SI Vault
Walter Bingham
April 24, 1961
Baseball is here again, embellished with two brand-new teams, a hard-throwing President and a cowboy owner with a genuine Hollywood touch
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April 24, 1961

A Change After 60 Years

Baseball is here again, embellished with two brand-new teams, a hard-throwing President and a cowboy owner with a genuine Hollywood touch

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The White Sox won the game in the eighth. Donovan hit Minnie Minoso with a pitch, and when Minoso broke for second in an attempted steal, Catcher Pete Daley threw the ball into center field, allowing Minnie to reach third. He scored on a sacrifice fly and the White Sox won 4-3.

It was a hard defeat for the Senators to bear. No team likes to give away a game, and it is especially hard for a team that realizes victories may be scarce. The dressing room was somber. Dale Long sat on his stool and stared at the floor without moving for 10 minutes. Dick Donovan walked aimlessly about, like a man waiting for his wife. When someone offered him better luck next time, he almost spit in fury. Only Gene Woodling seemed to realize that life would go on. Asked about the shower of fly balls that dropped in his area, Woodling replied lightly, "I'll catch what I get to and what I don't get to I'll have to pick up off the ground, won't I?"

Mickey Vernon, his Lincolnesque figure draped in a chair, said little, listening to reporters' questions as though they were posed by the Gestapo, pausing before answering to look for snares. A radio man asked him why he did not switch to his defensive players when he still had a lead. Vernon murmured that both Long and Woodling were due to hit in the eighth. The radio man misunderstood the answer, so Vernon explained it again. His face registered no annoyance, merely the resignation of a man who realized he would be doing a lot of explaining in the next six months.

The other expansion baby, the Los Angeles Angels, opened the season the next day in Baltimore, 40 miles to the northeast. It was a harsh, windy day, and the flags and orange-and-black bunting flapped wildly. Still, the mood was as merry as it had been in Washington the day before, although Baltimore's excitement was directed toward their old Orioles instead of the new Angels. Having cheered the Orioles to second place last year, Baltimore now wants a pennant. All over town, in store windows, hotel lobbies, restaurants, everywhere, signs proclaimed "It can be done in '61." Radio announcers identified their stations as, say, "WBAL, Baltimore, where it can be done in '61." The day before, a huge party had been given to launch the Orioles to a successful start. Pennant fever had hit town before the first game.

Taking batting practice, the Angels paid no attention to the signs, the hoots, the whistles, the blast of deafening music as the band played numbers like It's a Great Day for the Orioles . What they did mind was the wind.

"This is worse than Candlestick Park," said Manager Bill Rigney. "Oh, for Palm Springs," a player said.

Ted Kluszewski, forced to wear a long-sleeved sweat shirt over his muscular arms and hating it, drove a ball to deep right. It died in the gale and dropped short of the stands. "That's as good as I hit them," he said to Bob Cerv. "It's a long way out there today," Cerv nodded.

From the Oriole dugout, Brooks Robinson, Baltimore's fine third baseman, watched the Angels in practice. "They have good hitters," he said. "They may surprise a lot of people, maybe even themselves." Gus Triandos, the big catcher, agreed. "If this club gets hot, they could put a dent in anybody. We have to hope they don't get hot when we're playing them."

The Angels started as hot as they may get all season. In the first inning Kluszewski drove another ball into the wind, but this one carried into the stands for a two-run homer. Cerv shook his hand at home plate, and then hit a ball even farther over the fence in right center field. In the second inning Kluszewski hit another with two men on and the Angels had a 7-0 lead.

The game followed the same pattern as the one between the Senators and White Sox the day before. The Angels stopped scoring after the second inning and then began to fritter away runs. Eli Grba, a Yankee cast-off, pitched what should have been a shutout, but his defense was weak. Fritz Brickell, whose father had died two days before, booted a ground ball, then threw wild into right field, letting in one run. Ken Aspromonte, trying to complete a double play, threw the ball away, allowing another. But the Angels' lead was too large and Grba's new curve ball too sharp (" Sam Jones showed me something"), and the Angels won 7-2.

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