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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Are The Boys of Summer are Gone

The Boys of Summer are Gone

The ideas which now pass for brilliant innovations and advances are in fact mere revivals of ancient errors, and a further proof of the dictum that those who are ignorant of the past are condemned to repeat it." — Henry Hazlitt

In 1972 Roger Kahn wrote one of the greatest sports books Tbosever published — “The Boys of Sumner.” Kahn's memoir of his life in Brooklyn and in the world beyond is really three books in one. First, it's an evocative story of growing up in the '30s and '40s in an intellectually challenging household that somehow (much to his mother's disgust) centered around the exasperating study of the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Second, it's the tale of a young writer who at an astonishingly young age found himself covering the team he loved during two bittersweet seasons ('52 and '53) that ended in agonizing seven-game World Series losses to (who else?) the New York Yankees.

Third, it's the story of how this no-longer-young writer went back to find the Boys of Summer long after their careers had ended. This is the most poignant section of the book: Kahn's finely etched portraits of the heroes of his youth, now ordinary men leading ordinary (but compelling) lives.

What sets this book apart from the vast majority of books written about baseball (sports in general, really) is Kahn's respect for his subjects. Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Carl Erskine, Duke Snider, Roy Campanella, et al., emerge as three-dimensional characters capable of heroism and strong-willed determination as well as bitterness.

To recount the individual stories contained in this book even briefly would not do justice to the book or to its subjects. It's a book best savored slowly, allowing its resonance to work its magic. The story of a vanished world and a vanished team, "The Boys of Summer" recreates both so vividly that between its pages, neither will ever die.

As a young boy in Cleveland Ohio in late 1940s and 1950s I was an avid Cleveland Indians fan who hated the evil New York Yankees. But I also had a favorite National League team — the Brooklyn Dodgers. I still recall the 1959 World Series between the then Los Angeles Dodgers (they had moved to L.A. in 1958) and the Chicago White Sox. (The Dodgers needed a three game playoff with the Milwaukee Braves to clinch the National League Pennant, which they won 2 games to none)

Watched the series on or little black and white 10 inch TV screen and vigorously rooted for the Dodgers to beat the team that had beaten the Indians out of the American League Pennant The first game of the series was played in Comiskey Park and the White Sox defeated my Dodgers by a score of 11-0 — I was devastated. The next game in Chicago was won by the Dodgers 4-3 thanks to two home runs by Charlie Neal and solid pitching by Johnny Podres and Larry Sherry — the Dodgers great relief pitcher.

Games 3 and 4 were taken by the Dodgers. Game 5 was witnessed by the largest crowd in series history (92,706) and despite the 5 hit pitching of the 23 year-old, future Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax’s the Sox won the game 1-0.

Game 6 moved back to Chicago and with solid pitching by Johnny Podres and Larry Sherry along with homers by Duke Snider, Wally Moon and Chuck Essegian, who set a World Series record with two pinch hit home runs the Dodgers defeated the Sox 9-5 and took the series in 6 games. I was elated.

In 1962 My wife and I moved to Los Angeles and in May of that year I saw my first Dodger game. It is hard to describe the scene as I walked into the just completed Dodger Stadium. The colored seats, the manicured green grass set off by the crushed red brick infield and the whole thing set in Chavez Ravine with a back drop of a setting sun on the San Gabriel Mountains. It is a scene as fresh in my mind’s eye as it was on that beautiful May night.

It was a night where the Dodgers were paired against the newly formed New York Mets and it pitted Don Drysdale against former Dodger Roger Craig. The Dodgers won 1-0 due to Drysdale’s brilliant pitching and a led off single by Murray Wills who then stole second base and was bunted over to third. A fly ball delivered by Willie Davis brought Wills home and that’s all Drysdale needed.

Over the ensuing years the Dodgers gave me and other fans many thrills. the 800px-DodgersuniDodgers captured three pennants in the 1960s and won two more World Series titles in 1963, sweeping the Yankees in four games, and 1965, edging the Minnesota Twins in seven. The 1963 sweep represented their second victory against the Yankees and first against them as a Los Angeles team. The Dodgers won three more pennants in 1974, 1977 and 1978, but lost in each World Series appearance. They went on to win the World Series again in 1981, thanks to pitching sensation Fernando Valenzuela. The early 1980s were affectionately dubbed "Fernandomania." In 1988, another pitching hero, Orel Hershiser, again led them to a World Series victory, aided by one of the most memorable home runs of all time, by their injured star outfielder Kirk Gibson coming off the bench to pinch hit with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning of game 1, in his only appearance of the series.

