It begins in the false spring, in the beconing warmth of Florida and Arizona, and ends in the true fall, with the leaves growing colors and the temperature balding -- no fewer than four games, no more than seven, a flexible Mardi Gras of fast runners and slow curves.
Most of the tables are empty now.
Most of the teams have gone home.
The two that remain are dug in for the siege, their bottles gathered in front of them like scalps, their ashtrays overflowing.
The World Series.
Last call on the baseball season.
Roger Angell, a doctor of baseball -- an archivist with a pediatrician's touch -- is sitting in Section 41 of Memorial Stadium in Baltimore on a chilly night watching it happen. He is comparing the Series to a family heirloom, a piece of furniture bequeathed from generation to generation. Something that lasts. He is talking about the special lure of the Series, about why we are here and why we always come back.
"The regular season is so long that you feel it must be leading up to an important ending," he says. "It's like reading a long book -- you hang in there until the last chapter because you think there will be something there that will make you wise."
There are two transcendent team sporting events in this country, the World Series and the Super Bowl. Each has its moments under the light. The distinction lies in the nature of the fixtures. The Super Bowl, a child of the '60s, was planned to be played under a strobe, an artifice of dazzle. The World Series, now in its 76th year, was intended for the sun. The strobe influences. The sun illuminates. The strobe cannot sustain seven games; it gives off too much intensity. So the Super Bowl is a one-shot, a 60-minute lifetime. The Series defies the need for a clock, shakes its fist at time. In sum, the difference between the Super Bowl and the World Series is the difference between a Polaroid and a mural.
Baseball is the only naked game. Regardless of size, the pitcher is armed only with a ball, the hitter only with a bat. Each always gets his shot off. There are no stuffs, no screens, no blindside tackles. Your skills are there for all to see, as are your weaknesses. The light moves democratically. tIf you are out there, eventually it will find you.
GAME ONE (almost): It is raining in Baltimore. It has been raining since 8 p.m., and by 6 p.m. there isn't a single player in the Oriole clubhouse who thinks the game will be played. The Orioles are relaxing, sitting in their personal director's chairs -- black wood, orange canvas -- chatting amicably with the assembled reporters.
Ken Singleton stands in front of his locker, holding a flower. Frank Robinson stands in the middle of the room, explaining why he thinks it is that despite baseball's preoccupation with recycling managers none of the 26 teams are eager to recycle him. John Lowenstein sits in his customary pose, with his feet at 45-degree angles to his body, perched up against the sides of his locker. A passenger in H. G. Wells' time machine might think he landed in an 18th century salon, so contemplative and refined is the mood.
"Look at this," Steve Stone says, pulling a newspaper from an envelope. "This guy says, 'For a guy with no fast ball, no curve ball and a mediocre slider, Steve has come a long way.' That's my favorite comment. I mean, what am I doing here?" Stone is laughing."I got clocked at 88. Okay, so I'm no Nolan Ryan, but I'm not Randy Jones, either." When asked when he felt he might start his next game, Stone says, "Probably next March, in West Palm."
The prime movers of the light are the media. If a reporter feels he needs to talk to a certain player about a certain play, but he can't get to that player -- he simply goes to the nearest unsurrounded player. That is how satellite stars are born. Jim Palmer's catcher becomes as important as Palmer if Palmer is already 10-deep in scribes.
The media fired the first shot of this Series, postulating that this would be a Series of "the people," since Baltimore and Pittsburgh are blue-collar cities and the Orioles and Pirates are blue-collar teams. Scrappy and all that. Isn't it great, the media opined, that the Series is finally removed from the false glitter of New York and Los Angeles and returned to the heartland where it belongs?
This, of course, is nonsense. It is not only bad sociology, but bad judgment. What happens when the Series finally reaches Montreal and Toronto? Will people write that we truly have a "World Series" now that we have replaced Dave Parker with down parkas?Two Canadian cities do not a world make.
As for the blue-collar beatitude, does anyone seriously think that Parker, who earns $1-million a year -- that's one VERY BIG one -- goes down to some steelworker's bar in Pittsburgh and throws down boilermakers with the boys from the mill?
"As far as I know," Stone said as he looked around his clubhouse, "none of our players work in the factory in the offseason."
"All that theory is, is one of those supportive intangibles," said Lowenstein, whose cleated face makes him resemble the gang member you grew up with who quoted Sartre one minute then picked his teeth with a switchblade the next, "I don't see how a professional baseball club can identify with the socioeconomic makeup of a city." Then, more simply, but no less eloquently, "I think the theory is a bunch of crap."
