BASEBALL'S TIME MACHINES
by Peter Schilling Jr.
I live in the past. Call me an ignorant, unZenlike fool who refuses to exist in the now, who can't see the charm and magic of the present, and I'll be the first to agree with you. See, I've grown so sick and tired of the Metrodome and Bud Selig and the coming destruction of Tiger Stadium that I can't bear to focus solely on the game as it is today. Tell me: what can I reminisce about? My day was the '70swith the Nixonian paranoia and all that Astroturfand the '80sReaganesque greed and more Astroturf. While I love and admire many of the players of those times, and have a plethora of fun memories, the fact is that I enjoyperhaps even obsess about baseball's past from the time before I was born, its golden era in New York City, from 1947-1957. Ebbets Field, the Polo Grounds, old flannels, no helmets, the lovable Bums, or the Damn Yankees
the ballparks were gorgeous steel and concrete, the characters were incredible, and drama knew no end. It was the greatest era in baseball history. Judging from the plethora of books on that same era, I'm guessing that I'm not alone in my belief.
Each summer sees the publication of at least a half dozen titles concerning this time period, most of which are dull retreads of the same familiar stuff, usually another biography of Jackie Robinson or memoir of what it was like to grow up right down the street from the Ebbets. This summer has been graced with the publication of two of the most evocative titles from that time period: Summer in the City (Harry N. Abrams, Inc., $35.00), a coffee-table book of photos from the New York Daily News, and the reissue of Arnold Hano's magnificent A Day in the Bleachers (DaCapo Press, $16.95).
NEW YORK WAS THE CAPITAL OF BASEBALL
If baseball was at its best in this time period, then sportswriting and photography was also in its prime. The New York Daily News was the evening press for two million New Yorkers. Hitting the streets at 8pm, the crowds would flock to the newsstands to read about that day's game and chew over the results. With only limited television coverage, it was the job of the Daily News photojournalists to capture that day's action, the images that would stick in the minds of their readers. By now most of us know the great stories of that time: the Shot Heard 'Round the World in '51, the Giants upending the great Indians in '54, the Bums finally taking it all in '55, and Don Larsen's perfect game in '56 (to name but a few). While Summer in the City captures some of the key moments in those fabled games, what makes this collection so special is its view of the fans.
The photos in Summer in the City are reminiscent of the work of New York crime photographer Weegee. Capturing the feel of life in the great ballparks, the staff of the Daily News often turned their cameras away from the diamond and onto the stands. More than any photo of Willie Mays or Jackie Robinson, this takes the reader right into the ballpark. As Vic Ziegel states in his introduction to the book, "[Ebbets Field] belongs in that sweet part of your brain with the first cramped apartment you called home." And so Summer in the City captures the goofy, crowded Ebbets, the weird angles of the Polo Grounds, and the great seas of fans in bleachers at Yankee Stadium. You're watching Don Mueller grab a liner near the Polo Grounds strange outfield bullpen, or taking a shortcut across the diamond at the Polo Grounds after a night game. Just as Weegee understood that the thrill and horror of a chalk-lined corpse was best reflected in the faces of the gawkers (many of whom were children), so, too, do the staff of the Daily News know that half the game is in the hue and cry of the ticket holder: here is a shot of a pair of Dodger fans, shouting for all their worth; another of a kid being pursued by a cop for sneaking into Ebbets Field; there's one of a woman screwing her face up and shoving her tongue out at the hated Giants. We see the devout, the anguished, and even at times, the insane, all of whom are within striking distance of their heroes.
At least by my experience in the parks and domes of this land, today's baseball fans appear to be much more tame than they were back then. Hecklers are not tolerated now as they once were. The fans that I've sat with over the years do not have such hungry looks, do not shout and cajole, choosing instead to don expensive jerseys and officially licensed ballcaps in lieu of yelling and beating pots and pans. What I wouldn't do to sit next to that nut with the cheroot, glaring out at his Bums being swept by them bastard Giants. Particularly fine are the images of the beat up diamonds, soft as an old glove, in contrast to the golfcourse-perfect lawns that logos are cut into today. And damned if the men didn't really wear ties and hats, pearls and jackets for the women. Sure, every once in awhile you get some slob in a short sleeve shirt (and that would have been me if I'd lived back then), but for the most part these people are decked out in the style of the '50s. If there were any arguments over new stadiums versus old, check out the photos of the Polo Grounds, where shadow and sun contrast one another beautifully, and the tremendous bleacher seats that fan around the outfield and allow the players to cheer on their heroes as they descend onto the field.
There are subtle social commentaries in these photos, such as Charles Hoff's shot of Willie Mays leaping for a ball (and catching it, of course). This is in front of a section almost entirely made up of black fans, no doubt taking the seats closest to the Say Hey kid, no doubt still hungry after decades of being left out of the action. Seymour Wally snaps a oddball who's kept from Bobby Thomson by white-gloved cops right after his homer that won the pennant. Or Hal Mathewson's sad picture of movers hauling the Giants to San Francisco, with banners on the trucks boldly proclaiming as much, as if to rub the decision in the faces of the fans.
That this is the work of a staff of photographers is almost more impressive.There's not a bad picture in the bunch, and I can just imagine this group of men, hats hung back on their heads as they squint through their cameras, struggling to capture the scene. These guys received little fanfare for their work, simply doing their job, proud to be a part of the baseball community. Abrams did it right by including the original captions, taken from the Daily News. You get such dandies as Walter Kelleher's photo "Flight of Flock" ("Neither Pirates nor pigeons could halt the Dodgers' 10 game winning streak") or Tom Watson's shot of a stumbling DiMaggio in "Crash Landing for Yankee Clipper."
This book is as full of moxie as the fan base it captures. This was a time when nothing in the world mattered more than that afternoon's game. The staff of the Daily News reveals the faithful gritting their teeth, chewing their nails, perched at the edge of the Yankee Stadium scoreboard when there are no more seats or sitting dejectedly in a Brooklyn bar after another seven game loss to the bastards from the Bronx. Can anyone tell me which tavern has a line of devout Twins fans crying into their beers? It doesn't exist. Which makes me want to grab a horn and race to the ballpark, and toot to my heart's content. Unfortunately, my bugle would probably be confiscated by security. But I can always yell. At least until they haul me out of the Metrodome.
Summer in the City serves as a wonderful tonic to the fan tired of steroid scandals, tired of Pete Rose, tired of seeing old cookie-cutter stadiums torn down and replaced with new, expensive, corporate-named cookie-cutter stadiums. Although light on commentary, which is fine in the face of such splendid photography, Summer in the City is one of the finest collections of baseball photography I've seen, a thrilling ride into the wonderland of New York City in the 40s and 50s.
