When I was a kid, we didn't USE bases! All we had was a rock, and it doubled as our ball! (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
(The opinions expressed in this weeks Catzs Corner are neither approved, spell checked, or condoned by the editors and blog lords at The Good Phight,nor myself. Rather they are those of my father. Word for word. but hey, that's what happens when you let the inmates loose in the asylum)
Thats right folks. I'd love to take credit for what you are about to read but this weeks Catz Corner was written by my father, at the request of a few of you. I waited until Father day weekend (kudos to WL for the outstanding idea) to post this, but I hope you all can enjoy reading it as much as I did.
Baseball as I've said before, is not about winning or losing. It's about generations, its about family, its about faith and its about sharing a bond. I'm lucky to share the bond of Phillies phandom with my dad, and my son.
So as the Phils continue to almost blow leads, and disappoint many of you. I hope the following piece answers the question many of you have asked which is "How can I keep the Phaith?"
My old man's been doing it for 55 years. Here's a little insight from him.
Happy Fathers Day!
It’s late May and I am sitting in Florida cursing at my 60 “TV. My MLB streaming video connection keeps freezing as I watch the Phillies fail to score a man on third with nobody out. How can they be so bad? How can they be in last place? This is the new Phillies? This is the dynasty? How can they do this to me ?
My interest wanes. It’s been a long day and I’ve had a couple of beers. Before long I fall asleep on the couch. I start to dream. In my dream the Phils are still in last place. A couple of things are different, however.
Somehow it’s 1957. My cousin Lou and I are in the back seat of my uncles 55 Ford Fairlane. We are on our way from South Jersey to 22nd and Lehigh in Philly. Up front are Uncle Lou and Uncle Pete. They are currently arguing about who get’s to pay the 5 cent toll as we approach the Tacony Palmyra bridge. Apparently the loser of the argument get’s to pay the parking fee.
There are no negative thoughts in my mind this early summer day. I am going to see my first live big league ball game. The struggling Phils against the first place Milwaukee Braves. Robin Roberts vs. some guy named Lou Burdette. I’m wearing my Phillies cap and carrying my battered, second hand, Joe DiMaggio mitt. I have two dollars in my pocket for hot dogs and souvenirs. All is good!
We get to the area around the ball park. Connie Mack Stadium is larger than I could have imagined. From the street it looks like a big office building with ticket windows. We drive past the front of the stadium and turn down a side street searching for a parking place. We are shortly flagged down by the parking attendant. It’s a kid about my age who has cordoned off a couple of parking spaces on the street with wooden soda crates. For the fifty cent fee he removes two crates and promises to watch the car and protect it from vandals.
We walk the two blocks back to the stadium and proceed thru the turnstile. I am now inside the bowels of the place. It’s old and a bit scary. There’s hot dog stands and small souvenir stands along the inside perimeter. We stop to use the men’s room before we go to our seats. It’s crowded, dirty, the urinal is long tin trough, and the place smells bad.
All this fades away immediately as we walk up the ramp and I see the field for the first time. I can’t believe how green the grass is and how perfect the infield dirt looks. The lights are on although it’s not quite dusk. There is a black wall in right field that must be 30 ft high. Just left of that, in right center, is an even higher score board, and then there is a place in center field where the wall angles over to meet the left field stands. The numbers say 427 ft. ‘Wow, ‘I’m thinking, ‘nobody can hit one that far.’ A few years later, I will get to see Dick Allen smack the hardest hit ball I ever saw, a rising line drive that still seemed to be accelerating as it flew over that wall. Left field is a double deck length of stands. There is a roof over the upper deck. The stands are mostly empty and will be sparsely filled for the whole game.
Our seats are halfway down the third base line, well up and back from the field. There is a big steel support post that obstructs the view between the pitchers mound and home plate. I hardly notice it for the moment.
The Braves have just finished batting practice and the groundskeepers are rolling away the cage and getting ready to prep the field. Just to the home plate side of the Phillies dugout there is a bunch of kids lined up for autographs. Two or three Phillies players are signing. I see that one of them is number “1,” my favorite player, Richie Ashburn. My cousin and I race down there and join the autograph seekers. I’m holding out my Richie Ashburn card for him to sign. It’s his 1956 card and I’m hoping he doesn’t notice that it’s not current. I’m almost next in line when he abruptly turns away and walks to the dugout. I am more than a bit disappointed. I will eventually get the autograph 30 years later in front of the broadcast booth in Clearwater. When I tell Ashburn the story he just smiles as says, “No big deal, you just had to wait a little while.”
The Phils take the field. There they are in their gleaming white flannel uniforms with the red pinstripes. It’s dark now and the lights make the place feel like a giant outdoor stage.
I know the lineup by heart but to see them out there in person is a thrill. There are a few “Whiz Kids“still around but, with the exception of Ashburn, they are on the down side of their careers. The rest of the team is comprised of journeymen . Eddie Bouchee is at first, Granny Hamner at second, Chico Fernandez at short, Willie "Puddin Head"Jones at third. The outfield has Harry "The Horse" Anderson in left, power hitting Rip Repulski (now THERE'S a baseball name, right?) in right, and Ashburn in center.
Stan Lopata is the catcher. On the mound is Robin Roberts.
