Posts Tagged ‘Brooklyn Dodgers’

The Old Ball Game

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

By Jeffrey Page

It is very cold this morning, but the snow turned out to be less catastrophic than anticipated. The sun is shining, the sky is a rich blue and a few minutes ago a guy on the radio uttered one of the lovelier phrases in the English language.

“Pitchers and catchers,” he said, and it turns out that after today it’s just 13 days until the start of spring training for the throwers and receivers. The Arizona Diamondbacks report on Feb. 6, the Mets on Feb. 15 and the Bronx team on Feb. 14. All this means that winter will soon be over; never mind what the calendar or the meteorologists say.

Several days after pitchers and catchers report, the position players arrive for spring training. Then, on March 30 there’s an opening-day game with Los Angeles playing Washington in Sydney, Australia. The traditional opening day will be on the 31st. VIPs will toss first pitches, some people with questionable ability will sing the national anthem, the cheering will commence when the vocalists reach “o’er the land of the free,” umpires will cry out “Play Ball!” and there will be happiness in the land.

Now is a wonderful time of year. For one thing, it proves that we’ve survived another winter, this one more frigid than most. It is a time to think about the next six months in our futures and to at least consider the possibility that all will be well.

For Mets fans, however, it is tinged with the aroma of disappointment. It’s a time of welcome, but of fear and slight resignation as well. In other words, a year like most other years for followers of the Mets. As in so many summers past we stand at the cusp of another season of hope, rage and ultimately (in all likelihood) grave disappointment. But wait, this is baseball and therefore we hope. Miracles happen in this game. Maybe this will be the year of surprise and delight. Maybe this is the year of another miracle in Flushing. God knows we deserve it. God knows we need it.

I love the game: a double play, a bunt (rare nowadays) that catches the infielders glued in place, a game-ending home run in the bottom of the ninth, a perfectly executed hit and run, the long afternoon of a pitcher refusing, inning after inning, to give up a first hit. Or, just sitting in the warm sun of spring. That’s another thing I like about baseball – the day games early in the season and into summer when you can sit and talk, have a beer and take in that sun.

I detest the business of baseball: the fact that if you take a kid to a game and add up the price of parking, tickets, a pennant or other souvenir, maybe a scorecard, a round of hot dogs and drinks, maybe something more substantial as the game progresses, you spend enough money to have made a mortgage payment. And it irks me that the slowest, clumsiest, most inept players demand salaries in the millions and that part of those salaries are partially underwritten by you and me when we buy tickets.

But it’s baseball and I can forgive a lot when the reward is to watch players execute those plays that I can only wish I could duplicate.

Because it is winter heading into spring, it’s a time of remembrance as well. It may be 59 summers since the Dodgers of Brooklyn defeated the Bronx team in the ’55 World Series, but still I am shocked when I look up the Brooklyn roster of 1955 and realize that of the 32 players listed, only nine are living.

That fabled infield of Reese, Robinson, Gilliam and Hodges, gone.

The outfield of Furillo, Snider and Amoros, gone.

Our catcher, Campanella, gone.

Among the pitchers, Podres, Labine, Loes, all gone. But the great Don Newcombe (who pitched a 27-7 season), Carl Erskine, Roger Craig, the kid Sandy Koufax (“the kid” is 78), Tommy Lasorda and Ed Roebuck are with us.

Why do I go back to these guys every spring? Why do I think of them almost as members of my working class family? That’s a subject for deeper thinking and another column.

Wait ‘til next year.


A Joyous Night in Baseball

Thursday, August 8th, 2013

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.


Baseball in Somewhat Later Years

Thursday, July 25th, 2013

By Ken Goldfarb

Unlike a lot of “real” sports fans, I cannot recall many specifics about baseball, the game that I have learned to love more and more as time passed.

Games I have seen, along with major league records or player stats or even who won the World Series in any particular year, are a blur.

Then again, that’s not always the case if it involves the Mets, or the old Brooklyn Dodgers.

As a kid growing up in Brooklyn in the early 50s there was only one team to root for, the hometown Dodgers. How two very famous Brooklyn boys failed in that regard – Joe Torre rooted for the old New York Giants, and Rudy Giuliani went with the Yankees – is beyond me.

For me it was the Duke, Jackie, Pee Wee, Campy, Gil and the rest of the Boys of Summer.

Similar to Mike Kaufman’s experience, which he wrote about in last week’s Zest of Orange, my first view of the unbelievable green of Ebbets Field was awesome to this 5-year old. You have to remember that back then, color television had not yet reached the average viewer. So to watch Dodgers games on WOR-TV in shades of grey, and then to actually see them in person (with the vibrant colors of the field and the players’ sparkling white uniforms), took my breath away.

