Since I have recently been playing Ken Burns’s seminal PBS documentary from 1994 Baseball in the background and as we are now only a couple of weeks from pitchers and catchers reporting, I figured it was a good time to create something on baseball and history and traveling back to the moments below. A modern-day Zelig.
• Beholding the play of, arguably, the two greatest players of all-time, Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle (minus the knee pain and its subsequent deterioration from hard-core carousing) who just happened to begin their careers at the same time, in the same city, for … only six years until the Giants and Dodgers moved west. But there would be so many moments of theirs to enjoy and appreciate in Brooklyn and the Bronx during those years from 1952-57.
• Attending the Yankee Stadium opening day in April 1923, both inside for the game and wandering outside before and after the game, drunk on the excitement and watered-down gin.
• Re-experiencing the awe and wonder of youth at the first site of the rounded white top of the Metrodome, the hurricane-force winds sucking bodies through the revolving doors, and that first narrow, step view of the plastic blue chairs sinking towards the plastic green grass. RIP The Hubert H. Humphrey Minneapolis Metro Dome, for you were the last of the wonderful dual-use stadiums that dotted the sporting landscape of North America from the 1960s into the new millennium.
• Walking into Wrigley Field in 2001, which felt similarly to what I would imagine a genuine spiritual moment to be.
• Listening to a conversation in the dugout between Casey Stengel and Yogi Berra.
• Experiencing the 1932 World Series, with games and fun at Yankee Stadium in NYC and at Wrigley Field in Chicago. And there are bonus points for these trips back in time because I would love to take in the best of the architecture and culture of the day, along with the unfortunate worst of the day with the “Hooverville’s” built on the grounds of Central Park and the criminal remnants of the misguided Volstead Act.
• Watching live and in person the 1933 All-Star Game at Comiskey Park, followed later that summer by the Negro League All-Star Game, also at Comiskey. Both were the first of their type.
• Any game, at their best, where Satchel Paige pitched. And Walter Johnson. Bob Feller, Bob Gibson, Tom Seaver, and Pedro Martinez. Nolan Ryan, Greg Maddux, and Sandy Koufax.
• Any game, at their best, that Ty Cobb played in. And Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Stan Musial, and Brooks Robinson, Mantle, Mays, Rickey Henderson, and Ken Griffey, Jr.
• Mark Fidrich on Monday, June 28, 1976 against the New York Yankees. “The Bird” was a sensation that season, and this game was on Monday Night Baseball. This game presents an unusual situation in that it would be great to have been able to be in Detroit, at Tiger Stadium, in 1976 but it would also be interesting, if not a bit unsettling, to sit and watch this game on television with five year-old me. It would probably not be long before I opted to watch the game as the young me.
• Watching with great admiration, and sadness, the strength and resolve of Jackie Robinson in the face of such ugliness.
• Watching the Saturday Game of the Week, or Monday Night Baseball, or a Twins road game back when they were on television for only about fifty times a season during the late 70s and early 80s. And while I was there I may as well watch an episode or two of Mel Allen’s “This Week In Baseball”. Going to a movie theater to watch Major League during my senior year (thank you, Wikipedia) with an old friend who would later pass away from years of battling her cancer and the horrible aftereffects.
• And, lastly, taking in a few Minneapolis Millers and St. Paul Saints games, especially those pitched by the fascinating Rube Waddell, at-bats taken by a young Ted Williams and a young Henry Aaron, pitches caught by the multi-multi-multi-multi-multi-lingual spymaster Moe Berg, and fly balls being chased down by Willie Mays. And then spending time in my home state during the most interesting of days from the late nineteenth-century up to and through the 1987 World Series and the 1991 World Series, with the former satisfying my love of history in general and the latter soaking in the atmosphere of an area finally able to enjoy our teams’ championships in an area starved for them.
And there it is, for better or worse. It’s funny, I have never been anything close to a Yankees fan but they are so intertwined within the fabric of the history of major league baseball, or at least since 1920, that it is impossible to not include them in many of the moments. But that is the thing about history, it can be a lot of fun to look back on, enjoying and imagining, but only before it can become too dangerous by spending too much time back there, re-imagining.
Tony Welch is a writer living in Minnesota.