Early in the 1947 baseball season; the season Jackie Robinson broke in; a sweet spring evening in New Jersey; I turned on our under the pillow radio and we found the Brooklyn Dodgers; Red Barber and Connie Desmond; announcing. Vin Scully joined them as a rookie a couple years later. Them Bums.
And Ralph Branca was on the mound; the year he won twenty one games. He pitched a great game with a lot of strikeouts. He lost; of course; and I was hooked; lined and sinkered. It was 3-2; St. Louis with Musial; Enos Slaughter; Red Schoendienst and Harry “the Cat” Brickeen; the crafty left hander who pitched for St. Louis.
And so I became a Brooklyn Dodgers fans in a world of Yankee fans; oh; so; characteristically; with the family already way out there New Deal Democrat; publicly; at least; among Republicans; Republicans; Republicans everywhere and not a drop to drink.....
Them Bums; them bums; they were my kind of folks; no doubt about it. Soon the whole family was on the bandwagon; except for Stella; of course. She forbade all talk of sports from the dinner table. “I do not wish to waste what is to me the most important time of the day having to listen to subjects of less than trivial importance to me". Pop would kid and played devil's advocate for us but we knew he agreed with her.
Trivial Pursuit question: Who played for the Brooklyn Dodgers; the New York Knicks and the New York football Giants? Answer at end.
Those Dodgers were the darlings of the Borough of the Brooklyn until the city fathers turned their bastardly backs on the people; and the unjustly accused O'Malley succeeding in sneaking them to LA in the dead of night. Walter O'Malley does not stand with Hitler and Henry Kissinger and Goeffery Dahlmer after all.
I hung in with them until Koufax and Drysdale retired. I saw Drysdale in his rookie season pitch in Jersey City; I think it was; in the old; run down Rupert Brewing stadium where they played eight or twelve games a season for a couple years. It was a night game and a bunch of us took off from the plant. Drysdale lost that game 3-2, now that I think of it.
Them Bums. Even the names, Arky Vaughn, Cooke Lavagetto, Dixie Walker. Dixie Walker the People's Cherce, was traded to Pittsburgh for a broken down leftie named Preacher Roe and a good field/no hit third baseman named Billie Cox because 01” Dix refused to play on the same team with Jackie Robinson-
Ah, that Branch Rickey, Roe and Cox became all stars and great characters in the Dodger pantheon while Walker faded and was out of the league after a couple more seasons. Roe was 22-3 one year and was their most successful clutch pitcher. Cox, it turned out, had one of the great arms and fielded as well as anyone who has played the position. Brooks Robinson included. And he was not such a bad hitter after all-
Them Bums. Pee Wee; da Duke; Carl Furillo, the Reading Rifle, Campy; Carl Erskine, Oisk, whom I saw beat the Yankees in Yankee Stadium 6-5 in eleven innings, retiring the last 19 batters he faced. Snider and Furillo were awesome that day, making plays all over the field and knocking the shit out of the ball.
Ewell Blackwell, The Whip, started for the Yankees, Johnnie Sain of'Spahn and Sain and two days rain", relieved. Johnnie “Big Cat” Mize played first base, all veteran, former NL All Stars, the kind the Yankees always brought in to shore up a position for the post season-
Carl Erskine, a short, slight, sore arm righty with heat and then some. He set a new single, world series game strikeout record in '52, beating the Yankees, 3-2-1 would tell you the number but can not remember. 13? He pitched two no hitters, one after his fast ball had reached the speed of tooth paste emerging from the tube. A classic Dodger pitcher of the era-
Clem Labine, the curveball relief pitcher who beat the Yankees 1-0 in ten innings, Jackie Robinson driving in the winning run with a line drive over Enos Slaughter's head, the day following Larson's perfect game—that an icy dagger in my heart for years to come, Dale Mitchell looking at that called third strike. Dale Mitchell, known for his eye, a veteran leadoff hitter with Cleveland for most of his career, just stands there, duh. Them Bums-
I listened to him take that strike in the locker room of the Continental Can Co. plant, where 1 was beginning the three to eleven shift just after I got out of the army. The plant extends considerably into the Hudson River a little south of the Tappan Zee Bridge. I watched them build that bridge before I went into the army and watched the traffic cross after I got out. Most nights I longed to be in one of those cars behind those headlights in the dark.
I worked that shift only and went to NYU in the day, five hours combined travel time a day. Three hours was bus and subway, time that I slept standing up during the rock and roll of the rush hour crush, automatically hanging on to the strap.
Stella was nuclear when it came to any of us and the “MILITARY!” but I needed to find some things out about the life, a life akin to that of sports, once sports was lost as a life for me. The training, the practice, the game, the war, the heroes and the goats, the victorious, the defeated, the survivors, the dead.
With the knee, it was a miracle I got in to the army but big brother, Nickolai, he is the consummate master in the matter of such bureaucratic intricacies, in any country in the world from any country in the world. Ironies on ironies here, if you knew the Byzantine labyrinths of the Locotellies as well as we do, and someday you may. Yeah, right.
