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
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.
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.
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
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
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.