AND YOU ARE THERE!
"When the evening papers of September 28, 1954, reported that a dozen men and boys were already camping across the street from the bleacher entrance outside the Polo Grounds prior to the first World Series contest, I felt the urge."
So begins Arnold Hano's A Day in the Bleachers. That "urge" is one that grips every baseball fan during the summer months: time to check out a game. Except that the contest in question was the first game of the '54 World Series, Giants versus Indians, and which would culminate in Willie Mays incredible center field catch of Vic Wertz's towering blast. But Hano's diminutive story is not just an observation of that game, not just one fan's reaction to the events on the diamond, but of the Polo Grounds bleachers as a melting pot, of Giants fans as a whole, of the rivalry between them and Dodger fans, and of the majesty of New York City baseball in 1954. And if, as Joseph Campbell once noted, you can capture the flavor of the entire ocean in one drop, then Arnold Hano has captured an entire era in one game.
The book begins simply. Hano sits at his kitchen table and decides to take in tomorrow's game. His wife snorts, thinking there's no way he's going to be able to get in, and a mild argument ensues. Right off the bat Hano takes us into his kitchen, gives us a brief history of his own fandom, starting when he was a kid and his mother used to ship him across the street to sit in the reserved seats in his blue-knit tie and brown suede jacket. It was a polite affair in those reserved seats, and later he got the urge to go up into the bleachers. There, sitting in front of the fellow that used to cajole, "All right, Otty, I wanna hear you bark," he became a real fan.
"I sat in the Polo Grounds many times," Hano explained, in a recent interview. "It was the interplay between members of the bleachers that made it interesting to me. In other sections you may talk to your neighbors, but no one else. First of all, in the bleachers, there are no individual seats. There's just planks of wood, you're out in the open, there's a communal quality to it. I never thought of myself as a nasty guy who got up and ended up in arguments with people around him, but I think that's probably what happened to me."
For those of us hungering to live in the past, A Day in the Bleachers is a feast of details. Climb aboard the "D" train of the Independent line to the Polo Grounds. Quicken your pace with Hano as you rush to get in line, past the cops, checking your watch, worried that the tickets will all be gone. Maybe if the tickets are all sold out you can climb up to Coogan's Bluff and "sit on the rocks and grass and watch second base" among the regulars who know how to call each play with their limited view. While in line, you can buy a cup of fifteen-cent coffee, talk with a stranger about their pitching cousin Max Lanier, and finally get your ticket to seat number 1662.
Inside the park, Hano dispenses advice on where to sit (the right center field bleachers), buys a scorecard, takes his seat amidst a couple of fellows playing cards, grunts at some of the fools around him, and during fielding practice observes Bob Feller struggling to do pushups, "diligently pushing his tired body up and down, trying to keep the faded muscles strong and loose for the call that probably wouldn't come." There's Sal Maglie, worn down, trying to hold on to his glory when it appears his time is coming to an end. And Hano taunts Larry Doby as a "two o'clock hitter," a man who's only capable of crushing homers during batting practice.
There's even some history. While waiting, Hano gives us a rundown of the three types of New York fans. This is one of the best pieces in a book chock full of keen observations. "A Yankee fan," he wrote,, "is an ignorant fat cat. He knows nothing about baseball except that the Yankees will win the pennant and World Series more often than they won't and that a home run is the only gesture of any worth in the entire game." You could almost say that about them today.
He is a more kind to Dodger fans. "Dodger fans are not ignorant at all. They're a surly lot, riddled by secret fears and inferiority complexes which have good basis, of course. They have suffered with not only inferior teams in the past, but also with the specter of clowns in uniform instead of baseball players. The sight of two Dodger runners on one base is legend. That this happens as often to other ball teams is ignored. It is a stigma and not even pennant-winning teams can remove it. Thus, they take their secret shame with them wherever they go, and to compensate they become rude, overbearing, and superlative-riddled." From what I've heard, you could suggest that Red Sox fans are much the same.
Hano worries about the fate of his beloved Giants, observing the omens, and arguing with a woman in a red beret who's a Dodger fan. When the game finally begins, he captures the action with the deft eye of a seasoned sportswriter. But Hano is still not content to ignore the bleacher faithful. We hear the cajoling, the guffawing, the snorting and some stranger types, like the man who wanders the stands collecting money to buy watches for his favorite ballplayers.
All of this, taken together, is what makes A Day in the Bleachers so amazing. There are literally dozens of accounts of the '54 World Series and Willie Mays' catch, in particular. But none have captured the whole day, from the fans to the cops to the vendors to the game to the stadium itself, like Arnold Hano has. His eye for details is nothing short of photographic, and his strong opinions flavor this tale perfectly. Reading this book, it is as if you were invited to sit alongside Hano, scoring and shouting and carrying on.
"I didn't see it as a piece of history, a piece of what life was like in 1954," Hano says. "I just wanted to recreate that day. I am not a philosopher. This was happening to me right now. A couple of things said to me that this is more than a ballgame. Like Bob Feller doing pushups in centerfield. Above all, I'm a writer, so I see things as chapters in an ongoing, lifelong novel. So I went to see the game as a fan, but there was the secondary motive that is always behind it, namely, that there was a story in here."
Indeed there is. And because Hano simply wanted to capture that day, not write history, A Day in the Bleachers has the same manic energy you would find in a ballpark of the time. Simply put, this is one of the greatest baseball books ever written because there is nothing but the details, nothing but shoulder-to-shoulder fans, nothing but the bleacher seats, peanuts, scorecards, Sal Maglie taking over a minute to pitch, sore necks, bad omens, and, in the end you emerge, hungry, sun bleached, and feeling, as Hano did, "wonderfully, savagely happy."
A Day in the Bleachers, though, is also about a lost time. "It's hard being a fan today," Hano admitted, wistfully. "Ballparks come and go nowadays. Look at the Astrodome. It was called the Eighth Wonder of the World and now it's gone. Stadium names change yearly. PacBell Park is now SBC Park. I can't keep up with that. And today, fans are urged to be passionate. Everything is much more controlled these days. Music is played so that you know when to cheer. There was much more spontaneity on that day I described. Like the man collecting money for watches for the players. Can you imagine that today?"
No, I can't, if only because it's madness to collect money for a person making a million dollars a year. There's a lot of great things about baseball today, but there's also a lot of things that are being lost. The Dodgers have cut organist Nancy Bea Hefley's playing time so that they can play the same rock music that I've heard in Minneapolis, Kansas City, and Detroit. In case you were too busy goofing around at one of the various amusements that litter today's modern parks, you can catch all the replays on the Jumbotrons (if that's what they're called). Reading A Day in the Bleachers is going back in time and a treatise on how to be a true baseball fan.
