Baseball's Opening Day, Then and Now
I’ve just done a column for the NYT on the double opening day in New York.
But wait, there’s more. I just heard from Bill Wakefield, who pitched quite well for the Mets in 1964, and he recalled the first game ever at Shea. He was a Stanford guy who during spring training had become friendly with Hot Rod Kanehl, who was not a Stanford guy.
Bill’s e-mail reminded me why I love baseball so much:
“We were staying at the Travelers Inn as a team,” Bill wrote. “Rod Kanehl took me out the night before and we went to Toots Shor’s, and Howard Cosell came up and said, ‘Runner Rod, how are you?’ and I thought, ‘Wow, this is the Big Leagues – better than Tulsa.
“We then took separate cabs back to the Travelers. I was late going to breakfast and I remember Rod telling me, ‘I thought somebody had taken you to Brooklyn and I’d never see the rookie again. I’m glad you’re here for breakfast.’
“I had a one-day pay check from the Mets. 1st and the 15th. I think it was around $160. I cashed it – in NYC – cash in my pocket. This is the life.”
“Game against the Pirates. Saw buddies from college along the stands in right field. Hickman looking at the stands and asking me, ‘Are we good enough to play here?’
“As Chris Cannizzaro used to do before opening day – he went around the entire clubhouse, shook hands with all 25 players and said, ‘Have a good year.’ You, too.”
You know you are going good when an old friend writes such a literate e-mail. Then I dug dug out my battered copy of The Southpaw by Mark Harris, which I regard as the best baseball novel, ever. A 17-year-old lefty from upstate New York attends opening day in the city, a few years before he will be the surprise starter there.
'There was an announcement by the loudspeaker, 'Ladies and gentlemen, our national anthem,' and the band struck the tune and some lady that I could not see begun to sing, and a mighty powerful pair of lungs she had. It is really beautiful, for as the last words die away, a roar goes up from the people, and for a minute there is no sound but the echo of the singing, and no movement or motion except maybe a bird or the flags waving or the drummer on his drums, and then the music dies and the people spring to life and the chief umpire calls loud and long, 'Puh-lay ball! And the game is on.''
You should read the book.
As Chris Cannizzaro said, “Have a good year.”
4/3/2013 02:22:55 am
4/3/2013 02:49:15 am
Alan, I never saw two games in one day as a fan (did cover Baseball Thursday in 1985, Mets day, Yanks night)
4/3/2013 02:34:25 pm
aug. 14, 1946, dodgers play first day-night double header separate admissions. July 4, 1947 Dodgers play morning- afternoon double headers on holidays, separate admissions. I saw a morning game vs Jints, Bums lost 19-2. As the gang said, " that Rickey is a cheap bastard."
4/3/2013 02:41:13 pm
Just checked, the 19-2 game was some other day, Dodgers won both on July 4, 1947. Won pennant that year, World Serious-- don't ask.
4/3/2013 03:36:42 pm
Ed, everything is verifiable these days. When I was working on the Musial book, several old big-leaguers described separate plays to me that were a bit different when I looked them up on Retrosheet.
4/4/2013 01:06:07 am
OK, now to move on from the sublime to the ridiculous. Metropolitans fans all think it, I'll take the chump hit and say it....this is Matt Harvey, good NIGHT! (Pleas don't give me a suspension from this site, GV.)
4/4/2013 04:23:18 am
I was mostly watching Chris Hayes, but clicking back and forth.
4/4/2013 12:59:13 pm
Don't forget Dick Selma
4/4/2013 12:47:54 pm
Ok GV, turn off that professional journalist left brain. That was then, this is now. Enjoy while we can. :)
4/7/2013 05:15:24 am
GV - Those were my Mets. Growing up in Pelham Bay, in the heart of Yankee country, watching Chris Cannizzaro, Jesse Gonder, even Yogi taking up the tools of ignorance one last knee-cracking time. I learned geography following that team, I learned mathematics, I even learned to multiply negatives two years ahead of my classmates because I was a Mets fan and they weren't. I learned to pitch against a schoolyard wall with Fat Jack Fisher's motion, because we were still three years removed from Seaver. Those were my Mets. I learned patience. I learned to laugh, and to forgive. I wouldn't trade that for anything. Thanks for reminding me.
