I can't believe I had never tackled the National Pastime before!

At any rate, the first of four All New columns in a row - I had a lot of fun with this, and indeed there's a lot more to be told someday.

We received several reprint requests at the store on this one, I believe.

I Don't Care If I Never Get Back


Let me root, root, root for the home team - if they don't win it's a shame . . .

(All right, you know the rest. Sing it once, with me . . . )

For it's One, Two, Three strikes you're out at the old ball game . . .

So it's 1863 - the Civil War is in high gear, more Americans are killing each other than at any other time before or since. A dreadful calamity, a grim waking nightmare to which each citizen must wake to each and every day. The smoke, the cannons, the blood and lost limbs, the calamitous cacophony of woe.

And, in Pennsylvania, they're playing baseball.

Specifically, one player, one Ned Cuthbert, stands at first base. He plays with the Philadelphia Keystones. Without warning, he runs from first to second base. Problem is, the ball was not in play. No pitch, no hit, nothing. He'd simply waited till the pitcher was distracted and taken, nay, stolen, the second base.

The crowd's reaction?


This was obviously not done, had never been done, and, presumably, was not allowed to be done. The umpire comes over, and Cuthbert points out that, in fact, no rule in baseball prohibits what he has just done. The umpire ponders the situation, and agrees.

It is the first stolen base.


It always comes back to Brooklyn . . .

Seven years before the aforementioned incident, papers in New York were already referring to Brooklyn as the "City of Baseball Clubs". (These same papers would, that same year - 1856 - first refer to baseball as the "National Pastime".)


Why, Brooklyn hasn't had a baseball team since . . .

And now I must admit my guilt. I am a third generation L.A. native, and thus a lifelong Dodger fan. And yet, when I was young and small, the Dodgers were Brooklyn natives, stolen away, sold out at the end of the fifties for promises of greener pastures in the Golden West (in which an entire community was destroyed to make room, in Chavez Ravine, for the new Stadium). Nonetheless, the Drysdale, Koufax, Valenzuela, Hershiser, Piazza Los Angeles Dodgers are my team. Strange sort of thing, especially as most players on any given city's team reside nowhere near that city normally. What is this strange thing that makes fans, if not maniacs, of us all, as the days grow longer and Summer Proper holds sway over the land?


Yes, Brooklyn.

For, just a few days ago, as I write, a new team entered the Minor Leagues - a team based in Brooklyn.

And it is thus that now, in mid-2001, Brooklyn has a baseball team for the first time in half a century.

And, on the opposite coast, I watch as the now Los Angeles based Dodgers play the San Francisco (formerly New York) Giants, and confess that, though I root for one team, I shall also pray that a particular hitter on the other side gets a home run or two.

I refer, of course, to Barry Bonds, who has already hit more homers in fewer games than anyone else ever to play major league baseball - including even the Babe.

These are thus legendary times, my friends and fellow fans.

And so, back to Brooklyn.

In Brooklyn's early days, the team's fans would have to dart across busy streets, dodging the electric trolley cars to get to the playing field - hence that team's original name: the "Trolley Dodgers". By 1913, the name had been shortened to simply the "Dodgers". Their current owner decided they needed a brand new stadium to play in, and built such a stadium over a garbage dump formerly known as Pigtown. This stadium would be named after the owner, Charles Ebbets, and become the stuff of legend as Ebbets Field.

The stadium was opened as the Dodgers played an exhibition game against another New York team, the Highlanders. The Highlanders would, before the summer of that year (1913 - a year after the Titanic and one year before World War I), change their name to the Yankees, and a rivalry that persists to this very day would be born.

Now, these Highlanders / Yankees were part of an organization relatively new to the game - the American League. The Dodgers, of course, had always been part of the National League, which had been in existence since 1876 and was, by the turn of the century, the only real league in town for professional Baseball. However, in the 1890's, a smaller league called the Western League had reorganized, become successful, and changed their name to the American League - and by 1900 had begun forming new teams and stealing away many of the N.L's best players. In 1902, after a bitter couple of years, the two Leagues agreed to co-exist, and it was thus that in 1903 the first inter-league champion series was held between the National and American Leagues. From its inception, it was called the World Series.

The Dodgers didn't make it to the World Series until 1916, but when they did . . . Well, when they did they ran into the Boston Red Sox, and specifically into a most extraordinary pitcher, who pitched a block of no-hit innings that would remain unchallenged for decades. This pitcher would in a couple of years be traded to the Yankees, and it would have been discovered by then that he could hit pretty good, as well.

I refer, of course, to Babe Ruth.

While the Babe helped keep the Yankees the #1 team for the next few decades, the Dodgers with their 1916 loss had established a pattern that would continue until '55. They had good years and bad years (and some very bad years, indeed), but would frequently win the pennant and get into the World Series. And lose. Always.

We citizens of L.A. in the 1990's have had much in common with Brooklynites of the 30's and 40's.

There is much to think on, here. Even to stay Dodger-specific would be challenge enough - they brought TV to baseball (or vice versa) in '39, they broke the color barrier by signing Jackie Robinson, and in 1955 they even beat the Yankees!

But I suspect there are future columns to be gleaned from these musings.

Heck, a word or two could even be said about the Yankees, and another team or two.

However, there's a game coming on as I write, so I must be brief.

I trust you understand.

Therefore, let's all stand up and stretch, and - yes, I see you know where this is going.

Specifically, where this is going is back to 1908, to a vaudeville singer named Jack Norworth. Seeing a baseball ad, he scribbled down some lyrics, and had his friend Albert von Tilzer supply music. He introduced the song to the world in (naturally) Brooklyn.

It bombed. No one liked it.

Then, someone created a slide show to accompany the song, specifically to serve as program filler for the nickelodeons that were springing up across the country to exhibit something they were calling "motion pictures". The slides would display the lyrics as the (presumably) live musician played the song, and soon this throwaway ditty that had started so inauspiciously was a national hit, soon becoming as well the game's National Anthem.

And neither men had ever seen a ball game when they wrote it . . .

Here you go.


Katie Casey was baseball mad
Had the fever and had it bad
Just to root for the hometown crew,
Every sou Katie blew

On a Saturday her young beau called to see if she'd like to go
To see a show - but Miss Kate said "No -
I'll tell you what you can do . . ."

Take me out to the ballgame
Take me out with the crowd
Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack
I don't care if I never get back

Let me root, root, root for the home team
If they don't win it's a shame
For it's one, two, three strikes you're out
At the old Ball Game

Ah, the game that's about to begin, you ask? Well, as I write the Dodgers have just won eight games in a row, something they haven't done since mid 1997. They're going for number nine tonight . . .

And Barry Bonds will be there. And so I find myself again with conflicting loyalties, again.

And such is the glorious, frustrating, perplexing magic of the game.

I'll see you in August, and -