A Joyous Night in Baseball

By Jeffrey Page

It was almost 8:30. I don’t remember if I had a lot of undone homework, or if my mother simply wanted to watch the second half of the Kate Smith show. In any case, she laid claim to the TV.

This was May 21, 1952, and the Dodgers were playing the Reds at Ebbets Field. I begged her to let me just watch the first inning and then the television was all hers. She agreed. Poor Ma.

Much has been written about the wonderful slow poetry of the game of baseball such as the mysterious “3.” That is, 3 strikes, 3 outs, 3 squared for the number of innings. And there’s no clock. The game ends when the game ends. Also, the distance from home plate to outfield fences are rarely the same from ballpark to ballpark. But on this particular night, the nature of the poetry of gently rhyming stanzas and regular lilting meter would give way to the anarchy of free verse. It was a night never forgotten even decades later, a night when all the suffering that Dodger fans had endured – and would endure – would vanish.

Our pitcher, Chris Van Cuyk, looked good in the top of the first inning. He struck out the Reds’ leadoff batter, got the No. 2 man to fly out, and then struck out the mighty Ted Kluszewski. Then the Dodgers came up to bat, and the inning would not be over for another hour.

Let me give you an idea of the pleasure of that game. Our third baseman, Billy Cox, grounded out. Billy always had a better glove than bat. But then Pee Wee Reese walked, and Duke Snider, our mythic centerfielder, who grew avocados in the off season, hit the ball onto Bedford Avenue. We were up 2-0. Nice.

Jackie Robinson doubled. Andy Pafko walked. George Shuba singled, scoring Jackie. Pafko was caught stealing. Gil Hodges – the sainted Gil Hodges for whom nuns prayed and who received crosses and mezuzahs in the mail when in a hitting slump – walked. We loved Gil. And Rube Walker, Van Cuyk, Cox and Reese all singled in succession. All of a sudden, we were up 3-0, 5-0, 7-0. It just kept happening. Dodgers swung and Dodgers connected.

“That’s enough,” my mother said and went to the kitchen to make herself some coffee. No matter the occasion or time of day, everything in our house was done over a pot of coffee.

In the living room, my father and I were delighted by the explosive power of our guys. With two out, still in the bottom of the first, Brooklyn sent 15 batters to the plate. This is what they did:

Walked, singled, singled, singled, singled, walked, hit by pitch, singled, walked, walked, singled, singled, hit by pitch, walked. You could look it up.

Finally, with the score 15-0 and the bases loaded, Duke Snider strode to the batter’s box. His manner was easy, his bearing proud. Whether or not there was a smile on his face I do not recall. Men laughed and children shouted as he took a couple of practice swings.

Duke struck out. Hey, the man’s entitled. By the time he retired 12 years later he had connected for 407 home runs. Later he would get a plaque in Cooperstown.

I surrendered the TV set, but the Kate Smith show was long over. The next day I would learn that the Dodgers had scored another four runs. The Reds scored 1.

If I live to 150, I will never forget the wondrousness of that 19-1 night game in May. For me it was the middle point in Dodger greatness, coming after the World Series humiliations at the hands of the Yankees in 1941, ’47, and ’49. I was too young for that.

And coming before my own sense of grievous loss when Brooklyn went down to the Yankees again in my years of ’52, ’53 and ’56. Yes, there was, finally, the World Series victory of 1955, but it came just two years before O’Malley inflicted his own brand of humiliation on his team’s fans and moved the Dodgers to Los Angeles.

There were plenty of great moments for the Dodgers, but that one game so many years ago in 1952 made us young forever.


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5 Responses to “A Joyous Night in Baseball”

  1. carrie Says:

    What a great story! You brought me to a place I’ve never been, introduced me to part of the history of a game I love. Thanks!

  2. Michael Kaufman Says:

    I was just under 6 then and have no memory of that game but all the names resonated (with the exception of Van Cuyk) and I can picture what it must have been like. (Duke looked elegant even when he struck out, didn’t he?) And I can even picture my mom in front of the 10-inch black-and-white TV set, marveling as Kate Smith sang “When the Moon Comes Over the Mountain.”

  3. Jo Galante Cicale Says:

    oh kate smith. i’d rather watch baseball and i’m not even a big fan…lol….did u endure liberace too?

  4. Brendan Coyne Says:

    Thanks, Jeff. I still root for the Dodgers and I’m enjoying their recent resurgence after a dismal spring. I was a bit young for the game you described so vividly. How did you come up with all those details? But I do remember watching Johnny Podres finally beat the demon Yankees in the seventh game of the World Series in 1955. Alan Fram and I still kid each other about the Dodgers and the Yankees. All the best, Brendan

  5. Jeffrey Page Says:

    Brendan! Great to hear from you. I think just about everything is available on the internet. In this case, I searched “Brooklyn Dodgers” and Reds and 19-1 and 1952, and soon had the details of the game.

    Please send my best to Alan. Also, I did a story about Johnny Podres for the Warwick Advertiser when he died a few years ago. You can find it on the net.

    Hoping all’s well with you.


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