Perhaps sometime, somewhere, baseball has been more fun, more an unalloyed pleasure, than it was last night in muggy but marvelous RFK Stadium.
If so, then you couldn't convince chubby legends like Willie Mays and Hank Aaron, nor elegant oldsters like Joe DiMaggio and Bill Dickey, nor joyful old men like Tommy Henrich and 76-year-old Luke Appling.
They, and 54 more of their blessed ilk, kept a crowd of 31,160 laughing and giggling, oohing and sighing, remembering and perhaps crying, through more than four hours of batting practice, introductions and a five-inning Old-Timers Classic that entirely lived up to its billing.
There were Al Kaline and Brooks Robinson jogging out their home runs into the cozy left field bleachers. There were Warren Spahn, 62, and Bob Feller, 64, not only throwing strikes, but occasionally drawing cheers with an obvious screwball or bonafide curve. And who was that slick double play combination? Yes, Johnny Logan and Bill Mazeroski.
At night's end, the large and festive crowd rose in a standing ovation as 63 of the game's most storied players, including 17 Hall of Famers, milled on the field en masse, waving their hats over their heads and basking in a gentle adulation.
"We're getting to relive history without the pressure," said Lou Brock. "We swing and fall on our rear ends and nobody cares. We're all locked and sealed into the history of the game. Now, we're just adding the flavor."
That was a lovely flavor, indeed, as the Second Annual Cracker Jack Old Timers Baseball Classic surpassed last year's rain-blighted and generally snafued affair in almost every respect.
"This game is different from all the others," said Brooks Robinson. "Here, we're the main show, not the opening act. Even last year, I could tell that all these guys were just primed for this. They just love it.
"Here, they pay you $1,000. You can bring your wife to town, all expenses paid for three days. And you know you're helping a really good cause," continued Robinson, referring to the Association of Professional Ball Players of America, which helps indigent and needy players from the prepension days. "At too many of these (old-timers) games, it's take, take take. The old players are just used. They draw an extra 20,000 or 30,000 to the game, but the players don't get anything out of it.
"Here, somebody does something for you. It's the first time they've been treated first class . . . I'm glad to see it going so well, because (organized) baseball didn't do a thing to get it off the ground or help it. They wouldn't even let this game use the phrase Old-Timers All-Star Game because they said the term 'All-Star' belonged to baseball."
For the players, this was one long night of delights that they miss more in retirement than most will admit. "I get to stick my chest out and stand next to DiMaggio and Mays," said Brock, impressed as a child despite his 3,023 hits and his all-time record 938 steals. "I feel tempted to bring my bubble gum cards and get 'em signed."
"Did you see me hit one out of this bandbox," crowed recently retired Tim McCarver, the game's youngest player. "I'm tempted to get back in there and try to hit another one over the fence. But I'm more tempted not to get back in. Us 'old-timers' gotta quit when we're ahead."
Spotting Mays, McCarver began doing a high-pitched immitation of "old two dozen's" voice, saying, "When I was a rookie catcher, Willie came up and said, 'You don't have to worry about me, kid. I don't slide into cacthers any more. I cut 'em up too bad. Last year, I slid into Del Rice and cut him from his knee all the way up to his hip pocket. It was awful.'
"I got Willie's message. It was his way of saying I better not block the plate on him or I might look like Del Rice."
"I'm havin' a good time. Hearing the crack of the bat is nice. I enjoyed it for 20 years. Why wouldn't enjoy it now," beamed Boog Powell after stroking a high fly over the distant right field fence. "You know, I always loved to hit in this Washington ballpark."
What was there in RFK Stadium that he found so appealing, Powell was asked. Was it the good hitter's background? Or the hot summer air that made the ball carry? Or the reasonable distances in the power alleys?
"Nah," said Powell, "I think it was the Senators' pitching staffs. Buster Narum, Jim Duckworth, guys like that . . .
"Call this The Ben Gay Bowl," said Powell. "Everybody feels great right now, but just wait 'til tomorrow."
At every turn, scenes popped up which, to the baseball-addicted mind, had an indefinable sweetness.
Appling, Ol' Aches and Pains, explained to Hank Bauer how he'd had so much fan mail from his RFK homer last year that "I've got arthritis in two fingers from signing autographs." As Brooks Robinson approached Appling, he instantly spied how Appling had dribbled tobacco juice all over the front of his clean white uniform, just as he's been doing for 60 years. "Look at this," said Robinson, calling attention to the old-school's idea of high fashion. "Isn't this awful."
Appling, who was introduced in a rocking chair, was asked if he were worried about not being able to duplicate his '82 heroics. "I'm takin' everything real serious, just like when I played. 'Bout as serious as hell," said Appling. "I always carried on a lot of foolishness, even when I played. That's why I lived so long."
As excited as anyone was Roger Maris, man of 61 home runs. "That (Dick) Bosman's puttin' a little hair on the ball in BP," said Maris, 48. "That makes it fun. You know, a lot of these guys I've only heard about. They played before my time, or on other teams, or in the opposite league. In our day, you really didn't fraternize. It was hard to get to know anybody then.
"Everybody says we're seeing old friends," said Maris, "but we're making a lot of new friends, too."
The Cracker Jack Classic, the only sports event where the introductions are the high point, is making a lot of new friends, too.
Washington may have one baseball game a summer for some time to come.