Them Bums. Them bums. Roy Campenella, three time MVP, Hall of Fame catcher. Paralysis from a car wreck ended his career. Little went right for the rest of his life until the team did the right thing by him during the final years of his paralyzed life.
Gil Hodges, great first baseman, clutch power hitter and RBI man, a rock of a dude, who later managed the Miracle Mets in '69 and died of a heart attack shortly thereafter, the perfect time to die, according to some Greeks, on top of the world. I was listening when he hit four home runs in one game one night.
My girl friend, Leslie Lindsay, was in love with him. She has half a dozen signed photos of him framed in her bedroom. It was weird having him watching from all over the room.
Don Newcombe, a towering, a truly great and truly tragic sports figure, an MVP and Cy Young winner, who often hit over .300 and homered. He had two Achilles' heels. Their names were Tommie Hendrich (Old Reliable) and Yogi Berra, both of them with the Yankees, both of them terrific left hand, clutch, power hitters.
Opening game, '49 Series, Newcombe, Rookie of the Year, pitching for the Dodgers, Allie Reynolds for the Yanks, bottom of the ninth, 0-0, Hendrich lines one into the short, right field stands, just beyond Furillo's reach. Newk walks away from the mound, head down, at the crack of the bat. He did not need to look. Them Bums.
It was fashionable at the time for whites to claim that Afro As could not handle the big game. They were yellow, as Jack London claimed with mild surprise that Jack Johnson, the boxer, was not.
And here was poor, huge, old Newk walking face first into one of the slimiest of stereotypes. Newk took to drink and was never the same after Berra stuck it to him in the 1956 Series. I was so glad he got it back together later. He deserved a lot better than he got, and that is not saying a lot.
Them Bums. Leo Durocher, The Lip, Leo the Great, who should be in the Hall as much as the Babe. He managed and stood by Robinson and Willie Mays in their rookie seasons. “I don't care if he's green just as long as he can hit", he told Branch Rickey, the GM. Charlie Dressen. Old Burt Shotten. Jake Fitter, the Jewish first base coach; it being Brooklyn and all-
Cat Abrahms, the Jewish golden boy from Brooklyn, the only Jewish player other than Sid Gorden in the game at the time, come to lead his people to the promised land. He comes a cropper in the last game of the 1950 season. If the Dodgers win, they will have tied Philadelphia for the pennant and forced a play off after a horrendous start and a furious, late season drive.
It is Don Newcombe against Robin Roberts, 1-1, bottom of the ninth, Abrahms leads of with a walk. Reese sacrifices him to second. Snider, their best big game hitter, maybe because he is the only leftie, lines a long, wicked single to center, Abrahms can crawl home which he proceeds to do. Richie Ashbum, with a dismissible arm, fields the ball which has taken no time at all to reach him and throws Abrahms out at plate. Them Bums.
I know. I saw it. I was there. I was in the lower stands beyond first base and had a perfect view of it. I had dragged a Yankee friend from NJ with me. Some satisfaction that turned out to be.
If that were not bad enough, I humiliated him when I joined two enormous black women seated next to me in ragging on the Philadelphia fans in their pink shirts and their pink caps. I had one of their cowbells and was just going apeshit as the innings got later and later and the lights came on and the suspense mounted.
The Dodgers' only run came on a homerun by Pee Wee Reese, the ball sticking in the wire halfway up the high, high right field fence, the ball sticking in the wire for the rest of the game.
Snider is on second. They load the bases with one out. Hodges hits a rainmaker pop up, Furillo hits the long fly they needed from Hodges. Eleventh inning, three run homer that just made it into the very friendly left field stands and Newk has lost another big game.
Branch Rickey, tee totaling, scripture quoting, the mind that created World Champs in St. Louis, Brooklyn and Pittsburgh, I think), the man who brought up and tried everything he could to buffer things for Jackie Robinson, Roy Campenella, Don Newcombe, Junior Gilliam, Joe Black and created a team unlike any before or since, one of the great sportsmen.
I remember myself and two guys from Brooklyn screaming hysterically, waving fifths of bourbon, jumping up and down on everyone's bed in the barracks at Fort Hancock in the Canal Zone, October 1955, then heading into Panama City to celebrate.
I was at the night game when Branca took perfect game into the ninth inning against the Kiner Pirates. Three straight singles; Branca loses his no hitter; is going to lose his shutout and the game. He gets the next three hitters; including Kiner and Gus Bell; wins two zip. You had to love them. They could do it anyway but easy.
Nickolai scalpted tickets for Niccolo; himself and me; instead of us going to school. We sat right smack dab dead center field in the bleachers at Yankee Stadium and saw Sandy Koufax beat Whitey Ford 5-2 in the opening game of the '62(?)World Series—Mickey Mantle hit a two run shot—;but they were from LA now. Only Koufax and Drysdale were still from Brooklyn. Them Bums.
The first time I entered Ebbett's Field; the most hallowed ground I had ever walked upon; it was with it was Pop; Nickolai; Niccolo; our sisters and me. The very; very wild man with the fastball; Rex Bamey; pitched for the Dodgers.