Between Summer in the City and A Day in the Bleachers, baseball fans can relive a time period when baseball mattered to a great number of passionate citizens, a time when you could feel the presence of the World Series everywhere. But it's also true that these titles may also help us to keep alive some of the traditions we claim to lovefrom scoring to heckling to simply how to really watch a game. We need to keep these lessons close to heart, keep believing that the game is important, if only to save it from the men who seek only to suck profit from it, and ruin it altogether.
SAMURAIS GO WEST
by Brett Bull
As the only foreigner working in a Japanese company in the '70s, author Robert Whiting was puzzled by a number of peculiarities: unpaid overtime, 60-hour work weeks, daily meetings with nothing to discuss, and unions that never went on strike.
Soon Whiting realized that similar anomalies existed in Japanese baseball as well. "Baseball teams had something called 'voluntary training' that was compulsory," he explained last week during a speech for his latest book The Meaning of Ichiro (Warner Books, $25.95) at the Foreign Correspondents' Club Japan.
It was soon after that he discovered that his complaints to management at his company on these issues were the same as those American baseball players made to their Japanese managers and coaches. The responses both parties received were identical as well: you don't understand anything about Japanese wa, or group harmony.
Chrysanthemum and the Bat, which was initially turned down by thirteen publishers before its release in 1977, was Whiting's first attempt at using the baseball and bat to explain foreigners' endless battles in understanding the concept of wa.
Nearly three decades - and three books - later he's still swinging for the fences. The Meaning of Ichiro documents Japan's recent baseball pioneers who have defected to the major leagues. The meaning of which, Whiting argues, has been the tremendous sense of local pride instilled in the Japanese people and the narrowing of the gap of understanding between Japan and America.
"An electric grip on the United States" is how Whiting described Ichiro Suzuki's amazing first year with the Seattle Mariners in 2001, a season in which he batted .350 on his way to winning the American League MVP and Rookie of the Year awards.
The slick right fielder, who was also awarded a Gold Glove, became the first everyday player to achieve success in the major leagues, capping a Japanese movement that essentially began with pitcher Hideo Nomo's spectacular Rookie of the Year campaign in 1995.
As a result, Whiting said, "there is a new-found respect, a new type of respect for Japanese as individuals, as human beings. People have stopped looking at Japanese as creators of products."
The initial chapters of Ichiro focus on the making of Ichiro, from the relentless training imposed upon him by his father on up through his debut in the big leagues. His father's upbringing of his son is provided in all of its intensity: there is Ichiro taking 250 swings at the Nagoya "Airport Batting Center" until 11 p.m. each night from the age of seven; there is the "life or death" drill in which Ichiro was required to hit balls to the right or left of his father as he delivered pitches from a mere six feet away; and there is the story of his father angrily firing baseballs at Ichiro as he sat on the diamond in protest of the excessive work load.
Interviewing Ichiro was a challenge, Whiting remembered. Finding out as much about his subject beforehand was vital. "By the time I was ready to talk to him I knew more about him than he did," Whiting said of his prep work, which in addition to reading most of the 30 books written on his subject involved talking to beat writers who covered Ichiro's former Orix Blue Wave team and visiting the museum dedicated to Ichiro near his hometown in Nagoya. "I really had him down cold."
First there was the matter of gaining access to this notoriously unapproachable star, which Whiting accomplished by pulling a number of strings within his media contacts. Then there was the intimidation. Of Ichiro's traveling entourage, he said, "interviewing him was like interviewing Elvis."
When Whiting mentioned to Ichiro in Japanese (as his interviews were conducted) how his father in his autobiography described their training sessions as being simply father-son bonding, Whiting said that Ichiro responded in English: "He's a liar." Then he added in Japanese: "That bordered on child abuse."
Ichiro provides lesser-known highlights and scandals of Ichiro's first season as well. Who knew, for example, that Ichiro was thought by some to have used steroids just prior to his first season in Seattle?
Some aspects of the book, however, are a bit difficult to completely digest. Of the impact of Ichiro's first season, Whiting writes: "Twenty years earlier, most Seattleites had not even known what sushi was. Now they were eating it at the ballpark and shouting 'gambare,' along with other demotic Japanese phrases of encouragement. It was no small achievement." While perhaps true to some extent, such broad strokes make for skeptical reading. As well, the retelling of the rigors of the Japanese baseball training programs, which comprised a large part of Whiting's earlier work You Gotta Have Wa, seems excessive. Even though perspective is necessary to demonstrate that Japanese players are trained by different means (the philosophy of bushido, or the way of the samurai) as opposed to their Western counterparts, the same tales of the overworking of the players - like the "Thousand Fungo Drill" - are all here for the reader to relive again. The same is true of the inclusion of recent examples of foreign players struggling to adjust to Japan's wa-based culture. While interesting, this theme has been presented before and does not help Whiting develop the premise of this book.
These small faults can be overlooked because Ichiro shines in its revelations. The chapter on the ultimate wa-buster, Hideo Nomo, and his agent Don Nomura, who exploited a contract loophole that allowed Nomo to leave Japan, is truly a gem.
The ragged beginnings in the United States of Don Nomura, who was born in Japan to a Japanese mother and American father, as an employee in a dodgy Los Angeles hotel and eventually a minor-league team owner in Salinas, California are supplied in colorful detail. (It was this minor league team that would be used for training Japanese players like Mac Suzuki.)
Though Ichiro garners the book's title, Whiting acknowledged that Nomo is the true pioneer of this movement. "Without him there wouldn't be an Ichiro," Whiting said of Nomo's bold move nearly a decade ago. "I think they should build a statue of him at Narita Airport."
A Hanshin Tigers fan himself, the New Jersey-born Whiting evenly tempers the book with positives and negatives with regard to the way the game is played on both sides of the Pacific. The Epilogue touches upon the difficulty the Japanese game is facing in light of its recent decrease popularity, with departing stars being a major factor. (A merger between the Pacific League's Orix Blue Wave and Kintetsu Buffaloes is currently being discussed.)
To Whiting, if it continues, the owners of the teams only have themselves to blame. Given that there are 4,000 high schools across Japan playing baseball, the major problems are the fact that only single-team farm systems exist for all clubs and teams are operated more for promotional benefit of the controlling company's name rather than with any long-term profit as a goal.
"The fundamental problem with Japanese baseball is that it is not run as a business," Whiting said, citing the New York Yankees as a team that uses its money to buy players and invest in a farm system. With only 30 players on a single farm team and half of them are sitting on the bench, finding a replacement for a Matsui or an Ichiro can be daunting. "If they had really sophisticated farm systems," Whiting explained, "then it wouldn't matter so much if they lost a star; they'd have a lot of players coming out of the hopper."
