Baseball is finally here! The red-white-and-blue bunting has been dusted off and hung. The players – and, thankfully, some fans – are in the building. Hope abounds as we embark on this season’s marathon journey.
In honour of this special time, here's a look at SPORT Magazine's baseball preview from 1952. Alvin Dark, "Symbol of the New York Giants," graces the cover.
Today, Dark is best known for taking over as manager for the World-Champion Oakland Athletics in 1973 and bringing them to glory two more times. Back in '52, though, the infielder was getting ready for his sixth season in the bigs and would get his second of three career All-Star nods that coming season. The Giants, still on the East Coast, were perennial National League favourites and often met the Yankees in the World Series.
"Wild scrambles for both pennants and the fall of the defending champions are forecast for the coming season. There should be plenty of excitement!
This coming season, more than any time since the war, most clubs are looking to a few prominent members to carry the load made unusually burdensome by the loss of players to the service and the scarcity of well-developed farmhands. The retirement of Joe DiMaggio and the recall to active service of Ted Williams are, of course, the most striking signs of the times."
A closer look at the preview itself provides an interesting story; Major League Baseball in 1952, much like today, was going through a time of disruption and change. We’ve had the pandemic to contend with, but back then it was war.
As SPORT explains, some key players were lost to service or retirement, so the standouts that did remain were especially integral to their teams. There’s some brilliant colour head shots of these men, some of whom – like Stan Musial – you’ll definitely know. Others, not as much; Irv Noren, anyone? (A Washington Senator at the time, Noren hit .275 over ten years in the bigs and made one All-Star team.)
Three former Negro League players – Roy Campanella, Monte Irvin, and Minnie Minoso – feature in the 16-player spread, five years after Jackie Robinson became the first. “Is there a better catcher than Campanella?” the writer asks. “He was picked as the National League’s MVP in 1951 and is our choice as the Dodgers’ most valuable member.” SPORT was a vocal supporter of integration in baseball, right from the start.
Also featured is Gil McDougald, a lesser-known Yankee that we’ve actually written about before. Prior to making New York’s roster, McDougald was a star for the Victoria (B.C.) Athletics! He’s almost certainly the only soul to have gone from Royal Athletic Park to Yankee Stadium, and to have made the cover of SPORT (earlier that year in March).
Another piece in this issue of SPORT that sounds as if it could be printed today: “Baseball’s Road Show Must Go On.” In 1952, professional ballplayers were dealing with the wear and tear of Spring Training, which provided much more rudimentary comforts than today, and with regular railway travel between America’s East Coast and Midwestern cities. This was before aviation and wifi came into the mix.
"This is the way it is: The players ship most of their clothes home and live out of suitcases. They seldom see a real bed. In the gruelling series of one-afternoon stands, everything is done on the run [...] Sleeping, if any, is done in the berth of a train that lurches, rolls and jerks. Shaving is accomplished to the tempo of a moving train."
Take this issue and apply it to 2021, though, and you feel the weight of the pandemic. One has sympathy for today’s players and how they must deal with quarantines, restrictions, and constant testing. They most likely won’t see their families for months, too. But, as in ‘52, the “show must go on.”
Once all of the predictive analysis is done, all there’s left to do is study the summer schedule… You love to see the page bursting with games, just as it will do for the 2021 dates. Play ball!