Mayor Berry held it. Interminably, as flash bulbs popped and the crowd waited, he held it.
"For the love of Pete," a raucous Jersey voice finally complained. "Throw the ball and let's get the hell on with the game!"
It is not the man, you understand, nor his politics (Berry is a Democrat), but the hidebound tradition that is the target. After all these years this creature of publicity man and camera has become, for the chilled fan in the grandstand, at least, a crashing bore.
But bore or not, last week it went on once again all over the baseball map. Eventually, the last wobbling throw wavered onto the field, the last flash bulb popped, the last smiling face and upraised arm was captured on film for the edification of the reading (and voting) public. And the baseball season at long last was actually under way.
It started on a strangely familiar note. The manager of the New York Giants got into a furious, red-necked squabble with an umpire, just like last year, but instead of the New York Giant manager being the tough, brassy Leo Durocher, of whom such things were expected, it was the bespectacled, supposedly gentle Bill Rigney. The crowd, anticipating a sedate, rather quiet afternoon, watched the blazing argument in openmouthed surprise and wondered whether Leo would be missed much this year after all.
Bobby Bragan said he thought Leo would be missed. Some cynics thought the outspoken new manager of the lowly Pittsburgh Pirates was making noises for the sake of the box office (a lively feud is good business), but whatever the reason for his comments no one could deny that Bobby was interesting. Bragan said the Giants without Durocher were just another team, without Willie Mays were an eighth-place club, and that in any event his Pirates (who were eighth last year) had a good chance this season to finish ahead of the Giants (who were third in 1955).
Bragan also said his team would be hot stuff defensively, that while they might not score many runs, neither would they give many away. The Pirates promptly lost two games to the despised Giants as a result of sloppy fielding, and Bragan just as promptly began to lay about him with heavy fines. A bright note in the murky Pittsburgh atmosphere was some remarkably fine pitching, notably by 25-year-old Bob Friend and 24-year-old Ronnie Kline.
There was some remarkably fine pitching in other quarters, too. On the third day of the season, Tom Brewer of the Boston Red Sox pitched a two-hitter against Baltimore as the Sox swept the three-game series. That same day in Chicago left-handed Herb Score of the Cleveland Indians and left-handed Jack Harshman of the Chicago White Sox also pitched two-hitters, and against each other. Score struck out 10 men and had a no-hitter through seven innings, but he was wild and in the seventh walked Minnie Minoso, threw a wild pitch that enabled Minoso to scamper to third, gave up a long fly by Larry Doby that scored Minnie, and lost a heartbreaking game 1-0.
That same day in Detroit, little (5 feet 6� inches) Bobby Shantz of the Kansas City Athletics made his 1956 debut and gave up just five hits as he beat the Tigers 4-1. The performance was immensely cheering to the wildly partisan citizens of Kansas City, who have been rooting for Bobby to shrug off a disabling sore arm and return to his Most Valuable Player form of 1952, when he won 24 games. Kansas Citians had even more to cheer about two days later when Shantz's teammate Art Ditmar gave up just one hit, a single, as the A's routed the Chicago White Sox 15-1. The victory was particularly sweet, since just a year earlier the White Sox had crushed the A's 29-6.
Good pitching cropped up all over the place, some of it, like Herb Score's, unrewarded. On Opening Day in Detroit, when charcoal fires burned under the dugout bench to fight off the chill, and batsmen, waiting their turns at bat, held hot water bottles in their hands, young Frank Lary of the Tigers took the hill against Kansas City. Last year Lary, who won 14 games, lost 15, and seven of those defeats were by one run. On Opening Day this year he pitched a fine game. He gave up only six hits and two runs and personally contributed an inside-the-park home run, capped by a headlong slide over home plate. The result? It seemed like old times: Lary lost by one run, 2-1.