Major-league managers like the Japanese players because of their work ethic. "Japan is crawling with major league scouts who want more Japanese players," Whiting said.
A lack of greed on the part of the Japanese is an inducement as well. Whiting noted that Hideki Matsui turned down a 64 million-dollar, 6-year contract to sign with New York for 21 million dollars over 3 years. "He wanted to test himself," Whiting said. "Ichiro turned down 35 million dollars worth of endorsements in his first two years because he said they would either detract from his image or take away from his concentration on baseball." But the movement to the majors is only in its infancy. "This is only the beginning," Whiting predicted.
THE 2004 SHRINE OF THE ETERNALS INDUCTION
There were quite a few things you will find at the Baseball Reliquary's Shrine of the Eternals induction ceremony that you would never find at the Hall of Fame's induction ceremony.
Dick Allen for one. Older, distinguished, asking us to stand and then shake hands and introduce one another, just like they probably do in his church back home in Wampum, Mr. Allen accepted his award with a soft spoken humility quite the opposite of what I had expected. Lester Rodney, the former Communist sportswriter of the Daily Worker, and one of only two men still alive who was in the press box when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, is another. You won't see a green and lime colored plaque bearing the Topps baseball card photo of Roberto Clemente amongst the Hall's lumpy bronze likeness. Or an aged cowbell in a Plexiglas case, commemorating the Hilda Chester Award for most devoted fan. If the Hall ever got around to inducting Dummy Hoy, they'd be lucky to attract fifty agitated deaf fans, signing passionately to one another about their love of the game. The stiff shirts at the Hall would undoubtedly pass on the notion of having the national anthem played on a Chinese violin. Cooperstown will probably not see a man in a Hollywood Stars uniform and a pith helmet, a Republican documentary filmmaker, and a woman who claimed that she lunched with Tiger Woods and would get him to cough up enough money for the Reliquary to finally have a building. Things like that.
You might, had you sat on the floor of the Donald R. Wright Auditorium in Pasadena on Sunday, July 18 as I did, laugh to yourself, amazed and bewildered at the scene that unfolded in front of you. For I'll take this ceremony, opening with a clatter of cowbells and closing with a benediction from Kinsella's Shoeless Joe, over the Hall's bland, uber-Patriotic and pedestrian remarks any day. Perhaps The Baseball Reliquary, without a home, without national attention, without anything but the great spirit of its members and a pile of the weirdest artifacts you could ever hope to see, is the bridge between the sport and its fans. And the Hall is not.
It's been said that you couldn't throw a rock in L.A. without hitting an aspiring actor or screenwriter, but when I was there it seemed you could say the same about people who'd been a part of baseball. My Grandpa started it all off: I learned that Walter O'Malley's wife, Kay, used to get her hair styled in his shop. His billiards pal at the senior center was O'Malley's doorman back in New York. Driving around Pasadena with Mary and Terry Cannon, founders of the Reliquary, we stopped at the plaque in front of the lot where Jackie Robinson's house used to stand. Passed Damon's Steakhouse where Casey Stengel used to hold court after he retired from baseball and his "job" at a local bank.
The ghosts of baseball haunt Los Angeles the way the ghosts of silent films doin memorabilia, in memory, and perhaps, in little gatherings where the guests struggle to remember the glory days. The old Pacific Coast League, the third most important league after the Majors and the Negro Leagues, thrived here until 1957, when the Dodgers and Giants moved west. According to Mary Cannon, PCL survivors have a little gathering now and again. You have two great teams herethe Dodgers and the Angelsand a host of ballplayers who came from the L.A. area, not to mention whole flocks of Hall of Famers who came here to retire and die.
And yet the Reliquary is the only living museum in the L.A. area, even if it does not have a home. Spend four hours fighting the L.A. traffic and you won't get any closer to a museum dedicated to the history of Southern California ball. The Pacific Coast League has nothing. The Angels have little in their gaudy stadium. The Dodgers have their own tiny exhibits in Dodger Stadium, though their attitude seems to be that Dodger history begins in 1958. Other than that, nothing.
The Reliquary's great artifacts are housed in a number of places: at the Jackie Robinson center, at the local Library, and the Cannon's bohemian home in the low foothills of Pasadena, and in the imagination of the Reliquary's peripatetic historian, Albert Kilchesty. When you help out a group like the Reliquary, you get a good idea of how difficult it is to run a non-profit. No one is paid, including its director, Terry. Last minute crises were avoided, the preparations at the Hall handled by the staff of Mary and Terry and Anne Oncken, while I got to chauffeur some of the notables around. But this is, of course, not what I'm talking about when it comes to being in contact with the fans.
It's a great thing to have a Hall of Fame, and while I wouldn't want the Hall to go easy on its rules for induction, it's equally important to have a Shrine of the Eternals to house the men and women who have affected the sport in their own unique way. Both Dick Allen and Dummy Hoy are great examples of this, fascinating players who may or may not be on the bubble, Hall of Fame wise, but who command dedicated and devoted fans who hunger to see them recognized.
So there was no old timer's game at the Shrine induction, no one coughing up eight hundred bucks to turn a double play with Ozzie Smith and George Brett, and no coterie of sportswriters churning out the usual treacle on the new inductees. Just a group of baseball fans, some from far away, gathered because of their common love of the sport. And as I sat on that floor, thumbing through my salmon colored program with the Buckminster Fuller stamp on the front, I wondered to myself: in this day and age, where does the spirit of Hilda Chester haunt? Probably not at Fenway or Wrigley, where prices have driven the Hilda's of today into their corner bars to watch and stew. No, Hilda lives on, at least once a year, in the Donald R. Wright auditorium, called back from eternity by the clanging of cowbells.
JOE JUDGE: THAT WAS IT
By Jeff Kallman
"Washington," writes the journalist and critic Mark Gauvreau Judge, "has a reputation as a city of transients who don't develop any attachment to the place. A place of local bars and rock bands, row houses, parks, rivers, diners, and jazz clubs. And sports fans. Lots of sports fans
It is also a city with baseball in its soul."
Outside Washington's coordinates, that soul seems felt mostly when the nation's government flies periodic sorties into the doings and undoings of baseball's government. But we also feel it from periodic prayers that the place might yet be welcome back to Eden. Washington, you see, once had a major league baseball team. And, thanks to that team, Washington had an image evoking far less mischief than the one it has now: "Washington First in war, first in peace, and last in the American League."
What a surprise that such a clever sobriquet proves only slightly less exaggerated than government. Covering two American League franchises over seventy-one years, the Washington Senators were preponderantly dismal and periodically uproarious. And they finished dead last fourteen times.
