"Holy Toledo!"

July 10, 2016

Baseball Summer

Filed under: Baseball, Oakland A's, Uncategorized, Vintage Sports Video — Bill @ 2:39 pm

Summertime Saturday mornings in the late 60’s or early 70’s were fairly predictable for most young boys. After waking up you turned on the TV and poured a bowl of cereal. My buddy preferred Count Chocula, but I was more of an Apple Jacks or Lucky Charms kid. In those days to turn on a TV you had to pull out a big clunky knob, then came that sound, boof! If a TV made that sound today you would swear it just blew up. It would take about two minutes for the picture to appear, then you had to turn the big channel changing dial to watch Bugs, Wile E. Coyote and all the Looney Tunes gang. Once a bowl or two of Cap’n Crunch had been scarfed, and Road Runner had once again outsmarted Wile E., it was time to change the channel to baseball!

Televisions didn’t have remote controls back then, the closest thing you had was your little brother. Somebody had to get up and physically turn the dial to NBC, hopefully just in time for The Game Of The Week. Sometimes you would catch the often silly pregame show, The Baseball World of Joe Garagiola.

What followed was a two and a half hour extravaganza of color and athleticism (Yes I stated that correctly, in 1973 the average game lasted about 2 hours and 25 minutes). Because baseball wasn’t on TV very often it was about the only time all week that we got to see major league players in action. For some city kids it was the most green grass they saw all week. It was special, and for me it was something I looked forward to all week. There was only one thing that made it better, and that was if YOUR team was on TV that week.

Some of the older kids remembered Dizzy Dean as an announcer, but for us the voices that brought us baseball every week were Curt Gowdy, Tony Kubek, & Joe Garagiola. Even after all these years, when you hear their voices it instantly takes you back to being a kid. You would sit in front of the tube, with your glove on one hand, smacking the baseball into the mitt with the other. You would watch intently as Kubek explained the nuances of the double play you just saw so beautifully executed by Kessinger and Beckert. Garagiola would explain why Joe Morgan would use that funny looking arm flapping thing he did just before the pitch was thrown. Naturally you would stand up and try to imitate him. Then Gowdy would give you some odd fact about a player, like how Sal Bando’s wife could make excellent Italian food. I probably learned more about baseball from those three than I did from my father.

Given that I was an energetic bushy haired boy, plus all the sugar I had just consumed, I usually made it to about the 5th inning. Then it was out the door to play ball with the kids in the neighborhood, and to show off my new Joe Morgan arm flap batting stance.

Summers lasted forever back then, but eventually the shadows grew longer and before we knew it we were back in school again. Kids today may find this hard to imagine, but there were no calculators back then, we actually did math on paper with a pencil. Perhaps even more odd, all postseason baseball games were played during the day. This caused a number of issues for teachers and students alike. It also allowed us true baseball diehards to explore our more creative side.

Who remembers sneaking in a pocket radio and attempting to listen to the game during class? Some of the more clever boys figured out that you could plug in an earphone and run the wire under your shirt. This worked great until you moved the wrong way and accidentally unplugged the earphone. This sent the sound blaring out the radio speaker, filling the classroom with the voice of Jim Simpson, thus interrupting the teacher’s lesson on the adventures of Ferdinand Magellan.

The World Series brought out the best in everyone, including us. Once one kid introduced “the perfect system” many others followed. If one of us got caught and had our radio taken away, we had reinforcements. The unfortunate ones who sat up front closer to the teacher didn’t stand much of a chance. It was for them that “the signal” was created.

What was the signal?
Cough, drop your pencil, then meet at the pencil sharpener in the back of the classroom for scoreboard updates.

Here is a typical conversation after “the signal”:
“Robinson just singled, runners at 1st & 3rd”, the informer would say.
“Brooks or Frank?” somebody would ask.
“How many outs?” somebody else wanted to know.
“Two” the informer would say as he inserted his #2 pencil into the sharpener and turned the hand crank.
As another boy joined the group he asked quietly, “Still tied?”
It didn’t take long for the teacher to notice. Like an umpire breaking up a meeting on the mound, the teacher would say, “Oh boys, may we continue with Mr. Magellan?” Returning to our desks, we were left with the last line of communication, sending hand signals while ducking behind an upright carefully positioned Pee Chee folder.

