Meet Me in St. Louie
||Burton on the Bay
by Bill Burton
Meet Me at the Game
I don’t know how long the World Series of ’04 will run — there is the possibility it will be history by the time you read this — but the big showdown on the diamond can’t pass without comment from this corner. This year has brought me back into the fold of baseball — and with me many others — if for no other reason than the chance to witness the lifting of the curse of the Bambino.
I first hooked up with the sport when I became old enough to read newspapers, when I was 10, in 1936. I had been playing pick-up ball, as all boys did in the Great Depression seeing that parents couldn’t afford much in toys back then. But I heard the older boys talk about players like Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Jimmy Foxx, whereupon I spent afternoons — when not in school — glued to radio listening to the play-by-play or reading reports of the games of the previous day.
Coincidentally, that year the Yankees of New York beat the Giants, then of the same city, in the World Series in six games, and I developed a boyhood love of the Yankees. Lou Gehrig became my idol, though in that season, Tony Lazzeri of the Bronx Bombers hit two grand slams in one game, which briefly tempted me to switch allegiance.
11th Inning Conversion
To this day, the mighty bat, flawless fielding and humility of Gehrig make him my favorite player of all time. Until a few days ago the Yankees held a like spot within me. But men, like women, can change their minds. Without realizing it was coming, suddenly as the Bombers were humiliating the Red Sox in the first three games of the American League playoffs, I found myself rooting for the team from Boston.
I like underdogs, and there were no bigger underdogs ever than the Bosox, down three games to none. Then they did what no other team had done before: Win four straight in the series after dropping the first three. But this posed a dilemma: Who to root for in the series? The Cardinals were — and remain — my favorite National League team thanks to boyhood admiration of Dizzy Dean, Ducky Medwick and the rest of the fabled Gashouse Gang.
How the Red Birds Used to Treat the Sox
Two seasons when the two teams played each other in the series stand out in my mind from back when I was a Red Sox hater, for one who roots for the Yankees hates the Sox, and vice versa. In that first series, the Cardinals had made me momentarily “rich.”
It was ’46, and I was in my first year at Goddard College in Vermont when I was called to the Veterans Hospital at White River Junction for a periodic checkup at World Series time. It was three games to three, and I got into the baseball pool for the seventh and final game, a 50-cent ante.
Old timers still talk about that finish, as exciting a one as you can expect in any sport. The Cardinals won in the last inning on a play even those who saw it with their own eyes found hard to believe. They witnessed Enos ‘Country Boy’ Slaughter speed from first to home on a single: three bases on a one-base hit, no errors or other mix-ups, just Slaughter’s daring and hustle. I won nine bucks, which meant more than a couple hamburgers to college boys in ’46.
To give you an idea of how long ago that was, let me remind you that in that year very few saw a baseball game on television; I heard of Slaughter’s miracle run on radio. Earlier in ’46, the Yankees became the first baseball club to fly to games, switching from railroad.
It was 21 years later when the Birds and Sox had at it again, and again it was three games to three. I was in Boston covering for the Sunpapers the first of the still continuing annual Commercial Fisheries Expos. I was mired in long, late night interviews on a story that promised big news on the fishing front on both coasts.
On this night, I wound up an interview long after midnight, had another scheduled with a manufacturer at 6:30 breakfast. The appointment was set that early because every reporter at Expo wanted to talk to this manufacturer about the big breakthrough in boats, and I was lucky to even be squeezed into his schedule.
The Curse of the Bambino
I tumbled into bed exhausted. I could look to four hours sleep at most, my interview, hurriedly writing the story, then telegraphing it (no computers then) to the Evening Sun in time for the first edition. But there was to be little sleep that night. The ghost of the Bambino saw to it that the team that sold him would lose again; to me it seemed there were as many disgruntled fans carousing in the hallways of the hotel as there had been in Fenway Park.
I called the desk, only to be curtly reminded that when the World Series was in town, there weren’t enough police in Boston to calm things down. It was made plain that I take it or leave with a refund, which would be no good seeing there were no other vacancies anywhere in the city — even if I had the energy to try.
As for that story, I worked half asleep that morning.
How Times Change
This takes us back to the dark ages. That story was about a few boat builders considering abandoning wood in favor of something new: Fiberglas. Fiberglas in commercial fishing craft was unheard of in ’67.
Back then, local sports-boat builders like Carver, Broadwater, Owens, RevelCraft and others still built all-wooden boats, though the latter was gearing up for its entry into the fiberglas field with a fishing model. Wood still ruled; moreover, few thought then that fiberglass was tough enough for the hulls and decks on commercial craft. How times change.
How I’ve changed. Not only am I cheering for the Red Sox, I’m again more than casually interested in baseball. Its players don’t have rap sheets as long as a Joe DiMaggio home run, the play is more brains than brawn and the world championship is decided in more than one game. What’s more, the game is enriched by such things as the Curse of the Bambino and that ugly monstrosity called the Green Monster at Fenway Park.
Baseball might not be as fast and bruising as pro hockey, football and basketball, but baseball has finesse.
One can watch a pitcher eyeball a batter. The latter does likewise to the pitcher, trying to figure what he might throw. The game is a team effort with all the players on one side in their own places, not bunched up together flailing. If those who hit and catch the rawhide would only spit and scratch themselves in private places a bit less, it might be called a gentlemen’s game of strategy.
Readers of this column know I rarely watch television except for football games. But if you took a peek now, you would see me watching and rooting for the Red Sox. Though the Beantown crew might not be my team once the curse of the Bambino is put to rest, I’ll be watching more baseball and looking for another underdog, like perhaps the Cubs of Chicago. Everyone deserves to win the ball of wax at sometime or another. Good-bye Orioles, good-bye Yankees.
Enough said …