But for one incandescent season, eighty years ago, Washington was last in war, first in peace, and first in the major leagues. You can look it up. Or, you can read Mr. Judge's Damn Senators: My Grandfather and the Story of Washington's Only World Series Championship (Encounter Books, $16.95). Much like the grandfather who provoked it, the book is sober and modest. The definitive book about the 1924 Senators is yet to be written, but Damn Senators is as pleasant an addition as you can wish to the spare literature about one of baseball's less hagiographed franchises.
Grandfather was Joe Judge, longtime Senators first baseman, a hitter consistent enough, a fielder exemplary enough, and the likely model for novelist Douglas Wallop to create Joe Hardy, the devil-dealing protagonist of The Year the Yankees Lost The Pennant, shaped in due course into Damn Yankees. Unlike Joe Hardy, Joe Judge and his mates required no barter with Beelzebub to bump the Damn Yankees to one side. The 1924 Nats (the Senators' official and all-but-unused nickname: the Nationals) accomplished that all by their own stout selves.
"Stout" was one way to describe Joe Judge. He was the son of an Irish farmer who had emigrated from somewhat parched Eire to bristling Brooklyn in 1883, soon enough exchanging plowshares for work with the Edison Electric Company. The elder married in 1893 and, when his eldest son was graduated from sandlot to semipro ball (where New York Giants manager John McGraw told him he was too small to play first base), moved the family to "a cramped Lower East Side neighbourhood of Jews, Italians, Hungarians, and Irish," called Yorkville.Joe Judge in boyhood resisted the era's disquieting bias against left-handedness, "considered," his grandson writes, "a moral as well as a physical problem in parenting manuals of the day." When not playing ball, the boy was learning to swim at the end of a rope his mother tied around him to lower him to the East River. "Although I assume she did it in shallow water, near the shore," writes grandson, "my mental picture of this is always of a small boy struggling in rough, stormy waters." The future first baseman found those soon enough, sort of: with two buddies, he once swam out to Riker's Island, where the jail guards denied the trio safe landing, drawn guns the exclamation point. One of the trio drowned on the return swim.
Surely Judge was building the fortitude necessary for life with a baseball basket case. Indeed, the Senators seemed underwritten by stark tragedy as much as larking calamity. Their earliest star, Ed Delahanty, either walked or was thrown off a New York-bound train before falling to his death from a bridge. Their greatest star, Walter Johnson, was bereaved of his father during and his two-year-old daughter following the 1921 season. Another future Hall of Famer, Sam Rice, who joined the Senators the same season as Judge (1915; the two became so close they bought adjoining Washington row homes), had earlier lost his wife and children in a threshing tornado, while he was away trying out for a tough minor league club.
Judge showed enough in a twelve-game cup of 1915 coffee that Clark Griffith, the Senators' manager turned owner, decided it was time to deal away his veteran first baseman future Black Sox mastermind Chick Gandil.
Over the next several seasons, forward from Judge and Rice, and with Johnson well enough established, Griffith brought aboard several keys to the Nats' coming revival: infielders Ossie Bluege and Roger Peckinpaugh; outfielders Goose Goslin and Nemo Liebold; catcher Muddy Ruel; and, pitchers Tom Zachary, George Mogridge, and (especially) Fred (Firpo) Marberry, arguably the first significant purely relief pitcher in the game's chronology. He also feared no man, writes Judge's grandson, regardless of size or uniform. (He once challenged the Yankees, who'd teased him all game long, as he passed their bench: "You, Ruth, can be the first," Marberry barked at the Babe. "And you'll need all the help you can get." The Yankees merely stared "in silence.") In 1919, the Senators added a second baseman, Bucky Harris, who feared little enough that, for 1924, he would be named the club's player-manager at age 27. He was also named "Griffith's Folly" by enough of the writers covering the club.
Joe Judge's Washington itself was a teeming culture stew in the 1920s, if not quite so noticeable as New York in that way, and given that his grandson's professional métier is cultural criticism it is no surprise to find this the stronger side of the book. Actually, enough of New York's spice in these years was Washington-rooted or cultivated. Poet Langston Hughes and novelist Jean Toomer were just two of the so-called Harlem Renaissance. A Washington butler/blueprinter's son, who once sold hot dogs at Senators' games, dreaming at one time of playing baseball himself, became Washington's most enduring export to New York: Duke Ellington. Meanwhile, this small enough town of the not-quite-deep South bore a peculiar enough balance toward its black population. Griffith Stadium sat in the black neighbourhood known later as Shaw. "(P)roud and defensive
Whites came to Shaw looking for blood
but found resistance," grandson Judge writes, matter-of-factly enough, "when they were met by a group of two thousand armed black men carrying weapons distributed to them on the corner of Seventh and U, right next to the ball park."
Some in the 1920s saw the Senators as one of the few Washington outlets where interracial contact was not formally or officially repulsed. "The coloured citizens," wrote Howard University sociologist William H. Jones, in a passage cited in Damn Senators as a backhanded compliment, "devoutly rally to the American League club. Here, as in no other place of their recreational life, contacts between the races suffer less restrictions." Not as many less as you might think, alas. Jones and a co-author, in a later passage also cited in this book, accused Senators' management "of making it harder for black fans to get tickets through the mail for the World Series. This
kept from the games many Negroes, who say they have been veteran supporters of the club some ever since those days when it was scarcely more than a 'sand-lot' team, and when Walter Johnson's balls did not quite have so much smoke'."
Joe Judge organized a 1920 exhibition game between a team of Senators and minor leaguers against the Brooklyn Royal Giants, a black team, a game soiled by a near-riot (a white outfielder decked the black home plate ump over a close call against the white team). His grandson believes Clark Griffith less racist than habit- and business-constrained. (Griffith subsequently earned more through Griffith Stadium hosting the legendary Homestead Grays' home games than he made with the Senators; thanks to the Old Fox's outfoxing himself, refusing stubbornly to build a substantial farm system, the Nats suffered terminal mediocrity after their third and final trip to the World Series in 1933.) So long as Kenesaw Mountain Landis ran baseball, it may not have mattered. But Griffith believed, famously or infamously, that signing Negro Leaguers to the would destroy the Negro Leagues, which were hugely profitable to him by the early 1940s. He was, of course, exactly right, but it does beg the question as to why, seemingly, he did not ponder scouting and signing black talent who were not tied to the Negro Leagues.