Design to be used judiciously “the signal” was only to be used in case something big or important occurred. However at age 10 we weren’t all that judicious, and almost everything was big and important.

Recess provided us with the best opportunity to closely follow the game. Most of us would gather around, pretending to be interested in tetherball, while actually listening to the radio. We would argue about who we thought was going to win, and who had the coolest looking baseball card. Rarely was there a consensus, however we did all agree on two things: Johnny Bench was the best catcher, and Oscar Gamble had the biggest hair. Everything else was subject to debate.

We would have listened to the game regardless of who was playing, but we were fortunate enough to grow up at a time when one of our local teams just happened to be really good. Most of us were A’s fans, although I had a few friends that would root for whoever the A’s were playing against. They were usually Giants fans.

The downside to growing up on the West coast was that the daytime postseason games were over by the time we got home from school. We didn’t even get to watch the highlights on ESPN of course, because that network wouldn’t exist until 1979.
As Chris Berman tells it, “College kids would ask me,
‘You mean you didn’t have ESPN?’
‘No’
‘Well… then what did you do?’”

All we could do was watch Van Amburg & John O’Reilly on the 6’o’clock news, or wait until the next morning to read the San Francisco Chronicle’s Sporting Green, or subscribe to The Sporting News and read about it a week later. Now you know why Curt Gowdy and The Game Of The Week was so important to us.

Then along came Monday Night Baseball…
Actually MNB began on NBC in 1967, but I must confess that I don’t really remember it. Perhaps this was because it was summer, and at the time these games started on the West coast, the sun was still up, so we were still outside playing ball. It wasn’t highly promoted, they didn’t show that many games, and the ratings were poor.

It all changed in 1976 when ABC started broadcasting the Monday Night Game of the Week, the announcers were Bob Prince, Bob Uecker & Warner Wolfe. For most of the nation it was our first look at the wacky antics of the colorful and talented Bob Uecker.

For ABC the bicentennial served up a promotional bonanza, America, baseball, apple pie, and Mark “The Bird” Fidrych.

His story is right out of Hollywood, or in this case Detroit. They nicknamed him “The Bird” because of his tall lanky build and the way he stalked around on the mound, but what made Mark so unique was that he talked to the baseball. Yes he thought he could convince that ball to bend just right to avoid the mighty swing of Oscar Gamble. Each inning he would get down on his knees and sculpt the dirt on the mound with both hands. The Bird was indeed a free spirit.

He also happened to be a rookie non-roster invitee, and a long shot to make the team. He did, barely, and was rarely used. Until his first start on May 15th, his major league experience consisted of only one inning. Then “The Bird” took flight. By July 3rd he was 9-1 and the talk of the nation. Every game he pitched was sold out, at home or on the road.

One night few will ever forget occurred on June 28th, 1976. A national TV audience would tune in to Monday Night Baseball to discover an all new type of bird watching. For most of us it was our first glimpse of The Bird. All he did was pitch a complete game victory over the eventual American League champion New York Yankees to win his 6th in a row. We, as well as the Yankees, were mesmerized. Fidrych “was trying to hypnotize them” said Rico Carty. For that one magical red, white, and blue summer we were all hypnotized by a tall kid from Massachusetts named Mark Steven Fidrych, forever known as “The Bird”.

Baseball stirs up so many memories for all of us, some of which are uniquely individual or personal memories. Everybody who grew up with baseball in their family has these moments, the dates may change but the story is often similar.

Watching a Saturday TV game at your grandparents house on their new color TV. Yes at one time not everyone had colored televisions and getting one was big news. You sit quietly soaking it all in as Grandpa explains how you are actually related to the great Christy Mathewson. This sends you reeling into hours of looking at that huge book he had called The Baseball Encyclopedia, and with every turn of a page came a fascinating baseball story.

I’ll bet many of you have this memory. Playing catch with Dad in the yard while the game was on the radio. Dad would give you tips and you would try so hard to impress him with your skills.

Maybe your memory is a family barbecue on a day your team played a doubleheader, or the time your uncle broke the neighbor’s window while he tried to impress you with his arm. It might be something as simple as watching your Dad work in his garage while the game played on his radio.

