SI went to its first World Series last week.
For the players, the World Series began to be real on Tuesday, the day before the first game. The regular season was, by then, really over. The heady elation that flooded the dressing room the day the pennant had been clinched was a memory. The satisfaction that came of reading the final standings (with the Yankees beaten, the Dodgers beaten, and the Indians and Giants forever in first place) was something that had been savored the day before, on Monday. Now, on Tuesday, practice was scheduled, the last, the only workout for the Series.
The Polo Grounds was soaked in bright, hot sun. The grass was as green and moist as spring. The players dressed in the high old clubhouse in center field, the Giants first, the Indians later, and came out into the strange, cheerful morning light a little shy, almost self-conscious. It was like the last rehearsal before opening night, on an empty stage before an empty house, with a throng of friends, well-wishers, publicity men and fellow professionals looking on. For one last time they ran through what they knew so well?how to hit, how to pitch, how to field.
For one actor the center of the stage, even in rehearsal, was where he liked to be, and the seats, though empty, were still a challenge. Dusty Rhodes, the Giants' pinch-hitting star, likes to stand at home plate and hit, even in an empty park. Rhodes has scant regard for fielding, even less for throwing and not too much for base running, except as it helps him to make base hits. "Baseball is hitting," Dusty Rhodes says. In batting practice he likes the pitcher to give him something he can wallop, like a nice, fat, fast ball. But this day, the day before the World Series began, with George Spencer pitching, Rhodes thought of the Series and the pitches he has trouble with. "George," he said, with some distaste, "flip me up one of them slow curves."
Later, with young Paul Giel throwing, Dusty stood in the spotlight again. The pace was a little quicker now, the pitcher throwing harder, the batter more intent. Though the batter might stay up for five or ten swings, both pitcher and batter were serious, acting as if this were real, that this ball and that strike counted. Young Giel fooled Rhodes twice with a curve and a change-up and had, theoretically, two strikes on Dusty. Rhodes waited, his bat cocked, watching Giel. Out of the corner of his mouth he spoke softly to Joe Garagiola, the catcher the Giants bought from the Cubs in September. "Fast ball," he said knowingly. "Fast ball," Garagiola agreed sadly. Giel set himself and threw, trying to blow the ball past Rhodes. It was a fast ball. Rhodes, waiting, met it perfectly and hit it high and far into the empty seats in the upper stands in right. Garagiola stood and watched the flight of the ball. He looked admiringly at Rhodes. "Damn," he said. "That was always happening to the Cubs."
The next day it happened to the Indians. Something like it happened the day after, and the day after that. On the first day, after Rhodes had homered to win the first game of the Series for the Giants, Garagiola leaned against a trunk in the Giants' dressing room and shook his head. He was watching Rhodes as the photographers mobbed him, posing him this way and that, shouting and yelling at him, flashing light bulbs in his face.
"Fabulous," Joe Garagiola said, looking at Rhodes. "Fabulous."
Rebirth at the Polo Grounds
For a half century Americans have engaged in a lamentable and self-conscious effort to smother their proud national genius for vulgarity?a trait which, when it flourished free, made them veritable princes among men. Consider, for instance, that glittering symbol of the untrammeled human spirit, the polished brass goboon. What human gesture ever combined artistry and true aristocracy of mien so eloquently as that with which the devotee turned, sighted, allowed his eyelids to droop, fired and turned loftily away?as if the soul-satisfying clang and the silent admiration of his fellows were as nothing to the superior man? Where is the goboon today? Buried in bubble gum and genteel admonitions from Emily Post; gone the way of the growler, the barroom nude, the direct editorial insult and the diamond stickpin.