Thursday, November 5, 2009

Where have you gone, Bobby Richardson?

There’s been something going on for the past few days that nobody seems to care much about very much. It’s called the World Series. This year, it’s between the New York Yankees and the Philadelphia Phillies, who won it last year.
Time was, the fall classic attracted the rapt attention of just about every man, woman and child in America. It was flat-out exciting, no matter who was playing (good news for Cub fans.) But those days, seemingly, are gone. Even the players seem less engaged than they used to be. For instance, it took a fastball in the ribs to remind Yankee slugger Alex Rodriguez of where he was and what he was doing.
"I will say this, that the one time I got hit in [Game 3], my first at-bat, kind of woke me up a little bit and just reminded me, 'Hey, this is the World Series, let's get it going a little bit.'”
Get it going a little bit?
I’m not sure when the World Series became more of an afterthought and less of a thrilling yearly conclusion to the great American pastime. Even the media has missed the boat, with the Philadelphia Inquirer mistakenly running an ad last Monday for Macy’s congratulating their home team on winning the series, The fact that the Phillies were trailing the Yankees three games to one at that time is just details, I guess.
Part of it, I think, has to do with when the games are played. It used to be that World Series games were all played in the daytime, when baseball was meant to be played in the first place. In fact, Game 4 of the 1971 World Series was the first ever to be played under the lights. But, eventually, more and more Series games were scheduled at night, when television audiences (and advertising revenues) were larger, with game 6 of the 1987 series the last World Series game played during the day. The effect of daytime play was that it occurred when many people were at work or school. There was a certain deliciousness about enjoying a baseball game when you were supposed to be studying math or stocking shelves. I remember one year in about fourth grade when my friend Kerry swiped his dad’s transistor radio and brought it to school. He secretly placed the radio in his desk, then ran the earpiece wire under his shirt, assuming, I guess, that he would not be required to leave his seat for the entire nine innings. The earpiece itself was cleverly concealed by his hand, which he endeavored to place over his ear the whole time. He would, he said, communicate with the rest of us via a series of hand signals, coughs and sniffles to let us know the ongoing results of that day’s game. It seemed to work wonderfully, as we assumed Mrs. Peterson, our teacher, was too dimwitted to notice all of the boys and most of the girls watching Kerry instead of her for the bulk of the afternoon. I think the White Sox were leading when she burst our bubble.
“What’s the score, Kerry?” she said. “I missed that last sign.”
But I don’t think it was just the time of day that made the series so attractive back then. I think it was the players. I still remember all the names of the guys who played for my favorite team of the late ’50’s and early ’60’s, the New York Yankees. I admired outfielders Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, along with pitcher Whitey Ford and catchers Yogi Berra and the amazing Elston Howard. But my real favorites were the members of what sportswriters called, “the million dollar infield,” not because they even came close to collectively making a million (heck, Mantle only made $60,000), but because they were worth a million and more. That infield included first baseman, Bill “Moose” Skowron, shortstop Tony Kubek, third baseman Clete Boyer, and my personal favorite, second baseman Bobby Richardson.
Richardson was a slick-fielding, generally light-hitting guy, which matched my image of my own baseball persona, as I never could hit a lick. But while his offensive season stats were only average, he was a fine clutch hitter, which made world series time even more interesting for me. He was named World Series MVP in 1960, when he hit .367, powered a grand slam and tallied 12 RBI. The Yanks lost that series to the Pirates, so Richardson remains the only World Series MVP selected from the losing team. As the losers, Richardson and his teammates got an extra $5,214.64, which was big bucks in those days. It still is, as far as I’m concerned, but it’s pretty small potatoes compared to the over $350,000 the winners received last year.
And maybe that’s the real problem.
I admire today’s players for the time, talent and sheer athleticism that’s taken them to the major leagues. But, pardon me if I don’t live and die with the fates of a bunch of gazillionaires who will probably be playing for the highest bidder the next time their contract is up.
I’m writing this on Tuesday morning, so by the time you read this column, it may all be over. Or there may be one more game to play. If there is, I may be watching. Or maybe not.
What the heck, it’s only the World Series.

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