Little Murray Dickson; who one year had something like a 23-16 record for the chronic last place Pirates; pitched for Pittsburgh. The bottom of the ninth; it is 3-2(that score again). Campenella doubles; Hodges homers; Dodgers wins; Locotellies go loco.
In my presence; the Duke strokes three line drive home run his first three times at bat; the fourth is the hardest hit ball of the day. It hits the clock atop the big score board; bounces almost to second base and he is held to a single.
Carl Spooner; the rookie who pitched two dominating shutouts his first two times out; ended up 7-5 and was off the team the following year. Billie Loes; the bonus baby who didn't. There is no room for baseball in that boy's head; Carl Furillo is reported to have said. There is nothing but pussy; pussy; pussy.
Chuck Conners; the buzz cut first baseman; they brought up to replace Hodges. Hodges was not ready to be replaced. Truth to tell; they never have come close to replacing Hodges in all the years since.
Conners went on to star in some jerk water; western series on the tube; The Rifleman; it may have been called. He was not quite so widely known for the homoerotica in which he starred.
Andy Pafko. Irv Poleeka. Gene Hermanski. Hugh Casey; the relief pitching counterpart to the Yankee's Joe Page; neither of them known for their sobriety. Sandy Amoros; whose catch ofBerra's line drive to left; saved Johnnie Podres' seventh game 2-0 win over the '55 Yankees. Gino Cimolli. Them Bums.
Don Zimmer; Reese's handsome young replacement who had as long to wait as Chuck Conners and now sits next to Joe Torre on the Yankee bench; looking for all the world like an over weight; hypo-thyroid toad; a kind of Asian; goggle eyed monster to scare away the bad guys.
Eddie Stanky, The Brat, Bruce Edwards, Rube Walker. Wayne Terwilliger, Russ Meyer, though not the one of naugahyde pom fame.
Roberto Clemente came up through the Dodger organization. Rickie who had signed him was gone. His arm was as good as Furillo's, he had greater range, was an even better hitter than Furillo. Furillo would happily have moved to left and the Dodgers would have had one of the great outfields ever.
Clemente was traded to the Pirates quite simply because O'Malley did not want to have yet one more black star on the field. O'Malley was thick with the unctuous, Irish Catholic sharpies so prominent during Cardinal Spellman's reign.
They had no problem sticking it to O'Malley anymore than O'Malley would have hesitated to stick it to any of them, if he had been able. I did not mean to imply there was anything the least bit good or decent about him, only that he was not in Geoffery Dahlmer or Donald Rumsfeld's league. That's all.
I got home from school walked though the door of my friends; Harry and Grace Chapman, and, standing in the doorway, watched Hendrich's home run off of Don Newcombe. I walked into my girlfriend; Leslie's house and, standing in the doorway, and watched Thomson's home run off Ralph Branca, the biggest and the coldest of those icy daggers in the heart. Newcombe carried a four two lead into the ninth on two days rest.
The Polo Grounds had the shortest left field fence in the history of the Majors. Andy Pafko waited to make the catch of the fly ball that would win the pennant for Brooklyn. He might as well be waiting still. The ball caught the lip of the even shorter, overhanging upper deck. I was depressed all winter. Boy, them Bums.
Wait “til next year, was their rallying cry, and damned if they weren't right back at it, their answering the call after one more inconsolable disappointment. They had Jackie Robinson and that gave them a leg up on every other team but he was far from all they had. A lot of them are in the Hall. Durocher and Hodges should be.
Suffering with them year after year, as though cursed by a particularly fiendish witch, none of us ever regretted the despite all the braying Yankee jackasses of fans, because of them, more likely.
I actually look back with pride that we had the taste and orneriness to go with and stick with the real thing. They had something that no other team has had before or since, something pure, something shining, unmistakable and unforgettable.
No one knew exactly what it was they had that made them so special. Then we all heard Aretha singing, R-E-S-P-E-C-T, and we knew. It was Soul that they had, simply Soul, pure, sweet Soul, long before anyone could put a name to it..
The Yankees? Soul? The last bastion of the white man in MLB. The country club team. The corporate team. Dan Topping, Del Webb and George Wiess. Their swimming pools were full of Chlorox. They were very antithesis of Soul.
Read about Elston Howard, the Yankees' first player of color, an All Star, an MVP, although they may have brought up a very light Panamanian around the same time, or was that in another solar system. How 'bout that Mars?
The LA Dodgers? Team Steve Garvey, Orel Hershiser and Shawn Green? Soul? Sir, your fortune cookie reads that your train leaves for Hackensack in three seconds on track forty seven. Don't miss it.
I think it is only Koufax, Snider, Branca (who did a long time road show with Bobby Thomson), Joe Black, Newk and Erskine who are still grace us with their presence here on terra firma.
What a team they were, what a dream of a team they remain, aptly named the Boys of Summer, especially for those lucky enough to have taken them to heart when we did. The Beloved Bums. Them Bums. Never may their glory fade. Nor their radiant Soul.
Answer to Trivial Pursuit question: Gladys Gooding, the organist who played at Ebbetts Field for the Beloved until—you know when.