In Vaudeville the expression was, "Change your act, or back to the woods." In baseball the same act, the same old act, the World Series, opens next Wednesday in Milwaukee's shiny County Stadium, but—honest, Charley, you got to listen, I'm telling you the truth—this year it looks better than ever.
There's the character, Lew Burdette, who was such a smash last year. He's back again, and in rehearsal through the last half of the season he looked great. He won almost 20 games, squirming around out on the mound, jittering, fidgeting, pretending to spit on the ball (I admit it's old stuff, Charley. I admit he's done the act before. But it's a classic, right?).
And the funny little man, Yogi Berra—you remember, he kept flipping big Don Newcombe into the showers a couple of years ago—well, he's in it again. What's more, he's altered his routine a little. He has an outfielding bit now, and occasionally that's good for some real laughs.
There're Mantle and Aaron, doing the strong-man stuff, and Spahn and Ford, the left-handed magicians, and Covington (do you recall that daredevil leap-against-the-fence turn he did last year?), and Turley and Red Schoendienst. And Enos Slaughter, the oldest man alive.
There's no question but that it will be a wonderful show. It always is. Think back to last year.... No. Go farther back.
Go back to 1905, when Christy Mathewson pitched three shutouts in six days. Or 1906. The Chicago Cubs won 116 games in the National League that year, the most ever won by a team in one season in major league history. These were the famous Cubs of Tinker to Evers to Chance, of Circus Solly Hofman, of Jimmy Sheckard and Harry Steinfeldt and Johnny Kling and Wildfire Schulte, of master pitchers like Three Finger Brown, Ed Reulbach, Orvie Overall and Jack Pfiester. Challenging this truly great team was a sad array of Chicago White Sox, known, with good reason, as the "Hitless Wonders." Naturally, as befits the melodrama that is so often baseball, the Hitless Wonders clobbered the great Cubs.
In 1911 the mildly named Frank Baker hit two tremendously important home runs against the New York Giants and gained thereby not just fame but the gloriously indelible nickname "Home Run." In 1912 Fred Snodgrass made his "$100,000 muff" of a fly ball in the last half of the last inning of the last game. In 1914 the "Miracle Braves," residents of Boston then rather than Milwaukee, came from last place in midseason to win the pennant by 10½ games and then in the World Series ran right through Connie Mack's Philadelphia Athletics. In 1916 two names to reckon with in later baseball history were entered in World Series starting lineups for the first time: Babe Ruth was one name, Casey Stengel the other.
In 1919 came the infamous Chicago "Black Sox," deliberately losing the Series to Cincinnati in a gambling plot. In 1921, to wash out the bad taste of the Black Sox, came Babe Ruth again, in the first of his seven Series with the New York Yankees. In 1927 he batted .400 and hit the only home runs of the Series. In 1928 he batted .625 and hit three homers in the final game. In 1932 he hit his last Series home runs, one of them the legendary pointing-to-the-bleachers poke off Charley Root.
The Playbill of the Series is filled with items: the Philadelphia Athletics' 10-run inning in 1929; Pepper Martin running wild in 1931; Frank Frisch and Dizzy Dean beating Detroit in 1934; Detroit losing again in 1940, but with flamboyant Bobo Newsom getting more praise for his gutty pitching in a losing Series than he ever did for all the 211 regular-season games he won in his long major league career.
There were the Dodgers of 1941, losing to the Yankees, and the racehorse young Cardinals of 1942, beating them. There was Cookie Lavagetto in 1947, breaking up a no-hitter with a game-winning double in the last half of the ninth inning. There was the game of Oct. 10, 1948, in Cleveland, when 86,288 people paid their way in, the biggest crowd in major league history (a young lefthander named Warren Spahn was the winning pitcher that day).