Friday, June 19, 2009
Dusty Rhodes, 1927-2009; How Old Are You Now?
He was a left fielder who played his entire major league career, 1952 to 1959, with the Giants, in both New York and San Francisco. He missed the Giants' 1951 "Miracle at Coogan's Bluff" Pennant, but was an integral part of their 1954 World Series win, still the last for the franchise, and was with them in 1957 when they moved across the country.
In Game 1 of the '54 Series -- it is shocking, knowing how late the season ends now, to know it was played on September 29, 1954 -- the Giants were playing the Cleveland Indians at the Polo Grounds in upper Manhattan. In the 8th inning, with the score tied 2-2, Vic Wertz hit a ball about 440 to center field, where it was actually caught, by a guy you might have heard of named Willie Mays. Mays then made an equally amazing throw that forced Indians star Larry Doby to tag up from 2nd to 3rd, but not score, as he and the other baserunner surely would have had Mays not made what has become the most famous defensive play in the history of sports.
(I've long wanted to do "Top 10 Most Famous Defensive Plays In Sports History." Maybe this is the year.)
In the bottom of the 10th inning, Giant manager Leo Durocher pinch-hit Rhodes for his future Hall-of-Fame left fielder, Monte Irvin. Good guess: He hit the ball just 260 feet down the right-field line. Any other ballpark on the planet, and Indian right fielder Wally Westlake could have made the catch, or at least held it to a single. But it was a home run.
Actually, the film reveals a possible "Jeffrey Maier situation." A fan was sitting in the upper deck, and the ball bounced off his hand and back onto the field. But the hand wasn't out over the field, so, as close as the fence was, the homer was still legal. It was for three runs, and the Giants won, 5-2.
Rhodes also pinch-hit for Irvin in Game 2, and singled, staying in the game to play left, and hit another home run. Now, while the Polo Grounds was a ridiculously-shaped stadium, and these were cheapo home runs, they were not totally ridiculous: They were hit off Bob Lemon and Early Wynn, respectively, a pair of future Hall-of-Famers. The Giants went on to sweep the favored Indians, who also haven't won the World Series since.
These homers did not count along with Rhodes' regular-season totals. He hit 54 for his career. His lifetime batting average was .253. He wore Number 26, which has not been retired by the Giants, for Rhodes or for anyone else.
Rhodes was a native of Alabama, but appears to have had no problem with his black teammates Mays, Irvin or Hank Thompson. He appears to have been an ideal team player, if not a particularly impressive one. Durocher said he couldn't field, "But, boy, could he hit!"
After his retirement from baseball, he had a job on a tugboat in New York. Yankee pitcher Jim Bouton, a Giant fan in the Fifties, remembered being on a tour bus at the 1964 World's Fair in Flushing Meadow, across from then-brand-new Shea Stadium, and Rhodes was driving it. Bouton considered it an awful come-down for such a World Series hero.
But Rhodes never bemoaned his fate, saying he loved his tugboat job. If he was ever disappointed at playing baseball well before the era of big player salaries, he never publicly said so. He retired to Las Vegas, and attended the occasional memorabilia show and reunion with his teammates, before dying on Wednesday at age 82.
Dusty Rhodes may have been a superstar for only a week, but it's a week most of us will never get to enjoy.
It was a week nearly 55 years ago. And that's not the only thing that reminds me of how much time has gone by.
It's been 75 years since Babe Ruth last played for the Yankees, and Carl Hubbell struck out 5 straight batters in the All-Star Game.
It's been 60 years since the epic Yankees-Red Sox Pennant race of 1949, including Joe DiMaggio's comeback from injury.
It's been 50 years since the 1st West Coast World Series, between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Chicago White Sox.
It's been 40 years since the start of Divisional Play, Mickey Mantle's retirement, and the combination of the Chicago Cubs' "September Swoon" and the Mets' "Miracle" World Series, including their coming together in the fulcrum of the "Black Cat Game."
It's been 30 years since Thurman Munson's crash and the "Family" winning Pittsburgh's last World Series.
It's been 25 years since Detroit last won a World Series, and since Harry Caray and Ryne Sandberg made the Chicago Cubs a national phenomenon over "SuperStation WGN."
It's been 20 years since the Pete Rose gambling scandal and the earthquake that stopped a World Series -- still the last one won by a San Francisco Bay Area team (the A's over the Giants).
And it's been 10 years since David Cone's perfect game, Robin Ventura's "Grand Slam Single," Kenny Rogers' Pennant-losing walk and the Yanks winning their 25th World Series, thanks in part to the Chad Curtis Game.
This year, I will turn... 40. Yeah. The Big Four Oh.
Reggie Jackson, my guy, just turned 63. That's impossible: Mister October can't be 2 years away from Social Security. (Like he needs the money.) He's now as old as DiMaggio was when I first became aware of him -- and as old as Mantle was when he died.
I did the math. Presuming that a fan was approximately 7 years old when he first began regularly watching baseball on television, as I was...
If you remember the Yankees' return to glory in 1996, or Milwaukee being an American League city, then you're at least 20 years old.
