There will come a day, perhaps, when baseball will have two (or even three) major leagues. At the moment, it has only one—the National. Last week's two All-Star Games revealed how weak the American League has become.
The National League won the first game, played in Kansas City, 5-3, and the second, played in New York, 6-0. Willie Mays—who proved to everyone that he is still the finest player alive—hit a triple, single, double, single, home run and single in eight tries. Stan Musial (see pages 22-23) pinch-hit twice and had a single and a home run. Ernie Banks hit a home run, double and single. Eddie Mathews hit a home run. Ken Boyer hit a home run. So did Del Crandall. And there were eight other assorted hits, making a total of 22.
Meanwhile, 10 National League pitchers were holding the American, or Little, League to 14 hits—12 singles, one double and one home run. In the second game six pitchers combined to throw the shutout. On two occasions, Roger Maris, the American League's leading home run hitter, went out tamely with the bases loaded.
All-Star Game results have long been used as a launching pad from which the winning league and its followers could hurl boasts of their superiority over the other. But because it was only one game a year, the losers usually could laugh it off. Now the American League has been defeated, and decisively, twice in three days, making nine times in the last 13 games. The American League is not laughing.
Furthermore, the American League will find no solace from recent World Series. The National League has won four out of six. Last year the Chicago White Sox were easily the best team in the American League, beating the Cleveland Indians by five games and the New York Yankees by 15. The National League had a close three-team race between the Los Angeles Dodgers, Milwaukee Braves and San Francisco Giants, which the Dodgers won in a playoff with the Braves. Yet the Dodgers had no trouble with the White Sox in the Series. They beat them so easily it was clear that either the second-place Braves or the third-place Giants could have done the same thing.
One reason for the current superiority of the National League is the decline of the Yankees, for years the standard bearer of the American League. Throughout the '30s, '40s and early '50s, when the American was the stronger of the two leagues, it was the Yankees who gave it that reputation. From 1932 to 1953 the Yankees won 14 pennants and 13 World Series. Of the 10 other American League teams that have won pennants since 1932, only three have won the Series. The most disastrous blow to the league's prestige came in 1954. The Cleveland Indians, who had set an alltime American League record by winning 111 games during the season, lost four straight to the New York Giants.
It was in 1955 that the Yankees began to crack. The Dodgers, after years of trying, finally beat them in the Series. The Yankees got revenge the next year, but in 1957 they lost again, this time to the Braves. In 1958 the Yankees lost three of the first four games to the Braves before coming back to win. After the seventh game Casey Stengel told a group of reporters: "Well, now we've proved we had a good enough ball club to play in the National League." Obviously, he had worried that they hadn't.
Not the old Yanks
Now the Yankees, after their collapse last year, have returned as a power in the American League. But they are not the old Yankees, not the terrors of baseball. The National League had no trouble at all with them in the All-Star Games. The Yankee bloc ( Maris, Mantle, Skowron and Berra batted in succession) managed only three hits, all singles, in 18 at-bats for a .167 average. And Whitey Ford, the Yankees' best pitcher, gave up five hits, two of them home runs, thus losing the second game.
While the American League has weakened, the National League, thanks to a steady influx of talented Negro ballplayers, has improved. The National League has four times as many Negroes as the American has, and certainly all the outstanding ones. Perhaps this is because Jackie Robinson, the first Negro big leaguer, played in the National League. Maybe it is because American League club owners were slow in yielding to the changing times. In any case, the Negro ballplayer has made the National League a better league.