It’s heading toward the end of April and the Sox, last year’s series winners, are having a hard time. While not in last place, they’ve lost more than often than they’ve won. Many of the teams who were supposed to be leading their division are not doing well.
It’s early yet. If they are still tanking by the end of May, we’ll have to get serious about worrying. Garry would normally be obsessively glued to the television, but when his team isn’t playing well, he’s afraid to watch. He thinks watching is a jinx.
The sportscasters were talking about somebody getting stuck with an error because he couldn’t catch a ball on a bad bounce and how hard it is to catch them when they take an unpredictable bounce.
This got me thinking about stickball.
These professional players get gazillions of dollars to play professional baseball. They have parks with groundskeepers, bases, uniforms, baseballs, and even bats! How would they do without all that fancy stuff, huh?
We didn’t have any of that. No siree. We played that old-time American favorite, stickball. We hit with old broomsticks using a pink rubber Spalding ball — which might or might not be round.
The broomsticks were worn out. If it was any good, your mother was using it, so before you got to play, it had to be pretty beat up.
The ball? Half the time, they weren’t even round anymore. They had lumps of pink rubber which had — long in the past — been balls with bounce.
In hometown stickball, assuming you actually hit whatever was thrown (dubious), you had no way to predict where it would go. All bounces were bad. An old, not-round Spalding rubber ball could go anywhere.
The bases were “the red car over there” and “the big maple tree in front of Bobby’s house.” Everyone agreed the manhole cover was home because it was more or less in the middle of the road. Third base was the drainage grate over the sewer. Watch your feet and DON’T let the ball go down the drain.
It left the game wide open for serious disputes about fair versus foul. The team who was most vigorous in pursuing fairness or foulness got the call, especially since we were our own umpires and decisions were voted on and the bigger team (by numbers or just physically bigger) always won.
If those super highly paid athletes had to play stickball, how well do you think they’d do? I’d like to see those tough major leaguers playing stickball with a worn-out broomstick and an old pink Spalding ball bouncing wildly all over the place.
I’ve written numerous pieces about my love of baseball. I’ve shared memories of the teams I’ve followed as a diehard fan.
From the Brooklyn’s Boys of Summer in the ’40s and ’50s to Casey’s inept, Amazin’ Mets in the early ’60s.
To the sons of Teddy Ballgame who, in 2004, broke generations of hearts before smashing the curse of the Bambino and 87 years of futility. I’ve told you about meeting many baseball legends including Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, and Ted Williams.
Our kitchen wall includes tributes to my personal baseball hero, Edwin Donald “Duke” Snider. I met “The Duke” back when he played briefly with the Mets. It was one of the most memorable days of my life.
Like many New York youngsters of a certain era, I was in the middle of the argument about who was the best center fielder — Willie, Mickey, or The Duke. We were blessed by having three major league teams in Gotham back in those days. On any given day or night you could listen to Hall of Fame voices like Vin Scully, Mel Allen, Red Barber, or Russ Hodges describing the fortunes of the Dodgers, Giants, and Yankees.
On the streets of Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens – and, later, Long Island, ragtag teams of boys — identified by their block — played softball, stickball and, if lucky, baseball. The games began after school and continued, in my case, until the familiar chorus of “Garry, your mother is callin’ you. You gotta go home —now!”
Sulking, I’d drop the bat, pick up my glove and slowly, slowly walk home. I never heard the guys laughing as I left. In retrospect, I guess they were always laughing as I left the games.
I was “that kid.”
The last one picked to play on the street team. The kid they played in deep right field and prayed no ball was hit to him. I mimicked Duke Snider’s sweet left-handed batting stance. I set up in the batter’s box just like Duke so I could rip the ball to right field.
I never ripped or hit — and rarely made any contact — with the ball. I looked good. I had style.
In the field, I couldn’t catch routine fly balls or cleanly field hits and hold the runner to one base. I still had Duke Snider’s style, though. I jogged, swinging my arms up and down — in Duke’s regal manner. I was sure I had class even if I couldn’t hit or field.
My misfortune continued as a teenager when I played with the church baseball team. The Luther League.
The coaches probably felt compelled to play me because we were one of only three families of color at our church. Not to play me probably would’ve caused unrest as the predominantly German Church was trying to be progressive in the mid-1950s. No one ever said this, but, deep down, I knew
I was something of an albatross.
The Black kid with no athletic ability. I wanted to be good but I wasn’t. I was sure I’d find my niche as I grew older. I also labored under the illusion that I would gain five or six inches of height, miraculously, one night in my teenage dreams of glory. My Dad stood six feet plus, My two younger brothers already were taller than me. I always really believed I’d gain those inches when I turned 20. It had to happen. I believed.
