My angst goes way back to when baseball was baseball, when the World Series was played in God’s own sunlight, and the bad guys in pinstripes jumped up and down on my beloved Brooklyn Bums — the great rivalry of this sport, two teams from the same city (more or less) meeting in six World Series in one tense decade.
So much history. So much pain. The humble, scorned and wacky outer-borough Dodgers had played and lost two earlier World Series before finally meeting the Yankees in 1941 — a harbinger of hideous things to come.
In the fourth game that year, the Dodgers were one strike away from tying the Series except that the catcher, Mickey Owen, missed a third strike on Tommy Henrich, thrown by Hugh Casey, which just may have been a spitter: hard to hit, hard to catch.
This was my family legacy as a kid in Queens. Brooklyn was the mother ship and the Dodgers were the good guys, doing the right thing, signing black players and repeatedly reaching the World Series.
I remember each Series, the way one remembers disasters more vividly than happy events. I know where I was. I know what happened. I know how I felt: rotten.
1947: I am 8, raking leaves in the back yard when the Dodgers’ Cookie Lavagetto hits a double to break up a no-hitter by Floyd Bevens with two out in the ninth and win Game 4. But the Dodgers’ substitute manager, Burt Shotton, makes some strange lineup choices and the Dodgers lose the Series. I am young. One loss, by itself, is no tragedy.
1949: I rush home from grade school just in time to hear Tommy Henrich (yes, the same guy from 1941) hit a home run off Don Newcombe and set a tone for a five-game loss.
(I am not the only person whose life was affected by these tragedies. Fast forward four decades to an Old-Timer’s Day in Yankee Stadium. My good friend Steve Jacobson of Newsday is typing his column in the press room and Henrich walks past him toward the men’s room. “You!” Steve says to Henrich, who does not necessarily know him. “You ruined my childhood. I couldn’t concentrate in school. I was never the same.” Henrich regards him for a moment and says, “Tough!” or words to that effect. “What were you going to be, a doctor?” Probably not. Henrich proceeds to the men’s room.)
1952: The intraleague terror from the Phillies in 1950 (Richie Ashburn! Dick Sisler!) and the Giants in 1951 (Bobby Thomson!) are now terrible recent history. I am coming home from junior high, waiting for a bus, watching the seventh game on a TV in a store window. The Dodgers are two runs down in the seventh inning but the bases are loaded and Jackie Robinson hits a high pop-up into the wind and sun. The Yankees cannot track the ball until Billy Martin comes running from second base to catch the ball two feet off the ground halfway to the plate. I take the bus home, by which time the Dodgers have lost, again.
1953: My dad has come up with a ticket for my first World Series game. I take three subway lines to Ebbets Field, sit way up in deep center field. In the third inning, Russ Meyer relieves Johnny Podres. Bases loaded. Mickey Mantle hits a ball that gets bigger, and bigger, and bigger, and lands in the stands not far from me for a grand-slam homer. The Dodgers lose the next game and the Series.
1955: Brooklyn fans always talk about Next Year. The seventh game is being held in Yankee Stadium and I am playing defense for the Jamaica High soccer team against Brooklyn Automotive in the Borough of Churches. Somebody in the stands has a transistor radio and I edge toward the sideline to catch the score. Our coach notices and I am subbed at halftime — benched for the rest of the season. (Truth is, I was terrible.) Sandy Amoros makes a marvelous catch in left field and, as we head for the subway, bells are ringing all over Brooklyn.
1956: I am standing in the parking lot at Hofstra College, listening to the fifth game. Don Larsen has a perfect game going. The umpire calls a third strike on Dale Mitchell. The pitch was outside. I saw it on the radio. In the seventh game, Berra unloads on Newcombe. Next Year was fun, while it lasted.
One season later, the Dodgers move to Los Angeles, in a land grab described by Ry Cooder in his marvelous album, “Chavez Ravine.” Fired up by Dick Young in the Daily News, I believe Dodger owner Walter O’Malley is the worst person in the world. I trudge toward theoretical adulthood, feeling the world is against me.
I later become a reporter for Newsday and cover home games in the 1963 Series, with Sandy Koufax, the best pitcher I will ever see, striking out 15 Yankees.
In 1964 I am sent to Dodger Stadium with the Mets. It is late afternoon. The sun lights up the San Gabriel Mountains. The pastel ball park fills with fans. Angie Dickinson in a sun dress is rooting in a private box near home plate. I see Koufax and Drysdale and Wills and the two Davises. I nod. I hate it, but I finally understand O’Malley’s move to L.A.
The Dodgers lose the Series to the Yankees in 1977 and 1978 but I am a news reporter for the Times and I pay scant attention. In 1981, I am back in sports, watching the Yankees squander a two-games-to-none lead to the Dodgers, who win the Series in Game 6. I am unmoved. I’m a pro now.
What have I learned from all these World Series? That fringe players often decide Series games – Lavagetto’s hit and Al Gionfriddo’s catch off DiMaggio in 1949 – the last major-league plays for both of them, described in a charming recent book, “Electric October: Seven World Series Games, Six Lives, Five Minutes of Fame That Lasted Forever,” by Kevin Cook.
Other examples: Martin saving that pop-up in 1952, Amoros turning a fly ball into a double play in 1955, Brian Doyle, a backup second baseman, dominating the 1978 Series. (Plus, Luis Sojo of the Yankees crushing the Mets in 2000.)
Now it is 2017. I am a Mets fan. I like the way these Astros play. I like it when different teams win the Series. But if Curtis Granderson gets his chance — wearing Carl Furillo’s No. 6 — well, that might be different.
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