The shop manager, of the auto repair shop where I took my car to be serviced the morning after the Red Sox lost their final game to the Rays, was angry. "Terry's toast," he greeted me. From the Olympian heights of my advanced age, through years of suffering with my teams' failures, long, long before anyone had heard of "the curse of the Bambino," I counseled the shop manager, in so many words, to get over it, that I'd been there many, many times with the Brooklyn Dodgers (remember their motto, "Wait 'Til Next Year"?) and more recently with the New York Mets and their inevitable August swoon.
I had other reasons to revisit the misery and the ecstasy of baseball fandom. Saturday, September 24th, at Cove Island Park in my hometown, Stamford CT, the Class of 1949 gathered to celebrate a communal eightieth birthday with a picnic and, of course, a cake. Among those present was Steve Kaplan, who can be seen elsewhere on this website in the back row of Mrs. Moore's kindergarten class (Steve Kaplan in 1936) in which photo Bobby is wielding a Tom Mix six-shooter. Steve had a present for me, and it made him very excited in anticipation of seeing me open it, like, he said, a child bringing home to Mom a gift he made for her in school. Couldn't wait! But he did. He pulled from the rear compartment of his SUV a large (25" x 22") flat brown paper-covered item. What was inside now hangs on a wall in my den, cheek by jowl with the black and white photo of Duke Snider leaping for a fly ball in Yankee Stadium below a colored photo of a now demolished green cathedral, Shea Stadium. Right, Steve gave me the photo at the top of the page.
I did not disappoint Steve. Didn't have to. I was as pleased to receive the memento of my Brooklyn Dodgers as he was to give it.
Yes, it would be holier if men bonded over love for God. But I cannot believe the Almighty would be jealous of my childhood baseball team... or, for that matter, anyone's affection for their favorite team... even if that team is the Yankees, who in our desperation to beat in October (and failure to do so) inspired the chant "Wait 'Til Next Year?" The curse of Mickey Owen (never heard of it? look it up) was dispelled finally in 1955 by the "Boys of Summer" enshrined in the photo above and on my wall.
See if you can name them. No, don't cheat and look at the bottom of the page.
As for this bonding over mundane allegiances, consider this report from Bobby's travels in retirement. Wednesday morning, September 21st, three days before the aforesaid 80th birthday party at Cove Island Park, I participated in a funeral service for a friend, former congregant, and frequent Email correspondent Margaret (Peg) Keller, ninety-five year old widow of Bert, Central High School's beloved principal. Peg's son, Dick, with whom I had previously had just the briefest of conversations, spoke with me at length. I discovered, because Mom and Dad never thought to tell me, that Dick's thesis for his PhD in English was on Ring Lardner's writing about the bush leagues. Professor Richard Keller's specialty at Emporia (KA) State University is sports literature.
Wait, it gets better.Dick grew up as a Brooklyn Dodger fan. Like Doris Kearns Goodwin in Rockville Centre. Like Roger Kahn in Brooklyn. On the night table in Dick's bedroom he keeps a copy of Kahn'sThe Boys of Summer. Why, I asked him, didn't Dad Bert ever tell me his son was a sports story maven with a fixation on the Dodgers? The answer, with just a hint of uncertainty and a lot of pointed irony: "Bert was a Yankee fan."
Back to that framed photo Steve gave me. I've studied it. There are four Hall of Famers pictured. On the 1955 roster for the Brooklyn Dodgers there were six HOF inductees, most early on but two, Dick Williams and Sandy Koufax, later. Not in this photo is that Dodgers' best pitcher ever (and maybe the best ever in baseball history), Sandy, a recruit from the Brooklyn Parade Grounds semi-pro league, on the edge of Prospect Park at Caton and Coney Island Avenues. He hardly played that championship season of 1955; but I remember him warming up on the right field sideline, wild high and very fast.
I carry with me fifty-six years later one very distinct memory of that season. Ebbets Field. Mid-summer. Double-header vs. the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Dodger pitching staff was exhausted. Two rookies, just called up from the minors, started, Don Bessent and Roger Craig. I was there in my favorite perch, at the corner in left field. The rookies won. Pittsburgh in those years were patsies.
For most of my life I identified that memory as 1956. Google set me straight, with the assistance of the Baseball Almanac. Who cares? Right? Well, I do. I went to Brooklyn as a pastor in 1956. February 4th, to be exact. Ameliorating my disbelief, that I would be spending my first professional year in a locale devoid of green grass, where the houses were piled one right next to the other, was the consideration that now I could go any time I was able to get away to see my Dodgers in action. And we did go, if not often, then several times that summer, which ended with the plaint once more, after the World Series in 1956 (remember Don Larsen's perfect game?) loss to the Yankees, "Wait 'Til Next Year." There was another year, but one of terrible sorrow, because either O'Malley or Moses (pick your villain) made keeping the Dodgers in Brooklyn an impossibility.
What I had not foreseen in the shadows of 1957 was the power of lingering memories, strong enough to bond a couple of old men from Stamford; a pairing of a professor and a pastor; and, who knows, up ahead, who will be the new or old friend who knows whom I mean when I say the nickname Oisk.
Okay, okay, l. to r., Pee Wee Reese, Carl Furillo, Jackie Robinson, Carl Erskine, Gil Hodges, Don Newcombe, Duke Snider, and Roy Campanella. Right, I needed help too, with No. 17.