Whatever hopes the Dodgers still entertain of overtaking the Giants in the Western Division race would seem to rest with their 38-year-old shortstop's quaint notion that on baseball diamonds in September "strange things" happen to the undeserving.
Not that Maury Wills is a devotee of the occult; his manner is rather more that of the middle-aged businessman he has become after 20 years of chasing ground balls. The Wills rhetoric, in fact, would do credit to a corporate prose stylist.
"You can be objective or negative," he said last week in discussing his team's pennant chances. "My way is to be objective. Of course, some people interpret objectivity as rationalization."
Free of this weighty disclaimer, he narrowed his eyes, lowered his voice and advanced his theory on "things" and how they happen.
"My contention is that if we can go into September five games out, we'll win. There is a definite something about the month of September. Things begin to happen to people then that just don't happen in August. Pressure is just one of them. But other things happen. Errors that might be overlooked any other month get magnified. Tempers flare. Things happen between teammates, things happen to managers. Everyone is tense and edgy. These things will happen to a losing team on the first day of the season. Everything will go wrong. But in September they happen to the best of teams. That's what I mean about September."
What he also means is that, in his opinion, the Dodgers are safer than most from such misfortune because they have the necessary camaraderie.
"We probably have better harmony than any team in baseball," Wills said earnestly. "I'm not saying the Giants don't have it, just that we do. Nobody can ask you to love him, but you can give mutual respect. If there are any hard feelings on this team, they're never shown. That's all you can ask of a professional athlete."
The Dodgers will need all the harmony they can muster in September, for the Giants appear to have every other advantage. Three times this year the Dodgers have been only 3� games from first place and each time they have, in the words of First Baseman Wes Parker, "regrouped and fallen back." Their opportunities for a fall offensive are rapidly diminishing, and the Giants now seem strong enough to withstand the charge.
"Physically, we are in good shape," says San Francisco Manager Charlie Fox, who is something of a harmonizer himself. "And we're playing good ball."
Fox has coaxed some surprisingly good ball out of players who hardly seemed of championship timber. He has stayed the entire season with a rookie shortstop, just turned 21, and a second baseman whose past gave little hint of his present. But Chris Speier and Tito Fuentes have provided the Giants with one of the finest double-play combinations in the game. Fuentes is also hitting 30 points above his lifetime average, and Speier, who has leveled off at .240, has produced seven game-winning hits. Alan Gallagher, with his bat, and Hal Lanier, with his glove, give the team depth at third base. Willie Mays is old, and Willie McCovey, hobbling on bad knees, is infirm, but both have been enormously important to the team in areas where Wills might claim a Dodger monopoly.