From Brooklyn to Boston, a baseball odyssey
If You Ask Me
As the baseball postseason was providing some unexpected joy for us Red Sox fans, it suddenly occurred to me that this 2021 season marked a milestone in my baseball watching.
I became a fan exactly 80 seasons ago when I decided to follow my grandfather’s lifetime devotion to the always colorful, though sometimes inept, Brooklyn Dodgers.
Prior to the 1940s, the Dodger teams were known for outfielders getting hit on the head by fly balls and batters doubling into double plays. (A popular Dodger story of the day had a cab driver telling a fare, “the Dodgers have three men on base” and the fare asking, “which base?”)
But those Dodgers quickly taught me the pleasures of the game that 1941 season when they when won the first pennant of my young life. The Pennant joy would be quickly extinguished by Series sorrow when Dodger catcher Mickey Owen dropped what would have been a third out, third strike that led directly to the team’s Series loss to the hated Yankees.
That loss also introduced me to the Dodgers’ article of faith, “wait ’til next year,” which was repeated the next and the next and the next years all the way to 1947.
Forty-seven was the year Jackie Robinson, PeeWee Reese, Gil Hodges, Duke Snyder, Preacher Roe and so many other stars began winning National League pennants — in 1947, ’49, ’52 and ’53 — only to lose the World Series in each and every one of those years to — of course — the Yankees.
Then came the two great changes in my and so many other baseball lives. First, the Dodgers won the pennant again in 1955, faced the Yankees again — for the fifth time in eight seasons — but this time, they actually won it all.
Naturally, that couldn’t last.
The Brooklyn Dodgers would only live for three more years, moving to California in 1958 along with the Giants, and leaving New York baseball in the exclusive hands of the Yankees until the Mets came along.
That traumatic event actually made me stop caring about baseball for a time. I pretty much ignored the game for nearly a decade until I had sons of my own and felt the need — no, the responsibility as an American — to teach them to love the national pastime.
Living in Connecticut, I could have looked to New York for a new team but the Mets could never really replace the Dodgers in my baseball affections and switching to the Yankees would have been unthinkable.
The Red Sox, however, were a natural, an American League equivalent to Brooklyn, but with wait ’til next century a more appropriate description of life as a Red Sox fan than merely waiting ’til next year. And then there was the great rivalry and ardent dislike for the Yankees.
It was around 1978 — the perfect year as it turned out — when 10-year-old Mark and 8-year-old Charlie first took an interest. And they couldn’t have timed it better.
The Red Sox and — who else — New York ended the season in a tie and the infamous one-game playoff ensued with the winning homer launched by the Yankees’ number nine hitter, forevermore to be known throughout New England as Bucky “Bleeping” Dent. (On the eve of this season’s one game playoff, a Times sportswriter felt obliged to report Mr. Dent was given a different middle name at birth. Earl.)
The Sox’s long World Series drought, said to be punishment for the then-owner’s sale of Babe Ruth to the Yankees in order to finance the production of the Broadway musical “No, No, Nanette,” spanned two centuries, from 1918 to 2004, but my kids had to wait “just” 26 years to see their team win.
Late in the drought, the team was managed from 1988-91 by Joe Morgan, a baseball journeyman who drove a snow plow in the offseason. In 1990, Morgan was introduced to the recently widowed wife of Ray Goulding, a member of the brilliant Boston-born comedy team of Bob and Ray.
Mrs. Goulding told Morgan that Ray often said he believed the Red Sox would finally win a World Series right after he died.
“Well,” said Morgan, “he did his part; now it’s up to us.”
After hearing that, I knew I had found the best successor for the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Simsbury resident Dick Ahles is a retired journalist. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.