Milwaukee, Wis. is a large city in the midwestern part of the United States. So is Chicago, Ill. Milwaukee is located on the southwest shore of Lake Michigan. So is Chicago. Milwaukee has a major league baseball team. So has Chicago (rumors that Chicago has two major league baseball teams are not to be taken seriously). Milwaukee won 11 of its first 13 games and led its league. So did Chicago. At which point, in Milwaukee, the citizenry cheered great cheers and pummeled one another upon the back and ran shouting through the streets. "This is it," they screamed. "We're going to win the pennant and they'll never catch us now." In Chicago they cheered, too. "Boy," they said, "that was some left hook Robinson hit that guy with, wasn't it?"
The preoccupation of Chicago with a left hook—and its almost shameful indifference to the explosive manner in which the once-beloved White Sox bolted from the starting gate in the 1957 American League pennant race—would indicate that any resemblance between the neighboring cities is highly superficial; in fact, it might indicate that where baseball is concerned, no resemblance even exists. Which would be only partly true. Although the Milwaukee Braves attracted some 130,000 fans to their first six home games while the White Sox played before slightly over 50,000 in their first nine, this is an unfair comparison. For one thing, it is always unfair to compare Milwaukee with anything else in the world when the subject is baseball. For another, it really was quite a left hook. And finally, while the Braves have never managed to get away to anything even resembling such a fabulous start before, the White Sox are off and running with the first pitch every year. For the Milwaukee fan, this was the chance of a lifetime. For the Chicago fan, this was where he came in.
Since 1951, when Lane and Richards combined their talents to lead a downtrodden team out of the wilderness of the American League's second division, the Sox have been good but never quite good enough. And looking back at six straight first-division finishes and five in a row in third place, the script has remained remarkably and monotonously the same. Each spring the White Sox are in strong contention, sometimes even in the lead, until the month of June. At this point they manage to lose enough games in such a short period of time that the expression "June swoon" has become a cliche in the Chicago sports pages and not even a very amusing one at that. Yet it fits, the only variation being that sometimes it is July or August—or even September—before the Sox collapse. Last year, for example, they swept a four-game series with the Yankees on June 24 and moved to within a game of the lead. Twenty-one days later they were 11� games behind.
Despite early-season evidence to the contrary, however, Chicago is a baseball town and nothing could turn the South Side into a state of bedlam quicker than the honest-to-goodness belief that the Sox might really be champions once again. Milwaukee has never won a pennant, but it has been even longer since one flew over Gomiskey Park. Never, for Milwaukee, extends back only to that day in 1953 when the Braves moved to town from Boston; the White Sox, on the other hand, haven't finished first since 1919. For those who suggest that this is just retribution for the infamous events of that fall—the Black Sox World Series—Chicago can only suggest in return: "In 38 years, haven't we paid for our sins in full?"
So it was that pennant fever, which Chicago managed to avoid like the plague for the first two weeks of the season, began to break out last weekend as the Yankees moved in for three games. Maybe, a few of the people began to say once again, this really could be the year; never before have the Sox started quite so fast and never have they looked quite so good. Perhaps they have found something new.
To be honest, they haven't. A new manager, of course—Al Lopez having replaced Marty Marion—but Lopez is only a good, sound baseball man and not a magician. There is also a new youngster named Jim Landis, who is a major league outfielder all the way—except no one is sure how he will hit—and Bubba Phillips, a converted outfielder, at third base. And because of Landis, Lopez has been able to play Jim Rivera at first, which appears to be a vast improvement over Walt Dropo, who can sometimes hit the ball much harder but usually not so often and has never displayed the former's highly competitive nature.
Basically, however, it is the same lineup: Nellie Fox at second, young Luis Aparicio at short, Minnie Minoso in left, Larry Doby in center and Sherm Lollar behind the plate. Fox and Aparicio form probably the slickest second-base combination in the league, and while neither has much power, both are sharp at the plate. Aparicio, the 1956 Rookie of the Year and this season almost surely the best defensive shortstop west of Roy McMillan, led the league in stolen bases and may easily do it again—if Landis or Minoso or Rivera doesn't steal more. Fox, off to a terrific start, has a .294 lifetime average and, what is more important, somewhere inside a 155-pound body still possesses that innate determination to beat your ears off. That can be an athlete's most valuable asset. Minoso, a .316 hitter last year, is one of the game's truly fine players, and Doby, healthy once again, is already far ahead of a rather miserable 1956 season when he still managed to drive in 102 runs. Lollar, who Paul Richards calls "a manager on the field," ranks behind only Yogi Berra as a catcher and, at 32, gives the appearance of being not only smarter than ever but a more dangerous hitter, too.
It is a good ball club, and it is winning because it is getting good pitching and because it can run (very fast), field (perhaps better than anyone else), hit (adequately) and throw (very well). It is not a ball club that beats itself, and it is a lot of fun to watch. This year it has been even more fun than usual and a lot of the missing fans don't really know what they are missing after all. The old Go-Go Sox, Rivera and Minoso and Fox, are still around and the mercurial youngsters, Aparicio and Landis, have ignited the fuse. Last year the team led the league in stolen bases with 70; this season, in the first 13 games, they stole 18.
The good South Side fans, however, remembering '51 and '52 and all the seasons of acute disappointment since, have reached the point where nothing short of a real run at the hated Yankees, a real season-long battle for the pennant, is going to get them out of their cynical and well-entrenched defensive positions. For they know that if the White Sox are fun to watch, they have deficiencies, too; they know that speed and skill cannot always make up for a very evident lack of power and an even more evident lack of depth.
It is a sad truth that the White Sox just don't hit very many home runs. When Lollar, for example, banged out his fourth of the season on April 27, not one Chicago writer went dashing to the record books to discover that this placed the White Sox catcher six games head of Ruth. At least, none bothered to report it; they know Lollar is still Lollar and that there is a long summer ahead.