Off-Season Baseball

“People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.”

— Rogers Hornsby

None of the windows in my house have a good view.

— Me

Now that the Washington Nationals have celebrated winning the last game of the season and the Royals have hired Mike Matheny as their new manager, the only thing to wonder about until Spring Training is whether or not I’ll receive an invitation to chase down fly balls in the high skies of Surprise, Arizona.

I’m not placing any bets on me.

I woke up after my Saturday afternoon mini-coma with an idea. I’m not exactly sure what spurred the idea other than there is so much of baseball history that I’ve missed and I thought it might be fun to catch up on some of it during the off-season. Immediately, I thought of the World Series.

My earliest World Series memory is Game 3 from 1980 between the Phillies and the Royals. My parents were in attendance as the Royals won. I remember watching the 1982 World Series of the Cardinals against the Brewers with my dad as my family had recently moved to Springfield.

A couple searches and I, luckily, discovered the Classic MLB Baseball Radio Archive.

For free.

I asked Rance, my good friend and the broadcaster for the Grip ‘N’ Rip Baseball League, if he’d like to join me in listening to World Series games played before we were born.

Rance replied almost immediately.

How did I not know about this website? This will be a constructive break from watching pointless crap on YouTube. The earliest World Series I can really remember is 1990. The earliest World Series I can truly remember watching with any sort of meaning was 1992. I loved the Toronto Blue Jays teams of the early ‘90s. Roberto Alomar is still my favorite second baseman of all time. We’re going 30 years back from when I was 6 years old and peppered my dad with questions about the Cincinnati Reds and the Oakland Athletics before turning my attention back to my toys, drawings and children’s books. My dad was able to answer the question, “What is a Red?” by telling me that it was short for the Redlegs. That was just fine with me.

Rance and I agreed that it would be fun to listen to the 1960 World Series between the New York Yankees and the Pittsburgh Pirates in honor and tribute to our friend who played in that series — Bill Virdon. Under the leadership of Casey Stengel, the Yankees (97 – 57) won the Series in five consecutive years (1949 – 1953) and again in 1956 and 1958. They lost it in 1955 and 1957. On the other hand, the Pirates (92 – 62) last won the series in 1925.

In 1960, Babe Ruth was the career home run king, U.S. troops were sent to Vietnam, JFK was elected President, The Flintstones made their TV debut, and my dad was learning how to drive. I’ve only seen a few random highlights from that year’s final baseball showdown and almost all of the highlights center on the epic conclusion of the Series.

I’ve heard of some of the players from both the 1960 Pirates and the 1960 Yankees, and I have met exactly one of them: Bill Virdon. I’m excited to see how this quiet and unassuming fellow I know from church stacks up in a real-life situation with the likes of legends like Roberto Clemente, Mickey Mantle, and Yogi Berra.

I’ve met three of those ballplayers — Virdon, Berra, and Mantle — and had autographs of all, but only one actually knows my name. Virdon’s autographed baseball sits on my writing desk next to Buck O’Neil, Jim “The Rookie” Morris, and the ball Sophie gave me for Christmas in 2017 that says, “Dad, Wanna play catch?” I had to sell my Mantle and Berra autographed baseballs to help pay bills when I was in seminary. I still regret that decision.

I’m also psyched to dive a little deeper into the histories of players I want to know more about. There’s Roy Face, the pitcher who pioneered the role of the modern day closer, and Whitey Ford, who I first learned about from an episode of “The Simpsons.”

“The Simpsons” do solid baseball work. The “Homer at the Bat” episode is a riot.  

This is going to be educational and exciting, and I hope it also makes me a better radio broadcaster. I want to learn from the men who brought the game to life for baseball fans around the country. I’ll be listening closely to the manner in which Jack Quinlan and Chuck Thompson call the games. I firmly believe that baseball was a sport born for radio and radio was the born medium for baseball.

The story and observations from Game #1 will be posted on Friday, November 8.