By Lane Sherman, Contributing Columnist
Way back in time the major baseball leagues each had only eight teams — and there was, therefore, no need for baseball play-offs to see who would be in the World Series. The winners of each league were in that top attraction. Since plane travel was not used for the teams in those days, they used trains and buses, because they didn’t have too far to go. Therefore, St. Louis, Missouri was the farthest west city in the leagues (they had one team in each league). Washington DC was the farthest south, and Boston with two teams was the farthest north.
My family was not sports minded in those days. Maybe just making a living was so present in their minds they didn’t have time to deal with sports. I had no brothers to bring sports into the family so looking back on my life it’s surprising I became a sports fan — especially major league baseball.
It happened this way: One late spring evening when I was home from school because of an illness I was allowed to have a radio in my room since I would not be going to school the next day. At about 9 pm all I could get on the radio was non-vocal music or the major league baseball game. The crowd at the ball park was excited and roaring and the game announcer said that Wally Moses had just hit his eighth triple of the season and this was just the first night game. (In those days our hometown teams played only about eight games a season. Almost the reverse today.) Thus began a life-long love of baseball — the All-American Game. (All American at the time, now Japan loves baseball, too.)
When I got back to school I found that one of my classmates from a neighboring area was also a fan, and we went to several games on the weekends and in the summer. The admission price for students was quite low. We brought our refreshments, and so the biggest cost was trolley fare — and we needed three trolleys to get to the ball park and three to return. And since both our city’s big league teams played in the same stadium there were lots of double-headers i.e. two games a day for only one admission price. Often our baseball days began soon after breakfast and lasted till just before dinner.
We rooted for our home teams, but to no avail. Our teams lost so many games that by the Fourth of July the local newspapers listed the other teams in each league and added “Bush Leagues” where both our home teams were shown. But we had our fun until my baseball partner’s family moved away.
Alas — no one else in our school was interested. What to do since my mother would not allow me to go alone? I got so desperate I asked my mother to go with me. Since she was not interested she said, “No.” I expected that, but I needed to change her mind. I can’t remember all the pleadings I used that day with no favorable results.
My last hope was to read the daily horoscope in the newspaper. We never paid any attention to that column, but I was desperate. My mom’s instructions that summer day for her December birthday was to be among “crowds of people.” “Where else but the ball park?” I told her and surprisingly that newspaper article did the trick. To my surprise — and hers, too, my mom enjoyed the game so much that she became my baseball buddy.
Also to our good luck at that time my dad could pick us up at the ball park on his way home from work. It was not exactly on a direct route, but close enough so that we didn’t need three trolleys to get home.
Mom really liked the ball game. During WWII some games began at 10:30 in the morning to accommodate the “graveyard” shift workers. So on those days we got up early and joined the early morning crowd.
One summer during WWII I was a camp counselor at an “over-night” camp, and my dad was stationed at the Pentagon. Mom got a five-day-a-week job in Washington, DC so she could spend the summer with Dad. He was on duty six days a week. So on Saturdays when the Washington team was in town Mom went to the baseball game alone. What a turnabout!!!
Today the players toss baseballs into the stands after the third out. In war time the spectators were asked to return foul balls — and even homers so those balls could be sent to the troops. All the fans participated.
In those days there seemed to be more catcalls from the stands than now. Example: The pitcher was slow in getting ready to pitch, and when he was ready the batter stepped out of the batter’s box. The inaction was repeated several times until a southern-accented lady yelled out, “Which one of you is in ‘da’ mood?” Mom and I used that expression many times over the years at appropriate situations.
Another interesting catcall that I remember came when the famed Ted Williams was one of the first to wear long trousers and not the knickers and stockings that all the other ball players wore. The fans kept yelling that he should take off his pajamas and put on a real uniform.
As I recall — Connie Mack was the only person I ever saw in the dug-out wearing a regular business suit. He was special! Once during WWII when my mother and a group of her friends volunteered to drive the baseball team to the Valley Forge Army Hospital — and I went along — I met the Connie Mack (Alias Cornelias MacGillicuty).
He was quite old at that time. He gave me his autograph on a business card saying, “It takes me so long to write anything I do all my autographs in advance of an event.”
When I first came to California there were no major league teams. I paid some attention to the L.A. minor league teams. In some cases I saw players I had known who couldn’t handle the majors anymore or who were at that point managers of Pacific Coast League teams.
Needless to say — I still love baseball, and we are lucky to have two great major league teams in our area. So “Take me out to the ball game” — it’s the greatest!