Over the past decade the Dodgers have fallen on hard times. Due to poor estate planning the O’Malley’s they were forced to sell the team before their patriarch Walter O’Malley died. The team was purchased Fox, a subsidiary of Rupert Murdock’s News Corp, and fell to mediocrity under Fox corporate ownership, even with the great manager Tommy Lasorda, who was said to bled “Dodger Blue.” After a series of managers News Corp sold the team to real estate developer Frank McCourt for $430 million dollars.

The team seemed to rebound under McCourt’s ownership but them the bomb hit the team. Due to bitter divorce battle between Frank and his wife of 30 years, Jamie, the team’s future ended the hands of a Superior Court judge. In December, Superior Court Judge Scott Gordon in Los Angeles invalidated a March 2004 postnuptial agreement giving Frank McCourt sole ownership of the team, allowing Jamie to seek one half of the franchise.

The Dodgers have not won the World Series since 1988, the longest barren stretch for the franchise since winning its first title as the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1955. And now the team has been criticized for its poor security since Giants fan Bryan Stow was beaten as he left Dodger Stadium following the season opener. Stow remains in a medically induced coma. What happened to our

As of Wednesday the Dodgers have averaged 39,205 fans per game, down 11 percent from their average last season. This for a team that was the first to draw over 3 million fans in one season.

Now, according to a report on Fox News the team has been placed under the control of Major League Baseball. Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig told Frank McCourt on Wednesday he will appoint a MLB representative to oversee all aspects of the business and the day-to-day operations of the club. At the same time, Frank McCourt was preparing to sue MLB, a baseball executive familiar with the situation told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity because McCourt had not made any statements.

"I have taken this action because of my deep concerns regarding the finances and operations of the Dodgers and to protect the best interests of the club," Selig said in a statement.

"I commend baseball Commissioner Bud Selig's (wresting) control of the Dodgers and bringing integrity back to the game," Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich said. "It is my hope that the commissioner appoints a representative from the O'Malley family to oversee the team's business affairs during the investigation — a return of the O'Malley family to the Dodgers would be a home run for fans and the Dodgers."

I don’t know how McCourt’s case will go, but I do know it has to be bad for the Dodgers. Now this once icon of American baseball will fall to mediocrity and loin the ranks of the Washington Nationals (former Senators), Kansas City Royals, Houston Astros, Florida Marlins, and Seattle Mariners, a team that has never won anything.

Over the seven decades the Dodgers have given us many thrills andJrobinson moments to remember. They have also produced some of baseball’s greatest stars and Hall of Famers such as Jackie Robinson (the first Black to play in the major leagues), Don Newcomb, Pee Wee Reece, Duke Snider, Gil Hodges, Johnny Podres, Roy Campanella, Don Drysdale, and Sandy Koufax, the greatest left-hander ever to throw a Spaulding 60 feet, six inches. They have also given baseball Murray Wills, Jim Gilliam and Steve Garvey.

The Dodgers have given the world probably the best play-by-play announcer ever to speak into a microphone, Hall of Famer Vince Scully. Scully was recruited by another Hall of Fame announcer Red Barber and joined the Dodgers in 1950. Under the tutelage of Barber Vince Scully 590px-VinScully0308learned his craft to perfection. Barber mentored Scully and told him that if he wanted to be a successful sports announcer he should never be a "homer" (openly showing a rooting interest for the team that employs you), never listen to other announcers, and keep his opinions to himself.

Scully followed the Dodgers to Los Angeles in 1958 and has been their radio voice ever since. In 1964, the New York Yankees offered Scully the opportunity to succeed the venerable of “how about that” fame Mel Allen as their lead play-by-play announcer. Scully chose to remain with the Dodgers, however, and his popularity in Los Angeles became such that in 1976 the team's fans voted him the "most memorable personality" in the history of the franchise.

At 84 his days of announcing the Dodger games are drawing to a close. When Scully is no longer behind the microphone some part of the spirit of the Dodgers will die. This, along with the never ending ownership battles, will send the Dodgers to the middle of the pack. The greatness of the Boys of Summer will live on, but the team that spawned them will sink into mediocrity. When this happens my hated Yankees will be America’s Team.

1 comment:

  1. I used to love baseball. A heritage from my father, I guess.

    But ever since Dad passed away in 1998, I don't have much enthusiasm for baseball.