Gambo: Talkin’ Baseball
I never saw the late Duke Snider play, but I knew all about him. Same for Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Al Kaline, Jackie Robinson, Stan Musial, Hank Greenberg and so many of the all-time great baseball players.
I caught the tail end of Willie Mays’ career when he was with the Mets and a shell of his former self. I remember watching Hank Aaron in his last few years as well. Same for Willie McCovey, Brooks Robinson and Frank Robinson. Somehow I knew the entire Brooklyn Dodgers lineup of the mid 50’s by heart, even though they left New York and Brooklyn 9 years before I was born. There was Gil Hodges at first base, Jackie Robinson at second, Pee Wee Reese at shortstop, Junior Gilliam at third and Roy Campanella behind the plate. The outfield was Sandy Amaros, Carl Furillo and Snider. Don Newcombe, Carl Erskine and Johnny Podres are the pitchers I can recall.
Why I still to this day remember that team is beyond me. But the passing of Snider this past week at the age of 84 brought back some great baseball memories of growing up in a baseball crazed state. I spent a lot of time in Brooklyn as a kid, but Dem Bums were long gone by then and the Mets of Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman and Jon Matlack had taken over New York, especially after the 1969 World Series. Nonetheless, I still knew the Brooklyn lineup like the back of my hand. Maybe it was my visits to Cooperstown and the Baseball Hall of Fame. Maybe it was my grandfathers’ love of baseball and him always taking me to games at Yankee and Shea Stadium when I was just a boy. Maybe it was baseball cards, which I collected frantically as a kid, mainly to scale them and flip them and sometimes to put them in the spokes of my Schwinn bicycle. I’m not really sure why, but knowing the history of baseball seemed like a necessity where I grew up. I wasn’t alone mind you, all the kids I hung with knew baseball past and present.
I remember when playoff baseball games were in the daytime and my elementary school teachers put the radio on in class during the classic Yankee-Royals playoff series in the mid 70’s so we could listen. Learning about math took a back seat to hearing Ron Guidry’s strikeouts on the AM dial.
The main debate I remember as a kid was on who was better, Yankees catcher Thurman Munson or the Red Sox Carlton Fisk? Or on the National League side, who was a better pitcher, Seaver or Carlton? But when we talked baseball, we always referred to Willie, Mickey and the Duke and this was a few years before the “Talkin’ Baseball song”. Why couldn’t Bobby Murcer carry on the tradition that passed down from Ruth to Gehrig to DiMaggio to Mantle? That was a classic conversation. And the old-timers would always tell us how special Willie, Mickey and the Duke were. They told us about a great time in baseball when three center fielders dominated the game and the back pages of the sports sections.
I guess in many ways not knowing about baseball’s past back then would be like today’s generation of kids not knowing about the Brew Crew’s Robin Yount and Paul Molitor, the Wizard Ozzie Smith of the Cardinals, the Twins Kirby Puckett, the Red Sox Jim Rice and Fred Lynn, San Diego’s Tony Gwynn, the Royals George Brett, Oakland’s Rickey Henderson, the Phillies’ Mike Schmidt, Cubs’ Ryne Sandberg, or the Reds Johnny Bench and Pete Rose. Every teenage boy knows who those players are, don’t they?
I think it is imperative for parents to teach their kids about the history of baseball. I think it’s more imperative for baseball to put more games on in the day so kids can actually watch them, especially playoff games. I think baseball cards should go back to being .25 or even .50 cents a pack with a stale piece of gum in the middle, that way kids can collect them. I think players should sign autographs each and every chance they get. I think every kid should know how to play dice baseball at home and keep a scorecard at the game. I think every team should have a real yearbook that costs no more than $5 bucks. I think every ballpark should have hot dog guys that put sauerkraut on your dog. I think every team with a retractable roof should have it open on any day the temperature is less than 100 degrees.
And I think every young baseball fan should know ’em all from Boston to Dubuque. Especially Willie, Mickey and the Duke.