As a card-carrying sentimentalist, I am firmly convinced the old days, approximately nine out of every 10 times, were better. I thought of that yet again when this past summer I saw baseball columnist Bob Nightengale’s column in USA Today on the 50th anniversary of the Miracle Mets’ World Series victory over the heavily favored Baltimore Orioles.
Just seven years removed from an inaugural season for the expansion club that set records for futility, losing 120 of 160 games played (two were rained out and mercifully not rescheduled), the Mets shocked many with their championship season, no doubt, including St. Marys born and raised Galen Cisco, who was on that ’62 Mets team and holds the distinction of playing on two first-year expansion clubs since he was also a relief pitcher for the first-year Kansas City Royals in 1969.
Certainly, I enjoyed Nightengale’s read, but the thing that really grabbed my attention was the accompanying photo of the Game 5 clincher at Shea Stadium, when the players celebrated in the middle of the diamond in the solar glow of a late fall afternoon.
Yes, once upon a baseball time, the World Series was an all-diurnal affair, with the first night game in Series history not occurring until 1971, Game 4, to be specific, when the Pirates hosted the Orioles at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh.
The photo reminded me of baseball as I knew it in my late 1950s and 1960s childhood, a time when baseball stood on equal footing with any other sport on the landscape, including football.
It was a game played at a brisker pace than today’s, a game often played in the sunshine and always was for its ultimate end-of-the-season best-of-seven between the pennant winners, and a game that featured far more strategy than today’s homer-and-strikeout affairs. Having said that, I remain tethered to the game of my youth even now, fretting and agonizing over that which I cannot control, the misplays of my Yankees, even at a time when I’m old enough now to know there are far more important things about which to worry.
In the World Series that Nightengale recalled, it’s interesting to note the Orioles and Mets played those taut five games all under three hours, with two of the shortest at 2:13 and 2:14 and the longest at 2:33. Nowadays, it is only the very rare game that completes in less than three hours, thanks in part to the endless parade of specialty relief pitchers summoned by today’s managers.
Four of those five games in 1969 also featured complete games by starters, one of which was Tom Seaver’s 10-inning beaut in his 2-1 Game 4 win. Nowadays, complete games are so rare that often a month’s worth of games played by thirty teams won’t see four complete games total.
In my childhood, no doubt, the most memorable World Series for me was one my Yankees lost, the 1960 Series, that ended with a walk-ff Game 7 homer by Bill Mazeroski.
I was a fourth-grader at St. Charles under the charge of Sister Agnes Miriam, as stern a nun as I would have in my 12 years of parochial education. Realizing it was unlikely the Good Sister — and those Sisters of Charity were certainly all good and Godly women, even the no-nonsense ones, who helped keep my miscreant pals and me in line — would allow us to watch any of that Thursday afternoon game on the TV that could have been wheeled in on a cart to present those black-and-white dancing images as it would be the next fall when the home-state Redlegs of Cincinnati would play my Yankees. So, I engaged in a little subterfuge to follow the action.
I carved out a compartment with my pocket knife in a hardback Reader’s Guide anthology of condensed novels that women especially, including my mother, loved in the 1960s. It was compartment that fit perfectly my transistor radio when the book was closed. I then put a book cover on to make it look like a school book.
When it came game time, I covertly turned the transistor on low volume and then could periodically lay my ear on the book at my desk in the back of the room to hear the action. I figured as long as I didn’t disappear for too long at one time, I could catch enough of the game to stay connected.
However, the savvy Sam as we called her, given the first letters of Sister Agnes Miriam, wasn’t fooled. She did indeed eventually come to the back of the room to see why I was disappearing and reappearing, saw the book and realized it wasn’t configured at all like any of our textbooks, and the ruse was up.
I lost both the book and the radio that day but gained one of my earliest grammar lessons and also learned a new word when my punishment was coming in after school to fill up the blackboard with “I shall (not will since the subject was I) not deface books.”
All of those thoughts paraded through my mind as I looked at that photo, thoughts of a special time in my life when baseball’s most important games were awash with autumnal sunshine and played in crisp temperatures on those October days during a time when baseball was so very different.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.