I have no recollection of who the visiting team was, or who won the game. But, I do remember Roy Campanella, the very talented but ill-fated catcher of the Dodgers, hit a line drive straight at us sitting in the leftfield stands. This wasn’t one of those parabolic home runs with an apogee somewhere high over the grass that then slowly came down into the seats. This was a rocket aimed right at us. The ever enlarging ball seemed at first to have me or my dad as its intended target. But it flew above us and was still going up when a man seated directly behind us stood and tried to catch it in his bare right hand. He failed, and the ball dropped down and wandered under the seats to someone a few rows in front of us. But the man who first put flesh to Campy’s home run shot was now suffering. From the ball’s impact, his hand had swollen to almost twice its normal size.

As for me, I had no baseball skills back in my youth. I was usually chosen last in any of the Brooklyn street games, and my two seasons of Little League ball were un-noteworthy.

Jump ahead a few decades and I got talked into playing in a casual coed softball game. I still didn’t have much success, but enjoyed playing.

Then, six years ago, when I was 62, I had the guts to join a senior men’s baseball team.

Yes, baseball – hard ball – the real game. Now, I have to say my skills are still quite limited. On top of everything else, I am the oldest player on my 55-and-over team. But there are magical moments. Such as when you hit a baseball with a wooden bat and hear and feel the proverbial crack of the bat. It is a sound that enters your entire being with a thrill rarely matched by other experience.

Almost as thrilling was a particular at-bat that stands out as my proudest moment as a ball player. It was in my second year, and I was on a new team after having had an off-season disagreement with the manager of my first team, the Cougars. I was now on the Hawks and we were playing the Cougars.

The game was tied – we were the home team – and I led off in the first extra inning. For the first time in my life I decided to bunt, and a very successful bunt it was. I beat the throw to first base for an infield hit, but the ball couldn’t be handled, and I ended up on second base. Then I got to third on a ground-out.

Our next batter hit a slow ground ball to the third baseman and I was immediately off and running for home, easily scoring the winning run. What a grand moment – and against my old team. It doesn’t get any better.

By the way, I’m still playing, and got a nice hit in the recent brutal heat with a hard ground ball down the foul line that the third baseman couldn’t touch.

Not bad for an old man.

Ken Goldfarb was news director at WVOS in Sullivan County and later a reporter for The Times Herald-Record of Middletown and the Daily Gazette of Schenectady. He now works in public relations.








Musings on Musial

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

By Michael Kaufman

Gerald Eskenazi described the stance perfectly in the Wall Street Journal. “When Stan Musial stepped into the batter’s box, he was unforgettable: He stood at the plate using a peculiar, corkscrewed stance, untwisting as the ball approached, rifling singles, doubles, triples and home runs in numbers few others ever reached. When this most amiable of men held a bat, he reeked of danger.”

When I was a kid I often tried copying Musial’s unique batting stance. Let’s just say I did not reek of danger. I fared somewhat better when copying the stance of my hero, Duke Snider of the Brooklyn Dodgers. So what was a kid who rooted for the Dodgers doing copying Musial’s batting stance in the first place? Musial, who died last month at 92, played for the St. Louis Cardinals.

“Yes, he was St. Louis’s own—there are two statues of him at their ballpark—and he brought fame to his coal-country birthplace in Donora, Pa.,” wrote Eskenazi. “It was in Brooklyn, though, where he was tagged by fans as ‘the Man’ in honor of the way he regularly demolished the Dodgers. How many visiting ballplayers are regarded as a beloved foe?”   Eskenazi noted a certain irony in Musial’s appeal to Dodger fans, known for being emotional and rowdy.  “He was not flashy, or big or particularly fast. He greeted fans at the park with a low-keyed ‘Whattayasay, whattayasay.’” Unless my mind is playing tricks on me that is exactly what he said when he gave me his autograph on Stan Musial Day at the Polo Grounds in 1962. I think he homered in that game too. Musial was 41 at the time but he did the same thing to the Mets that he used to do to the Dodgers. The only difference was that most hitters on the opposing teams also clobbered Mets pitching that first season. (That year the Mets hitters also made most of the opposing pitchers look like Sandy Koufax.) Musial finished the 1962 season with a batting average of .330. He hit so well against the Mets he even decided not to retire for another year.

In 1964 I went with a group of friends to see the Mayor’s Trophy Game—a pre-season exhibition game between the Mets and New York Yankees—at the new Shea Stadium. But the start was delayed by rain and the game was canceled. Just as we left the ballpark to head for the subway a door opened and the entire Yankee team came out and began walking toward a team bus parked nearby. We stopped in our tracks and joined other Mets fans in booing. My friend Mike Saperstein looked Mickey Mantle in the eye and said, “You couldn’t tie Stan Musial’s shoelaces!” Mantle’s jaw dropped and we all laughed and slapped palms with Sap, as he was known to us all except one knucklehead who shall remain nameless who insisted on calling him Max. When finally asked why, he said, “Isn’t his name Max? Max Applestein.” (Ironically, both Mantle and Musial outlived Sap.)

I had no friends who were Yankee fans. Before the Mets came to town we had all rooted for the Dodgers or New York Giants, fierce rivals in the National League. But when it came to the Yankees, we had a united front that even Georgi Dimitrov would have envied. Only later did I come to appreciate Mantle for the great player he was.

But there was no one quite like Stan the Man.

Michael can be reached at