Sunday, January 04, 2009
The Simple Elegance
When the new MLB Network premiered this past week--one of the most interesting programs was the actual television replay of Game 5 of the 1956 World Series--famous for Don Larsen's Perfect Game at Original Yankee Stadium. With Bob Costas hosting and with Larsen and Yogi Berra watching alongside him, the commentary was fun. But the most spectacular aspect of this program was the game itself. Not often has anyone showed a full baseball broadcast from pre-1960. For many not even born then or old enough to follow, any knowledge of how any batter swings, a pitcher throws or a runner slides from those times usually has come from what are now the generically replayed film, and the still pictures taken. Highlights, which are ingrained in the mind, but seldom give you the full sense of how the game was played.
The pace of this 1956 Game 5 of The World Series was riveting just to witness how The New York Yankees and The Brooklyn Dodgers, two of the premiere franchises of that era, went about their business. There was no messing around.
When the famous Yankees PA man--Bob Sheppard--announced each batter, the hitter immediately stepped into the box. There was no "Batters Music", no calling of time, stepping in and out of the batters box, no adjusting of batting gloves, but maybe a handful of dirt to rub along the thin handle portion of the bat. Each and every batter stepped in and swung away. These guys were HACKERS--even Mickey Mantle. The number of hitters that were shown swinging, missing, and virtually falling out of the batters box--was nearly comical at times. And became even funnier, when Vin Scully, broadcasting the last half of the game with Mel Allen doing to first half, mentioned 'How patient the hitters for both teams are today." I nearly fell out of my customary seat on the line.
If The Yankees and Dodgers were being patient--what normally played out on the diamond in the 1950's? No one was getting cheated out of their swings--not even on a day Larsen would have his greatest day in sport.
Speaking of Don Larsen, he and his mound opponent, Sal Maglie, didn't mess around either. Once a pitch was thrown and not hit--they took the toss back from their catchers, Berra or Roy Campanella respectively, looked right back in and threw the next pitch. Not alot of over thinking going on and neither Berra or Campanella looking into their dugouts after each pitch to see what their Managers wanted to throw. The players were trusted to know and understand the game and the conditions.
How wonderful to see the Home Plate Umpire not throw every single baseball that has touched dirt--over to the batboy for disposal. How neat to see the last out of an inning made and the fielder place the baseball back on the mound for the opposition--as his team ran off the field. How cooler to see Don Larsen or Sal Maglie strikeout at the plate for the final outs of half innings and see the opposing catcher toss the baseball back to them so they could take it to the mound themselves--few worries about a scrape or scruff of the ball helping the pitcher.
The Game Was Graceful.
You Would Never See That In Any National League Game Today--Like Never. They did toss the ball to the opposing pitcher when I was young, but that art was lost probably around the time The Designated Hitter came to play in The American League in 1973.
The Batters, few wearing batting helmets: Gil Hodges standing nearly straight up at the plate. Jackie Robinson leaning slightly back, right knee bent, bat held high. Mantle, batting lefthanded uncoiling on each and every pitch. He showed no patience. Duke Snider slightly hunched over at the plate--waiting. Campanella, almost sitting back on his rear end--bat angled back over his head. Famous Players, whom for the most part, I only know from old film footage and pictures. Man, was Yogi ever short?!! And yet he had tremendous power!!
The African Queen noticed how "EVERY MAN" some of the players were in this game. Someone you would see on the streets each day. Campanella (at 34 years of age) was no small man, neither was Enos Slaughter (40 when this game was played). And she loved the very fact that the fans in the stands were well dressed. Gentlemen wore real hats with shirts & ties, ladies wearing their hats with gloves. A different time.
Watching this game on TV gave a proper perspective of How They Played in the 1950's. How They Went About Their Business.
