August 2012

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In l938, in the summer time of my fourteenth year, I was treated to a somewhat unusual, and evidently very stimulating and enduring psychic event. Must be, for why else is it alive and well up front in my conscious mind.? Not that it is really only a pleasant muse, and does not clutter up the present always partially dubious vista modern cold reality usually manifests. This I evidently treasure because it was really a small, complete most pleasant baseball event in the most unpleasant venue possible---- the detested Brooklyn Dodger Ebbet’s Field venue. Most paradoxically, too, I lived only about 15 to 20 minutes away from the this small but thriving stadium with their very loyal and vocal fellow fandom.

However, my allegiance was rather far away, at a somewhat more distant Valhalla called the Polo Grounds in upper Manhattan, just across the Harlem River from Yankee Stadium, which on a clear day could rather easily be seen from between the above ground elevated rails of the previous subway route of the Jerome Avenue line. As a true outlier I disdained the proximate Dodger Ebbets Field paradise rather emphatically. Thus I had boarded the underground subway at 14th Street, in lower Manhattan, after my initial entry point above ground on the elevated West End line of the at the Fifty Fifth street station in the Boro Park section of Brooklyn. The total cost at the Boro Park Station at fifty fifth street in Brooklyn, and another nickel at 14th Street in Manhattan, where the Jerome Avenue Bronx line interconnected, was ten cents, which also was duplicated on the return trips home; a grand total of 20 cents round trip for about 25 miles each way; easily affordable even on meager allowance money! And at least a two hour trip each way.

And only a very short walk, underground between the two interconnecting disparate subway lines, whose rumbling train noises in the background sounded almost like a comforting lullaby of crude but somehow reassuring triumphant somewhat thundering transportation technologies!

However, that very pleasant interlude dear to my memory in April of 1938 was at Ebbets Field, that almost bucolic setting near Prospect Park and the Brooklyn museum. I believe it was on a Sunday and my father supplied the transportation in one of the Buick sedans he always favored. He was valiantly trying to bond and assimilate via my baseball enthusiasm. I was the youngest of three and the most tractable. Somewhat late in life, too, he had achieved adequate financial success as a manufacturing furrier and was enjoying, vicariously, my enjoyment of baseball. So on that eventful day we watched an almost classic game. Hal Schumacher for the Giants and Van Lingle Mungo for the Dodgers. (Carl Hubbell, the all time Giant great, was not the scheduled pitcher that day). But Mungo and Schumacher battled to a tight run less game until the ninth inning when Mel Ott, an immortal Giant hero, hit the winning home run. Indeed the only run scored by either team that day. The only hit the Dodgers had was a spoiler “ scratch hit” by Goodie Rosen, a very meager hit that he beat out to first base. Thus depriving Schumacher of a rare prize in any pitcher’s career----a no hit nine inning game. The fact that Rosen was Jewish, however, was still mitigating balm to both myself and my father and the many other Jewish fans in attendance. The Giants over the years tried to encourage this large segment of their fan base somewhat unsuccessfully over the years with actual performing players. Andy Cohen in the twenties was a success at second base, but Phil Weintraub, in the thirties, was a less successful in the outfield---a prime example of “good hit, no field”. It was rumored that on the days he was scheduled to start in right field that section of the outfield grass at the Polo Grounds was mowed much closer to the ground, not to further impede his rather slow, lumbering approach to catching opposition fly balls. The two truly great Jewish players were Hank Greenberg (Detroit) ---batting—and Sandy Koufax—(Dodgers) pitching.

