I grew up reading Angell, Halberstam, Kahn and others wax nostalgic about baseball in the 1950’s. The pictures they painted of sun-drenched afternoons at Ebbets Field or the Polo Grounds made the era come to life. I’m sure it was a magical time with great baseball. They can have it.
This isn’t an indictment of them as baseball men and it’s most certainly not an indictment of them as writers. The point is that was their time. The 80’s were my time. My affection for the 80’s comes not from the ballparks or the innocence of the time, but from being young and watching my heroes play baseball.
I’ve read countless accounts of people walking up the ramp and seeing the green grass at Yankee Stadium or some other baseball cathedral for the first time. You really get a sense of the awe they felt. I don’t have a similar memory of seeing the turf at Riverfront Stadium for the first time. Not the same, although the outfield at Riverfront was undoubtedly the greenest Astroturf I had ever seen in my life.
But I do have a brief but amazing memory of having blue seats for a Reds/Phillies game. I spent the pregame standing near the Phillies bullpen watching watch Steve Carlton warm up before the game. I don’t remember what year it was or who won. All I remember is that I was 10 feet away from Steve Effing Carlton! The guy who had won Cy Young Awards and had pitched my favorite team to a World Series Championship. And I was RIGHT NEXT TO HIM.
I didn’t watch games through knotholes, but my buddies and I did learn how to jump over the railing from the green seats at Riverfront into the blue seats and dash down the aisle before the usher could catch us. Once in the blue section, the world was ours and we could really see up close the same guys we watched on TV, back when Monday Night Baseball and the Saturday Game of the Week were a big deal.
Willie, Mickey & the Duke were amazing players. Hall of Famers all of them. I never saw any of them play live. But I did see Mike Schmidt play.
I saw Tom Seaver
And Johnny Bench
And Nolan Ryan
I saw Rod Carew
And Reggie Jackson
And Andre Dawson
I also saw Wayne Krenchicki
With the Reds AND the Expos
Were Feller, Yogi and Musial better than Seaver, Bench and Reggie? Maybe. Maybe not, but here’s the thing: I don’t care.
You can have Joe Black. I’ll take Bud Black
You take Campanella. I’ll take Carter.
You take Eddie Mathews and I’ll take Gary Matthews.
You can have Vin Scully. I’ll take… well, Vin Scully.
Garvey, Winfield, Schmitty, Luzinski… they were all my guys. They were larger than life. They were who I grew up watching, and the guys you grew up watching are mythical figures by definition.
With no regrets.