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Why Bobby Thomson Day Will Always Be Special To Men Of A Certain Age + Thoughts on Upcoming "Final Fours" in Both Leagues (updated version)

Way back in the way back of the mid-twentieth century, on Wednesday afternoon October 3, 1951 at 3:58p, New York Giants third baseman Bobby Thomson waited for an 0-1 pitch from Brooklyn Dodger reliever Ralph Branca.

 
"There's a long drive, I think it's gonna be," shouted Russ Hodges on WMCA Radio 570 AM.  And micro-seconds later, Hodges shouted not once but four times: "The Giants win the pennant!"  Over in the WMGM 1050 AM radio booth, Red Barber quietly said, "It's in there for the pennant." 

 
I was only nine years old, but I was listening on my parents' old floor model Crosley radio. It might have been to Barber and not Hodges, but Your Honor, I just don't remember.  

But I do vividly remember telephoning my father at his office with the good news because he was a Giant fan from the days of John McGraw. 

 
My boys had been down 4-1 in the bottom of the ninth and the odds didn't look good for the Polo Grounds nine. Giants owner Horace Stoneham had retreated to the center field clubhouse to greet the lads on a good try after the game.

 

But once Alvin Dark singled to lead off the inning against previously dominant Don Newcombe, ears perked up and hearts began to leap. When my favorite Don "Mandrake the Magician" Mueller singled Dark to third, we had tying run at the plate! True rally in making.

 

Monte Irvin popped out but Whitey Lockman doubled home Dark to cut lead to 4-2.  

 

There is nothing like baseball drama in October.  Don Mueller broke his ankle sliding into third so there was a pause as he was helped off the field.  Clint Hartung, who never lived up to the ballyhoo as The Hondo Hurricane, came in to pinch-run. 

 

Don Newcombe was out and Ralph Branca made the long walk in from the bullpen far away in left field. Coach Clyde Sukeforth is said to have advised manager Chuck Dressen that Carl Erskine had just thrown his vaunted curveball in the dirt and Branca was safer pick. (Though Thomson had homered a few times in the past against Branca.)

 

And on the 0-1 pitch Thomson swung and soon Russ Hodges was shouting, "They're going crazy, they're going crazy."  I've never believed that Thomson knew what pitch was coming.  I heard from a reliable source that a few days before Whitey Lockman died, he made a definitive comment:  "He still had to hit the ball, didn't he?" 

 
It was 69 years old today - the birthday of Hall of Famer Dave Winfield who was born in 1951.  It remains a special moment (with apologies to Brooklyn Dodger fans who were heart- broken but hey you guys won enough pennants - and we were both rooked six years later when the teams left for California.)

 

Once the expanded playoffs came into baseball with wild cards were added for best record without winning a division title, Russ Hodges' dramatic call would have lost a little flair.  It would have gone:  "The Giants Win The Pennant! . . . And The Dodgers Win The Wild Card."

 
Which brings us to October baseball in 2020.  The "final fours" in each league could be very dramatic best of five series.  All will be played in "bubbles" in warm weather sites in Texas or southern California.

 

The pandemic has caused this adjustment, but for decades "warm weather" sites has been a dream of many high-rollers in baseball and television circles. After all, their argument goes, who can afford World Series prices anyway? 

 

Three of the four divisional series could be called grudge matches, especially Yankees versus Tampa Bay Rays who won season series 8-2. With a no-name lineup of seemingly interchangeable pitching and batting parts, the Rays are defiant in their disregard for Yankee "aura and mystique" (to use the phrase of the politically righter-than-right Curt Schllling). 

 

That series will be played in San Diego. If the Dodgers won enough in their last years in Brooklyn, what can be said about the Yankees and their entitlement?  So let's bring those games on, starting Monday night Oct 5 on Fox channels for five consecutive nights if necessary.

 

I must say though I cannot root for Yankees, third baseman Gio Urschela's defensive and offensive performance against his former team Cleveland was truly awesome. It's an overused word these days but certainly true.  He has to have made the people of Colombia very proud.

 

In Los Angeles, the Oakland Athletics hope to get revenge on the Houston Astros who won the World Series in 2017 but were admonished for their high-tech and low-tech sign-stealing escapades. 

 
Dusty Baker has done a helluva job in his first year managing the Astros who everyone likes to hate. Houston players have hardly been repentant for their role in the scandal. 

 

But I can never root against a Baker-led team and so I'll say, "Let the best team win . . . without excess chicanery." 

 
In the NL "final four", the Southern California freeway battle between the Padres and the Dodgers will be played in Arlington, Texas, where the World Series will also be held in the Rangers' brand-new billion-dollar Globe Life Stadium.

