I WRITE IN A MOOD OF DISGUST. I just saw Milwaukee's relief pitcher Peter Ladd walk in the winning run of Game Two of the World Series against St. Louis. In my book this makes Ladd a certifiable bum. As Joe Garagiola noted, "There's no defense against a walk."
I know it's childish to get so worked up, but I come by these passions honestly.
I grew up in Cooperstown. Cooperstown, N.Y. The Birthplace of Baseball!
It is hard to explain to ordinary people exactly what it means to have spent one's formative years in close proximity to the Baseball Hall of Fame and the field where Abner enDoubleday is supposed to have invented the sport in 1839.
For a kid growing up there, Cooperstown was America, baseball was America's sport, and at that it was less a sport than a year-round obsession.
In the depths of upstate-New York's Siberian winter, my friend Jimmy and I would wander through the silent rooms of baseball's holy sanctuary, the Hall of Fame. We stood reverently before such solemn relics as Ty Cobb's spikes and Honus Wagner' glove. But it was the heroes -- the saints -- who impressed us most. Men such as Ruth, Walter Johnson and Grover Cleveland Alexander were men of virtue and shining character. If they swapped wives or boozed on game days, Jimmy and I were ignorant of it. These demigods achieved their fame before the probing glare of modern media attention.
As early as late March, we took out our gloves. We played catch in our winter clothes, making shoe-string catches off the top of lingering piles of ice and snow, slipping in the muddy, oozing ground.
It was Ted Williams who honed my batting skills with his book "Hit It Out in Front, Kid." Williams must have known there were a lot of young, rural Americans like me. He showed how a lone, baseball-crazed boy living on a dairy farm in the Mohawk Valley could rig up a common bathroom plunger as a tee and use it to perfect his swing in the nearest cow pasture.
Some heretics have questioned whether Doubleday Field -- where we played Little League and then American Legion ball -- should be viewed as hallowed ground. These renegade historians even wonder whether the bewhiskered Abner invented the sport, saying the 1907 commission that confirmed Cooperstown as the game's birthplace and Doubleday as its originator did an incompetent job.
Jim and I were blissfully ignorant of any such revisionism. If baseball wasn't invented in Cooperstown, it should have been. Its Main Street was strictly Norman Rockwell. There was a five-and-ten-cent store, a drug store with a soda fountain, and an honest-to-God flagpole right in the middle of the main intersection. When our games on Doubleday Field were rained out, we'd pay a quarter for a movie matinee.
On one day a year, Cooperstown's isolation suddenly was shattered. The whole world, is seemed, descended on us the day of the Hall of Fame Game, when Jim and I happily gave up Doubleday Field to the likes of Roy Campanella and Carl Furillo.
I suppose we attended seven or eight of these annual games in the late '40s and early '50s, seeing the Dodgers, the Giants, the Indians and the Yankees. It was an awesome display by giants. They hit towering drives over a left field fence we had never reached. They turning Doubleday Field into a toy park. Then they were gone and Cooperstown was returned to us.
But the game was really an anticlimax. By game time, Jim and I had been up since dawn engaging in a frantic search for autographs.
Any kid in America would have envied our situation. Only a few kids knew the layout of all the hotels, golf courses and field houses in which the greats holed up.
"I got Reese -- he's heading for the elevator," Jim would yell. For that priceless information he was rewarded with a tip on where to find Hodges.
By mid-morning our baseballs were filled up. One year I got all the "Boys of Summer," the Brooklyn Dodgers of the early '50s -- one ball which miraculously has survived.
For Jim and me there were occasional intimations that the world beyond Cooperstown was perhaps not as sweet as ours. But they, too, often involved baseball.
One of my most devastating lessons about the real world -- still etched in my memory as if it happened yesterday -- was when Joe Dimaggio came clattering out of the field house in full uniform and cleats en route to the game.
I thrust forward my baseball.
"Sorry, kid," he said. "I'm in a hurry." And pushed the baseball away.
(Funny, I must have finally gotten him on a better day, for there is his signature on one of my surviving baseballs. But that I don't remember.)
There was the day Jim and I traveled to Yonkers to play in the first round of the statewide American Legion tournament. The event was held on a field with jagged rocks emerging around second base. I don't know how many members of the Yonkers club were actually under 18, but many of them were already shaving!
The first Yonkers batter smashed one 20 feet over my head, and I was in center field. I think the score ran up to 14 to 1 before we reboarded the bus back to Cooperstown. By then our fantasy of becoming big leaguers had been dashed forever.
After the Hall of Fame Game we turned our full attention to the pennant races and the World Series.
Night after night, as August slid into September, my father and I fiddled with our old Philco radio trying to pick up the night games. We prayed for good weather -- not for the players but for the radio reception.
My father was an inveterate Giants fan while I rooted for the Dodgers. When Bobby Thomson hit the home run to clinch the pennant for the Giants in 1951, my father was gracious, for he understood the extent of my grief. It was just as well. I went to my room and sobbed.
But there was a secret I didn't share with my father. My tears weren't for the Dodgers. They were for baseball's approaching end.
Outside, on the farm, the fields were turning golden and the cold autumn nights were beginning. There would be no baseball until the snows came and melted.
I felt an emptiness that words could not express.