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The schedule was a thing of beauty. Each team played 154 games, 22 against every other team, 11 at home and 11 away. The leagues were divided in half geographically. This meant that the four eastern teams would make a "western swing" and then return for a "home stand" while the four western teams made an "eastern swing." So the seasons took on a certain beat, and I learned to listen for the different rhythms that rose and fell between mid-April and October 1, and to gauge their effect on the pennant race.
Aging stars might wilt
A typical factor was the heat in St. Louis. Judging by the sportswriters' accounts, St. Louis in summer was little better than the Sahara, a furnace to melt even an asbestos pitching arm. Therefore, if the schedule happened to bring to St. Louis, for a crucial Labor Day double-header, a team whose aging stars might wilt under the cruel Missouri sun, that was an imponderable that had to be pondered.
As St. Louis was hot, so Boston was cold. The wind that blew off the Charles River into Braves Field could turn a pitcher's soupbone to jellied madril�ne, or so I gathered from the sports pages, and this was another hostile natural force to watch.
Not only the weather had its regional quirks, the different ball parks had theirs too. Laid out in obedience to existing realty patterns, rather than to Abner Doubleday's theories, they often imposed a strange geometry on the game. The left-field fence in Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox, was notoriously near and therefore favored right-handed batters. Ebbets Field, an irregular patch of grass surrounded by Brooklyn, had a right-field wall that rose not far behind the normal position of the right-fielder, and many a long fly soared over it into Bedford Avenue. Thus Bedford Avenue, an ordinary city street, became a very special street, a symbol of dreams fulfilled or dashed.
Personality was important to us in our orderly system. Certain teams had it and others didn't, and we became attached to them accordingly, regardless of where we lived. The St. Louis Cardinals, for instance, could be counted on to play with flair—not for nothing were they called the Gas-house Gang. Just what sort of gangs dwelt in gas houses I didn't know, but I assumed that they were scrappy and assertive, for that's what the Cards were, not only in the days of Frank Frisch, Dizzy Dean and Pepper Martin but also in the later era of Enos Slaughter, and they won the loyalty of countless fans who had never been to St. Louis or couldn't even point to it on a map of the U.S.
The Brooklyn Dodgers also had a distinctive stamp, one that was essentially comic. In part this was because the word " Brooklyn" is considered one of the funniest in the American language, a staple of vaudeville comedians starved for a laugh. The early Dodgers made the word manifest on the diamond. They stole bases that were already occupied; their fielders, like Babe Herman, moved so grotesquely that the descending ball struck every part of them except their glove, and pitchers like Van Mungo fired balls of great velocity that only the screen could catch.
They were the clowns of our universe, and when they finally ceased to be clowns, when Leo Durocher took charge and players like Pee Wee Reese and Pete Reiser inspired the team to heroic acts, they still retained a somewhat antic reputation. The adjective "daffy" clung to them, as did the noun "Bums." Their raffish fans, who sat stripped to the waist in the center-field bleachers to catch the afternoon sun, serenaded them with a "sym-phoney" orchestra and other foolish endearments.
The New York Yankees also had a personality that remained constant over the decades. They were patrician, imperious and cold. Fans who admired their perpetual excellence, their unassailable hauteur, had nothing but disdain for the seven other teams that dared to pretend to the throne. Fans who hated the Yankees, on the other hand, gave their fealty to any city that seemed likely to dethrone the kings, rooting particularly for the Cleveland Indians and Boston Red Sox, who always looked good on paper and, as it later turned out, terrible on grass. So the Yankees gave our universe a permanent schism, rather like the two-party system.
Other teams had personalities which, though harder to discern, were nonetheless unique to their followers. The New York Giants had a quality, which sportswriters called indefinable and then tried to define, that belonged not so much to a corporation (which they were) as to a college (which they were not): something gentlemanly and sportsmanlike. It bound their fans, who would not think of removing their shirts, in an allegiance that never flagged through thick and thin—and there was a great deal of thin, especially during the long regime of Mel Ott, whose managerial sins were forgiven because he was so nice.