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Spring and the ballplayers were creeping north on reluctant feet, scenting the air with peach blossoms, arnica and sweat. Businessmen lunching together in New York argued baseball and challenged one another to handicap the pennant races, as thousands of others may have been doing at the same moment in a hundred other cities.
There were 10 at the table in New York. When they had drawn up their forecasts for the American League, five had the Yankees on top and the Indians second; five had Cleveland on top and New York second; all had the White Sox third; all placed Kansas City last.
These were amateur handicappers, which means they could be misguided, though probably not so grievously misinformed as the professionals whose opinions get published. Yet amateur or pro, their Delphic doodling called sharply to attention a fact which the American League prefers to ignore:
From third place down, there isn't any American League race. The league is out of joint like a contortionist's sacroiliac, unbalanced like the books of a horse-playing bank teller.
To put it with uncharitable candor, within less than two years two franchises have died and gone to Baltimore and Kansas City, whose resemblance to Heaven is superficial; as far as championship pretensions go, all but three are strictly from Saskatoon.
It is difficult to say how this came about in a league that used to go around busting its buttons with smug pride in its acknowledged superiority to the older National League. Maybe that smug pride is the answer; American Leaguers have been living in the past. They still think of their lodge in terms of Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb and Connie Mack, and while they preened themselves they were left behind.
Finding themselves in trouble, the owners have resorted to the oldest, seediest dodge known to the heads of poor ball clubs. They have taken to firing the manager.
As this season begins, only two of the eight teams are under the direction of the men who managed them last year. Casey Stengel, a bandy-legged godling, remains in New York where he has become a tourist attraction like the Radio City Music Hall or the Empire State Building. Al Lopez, whose Indians won the pennant last season, returns to Cleveland.
Paul Richards, whose White Sox finished third, quit Chicago to make better money as general manager and field manager in Baltimore. The five other managers got fired because their employers could think of no better way to make the fans believe they were trying.
Here's how the brains are distributed: Marty Marion's intellect now operates on behalf of the White Sox; Bucky Harris does the thinking for Detroit; Mike Higgins is apprentice genius in Boston; Charley Dressen's gray matter belongs to Washington; Lou Boudreau's skull encases most of the Kansas City talent.