WASHINGTON, DC, January 22, 2013 - After swatting 475 home runs and finishing with a .331 lifetime batting average, Stan Musial circled the bases one last time and died at age 92 in St. Louis where he played for 22 seasons. His 3,630 hits rank fourth all-time. He got his last hit in Cincinnati against Pete Rose.
Who said there’s no crying in baseball?
We can measure a man’s age by clocking his baseball heroes, beginning perhaps with Jackie Robinson up to Derek Jeter, depending upon your generation, the town you lived in, and even the house you lived in, where you lived and died with each toss of the ball and each stroke of the bat.
For me it was Cincinnati, and no matter where I roam it will always be Cincinnati because that is how it is with baseball loyalists.
I wouldn’t trade you one Johnny Bench for 100 Mike Piazzas.
There was a time in America when we all knew the score, and there was a time in America when we all spoke the same language.
Over at Joe’s news shop on Friday nights as we waited for the Daily Racing Form to get delivered, it got awfully heated when it got around to Ted Williams over Babe Ruth, but it was comforting to know that this was our lingo. In the background, we heard Frank crooning over the radio, and this was our way of keeping a tradition.
Joe is gone, new people have taken over the shop, and we don’t gather there anymore. Sinatra has been replaced by music from some other, far-away country. The new shop-owners don’t speak English, don’t speak Spanish and don’t care too much who we are or who we were. We buy our papers and vanish hastily, as if we’re a people who’ve been conquered.
Once upon a time, you could step into any cab in New York or anywhere else and immediately start a discussion or begin an argument over Brooks Robinson versus Mike Schmidt at third, or whether Mickey Mantle was as great as Joe DiMaggio. Let’s not get started between Bob Gibson and Sandy Koufax.
Baseball crossed all boundaries and all decades and it was a story that kept being told from fathers to sons and to finally to daughters. There were heroes and bums and villains, depending on your team, and every kid wanted to be up at the plate ninth inning, bases loaded, World Series, unless it was Warren Spahn up on the mound.
Baseball purists were particular and religious about facts and statistics. (I went bonkers when a proofreader tried to change my Rogers Hornsby to Roger.)
People knew Hank Aaron and Willie Mays and Big Klu without a scorecard. Baseball was as American as …well…baseball. And steroids? We never heard the word, and if it got mentioned we’d take it to mean another planet. To know America, said historian Jacques Barzun, first know baseball.
Names like Jackie Robinson and Casey Stengel and Yogi Berra and Ernie Banks transcend the game. Now we’re talking American folklore.
Baseball was shorthand to our culture. From sea to shining sea, from town to town, we finished each other’s sentences. This was a time when we all knew that there was only one man named Satchmo and there was no need to explain Louis Armstrong. This new culture wouldn’t understand anyway.
We have more than a language barrier as we are now separated by multitudes and mixed cultures. Perhaps this is for the best. I don’t know.
During the Hall of Fame voting of only a few weeks ago, not a single player got in. All 37 candidates struck out. This too comes as courtesy of our new age.
One day I’ll tell you about the Cincinnati Reds before the Big Red Machine, and about Wally Post in particular. He had only one great year, and what a year it was as I’ve got it here – and the lesson from baseball and perhaps only from baseball is that one year can lift us up, make us sublime, and define us for the rest of our lives.
Likewise Pete Rose, and what a shame how it all turned out in reverse and regret, and as a fan of the Reds, I speak with mixed emotions.
Despite everything, he IS the leader in hits all-time, even above Ty Cobb, Hank Aaron and Stan Musial; second third and fourth in that order.
He could have had class. Instead he did what he did. Today he’s featured on some Reality TV show along with his fiancée and it gets pathetic when…
Oh never mind. Let’s keep it upbeat. Spring training is right around the corner.
Jack Engelhard is a novelist for such moral dilemma bestsellers as The Bathsheba Deadline, The Girls of Cincinnati, and the classic Indecent Proposal, his memoir Escape From Mount Moriah, and Slot Attendant – A Novel About A Novelist is Engelhard’s partly autobiographical expose about the trials of making it as a writer, bring his words to the Communities page covering all topics, with special focus on the absurdity of human behavior, and reaches around the globe.
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