Baseball and Old Age
Hal Jeffcoat, the Cardinals' relief pitcher, last week stood before his locker in the dressing room of Seals Stadium in San Francisco and thought out loud about youth, age and what makes baseball interesting. "It's success against the laws of probability that really gives you your thrills," he said, a generalization that a professor of philosophy might envy. As a matter of fact, Jeffcoat was not in a philosophical mood. It was his birthday. He was 35 years old. "There's a youth movement going on here," he said, "and I'm not a youth. Only my wife thinks I'm a youth."
Shaking his hoary locks, he went on: "It's funny, but when you first sign that contract as a kid they tell you your whole future's ahead of you. But they forget to tell you that your future stops at 35." Jeffcoat's own future in baseball started early. An amiable South Carolina boy, he was a Nashville outfielder at 22, batting .346. The Chicago Cubs grabbed him, and he had six years as an outfielder before he became a pitcher. His best year came when he was 32, his first with Cincinnati, when he won eight and lost two. This year, his first with St. Louis, he has won none and lost two. His last appearance was in relief a month ago; he came on in the ninth of a nightmare that was already lost to Pittsburgh 13 to 2 and gave up four singles, a double, a home run and five more runs in all.
"It can come awful sudden," he mused, "like death. It's inevitable, but it always comes as a surprise. I wonder what it's going to be like, to live like normal people, maybe manage a Little League team. It's been about 20 years since I went to a Sunday school picnic."
A vein of poetry in Jeffcoat's comments on baseball would have startled Ring Lardner's monosyllabic baseball caricatures. "It's a good way to live, baseball is," he said. "You sure learn a lot. You learn people.... I think the only real happiness a ballplayer has is when he is playing a ball game and accomplishes something he didn't think he could do." He remembered a game with the Cubs when he was batting behind Eddie Miksis. Because Miksis was batting .223 and Jeffcoat was batting .220, and the game was in the 15th inning, Miksis was walked so Jeffcoat could be pitched to. Jeffcoat doubled. "After that game," he said, "I had a great feeling of happiness."
The guess is hazarded here that Jeffcoat is a more interesting speaker on the subject of baseball at a grizzled 35 than he was in his Nashville youth, and he is entitled to take some comfort in this at least. The Old Guard got another fillip last week. That permanent success against the laws of probability, old Enos Slaughter, 43, once memorably of the Cardinals, was snapped up from the Yankees by the pennant-conscious Milwaukee Braves for $20,000. Manager Fred Haney said he would play old Country in the outfield regularly against right-handed pitchers.
Interviewed on his arrival in Milwaukee, Slaughter said that some Yankee players "think Casey Stengel is in his second childhood." They'd be better off, he added, "if they would listen more carefully" to Ol' Case.
By Labor Day, according to the best estimates of a cereal manufacturer who has made it his business to find out, 10,000 American golfers so far this year had hit a tee shot right into the cup. If the figure is higher than you might have guessed, we refer you to the Wheaties Sports Federation, which set up a reports system last year with the help of club secretaries and club pros.
In the first 12 months the Wheaties Federation got attested reports of 3,000 holes-in-one. (In exchange, out went 3,000 copies of a citation and 3,000 cases of Wheaties.) Since the clubs the federation hears from represent only about a quarter of the nation's 5,000,000 golfers, the federation calculates that about 12,000 aces are shot in a year, most of them by Labor Day. A golfer's chances of a hole-in-one are thus about 1 in 417 a year.