By the early ’70s, I was a rising TV news reporter in Boston. My celebrity may have been rising but not my height. My USMC ID card read 5 feet 5 and a half inches. I’d been the shortest kid as a Marine recruit at the Parris Island Training base back in 1959. (That’s another story.)
In the early 1970’s Boston, only a handful of minority TV News Reporters existed. I was “it” on Channel 7.
When it came to the celebrity/media softball games, I could only hope to shed my athletic ineptitude. I think it was assumed — oblivious to my past — that I would be an asset to Channel 7’s team. I looked fast, had that classic Duke Snider swing and had an elegant gait. It didn’t take long for the truth to emerge.
The color of my skin didn’t guarantee athletic prowess. Still, there was some hype to my appearance on the baseball field on Boston Common. Adding to my dilemma, the minority reporters on the other teams were good players. They had achieved their bonafides. I was the new “phenom.”
It was awful. The first game I played seemed to last an eternity. I was the leadoff hitter. Big mistake.
I did manage a weak single in 3 or 4 at bats. I botched most of the balls hit to me in right field. I blamed it on the glare from the lights. They believed me and gave me “attaboys”. The rest of my Boston baseball/softball career was, in the words of Sir Charles Barkley, “terr’ble.” I remember some of my Channel 7 colleagues shaking their heads when I showed up for games. One of them, a legendary cameraman, used to giggle and laugh “Oh, Geerey … no … no.”
One of my early show-cased appearances on Channel 7 featured me in a Walter Mitty-like series. One of the Mittyish assignments had me working out, in full uniform, with the Boston Red Sox. I believe a young Pudge Fisk was catching as I dug in with my Duke Snider stance. The Towering figure on the mound supposedly tossing easy “BP” stuff to me was former fireballing right-hander, Bob Veale.
Veale was now a Sox pitching coach. I figured he’d take it easy on me. As I leveled my Duke Snider stance, I glanced out to the mound. Big Bob Veale seemed 8 feet tall. He had an evil grin on his face.
The first pitch was by me and in Fisk’s glove before I could begin my swing. Pudge giggled louder. Veale’s grin grew bigger. Remember, cameras were rolling on me for this ballyhooed TV feature.
I think I ticked the second pitch which only incensed Mr. Bob Veale. He reared back and fired what Dennis Eckersley now calls “Hot, high cheese” to me. I swung, probably 5 seconds after the ball was caught by Pudge Fisk who was now laughing.
Most of the Sox players were smiling or laughing quietly except for Johnny Pesky who offered me solace. Pesky and I would be friends until he passed away. For some reason, he took a liking to me even though I clearly had no athletic skills. Class act — Johnny Pesky.
It remained for Teddy Ballgame to put everything in perspective. We were chatting about stuff. I’d hit it off with Ted Williams who rarely bonded with the media. I suspect Mr. Pesky was my liaison.
Williams asked me to show him my swing. I did. He tossed a few pitches to me. I missed all of them. Teddy Ballgame tapped me on the shoulder, smiling, “Garry. You need to see the ball before you hit it or try to hit it. Forget it, Pal”.
I still have fantasies about being a 70-something “Roy Hobbs.”
When I was out in LA, our friends took us to an amazing museum – The Autry Museum of the West.
It included artifacts of the real west of America’s past, as well as the movie and TV versions of that same history. In fact, the museum is named after the famous “Singing Cowboy” of the early television days, Gene Autry, also the former owner of the Los Angeles/California/ Anaheim Angels Major League Baseball team from 1961 to 1997.
I took so many photos, I’m going to divide them up into three separate posts. This one will be devoted to clothing – a fascinating aspect of history.
I’m just back from running an errand. I had the car radio on the local sports radio station, the flagship station for the Boston Red Sox radio network. The regular season starts next week and I’m excited as you would expect of a guy who’s grown up with baseball as a passion.
From my youth in the ’40s and ’50s, following the fortunes of Brooklyn’s Boys of Summer to the early ’60s, tracking the daily misfortunes of Casey’s Amazin’ Mets to the present, hyperventilating over the sons of Teddy Ballgame playing at Fenway Park, the so-called cathedral of baseball.
This is the time of year when we scour pre-season predictions of all the major league teams. We look at stats and projections for all the players.
Politics and other breaking news is set aside to focus on how OUR team will fare. During ancient times, preceding 24/7 online coverage, we studied the magazines that featured baseball experts, looking through their crystal balls, telling us who would be good and who would be lousy. I spent more time on these magazines than on my homework.
Hell, baseball was more important than history, science, geography, math, and science combined.
