Normally at this time of year all that is required of a speaker is that he stand on a rostrum in front of the American flag and quote Casey at the Bat without mentioning that the out pitch was a spitter. Something is also supposed to be said about how the charm of the grand old pastime is that it never changes; that, unlike other sports, baseball is the only game to have withstood the tyranny of time.
Sorry about that, sports fans. Please turn back for just a moment and look at the cover again. When Maury Wills, that pirate, becomes a real Pirate, that's change. Now go forward and look at the folio of color pictures that follows and you will notice that Roger Maris is now a St. Louis Cardinal, that Jimmy Hall and Don Mincher are Angels and that the halo no longer hovers over Dean Chance's head. How pleasantly strange. How splendidly changed. Little Floyd Robinson, formerly of the White Sox, is wearing a new uniform too—new for Robby and new for the Reds, because the team's new owners are changing lots of things in an effort to erase some of the discouraging memories of the recent past. Cletis Boyer has moved his fine glove to Atlanta; so he and the Braves are changed. Somehow Tommy Davis is a Met this year and Ron Hunt a Dodger; Dick Ellsworth is a Phillie and Ray Culp a Cubbie. The old pastime never changes, eh? It has never changed more.
For the first time the All-Star Game is going to be played at night so that the nation can watch it on television; even when it was played on a weekday afternoon in July enough people snuck away from work to make it one of the biggest TV attractions of any year.
Perhaps you remember that old service expression that went, "If it moves, salute it. If it doesn't move, pick it up. And if you can't pick it up, paint it." Yankee Stadium has been painted—white. It looks good, too, which is important since those marvelous Mets have a radio-television sponsor who has a new advertising campaign that goes, "You have to be good to make it in New York."
Mike Shannon of the Cards is playing third, and Mickey Mantle of the Yankees is playing first. Dick McAuliffe, Detroit's All-Star shortstop of 1966, is sliding over to second base, and Pete Rose of the Reds is moving from second to left field where, he says, "It sometimes gets very lonely." Eddie Mathews, who has played more games at third base than any man in the history of the National League, is moving across the infield to try things at first base for the Houston Astros.
There are more changes. Stan Musial, for instance, is now the general manager of the Cards because Bob Howsam became general manager of the Reds, while Bing Devine became the new president of the Mets because Bob Howsam went to St. Louis in the first place three years ago. Joe Adcock, all 6 feet 4 and 240 pounds of him, is going to manage the Cleveland Indians. The Tigers have a new brain trust, the Kansas City A's some hope and the Los Angeles Dodgers a Star of David hanging limply in the window now that Sandy Koufax has retired to become an announcer for NBC's Game of the Week. You have to wonder how good he will be starting with six days rest. And has any pennant winner ever changed as much from the end of one season to the start of the next as those Dodgers? With Koufax gone and Wills and Tommy Davis, too, how many people can the Dodgers draw? In the last five seasons Los Angeles pulled 21,500,000 spectators at home and on the road. Should the Dodgers not be a contender this season, the entire economy of the National League may change more than a little.
Undoubtedly you have been aware of the sounds of spring coming from the training camps, fine sounds that echo the hopes and frustrations of the game and of those who play it. Mayo Smith, the new manager of the Tigers, says, "I'll take 95 wins, and the boys can come at me." Dave Bristol, the entertaining 33-year-old manager of the Reds, is not kidding when he says, "We hope to have the attitude of the Green Berets: seek out and destroy." From Willie Mays, "We need more double plays to take us out of innings. I hope Tito Fuentes, our shortstop, uses the big glove I bought him instead of that little Mickey Mouse one he used last year that sometimes let the balls go by." Bob Gibson, the excellent pitcher for St. Louis, says, "Maybe this season Curt Flood and I will finally catch up with The Other Guy. We been after him a long time. He's the one they talk about when you walk into a restaurant and they say, ' Mr. Gibson, Mr. Flood, it would be perfectly all right with me if you ate in this restaurant, but I don't make the rules, The Other Guy does.' "
It looks, too, like Boston might have an entertaining manager in Dick Williams, who watched his team rally for 10 runs in the ninth inning one day this spring and beat the New York Mets 23-18. When Williams was asked if he had ever seen a game to compare with that one, he thought a moment and said, "Certainly not in the major leagues. Not in the minor leagues, either. In fact, not even at American Legion Post 601 in Pasadena." Eddie Stanky, the manager of the White Sox, had some acid words to offer one day at Sarasota: "It's different this year. Last spring we had all the television cameramen and all the tape recorders and all the magazine photographers with their color film, but for some reason we haven't seen too much of all that this spring. It couldn't be because we finished fourth, could it? But look out for this little team lying in the weeds."
Al Lopez spoke with the pride of an old baseball man when he said, "I'm certainly no expert on football or supergames, but if the World Series played to only two-thirds of capacity after the greatest free advertising campaign in the history of sports there would probably be a congressional investigation." And maybe a woman in a large blue hat said it all about this strange new season as she looked out at the field from her box seat at Al Lang Field in St. Petersburg. "Somehow," she said, " Yogi Berra doesn't look like himself this year."
Thus the 1,620-game marathon begins, and the World Series will still be played in the towns the winning teams represent. But which towns and which teams? The American League, its often-shattered prestige somewhat restored by last season's Baltimore's sweep of the Dodgers, is generally considered to be in for a three-club race, with the Orioles, Tigers and Twins fighting it out. Few expect the Orioles, as good as they are, to trot home as comfortably as they did in 1966. And remember Eddie Stanky's words about that little team in the weeds, because the Sox appear to have more pitching and speed than even they have had in a long time.