It is easy to forget, now that psychiatric research has taken over a substantial portion of baseball reporting, that the essence of the professional game in the United States of America is a small boy looking with absolute rapture at a grown man.
This is the basic appeal of the annual All-Star Game. The small boy does not know that the best third baseman in baseball is human: that he rights with his wife, worries about bills and occasionally swears at the bat boy. All the small boy knows is that the third baseman is a hero, and a hero always does the right thing. It would be sinful to disillusion him, to tell him that Babe Ruth was a glutton, that Enos Slaughter has had five wives.
President Hoover's epitaphic statement on baseball (which the Cincinnati Redlegs' management thought highly enough of to reproduce on Crosley Field's right-field wall) seems naive, if you read it while pondering a baseball player's domestic difficulties and the personal reasons causing them. But if you read it again, and think of yourself as a boy playing the game and watching it, and realize that the abiding affection you have for baseball comes despite the frailties of those who play it professionally and because of real values you yourself have gained from it, you come to understand that Hoover's statement is not at all naive, and very possibly profound. Perfection is an ideal always to be sought; because it cannot actually be attained does not mean it should be cast aside. The Cobb-Durocher influence ("Stick it in his ear, Charlie; cut him in half!") is strong in baseball, but the George Sisler-Gil Hodges (or Old-Fashioned Sportsman) school carries on. And the boy openly and the man inwardly admire the sportsman ( John Landy stopping in the middle of a race to pick up a fallen opponent; Joe Louis stepping back from a momentarily defenseless challenger) even more than they do a winner.
Baseball is undeniably sordid at times. The current hearings in Washington have shown clearly the heavy overlay of rank commercialism. The distressing comedy of errors surrounding the public vote for starting players for this year's All-Star Game reveals an astonishing ineptness at baseball's highest executive level.
But if the man is aware of baseball's feet of clay, the boy is not. The boy leans over the stadium wall (next page) to ask George Zuverink for his autograph. Zuverink? If the man may not be quite sure just who George Zuverink is, the boy has no doubts. George Zuverink is a great man: he's Baltimore's relief pitcher, isn't he?
Hoover said baseball is the greatest of American sports. Henri Cartier-Bresson, the remarkable French photographer, proved Hoover correct when he went on assignment to photograph the American game in the city of Milwaukee. His pictures follow, beginning on page 15. Not one major league player appears in any of the photographs, yet baseball—in the presence of the small boy, or the father of the small boy, or his mother, or his sister, or himself grown up—is everywhere. Thus, we insist it is not naive to say that baseball—and, by extension, the All-Star Game—is important to America. It is only the truth.