When I close my eyes and think about baseball, visions of the past flood my memory. I can see the perfect swing of Ted Williams; how Jackie Robinson’s body appeared to fly apart when he stole home; Willie Mays with his back to home plate, as the ball falls into his mitt at the Polo Grounds; and Mickey Mantle tossing away his batting helmet in disgust after striking out. If I close my eyes even tighter, I can see third baseman Brooks Robinson diving again and again to his right, to steal a hit from the Cincinnati Reds in a 1970 World Series game in Baltimore, Craig Biggio with enough stick-um all over his helmet, jersey, bat, arms and hands to remind me of Fred Biletnikoff of the Oakland Raiders, and Frank Robinson hitting the dirt, time and time again, to keep from getting hit by ill-tempered pitcher Don Drysdale.
I remember seeing father and son, Ken Griffey and Ken Griffey Jr., playing together in the same outfield for the Seattle Mariners, and Manager Billy Martin being fired and rehired by George Steinbrenner of the New York Yankees, at least five times. I can see Pete Rose diving head first into third base with the look of a thief, Fernando Valenzuela looking up into the heavens as he rocks back and fires his left-handed screwball, Ron Santo rubbing dirt on his forearms as he approaches home plate and Ricky Henderson tugging at the front of his jersey as he watches his lead-off home run sail into the seats. I watched Bill Mazeroski swing his right arm around and around, as he ran past second base in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 7 of the 1960 World Series, in Pittsburgh. I can see Sammy Sosa sprinting to right field at Wrigley before the game begins, Jeff Bagwell digging out another low throw for a third out, at first base, and Bob Gibson staring towards home plate from the pitcher’s mound with udder disdain, as if no one were there. Have you seen Benito Santiago throw to second base from his knees, or José Lima scream into his glove? How about Earl Weaver with his hat on backwards, chewing out an umpire? All these images are just a small part of my past. Man what a past.
Did you see David Wells wearing Babe Ruth’s cap while pitching for the Yankees? How about Roger Clemens rubbing Ruth’s plaque in Monument Park in Yankee Stadium before every game he pitched? I remember flip-down shades, doubleheaders, real grass, baggy flannel uniforms, rally caps, bleacher seats, baseball card packs with bubblegum, and the smell of the ballpark. I think about baseball jargon like: ducks on the pond, high cotton, can of corn, the Baltimore chop, blue darters, crooked numbers, the hook, the catbird seat, southpaws, and mitts. I can even remember a time when players left their gloves on the field while their team was at bat.
I saw Nolan Ryan pump his right arm after completing his seventh no-hitter, catcher Yogi Berra jump into the arms of Yankee pitcher Don Larsen after Don’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series, and Tommy Lasorda sitting in the Dodger dugout with a large strip of white masking tape over his mouth. I also saw Barry Bonds hit a baseball out of Pac Bell Park in San Francisco, and pitcher Billy Wagner hit 100 mph on the radar gun, in Houston. As a kid, I remember playing pepper, getting into a pickle and real tie-down bags for bases.
Have you ever noticed Joe Morgan cocking his elbow over and over as he waits for the pitch, or Big Lee Smith slowly strolling in from the bullpen as if he had a date with the electric chair? The sights of Johnny Bench throwing out Lou Brock three times in one game or how hard-hitting Willie McCovey made infielders sweat when he stepped into the batter’s box? What about feats of skill; like Jim Edmonds reaching over the centerfield fence in St. Louis to steal a home run from Jason LaRue, or Dusty Baker’s three-year-old son and bat boy being jerked away from home plate to safety, by J.T. Snow, in a World Series game in San Francisco. Do you remember the Falstaff Game of the Week, with Dizzy Dean and Pee Wee Reece, or the sight of Lenny Dykstra with a huge chaw of tobacco in his cheek? How about the hilarious Max Patkin, the Clown Prince of Baseball, or the excitement of the San Diego Chicken? I remember the huge electronic scoreboard in the old Astrodome, no lights at Wrigley Field, and the earthquake at Candlestick Park in San Francisco.