The game was officially called off at 8:32. Reporters were allowed back into the clubhouses at 8:35, and many had to scramble to get stories to fill the large holes their newspapers had left open. Predictably, the crowds gathered around the veteran stars -- Robinson, Palmer, Mark Belanger. Belanger, dressed in a gray suit and a pearl white shirt open at the neck so he looked like part of the Frank Sinatra entourage, said, "I don't know if I ought to talk to you guys. You were in here for an hour and a half before the game. You should have everything you need already. You should have anticipated a rainout. You should have asked rainout questions."
Reporters were all over Mike Flanagan, who had been scheduled to pitch, and Dennis Martinez, who would now get the start it looked like he'd be deprived of had Earl Weaver's rotation of Flanagan, Palmer and Scott McGregor not been jostled by the rain. One man even went to Dave Skaggs, the substitute catcher who handles Martinez and only Martinez.
The worst feeling a baseball player can have is the knowledge that he will not play in the Series. It is the one showcase that every player in the game hopes for, prays for. To not even get a token appearance is the ultimate indignity. "The way the rotation was set up, realistically, I probably wouldn't have gotten in," Skaggs said. "I really would've been disappointed, because my mom and dad came in to see the Series, and they wouldn't have seen me. I thought about it a lot, not playing, but what could I do? Thank God for the rain. I guess He really came through for me."
If smiles were barrels of crude oil, Dave Skaggs, at this moment, would be a sheik in Yemen.
GAME ONE: The weather dominates again as the light moves on. At 2 p.m., major league baseball calls a press conference. The first 30 minutes are monopolized by Bob Wirz, a flak for Bowie Kuhn. Wirz turns a simple announcement into a parody of a State Department briefing. Bureaucratspeak. ". . . . the latest prediction for the stoppage of the moisture is by five o'clock . . . the footing in the outfield is quite firm, very firm, extremely firm -- please, hear me out, this is of maximum importance . . . the groundskeeper, Pat Santarone, an extremely qualified groundskeeper as most of you know, assures us the footing is firm . . . the next key point would appear to be five o'clock for making the difficult decisions that lie ahead . . ." Later in the afternoon, when there had indeed been a stoppage of the moisture, the Ron Zeigler of baseball was still considering the options of playing Games 1 and 2 in Pittsburgh, and presumably Games 3 and 4 in Miami Beach, with Pete Rozelle -- Mr. Warm Weather Site -- throwing out the first ball.
Standing outside this press conference, attempting to draw a crowd, was Rollen F. Stewart, otherwise known as Rock N Rollen, the ubiquitous sports cheerleader with the multi-colored wig that looks like a Los Angeles Ram helmet designed by Timothy Leary.
The light moves in strange ways.
"I'm here for the publicity," Rollen said. "I'm here to sell myself as an entertainer." He claimed to be the lead vocalist for a song called "Face Dancing," a song that is probably no worse than bronchitis. Rollen is, let's be blunt, an ooze in the swamp of life. He is neither as honest nor as committed as Wild Bill Hagy, the Dundalk cabbie who leads the O-R-I-O-L-E-S cheer by making his lumpy body into a Braille billboard. Rollen, it was suggested, should have been rolled in a dropcloth and sent down the Lord Baltimore dumbwaiter.
From Rollen, the light moved to Santarone, the groundskeeper. At 6:12 p.m., he ordered the tarp removed from the Memorial Stadium infield.
Scribe: "Pat, how does it feel to be the most important man in baseball?"
The fans in the stands cheered when the removal of the tarp revealed actual grass -- quite firm, very firm, extremely firm. There was no truth to the report that under the tarp was a blue line, two red lines and a man in skates who said, "nice night for a hockey game, eh?"
About an hour before game time, Steve Nicosia, the rookie catcher for the Pirates, came out to check the condition of the field. Nicosia is a no-name.Big names, like Ernie Banks, never makes it into a Series.Here was Nicosia, standing alone on the field soaking up what he called "the gala, all the gala." Nicosia is talking about staying calm, about how the Pirates as a team stay calm. "It's no problem," Nicosia says, "Lets say just before the game someone starts getting uptight. Willie Stargell settles it. Willie just goes over to the guy and sets his clothing on fire."
The temperature at the start was 41, and it dipped into the 30s during play.
So, of course, Bowie Kuhn wore a sport jacket. The man must have been raised by wolves. So cold was it (How cold was it, Johnny?) that had Enrique Romo loaded up to throw a spitball, by the time he released it, it would have been a sno-cone.
