Joe McCarthy, a
stern perfectionist who thought a ballplayer was violating a sacred trust if he
smiled during a game, won eight pennants for the Yankees with Ruth, Gehrig and
DiMaggio. Today, when McCarthy is in an expansive mood, the titans play second
fiddle to Jay Kirke, an imposing hulk who terrorized minor-league pitchers in
the 1920s but was betrayed in the majors by his utter inability to hit a curve
ball. After a brief trial at the Cleveland training camp, Kirke was bounced
back to Louisville in the American Association, where McCarthy was the manager.
Kirke went up for his first turn at bat with men on first and third and two
out. McCarthy, noticing the pitcher was permitting the runners to take long
leads, gave the sign for a double steal. The catcher whipped the ball to second
base, but the shortstop cut it off to get the man heading for home.
The runner had
the play beaten from here to Halloween—whereupon Kirke hauled off and belted
the ball over the fence. He was called out for interference, of course, ending
the inning. Before taking fungo practice on Kirke's head, McCarthy asked him
what obscene idiocy had impelled him to swing at the ball.
resist the temptation," Kirke said earnestly. "It was the first fast
ball I've seen all year."
Baseball had a
full complement of engaging wacks within the memory of fans who are not yet
eligible to vote. Lefty Gomez, never beaten in the World Series, registered a
revolving bowl for tired goldfish with the U.S. Patent Office. Bobo Newsom
pitched, and won, complete games with a broken kneecap. Dizzy Dean and the
Gashouse Gang built bonfires in the dugout when the thermometer reached 112°.
Cletus Elwood Boots Baron Poffenberger set out from New York for Detroit in
response to an emergency call and arrived three weeks later after detours
through all refreshment parlors en route. Pitcher Lee Grissom cost the Reds a
pennant by breaking his leg on an attempted steal of second base, with his team
leading by five runs in the ninth inning. Rabbit Maranville played in the
National League for 24 years and contrived a new gag every day for his own and
the fans' amusement.
Human nature and
ballplayers do not change radically in a few years. All the current heroes are
not as prosaic as ribbon clerks, but the quaint characters are lost in the fast
shuffle of deadpan statistics palmed off as provocative news.
It is a tossup
whether records will be mentioned more often than the sponsor's product on a
telecast. One safe bet can be made: figures will be thrown around
indiscriminately, without the frame of reference necessary to place a
performance in proper perspective. "And that was the Cubs' 146th double
play in 142 games!" the announcer cries ecstatically. A team in last place
will invariably average more than one double play a game because the opposition
gets so many runners on base, but the man at the microphone neglects to point
out that negative factor. You don't knock the home team. Holler up a storm with
big numbers and you'll create the impression these clowns are fancier than
Tinker to Evers to Chance.
Last season the
New York Knickerbockers scored 100 or more points in 66 of the 72 games on the
pro basketball schedule, a new record. In the confusion, the Knicks finished
last in the Eastern Division of the league. The air was filled with
lamentations implying the Knicks' failure was a rank miscarriage of justice.
There was no suggestion that the team's troubles were strictly the result of
its lousy defense.
Russians, the undisputed champions for distorting facts, have got a bellyful of
juggled sports statistics as a coverup for ineptitude. On October 26, 1958,
Izvestia, an official organ of the Communist party, attacked "bureaucratic
optimism" that does not win races or games. On the contrary, said Izvestia,
it lulls both athletes and their followers, leading only to greater failures
The blast was
provoked by the lumps Soviet athletes have been getting in international
competition. Last July the Russians claimed a stirring triumph for Communist
culture over decadent capitalism when they shaded an American track team by a
trumped-up count of 172-170 in Moscow. Before the meet it was agreed to keep
separate tabulations of the results in events for men and women, but the
Russians combined the scores to take the curse off the 126-109 licking the
Americans gave their men.
indifference of trainers and athletes as well as bureaucratic leadership
methods are intolerable in sports," Izvestia thundered. "The
'everything is all right' reports mislead and avenge themselves in new
failures." We don't have bureaucratic leadership in sports, but substitute
statistical bureaus and the situation is comparable.