught Mays just above the left knee. Willie dropped to the ground, writhing in pain. Rigney ran over asking anxiously, "What happened, what happened?" and saw his star lying prostrate on the ground. Spencer explained that the bat had slipped. Rigney admonished him for hitting fungos so near the batting cage. Angered, Spencer explained that he had been hitting there for four years and nothing like this had happened before. "What's more," said Spencer, looking down at Mays's stretched-out body, "he's not hurt."
The club doctor came out and Mays hobbled off the field. In the San Francisco dugout a player said, "We almost lost our boy," and another answered: "Yeh, but we might pick up an Academy Award for that acting performance."
We go to the ninth inning of the opening game of the series which should decide the National League pennant race. The world champion Braves lead 4-2. Bob Schmidt singles. Pinch hitters Speake and Sauer fly out. Kirkland doubles Schmidt to third. Willie Mays is next. McMahon relieves the tiring Burdette. Throwing nothing but fast balls, McMahon works the count to three and two. Del Crandall gives the signal, and after a long pause McMahon acknowledges it. Then he rears back and throws a beautiful curve ball past Mays. The umpire, the Giant dugout and the 39,563 fans see it split the plate. Willie doesn't. He hits the ground with his bat, stomps his right foot angrily in protest and swivels to complain. The umpire is on his way to the dressing room. Mays turns toward the Giant dugout. The players are leaving. The field lights are dimmed and the organ starts playing. Willie walks slowly away, dragging his bat heavily.
Milwaukee, August 2: Natty, gum-chewing Leo Durocher leaned against the batting cage at County Stadium and watched the Giants work out. Orlando Cepeda stepped into a fast ball and sent it over the left-field fence. Durocher beamed: "That kid's great. If he doesn't make Rookie of the Year, somebody's just cheating." Mays stepped in. Leo quickly detected a change in Willie's swing: "His hands are too close to his body; he used to carry the bat much further back." Mays had been bringing the bat back eventually, but he waited until the pitch was delivered, thus hurrying the action and causing a hitch in his swing. So when Willie stepped out of the cage, Durocher explained what he was doing wrong. Willie had been told before—but from Durocher, well, that was different. He listened happily and attentively as the glib Durocher talked.
Bill White, Leon Wagner and Willie Kirkland, the big left-handers, took their turn in the batting cage, each hitting one ball out of the park. Durocher watched eagerly and enthused: "Great bunch of rookies," looking for all the world like a man who wanted desperately to get back into uniform and take these kids on to a World Series. Somebody will. It's just a question of time. Schmidt catching, McCormick pitching, Cepeda on first, Wagner, Kirkland, White, Mays and Alou in outfield, and Jackie Brandt, soon back from the service, playing somewhere. Average age 23, weight 210. And they can all run.
It's pleasant to look to the future, the more so when the world champion Milwaukee Braves are taking the present away from you. They did this rather decisively Saturday afternoon with a 10-0 win over the bewildered Giants. San Francisco is now three games behind. As Rigney predicted, they won't quit. But the Braves appear to be too much ball club for the youthful Giants this year.
Milwaukee, August 3: Bill Rigney's colorful kids came to the end of the line on this beautiful Sunday afternoon. The Braves took both ends of a double-header to make it four straight games over our slumping heroes. The weak hitting of Mr. Willie Mays, coupled with inept relief pitching and a leaky infield, was too great a burden to carry into a decisive series.
How San Francisco fans, who certainly expect a good deal of their remarkable ball team, will feel about today's humiliation in Milwaukee no one knows. But they can certainly take heart for the fact that their beloved Giants were the most exciting team in baseball through July and were the only team in either major league who made a run of it.
The Giants may come back again, though it is extremely doubtful. San Franciscans' wonderful dream of a pennant in their first year will have to wait. But not for very long.