Columnist Bill Newman: A girl of summer still

  • Top: Writes columnist Bill Newman, “Bobbie’s usual summer schedule includes a before-dinner drink at 5, which leaves plenty of time to hang out and have dinner, in time for the start of that night’s Red Sox game.” SUBMITTED PHOTOS

  • Left: Bill Newman in Fenway Park on July 25 when the Red Sox demolished the Yankees 19-3. There is no logical explanation for why the man is smiling.

Published: 8/2/2019 5:25:46 PM

I should confess. At other peoples’ houses, I investigate the titles of books on their shelves.  

Last month I was perusing Bobbie’s books. Bobbie is my late father’s father’s brother’s daughter, which is to say, my first cousin once removed. Trust me on this.

Bobbie soon will turn 88. She is slight, with curly white hair and blue eyes. She’s bright. And funny. And has opinions.

Her bookshelves house many old friends of mine: James Baldwin’s “Another Country,” Eldridge Cleaver’s “Soul on Ice,” E.L. Doctorow’s “Ragtime.” When I arrived at David Halberstam’s “Summer of ’49,” about that year’s febrile Yankees-Red Sox pennant race, I remembered — Bobbie keeps her books in alphabetical order by author.

That book in her collection makes sense. After all, Bobbie is a rabid Red Sox fan. Before that, she was a rabid Brooklyn Dodgers fan.  

As was her father, my Great-Uncle Douglass. On Sundays Bobbie, Douglass and her mom, Stella, would visit Douglass’ mother, my Great-Grandma Lena, in Far Rockaway, Long Island. On the drive there from Brooklyn, they’d listen to Red Barber’s radio broadcast of the first game of the Dodgers’ doubleheader, and on the way home, the second.  

In September 1948, Bobbie began her freshman (as female students were then called) year at Radcliffe and soon after her arrival met Arthur, a Junior, at a mixer. They married three years later. (This is probably the place to mention a fact I learned from George Will’s “Men at Work,” that the Brooklyn Dodgers, named for dodging trolley cars in the borough, were once called the Brooklyn Bridegrooms.)

Bobbie and Arthur had a wonderful, 54-year marriage. Artie died in 2005. I miss him.

Fifty years before, in 1955, two important and related events occurred in Bobbie and Arthur’s life. First, the Dodgers finally defeated the Yankees in the World Series. (A photograph of that year’s Dodgers team hangs in Bobbie’s bedroom.) Second, they had their first son. They named him Carl after the Dodgers’ right fielder, Carl Furillo.  

Why Carl? Well, they didn’t want to name the kid Duke after Duke Snider or Campy after Roy Campanella or Pee Wee, after Pee Wee Reese. “Anyway, I just liked Furillo,” Bobbie says.  So Carl it was.  

Furillo had a terrific career that spanned 15 years. He was a stalwart hitter with a lifetime batting average of .299, a point higher than Mickey Mantle’s.  

He also was a fabulous outfielder. One of his nicknames was “The Reading Rifle” — “Reading” for his minor league team and “Rifle” for his amazing arm that, in sports writer Bugs Baer’s words, “could have thrown a lamb chop past a wolf.”  

Sadly, the Furillo-in-baseball story ends badly. After his playing days ended in 1960, he shoulda, coulda, woulda become a coach, hitting instructor or manager, at least in the minors. But that’s not what happened.

Instead, the owners ostracized him for the sin of successfully suing the Dodgers, who refused to pay him his salary after he tore a calf muscle and could no longer play. Furillo later earned a living installing elevator doors in New York City. Baseball forgot about him. He died in 1989 in his hometown of Stony Creek Mills, Pennsylvania.  He was 66.

Back to Bobbie. She has lived in and around Boston since college and after the Dodgers deserted Brooklyn for Los Angeles in 1958, she needed a new baseball love because as Jim Bouton, the former big-league pitcher who passed this July, wrote in his memoir, “Ball Four,” “[Y]ou spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball, and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around.”

The Red Sox were the perfect fit for Bobbie. In “Wait Till Next Year,” Doris Kearns Goodwin, another former Brooklynite who once loved the Dodgers and later fell for the Sox, explained, “I could [not] have found a team more reminiscent of the ... Dodgers than my new team, the Boston Red Sox … exciters of hope and destroyers of dreams … Now, once again, every season would begin with large expectations and end with large disappointments….”

Consider 1951-1954.  In those four years, the Dodgers twice lost the pennant in the last inning of the last game of the season and the other two years lost the World Series to the Yankees.

In “The Boys of Summer,” published in 1972, Roger Kahn captured the Dodgers’ existential allure: “You may glory in a team triumphant, but you fall in love with a team in defeat ... The team was awesomely good and yet defeated. Their skills lifted everyman’s spirit, and their defeat joined them with everyman’s existence … ”

Another life lesson: We all know that you never forget your first love. And last month Bobbie confided to me something I had never even suspected. She still has feelings.

For the Dodgers.

And so, when Boston faced Los Angeles in last year’s World Series, she felt conflicted.

I expressed shock. “Bobbie,” I said, “you were two-timing your baseball team?”

“I’ve always been partial to the National League,” she replied, without a whiff of guilt, remorse or regret. “I’ve never liked the DH. And the National League is a better game.”

“But,” I responded, “rooting for the Red Sox while secretly harboring love for the Dodgers — in the World Series — that’s serious infidelity.” I love goofing around with Bobbie.  

She peered over her glasses and gave me a how-did-you-ever-pass-the-law-boards kind of look. “Bill,” she said, in a tone that conveyed the confidence, indeed the assurance, of years. “It’s only baseball.”

Bill Newman lives in  Northamp ton. His column is published the first Saturday of the  month.

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