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