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Six remarkable baseball players made the Dodgers the best for so long: Campanella, Hodges, Robinson, Reese, Snider, Furillo. It is significant that over the years the Dodgers have been unable to find in their annual glitter of rookies one really outstanding player to share the Dodger burden. This year, with memories of the sad decline of Jackie Robinson last season, with realization that the average age of the six is rapidly approaching a tired, creaking 33, the feeling persists that the five-game gap by which the Dodgers lost last year was a signpost to oblivion, and that this year the Dodgers will come apart, perhaps not quite so thoroughly as the one-horse shay, but sufficiently so that they will run now with the pack rather than with the leaders.
The Cardinals, for all the relief Frank Smith will bring, will still have headaches, most grievous among them the scarcity of second-string starting pitchers, the craftsmen who win the rubber games in three-game series, the games that win pennants.
The Redlegs score runs, but their opponents score more, if last season's record counts. And this season they don't have Frank Smith. Optimism bubbles in Cincinnati, but there are four better teams in the league than the Redlegs.
The Phils are prematurely gray, living on an annuity named Roberts; the Pirates will stage ten-day previews of pennant-winning teams to come, but in the end will fall back in disorder to their proper place; the Cubs will labor in vain. Only the Braves pose a real threat to the Giants .
Check through the team-by-team appraisals on this and the following two pages. Look at the strong points and weak spots, the hopes and worries of the eight clubs. One fact is obvious: The Braves and the Giants are the best-balanced teams in the league.
Both have excellent pitching (the Braves are a bit more certain there), wise catching, good infields and fine outfields (the Giants have the edge there). Both are well managed. The Braves have Charley Grimm, a genial man who keeps his team on an even keel. The Giants have Leo Durocher, who in confusion and despair can break his own club's morale but who in confidence can fire it to heights undreamed of.
They are beautifully matched, these two teams, and they will be wonderful to watch this season, particularly when they come off hot streaks into games with each other.
But the Giants should win the pennant. The difference between the clubs is spelled W-i-l-l-i-e M-a-y-s.
THIS YEAR'S PROSPECTS: