Recalling baseball’s glory days

Well, the Dodgers did it to me again. I’d say I hate the Dodgers, but given the tone set by the White House, hate is far too strong a word to use about baseball, or about

anything.

But certainly I am infuriated with the Dodgers, as I was in 1977 and 1978, when those noodniks couldn’t beat the Yankees. This time around, they couldn’t beat the Red Sox. Oh, sure, last year they couldn’t beat the Astros, but I didn’t care about that because the Astros mean nothing to me, whereas the Yankees and the Red Sox are teams that I prefer to see lose, which the Yankees managed to do this year, but the Red Sox failed to do, thanks to the Dodgers.

The Dodgers have been the enemy of all that is right and good since I was 9 and first became a New York Giants fan.

It was 1954, the year of Dusty Rhodes and his destruction of the mighty Cleveland Indians in the World Series, when games were played during the day and kids could actually see entire games. The Dodgers were the enemy, those Bums over there in Brooklyn, while the Giants played up in the Bronx near the Yankees, who were also the enemy, but in that other league so of less consequence than the Dodgers. The Dodgers were evil personified by Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese and Carl Furillo and Don Newcomb.

Back then, it was OK to “hate” a baseball team because … I “hated” the Dodgers because they were Dodgers, not because of who they were as people. Had Jackie Robinson been a Giant, he would have been my second favorite Giant after Willie Mays, but Jackie was a Dodger which made him evil, so when Sal Maglie hurled a high hard one Jackie’s way, it was a right and good thing to do. When Jackie laid a bunt down the first base line for Maglie to field so Jackie could run him over, it was an evil, dirty trick. See?

But in 1977 and ’78 and here in 2018, I was forced to root for the Dodgers, even though I no longer have any real interest in baseball, a game that has become stupid and boring and over-priced and always on too long. I did not watch a minute of this World Series nor of last year’s, nor of any year that I can think of in recent memory but I knew the Red Sox were in it and that was enough to make me care an iota, at least enough to give the Dodgers a chance to do something right, which they managed not to do, the Bums. (Yes, you always capitalize the “B” in Bums when talking about the Dodgers and if you don’t know why, you could, to paraphrase Casey Stengle, look it up.)

But enough about the evil Dodgers and the dorky Red Sox. Let’s talk about Willie McCovey, a fine former Giant who died last week at 80. Willie played 22 years in the majors, although he was never a New York Giant. He joined them in 1959 when the team was already in San Francisco, but they were still the Giants because they still had Willie Mays who was New York’s Willie and always will be.

But McCovey hit 521 home runs (Mays had 660 and I so wanted him to be the cat who broke Babe Ruth’s record) and played in one World Series. That was 1962 against the evil Yankees, and McCovey made the last out. I was in high school and was listening to the game on the radio and McCovey came to the plate with the Giants down a run and a man on base with two outs and I forget who was pitching for the Yankees but I remember that McCovey smacked a hard liner toward right and Bobby Richardson, the Yankee second baseman, made a leaping catch and the Yankees were champs again and the Giants weren’t and that was bad.

But it wasn’t all Willie McCovey’s fault. He’d been hurt that year and only played in 91 games, according to my 1987 Baseball Encyclopedia, so he wasn’t entirely himself.

It was the first year of the New York Mets, 1962, so good National League baseball was back in New York after the Giants and been dragged by the rotten Dodgers off to the West Coast. No, the Mets weren’t good (YIKES!) but the teams that came to play them were. The San Francisco Giants still had a lot of the New York Giants on the roster, especially Mays who, in ’62, had 49 homers, 141 runs batted in and hit .304. And they had Juan, of course – Juan Marichal, who went 18-11. It was a decent team and beat the Dodgers by one game for the National League pennant, despite Don Drysdale winning 25 games. (He was especially evil with that scary side-arm pitch.)

I liked baseball back then, when baseball was played during the day and Wrigley Field had no lights – and Bill Veeck and Frank Lane would make trades just for the heck of it (Rocky Colavito for Harvey Kuenn? Really? Are you kidding? Yeah, for the heck of it.)

Now, I couldn’t care less. Even when the Cubs and Indians faced off in the World Series, I didn’t watch an inning. I’d check the paper to see who won and I guess Game 7 of the World Series was epic, but so what? Millionaires beat other millionaires so that billionaire owners can get more billions. Yippee.

Now, instead of caring about baseball and caring about a team as I once cared about the Giants and Willie and Willie and Juan and Dusty and Leo Durocher and pronounced as evil anyone playing for, or living in, Brooklyn, I wait each year for football season – about which I care less and less every year but haven’t quite abandoned – unless I need to root against the Yankees or the Red Sox.

Maybe next year, the Giants will make the World Series (it’s too much to hope for the Mets) and I can at least care a smidgen, remembering Willie and Willie – Mays and McCovey. Real baseball players when baseball was a real game.

COMMENTS