All the signs are here. The parks have been repainted. The sale of bubble-gum cards is booming. So are bats. For six weeks a shower of adjectives has poured forth from the training camps in Florida and Arizona, heavy with praise for the prowess of rookies, thick with nostalgia and memories of the past, assessing the teams, setting the stage. Ted Williams and Stan Musial are present, happily, just as they have been for 20 years. Mickey Mantle has a sore knee, unhappily, and Herb Score a sore arm. Frank Lane is critical of Joe Gordon. The Yankees and Braves are pennant favorites. Baseball is with us again.
From the first, 1960 promises to present the most important thing baseball can offer: two sizzling pennant races. Of course, there were two sizzling pennant races in 1959, but, except for an occasional idle dreamer like Al Lopez, no one made any such prediction in the spring. Now everyone knows about the White Sox and Indians and Yankees, about the Dodgers and Giants and Braves.
There is much of the unusual about 1960. The two leagues, for example, do not even begin on the same day. The National, because of its lengthy travel schedule, opens on April 12; the American, because it refuses to buck the elements so soon, a week later. There will be 605 night games, far more than ever before, and one team, the Dodgers, opens the season at night. Three TV networks will carry baseball across the country on weekends instead of two as in '59; in addition to some 674 local telecasts, 123 games will be televised nationally. The double All-Star Game will be played in a three-day period, the first game scheduled for Kansas City July 11, the second in Yankee Stadium July 13.
There is a new manager at Kansas City ( Bob Elliott) and different, if not exactly new, ones at Chicago's Wrigley Field ( Charlie Grimm) and Milwaukee's County Stadium ( Charley Dressen). What effect, if any, Elliott and Grimm are going to have on the festivities is open to debate, but Dressen is the kind of a guy who might shake things up a bit. The Giants have a new ball park, with enough outfield to give Willie Mays a chance to perform his magic and enough wind blowing toward right field, for a change, to make every left-hand hitter in sight leap for joy.
But the major new development of 1960 is that the World Series will be played in Chicago and San Francisco, no matter what Las Vegas says. Las Vegas, where betting is legal and the early line set, is located approximately 3,000 miles from the west coast of Florida and apparently remains unaware that Bob Turley can't get his curve ball over the plate any more or that Warren Spahn and Red Schoendienst, respectively, have accumulated 39 and 37 years. Spring training is a time of confusion, as much as anything else, but certain facts manage to emerge. One of these is that the White Sox, defending champions of the American League, have gone forward since 1959, not down. The other is that the Giants have not only a happy blend of power, pitching and defense, but fewer weaknesses than anyone else.
The White Sox, a gang of quick artists a year ago, are equally quick and artistic and noticeably more muscular today (see Scouting Reports). Minnie Minoso has returned, Ted Kluszewski will be available from the beginning, Gene Freese will drive in runs, Billy Pierce no longer has an aching back. Now Roy Sievers, the big slugger from the Senators, has joined the act too. Added to the defensive genius of Lollar, Fox, Aparicio and Landis and the pitching skill of Early Wynn and Bob Shaw, this should be enough to make the Sox again the strongest ball club in the American League.
Its infield enriched by the addition of Johnny Temple, Cleveland is far smoother and more experienced than it was at this time a year ago. Rocky Colavito is one of the big hitters. Vic Power is a complete ballplayer, if you happen to like first basemen who field standing on their heads. Woodie Held's skill seems to increase by leaps and bounds, and Joe Gordon is considered an exceptional manager with young talent. But the catching is in a state of confusion, and who knows what to expect from Tito Francona—or Jim Piersall—this time around? When the Indians traded away Cal McLish, the one pitcher on the roster who could consistently beat first-division clubs, the problem fell upon the youthful shoulders of Gary Bell, Jim Perry and Jim Grant. There is promise here but, as long as Herb Score remains a great slash of a question mark across Indian hopes, not enough to take up the slack.
Yankee chances hinge upon three ifs: Turley's arm, Mantle's knee, Skowron's ability to escape injury. The infield is less than sensational and it has little run-producing ability. The outfield, while gaining defensively with Maris in left, has lost defensively with Lopez in right and over-all seems no better or worse than a year ago. Missing, along with Billy Martin, Gerry Coleman, Hank Bauer and the younger Gil McDougald, is the old, quick-igniting Yankee spark. But the catching is very sound and the outfield will drive in runs. Ford is a superb pitcher, Ditmar a good one and the youngsters on Stengel's changing staff could be of help. It is a team that could shake off its weaknesses and win, but only if Turley pitches back to his '58 form and Mantle and Skowron remain healthy enough to hit great clusters of home runs. There seem to be too many ifs; the White Sox have virtually none and the Indians none of such stature.
Only magic could produce a pennant winner in the American League aside from these three. Detroit is still Detroit, blessed with a handful of highly talented athletes, plagued by gaping holes. Baltimore's splendid young pitchers are incapable of carrying that punchless burden of hitters on their backs through a long summer, and Kansas City, while more improved than any team in the league, with the possible exception of the White Sox, still has a long way to go. The Red Sox, without Jensen, without Sammy White, with only a shadow of the old Williams, will scuffle against Washington to see who escapes the cellar. The theory that Boston will play better because Billy Jurges is the first thin manager it has had in years satisfies only the vegetarians in Fenway Park.
In the National League the Giants occupy much the same position as Milwaukee in 1957: having come so close the year before, they have certainly gained enough, through trades and experience, to hold out just a few days more. That is all the Giants need. They have formidable power ( Mays, Cepeda, McCovey, Kirkland), a slick infield (Blasingame, Bressoud, Davenport), a smart, hustling little catcher (Hobie Landrith), and all the front-line pitching in the world (Antonelli, Sam Jones, Sanford, McCormick, Miller, O'Dell).