4/7/2013 12:03:21 pm
Charlie, nobody could say it better. That is the essence of the Mets. Wakefield got it in 1964 -- not that all those guys didn't want to win every game. They wree professional athletes.
4/7/2013 02:24:48 pm
That hit by Byrd was the kind of gift that we rarely saw back then, but that the occasional "good team" later fooled us into expecting on a more regular basis. I was happy to see Marlon join the fraternity. He took his whipped cream like a man.
4/7/2013 12:12:08 pm
4/11/2013 05:31:55 am
George - I'm sticking this in here because I just read a piece by Tyler Kepner regarding the decline in African-American major leaguers, and I was wondering about your take on the subject. The majority of people interviewed point toward the college scholarship void in baseball. Youth travel teams and time/money commitments also were held up as roadblocks. Here's the thing: Nobody mentioned the demise of the Negro League and the long-term dissolution of an intimate relationship between a people and a sport. They didn't mention that, while there is still a large percentage of African-Americans in the inner city, there are plenty living out in the suburbs, where the opportunities are greater and where household incomes could better bear the costs mentioned. I also think it's a case of presentation for MLB. They keep pumping up the volume on Jackie Robinson, but if I were a black kid I'd take his story more as a cautionary tale than an inspiration to pull on the sanis. I hope you take some time to consider the issue with your usual incisiveness, either here or in the Times.
4/11/2013 12:40:27 pm
Charlie, thank you for the nice note. I agree on the loss of that culture, but I see the drop in black players as a positive for basketball and football (despite its dangers). Both involve crowds, happen earlier in the school year, and can produce college scholarships. Plus, more competition from Latin America and Asia.
4/11/2013 03:01:36 pm
I was afraid of that. Well, I just joined the Society for American Baseball Research (the source for the player data in Tyler's article, as well as Bud Selig's committee that is addressing the subject) so that I could make an intelligent reassessment of the data, rather than simply leaving the matter in the hands of the commissioner. I disagree with your considered opinion that kids pick their sports based on college scholarship potential. That's too logical for most youth players I've known. Kids excel at what they love and what they're good at. Baseball is but one choice, but baseball is more than the game - it is a belief system, bestowed upon a son by his father. It binds generations; when we disagree about everything else under the sun, my father and I can retreat to the safe haven of a diamond of dirt cut out from a grassy space and marvel at its power to disarm us. Something went wrong somewhere between Jackie Robinson and the present day that altered the racial balance in baseball, George. I don't believe the problem is rooted in avarice or that Latin players are better athletes than our best athletes, no matter their color. I'm certain that the answer lies in the individual's identification with the pastime. If I'm wrong, I'll publish the mea culpa, nevertheless. Wish me luck.
4/12/2013 12:59:35 am
Charlie, I could have also said, football and basketball have noise and cheerleaders and community esteem, besides being great sports. I also know as a bad schoolyard player, that basketball can be practiced alone, or played 3-on-3 endlessly, and is great fun for improvisation. Kids don't play baseball on their own anymore (we had 7-on-7 games in an empty lot in post-war Queens. (Our arbiter on disputes was the attendant at a gas station across the street, a black guy from Virginia who loved the game and told us Willie was much better than Mickey or the Duke.) Nate Robinson played DB for UWash -- and beat the Knicks last night. Could he have been Aaron or Griffey Jr? He's doing fine. GV
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From the great Maureen Dowd:
As I write this, I’m in a deserted newsroom in The Times’s D.C. office. After working at home for two years during Covid, I was elated to get back, so I could wander around and pick up the latest scoop.
But in the last year, there has been only a smattering of people whenever I’m here, with row upon row of empty desks. Sometimes a larger group gets lured in for a meeting with a platter of bagels."
--- Dowd writes about the lost world of journalists clustered in newsrooms at all hours, smoking, drinking, gossipping, making phone calls, typing, editing.
"Putting out the paper," we called it.
Much more than nostalgia.