Guest columnist Jon Kahane: A celebration of the game of baseball

  • Boston Red Sox's Rafael Devers hits a grand slam home run against the Houston Astros during the second inning in Game 2 of baseball's American League Championship Series Saturday, Oct. 16  in Houston.  AP PHOTO/TONY GUTIERREZ

  • CAROL LOLLIS Jon Kahane

Published: 10/19/2021 1:50:07 PM

By JON KAHANE

So the Red Sox are in the Major League Baseball (MLB) money grab playoffs this year contrary to expectations. When you stop to think about it, a team really has to go some these days to be excluded from the extravaganza. Last year, 16 of the 30 teams were "good enough" to be in the post season. This year it's back to "only" 10.

The game just ain't what it used to be: when you had to play two full nine-inning games in a double header — and could attend both with a single ticket; when a pitcher had to deliver the four balls to intentionally walk a batter — and there was the possibility of watching Willy Mays step into one thrown just a bit too close to the plate and he singled in the run from third — or watching Jackie Robinson steal second if the ball was thrown a bit to slow or wild.

Don't get me started on this issue.

No, this column will be a celebration of the game of baseball in order to laud the Red Sox accomplishment. I will cite a few (but I could go on forever) of my favorite events from the game's past. I'll endeavor to choose some that are not well known, but possibly you have heard one or two — or maybe all of them. Even so, if you are a baseball fan I hope that you will get a kick out of hearing them yet one more time. My kids roll their eyes when I start with, "Have you heard this one?" "Yes dad, a hundred times."

I was a Jewish kid brought up in the Bronx during the ’50s and ’60s and baseball reigned supreme. Football, basketball, and hockey served as filler on the sports pages. I was a Brooklyn Dodgers fan — because my dad was a Yankees fan. In our neighborhood you were labeled a Dodgers fan, Giants fan, or Yankees fan, rather than a Catholic, Protestant, or Jew. It was a different story in MLB however. Below are two examples.

From 1951-1953, Charlie Dressen, an outspoken antisemite, was the manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers and one of his charges was a Jew named Cal Abrams. Dressen relegated him to the bench. One day "The Bums" had a twin bill scheduled with the St. Louis Cardinals, and they were managed by Eddie Stanky. Dressen told Abrams that if he cursed and provoked Stanky throughout the first game, then he would play him in the nightcap. Abrams wanted to play and followed Dressen's orders relentlessly. When the first game was over, Dressen went over to Abrams and told him, "Pack your bags. You've just been traded to the Cardinals."

The next episode tells the story of how my mom finally became a baseball fan when she reached the age of 40. The Dodgers had moved to LA (thanks to the villain Walter O'Malley). Arguably one of the greatest pitchers of all time, Sandy Koufax, had been a rookie in Brooklyn and moved to Tinseltown with the team. In 1965, the Dodgers were in the World Series and Game 1 was scheduled on Yom Kippur. Koufax wouldn't pitch that day. The word "mensch" was freely uttered all around town. He went on to win Game 5 and then the World Series in Game 7 — on two days rest.

Here are a few more Dodger tales. Jackie Robinson, widely recognized as the first African American to play in MLB (Google Moses Fleetwood Walker), was hired by Branch Rickey, the Dodgers general manager, because he was a great player. Rickey thought it was high time to stop the prejudice in the game. There was one condition. Rickey told Robinson that he would be subjected to a relentless barrage of epithets and hateful actions by fans and players alike, but Robinson could not retaliate in any way for two years. It was a bitter pill to swallow, but Robinson agreed and complied.

During that period, in a game where Jackie was playing first base, Enos Slaughter hit a grounder to Robinson who fielded it cleanly and stepped on first for the out. As Slaughter passed the base, he deliberately spiked Robinson on the leg causing a bloody injury. Robinson simply turned to Slaughter and said, "I'll remember that."

Years later, Robinson was playing second base and Slaughter hit a liner to right field. He tried to stretch it into a double. Robinson took the throw and instead of putting the tag on the leg, he slapped the glove with the ball inside into Slaughter's mouth dislodging six teeth. Robinson simply said, " I told you I'd remember."

Sal Maglie, a pitcher for the Giants was traded to the Dodgers in 1956. He was known as 'The Barber," because of the high and tight pitches he threw to intimidate batters. It worked. One day, the on-deck batter was timing Maglie's pitches in the circle. Maglie proceeded to wind up and throw the next pitch at the on-deck batter's head.

Another great pitcher for the Dodgers, Don Drysdale, got exercised when he saw that the opposing team's pitcher was throwing at his teammates. Drysdale yelled out from the dugout, “For every batter you hit, I'll hit two” — hence the moniker, “2 for 1 Drysdale.” That also worked.

Pistol Pete Reiser patrolled the outfield for the Dodgers in the ’40s and was a perennial all-star. His problem was that he constantly ran into the wall while chasing down fly balls. He was carried off the field 11 times during his career and fractured his skull once. During one season when "The Bums“ were doing surprisingly well, a reporter approached Reiser and asked him where he thought he would be at the end of the regular season. He replied, "In the hospital."

The following are two quick Dodger quips which tickle my funny bone every time I hear them:

First, who is the only person who played for the Brooklyn Dodgers, the New York Knicks, and the New York Rangers" The answer: Gladys Gooding, the organist.

Second, Joe nudges Frank who had dozed off in the bleachers at Ebbets Field and said, "Wake up. ‘The Bums’ have three men on base.” Frank replied, "Oh yeah, which base?"

I'll conclude with a few quick non-Dodger gems. Bob Feller was a pitcher known for his blazing fastball. He was pitching to Lefty Gomez, who struck out looking on three straight pitches. After the third called strike, Gomez turned to the umpire and said, "That last one sounded low."

Lefty Grove was another fireballer and the sportswriter, Arthur Baer, described him as someone who “could throw a lamb chop past a wolf.”

Charlie Lau was a player and a famous batting coach for several major league teams. He was once asked how to hit a knuckleball. He said, "There are two theories. Neither of them work."

Tug McGraw, who was a pitcher for the Phillies and the Mets, was once asked how he liked the artificial grass at the Houston Astrodome. He answered, "I don't know. I haven't smoked it yet."

As I said at the start, I could go on forever, but it just wouldn't be right to end an essay like this without quoting one of Yogi Berra's "Yogisms." I tried to choose one that is not often quoted. Yogi became a spokesman for the Yoohoo chocolate drink — which is still on the market. He was asked if “Yoohoo” was hyphenated. He replied, "No, it's not even carbonated."

Go Sox. "We're sittin' in the catbird's seat." — Red Barber

Jon Kahane lives in Westhampton.




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