But it is not Mark Judge's place to rearrange the history of Washington and black baseball, which history mostly postdates the Senators' 1924 miracle and his grandfather's role therein. The Nats may not have been so broadly deep a miracle club as the 1914 Boston Braves, the 1950 Philadelphia Phillies, the 1967 Boston Red Sox, or the 1969 New York Mets, but they were a miracle team regardless. That season's American League pennant race was a no-questions-asked thriller, the Detroit Tigers trying to stake a claim until their almost mid-September mathematical elimination, leaving the Senators with much of the nation on their side to go down the stretch and to the proverbial wire with You-Know-Who.
The Senators took a tenuous-enough two-game lead into the final weekend, Babe Ruth and company losing to the A's while the Senators held against the Red Sox, Washington pitching stranding the Red Sox twice with the bases loaded. The clinching game ended with a double play throw from The Folly snapping into Joe Judge's mitt. Armistice did not provoke half the racket the Senators' first American League pennant provked. Or, half the silliness: a pre-planned victory parade down Pennsylvania Avenue provoked temperance-minded bigwigs to ban personal flasks from a celebration banquet, one of them huffing, "The World Series will not be lost here tonight!"
By no means was Joe Judge a bit player in this theater. His first game, tenth-inning spear of a Bill Terry smash saved a pair of runs before Wilson flied out with the bases loaded to end the half inning. Judge scored the Game Two-winning run in the bottom of the ninth; he did his best to keep the Senators in Game Three in New York, driving in two with a double in the fourth (the Nats lost, 6-4); he joined Goslin in scoring a pair of insurance runs off a Bluege single to secure Series-tying Game Four. He saved that tie-breaking New York run in the top of the ninth. And he did his best to start a Game Seven-winning stand in the bottom of the ninth, singling with one out, grinding to third on an infield hit, but helpless when Ralph Miller hit into the double play that sent the game to extra innings and mythology.
"Imagine that," the little big man would remember toward the end of his fine career. "I was only 90 lousy feet from the championship and couldn't score."
Judge in baseball retirement was a devoted husband, father, and family man; a restauranteur after his playing days, who found a post-playing niche coaching baseball at Georgetown University, with not one losing season. He was a happy enough baseball raconteur until his death in 1963 including, grandson notes, with no small bemusement, barking Joe Hardy-like at the television set whenever his beloved Senators botched one. He remains a Washington icon (he was inducted into the RFK Stadium Ring of Stars in 1990) but the status seems to have been held uneasily enough by his family, grandson noting that baseball was rarely enough discussed in his grandmother's home as he was growing up. "I always got the sense," grandson writes, "that my dad and grandmother felt it was tasteless to brag about a famous relative. There was no shrine to Joe Judge in the house on Tennyson Street only a few pictures, and rumours of a Senators uniform and baseballs signed by Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth tucked away in an upstairs closet. That was it."
That was it. Those three words could be a capsule five-star review of Judge's life, and also of his grandson's book. He was a modest, likeable man, and his modest, likeable family, seem precisely the kind of people about whom we hear not enough is written. Damn Senators may be written more strongly in its cultural backgrounding than in its baseball analysis and interpretation, but the anchoring first baseman of Washington's only World Series winner may never get a better, more gracious telling, than the modest and likeable telling afforded us by the grandson who never met him face to face.
An early inductee into the Shrine of the Eternals, Mark Fidrych, got me started in baseball. In 1976, his one great year, Fidrych was every Michigander's pride: funny, resembling a favorite TV personality (Big Bird of "Sesame Street"), and a rousing success. The lanky one made me feel as if I could play the sport, and got me sore arms hurling balls at my neighbor's wall at the low-income apartment complex in Mt. Pleasant. As I've grown older, Fidrych has become something of a saint to me, his image an icon. Often I find myself poring over his statistics in a number of sources: 19 wins, 9 losses, 2.34 ERA, 24 complete games, 4 shutouts, 53 walks to a diminutive 97 strikeouts. His photos, biographies, and numbers mean a lot to me.
And yet, without having to try and find them in his bio, I can't remember what he threw. Nor what most of the pitchers on that '76 team threw, or the other Tigers through the '80s. What did Jack Morris use to baffle his opponents? Or Walt Terrell, Willie Hernandez, or Aurelio Rodriguez? How did Doyle Alexander stymie the Blue Jays in that last week of the '87 series? Beats me. Again, all I can do is turn to my encyclopedias, and they state that Doyle went 9-0 with a 1.53 ERA for the Tigers late that season, but not how he went about it. So what did he throw? What did anyone throw?
Apparently, Rob Neyer and Bill James had been having headaches wondering about this question as well. And it has yielded some delicious fruit: The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers (Fireside, $16.95). For the first time we have, at our fingertips, a listing, culled from thousands of popular and obscure books and articles published over the last dozen decades, of the choice pitches hurled by your favorite moundsman. And it is unbelievable.
This is a dream come true for anyone who loves their hurlers. James and Neyer have spent many a precious hour reading, writing, arguing and grumbling and the result is this outstanding reference work. Take your favorite pitcher, any pitcher, and there he is: Walt Terrell? You've got his career wins and losses, saves, years in the majors, and his pitches, in order of their dominance: Sinking Fastball, Slider, Palmball. In addition, there's the source they plucked the information from, which is itself a fascinating list of bizarre titles. There's my Doyle Alexander, my Fidrych, my Guillermo Hernandez. There's even good ol' Charlie Brown, whose theoretical pitch selection is Fastball, Curve, Drop, Knuckleball, but actual pitch selection is Straight Ball, Straight Ball, Straight Ball, Straight Ball. "Brown gave up an unusual number of line drives up the middle," they write.
On top of the "Pitcher Census," which would be enough to feast on for the next dozen winters, there's a glossary of pitches, and lengthy articles on the fastball, curveball, change-up, slider, knuckleball, forkball, screwball and that filthy spitter. To make this smorgasbord even better, James and Neyer settle down and examine some of the more underrated pitchers in history, fabulous hurlers who just missed out on the Hall.
For most of us who aren't in possession of an eagle eye, trying to figure out what these guys throw at the Metrodome is plain near impossible. Sometimes it's hard to do even watching the noble sport on the telly. Until now. Since reading this book I've learned how to identify a slider (check the speed gun), and have been wrenching my arm slow-throwing screwballs. Easily the most informative reference work of the year, The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers is the definitive guide for anyone who hungers to know more about the art and science of pitching. And it's just plain fun to read.
HIS LIFE AND HARD TIMES
If baseball, as the late Bart Giamatti one said, is about heartbreak, then it stands to reason that reading about baseball can give one the same coronary fracture. Readers, I ask you: How many times have you thrilled at the sight of a certain title on a bookshelf, its subject matter perfect, its cover beautiful, with swell photos inside, the works. You slap down your twenty five bucks and race home, eager to dive in. But when you sit down to actually read the thing
well, you discover that it stinks.
