Even the aisles in Fenway Park had filled up a half an hour before game time Tuesday night. It was Johnny Pesky Night, as well as the first of a three-game series with the Chicago White Sox. At 8:15 the announcer strode to the microphone at home plate as the two teams lined up on the foul lines.
High tribute was paid to Johnny, "the son of immigrant parents," for his hustle, team-play, and high sportsmanship. After a speech by Father Dolan, chairman of the Pesky Night Committee, and a plug for the C. Y. O., the announcer pointed out that some countries can idolize only military figures. "In America, thank God, we can idolize our sports heroes as well." Swede Nelson and Dom DiMaggio spoke briefly, presenting Johnny with a scroll, and a shiny two-toned Cadillac emerged from under the left field stand.
Pesky himself took the mike, admitting that the Cadillac had taken some of the nervousness out of his system. He thanked God for everything he has been able to do and everything he is, and asked His help in doing the right thing always, both on the field and off. He thanked Father Dolan, Swede Nelson, the fans, and particularly Dom DiMaggio and his teammates, "the most wonderful guys in the world." The announcer pointed out that America was free to idolize its sports heroes, and implied that this would not be possible everywhere in the world today. "This is America," he said. "Let's keep it that way."
As infield practice began, a man squeezed into the aisle next to us, in the deepest right centerfield bleachers, leaned over to the left to hear a very noisy conversation which had continued through the speeches, even through the National Anthein. "One hundred to sixty," he said.
The Price Plummets
The White Sox went down quickly in the top of the first, as rookie Leo Kiely allowed only one man to reach base. Howie Judson of Chicago was less successful, and a series of walks and singles produced three runs for the home club with no outs. Our neighbor leaned over to speak to a man smoking a cigar. "One hundred to sixteen," he said. "That's what they think of the Red Sox in this ball park."
"What's that--the odds?" we asked naively.
"Price is one hundred to sixteen with a rookie pitching!" he replied. "That's all the gamblers in there," he explained, pointing to his left.
"Where? That row of cigars?" we asked, pointing at about eight men sitting side by side and smoking almost identical cigars.
A beautifully groomed blonde leaned back and looked at us. "That row of cigars?" She waved a half-inch long fingernail. "There's two hundred to two-fifty of them right here!" she stated. We looked again. A dozen rows contained nothing but overweight middle-aged men, two-thirds of them smoking cigars and half of them wearing straw hats.
The Red Sox had six runs by the end of the second inning. "They'll just be betting on the situations now," said our friend.
"How about you?" we asked.
Fives Flow Freely
"That's just chiselers," he snorted. "I got nine hundred to five hundred on the Red Sox. Most of those guys got plenty more. Now they'll bet on who hits, who makes outs, who scores." As the game wore on, wads of five dollar bills passed from hand to hand as men got on base or as rallies failed to materialize.
The stands thinned out as Kiely throttled the White Sox. The blonde and our friend moved into the center of the betting community, with warm greetings exchanged all along the way.
In the seventh inning the Red Sox scored two runs, the visitors trailed, 8 to 0. After the inning, about three-quarters of the bookies got up, bid each other good night, and left. Those who remained seated received friendly slaps on the shoulder and and parting remarks like "So, maybe you'll get it all back tomorrow."
Don Lenhardt homered with two on in the top of the eighth, as Kiely seemed to weaken and lose his control. A man in a straw hat happily crushed his cigar with his heel, turned around and showed us a little white card with "50--500" written on it.
"Never quit till the last out," he said. "I made this after they had three to nothing. You never can tell," he said.
The rally ended, however, and Kiely set the White Sox down in order in the ninth. At the third out, the man tore up his little white card. "I could get it all back tomorrow," he observed.