What Baseball Means to Me
As included in What Baseball Means to Me, edited by Curt Smith
By Marty Appel
What can we say about a game in which spring training begins every winter and the Winter Meetings are held every fall?!
For one thing, you can set your watch to it, and if you are lucky, you can set your life to it.
I was born nine days before Babe Ruth died in 1948. When I turned 50, people kidded me about getting old, but when you have devoted a life to being a baseball fan, getting older is a joy! It means you have personally catalogued so many memorable experiences with this National Pastime of ours, you possess the ability to speak first hand of them. That’s a gift.
I remember going to Yankee games in the mid-‘50s and overhearing fans talk about the old timers. I came to have a bit of envy for those who could talk about seeing Ruth or Gehrig or DiMaggio. I was always particularly fond of people who could remember Ruth playing the outfield or sliding into a base. It meant more than the recollections of those who invariably said “….and the Babe hit a home run that day!”
As a baby boomer, I was treated to the game in new and exciting ways. Baseball cards, for one, brought the player images to full color, right in the palm of your hand, and when collecting became all the rage, we got to know every player by his card. Mention “Ted Klusewski” to any fan over 50 today, and the image of his muscleman Topps card runs through the mind. Same with hundreds of others. Baseball cards have been the gateway to the game for generations now, but mine was the first.
And, mine was the first to have baseball on television.
Television not only let me see the long legs of Ted Williams and the running style of Jackie Robinson (side-to-side, arms flailing, hands out flat, recklessly accelerating), but the “low home” camera let you see the rising fastball of Sandy Koufax, and the center field camera, introduced in 1958, let you appreciate how Whitey Ford and Billy Pierce could work the corners.
And replays! They came in ’59 and forever changed the way we watched baseball. Imagine, that in 1951 viewers saw Bobby Thomson’s homer only one time before they saw the replays in theater newsreels weeks later!
I love it when I can tell a younger fan about the Boys of Summer, and Don Larsen’s perfect game, about the Hollywood glamour of Mickey Mantle, with his 12 World Series in his first 14 years. Or the move west by the Dodgers and Giants, the Maris-Mantle home run chase, the original Mets and the Miracle Mets. And Mays, Aaron and Clemente in the same N.L. outfield for the All-Star Games.
I went to games at Ebbets Field and the Polo Grounds. And at old Yankee Stadium you would exit via the running track and walk through the bullpens, where Ryne Duren had been throwing just minutes before.
And the Washington Senators, boy, were they awful.
The game, you see, belongs to the fans more than to the players or the owners. They’re only passing through. You say Rickey Henderson played in 23 seasons? Big deal. I’ve had 45 seasons as a fan! 175 new Hall of Fame inductees in that time! Forty-five World Series (all right, 44), and each one still conjures up memories of the Gillette theme song with Sharpie the parrot overlaid on the screen, (“To LOOK sharp…..”) and how good the players looked in their long-sleeved sweatshirts.
Baseball serves as a perfect gauge for measuring the milestones of my life.
I was 28 when Hank Aaron retired. He was my last active player from my first year as a fan. I was 29 when Maury Wills’ son reached the majors! I was 32 when the first player born after Maris’ home run record reached the majors. I remember when I first knew all the managers as players. I was 33. Or when Ray Boone’s grandson played in the bigs. I was 44.
I was 47 when Mickey died. That was what is called a reality check.
Some say the beauty of baseball is that it isn’t played by the clock. But there is a timepiece governing it, and it is the timepiece of our lives. And if we are to measure our journey by the memories we store, the joy of the game on the field has given us plenty. Even Cubs and Red Sox fans would agree.
Thank you, Abner Doubleday, or Alexander Cartwright, or George and Harry Wright, wherever you are.