2008-07-18 / Columnists

From the Editor's Desk

Baseball Is Still The American Game
Commentary By Howard Schwach

I missed the first baseball All Star Game at Yankee Stadium by several months. The game was played in July of 1939, and I came into the world in November.

I certainly missed the first All-Star Game, which was held in 1933 at Comisky Park, Chicago.

That game was supposed to be a onetime deal, but it turned out to be so exciting that the powers-that-be decided to have one the next year, and the next.

The next year, 1934, the game was held at the Polo Grounds, the home of the New York Giants, and it turned out to be a classic that is still remembered and talked about today. For those of you who were not there, Giant hurler Carl Hubbell struck out five consecutive American League batters in the first two innings.

That was quite a feat in its own right, especially since all five of those batters - Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons and Joe Cronin - went on to be inducted to the Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, New York.

In 1939, the game came to Yankee Stadium to coincide with the World's Fair that was then going on in Flushing Meadows. I have seen photographs of myself in a baby carriage, being carted around the fair in early 1940, but I can't swear about what happened during the visit.

The game came back to New York in 1942 (the Polo Grounds), 1949 (Ebbets Field, home of the Brooklyn Dodgers), 1960 (Yankee Stadium), 1964 (Shea Stadium, to coincide once again with the World's Fair) and 1977 (Yankee Stadium once again).

I am writing this prior to the Tuesday, July 14, game, so I don't know who will win the game, but it hardly matters.

What matters is that, to many Americans, particularly men, their lives are numbered by the seminal events that happened to them over their lifetime, and many of those events have to do with baseball.

While many ask, "Where were you when JFK was killed," just as many in my generation ask, "Where were you when Bobby Thompson hit his homerun?"

Thompson's homerun for the New York Giants that beat the Brooklyn Dodgers in a the final playoff game of the season in 1951 is still remembered by men of a certain age.

Many of them can still recite Bill Stern's narration of the game, his voice rising to a crescendo as Thompson trotted around the bases.

To others, the seminal year was 1957, when the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants moved as a tandem to California, deserting the fans that loved them for the gold in them thar hills.

There were many who considered the move as traitorous as anything perpetrated by Axis Sally or Tokyo Rose.

I missed both the 1964 World's Fair and the All Star Game at the new Shea Stadium because I was serving on an aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean Sea that year, and baseball was not the first thing on my mind, although the game was broadcast throughout the ship by the Armed Forces Radio Network.

As we sat around the ship that night, making circles around Cyprus, where the Greeks were fighting the Turks, my shipmates talked about their experiences with baseball.

Although we came from disparate backgrounds and geographical areas, we all had the same memories. It was just a matter of substituting the teams and the names of the players involved, and the stories were really the same.

When I was young, you could always get into a fight by bringing up the three major league shortstops or center fielders who played for the New York Teams.

Who was the better centerfielder: Duke Snider, Willie Mays or Mickey Mantle? Who was the better shortstop: Alvin Dark, Pee Wee Reese or Phil Rizzuto?

The arguments were endless, and some of those arguments came to blows.

Most fans supported the player from their team, never admitting that anybody from one of the other teams could be better.

I was a Yankee fan. I went to my first Yankee game on opening day of 1948. My father took me to that opening game and almost all of the opening days from then until I went into the Navy in early 1963 - a span of nearly 15 years.

I remember those games fondly, always sitting in the cheap seats with a scorecard, keeping the arcane symbols that told me what each batter had done during the game.

We had a couple of hot dogs and some Cracker Jacks and talked baseball during the game, never what was happening at home or in "the real world."

My grandfather, who lived in Far Rockaway and worked until he was in his late 80's, was a Giant Fan.

If the Giant's lost a game, you had better steer clear of his wrath.

If you rooted for the Yankees in his presence, you were risking a tonguelashing of epic proportions and a lecture about the "corporate team that didn't care about its fans - not like the New York Giants."

By the time the Giants left town, so had he. I am not sure he would have survived the anguish that the move would have caused him.

My cousin lived with him and he, of course, was a Giant fan. Now, he roots for the Mets, but many former New York City National League fans did not transfer their loyalty to the Mets when they began operations. They still mourned the Giants and the Dodgers.

I am not sure when it was, but he and his mother took us to a Giant - Dodger game at Ebbets Field for his birthday.

Carl Erskine pitched a no-hitter that day, and the last out was made by Jackie Robinson, who was playing first base (so, it must have been late in his career).

I don't remember what I had for breakfast this morning, but I remember that vividly.

I never got to an All-Star Game. I did not even try to get tickets for this one because it was too expensive and, at my age, it's a pain in the neck to drive to the stadium, park, and then walk to the seats up in the grandstand.

I made one World Series Game in 1958. Yankee outfielder Norm Siebern made three errors in the growing shadows in left field, misplaying fly balls and setting up all three Milwaukee Braves runs. The Braves won.

The next day, Elston Howard took his place in the outfield, and the Yankees went on to take the series.

When my son was growing up, we lived in Portland, Connecticut and got to few Yankee games and a Red Sox game or two.

Most often, we watched the New Haven Yankees or the Pawtucket Red Sox play minor league ball.

He has carried on the tradition, however, with frequent visits to Yankee Stadium with my two grandsons, who are now baseball fans for life.

We all join in a Yahoo Fantasy League to keep us attached within the game.

As I said, Baseball is an inter-generational game, the true American game.

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