As the Giants
proved, loyalty was blind and had no relation to the team's prospects. Other
fans had ties that were even more unreasonable, many of course based on local
pride. Nowhere does hope spring more eternal than in the breast of a Bostonian.
Though the Braves gave their original city only one pennant after 1914 and the
Red Sox have won only once since 1918, the Boston fan remains a creature of
illogical optimism, a bright ornament in a skeptical world, and because of his
fervor the Red Sox continue to have an elegance that their dreary record cannot
Harder to analyze
are the spells that certain teams, not as flamboyant as the Cardinals or
Dodgers, have long exerted on nonresidents. I was for many years an ardent fan
of the Detroit Tigers, though I had never set foot in Detroit, and haven't yet.
I followed their fortunes in minute detail in the years of Mickey Cochrane,
Schoolboy Rowe and Charley Gehringer. Gehringer epitomized the perfection and
grace of baseball, and the teams that he adorned won me with their
attractiveness and class.
Only a few teams
were so abject as to win almost no friends beyond their own city limits. One of
these, the St. Louis Browns, were seldom separated in print from the adjective
"lowly," and so they constituted as stable a pole at one end of our
world as the Yankees did at the other. The dismal fact that they had never won
a pennant was part of our catechism, and when they finally clinched the flag in
1944 we should have felt that our orderly system was in hopeless disarray, with
worse to come.
These were the
physical facts, the outward verities of our universe. They were reinforced by a
still more rigid set of laws: the science of statistics. Probably no human
pursuit is recorded as meticulously as professional baseball. Almost every act
performed by a player on the field, a batter at bat and a pitcher on the mound
is instantly inscribed in the archives of the game and consolidated with all
earlier records. Thus, at any moment during the season, and in perpetuity
thereafter, a player's achievement can be measured by various gauges.
are the baseball fan's daily bread. He puzzles out the box scores and other
tables in his morning and evening newspapers, filing hundreds of new statistics
in a brain that is already cluttered.
It is these
documents that make baseball the national pastime in fact as well as in phrase.
To be a fan, a man need not live in a city that has a major league team. All
that he requires is a newspaper. Some of the closest students of the sport, in
fact, have never seen a game. Spectatorship is not the bond that links us, much
as we prize the beauty of a double play or a running catch. The records are our
common code. They are a standard of excellence, more than half a century old,
against which every new player competes.
But the main thing
is that the records are absolute. They are based on a schedule of 154 games,
and we know what feats can and cannot be managed within that span. When some
player brings off the unmanageable feat—when a batter bats .400 or a pitcher
wins 30 games—we know that this is greatness, and know it automatically. The
records are our metric system, our Bible, our Linus blanket.
To have these
things rudely seized and subjected to heaven knows what possible confusion is
to shake the very foundations of sanity. But other familiarities, physical
factors, wrench at our consciousness too. Who can foretell any more what the
players we once knew so well, strangers now, will do on their alien fields? The
Giants' new home on the far frontier is a common ball park, distinguished only
by a howling wind in left field. The Dodgers took over a football field and are
still dickering noisily with local interests about their new home in Chavez
Ravine, which for all I know might be in Mexico. Today I'm no longer quite sure
where anybody is.
The seamy episodes
of stark greed and schoolgirlish confusion which over the past months have
characterized the so-called "expansion" of the two major leagues
dramatized once and for all that the fun is gone. Insolent businessmen and
brazen speculators have robbed us of our security. The news on the sports page
has had a cold, financial ring. Magnates have out-bluffed tycoons only to
succumb themselves to corporate lawyers.
Chaos, in short,
has arrived. This summer and next, four teams are to be freshly hatched, teams
with no tradition, personality or, for that matter, players. The two leagues
are to bulge hideously into odd and distant corners of America and, at the
present rate of tinkering and cupidity, may change shape every year or two.
Worst of all, there will be a new schedule. The clubs will play 162 games, not
154, and will meet each other 18 times.