Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Talkin Baseball

One of the few things in life that ever made real sense to me is baseball. You could discuss religion or politics all day and night and never come to a conclusion. With baseball you at least get short term decisions. My friend Marty is a lifetime Yankees fan. No matter what's going on in his life if the Yankees are winning he's happy. He's leaving for New Hampshire tonight, a six hour drive. Normally he would not be looking forward to it. But the Yankees are playing the Red Sox; half the trip will be spent listening to the game, unless it's rained out.

I was originally a Dodgers fan. Later, I, amazingly, evolved into a Phillies fan. You can't control who you root for. I noticed about fifteen years ago that when the Phillies were playing the Dodgers I wanted the Phillies to win. I didn't choose to change loyalties. It just happened. Although I presently like the Phillies my level of fanaticism is not close to what it was for the Dodgers. There were times when I was younger that I would make deals with God. If he would let the Dodgers win I would agree to go to shule for one day, or do some other task that I thought he would like.

Marty and I have argued about baseball for over forty-five years. I remember, like it was yesterday, watching the 1963 World Series in his house. This was their first clash since 1956. The Dodgers had won the Series in 1955 for the first time ever. This was one of the greatest moments of my childhood, Brooklyn's finest hour. They closed the schools for two days. In 1956 the Yankees won back the championship, catapulted by Don Larsen's perfect game.

We were sixteen, mature enough to have a discussion based on reason, not on pure emotion. The Dodgers had had a great year, led by Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale's brilliant pitching. The Yankees had Whitey Ford (24-7 that year) and a powerful lineup, including Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Roger Maris, Bill Skowron, and Bobby Richardson. I was a nervous wreck. The Dodgers had to beat the Yankees. Marty was confident. There was no way Frank Howard could touch Whitey Ford, Marty argued.

Koufax struck out the first five Yankees including Bobby Richardson. He struck out Richardson three times that day. Bobby had struck out only eleven times the whole year. Truly brilliant. In the bottom of the first, Frank Howard hit a mammoth 450 foot drive over Mantle's head for a double. The Dodgers scored first and ended up beating the Yankees 5-2, although Mantle did hit a late inning homer off Koufax which I must admit did impress me. The Dodgers ended up beating the Yankees four straight. I tormented Marty about this for years.

There are many great things about baseball. My favorite movies (including "A Field of Dreams") are about baseball. One of my favorite books, "The Boys of Summer," is about the 1955 Dodgers. "Talkin Baseball," the song, makes me cry every time I hear it. In a world of fear and confusion, where my mind is occupied by tons of practical daily problems and unsolveable philosophical issues, I still look at the box scores every day. I know I'm not alone in this.


  1. Amazing that in 1963 one could hit a ball 450 feet and still have it fall in for a double. It's rare to find a centerfield wall anywhere these days beyond 415 ft.

  2. In Yankee Standium it was 461 ft.in straightaway center field.

  3. Traitor! ...a life-long, Brooklyn-born Dodgers fan rooting for the Phillies...shame! Although, I haven't rooted for the Dodgers since Kirk Gibson's winning home-run against The A's in '88,so who am I to talk. And I do remember watching Game 1 in '63 in Marty's house (Wexler,Lerner, David there?) I think Wexler committed suicide after the sweep (How sweep it was!) JC

  4. A 450 foot double does sound outrageous. As does a guy only striking out 11 times. Old baseball stories sound mythological to me--I always enjoy hearing them; they're like American creation myths...

  5. Regarding Frank Howard's 450-ft. double; The announcer (I think it was Mel Allen) said "The only person that could hit a ball that hard is chasing it." And that was The Mick.