Leigh Montville's Ted Williams: Biography of an American Hero (Doubleday, $26.95) fits this category. At first, it seemed as if this would truly be the definitive work on one of baseball's most complex personalities. But right away it runs into trouble. Montville is so reliant on his many hundreds of interviews that it veers off course like an early Randy Johnson fastball. The quotes seem, most times, as if they're just the ramblings of guys who thought their brush with Williams was the best thing that ever happened to them. And Montville veers wildly from his subject, going so far as to quote Red Sox pitcher Mickey McDermott for two pages over nothing that has anything to do with Ted Williams. Montville obviously adored Williamsin fact, he admits as muchand the early parts of the book, capturing every side of this irascible ballplayer can be fascinating. Unlike Ben Cramer's nasty DiMaggio biography, Montville gives the reader plenty of insight as to what made this fabulous ballplayer tick, how he dealt with his frustrations, that he was a decent guy who wasn't so great with women and could be a pain in the neck a lot of the time. Some of the details are funny, such as Ted's signing baseballs to young women with his signature and hotel room number, a piece of memorabilia you'll never see in the Hall of Fame.
And then there's the various sections in the book where Montville can't stop hitting the 'return' key, the one sentence paragraphs that are the bane of sportswriting today. Consider the following passage, where Ted's plane gets shot down over Korea:
Williams, filled with the mixture of excitement and nervousness of a new man, followed the plan of attack. He dropped from the sky at the prescribed time, dove lower than the 2,000 feet necessary to drop his bombs, let them go, and pulled back on his controls and felt great as the plane followed his command. He had passed his first test, gone through enemy fire, and come out the other side.
Then the trouble began.
The light indicator said his wheels were down.
What is this? he wondered.
He hit the appropriate controls. The wheels came back up.
Then the stick started to shake in his hand.
What is this?
He tried to call one of the other pilots, but the radio was dead.
Well, it's not poetry
maybe it's the Ted Williams Easy Reader section. If Montville thinks he's building tension this way, he's dead wrong. But even worse is Montville's need to conclude this biography by sitting atop his high horse and pointing a damning finger at Ted's son, John Henry. John Henry, it's true, was a jerk. The story of his taking his father and selling him off to have his body frozen is well known by now, and it disgusts everyone. And it's just the type of story the men and women of Sports Illustrated (where Montville hangs his hat much of the time) love to sink their teeth into. Montville is no exception, climbing up on the pulpit and raging for the last quarter of the book. Relying heavily on unreliable witnesses, men who have worked with John Henry in the memorabilia biz and who have either been indicted at some point or simply burned by the younger Williams, Montville spins a pathetic tale of poor Ted Williams in the clutches of his evil progeny. Like much of the sources in this book, you wonder why Montville would trust them, much less quote them at length (many of their comments are dull). It appears that in Montville's world, if you can't say anything nice, you've got his ear. Ted's decline is presented without the benefit of insight, heaping on the details of his abuse by his son, his death, and internent in a cryogenics lab. To what end? So that we can see just how evil and rotten John Henry was? To learn a lesson from Ted's life?
But there are no lessons here. Although it is clear Leigh Montville did the legwork, his bile and bluster can't keep Ted Williams: Biography of an American Hero from being anything other than a nasty, tell-all biography, lacking insight, and ultimately leaving this reader feeling disgusted for having read the whole thing.
CLASH OF THE TITANS
For the first time in quite a few years, baseball fans can revel in the knowledge that there is not one, but two statistical encyclopedias vying for their attention.
Back in April, Barnes and Noblealbeit the Death Star of Bookstorestook great pains to publish their inexpensive, softcover The Baseball Encyclopedia (Barnes and Noble Books, $24.95). A bargain at twenty-five clams, The B&N Baseball Encyclopedia (not to be confused with the defunct Macmillan Baseball Encyclopedia) has everything the baseball fan would wantstatistics, statistics, statistics. "This is a new book from the ground up," Gary Gillette, editor of the B&N Encyclopedia, says. "And Pete Palmer and I did the research for this book, and discovered a number of new things. After we figured out that we could make a deal to do a book for $25 we asked ourselves what we could do. We're not going to work on half an encyclopedia. There's been some complaints about the small type and the fact that it's very densely lined. But give someone a choice between a $60 encyclopedia with all the beautiful white space, or spend $25 on twice as much information, and I think they'll take the information."
The new Encyclopedia is chock full of this information: There are more up-to-date stats, including OBP, Adjusted OPS, Adjusted batting runs, and more.
"The six pages of information on ballparks took more research than every other small section in there. We're already working on improving it. Looking for information on dirt basepaths and Astroturf, 19th century ballparks, etc. We have descriptions of the pennant races each year, which past editions of Total Baseball didn't capture." The new edition's summaries of each year include ballplayer deaths, off the field developments, and other milestones as well." And, hopefully, The B&N Baseball Encyclopedia will be updated yearly. In this age of the internet, price and yearly updates are essential for keeping printed Encyclopedias afloat.
But this year we have a choice: an inexpensive Encyclopedia, or the hardcover Total Baseball (Sportclassic Books, 8th edition, $59.95). By contrast, the eighth edition Total Baseball comes to us in the usual nice cloth cover and onionskin pages. "In my view," John Thorn, its principal editor, says, "Total Baseball presents a wider angle on the state of the art in the world of baseball statistics; for example, Bill James's Win Shares are provided for each man in the Player and Pitcher Registers, along with a recalculated and I think more intuitive rendition of Linear Weights. And we have Component ERA and Runs Created Per Game and Ratio (expressed in the way Rotisserie players prefer), and most everything you would expect."
Total Baseball also reads like a real encyclopedia, chock full of articles and photographs. "Both books have stats," Thorn says, "and plenty of them, meticulously calculated and presented. Both books have good annual prose summaries. But that's where the head-to-head comparisons pretty much end. Total Baseball has historical essays and hot-button, issue-oriented essays (greatest player, greatest team, most influential, Moneyball, etc.). Total Baseball has great personality and team profiles that first appeared in Sport Magazine and are now reissued for the first time. We cover baseball in other leagues, other nations, other eras. And Total Baseball has hundreds of photos, even a 24-page full-color photo gallery. It is more fun to browse through, and unlike The B&N Baseball Encyclopedia, it can be read."
