There are no national holidays in the month of August. Professional ballplayers, ground down by the summer sun and the strain of the pennant race, usually endure August days with stoic tolerance. For the Dodgers and the Reds, however, August 1961 will be a particularly hot time, and the old town of Los Angeles will rock night and day August 15 and 16, when they meet in a three-game series. A Roman holiday is in prospect—Los Angeles baseball fans carry horns along with their scorecards and scream "Charge," in raucous, thirsty voices. (No beer is served in the Coliseum, where blood-letting is a permissible entertainment.)
In recent years the charge of the rowdy Reds onto the Coliseum playing field has often rushed the Dodgers right out of the ball park. In 1959 Vin Scully, draping his microphone in mourning, moaned, "The Reds are doing their best to keep the Dodgers from winning the pennant." Cincinnati won the season series 13 to 9, but LA managed to win the pennant over the other six teams in the league.
During the 1960 season, attendance for LA-Red games swelled to the point where the ballplayers could hardly get any free passes. Walt Alston, the Dodger manager, complained, "Why don't the Reds play as well against other clubs as they do against us?" Cincinnati again won the season series, 12 games to 10.
Despite the obvious historical significance of the record, the Los Angeles press and Dodger players snorted and snickered during the first half of 1961 as Cincinnati led the National League. Los Angeles had been conceded the pennant in April by most "competent observers," as nonplayers call themselves.
"If it's a two-team race, I sure hope the other team is Cincinnati," chortled Wally Moon, a bow-legged outfielder. A four-game, early-July series proved nothing new. LA lost three out of four and was closer to third than first, albeit full of confidence. "The Reds can't keep it up," said an expert. "Their catchers aren't old enough."
The sordid statistics, however, seemed enough to make the Dodgers realize they had a fight on their hands. Then Don Drysdale ("Really a nice guy if you get to know him," someone once said) took a fit of pique in the July 9 game and renewed a feud of the past two years. Drysdale threw a couple of pitches behind Don Blasingame and Vada Pinson, hit Frank Robinson and was ejected from the game for unsportsmanlike conduct.
Dodger pitchers have used up a ball bag full of fast balls trying to pinpoint the skulls of Pinson and Robinson. This specious form of head-hunting is not cannibalistic, for the Dodgers are not really savages. "Just a little wild," says Don Drysdale. Ol' Don has a stock answer to charges that he deliberately knocks down hitters who don't respect him. But the clich�, "It's my bread and butter," reflects a somewhat morbid appetite.
"What kind of bloody knife does he use to cut his bloody bread and spread his bloody butter?" an Australian cricket player might ask. Or maybe it isn't cricket.
Robinson's answer to the problem of what to do in a feud is simple.
"Gotta protect yourself," he said, and, leveling his big bat, he drove in seven runs as the Dodgers lost 14-3 to end the first half of the season. "They want to fight, we'll fight," Robby added. "But first we gotta score some more runs."