 

If San Diego can get back its two starters Clevinger and Lamet that missed the triumph over the Cardinals, it says here that the Padres may have enough hitting to give the Dodgers a run for their money. And their left side of the infield, Manny Machado at third and Fernando Tatis Jr at shortstop, can be spectacular.

 
The Dodgers look exceptionally well-balanced and certainly have a lot to prove after winning 7 NL West titles in a row - now 8 - without a World Series title to show for it. 


The other NL matchup is not exactly chopped liver.  A well-balanced Atlanta Braves team that shut out the Reds twice in the first round faces the 2020 Cinderellas, the Miami Marlins, the "Bottom Feeders" derided by a Phillies broadcaster early in season, now have the last laugh. Philadelphia didn't even make playoffs. They will play in Houston.

 
With the NHL Stanley Cup now in the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning and the NBA title likely going to LeBron James' LA Lakers, MLB will have the stage to itself n October as it should be.  (I omit from this discussion the NFL and its bowdlerized season.)  

 

In closing, let's clink glasses to three Baseball Hall of Famers who left us in rapid fashion recently:  Tom Seaver, Lou Brock, and Bob Gibson.  

 

And to three lesser lights who etched their names in the Baseball Book of Achievement:  Lou Johnson, Jay Johnstone, and Ron Perranoski.   "There is no wealth but life."

 

That's all for now.  Be well and stay well and as always, take it easy but take it.

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Celebrating The Centennial of Roger Angell + Thoughts on Sports During The Pandemic

In this time of great loss - the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the first day of the Jewish New Year was the latest cruel blow - I am glad we could celebrate Roger Angell's 100th birthday on Saturday September 19. 

 

Starting with a spring training piece from the Mets' debut season of 1962, Angell's essays for  "The New Yorker" magazine have been required and delightful reading for any thoughtful baseball fan. In recent years he has written on newyorker.com 

 

I have fond memories of his appearance on my WBAI sports radio show "Seventh Inning Stretch" during the 1980s. He did some readings for a fund-raising drive (we didn't raise much money but to hear EB White's stepson read his elegant prose was memorable.)

 

I treasure the autographed copy of his anthology "Five Seasons".  He thanked me for "your baseball writing and your baseball passion," the underlining making me especially proud.

 

Angell spoke for all of us unrepentant fans in "Agincourt and After," a "Five Seasons" essay   about the 1975 Red Sox-Reds World Series.  He knew well the "amused superiority and the icy scorn" of non-fans who considered rooting for a "commercially exploitative" sports team "foolish and childish . . . patently insignificant."

 

What these people forgot about ardent fans, Angell wrote, was "the caring deeply and passionately, really caring."

 

Thinking back at Carlton Fisk's memorable extra-inning home run in Game 6 1975, when his hand gestures seemingly willed the ball fair, Angell extolled "Naivete - the infantile and ignoble joy that sends a grown man or woman to dancing and shouting with joy in the middle of the night over the haphazardous flight of a distant ball."

 

Angell's gift has been to connect with players in the same human way.  "They were dying to talk if they trusted you," he told Chris Haft of mlb.com.

 

I recall a piece in which the almost-patrician-looking Fisk opened up with critiques of his fellow catchers.  It prompted Angell to write that catchers carp about each other just like writers.  

 

So all hail to Roger Angell as he enters his 101st year and deserving of all the plaudits that have come his way, including his 2014 election into a honored place at the Cooperstown Hall of Fame plus the warm birthday encomiums this week from fellow Hall of Fame writer Peter Gammons and the Wall Street Journal's Jason Gay.  

 

CLOSING THOUGHTS

This strange baseball season ends a week from tomorrow (Sunday September 27). 16 of the 30 teams will be eligible for a post-season scheduled to end before the end of October.  The league divisional, championship, and World Series will be held in "bubbles" in Southern California and Texas. 

 

So far the "bubbles" have worked without much new infection for hockey and basketball.

I guess I'm glad that the games are going on even without fans.  I'm a rooter at heart and I miss my college basketball and football teams at Columbia and Wisconsin, and especially Columbia baseball.

 

In a complex world, I've had to deal for almost 30 years with no baseball at Wisconsin, the only Big Ten (or to be exact Big 14) school without baseball.  Football returns at end of October to the Big Ten, a reversal of earlier decision to postpone until the spring.  

 

"Political pressure, money, and threatened lawsuits" had nothing to do with the decision, said Northwestern University president Morton Schapiro.  If you believe this, I have a Brooklyn bridge - choice of three - to sell you. 

Don't want to end on a sarcastic note.  So here's to sustained good health and good spirits to face what a headmaster friend of mine has aptly defined as our "volatile and ambiguous future."   

 

Always remember: Take it easy but take it!

 

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