I saw in the news that Yogi Berra died.
That’s a sharp reminder and a bit of a jolt to someone my age who remembers the golden age of baseball when Yogi played for the New York Yankees and Ted Williams for the Boston Red Sox. Those were the days when Stan Musial hit home runs for the St. Louis Cardinals, Bob Feller pitched for the Cleveland Indians and Al Kaline played for my beloved Detroit Tigers.
There may be those who question that those early years of the 1950s were the Golden Age of baseball, but for me and my generation, they were.
Someone once said that baseball was at its peak when you were 12 years old. It doesn’t matter how old you are, it was at its peak when you were 12.
That certainly was true for me. I could tell you the name, position and batting average of every Tigers player and most other players, at least in the American League. I kept box scores, clipped newspaper articles, pitched every game as I listened to it on the radio and bounced a ball off the front porch steps.
And, I dreamed of being a major league player—preferably for the hometown Tigers.
The game and I have both changed over the years, but I’m still a fan. There is not much more relaxing than to go to a game and watch every pitch while keeping an eye on the scoreboard—unless it’s watching a game at home with a bowl of popcorn on your lap and a Vernor’s in your hand.
The golden age was when you listened to far more games on the radio than you watched on TV. One reason for that was that television baseball was in its infancy and they only ran a game or two on the weekend. It was telecast by one (that’s right, only one) camera placed behind home plate. That camera displayed the whole field, never moved—just like you were sitting there in the stadium. And the picture was black and white.
Then there were fewer Major League teams, and none west of St. Louis or south of Cincinnati. But you could hear any game you wanted at night because almost all were broadcast by the 50,000 watt, clear-channel radio stations. One great thing that hasn’t changed is that many of them are still available in that same way. And the radio call of the game has always been better than the television play-by-play.
Today, however, I root less for one team and more for the multiple teams I have followed when living in Louisville and Miami and Atlanta. If I really just want to watch a game and relax, I wait up for one between two west-coast teams in which I have less interest. Then, I just watch the game and the strategy and bathe in the tradition of America’s Past-time.
With the passing of Yogi Berra we not only lose a great player, but an American icon. Known for his scrambled use of the English language (“Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded,” “When you come to a fork in the road, take it,” “Ninety percent of this game is half mental,” “It’s deja vu all over again.”) he was a familiar face on television talk shows and in TV commercials, as well as signing baseballs for kids at public shows and games.
And, with the passing of Yogi and other players from the Golden Age when I was 12, I lose a little more of the childhood innocence that made the sport so exciting. But my enjoyment of the game has never slacked and never will.
If I was close enough I would go to his funeral. As he once said, “Always go to other people’s funerals. Otherwise, they won’t go to yours.”
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