Caught up in the pennant fever, the noted American novelist asked SPORTS ILLUSTRATED to grant him the privilege of covering the World Series. By way of preparation he went to Ebbets Field to see Brooklyn win it on Sunday, and he was so moved that he put down these thoughts after the game. Next week he will write his reactions to the Series itself.
Baseball is caring. Player and fan alike must care, or there is no game. If there's no game, there's no pennant race and no World Series. And for all any of us know there might soon be no nation at all.
The caring is whole and constant, whether warranted or hopeless, tender or angry, ribald or reverent. From the first pitch to the last out the caring continues. With a score of 6-0, two outs, two strikes, nobody on, only an average batter at bat, it is still possible, and sometimes necessary, to believe something can still happen—for the simple reason that it has happened before, and very probably will again. And when it does, won't that be the day? Isn't that alone almost enough to live for, assuming there might just be little else? To witness so pure a demonstration of the unaccountable way by which the human spirit achieves stunning, unbelievable grandeur?
If the caring isn't for a team (because a team won't come through, or can't), then for the game itself, the annual ritual, moving with time and the world, the carefully planned and slowly accelerated approach to the great reward—the outcome, the answer, the revelation of the best, the winner.
It is good to care—in any dimension. More Americans put their spare (and purest?) caring into baseball than into anything else I can think of—and most of them put at least a little of it there. Most of them know the game is going on all the time, like the tides, and suspect there's a reason, or at least wonder about it. What is all the fuss about the whole year, and all the excitement every October? Is this a nation of kids, or what? Why not existentialism instead of baseball, for instance? Well, for one thing, you've got to be tired to care for old existentialism, and Americans just aren't ready to be that tired yet. For another, baseball can be trusted, as great art can, and bad art can't, especially as it comes from Hollywood, where sharp dealing is an accepted principle of profit-making. And it doesn't matter that baseball is very, very big business—quite the contrary. That only makes its truth all the more touching and magnificent. It doesn't matter, either, that the great players don't think of baseball as I do, for instance. Why should they? It's enough for them to go after being great and then to be great—and then to be no longer able, as time goes by.
I'm devoted to the game, to all of the teams in both leagues and to the World Series, because I don't know of anything better of its kind to be devoted to—and it's always out there with that anonymous crowd of the hungry and faithful, watching and waiting, in the stadium—their eyes on the geometric design of the fresh diamond, all set for the unfolding of another episode in the great drama, which cannot be put anywhere else—not into movies, not onto the stage, not even onto the television screen (although that's pretty good when you're held captive somewhere 3,000 miles away from the great place and the grand moment), not into books, and not even into statistics, although the game has grown on them.
It's a game—the biggest and best and most decent yet. The idea is to win the most games in the American or the National League, and then to go on and win the World Series: to establish a statistic, and tie it forever to the ragtag experience of a whole people for a whole year.
I happen to be sorry Cincinnati didn't have the pitching, but they look awfully good for next year. It was great, too, the way Pittsburgh took off early in the season and then came back for a moment near the end and very nearly took the soul out of the Dodgers—but didn't, and that's the important thing as far as the Bums are concerned. I'm sorry, too, that Milwaukee got slugged by St. Louis, but you've got to like the Cardinals, too. You've got to like the game. No team is ever willing to stop caring. The fact is they can't, and there is the secret of the game's importance and appeal.
It is a tradition that the President throw out the first ball of the season, but somewhere in the bleachers the poets are around, too.
I don't think you'd get Casey Stengel in any arena of human activity other than baseball, and not getting him would be a national disaster, unbeknownst as it might be. Alston, too—another kind entirely. Bragan. Tebbetts. All of them. Fighting it out with their players and their fans, their friends and enemies, umpires and newspapermen but, most of all, facts and figures—statistics. You don't get Sandy Amoros, either, running in from left field as fast as he can go after an inning in which he dropped one he had caught—knowing it might cost the team the pennant. Knowing and waiting, and then hitting and saving the damned pennant, and then fielding and saving it, and then hitting and saving it again—knowing, saying nothing, on the theory (some say) that he doesn't speak much English. That could be it, all right, but there could be another theory, too, and the kids know it, and the old men and the old women know it, and the cab drivers and the cops and people in hospitals and penitentiaries and other lonely places. They don't know Sandy—but what he did, they know that. And it's a good thing to know. You wouldn't get Robinson, either—from the beginning. Or Williams, twice back from the wars, or the heroic return of Sal Maglie, and all the others, each made great and more deeply human than ever by the game.