A Game For All America
By Ernie Harwell
Baseball is President Eisenhower tossing out the first ball of the season; and a pudgy schoolboy playing catch with his dad on a Mississippi farm. Its the big league pitchers who sin in night clubs. And the Hollywood singer who pitches to the Giants in spring training.
A tall, thin old man waving a scorecard from his dugout -- that's baseball. So is the big, fat guy with a bulbous nose running out one of his 714 home runs with mincing steps.
It's America, this baseball. A re-issued newsreel of boyhood dreams. Dreams lost somewhere between boy and man.
It's the Bronx cheer and the Baltimore farewell. The left-field screen in Boston, the right-field dump at Nashville's Sulphur Dell, the open stands in San Francisco, the dusty, wind-swept diamond at Albuquerque. And a rock home plate and a chicken wire backstop -- anywhere.
There's a man in Mobile who remembers a triple he saw Honus Wagner hit in Pittsburgh 46 years ago. That's baseball. So is the scout reporting that a 16-year-old sandlot pitcher in Cheyenne is the new "Walter Johnson."
It's a wizened little man shouting insults from the safety of his bleacher seat. And a big, smiling first baseman playfully tousling the hair of a youngster outside the players' gate.
Baseball is a spirited race of man against man, reflex against reflex. A game of inches. Every skill is measured. Every heroic, every failing is seen and cheered -- or booed. And then becomes a statistic.
In baseball, democracy shines its clearest. Here the only race that matters is the race to the bag. The creed is the rule book. Color is something to distinguish one team's uniform from another.
Baseball is Sir Alexander Fleming, discoverer of penicillin, asking his Brooklyn hosts to explain Dodger signals. It's player Moe Berg speaking seven languages and working crossword puzzles in Sanskrit. It's a scramble in the box seats for a foul -- and a $125 suit ruined. A man barking into a hot microphone about a cool beer, that's baseball. So is the sportswriter telling a .383 hitter how to stride, and a 20-victory pitcher trying to write his impressions of the World Series.
Baseball is a ballet without music. Drama without words. A carnival without kewpie dolls.
A housewife in California couldn't tell you the color of her husband's eyes, but she knows that Yogi Berra is hitting .337, has brown eyes and used to love to eat bananas with mustard. That's baseball. So is the bright sanctity of Cooperstown's Hall of Fame. And the former big leaguer, who is playing out the string in a Class B loop.
Baseball is continuity. Pitch to pitch. Inning to inning. Game to game. Series to series. Season to season.
It's rain, rain, rain splattering on a puddled tarpaulin as thousands sit in damp disappointment. And the click of typewriters and telegraph keys in the press box -- like so many awakened crickets. Baseball is a cocky batboy. The old-timer whose batting average increases every time he tells it. A lady celebrating a home team rally by mauling her husband with a rolled-up scorecard.
Baseball is the cool, clear eyes of Rogers Hornsby, the flashing spikes of Ty Cobb, an overaged pixie named Rabbit Maranville, and Jackie Robinson testifying before a Congressional hearing.
Baseball? It's just a game -- as simple as a ball and a bat. Yet, as complex as the American spirit it symbolizes. It's a sport, business -- and sometimes even religion.
Baseball is Tradition in flannel knickerbockers. And Chagrin in being picked off base. It is Dignity in the blue serge of an umpire running the game by rule of thumb. It is Humor, holding its sides when an errant puppy eludes two groundskeepers and the fastest outfielder. And Pathos, dragging itself off the field after being knocked from the box.
Nicknames are baseball. Names like Zeke and Pie and Kiki and Home Run and Cracker and Dizzy and Dazzy.
Baseball is a sweaty, steaming dressing room where hopes and feelings are as naked as the men themselves. It's a dugout with spike-scarred flooring. And shadows across an empty ballpark. It's the endless list of names in box scores, abbreviated almost beyond recognition.
The holdout is baseball, too. He wants 55 grand or he won't turn a muscle. But, it's also the youngster who hitch-hikes from South Dakota to Florida just for a tryout.
Arguments, Casey at the Bat, old cigarette cards, photographs, Take Me Out to the Ball Game -- all of them are baseball.
Baseball is a rookie -- his experience no bigger than the lump in his throat -- trying to begin fulfillment of a dream. It's a veteran, too -- a tired old man of 35, hoping his aching muscles can drag him through another sweltering August and September.
For nine innings, baseball is the story of David and Goliath, of Samson, Cinderella, Paul Bunyan, Homer's Iliad and the Count of Monte Cristo.
Willie Mays making a brilliant World Series catch. And then going home to Harlem to play stick-ball in the street with his teen-age pals -- that's baseball.
And so is the husky voice of a doomed Lou Gehrig saying, "I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth."
Baseball is cigar smoke, hot-roasted peanuts, The Sporting News, winter trades, "Down in Front," and the "Seventh-Inning Stretch." Sore arms, broken bats, a no-hitter, and the strains of the Star-Spangled Banner.
Baseball is a highly paid Brooklyn catcher telling the nation's business leaders: "You have to be a man to be a big leaguer, but you have to have a lot of little boy in you, too."
This is a game for America, this baseball!