If baseball made any sense at all, the Cincinnati Reds would have disappeared from the top of the National League months ago. They would be somewhere around sixth place, right where the smart money picked them to be, and they would have left the business of deciding a pennant winner to more talented teams. But baseball is rarely sensible. So the city of Cincinnati has been busily plastering up "Rally Round the Reds" signs and announcing night-game scores between bouts at the wrestling matches and acts at the opera house, while its Reds have rallied round first place.
Into this already improbable setting last Friday came the team which was considered the class of the National League, the second-place Los Angeles Dodgers. A sudden three and a half games behind, the Dodgers were combating not only the inexplicable Reds, but an equally inexplicable 10-game losing streak (worst for the Dodgers in 17 years). Three days and four games later the Dodgers left Cincinnati. They had first joyously broken their losing string and had showed off their (and baseball's) fastest pitchers, their power hitters and their flashy fielders. But they wound up still exactly three and a half games behind the Reds.
That the Dodgers should be in this desperate situation made even less sense than Cincinnati's present steadfast hold on first place. Just two weeks before, it was Los Angeles that was in first place, and it was the Reds who were trying to avoid complete collapse. Cincinnati, after leading for much of the season, had begun to lose, as expected. At the same time the Dodgers, also as expected, had begun to win—19 out of 22 in one stretch—and in so doing took over the lead. With the supposedly more serious contenders—the Giants, Braves and Pirates—considerably to the rear, it appeared that the Dodgers were about to leave the rest of the league far behind.
Then came the Dodger disaster. In a three-game series with the Reds in Los Angeles, the Dodgers scored two runs in the first inning of the first game. In the next 26 innings they neglected to score at all. They lost all three games, of course. Counting a previous defeat by St. Louis, this made four in a row and the Dodgers fell back to second place.
The loss of the Cincinnati series did not bother Manager Walt Alston. "We had won so many games that I figured we were due to drop a few," he said. The Dodgers finally scored a run in San Francisco, but lost three more games, then flew to St. Louis and dropped another three. Alston barred the clubhouse to reporters after one game and lectured his players.
"I gave them a little hell and I gave them a little encouragement," said Alston. " Norm Larker dropped a pop foul that hurt us, but nobody works harder than Norm. Willie Davis held up on a base hit and couldn't score the winning run. It was just a tough break."
As the Dodgers' losing streak grew, John Griffin, the team lockerman, changed from one bizarre costume to another in an effort to snap the jinx. One night the Dodgers, now frantically superstitious, exchanged uniform shirts for their pregame workout. They wanted to continue it that way through the game, but Alston said no.
There was wryness in the losing streak too. "I don't know who we're trying to catch, the Reds or the Phils," said one player. Big Don Drysdale looked at the Dodger plane in St. Louis and said, "The way things are going I don't think we'd better climb aboard."
Maury Wills, the Dodgers' fine little shortstop, continued to play his guitar on the team bus. "I play songs from the '20s and '30s," said Wills. "Most of the guys join in singing. I think it helps. I can't tell whether the guys are down, or whether they're being quiet because that's the thing to do when you lose."
It was inevitable that as the Dodgers lost game after game a rumor should arise that Walter Alston was about to be fired. Dodger Owner Walter O'Malley denied the rumor vigorously. "I have faith," he wired from California. Any manager knows this is a bad sign. Alston himself walked around with a smile as ambiguous as Mona Lisa's and said he had other things to worry about.