SI Vault
William K. Zinsser
March 20, 1961
As the season opens, one rooter looks with bewildered alarm at the chaos of baseball's once orderly cosmos, where old teams are uprooted and new ones mushroom strangely
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March 20, 1961

The Fan Cries Havoc

As the season opens, one rooter looks with bewildered alarm at the chaos of baseball's once orderly cosmos, where old teams are uprooted and new ones mushroom strangely

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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 entirely tarnish.

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.

These statistics 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.

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