Ironically, decades later, I’d use my weak math skills to understand crucial baseball stuff, namely contracts. Contracts garner today’s headlines because of the money shelled out to today’s biggest baseball stars.
As I write, Mike Trout is at the top of the world, Ma, agreeing to a multi-year 400-million-dollar contract with the Los Angeles Angels. I wonder if Gene Autry, the original Angels owner, is scratching his head at the big Melody Ranch In The Sky.
Trout’s record-shattering contract tops last week’s record-shattering deal by Bryce Harper with the Philadelphia Phillies. Harper’s “It’s not about the money — I love baseball” proclamation covers the multi-year 300 million dollar bonanza for the former Washington Nats star.
Sports media yakkers and writers have been foaming at their collective mouths over Red Sox star and last year’s A.L MVP, Mookie Betts who stands to be new man atop the world when he hits Free Agency in 2 years. Mookie is staying mum, saying “he just wants to play baseball.” Right.
So, I’m listening to talk radio, expecting a little yak about the dough, then moving onto assessing the upcoming season.
Red Sox Nation wonders about last year’s astounding 119 wins –including regular and postseason momentum, including the World Series championship. That was a once-in-a-generation season. Hard to top. I and many other fans are already worried.
We don’t have a decent bullpen, let alone a postseason-caliber roster of relievers. We bid adieu to ace closer Craig Kimbrel who wanted BIG money as one of baseball’s top closers. We also bid “vaya con dios” to Joe Kelly, the master curve ball artist who presumably could’ve replaced Kimbrel. Kelly went west for big money with the Dodgers.
I’m listening to the radio gas baggers, waiting for some chat about the Red Sox plans for the bullpen, not to mention how the rest of the team looks. They’ve looked pretty bad in Spring Training even though we know Grapefruit League games don’t matter. They are exercises intended to get the team ready for the regular season. Still, you’d like to see the pitchers evolve from rusty to sharp. You’d like them to at least look ready for the real games coming up in just a few weeks, wouldn’t you?
Bosox pitchers have looked like hamburger helpers in the Grapefruit League. The rest of the team looks very iffy, save a few hitters who’ve been slugging like they’re hitting grapefruit instead of horsehide.
The Talkers also slide over to politics and whether the Sox should pay the traditional championship visit to the White House this year. A number of players have made it clear Donzo is not their kind of guy and have sent regrets to the Oval Office.
I timed half an hour of money talk — and Donzo’s affability — by the yakkers, and callers who seemed to be off their meds.
This isn’t “Field of Dreams” stuff. It’s an offshoot of Cuba Gooding’s famous line in “Jerry McGuire.” We laughed long and loud when Gooding’s baseball player screamed at Tom Cruise’s agent, “Show me the money!”
I love shooting in town. We used to get into town a lot more often than we do now. Admittedly, we get into Uxbridge often, but there isn’t a lot of Uxbridge to shoot. It’s a very small town and all the towns in the area a small. Boston has a lot to offer, but it’s a long drive with terrible traffic, bad roads, and incredibly expensive parking and we go there only rarely these days.
The city has spent literally billions of dollars to redesign the roads. They look better, but the traffic is even worse. They made the roads straighter and one of the worst ones now runs underground so you don’t have to see what a terrible mess it is. But the mess is there and for me, the idea of bumper-to-bumper traffic in an endless tunnel is not an improvement. Just breathing would be traumatic.
So we stay here in the country. Our city pictures all date from 2016 or earlier. That’s how it will remain. I don’t see the traffic, parking, or distance getting easier, cheaper, or shorter.
We are serious baseball fans. Garry has actually written a couple of pieces like this, but you need to “get” baseball to understand them. This is a great piece and if you are any kind of sports fan, you should recognize that “the big play” is sexy on TV. A huge homer makes the fans cheer and stomp while the TV crew gets all worked up.
There are a lot of ways to win — and lose. Whacking the ball over the wall is not a game.
A homer is just ONE play. A team needs a basket of strategies to make the game a winner — and a lot of winning games to take the season to a winning finish.
Paul Manafort, Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, was just sentenced again in federal court.
So let’s talk baseball.
While such a segue is admittedly strained, the all-American game has lessons to teach sensible citizens who hang our heads over a combined seven-and-a-half-year sentence for Manafort that could allow the 69-year-old to still walk out of prison rather than be carried out on a slab.
Baseball today is a different game than the one many of us grew up with. ESPN’s Sports Center highlights helped turn the sport into one big home run derby, which prevented newer fans from ever learning baseball’s nuances. The stolen base, the hit-and-run, the run-scoring double off the wall are all exciting plays that are mostly unappreciated by newer fans who are conditioned to only get excited when the ball is hit over the fence.
It’s a crime, really, and speaking of crime, that brings us back…
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