I've never been a big fan of the stick and ball sports, played them all as a kid of course and had some fun times with a few. The only one that sort of held my interest over a few years and still gets my attention each autumn is baseball. That's probably because of three things. I could hit ok, I'll never forget the feel of a bat connecting solidly with that softball and watching it sail into the outfield as I headed for first base. I could really run, couldn't field to save my ass though and the one that still gets my attention around playoff time, the Brooklyn Dodgers. For the first two, I only have to thank being physically normal as any other kid. Polio which was still putting kids in wheelchairs then and the ways you could catch it used to scare the hell out of me. Then there was the added joy of discovering when you could do something well, you did it as much as you could and almost everyday after school and on weekends it was play ball. But for the reason I still tune in to watch the fall classic, well that was solely The BROOKLYN Dodgers, and well that's readers choice, parents fault or parental guidance.
I started playing ball before I was even aware of major league baseball, but watching my parents react like kids and even my grandparents (the Josephs) for that matter, who came over our house to watch their team, the boys from their old neighborhood, on our Hallicrafters 17" console in Mastic Beach, was all it took to probably be the only kid in my neighborhood to root for the Dodgers. My brother Butch, who I always suspected was on the fence, sort of went along with this family Dodger madness passively, the true test came when Mom bought me a Dodgers jacket in the spring of 1955. They were on sale at the Bee Hive department store in Patchogue for under $5.00. Butch could of had one too, but he passed. All the other kids around Mastic Beach, especially all Butchie's friends, were Yankee fans. In our neighborhood and school, the Giants didn't seem to have any team fans, just kids who liked Willie Mays and used his autographed mitts. I never had a good mitt, but I wore my Dodger jacket till the cuffs were approaching my elbows. My arms grew faster than the rest of me during those years.
Not long after I suited up, my ability to play the game rapidly diminished for a medical reason. Ironically it was designed to improve my life in the long run, but it ended my ball playing dreams in a hurry. In the spring of 1955 I had an eye operation. The post operation side effects resulted in almost solid double vision for several months with occasional lapses that would only diminish over time. When Doctor Wiesen explained that to my mother and me in his darkened walnut paneled conference room in Riverhead, Long Island, I thought that seeing double was gonna be fun and very unique. It was unique alright as I stood at the plate in the Yodice's lot across the street from our house and watched as the ball coming at me split into two balls ...... WHOOSH Strike Three .... YOUR OUT! In the same field I got smacked directly in the face with a throw from Al Picarreli (an older kid who played in little league) while playing second base. I was out then too.... it was a run home with a bloody nose. But then there was fall of 1955 ...what a time that was! I had to wear special polarized sunglasses to protect my eyes and I still recall the leaves on the trees the first day I got them. That was still in the spring and I had never seen shades of green like that before. Come the fall, the colors on our oak and maple trees were electrifying. Although the Dodgers were still in black and white on our TV set, they were no less colorful that year. The only low point I suppose was when "Uncle" Karl Spooner, pitching for "Da Bums" in the World Series folded up on us in less than one inning. Karl too would leave the game for medical reasons.
Karl Spooner was the superstar pitcher that never was. He joined the Dodgers at the end of the 1954 season and wowed the baseball world by pitching back-to-back shutouts against the Giants and Pirates, striking out 27 in the two games. He had deceptively long arms, a blazing fastball with movement, and great confidence. But he injured his arm the following spring training, went 8-6, and lasted just one-third of an inning in his World Series start - his final major league appearance. ...Baseball Library.com
But as sure as history was made in 1955 at the expense of the mighty Yankees, it was made again this week of October 2004, with the Boston Red Sox. I like any fall weather baseball fan had heard that the Sox were down 3 - zip in the playoffs...so what else is new, just Yankee biz as usual. Ok so the Sox win game four, just postponing the inevitable right? I wasn't even paying attention from that point on. It was in game six that a news crawl came across my computer monitor "Sox on the threshold of making baseball history" .... I went in the living room, turned on the tube and suddenly it was 1955 again, but this time in living color. And then for the remainder of that night and the one that followed, I felt like I was 8 years old again not a care in the world except the tension of will they, can they, dare they ? ..... don't get your hopes up kid, you heard they are cursed, and they are playing their cursors, and besides don't the Yanks have some superman guy named A ROD this year?....well hope springs eternal and the Yanks WELL THEY THREW A ROD RIGHT THROUGH THE BLOCK THAT RUTH BUILT....Who's Your Daddy? ,,, After midnight da Babe had left da building and was seen hitching north on Boston Post Road and Georgie boy ? I guess he went to an undisclosed location.
But it really was too much for the heart of this old timer, especially when the Sox got arrogant in the 7th and brought in their superstar pitcher to drive a stake through the heart of the Bronx. BUT, you gotta love arrogance when it gets confronted and dealt with, regardless of who it is standing up to it. So the damn Yankees rise from the dead for an inning and next thing ya know they are back in it!!! Then just to make my life even worse their arrogant fans, who had been silent and well behaved since the early Boston grand slam, start back in chanting that god awful low life neathandrel expression from the depths of Sing Sing.... Who's Your Daddy, Who's Yer Daddy? . I checked and it's origins go back to before Doubleday even invented the game. But unlike last years Red Sox manager, who no one could figure out why he did what he did, or that ex baseball owner - cowboy wannabe playing president in the Whitehouse, this guy Terry Francona had the brains to quickly rectify his mistake, and yank out his star. But even at that I still held my breath till the Yanks were down to their last out. They can't possibly get 7 runs with one out can they? At least the Who's Your Daddy crowd left early to beat the traffic and were replaced I guess by a sea of Boston Fans that couldn't get in the park earlier?
As for me and my baseball history, I basically left the game when the Dodgers left Brooklyn. In no time at all, I traded my baseball cap for a Cromwell crash helmet. The smell of castor oil burning in a modified small block Chevy engine tucked into a brightly painted '40 Ford coupe replaced any longings I had for Duke, Pee Wee, Campy, Jackie and the rest of the Boys Of Summer. When the Giants bailed out of the Polo Grounds, I got to see my local Long Island stock car heros like Axel Anderson, Al DeAngelo, and Jimmy Hendrickson spinning their 9 inch wide Hoosier brand racing tires around the bases there. Hoosier Daddy ! And in the summer of 1965 when I was just 18, I actually got to play in the game as I piloted Number 43 (Richard Petty's #) an orange and white '37 Plymouth coupe on the Riverhead Raceway, just a half mile away from where the doctor had fixed eyes a decade earlier. Though my NY State drivers license was restricted for "Corrective Lenses", I didn't wear 'em when I raced ..... real men don't need glasses ...... Hoosier Daddy Indeed!