”DiMaggio's grace came to represent more than athletic skill in those years. To the men who wrote about the game, it was a talisman, a touchstone, a symbol of the limitless potential of the human individual. That an Italian immigrant, a fisherman's son, could catch fly balls the way Keats wrote poetry or Beethoven wrote sonatas was more than just a popular marvel. It was proof positive that democracy was real. On the baseball diamond, if nowhere else, America was truly a classless society. DiMaggio's grace embodied the democracy of our dreams.”
Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio
Joe DiMaggio was 6’2”, a big man, but a man graced with natural elegance. Off the field he dressed well, reinforcing that image of cool, calm, and collected. As one of his dates was surprised to discover she was not the focus of the male attention in the room.”Dining with Joe DiMaggio, Ms. Cosgrove felt, gave her a remarkable insight into the male animal. The entire restaurant came to a halt for two hours. The chair of every man was angled so that its occupant could keep an eye on her date.”
It was a nation wide man crush before we knew what to call it.
On the other side of the coin was Ted Williams. As much as the press loved Joe DiMaggio they hated Ted Williams. The feeling was mutual. DiMaggio was the best player of his era, but no one would question who was the best hitter. Williams was the first to really look at hitting as a science. ”Nothing was left to chance. If he was batting and a cloud passed over, he would step out of the batter’s box and fidget until the light was just a little better. He honed his bats at night, working a bone against them to make the fibers harder. He was the first to combine olive oil and rosin in order to get a better grip on the bat. He learned to gradually decrease the weight of his bats as the summer wore on and fatigue set in.”
Ted Williams was a throwback to another era. ”As he aged he became even more handsome, his face now leathery. he was crusty, outspoken, and unbending, a frontier man in the modern age, the real John Wayne. ‘He is not a man for this age,’ his old friend and teammate Birdie Tebbetts said of him. ‘The only place I would put him, the only place he’d be at home, is the Alamo.’”
DiMaggio was the Yankee Clipper and Williams was a Boston Red Sox. In the summer of 1949 those two teams were squaring off to see who would go to the World Series. To make things even more interesting Joe’s little brother Dom played for the Red Sox. His whole career was spent in the shadow of his brother, but he was one hell of a player in his own right. The Red Sox got down early in the season, at one point by eleven games, but then clawed their way back into the race. Hollywood couldn’t have drawn up the ending any better. The Yankees and Red Soxs met in a final series at the very end of the season to determine who was going to win the pennant
It was very simple…win or go home.
David Halberstam gives us an inside look, not only at the stars, but each significant player involved in this rivalry in 1949. Most of the players came from very humble origins. They all dealt with the stresses of the game different. Ellis Kinder, the great Red Sox pitcher was probably my favorite to read about. The night before he was supposed to pitch he’d stay up all night drinking and chasing women. He’d pour coffee into himself on game day to get ready to pitch. It is amazing to me that he could abuse himself that much and still be one of the premier pitchers in the league. He wasn’t alone, other players as well partied on their off hours as hard as they played on the field.
Yogi Berra was the first ball player to get an agent. A man by the name of Frank Scott noticed that Yogi was being paid in watches instead of money whenever he would give speeches or attend events. Scott saw an opportunity for Yogi to make a lot more money and for Frank Scott to be paid for making the arrangements. The dealings between management and players was also beginning to change. The owners took advantage of the players to the point that it made a Union not only viable, but necessary. It made Tommy Henrich, who spent his whole career with the Yankees, uneasy watching this transition. Certainly some of the charm of the game was lost when players went from being blue collar workers to being millionaires.
I feel very fortunate to own this baseball card of Yogi Berra. It was one of my Dad’s.
This is also the era when owners were struggling with the allure of radio and television. There was fear that it would significantly reduce stadium attendance. Little did the owners know the revenue that would be eventually generated from, especially, television contracts.
I’ve been a long suffering Kansas City Royals fan, but last season ended the long playoff drought that had extended back to 1985. The 2014 season was so exciting it was almost worth the wait. I didn’t see these young ball players as millionaires, maybe because they didn’t act like millionaires. They played like kids with exuberance and joy that was contagious to the crowds in the ballparks and the viewers on television. The way they played, referred to as small ball, was like seeing baseball as it was played many decades ago.
From the days when players used to run out every play at first; or they would steal without giving a thought to the cost to their bodies; or lay out for spectacular catches in the outfield. These young men from the Royals played last season seemingly unaware of the stats sheet. It was all about sacrifice, hard work, and driving other teams crazy. I have been seeing more spectacular plays this year than I ever remember seeing before and not just from the Royals. It was as if the Royals woke the whole league up and reminded everyone of when a baseball game was as magical as anything Walt Disney ever dreamed up.
Eric Hosmer the talented very young first baseman for the Kansas City Royals. Here them ROAR indeed.
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