A Baseball Life: Observations From A Lifetime Of Being A Fan
It started early for me. When my Dad came home from a Tigers/Yankees game, he brought me a small cap with the iconic NY on the front. I was about four and the Yankees had just become my team.
Way back in those days, there was only one national game televised every week. It was on Saturday. Sponsored by Falstaff, hosted by Dizzy Dean and Pee Wee Reese. The games only lasted a couple of hours. We had a black and white set so we didn’t get to see how green the grass was nor did we see the color of the uniforms. Now that I think about it, I don’t even know if they broadcast the games in color back then. Actually, I just looked it up, the first color broadcasts of baseball were in 1955 for the World Series. (Don’t expect this level of research all through this post. I’m not working that hard.)
As a Yankees fan in the early ’60’s, I was on the verge of uncharted territory. Starting in 1965 until 1976, the Yankees were not very good. My first baseball hero, Mickey Mantle, was in rapid decline as was the rest of the roster.
In 1966, my family moved to a new house just on the city limits. We were in suburbia. The new friends I made were all fans of the Chicago Cubs. I remained a Yankees fan but since they were in the American League, I saw no harm in finding out more about these National League Cubs. Besides the Yanks stunk on ice and the Cubs were an exciting young team who were making some noise by winning more than they lost.
Then came the summer of ’69.
This is when I experienced the heartbreak that has haunted Cubs fans throughout their existence .
They blew an fairly large lead in the standings to the Mets. It was a slow motion meltdown as excruciating to watch as it is to write about it all these years later.
My new friends, when the next season started, had reemerged as Cincinnati Reds fans. I stayed loyal to the Cubs. Who could root for a team that played on AstroTurf”?
The Reds went on to become The Big Red Machine, winning World Series titles, while the Cubs went fallow until 1984.
I did have the chance to visit Wrigley Field in June of 1978. I was on the verge of working for the Postal Service and wanted to take a quick vacation before joining their ranks. When I came up a flight of steps and looked out over the field from behind home plate, the first thought I had was, “I’ve never seen this color of green before.” The sun was shining. The ivy on the brick wall in the outfield was just starting to fill in. It was and is a rundown building but I will never forget how beautiful that field looked.
A couple of years later, in the Bronx, my beloved Yankees were showing signs of life. In the mid-’70’s, a shipbuilder had purchased the team and set about trying to restore the franchise to its former glory. My new Yankee hero was Thurman Munson. He seemed to come out for the National Anthem in a dirty uniform. Scrappy. Never gave an inch. Ran the bases real well for a catcher.
When the Yankees got to the World Series, they faced my friends Reds. It was a four game sweep for the hated Reds. But Munson had a series to remember. He matched Johnny Bench, the Reds catcher, hit for hit.
The following two seasons as the Reds fell apart, the Yankees restored order in the baseball world by winning the World Series beating the Dodgers twice.
There have been several books written about the Yankees of those times. They were full of turmoil. They fought other teams (notably the Red Sox) and each other.
That era ended with a tragic place crash in which Thurman Munson died. He was practicing takeoffs and landings in his own plane. He wanted to be able to see his family more often during the baseball season. RIP
In the early ’80’s, the Cubs were rebuilding again. This time, however, it was working. 1984 was a magical season. Thrilling victories. Harry Carey on the microphone doing the tv broadcasts.
Then when they reached the playoffs, Cubs luck happened. Up two games to one, they lost the last two games of the series. Crushing. Devastating. Typical.
In April of 1992, I watched opening day of the Cubs season with my 5 month old son in my lap. As he got older, thanks to the same man who started my life as a baseball fan, he became a Yankees fan. He would sit with his Grandpa and watch the Yanks. If a game wasn’t on, they would go over what the Yanks needed to do. They got the chance to share some extraordinary seasons together as the Yanks put on a run not seen since the old Casey Stengel times.
Bonding over baseball. I can picture them now.
These days, I don’t watch as much baseball. The games last way too long. It is the players fault for that. Stepping in and out of the batters box. Fidgeting and adjusting. Pitchers who only have two kinds of pitches go through a whole series of signs only to have the catcher meander out for another in an unending series of conferences.
They have so many playoff games now that every once in a while they have to play during the day. When I was a kid, all the World Series games were played during the day. We would sneak in transistor radios with earpieces at school and the teachers would pretend to not notice them.
It’s the first opening day Dad has missed in 86 years. So, I might look in on the Yanks for him. Maybe take a peek at the Cubs while I am at it.