The first World Series game I ever cared about was played on a Wednesday afternoon in 1967. The St. Louis Cardinals beat the Boston Red Sox 2-1 in Game 1, behind the pitching of Bob Gibson and the base-stealing of Lou Brock.
Not that I saw any of this. I was in my fifth-grade classroom in the Bronx, and Mrs. Yachter – well, let’s just say she wasn’t a baseball fan. I heard about the game on my transistor radio when I got home.
That entire World Series was played in daylight. At the time, night baseball was reserved for weekdays in midseason, except on the North Side of Chicago, where the Cubs would hold out against the darkness for another couple of decades.
Nowadays, big sports events like the World Series beginning tonight are played in prime time on the East Coast. With extra-long commercial breaks between innings, games that begin after 8 p.m. often do not conclude until midnight. Back in the fall of 1967, I don’t think I had ever been allowed to stay up past 10 o’clock. My parents would not have made an exception for baseball, and certainly not on a school night.
Day games meant a kid like me could not watch on weekdays unless you happened to live in one of the cities where the Series was being played. In that case, it would have been profoundly un-American for any adult to object if you somehow finagled your way out of the classroom and into the ballpark.
But on the weekends, every kid in America could tune in during the afternoons (or mornings, if you lived in the West) when the great players of that era made their magic happen. The World Series was broadcast coast to coast, live and in colour, if someone you knew happened to have a colour TV. This included nobody on my block in 1967.
I didn’t care. I had only started following baseball a month earlier. I spent labour Day parked in front of the television watching the Yankees split a doubleheader with the Chicago White Sox. The Yankees at the time were as defective as Mickey Mantle’s knees, but I rooted for them because they were my mother’s team.
Despite the woeful performance of the ninth-place Yankees and the tenth-place Mets, it was a wonderful autumn to fall in love with baseball in New York. The Cardinals were pretty much the same bunch of midlevel stars (except for future Hall of Famers Brock, Gibson and Steve Carlton, and for Roger Maris, who was traded from the Yankees to St. Louis before the 1967 season) that had beaten Mantle and the Yankees in 1964. They broke away from the San Francisco Giants to coast to the National League pennant. But in the American League, four teams – the Red Sox, the White Sox, the Detroit Tigers and the Minnesota Twins – battled to the last weekend of the season. The White Sox faded first, while the Twins and Tigers kept pace until the final game.
The Red Sox “Impossible Dream” was a triumph even a 9-year-old could understand. It wasn’t just that the Red Sox had come in a miserable ninth – ahead of only the Yankees – in 1966. It wasn’t just the franchise’s inferiority complex vis-à-vis New York, or the fact that Boston had not been a contender since Ted Williams retired years earlier, or even the Curse of the Bambino, which had been ongoing for nearly 50 years.
A few weeks before the labour Day doubleheader that I watched, an excellent Red Sox outfielder named Tony Conigliaro was hit in the cheek by a fastball hurled by the California Angels’ Jack Hamilton. Batting helmets were not required to have ear flaps at the time, and Conigliaro’s face took the full force of the ball. The pitch nearly killed him. In fact, after a brief, miraculous major league comeback a few seasons later, the lingering effects of the blow curtailed his career. (A heart attack, followed by a stroke, put Conigliaro in a coma in 1982. He lingered in a vegetative state for eight years before dying in 1990.)
In the month that I followed baseball before the 1967 Series, the Conigliaro beaning was replayed and discussed enough times that the emotional significance of the Red Sox campaign sunk in, even for a kid in another city, like me.
It was a fabulous series. The Cardinals won three of the first four games, with Gibson accounting for two of the wins. Brock, who stole seven bases in the Series, and Maris both hammered the ball for the Cardinals, while Carl Yastrzemski, who won the American League’s Triple Crown that season, hit .400 for Boston.
Gibson was outstanding in Games 1 and 4. Only Red Sox pitcher Jim Lonborg seemed able to stop the Cards. He nearly pitched a no-hitter in Game 2 at Fenway, then gave up only a solo home run to Maris to win Game 5 in St. Louis and send the Series back to Boston.
The Red Sox won the sixth game to tie the Series. I was rooting hard for Boston when they played that seventh game at Fenway – but I didn’t see it. The final contest, which featured Gibson pitching against Lonborg, was played on a Thursday afternoon. I was at school when the Red Sox tried to complete their Impossible Dream.
They fell short. Pitching on only two days’ rest, Lonborg gave up seven runs in six innings against St. Louis, and the Cardinals cruised to a 7-2 victory. It gave them their second title in four years. “My” team lost, yet that World Series, which I mostly did not see, somehow gave me a love for the sport that will last the rest of my life.
So this is where I thought I would make a nostalgic appeal to bring back those daytime World Series games. In all honesty, I can’t do it. How can I argue that kids today would be better served by sports events hosted while they are in school?
Today’s little boys are as likely to be baseball fans as the boys of my youth – and these days, so are the girls. Somehow, late-night baseball is not keeping us from passing the traditions of this game to our kids. Maybe it’s more liberal parenting. Maybe it’s TiVo. Maybe the reason doesn’t matter.
Besides, baseball has gone global. The major leagues are full of players from Latin America, Asia and even some European outposts like the Netherlands. We’re all experts in time zone management. Also, those late-night East Coast games are no trouble at all in San Francisco, where the Series will open tonight. They are even somewhat manageable in the Central time zone, where the Rangers will be the hosts beginning with Saturday’s game.
Still, Saturday’s start at 6:57 p.m. Eastern time is the earliest scheduled first pitch for a World Series game in the last 23 years. Fox, which is broadcasting the game, wants to give more kids in the East an opportunity to stay up and watch.
It will still be daylight in the Dallas suburbs when they toss that first pitch on Saturday. It’s going to feel a little more like my boyhood memories of the World Series, and that, in turn, is going to feel a little more like going home.
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