Actually the New York/San Francisco Giants--Brooklyn/Los Angeles Giants were close “naturally” feuding neighbors from 1890 onto the present. About only 15 miles apart on the east and west coast of the country. When Dodger owner Walter O’Malley decided to move his team to Los Angeles, because he could not get Brooklyn politicians to allow a favorable site to replace venerable but too small Ebbett’s Field, he managed to persuade a somewhat reluctant Horace Stoneham to change his own original plan of moving the Giants to Minnesota. While history did prove them somewhat right they still have not realized the financial success in the west that the east coast easily would have produced in the first 55 years since that epic move from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. Indeed the Dodgers are now going through a “successful” bankruptcy proceeding, and the original Giant stadium out west right off the too breezy Pacific Ocean (Candlestick Park) has been replaced by a smaller more functional site still too near the ocean and it’s still sometime capricious fogs and very “windy breezes”!

Also, the still extant rivalry has yet to produce the glorious, mythic events of the of the east coast diatribes, as when Bill Terry,the Giant manager, asked, “ Is Brooklyn still in the league?” in l934. And the Dodgers in the last week of that season beat the Giants in two crucial games to that cost them the league lead and the pennant race---after being beaten by the Giants in 14 of the 22 games the rest of that year. Or the other side of the “spoiler” coin, in 1951, Chuck Dressen, the Brooklyn manager famously averred in most typical superb Brooklynese “the Giants is dead”. And why not? It was already mid August with a little over a month to go and the Dodgers were in first place by 13½ games.! But—miracle of miracles!- that lead slowly evaporated and a best of three game playoff was needed to decide the winner of the National League pennant. The first two games were split and in the ninth inning of the third game Bobby Thomson of the San Francisco Giants hit the deciding home run to win the Pennant. It was almost the “shot round the world” as the very excited announcer kept repeating “the Giants win the pennant, the Giants win the pennant, the Giants win the pennant!!”

However, by that time the emotional ground beneath us had already shaken drastically even world wide, even with we, cool,more ardent, committed and cool, sophisticated “outliers” like myself. For most of us were still numb from the startling change in baseball direction two years before that allowed “Lippy” Leo Durocher, a most verbal anti Giant goad—and manager of the Dodgers!—to leave and move up to the Polo Grounds to manage the somewhat lethargic New York Giants. And replace Mr. “nice guy” Mel Ott, an all time Giant hero. who most graciously stepped aside into the Giant front office. Perhaps already in line with Lippy Leo’s increasingly famous dictum “nice guys always finish last”. I personally was upset enough to forget, momentarily, the crucial difference with sports as a vicarious emotional positive but still a harmless fantasy. For less than ten years before we had the Nazi-- Communist Non Aggression Pact to contend with. Two arch enemies spewing intense vitriolic hate unto each other eternally, now vowing cooperation and brotherhood unto each other so that they could methodically carve up helpless Poland that lay hapless between them and forcing the onset of World War Two, by far the greatest military conflagration in history causing multi million casualties and terrible emotional pain and suffering.

Thus I became not a sophisticated outlier peripheral fan but rather a fickle fan at best, riding rather casually the good years but somewhat indifferently all the other times. Even rather cool to Bobby Thompsons’ home run a few year’s later. By then—1951—all my military service was behind me, I was happily married with two young children , busily looking, with my wife’s ardent attention for a site to practice dentistry.

But I never became a New York Yankee fan! For at the crest of my most impressionable childhood years, in l936, my indulgent father took me to the second game, I believe, of the legendary, somewhat rare Subway Series games, when the Yankees, also renowned then as the Bronx Bombers, played either the Giants or the Dodgers in the World Series. And I was both outraged and crestfallen to see Carl Hubbell shelled from the mound rather early in that game, as the Yankees began to solve his hitherto totally enigmatic screwball—really a reverse curve ball.

However the trials and tribulations of happily married family life intervened. But I have never lost fealty with some inner urge to keep hating, not the faraway Los Angeles Dodgers, but the neighboring Yankees for the drubbing they administered that fateful day almost eons ago at Yankee Stadium. But there are many such disgruntled anti Yankee fans who ardently hate the Yankees too. Even as they dislike our sole Super power status world wide.

Now we are left with the mostly sad saga of the Mets. But remember it’s only the sublime charade of sports and it’s blessed vicarious vapors!!! And Hope truly does spring up eternally!!