A Baseball Fan Memoir Chapter 1 – Childhood Heroes

Brooklyn Dodgers jerseyThe first seven years of my life coincided with the heyday of New York baseball. The Dodgers were in Brooklyn, the Giants in Upper Manhattan and across the river the Yankees were in the Bronx.

All three won a World Series during that time. In fact, a New York team won every World Series between 1950 and 1956. In all but two of those seven years there was a subway series. The streak was broken in 1957 for two reasons. The Milwaukee Braves beat the Yankees in the World Series that year and after that season the Giants and Dodgers migrated west.

When families in other parts of the country would get together and talk baseball, it was about one team, the one and only home team that everyone who cared about baseball rooted for. But like many families in the New York area, I grew up in a split fan environment. My father’s family, all baseball fans, were strictly a National League group. My grandmother was the matriarch of Dodger fans while my father , as first born son, headed up the Giants contingent. My mother’s family had a couple Yankee fans. Being my father’s son, I went with the Giants.

Ted KluszewskiWhile I was only seven when the National League clubs split but I was fortunate to have seen games in all three of the New York stadiums at the time, Ebbets Field, the Polo Grounds and Yankee Stadium.  These trips made such an impression on me that to this day I remember details of those games and more specifically the players who participated. When I saw the Redlegs at Ebbets Field, Ted Kluszewski played first base for the visitors. Third baseman Eddie Yost was the best player on the Washington Senators team that I saw in Yankee Stadium. Ernie Banks was the Cubs first baseman when I saw the Chicago infield make two errors on the same play and allow Willie Mays to go all around the bases on a ground ball. I saw the Cubs play the Mets a few weeks ago and I have no idea who played first base.

In fact none of the players I have watched in the five decades that followed ever achieved the heroic stature of the players in the 50’s in my mind. Ask me who was the best centerfielder in the history of baseball and I still think the choices are Duke Snider, Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays. The news media at the time wrote about baseball in terms of who won, who had the winning hits and who was the winning pitcher. We didn’t necessarily know about who took drugs, who cheated on their wife or who defaulted on their taxes. No doubt the players in the 50’s weren’t actually better people than modern day players, but we had the luxury of picking our favorites based only on their on-field performance.

Baseball itself was a lot more child friendly than it is now. Big games, including the World Series and the All-Star Game were played during the day. I remember watching World Series games on a TV set up in front of my 5th or 6th grade classroom.  Saturday and Sunday games were always played during the day and most Sundays had doubleheaders. Not the kind of doubleheaders they have today where they try to squeeze you for two admissions, but rather back to back nine inning games with a 20 minute or so break in between.

As long as you could get to the stadium, you could get in. The bleacher seats I sat in to see the Yankees and the Senators cost $1. The leagues had a system of indentured servitude at that time which prevented free agency, so you generally got to see the same players year after year and usually didn’t have to face the emotional conflict of seeing a former favorite player in the uniform of the team you hated most.

Their records have been broken. Their accomplishments surpassed. Yet I never quite got over the thought that no one could smack home runs like Mickey Mantle, patrol centerfield like Willie Mays, hit like Stan Musial or strike batters out like Don Newcombe.

Los Angeles Dodgers v St. Louis Cardinals, Game 3

Next week’s post will be about coming of age, something that me and the Mets did at the same time.

See also A Baseball Fan Memoir – Introduction.

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4 Responses to A Baseball Fan Memoir Chapter 1 – Childhood Heroes

  1. Thom Hickey says:

    Thanks really enjoyed this memoir. look forward to reading more here. regards from thom at the immortal jukebox (featuring a duke snider tribute)

    Like

  2. jbutler1914 says:

    Sounds like that was the golden age of the MLB. I wish the tickets still were $1 to get in the games. Also it must have been amazing to watch the World Series during classes.

    Like

  3. Pingback: A Baseball Fan’s Retirement Guide | off the leash

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