EXCUSE ME. I am sorry for this because I was raised to say only nice things about the dead. I try to do that - to say something nice or say nothing at all, but I'm going to break that rule. The death of Walter F. O'Malley does not sadden me. He took the heart out of baseball.
Walter F. O'Malley was the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers and I was a fan. So was my father and my uncle and almost everyone else except for Bobby Bell and Mel Klein who rooted for the Yankees and went to Reformed Temple. All the others rooted for the Dodgers and so did I. Now I root for no team.
I tried. It would be nice to be a baseball fan, especially since there might be a team in Washington and it would be terrific to root for them. It is a good thing for a columnist, but more important, good for a man. It is something you can talk about with children, but I can't do it. Walter F. O'Malley is the cause of that. When I was young, he broke my heart.
He took my team from me. He took it when I was just a kid, when I really believed in baseball and had a ball autographed by every member of the Dodger team. My uncle, with whom I shared this passion for the Dodgers, gave me the ball. He had gotten it from Carl Furillo, a right-fielder, with whom he had fought in the war. My uncle said that Furillo killed Japanese by throwing rocks at their heads and I believed him. In the first place, I believe my uncle always. In the second place, I had seen Furillo throw.
You can push thing thing too far, I suppose. We were all kids once, fans once, and to each of us our own team comes with the area - you are born into it. Not where I came from. You had to choose. You had the Yankees and the Giants and the Dodgers and you had to give the matter some thought. You had to choose among Mays and Mantle and Snider and this was no easy matter.
So you carried your team around with you like an identity. You had to defend your choice, sometimes fight for it, know what there was to know about it - read everything and watch the games on television and go to as many as possible, walk up the ramp to the second tier, get closer to the noise, and then suddenly come upon it: the noise, the color, the incredible roar when the team took the field. You felt small and insignificant and totally wrapped up in something glorious, huge and wonderful: The Brooklyn Dodgers.
In 1958, Walter F. O'Malley took that team to Los Angeles. He took it there even though it was making money in Brooklyn and when he did that he made baseball a bit meaner, establishing the principle that the city owes the club something instead of the other way around. It is because of Walter F. O'Malley that Edward Bennett Williams can say that the Orioles will stay in Baltimore only if the city supports the team in a manner that pleases Edward Bennett Williams.
All of that is business and we knew nothing of that back in 1958. All we knew was that our team had been taken from us. The Yankees in their pinstripes beckoned, but we hated them, and the Giants were gone, too, so we sat around and had this meeting in Sam's basement, probably, and decided to root for Boston. But it was no good.
Boston was a graft that wouldn't take, and so after awhile I stopped rooting for any team or caring about baseball. It is like the game died in 1958.
Now, though, everyone is a fan. My friends talk baseball all the time. They go to games. They charter buses, for crying out loud, and go up to Baltimore to see the Orioles play the Yankees or the Red Sox. When the Orioles play the Red Sox, half of Washington goes to the games, pretending to be either Irish or from Boston. Either one is a delightful deceit. I, however, stay home.
I would love to be a fan. I would love to care. I would love to argue over players, play trivia games and recite statistics. It would be nice to be a boy again, care passionately about something that doesn't really matter, something like baseball with ties to an earlier age - a beautifully American game with neither violence nor Howard Cosell. Oh Sweet Mama, it would be nice. But something stops me, holds me up, keeps me at arm's length. But maybe now with the death of Walter F. O'Malley I will try again.
I'm sorry, I know I should have said something nice. The man's dead, but I'll have to let others sing his praises.He did more than take my team. He took a piece of my boyhood as well.