Jewish World Review April 5, 2004 / 14 Nissan, 5764
Just in time, baseball pitches relief
WASHINGTON A heavy spring rain turned a dark day into an even
darker evening as the TV and newspapers carried pictures and stories
of dead Americans burned and mutilated on the streets of Iraq. The
news was depressing and created a feeling of anxiety about what might
happen today, never mind tomorrow, in a country where good deeds
and better intentions disappear in a pool of blood.
So, it came as a relief when I saw Duke Snider in the alcove outside the
rotunda of the National Museum of Natural History a couple of nights
ago. Just looking at him brought a momentary escape from the
clutches of war.
The old Dodger, along with 33 other members of the Hall of Fame, came
to kick off an exhibit, Baseball as America. Yogi wasn't there but,
looking around, he might have said; "It's déjà vu all over again."
Baseball comes out of the long winter bullpen now, not a moment too
soon. The country needs it.
Earlier in the day, the Hall of Famers had been at the White House.
There, the President must have felt a moment's relief to be talking to
Gary Carter instead of about Richard Clarke.
The night was like eavesdropping on a gentle part of our history. Bobby
Doerr of the Red Sox talked about 1948, when his club lost the pennant
in a playoff as if that whole year just happened. Tom Seaver nodded
while Doerr spoke. Dave Winfield smiled. And Monte Irvin, who once
roamed the Polo Grounds, sympathized with the old man's still-fresh
heartache over a last-minute loss.
I couldn't help but compare them with today's players. I know it's not
fair and far too judgmental, but guys like Carlton Fisk, Al Kaline, Lou
Brock, Bill Mazeroski, Ernie Banks, George Brett, Juan Marichal and the
others appear to have a core of character and a love for their sport that
might be missing in current rosters.
There are probably a couple of reasons. A lot of the Hall of Famers the
other night - 17 of 34 - spent their entire career with one team. Eight
others played for only two clubs. The money was nowhere near what
guys get paid today. And their affection for their game and for one
another was obvious.
"It was so different," Bob Feller said. "I had it in my contract with the
Indians that I'd get a nickel a head for every fan over 500,000 we drew
in Cleveland during the year. Made me want to go out and drag people
off the street into the ballpark."
Tim Russert of "Meet the Press" introduced each player with a flourish.
The older guys were thrilled, and the younger ones, like Johnny Bench,
were impressed. Snider seemed to get the loudest ovation, and because
the event was in Washington, I couldn't figure out why.
Maybe it was because Snider and the Dodgers reminded everyone of an
easier time in the nation's life; when a Subway Series was common and
the city had not suffered the wounds of a war that arrives each hour in
the headlines. It was a day when the sight of a center fielder from the
ages brought a moment's relief from reality.
03/23/04: New Yawkers learn about Middle America's graciousness
06/18/03: Hillary violates my right to privacy