Yesterday the Yankees were drubbed, absolutely demolished, by the Detroit Tigers. Sent home packing. Their loss joyed my vindictive, Yankee-hating heart.
When I was a boy hanging out at the P. S. 217 schoolyard and learning about life, there was no question but that the pin-striped Yankees were privileged bland tea-sipping Republicans, while the Brooklyn Dodgers were a bunch of upstart and underachieving heroes to whom we neighborhood kids could relate-- they were colorful, they were multicultural (before the letter) and consequently they were Democrats.
I watched this week's games on the TV and savored not only the outcome, but all the pealing bells and slick technological whistles that modern TV can offer: the multiple replays, the ball-tracking systems that allow the viewer to inspect both the pitcher's grip and his release and also the spin he puts on the ball. I could count the number of rotations on Kenny Rogers' lovely curve.
Although TV is amazingly informative, in my heart I prefer baseball on the radio -- the radio of my youth, that is. In those days, baseball was radio and radio was baseball. It's no wonder that baseball was the nation's game -- and it's only game -- when radio was the dominant medium.
I love the perennial rhythms of radio baseball: "Steps to the plate... digs in... closed stance... takes a few practice swings.... Steps up on the rubber... round comes the right arm... slider low and outside.... Checks the runner on first... looks down for the sign... the pitch... high fly to left... settles under it... two gone in the third...." It's an enduring, comforting sound.
Radio baseball as I remember it transformed the players into larger-than-life figures. It romanticized them. Radio baseball was a never-ending oral epic, Homeric in dimension. TV, with all its wealth of detail, turns the players into ordinary mortals; it makes them too familiar, too common. It plucks out the heart of the mystery. It's impossible to believe that these young men with their stringy beards and their horrid tattoos and their acned faces are reincarnations of the bronze-age superheroes of my childhood. If an announcer were honestly recording what the TV sees, it would be, "steps up to the plate... digs in... adjusts his nuts... steps out of the box... spits a huge goober into the dirt... now he's really excavating his left nostril."
Radio was reverent; television is intrusive.
Radio baseball was noble, and radio listeners were the better for listening to it. Radio baseball brought us together. On East 9 Street, where I grew up, there was very little in common among the Petrantos, the Burkes, the Bernsteins, the Constantinos, the Pynns, the Rhodins, and the Meinekes who populated the block -- except that we could all talk about Cox, Reese, Snider, Robinson, Campanella. I have a strong memory of riding my Ivor Johnson (later my Raleigh three-speed) on a hot summer evening when there were so many people sitting on their porches, or on the stoops, or on the fire-escapes listening to Red Barber and Connie Desmond that I could bike for a mile and not miss a single pitch. Radio baseball turned us into a community. Which is why we'll never, ever, forgive that foul black-hearted traitor Walter O'Malley.
But I'm cheerful. It's autumn and the Republican Yankees have lost. It's a favorable omen. Is it too much to hope that, inasmuch as the Yankees have lost in October, the Democrats could win in November?