Twice in the past three weeks international sport has produced moments of memorable climax. The first occurred in late June when Sweden's Ingemar Johansson sent America's Floyd Patterson hurtling to the canvas in the world's heavyweight boxing championship, and 22,000 unbelieving people rose from their seats in delirious, roaring astonishment.
The second great moment occurred last week in the Soviet-American track meet at Philadelphia (see page 14). It was that moment close to the end of the 10,000-meter race, when Southern California's Max Truex, on the brink of exhaustion himself, sprinted from 200 yards behind to pass a reeling-tired Russian, Hubert Pyarnakivi.
Truex's valiant effort (he had seemed nearly ready to drop midway in the race) turned out to be in vain, for he officially finished behind the Russian. But he had set the hearts of 27,000 Americans pounding in their breasts and brought lumps to their throats. Their voices, blended in an unearthly sustained roar, paid unbounded tribute to the highest form of conflict two nations can know—the clean, decent and essentially comradely conflict of sport.
Shades of Brooklyn
We went over to Ebbets Field—you remember, in Brooklyn—the other night to see a soccer game between two foreign teams, Real Madrid and Graz of Austria. It was a lively game, lustily applauded by some 13,500 Spanish-and German-speaking fans obviously little concerned with specters, but for old Dodger fans the occasion seemed haunted—tinged with ineffable memory like a pressed rose in some forgotten book. For one thing, no effort had been made to turf the infield, and the soccer rectangle was imposed over base lanes and a pitcher's mound as impeccably groomed as though for a World Series ("C'mon, Newk, ya got Mantle! Now get that bum Berra...get him...get him...oooooooooooh!).
The dugouts were cleanly painted and freshly swept, and even the left and right field bullpens were as neatly manicured as ever. At one point an overenthusiastic Austrian pushed, shoved and finally kicked down a Madrileno while in pursuit of the ball, which went out of bounds. The Madrileno looked up angrily, and a whole series of ghosts came out of the dugouts, bellowing clearly but at a pitch beyond the range of the human ear—of most of the ears present, anyway. Durocher and Stanky and Jackie Robinson and Charlie Dressen, just to name a few, surrounded the fallen player and his persecutor, and then all quietly faded away when the players shook hands, embraced each other and resumed play.
Out in center field, under the big scoreboard, a sign still said ABE STARK, and there at one end was the hole with the legend: A NEW SUIT OF CLOTHES TO ANYBODY WHO HITS A BALL THROUGH HERE. The sign, of course, was out of bounds for the soccer game, but every now and then the ball would fly off in its direction. We found ourselves wondering if Abe would still come up with the suit if somebody kicked the ball through the hole, but alas the question must remain unanswered. Nobody did.
As we left, the game over and the lights beginning to dim, the field, despite its rough treatment by the soccer players, still had an expectant look. Would the pressed rose, we wondered, ever bloom again?
It Can Be Fun