If you remember the Mets winning the World Series at all, Bill Buckner as something other than an unfairly-cast goat, and Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Roger Clemens as skinny rookies, then you're at least 30.
If you remember Chris Chambliss' Pennant-winning homer, Reggie's three-homer game, Billy Martin as a World Series-winning manager, the Boston Massacre, the Bucky Dent Game, Thurman's crash, Rickey Henderson as a rookie, and Joe Morgan as a great player and not an annoying, clueless broadcaster, then you're pushing or past 40.
If you remember Carlton Fisk doing the Fenway Twist, or the Oakland dynasty of Reggie and Catfish, or Lou Brock rewriting base-stealing records, Pete Rose picking fights with Ray Fosse and Bud Harrelson, or Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Frank Robinson, Harmon Killebrew and Al Kaline as active players -- and Roberto Clemente as a living, breathing, still pretty effective player -- then you're around 45, or more.
If you remember the Mets winning in '69, and Brooks Robinson's third-base clinic of the following October, or Washington being an American League team, then you're at least 47.
If you remember Sandy Koufax as an active pitcher, the Red Sox "Impossible Dream" season, and the Year of the Pitcher (Bob Gibson's 1.12 ERA and 17 Ks in Game 1 of the Series, Don Drysdale's six straight shutouts, Denny McLain winning 31 games and Mickey Lolich saving the Tigers' bacon in the Series), or Caray as a fully-engaged broadcaster for the Cardinals (either half of that would be shocking to people who only know him as a doddering Cub announcer), or Kansas City having a team wearing green instead of blue, then you're at least 50.
If you remember Shea Stadium as brand-new, and Mantle, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford and Roger Maris as productive players, Stan Musial as an active player, and the Braves being in Milwaukee, then you're at least 52.
If you remember Ted Williams as an active player, Casey Stengel managing the Yankees, and Mantle and Maris gunning for 60 homers, and there being no Mets at all, then you're at least 55. As you would be if you remember Tampa Bay, Phoenix, Denver, Miami, Toronto, Seattle, San Diego, Montreal, Houston and Minneapolis all as minor league cities.
If you remember the Giants being in Manhattan and the Dodgers being in Brooklyn, with guys like Mays, Irvin, Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Duke Snider and Gil Hodges being on the field, then you're at least 60. That's right, the youngest Brooklyn Dodger fan is now 60. You're a long way from Erasmus Hall High School, bubbe.
If you remember the Dodgers winning their only Series in '55, or the '54 heroics of Mays and Rhodes, or Bob Feller as an active pitcher, or Ralph Kiner as an active slugger instead of a malaprop-prone Met broadcaster, or Phil Rizzuto as an active shortstop instead of a teller of strange stories on Yankee broadcasts, or there being American League teams in Philadelphia and St. Louis and a National League team in Boston, and Baltimore, Milwaukee and Kansas City as minor league cities, then you're at least 62.
If you remember "the Shot Heard 'Round the World" describing something that happened at Lexington, Massachusetts, not something that Bobby Thomson hit, then you're at least 65. (Even if you don't know baseball, you know someone who does, and you've heard the name Bobby Thomson.) As you would be if you remember the Phillies being the Whiz Kids of Richie Ashburn and Robin Roberts, and the A's still being managed by Connie Mack.
If you remember before Jackie Robinson, if you remember when baseball was all-white, which means you also remember when DiMaggio, Williams, Musial and Feller were at their peaks, then you're at least 70.
If you remember DiMag's 56-game hitting streak, Williams batting .406, and Mickey Owen unable to handle Hugh Casey's curve (spitball?), then you're at least 75.
If you remember Lou Gehrig as an active player, and Hank Greenberg hitting 58 home runs while Jimmie Foxx (who'd previously done it) also hit 50, then you're at least 78.
If you remember Babe Ruth at anything close to his best, and John McGraw as manager of the Giants, then you're well over 80.
If you remember the Babe at his very best, and Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, Walter Johnson, Grover Cleveland Alexander and George Sisler as active players, then you're approaching or past 90.
If you remember when Ruth was a pitcher, Shoeless Joe Jackson was an untainted player, Honus Wagner and Christy Mathewson were still active and home runs were hard to come by, then you're almost 100 years old.
And if you remember the Chicago Cubs actually winning the World Series, you're probably dead -- or lying. The Guinness Book of World Records lists 30 people alive today in the U.S. who are at least 110 years old, the oldest being a woman in Los Angeles named Gertrude Baines, who's 115. No word on whether she likes baseball, but if she does, then she might be old enough to remember Jack Chesbro, Wee Willie Keeler, and even Ed Delahanty. But, being black and from Georgia, they probably never let her into a big-league ballgame until she came to L.A.
All those years ago...
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow creeps in this petty pace from day to day, to the last syllable of recorded time. And all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
-- William Shakespeare, Macbeth
Shakespeare was right... until the end. I would love to see what he would have done with baseball. There is a line of his where talks about "base players," but that's got nothing to do with sports.
Baseball is the most fun game there is, but time flies when you're having fun.