In the innocence of early spring, Al Lopez, the manager of the Chicago White Sox, believed that beating the Yankees meant winning the pennant. So did everyone else. But as summer burned its way toward fall, it became clear that Lopez, and everyone else, had been wrong. The White Sox, after years of trying, had finally beaten the Yankees, but the pennant was not yet theirs. Cleveland, too, had beaten the Yankees and was pressing Chicago hard. Last week, with the White Sox leading the Indians by a game and a half, the two teams met in Cleveland for a four-game series, the most important games of the season thus far.
Despite the protests of the players, coaches and managers that there was nothing necessarily crucial about the series, baseball fans from all over the Midwest crammed into overheated Cleveland. Hotel lobbies swarmed with humanity. Room clerks scurried about like nervous ants while whole families waited impatiently in line. ("Martha, the man says there aren't any more rooms with air conditioning.... But, Martha, all the other hotels are full.")
The switchboard at Municipal Stadium buzzed incessantly on Friday, the day of the first game.
"It's been lit up like a Christmas tree since early morning," said one girl, sneaking a quick puff on a cigarette. Then she returned to her work. "No, sir. The only seats we have are in the outfield. Out near Minnie Minoso and Rocky Colavito."
The afternoon papers ran preseries stories on Page One. Both managers were quoted as saying they'd play the games one at a time.
"Just once," said Joe Falls of the Detroit Times, "I'd like to hear a manager say he's going to play them three at a time."
One paper carried a picture of Luis Aparicio, baseball's leading base stealer, being manacled by a pair of Cleveland cops. Another paper ran a cartoon showing Aparicio and Nellie Fox, dressed like Chicago gangsters, complete with sawed-off shotguns, being driven toward Municipal Stadium in a black sedan.
At 5 p.m. on Friday, three hours before game time, the first fans began to arrive, strolling down West 3rd Street, which leads from the center of town to the ball park and Lake Erie. Vendors along the way offered plastic Indians and mechanical cats that meowed and rolled over.
Both teams appeared on the field early. While the Indians took batting practice, the Sox lolled about in their dugout and in the box seats near by, reflecting casual confidence. Occasionally they yelled insults at the Indians. The Indians yelled back.
Inside the Chicago dressing room, Al Lopez answered the questions of a half dozen reporters.