Tuesday, October 13, 2009

(Historic) New York Baseball

I'm spending a few days in New York City, which wouldn't be complete without at least one night of martinis and storytelling on the upper East Side. For those of you who may not know, the Yankees just finished off the Twins to advance to the ALCS, right around the same time that the Red Sox wrapped up the season by coughing up a lead in the ninth. Whatever. Go Angels, I guess. 

Given all this, though, Raymond and I got to chatting about baseball. As it happens, he has only recently, like in the last 5-8 years, become a baseball fan again. Why, you ask? Well...

* * * * *

"What you have to understand is this: As a boy, I loved the Giants. Loved them. The first game I went to was a World Series game, the Subway Series in 1936, between the Yankees and the Giants. You remember that series I'm sure? There I was, an eleven year old boy, watching Bill Terry playing first and managing the Giants. And of course, there was [I don't remember the names, but he proceeded to name the entire infield for the Giants]. But of course, the Yankees eventually won that series. In those days, we feared the Yankees. We feared the Yankees, but we hated the Dodgers. 

"And you must remember in '51, when the Giants and the Dodgers finished the season tied and had to play a three game playoff. I went to the second game with my father, with all those guys who were absolute heroes to boys like me, guys like [again, he names the infield, the managers, the pitchers, of both sides]. Naturally, we didn't even know whether there would be a third game until the Giants won the second. But afterwards, my father asked me if I'd like to go to the third game. So we waited in that line, which I remember was quite long, until we got the tickets.

"I think he bought 12 tickets, because my father was quite a successful businessman. He had planned to give the tickets to his favorite clients at the lumberyard, but would you believe it? Nobody could go on such short notice. It turned to my advantage, because I was sitting in the stands with my father and cousins when he hit That Home Run. But I don't need to tell you about that. It is probably the greatest in the history of baseball.

"And then fast-forward to The Catch in '54. Willie Mays. Of course, they won the series that year. And I was just a young man then. So after the Giants left, it was hard for me to really follow a team for quite some time. Of course, the Mets eventually became the spiritual successors to the Dodgers, but I never liked the Dodgers to begin with.

"Plus, as you probably know, my father was quite a baseball player in his youth. Of course, in those days, baseball wasn't nearly as glamorous as it is today, at least not for the rest of the population. Young boys being then as they still are today, it had the allure. But it certainly wasn't a respected occupation by any means.

"Now my father, Lefty Shapiro, was quite a player. In those days, there were no scouts, and naturally, there weren't any farm teams. Men from the big leagues would go around the city watching the afternoon games in the parks, looking for players, and offering them contracts. 

"One day, my father was playing with his friends over in Prospect Park when a man from the Dodgers came by. Of course, in those days, they weren't called the Dodgers. They were the Brooklyn Superbas, but that's not the point of the story. Anyway, this man watched my father pitch for a while (he normally played first base, you see, but he also pitched from time to time), and eventually came over and told him that they wanted to bring him to play for the Superbas. Of course, my father had enough sense not to accept on the spot. Instead, he asked his girlfriend at the time.

"Now, I'll say this again: in those days, being a baseball player wasn't a glamorous occupation. Keep in mind, we're talking about the first decades of the twentieth century. For starters, the pay was lousy. You were constantly traveling on rickety overnight buses. Then you'd arrive in some dusty town in the middle of the night, to sleep for a few hours in a fleabag of a  hotel before playing a game or two the next day. Then you'd get back on that bus and do it all over again. And the pay really was lousy.

"Anyway, his girlfriend told him he had to choose, either baseball or her. So he married my mother and left baseball in the past. But he was always a big baseball fan. All his life, he loved the Yankees and the Dodgers. So I was brought up listening to baseball. Not watching it, mind you, because this was before the days of television, but listening to baseball on the radio and pouring over box scores in the morning papers.

"It was hard for me when the Giants left. Baseball wasn't the same. So even though I follow the Yankees now, I eventually had to come back. It's just too good a game to stay away forever."

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