Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Baseball, the Generation-to-Generation Game

October 8, 1956: Don Larsen pitches a perfect game for the New York Yankees over the heavy-hitting Brooklyn Dodgers in Game 5 of the World Series.

I don't have any children yet. My sister has 7-year-old twin nieces -- hence the name of this blog, although they've been instructed to call me "Uncle Michael," not "Uncle Mike" -- and since they're the same age I was when I started watching the Yankees on television, I've begun to do not just what my Grandpa, a Yankee Fan from The Bronx did, tell them all about it; but, thanks to modern technology including YouTube and the YES Network, I can show them the great men and the great moments whenever they visit.

The first "Yankees Classic" I showed them was David Cone's perfect game on July 18, 1999, with it also being Yogi Berra Day, with Larsen also in attendance. I told them about the connection. I showed them the footage of David Wells' perfect game the year before, on May 17, 1998, and told them that Larsen and Wells went to the same high school in San Diego. And I showed them the footage from Larsen's postseason perfecto as well.

I'm not sure how much of it they "get." They know who Babe Ruth is. They know who Mickey Mantle is. They know that Reggie Jackson is my favorite player. They know that Joe Girardi is the manager now, and that Joe Torre was the manager before him. They know that Derek Jeter is retiring after 20 seasons, 5 titles and over 3,400 hits. They know that Torre, Tino Martinez, Goose Gossage and Jeter were recently honored in ceremonies at Yankee Stadium. And they know that this is the 2nd Yankee Stadium, and that the 1st was seriously renovated, with all the changes (moving the façade from the roof to the bleacher wall, taking the support poles out, etc.).

Ashley keeps asking me if Joe DiMaggio is still alive. Rachel knows that a long-ago Yankee made an important speech at The Stadium, but she has trouble remembering the name Lou Gehrig.

The fact that Yogi and Larsen, 89 and 85 years old, respectively, are still alive helps them to understand, because they can see them on the TV screen, as they are now (or, at least, as they were a few months ago on Old-Timers' Day).

Considering the age difference (my sister is almost 10 years younger than I am, and she didn't have kids quickly), it's almost as if I have grandchildren without having had children.

And I have told them about Great-Grandpa George and his love for the Yankees, and about Great-Grandma Grace and her love for the Brooklyn Dodgers and later the Mets. And that the football Giants were named after the baseball Giants, and that the baseball Giants and the Dodgers used to be in New York, but now they're in California. They get that.

And, yes, they do get that the Mets are an annoyance and that the Red Sox are the rivals.

More than any other sport, baseball is the game that lends itself to generational progression. You talk to a football fan under the age of 30, and tell him that Johnny Unitas or Joe Montana was a better quarterback than Peyton Manning or Tom Brady, and he doesn't buy it. You talk to a basketball fan under the age of 35, and he won't know how great Julius Erving was, let alone that Wilt Chamberlain was a better basketball player than Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant or LeBron James.

Baseball is the sport that gets handed down. A child of 7 gets that a rookie like Masahiro Tanaka wears the same Pinstripes in 2014 that Babe Ruth wore in 1920. Tell a kid in Boston that Babe Ruth played for the Red Sox in Fenway Park 100 years ago, just as Dustin Pedroia is doing so now. Or one in Chicago that the Wrigley Field he's sitting in was sat in by his great-grandfather and his great-great-grandfather 100 years ago. Or one in Los Angeles that Clayton Kershaw is pitching on the same Dodger Stadium mound trod by Orel Hershiser 25 years ago, Fernando Valenzuela 30 years ago, Don Sutton 40 years ago, and Sandy Koufax 50 years ago.

The connection is made. As Thomas Boswell of The Washington Post put it, "We live in a disposable society. But we don't dispose of Babe Ruth. We don't dispose of Walter Johnson. We treat these men as family, and as contemporaries though they are dead."

Boswell has written about baseball about as well as anyone ever has, including Shirley Povich, who did so for the same newspaper from 1924 to 1998. See what I mean about connecting the generations?

Boswell also wrote, "Life can't be all big issues and heart surgery. Something has to bring joy into the day. And baseball provides this."


At any rate...

Larsen's gem is no longer the only no-hitter in postseason history, but it's still the only perfect game in postseason history, and still the only no-hitter in a game later than the Division Series.

Starting for the Dodgers was Sal Maglie, former ace of the New York Giants and one of the most hated opponents in Brooklyn history, but who had come to the Dodgers in midseason and pitched a no-hitter of his own -- something he hadn't done for the Giants. It is still the last no-hitter pitched by a player for a National League team in New York -- unless you believe that Carlos Beltran’s line drive really was foul, thus giving Johan Santana a no-hitter.

Maglie actually had a perfect game going himself, until Mickey Mantle hit a home run into the right field seats in the 4th inning. In the 5th, Mickey made a running, onehanded, backhanded catch of a Gil Hodges drive. It was about 420 feet from home plate, and was nearly as remarkable as the 440-foot catch Willie Mays had made 2 World Series earlier. Perhaps even more so, since, unlike Willie, Mickey wasn’t known as a spectacular fielder (though that may have been because so much fuss was made about his hitting).

The last out was Dale Mitchell, pinch-hitting for Maglie. As a Cleveland Indian, Mitchell had been on the other side of Mays’ catch, but had always hit well against the Yankees. But Larsen struck him out, and catcher Yogi Berra leaped into Larsen’s arms.

Yogi and Don are still alive, 58 years later.  Sadly, none of the other Yankees, and none of the Dodgers, who played in the game are still alive.

Still living and on the rosters, but not playing in the game, are: Yankees Whitey Ford, Bob Cerv and Norm Siebern; and Dodgers Don Newcombe, Carl Erskine, Roger Craig, Sandy Koufax, Randy Jackson (not the Jackson 5 singer or the American Idol panelist) and Ed Roebuck — who came from Brownsville… Pennsylvania, not Brownsville, Brooklyn.

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