Less than eight weeks to go. The tightness of the National League pennant race, obvious all season, takes on a new meaning for those involved. That extra degree of tension creeps into attitudes, plays that fail live longer in nightmares, the singing in the club car on those long road trips is less frequent, less spontaneous.
Those involved are three: the three class teams of the league. Milwaukee, Cincinnati, Brooklyn. Bound up in a tight little knot at the top of the standings, each has something big in its favor: phenomenal pitching for the Braves, tremendous power for the Reds, and for the poised, confident old Bums, a familiarity with and strong affection for the winning trail along which they are led by the strong scent of World Series checks.
Yet as recently as July 14, at 22 minutes past 4 o'clock, young Henry Aaron had buried the Brooklyn Dodgers.
The interment wasn't officially complete, of course, until the following day when the nation's great morning dailies informed their readers that this indeed was so. But to 40,000 people in Milwaukee's County Stadium that afternoon—including most of the Milwaukee Braves and perhaps a fair smattering of the recently deceased Dodgers themselves—there was little question that final rites were read at that precise instant of the 10th inning when Aaron ripped into one of Don Bessent's fast balls and sent it soaring out into left center field, allowing Johnny Logan to trot home from second base.
"The Bums," agreed the assembled thousands, "are dead."
There were few to disagree. Aaron's implement may have been a shiny, tapered 33-inch piece of yellow ash instead of a long-handled shovel, but, symbolically at least, he had just patted the final bit of earth in place over the last remains of one of baseball's great teams—the 1955 world champions. It was not so much that the Dodgers had just lost four to Milwaukee, nor even that they were in third place, 4� games off the lead and sinking fast. It was, instead, the way in which they had lost—bumbling and stumbling and futile. It was apparent that very little remained of the magnificent team which had terrorized the National League for 10 years, won five pennants in that period of time and, finally, beaten the hated Yankees in the World Series. It was also apparent that now, less than a year after its moment of greatest triumph, the Dodger dynasty was crumbling and tottering and ready to fall.
What had happened? Well, this was easy, because almost everyone—even several million baseball fans who lived in the provincial lands outside Brooklyn and had never even seen the Dodgers—had the answer. A fair cross sampling:
1) The Dodgers had too many old pros. They were complacent and sated and the thrill was gone. They had been everywhere, seen everything, beaten everybody. They were no longer hungry.
2) The Dodgers had too many old pros. They were weary and worn and coming apart at the seams.
3) The Dodgers had no hitting. Campanella was in the worst slump of his career. So was Hodges. So was...well, look at the averages.