The beautiful Lena Home sings a song in which the lyrics go, "Can't stand baseball. The game's insane." Therein she speaks for virtually her entire gender. Women go to baseball games with their men rather than stay home alone, and some even follow the results in the press so they can appear interested. But few really enjoy the game for its own sake. Mrs. Charles Shipman Payson of New York City, Long Island, Maine, Kentucky and Florida is a notable exception. Mrs. Payson is so fond of baseball that she has put up more than $4.5 million of the $5 million it has cost to install the New York Mets in the National League this year.
"Why did you do it?" someone asked Mrs. Payson.
"Because I'm a fan," she replied simply, "and I can't bear to see New York without a National League team."
During the first two weeks of the 1962 season, Mrs. Payson staunchly followed her new team through an eight-game losing streak. Then, on Easter Sunday, she took off for Europe and the Greek islands on a long-planned holiday, her chin in its usual forthright position. An optimist to her sporting fingertips, she hadn't even considered the possibility that the Mets could be anything but a huge success.
Mrs. Payson became addicted to baseball almost without noticing it. "I don't remember when I first saw the Giants play," she has said. "My mother used to take me to the Polo Grounds when I was a little girl, and I almost feel as if I'd grown up there. Mother, of course, adored the game. One of my earliest memories is of watching her playing baseball at Palm Beach in the old days."
In her youth Mrs. Payson, who is now a 59-year-old grandmother with graying blonde hair and the approximate proportions of a Wagnerian soprano, was not athletic in her own right. But she always loved to spectate, as Mr. Kennedy would say with a frown. The recollections that she carries of her early exposure to sport are a kind of hodgepodge of U.S. sporting history, mingled with the usual milestones in a woman's life.
"I remember I was pregnant at the first Dempsey-Tunney fight in Philadelphia," Mrs. Payson recalls. "In fact, I always seemed to be pregnant at championship fights. But I particularly remember it at the Philadelphia fight, because this man pushed me as we were leaving in the rain, and I yelled, 'Don't you dare push me, I'm pregnant,' and he quickly disappeared into the crowd. I think he thought I was going to hit him or something.
"The funny thing is that although I've seen just about every heavyweight championship fight since the big one at Boyle's Thirty Acres between Dempsey and what's his name—was it Carpentier? No, I don't think it was Carpentier. Yes, maybe it was Carpentier—well, anyway, although I've hardly ever missed a championship I still didn't see the most dramatic thing of all. That was when Dempsey knocked out Firpo.
"I was engaged to Charlie, my present husband, at the time. [ Mrs. Payson has been married to Mr. Payson and only Mr. Payson for nearly 38 years, but every now and then she will refer to him as "my present husband."] Charlie had already arranged to go to the fight with someone else, so Father took me with some of his friends and we sat in the fourth row. Poor Charlie was so far back he had to borrow my field glasses to see what was going on. When the knockout came in the second round, Father's friends all jumped on their chairs to see better, and they kept pushing me down as they tried to steady themselves on my shoulders. I never saw a thing."
Mrs. Payson was particularly impressed by Abe Simon, the heavyweight challenger whom her brother, John Hay Whitney, owned in a partnership with Gene Tunney. Simon trained for a while at Greentree, the Whitney family's 400-acre estate in Manhasset, Long Island, and all the Whitneys and their neighbors used to enjoy watching his workouts. "He was a marvelous man," Mrs. Payson says, "and he had the best manners you ever saw. I remember once Mother went up to the ring to shake hands with him after he had been sparring, and he said to her, 'Pardon my glove.' "