When the Dodgers play in Dodger Stadium on a Saturday night it is more than a baseball game. It is a gala. More horns are tooted and more people shout "Cha-a-arge." More oohs are oohed when somebody hits a big-league pop-up and almost anything is good for a communal laugh.
Last Saturday night a folk giggle arose in the fourth inning from the Ladies' Night crowd of 55,312. San Francisco Giants' Pitcher Gaylord Perry, covering first on a grounder, was not quite to the bag when he took the throw from First Baseman Orlando Cepeda, and he had to stretch his long leg awkwardly to put a toe on the base and retire Ron Fairly. It was funny, but then Perry suddenly started running toward second base and the giggling stopped. Now there was a slightly stunned silence, which is never heard in Dodger Stadium when the Dodgers are playing on Saturday night.
Perry was running toward the supine body of Tommy Davis, which was wiggling just a bit as it lay two feet to the right-field side of the bag. Perry ran up and tagged Davis with the ball, and Umpire Al Barlick—reluctantly, it seemed—raised his thumb a little. It was a double play. You score it 3-1-1, and you mark Tommy Davis absent for three months.
It was moot whether Davis' spikes caught in the dirt or whether they hit the bag as he slid. His right ankle was fractured and dislocated. The doctor said he wasn't in much pain while he waited for the ambulance. The Dodgers were. Their two-time National League batting champion had seemed to be emerging from the dismal slump that had gripped him all last season, and now he was gone.
None of the beardless boys on the Dodger bench could replace Tommy Davis—even a slumping Tommy Davis—and 35-year-old Wally Moon had taken a back seat to the youth movement too long ago to be that much help. The Dodger attack, which had figured to be impotent, seemed now to be virtually nonexistent, and the great experiment was over when it barely had begun.
The question was (SI, March 29): could the Dodgers win a 1965 pennant with a 1915 team? In our time of the tape measure, could a conventionally armed band of guerrillas silently steal the thunder from the overkill artillery that has become baseball's ultimate weapon?
Probably not. As the season dawned, the Los Angeles battle plan appeared ridiculously simple, or maybe just ridiculous. In the era of the lively ball they were reverting to the era of the lively player, compensating for their lack of hitting power by de-emphasizing hitting. With inordinate speed, possibly great pitching and adequate fielding, the Dodgers were drawing up their wagons in a circle to make their best offense a good defense, resolutely ignoring the fact that some renegade had been selling bazookas to the Indians. It was a brave thing to do, and pitiful, like people throwing rocks at armored tanks.
But the month became May and there they were, bobbing and weaving along at the top of the National League. Last weekend, when the Giants came to town, the Dodgers beat them three games out of four. In its first 134 innings the Los Angeles pitching staff had a collective earned run average of 2.08, accomplished almost wholly by the four starters ( Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Johnny Podres and Claude Osteen). Koufax, his career threatened with extinction at the end of spring training because of an arthritic elbow, had come back strongly and had a 2-1 record. Drysdale, the workhorse, was 3-2. Osteen, the refugee from the Washington Senators, had a 1.67 ERA. Podres, who pitched only three innings all last year, was 1-0 and had pitched well in two starts. "Never nothing like it," said Coach Jim Gilliam, who played in the league 12 seasons. "I seen teams with two pitchers like them, maybe three. But not four." Joe Moeller, who started 24 games for Los Angeles last year, was sent back to the minors, saying, "To stick with this club you have to pitch great in batting practice."
But then there was the hitting and the fielding. The diminution of the offense and defense over the years had been so gradual, Drysdale said, that he hadn't really noticed it. "What I do notice," he said, "is the number of errors of omission. In the field, on the bases, everywhere. This team is young, real young, and you have to expect it. Guys like Furillo didn't forget to do the right thing because they didn't have to remember. They just did it."
The young Dodgers, however, had taken quick steps toward proving still another beloved maxim: they had run away from their mistakes. Entering May, Maury Wills was one base ahead of his 1962 pace, when he stole 104. Willie Davis was flying on the base paths with a reckless abandon that was a little more unnerving to the opposition, a little less to his coaches.