The light shone on Enrique. And shone. And shone. The man showed you his pickoff move, then showed you his bluff pickoff move, then showed you his ability to shake off the signs. What he didn't show you was much pitching. He turned his one inning into a telethon for the fans back in Guadalajara. Mexican television stations have enough footage on Enrique to run a 12-part documentary.
The game, thanks in part to Enrique, seemed to take forever.
"It did take forever," said Lowenstein, sitting in his customary position after the game. "I like my games 10-2. I don't like them 20-2 because they take too long. But Earl, he can never get enough runs. If he gets nine in the first he wants eight more in the second. Then, when it's 17-5 and they've got bases loaded he's going up and down the runway smoking two cartons of cigarettes. But that's Earl." Lowenstein is smiling. In repose, he looks like he got honorable mention at a Jack Elam Film Festival.
The big crowds are around Flanagan, the winning pitcher, and Doug DeCinces, who hit the big home run and also committed two errors in one inning. As the crowd pushed in on DeCinces, an older man in a brown ski jacket looked on with a certain glow of pride.
"You a newspaper reporter?" he asked.
"Yeah," someone said.
"You know Douggy?"
"Doug DeCinces. He's my son-in-law. Had a good game, huh?We're all sitting there, me -- I'm Howard Smith, from the San Fernando Valley -- my wife, our daughter -- she's Doug's wife, Kristi, K-R-I-S-T-I, and Doug's parents, and we chased this guy from the stands. Yeah, Doug makes an error and the guy stands up and yells, 'That's all right for a .230 hitter.' He'd been on Doug all game, so we all got up, the entire family in unison, and turned on him. We said, 'Either shut up or get out.' He shut up."
GAME TWO: Warmer. Not warm but warmer. For the first time in the Series both teams take batting practice before the game. Time to swap yarns at the cage. That's a baseball term, folks.
The Pirates' fringe players -- Manny Sanguillen, Rennie Stennett, Mike Easler, Lee Lacy and Matt Alexander -- keep up a constant chatter, like the CHIRP of 200-pound canaries.
Stennett: "All ropes. Hit ropes."
Sanguillen: "Heet hard. Hey, peetch, throw it into my keetchen."
Lacy: "Shut up, Sangy. You talk too much."
Alexander: "Wahooooo. Waaahoooo."
The media ignores them for the moment, preferring the stars, especially Dave Parker, Stargell and the manager, Chuch Tanner. The media moves like a jellyfish, slouching toward the Pirates' stars, surrounding them, sucking them inside the ever growing circle and finally all but ingesting them until all that is visible is a pirate cap with a few gold stars.
The game goes on.
The light moves.
On Eddie Murray for his home run, then his run-scoring double.
On Omar Moreno for his inept base running and consummate skill in stranding Pirate runners on base -- nine in two games, six in scoring position.
On Don Stanhouse, for taking even more time than Enrique Romo between pitches, if such a thing is possible.
And on Sanguillen, who had only four runs batted in all season, a ridiculously small total. Tonight, Sanguillen gets the key pinch hit that drives in the winning run.
"I junt thank God and geeve the bol to the great No. 21, Roberto Clemente," he says after the game. "Anything we do in worl' Series, we do for heem."
In Game 1, Sanguillen also pinch hit, but failed to advance the runner. So this is sweet.
"My wife laugheeng at me last night" he says. "She say to me -- 'You never get no more chance after las' night."
Needless to say, the Pirates are joyous after the game. There is loud disco music, very loud, blasting in the clubhouse. No one is immune. No one is down. Not even Moreno.
"I don't care eef I strike out 20 time in a row, man, every time I go up there I'm theenking heet," he says. "I no feel bad.We here. We in the Series. We weening. I gon' get my share. You know, I know I can heet it."
But wherever the light goes, it stops on Stargell.
The man they call "Pops" is reclining -- not sitting -- on a couch in the middle of the locker room, softly tapping the shells of fresh crabs with a mallet, sipping -- not drinking, but sipping -- white wine. His shoes are off. His pants are unbuttoned, like after a serious feast. His feet rest on a coffee table.
dignity: noun. the ability to resemble Willie Stargell.
"This is fun," he says, capitalizing the word. "I could sit here for three hours and tell you about how much fun it is, and I don't think, even then you'd understand."
"One a.m. bus," someone calls out.
"I'm not going," Stargell says.
Then, spotting a small child in the room, he motions to him."Say, how 'bout you and me going down to Key West tonight and doing some fishing?"
You want to go deep sea fishing? Sure, man, we'll go down there, we'll take a TV with us and watch the World Series -- watch the dumb guys play in the snow and rain. How 'bout it?" You and me?"
The kid smiles.
And Stargell, the light shining down like the sun, bathes himself in the glow.