One of my great moments occurred on Friday night July 9th, 1971. I was spending the weekend at my grandparents house (the other grandparents). It was the year Vida Blue broke onto the scene and we turned on the radio so we could listen to the game while we played Tripoly.

Vida and the Angels Rudy May hooked up in a dandy pitchers duel that night, a scoreless game thru 7 innings. We continued playing cards until the end of the 10th inning when Grandpa announce he had had enough, he was going to bed. Vida was spectacular that night, he pitched 11 innings with 17 strikeouts and not a single walk. Meanwhile Rudy May pitched 12 innings of scoreless ball. We listened quietly as my Grandma & I played poker until the start of the 13th inning, the game was still scoreless. When Grandma called it a night, she handed me her transistor radio and said, “Don’t stay up all night.” Huddled in a sleeping bag I listened to the voice of Monte Moore quietly in the dark that night thinking that this was the coolest thing ever. I was 10 years old.

Finally in the 20th inning Angel Mangual drove in Curt Blefary and the A’s won 1-0. It set the record as the longest 1-0 game in the history of the American League. The A’s used two interesting pinch-hitters that night, Catfish Hunter and a little known player at the time named Tony LaRussa. Rollie Fingers would pitch seven innings of scoreless relief. Angels outfielder Billy Cowan struck out six times, and Tony Conigliaro went 0 for 8.

Years later I realized just how special that night was in my life. A rare confluence where a significant personal family event collides with a historic baseball moment. One could have occurred without the other, but without each other the moment would have been far less significant.

My grandparents are gone now, so the memory of that special night will be something I cherish forever. A moment more easily recalled because of the confluence of family and baseball.

Neatly woven in the fabric of every baseball fan’s life are those highs and lows that come with the love of a baseball team. I’m talking about generational wins and losses. The kind of wins that make you grin just thinking about it. Gut wrenching losses that hurt so deep they are forever impaled in your soul. We love the wins, but for most of us true diehard fans the losses are far more memorable than the wins. Perhaps it is human nature, reasons we can’t quite explain, but those lowest moments stick to us like glue.

The night Kirk Gibson hit the home run off of Eckersley I immediately turned off the TV, turned out the lights, went to bed, and I don’t think the sun came up for a week. I felt like my best girl just dumped me, somebody stole my car, and my dog ran away. Oh and that horrible nausea returns every time they replay that damn thing.

Alas I do have an equally powerful counter punch or two. Remember Joe Rudi’s phenomenal catch in the 1972 World Series? How about when Gene Tenace stood up acting like he wanted to intentionally walk Johnny Bench, only to have Rollie Fingers sling a beautiful slider right down the pipe to leave Bench dumbfounded? The hairs outfoxed the squares. I still love to listen to the cd of game 7 of the ’72 World Series, with Jim Simpson and Monte Moore.

Two years later in ’74 the A’s faced the Dodgers in what they called “The Freeway Series”. No California kid my age will ever forget it.

In game 4 A’s pitcher Ken Holtzman hit a home run off Andy Messersmith, and was the winning pitcher. The game would end on what some call the greatest double play in World Series history.

With the tying run on first and one out in the top of the 9th pinch hitter Von Joshua hit what appeared to be a seeing eye single up the middle. All of a sudden from out of the picture flashed Dick Green diving head long to his right. Somehow he managed to snare the bouncing ball and then while on his knees he flipped it to “Campy” Campaneris. Arriving at second base headed for an apparent collision was Campy, the baseball, and a speeding Ron Cey intent on making a mess of the whole situation.

In a move that Nadia Comaneci would have appreciated, Campy demonstrated his physical artistry. He grabbed the ball with his glove, and while transferring the ball to his other hand he touched second base with his foot, leaped into the air flying over the top of a sliding Cey. Then while seemingly frozen in the air he side-armed the ball towards Gene Tenace at first base. Meanwhile Von Joshua is barreling down the line so “Geno” practically does the splits in order to reach the baseball before Joshua touches first. Second base umpire Ron Luciano raised his right hand and so too did first base umpire Andy Olsen. Double play, game over drive home safely. If someone asked me what one thing defined the 1970’s Oakland A’s teams this would be that
moment.

