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No sport inspires and nourishes so vast and dedicated a body of thinkers as baseball; the 1957 baseball season began, in the minds of millions, the day after the 1956 World Series, and has long since been played and won a thousand different ways. This is not to say that the baseball fan is slipshod, whimsical or careless in constructing his edifices of imagination. He is painstaking in the extreme. He is informed. He is as logical as a Premier of France. It is easy to discover these sterling qualities in him because he is also evangelistic, and once he has weighed the evidence and viewed the exhibits and retired to his chambers and discovered the winners of the forthcoming major league races, he says so, verbally and in print.
A good many of him have given SPORTS ILLUSTRATED the benefit of their reasoning during recent weeks, and these documents (see 19th HOLE) are models of sober, measured and even witty prose. Take, for instance, the American League race as viewed by David Balkin of Syracuse, N.Y. "Being of reasonably sound mind and body," he writes, "I predict the Yankee dynasty is at an end this year and the Red Sox are going to win the pennant." Here, obviously, is a man of judiciousness and restraint, who feels impelled, simply by the overwhelming weight of evidence, to make a flat statement. He is, he says, of "reasonably" sound mind. Not a man with a chip on his shoulder. A man, obviously, who is perfectly capable of admitting his own shortcomings. But he knows something and feels duty bound, as a good fellow, to pass the information on. How are we to doubt him—even though virtually everybody else in the United States feels certain that the Yankees are going to do it again? It seems almost a shame at this time of year that the baseball season is about to begin, and that the pitchers will be forced to throw actual baseballs at the batters, and that disconcerting reality is about to wash up and crash again upon the sand castles built with such loving care through the winter months. But we need shed no tears.
The Red Sox, or the Detroit Tigers, or even Baltimore could win the pennant. But if they do not, the winter thinker who lifted them to the heights will not be proved wrong. Reality in baseball—and perhaps this helps explain the game's enormous fascination—exists only by permission of the man in the stands, and who is to say he is wrong if he believes that fate, rather than any human agency, is responsible for the setbacks incurred by his current set of heroes? Who can really dispute him if he cries—as thousands of him will cry in September—that his team could have done it and should have done it and would have done it if? Who will not admire him when he sets out, devotedly as a homeless beaver, to rebuild his structure of logic next fall? If his team wins in 1957, of course the blighter is going to be insufferable, simply insufferable. Play ball!
Without doubt the Masters is the greatest event of the golf year to the hundreds of thousands of golf spectators who have traveled south for nearly a quarter of a century to the enchantment of the flowering green acres of Augusta, where spring seems trapped for a brief moment before being released to the rest of the country. Anyone who has spent a week or even a day there since the inception of the tournament in 1934 surely has recorded it in his memory book as one of his unforgettable experiences. What winter-weary soul could long remain insensitive to the lovely rolling fairways, the greener, jewellike greens, the gay chorus of azalea and dogwood blooms and the towering pines of this cathedral of golf? What golf-starved wanderer could miss the giddy and sentimental fact that here in this golfers' heaven he is being treated to the rare privilege of seeing the living masters of the game perform as if for him alone?
Augusta National is no ordinary course, and the Masters HAS BEEN no ordinary tournament. The HAS BEEN in the previous sentence is capitalized to indicate a tear stain, for it is with sadness that we must record the opinion that this year was the year of disenchantment for the Masters. It is difficult to comprehend how the same geniuses (golf's nonpareil, Bob Jones, and golf's shrewdest statesman, Cliff Roberts) who conceived and conducted the Masters so masterfully could have installed a new rule that this year swept more than half the masters off the course after the first two days of the tournament, thus making it impossible for the vast Saturday-Sunday crowds to see them at all.
Horton Smith, who won the first tournament in 1934 and has played in every round since, was speaking strictly for himself and his eliminated colleagues when he said: "It's like being invited to a home for dinner and being told to get up and get out before they serve the dessert." Let us speak for the paying spectators: It's like paying for a full meal and then being told that you'll have to skip the main course.
When General William Tecumseh Sherman headed southeast from Atlanta and marched through Georgia to Savannah, he proved that, as he may have said, war is all hell. He laid waste the countryside and burned a few fields which, without doubt, have since been made into golf courses. On these courses, fighting the battles of the game, legions of golfers have without doubt agreed that golf, too, can be hell. This creates a sort of tenuous link between Sherman and golf, and the Civil War and golf, and might have served for the tiny excuse General George H. Decker needed back in 1948 when he decided to install a golf course at Fort Jackson, on the outskirts of Columbia, S.C. and not too far from the scene of Sherman's depredations. At any rate, General Decker ordered that a course be built and, to lend a fillip of military flavor to the project, he decreed that each hole should be named after a Civil War general—nine Confederates, nine Unions—and that each hole should be tailored to fit the personality of its namesake.