by Bob Forte
“ You gotta be a man to play baseball for a living, but you gotta have a lot of little boy in you, too.. ” Roy Campanella
We had this radio in the kitchen. It was a big, brown, RCA Victor with lots of parts and an aluminum lid covering the band of stations. Flip up the lid and the radio comes on. I kept it tuned to the Dodger games and would even, on occasion, schlep that sacred box outdoors, so as not to be scolded with, “Bobby, turn that thing off and go outside and get some fresh air!” I just couldn’t miss a single moment of baseball history. Nor did I. Fortunately, my future acquisition of a Motorola pocket-sized transistor radio made it even more convenient to be connected and afforded me less parental interference.
Just to back up a bit. The Brooklyn Dodgers won their first ever World Series championship in 1955 against the perennially favored New York Yankees. At the time I was unaware of our national pastime, let alone Johnny Podres, the Dodger pitcher who led them to victory in Game 2 and the deciding Game 7 of the World Series. But there was excitement everywhere, particularly in my family, as even Aunt Rosie was waxing poetic about Brooklyn’s finest, usually commenting on their masculine features as well as their athletic prowess. An inspired Cousin Joanne had written new lyrics to the popular Peggy Lee tune, “Manana,” and it opened with:
“ From Flatbush to Greenpoint you can hear the rooters roar,
With Podres on the pitching mound the Yankees couldn’t score.”
The words echoed inside me like a haunting melody you just can’t get out of your head.
I didn’t attend my first baseball game until May 12th, 1956. I was nearly 9 years old and my accommodating big brother, John, was 13. At my father’s direction he escorted me by train and bus from East Williston, Long Island, to Ebbets Field, Brooklyn, kind of like a coming-of-age ritualistic journey to the mysterious holy land.
Crossing the street from the bus stop to Ebbets Field I was immediately drawn by the aroma of a sidewalk vendor’s offering of salted roasted peanuts. John closed the deal and with brown bag in hand and we eagerly entered the premises directed once again to action by the attractive offer of:
“SCORECARD, SCORECARD HERE, 15 CENTS!” Done deal. If the peanuts and collectible scorecard were all I got that day, that would have sufficed as a memorable outing, bonding with my older and wiser sibling.
But something truly magical and life-altering would define the next two hours amid the fog of cigar smoke and deafening stadium cheers.
With the final out of the game my ignorance was displayed. In disbelief I watched catcher Roy Campanella, frantically dart toward and bear-hug pitcher Carl Erskine while the rest of the Dodger team danced and gyrated like heavenly pixies in a musical Broadway production.
“Boy, they sure do get excited after they win a game. Huh, John?”
“It’s because he threw a no-hitter!” my brother screamed. Maybe he thought if he raised his voice I would respond with increased understanding. Not so.
“No hitter? But I saw them hit the ball!” I offered in logical expression but nonetheless, mindless of the interpretation of the recorded data on John’s 15 cent scoresheet.
Two weeks later, or maybe even less, I learned everything there was to know about Dem Bums and the game they played. I had not only memorized player stats but their birth dates, heights and weights as well. Duke Snider: 6’ 1”, 195 lbs, Born Sept 19, 1926, .325 batting average.
As far as I was concerned, you couldn’t talk baseball without talking Dodgers and if you weren’t talkin’ Brooklyn Dodger baseball you had nothing to say to me.
More than forty years later, at the invitation of my sportswriter friend Andy Esposito, I surprisingly met Johnny Podres at a Baseball Writer’s Dinner in Manhattan. He stood across the crowded catered room clearly in view but far enough away to allow me to rehearse and prepare while I approached nervously. In closer proximity I could see a face lined with age, thinning hair and unathletic-looking body in a poorly fitted and quite unfashionable suit, but his legacy loomed large in my psyche as I reframed his image in all its 1955 glory. As a young boy I could have never dreamed of such an honorable encounter. I wanted to say something meaningful to give Mr. Podres, some sense of my love and involvement for the team he gave its greatest achievement to.
“You know Johnny, the first game I ever attended was on May 12th, 1956, and Carl Erskine pitched a no-hitter against the Giants” I related somewhat confidently.
Johnny thought for a while before responding. “Yes, I remember now, I was in the service at the time and had to listen to the game on my radio.”
Connection made. And it all started on the radio.