This is true and not true, as The B&N Baseball Encyclopedia has nice season summaries. But, aesthetically, Total Baseball easily surpasses The B&N Baseball Encyclopedia. The question remains: at what cost? Well, the difference is $35. For the die-hard fan, there's room in the budget for both, undoubtedly. It's true that Total Baseball comes closer to the true definition of "encyclopedia" than The B&N Baseball Encyclopedia. But in the cutthroat world of publishing, and in this age of the internet, one has to wonder how many baseball fans, especially with the much more inexpensive B&N Baseball Encyclopedia at their disposal, will choose to spend so much money for a book that is essentially about capturing the entire history of baseball in statistics. Whatever your choice, it is reassuring to see the return of the print Encyclopedia. Long may they both live.
AND SOME OTHER TITLES
Michael Coffey's 27 Men Out (Atria Books, $25 bucks even) reads like a collection of essays rather than a continued narrative. This is not necessarily a compliment, is not necessarily a complaint, but is a little bit of both. Coffey examines fourteen of the perfect games in baseball, taking each in the context of its time and using it as a jumping off point to dissect the history of the period. For instance, Sandy Koufax's gem is the prism through which Koufax and Drysdale's dual sit-down strike is examined. As a book to pick up now and then, 27 Men Out makes for an interesting light read. In some essays, like "The Mystery Guest," about Charlie Robertson's perfecto, Coffey's love of the subject is apparentthe piece flies along, rich in detail and character, and really brings that game to life. Not so the essay on Jim Bunning, "The Senator," which attempts to capture both the game and a brief history of television revenue and labor strife in the sport. In doing so Coffey succeeds at none of these. While uneven, 27 Men Out is an intriguing read for anyone interested in the epitome of pitching greatness...
ESPN Magazine once said that Mike Sowell's The Pitch That Killed is "The best baseball book that no one has read." Unfortunately, thanks to Ivan R. Dee publishers, that is unlikely to change.
The Pitch That Killed (Ivan R. Dee, $15.95) is an outstanding book, placing Carl Mays fatal beaning of Ray Chapman in the context of the 1920 pennant race. Unwilling to condemn Mays, Sowell presents the hurler as a take-no-prisoners style of pitcher, but not one who purposely knocked down the unfortunate Chapman. To make matters more intriguing, Chapman is presented as the heart and soul of the Cleveland Indians, a friendly little sparkplug, loved by everyone. Fascinating, too, is the character of Joe Sewell, the young shortstop who had the poor luck of having to replace the beloved Ray Chapman. Sewell succeeded in part because he told himself that he was going to embody the spirit of Ray Chapman and he helped carry he Indians into the World Series, the last pennant the Tribe would win until 1948. It was the year the Black Sox came out of the woodwork and the Babe's first in pinstripes. In short, one hell of a year, which Sowall captures perfectly.
So, with this masterpiece in their lap, Ivan R. Dee decided to reprint this edition with possibly the ugliest cover I have ever seen. Frankly, the photo is so poor it seems as if the publicity department bought a Kodak disposable, wandered out to the lawn, and snapped a photograph of a baseball with a smudge of ketchup on it. If that's supposed to be blood, it doesn't even remotely look like it. And it's inaccurate. The ball didn't get smudged with Chapman's blood. Were they thinking it would be lurid? With ketchup? Who in their right mind could have looked at this and thought, "That'll sell!" Sadly, The Pitch That Killed is an outstanding book that deserves a better promotions department.
CONVERSATIONS REAL AND IMAGINED (SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA EDITION)
"You're from Mondo Magazine? Mud what...? The bottom line is that you can't take pictures of Edison Field. I mean Angel Stadium. Because it's a major rule. I mean a major league rule. No websites. Because you could post your pictures on your website. If you were in print you could go ahead, fine. Because Sports Illustrated is a real magazine. It's in print, you can buy it on a newsstand. Look, for all we know you could be pornographic or even criminal. I don't know, but the fact is that you could be doing something, say, that goes against baseball. But I'll tell you what, you can walk around outside the stadium for as long as you'd like
"Ah, Barry Bonds can go to hell far as I'm concerned. He breaks the record, Hank Aaron's record, they ought to give everyone their money back. I'm talking refunds all the way back to '74. God damn it all, Barry's a drug addict, and he doesn't give a crap about anyone but himself. Look, look, look, 73 home runs. Bullshit. 700 home runs? Garbage. Shooting himself up so he can smash baseballs. Jesus, he's already got a tailor made park to hit in! What more does he want?
"And that fucking chair. Down in the locker room, he's got his big, fat easy chair and wide screen TV and you know what? No one can look at it. No one can look at Barry Bonds' big screen TV but Barry Bonds. No one can sit in his God damn easy chair, even if they got hurt or injured or had a sore back. Kids can't sit in his chair. Old men can't sit in his chair. Teammates got to stay away, don't look at his TV, don't sit on his chair! Boy, that's being a part of something bigger than yourself, Jesus Christ."
"It takes at least an hour to get out of Dodger Stadium. It doesn't matter where you park, there's one exit, it will take an hour. Fifteen minutes? You must not have driven. No, I can't imagine how you could walk in there, but you didn't drive. Fifteen minutes you said? I'm not listening. You didn't drive, that's all there is to it
"These birds surprise you? They do not surprise me. These birds lived here before there was a Dodger Stadium, and they will be here after there is a Dodger Stadium.
"My Grandfather had a home on this spot, which is why I sit here. It was a small home, and he lived by himself, since my Grandmother died just after my father was born. He was an only child. They loved that home, it was nothing but a little shack, their castle, you understand? Chavez Ravine was like that for everyone. And baseball was important to them even then. Over there, by the bleachers, where there is a sign for Pee Wee Reese, a ball diamond thrived. On nothing but dirt with cardboard bases. My father played baseball there. He even owned a bat and glove he was proud of. But he put them away when they tore down the neighborhood.
"I sit here, in this spot, I have season tickets. Because I love the Dodgers and because I loved my Father and my Grandfather. You might think I should be bitter, but I'm not. For years I carried a hate in my chest, and I didn't like it. In 1981 I came here to see this Fernando that everyone was talking about. I didn't know baseball. That changed me. Look, this hat, this old thing on my head, I bought it on the first night I saw Fernando. I wear this with pride. So now I have a place in my heart for both my family and the Los Angeles Dodgers. My Grandfather would have been proud to have been with me when I saw Kirk Gibson limp around the bases. That was a beautiful time, and I yelled a lot, which was good.
"The birds remember me. They know my family. This one comes to me every game, and I feed it, to let it know that we are still here and we still care.
"Walter O'Malley was not necessarily a bad man, but he did things that made quite a few people very unhappy. That happened here, and I understand on the East Coast, in New York City. I've met some people who have to cry because of their memories. Sometimes I wonder if the birds are there, the birds who used to live in the rafters of Ebbets Field, if they still live nearby, in Brooklyn. On the same site. I bet they do, just like my friend here. They remember."