Nothing better than re-living The Original Yankee Stadium, with the monuments in play in deep center. Mantle covering some serious ground in his prime. The short right field porch (296 Feet) awaiting any left handed batter trying to curl one around the right field pole. Sandy Amoros nearly did so for Brooklyn early in this historic game--which would have made this affair--just another World Series Game between heated rivals--The Yankees & The Dodgers. A loud but friendly Bronx baseball crowd that even gave proper cheers to Maglie when he walked to the plate to hit, and even some of the Brooklyn Batters. Yeah, I know these two teams played in the same city, but those cheers were cheers of respect, not of disdain or dislike--and the noise was loud.
No fooling around between innings, both Larsen and Maglie quickly warming up. Barely a minute, it seemed, passed each half inning. Just enough time for Gillette to show a shaving advertisement with a famous player, or Scully or Allen to ad-lib a live commercial.
Simpler times, without all the pomp and circumstance you would expect today from not only Any World Series Game, but just about any Televised Baseball Game of this day. Universally, today's athletes are bigger, stronger and they play the game of baseball as well, if not better than many of their predecessors. No question, Major League Baseball in 2009 is a Great, Great Game, but there was something special in the Big Leagues back then. And this Game 5 Re-Broadcast of The 1956 World Series showed The Simple Elegance of "The Great Game".
What a privilege to be able to watch that Historic Game, nearly in it's entirety (The first inning and part of the second has been lost) and witness how the game has developed over the past 50 years. What a treat.
The Simple Elegance.
Other Notes From This Game:
Frank Howard and I actually talked about this game last Friday on the phone. I mentioned about every batter just stepped into the box, swung and ran out the play. Even how Mantle hits a homer to right and just jogs around the bases, head down, no celebration.
"Hondo" with a classic response: “In those days, if you put a little hot dog into the game, that guy standing 60 feet away would put a part in your hair!! (Laughing) It’s a little different than today, but listen we got some great young kids playing today.” Frank went on to mention that each spring he and Larsen along with Yogi Berra get together for five days to enjoy each other's company. "Not alot of dwelling on the past, just remembering some good times and great friendships. Good Guys. Quality People."
Listening to Mel Allen and Vin Scully broadcast the game was compelling. Each great in their own rights, and they described the action so well. If you just closed your eyes and didn't watch the tube, you would still understand the action. Neither needed a color commentator and when Mel Allen mentioned all the no-hitters he had seen during his long announcing career at the end of the broadcast--he said to Vin--"But I have never expected to see a Perfect Game in a World Series." Scully, always on top of his game, ended the broadcast with a superb line, answering to Allen: "I guess Mel we've seen it all now and can go straight to heaven."
As much as things have changed, many more things have remained the same. Fielders talking with each other after calling another off to catch a ball. A runner patting the fielder on the butt after a close play at a base. The sight of Jackie Robinson chasing a foul down the third base line in foul territory--shades of Ryan Zimmerman.
There were no replays, limited commercials--it was just a ball game on television during the day time. How nice would it be if MLB would return to Day Time World Series Games on Weekends? I understand the revenue part of the equation, but sometimes you should just do what's best for the game itself.
At the conclusion of the game, how nice to see fans exiting Yankee Stadium from the field--walking toward the subway beyond the outfield stands. All patrons just walked down the aisles from the box seats onto the field and warning track. Ushers stood along the baselines to keep everyone off the infield. Unless there is some sort of emergency these days, you are not going to see fans walking/running on any field after a game, especially in New York--unless its Game 7 of a World Series.
Finally and very interestingly--after the re-broadcast concluded and the program returned to Studio 42 of the MLB Network (named in honor of Jackie Robinson), neither Bob Costas nor Larsen or Berra mentioned that Jackie Robinson would play only two more times in his lifetime--The 1956 World Series Games 6 & 7--before retiring in the off-season, after The Dodgers traded him to the hated Giants in Harlem. I thought that was an important aspect of this game too. No one knew on October 8th, 1956 that Jackie was in the twilight of his illustrious career. But this may be the last film known of him playing--and that's important too. Costas should have mentioned that fact.