I’ve often said that sports provides me with the timeline of my life, and baseball plays a big part in that. Pick out just about any month or year from my youth, I will quickly relate it to sports, and with a great deal of accuracy tell you where I was or who I was with. I’m sure many of you are very similar.

This is one of the great things about collecting vintage sports broadcasts. You put on that certain game, close your eyes, and suddenly you can be right back there in your grandparents living room, sitting on the old familiar couch right next to your grandpa. It is fun to watch the historic games, or to see the legendary players, but every now and then it is about the memory of that special golden moment.

We all have our own golden moments, so uniquely personal, but then there are other baseball moments so grand or spectacular that they are shared by literally millions. These are iconic snapshots of baseball history that are so familiar, no long explanation is needed to describe it. All it takes is a few words, and we all know where we were when the magic happened. Here is a brief list of some of those iconic baseball moments.

The Miracle Mets (1969)
Reggie’s All-Star Game homer off the roof at Tiger Stadium (1971)
#715 (1974)
The Carlton Fisk shot down the line at Fenway (1975)
Chambliss wins the pennant (1976)
Reggie’s 3 home runs (1977)
The Bucky Dent home run (1978)
The Pine Tar game (1983)
Pete Rose passes Cobb (1985)
Dave Henderson ruins Gene Autry’s party (1986)
Only two words… Bill Buckner (1986)
Kirk Gibson homers off The Eck (damn 1988(
Bo Jackson’s monster All-Star shot in front of Reagan (1989)
The Earthquake Series (1989)
Nolan Ryan’s 7th No-Hitter (1991(
Sid Bream’s mad dash (1992)
Cal Ripken breaks Gehrig’s #2131 (1995)
The summer of McGwire, Sosa, and Maris (1998)
Luis Gonzalez beats Rivera in game 7 (2001)
Red Sox break “The Curse” (2004)
Bonds hits HR #756 (2007
Braden is Perfect on Mother’s Day (2010)
Ishikawa hits a walkoff HR to win the pennant for the Giants (2014)

I may not have all of these great moments on dvd but I have most of them in my collection. On a quiet afternoon I will often pop in one of these dvds and just let it play while I take care of my household activities. What is interesting is if somebody drops in on me. I like to watch and see how long it takes for them to figure it out.

Here is a health tip:
If you listen to an old recording of Curt Gowdy calling a baseball game you will get so relaxed, it will lower your blood pressure. Science may prove me wrong, but I’m willing to bet four out of five dentists recommend Gowdy as opposed to Big League Chew.

Summer and baseball go together like the country fair and cotton candy, like a ball park hot dog and a cold beer. When you run the highlight reel of your youth you will find that many of your greatest moments occurred during those warm summer days, and there in the background you will notice is one constant, baseball. Sometimes it was the centerpiece as we focused on a particular game, other times it filled in as comfortable background on a lazy afternoon. We grew up with the game, we spent many seasons in the sun. Its reliable yet always ever-changing. Like an old friend, a comfortable pair of jeans, there is that quiet peace with baseball that is unlike any other sport.

As you stroll through your summer this year, look around and see how baseball plays its part. Enjoy what is new, and reflect on the past. Remember to cherish your magical moments when the confluence of life and baseball collide.

If you would like to relive some of your magic moments check out my list of vintage baseball games on DVD.

CLICK HERE

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3 Comments »

  1. Bill,      That was an AWESOME article! Incredibly well written! Great job. I really enjoyed reading it.

    Tom

    Sent from my U.S. Cellular® Smartphone

    Comment by tomedell — July 10, 2016 @ 2:50 pm

    • Thank you sir, coming from you that means a lot.

      Comment by Bill — July 10, 2016 @ 4:13 pm

  2. Bill,       Received the following NFL Yearbooks : 

    1970 Minnesota Vikings  1971 Minnesota Vikings  1972 Minnesota Vikings  1972 Los Angeles Rams  1972 Kansas City Chiefs  1973 New York Giants  1974 Atlanta Falcons  1975 Atlanta Falcons  1976 Atlanta Falcons  1977 Atlanta Falcons 

    Tom

    Sent from my U.S. Cellular® Smartphone

    Comment by tomedell — July 15, 2016 @ 6:56 am


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