The Yankees, Baseball, and Important Stuff

Bill Sr.  (from THE WITNESS, Oct. 20, 1955)

This department perhaps has been overly concerned with serious business. Since I have wasted the best part of a week trying to get that Big Flag for the Yankees, and since people have wrapped bits of black crepe and sent it to me with the comment, ‘too bad’, I’m talking baseball, which is very serious business indeed. After alcohol, it is the Number One escape of frustrated Americans.

I know a lot of fans. Most of them are not pro-anything; they are merely anti-Yankee. They offer two reasons: ‘I’m for the underdog’ and ‘the Yanks have so much dough they can buy anything they want.’ Some of them twist my arm with cracks about how can I, supposed to be for the underdog and against the power of big-money, be for an outfit like the Yanks. The answer to that is that I am not for the underdog but for a world run by professionals who know what they are doing. I am not against big money but against big poverty.

The Yanks evened it up with the sixth game. So a reporter went to the Dodger clubhouse to find how they took the defeat. They were chucking equipment all over the place in anger. When they calmed down to the point where the reporter could get something out of them they came up with: ‘Those lucky Yanks’; ‘If that ball hadn’t hit a pebble and hopped over my shoulder for a hit, I would have had a double play and we’d be out of the inning’; ‘The Yanks dug a gopher hole in the outfield for Snyder to fall into,  if he hadn’t been forced out of the game we’d have pulled it out’.

Another day and the Dodgers win the baseball championship of the world. So the same reporter goes to the Yankees clubhouse to see how they take it. He reported that there wasn’t a bent head, there weren’t any alibis, there weren’t any vituperative utterances. None of the: ‘Those Dodgers were lucky’; instead ‘The Dodgers are a good club, they fight you’; no moans about ‘That [Johnny] Podres had horseshoes’ but ‘He pitched a helluva game. He was fast, cute with change-up and not afraid.’ No talk about the catch by [Sandy] Amoros being lucky but ‘That was one of the great catches of world series history and it ruined us.’

So the reporter came to some conclusions: “If the true mark of champions is measured by how they react to defeat, then Casey Stengel and his Yankees are still champions. Yes, they lost the game, but they won much more in dignity and respect than the score shows.”

Whether this has anything to do with what I have been trying to say in these pieces, I am not sure. Maybe so, for a lot of people have taken a beating in recent years. Some have whimpered, come up with alibis, run away. Others have kept heads up and stayed in the fight; to them the victory eventually belongs.

Moralizing from a World Series maybe is out of place in a Church paper. Anyhow, win or lose, I’m for the Yanks. I like men. I like pros.”

Bill Jr.: There are a lot of stories about Dad and baseball. I learned the true meaning of ‘forgiveness’ at a Yankee Stadium double-header.

Even in these George Steinbrenner days, and when young athletes are more accustomed to watching their portfolios and advertising contracts than they are in being disciplined ball-players, I stick with them. My wife says that if we drive across Iowa, I’ll stop in a county-seat town to watch a 8th-grade girls ball game. My defence is that, at a certain time, in the late 1930’s, it was such a town out of which came ‘Rapid Robert’ Feller and, who knows, maybe this time he would be a Yankee.

Seriously, when it came to style, Dad always appreciated the sports-writers above all.  Heywood Broun, Red Smith, Ernest Hemingway and even Westbrook Pegler were admired for their writing style even if the latter was anathema for his right-wing political and economic views. At least he said what he had to say with economy and clarity of words. If he had been in a secular medium, we can assume that WBS would have fit in with their company. He, at least, could drink with the best of them most of the time.