Roberts is my other favorite player. Not long before this he was the most dominant pitcher in the National league. He’s now in the midst of what will turn out to be one of his worst years. He will pitch 250 plus innings as he always has in the past and will continue to do for several more years. But the perennial 20 game winner will be a 22 game loser for the first and only time in his career this year. No matter to me at the moment. That’s Robin Roberts out there, in person!
We all rise as they play the national anthem. Then the game begins. It’s a tight ball game. The Braves team is full of strong hitters and Burdette is at his peak. He will win 3 games in the World Series that year as the Braves upset the Yankees. But Roberts is holding his own.
Being seven and eight years old, my cousin and I can not help being distracted by the wonders of the environment. We lose our focus on the game and decide to do some exploring. Our initial excuse is the steel column that was obstructing our view. We move over to the next section. This is relatively easy to do since the ball park is less than a third full and the ushers are not particularly diligent about making sure people sit in their assigned seats.
Next stop is the hot dog stand where 75 cents buys a hot dog and coke. Then we are back in the stands. The left field stands, the first base stands, and finally about twenty rows up just to the right of home plate. We sit down a couple of rows in front of two men who, judging from the empty bottles, have obviously consumed a considerable amount of Bert and Harry Piels best. Their loud antics and somewhat irreverent comments about the players on both teams are quite amusing to us.
Just then a foul ball hits a heavy set lady in the next section over. She is apparently hurt. The ushers come over and there is a commotion in the stands. The two drunks decide this is a cue to do their best impression of an ambulance horn. Funny? Well perhaps only if you are a little kid in this circus of a ball park.
Before we know it, it’s seventh inning stretch time. We know such a thing exists but we never really got to actually experience the ritual in person before. So we go into elaborate stretching routines that would make a gymnast proud. At this point we also decide we had better head back to our real seats.
We get there in time to see the Phils take a one run lead in the eighth. Then the Braves get a man on second with one out in the ninth. They pitch around Eddie Mathews and set up the double play. Unfortunately the next batter is some guy named Hank Aaron . He promptly hits a double in the gap that scores both runners. The Phils can’t respond in their last at bat. So my first real Phillies game ends in a disappointing one run loss. No problem, We’ll get ‘em next time. This is the point where I wake up from the dream. The TV screen is blank .
Unfortunately, I now begin to realize, it turns out my childish optimism was misplaced. Although the Phils finished 77-77 that year, it was the last .500 record they would have for awhile. Roberts came back and won 17 games the next year for a truly awful team. Although he “only” hit .297 in ‘57, Ashburn came back to win another batting title in 1958. Ashburn would have more hits than any player and more putouts than any outfielder in the decade of the 50s.
But the Phils were back in the cellar for a long stay.
There was that string of years when there was not much to cheer about. Gene Mauch came to town and committed the sacrilege of trading away Roberts and Ashburn. The team initially looked worse instead of better. Then there was a tease in ’63 as the Phils looked like a team on the rise. And in 64 Richie Allen, Johnny Callison, Tony Gonzalez, Jim Bunning, Art Mahaffey, and Chris Short were making things happen.
One memory sticks in my mind about that year. It was a day game , I believe it was in July. Now, at the age of 14, I was able to take a series of buses and trains from Jersey to the Stadium on my own. This game featured the first place Phils against the third place St Louis Cardinals. The Cards jumped out to a big lead. The Phils were six or seven runs behind when they caught fire in eighth. They scored until they were one behind. They had the sacks loaded with two out and Clay Dalrymple at the plate. The large, but not sold out crowd was going completely wild. Dalrymple popped it up for the third out. When most people think of the great collapse of ’64 they have visions of the ten game September losing streak that started with Chico Ruiz stealing home in a 1-0 Reds victory. I think about that missed opportunity on a Sunday in July.
The promise of 1964 faded into a sixth place finish in ’65. And there was no hope in Phillies land until a new core of young players emerged in the new Stadium in the early ‘70s. These new guys were my age and the excitement took on new meaning. My new favorite player was the Bull, Greg Luzinski . A lot of fans forget that before his knee injury, it was Luzinski , not Schmidt, who was the go to slugger in the mid seventies lineup. I had lunch with Danny Ozark at a golf tournament in the mid nineties. He was a gracious and interesting guy. After apologizing for all the nasty names I yelled at him from the stands and from my living room, I asked him this question: “Game on the line , 2 outs and a runner in scoring position. Of all the guys you ever coached or managed, who do you want at the plate ?”
Ozark did not hesitate. “ Greg Luzinski or maybe Dick Allen,” he said .
“What about Schmidt?” I asked. He smiled and shook his head,” Luzinski, Allen, those guys got tougher when the chips were down.”
I was in a hotel room in Tampa, Florida when the Phils finally won it all in 1980 . It was 23 years after that first childhood disappointment , and the feeling was hard to describe. Since then there have been a lot of good years and few not so good . This latest run has been a blast .
My wife is from Minnesota . She shakes her head and chastises me when I shout uncomplimentary phrases at the TV when the Phils fail to be perfect . She tells me I am a bad fan . I say”bull……” It’s been 55 years since that night in 1957. The habits formed in that time are not likely to be reformed