Thursday, October 15, 2020

Take Me Out to the Ballgame

 


DUKES FANS: Take Me Out to the Ballgame…

If you are not much of a sports fan, and in particular not much of a baseball fan, you may not want to read this newsletter. For it is an ode to a style and time of baseball play that was an important part of my life. I do not write much about sports in these missives, but I grew up with a deep love of baseball. I was born in 1950, and I grew up in a working class African-American neighborhood in West Philadelphia. Being a somewhat stereotypical boy, I was a sports fan and from the time I was around 4, I lived for baseball. We played versions of it in the street and played running the bases, half ball, and catching games. I listened to games on the radio and eventually got to watch them on this relatively new thing called 'television." When I was about 9, a couple of the fathers formed a neighborhood league, and we played at the fields at 49th and Brown Streets and 46th and Haverford Avenue. We even got into a few tournaments with teams from other neighborhoods. I would model my batting stance on my favorite players and try to stand in the field as they did. I simply loved the sport and engaged in fantasies of being a baseball star.

I was a die-hard Phillies fan then, even as we were losing during most of those years. (The Philadelphia Phillies are, in fact, the losingest single franchise in all of professional sports.)  For those of you who either remember or know about the epic end-of-season collapse of the 1964 team, I was one of those fans screaming for the head of manager Gene Mauch. Remembering that season can still almost bring me to tears.

The sports scene in the 50’s and 60’s was very different from what it is now. The was no ESPN, no talk radio sports shows, and the National Football League was not really a big thing yet, Baseball and boxing were the big national sports-there were even weekly Friday Night Fights on television. Like most boys from all backgrounds, I collected and traded baseball cards, and relished those few times I could go to baseball games with my father or with church groups. I was fortunate to be married years later to a woman who also loved the game. Watching games on TV together was something we loved. We had season tickets for several years and got to go to game 1 of the 1980 World Series, when the Phillies won their first world championship. I still have a button and the program from that game. We also went to game 3 in the 1993 Series when the Phils were beaten by the Toronto Blue Jays. And we celebrated the later success of the team, including their 2008 World Series victory. I am still a Phillies fan.

I have been reliving and thinking about those days because three of my all-time favorite baseball players died, one after the other, in recent months. Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, and Joe Morgan are three names that stand out among many from my memories of being a lifelong baseball fan. I have such clear and vivid memories of watching each of them play. Each was a superb and idiosyncratic performer who had signature moves and flair. Lou Brock was a great hitter and base stealer. I have fond memories of watching him working a pitcher for a walk and dancing off first base, forcing the pitcher to throw over trying to keep him close to the bag. But it was to no avail; he would take that 2 step start and be gone. He would make the pitcher so nervous that he could lose concentration on the batter at the plate; a lot of St Louis Cardinal hitters owed their batting averages to Lou being on base in front of them. He was also the first of the ball players to make stealing bases an offensive weapon. He could time and design his slides so that he could go into 2nd base from different angles and even slide past the bag and reach back to touch it. He played for the St. Louis Cardinals, so I got to watch him frustrate the Phillies on a regular basis. But he was in several division championships and World Series games, so I could openly root for him on national TV. And root for him I did.            

Bob Gibson also played for the St. Louis Cardinals, and he was one of the most intimidating pitchers the game has ever known. He would stand tall on the pitcher’s mound, glowering and staring at batters before doing that big windup and then uncorking a rifle-like fastball, a dive-at -the last-minute curve ball, or a hard slider. He was super-competitive; his wife would not let him play cards with their daughter because he was too intense. But, Man, could he pitch!  And he was a complete player; he was a great fielder, a great hitter, and a great runner. He was one of the game's most dominant pitchers in the mid to late 1960’s. He won 2 of 3 games he pitched in the 1964 World Series, won 20 games in a season in 1965, and  pitched three complete game victories in the 1967 World Series when the Cardinals won the world championship. The pinnacle of Gibson's career was 1968, when he posted a 1.12 ERA for the season and then recorded 17 strikeouts in Game 1 of the 1968 World Series. That ERA is the best in modern baseball history, and the 17 strikeouts is still a World Series record. Yes, I hated the way he tortured the Phillies, but I loved watching him in post-season play. His intensity came through the TV screen.

Joe Morgan was probably the best fielding and hitting second basemen in the history of the game. He was the heart of the Cincinnati Reds’ dreaded “Big Red Machine” that dominated the National League during the 1970’s. They won 6 Division Titles, four National League championships, and two World Series championships during that decade. Joe could start rallies by getting a line drive single or working a walk. He could keep a rally going by taking a walk, stealing a base, or hitting a clutch home run. And he could stop an opponent’s rally with a diving stop of a ground ball, a swiftly turned pivot on a double play, or by making a perfect relay throw to get a runner out at the plate. Morgan was a remarkably steady and all-around player. He was often in the top ten in walks, fielding average, batting average, runs scored, and stolen bases. In fact, he is #11 all time in that last category He played for the Reds, but he joined the Phillies in 1983, and it was his September surge that helped propel them into the World Series that year (although they lost to the Orioles) And Joe had a bit of a swagger but was often smiling. He was clearly working hard, but he was seeming to enjoy it all. I liked that.

As we age we lose heroes and memories from our younger lives. Be they musicians, politicians, artists, athletes, writers or what, they are people whose presence in the world touched us and made us see something in ourselves. We lost a number of other great baseball players this year: Whitey Ford, Tom Seaver, and "Mr. Philly, Tony Taylor, among others. But these three were ones whose style and intensity spoke to me about sports and more than sports. As a young African-American during the heyday of Civil Rights and the Viet Nam War, their clear and bold presence and excellence meant a lot to me. They presented ways to be in and to meet the world as a young Black man. So here's to three wonderful athletes and people who gave me so much joy and were models-possibilities- of how to be in the world. Yes, it was only a game. But it was also so much more.

IMPORTANT CITIZEN STUFF: please take note

CENSUS 2020:

The US Supreme Court ruled yesterday that end date of the census is today, October 15th! So if you have not done your census yet, please do it today! The census is hugely important. The information it contains helps the Federal government and states decide on things such as voting districts, grants for Federal aid, transportation and highway funds, and a hell of a lot more.Please go to Census.gov  It does not take long. And please check to make sure friends, family members, and co-workers have completed the process. Thanks

VOTING 2020;
Monday,October 19 is the PA deadline to register to vote.
November 3rd is the date of one of the most important national and state elections in our lifetimes, and it is not too extreme to say that the history of at least the next 20-30 years of the United States will be decided by this election. Everyone should be sure they are registered, that they have a plan to vote, and that they are ready to go. If you are voting by mail, order your ballot now and get it turned in as soon as possible to avoid any delays and craziness. And if you are a Pennsylvanian, be aware of the “naked ballot” court decision. Please make sure you are following all of your state’s rules about registering, mail in ballots, and more: https://www.aarp.org/politics-society/government-elections/info-2020/state-voting-guides.html

There is also a huge need in states for poll workers, so if you can do that please help out. And you can get paid for doing it. Here is a link about it:

GIGS:

THE TWO JOHNS BACK AT THE COSMIC CAFÉ: SUNDAY, OCTOBER 18: NOON UNTIL 3 PM

The Two Johns-Johnny Never, acoustic guitar and vocal and John Colgan-Davis, harmonica-return to one of our favorite places to play and to play safely. The Cosmic Café is a great small café and beverage spot in back of the Art Museum at 1 Boathouse Row. It features great sandwiches and salads, beer and non-alcoholic beverages, and a great staff. Masks are required, tables are set apart, and there are nice views of the Schuylkill River. Hope to see you this Sunday.