I remember sitting in awe, watching Reggie Jackson hit three home runs in a World Series game against three different pitchers and the raw power of Bo Jackson when he hit a home run in his first at-bat after having his hip surgically replaced. Did you see George Brett come running out of the dugout, after being called out by the umpire for too much pine tar on his bat? Do you remember Randy Johnson with stringy hair down to his shoulders, Bake McBride’s afro, bald headed Jay Buhner, the mustache of Rollie Fingers, or the full beard of Bruce Sutter? I can still envision those bright yellow shoes worn by the Oakland A’s and the ugly shorts worn by the Chicago White Sox. I can remember a time of only Louisville Slugger bats, Spaulding baseballs, and Topps baseball cards. I pulled for Tony Gwynn to hit .400, for Whitey Ford to throw a no-hitter, and for Ernie Banks to play in the World Series, none of which happened. A smile comes to my face when I remember Don Mattingly getting a handful of popcorn from a kid’s cup, while everyone turned to watch a pop foul land eight rows up in the stands, or pitcher Terry Mulholland tossing his glove to first base, with the baseball stuck in the webbing. I remember Henry Aaron catching a fly ball deliberately, with two hands every time, and Warren Spahn and Juan Marichal going 16 innings against each other in the same game. I remember Yaz hitting a home run in the final game of the season to win the 1967 American League Triple Crown and Denny McLain winning 31 games in 1968.
I can still hear the voice of Jack Buck hollering, “Go crazy, folks; go crazy,” when Ozzie Smith hits a walk-off home run against the Dodgers in a playoff game in St. Louis, or again in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series when Buck screams “I don’t believe what I just saw,” as Kirk Gibson homers off of Dennis Eckersley in the bottom of the ninth inning. It would be Gibson’s only at-bat during the series. I can still hear the sizzle of a Sandy Koufax curveball; every pitch was like the last out of the ninth inning.
I heard Milo Hamilton screaming, “There’s a new home run champion of all time and it’s Henry Aaron!” I can also remember the crisp, intelligent voice of Vin Scully’s play-by-play, as he says, “A little roller up along first…behind the bag…it gets through Buckner! Here comes Knight!” Game 6 of the 1986 World Series would end with an E-3. I still hear the loudness of Harry Carey at Wrigley Field and the calmness of Ernie Harwell as he said his goodbye to Tiger Stadium. Also, who could forget Mel Allen’s, “And how about that?” I can remember the soft voice of Buck O’Neal talking about the great Josh Gibson when he was asked by Jon Miller just how great Josh Gibson really was. “Oh he was better than that,” answered O’Neal. I will never forget that answer. It implied that no matter how great you thought Gibson was—he was better than that. I also laugh out loud when I remember the frustrated voice of Tommy Lasorda, during an interview, when he was asked what he thought about the performance of Kingman, after Dave had hit several home runs against the Dodgers. Actually I just remember all the bleeps that occurred during that interview. And I can also remember the endless number of baseball nicknames which are too many to mention here.
I remember being sad when I saw Roy Campanella in a wheelchair, paralyzed, after a car accident and even sadder when Daryl Kile left us at such a young age. I think about the wide smile of Warren Spahn, the frown of Willie McGee, the grin of Catfish Hunter, the infectious laugh of Kirby Puckett, and the stone face glare of Joe DiMaggio. I laughed when umpire Steve Palermo casually reached down to pick up a nail file that had just fallen from Joe Niekro’s back pocket, and laughed again at the look on Kenny Rodgers’ face when teammate José Canseco allowed a fly ball to bounce off his head and over the fence for a home run. I enjoyed watching manager Lou Piniella throw a fit by kicking dirt on home plate, throwing his cap and gum to the ground and even pulling up second base, all while red in the face from anger over a bad call, and Mark McGuire hugging the sons of Roger Maris after hitting his 62nd home run, to pass their father. Do you remember the size of the forearms of Harmon Killebrew, the catch Kevin Mitchell made in the outfield, barehanded, or Turner Ward, the Pittsburgh Minor League outfielder who ran through a wall to catch a fly ball? I can still hear Stan “The Man” Musial playing “Take me out to the ballgame” on his harmonica. Ah, yes; these are just some of my many memories. Wonderful, visions of a great game.
Andy Purvis is a local author. His books "In the Company of Greatness" and "Remembered Greatness" are on the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble, at Beamer's Sports Grill 5922 S Staples, and online at many different sites including Amazon, bn.com, booksamillion, Google Books, etc. They are also available in e-reader format. Contact him at www.purvisbooks.com, or firstname.lastname@example.org.