Paul Dickson is the author of more than 60 books and several hundred magazine and newspaper articles. He has written over a dozen bat and ball books (11 on baseball and one on softball). His most recent is the biography, Bill Veeck: Baseball’s Greatest Maverick. It was named the 2012 CASEY Award for Best Baseball Book of the Year. In 2011 Paul was awarded the Tony Salin Memorial Award from the Baseball Reliquary for the preservation of baseball history. He was also honored in 2008 by the New York Public Library for his award-winning and widely acclaimed Dickson Baseball Dictionary, now in its third edition.
July 30, 2016, marks the 126th anniversary of the birth of Casey Stengel, one of the truly legendary baseball figures of the twentieth century. First as a player and then as a manager, he was known as much for his ability as a baseball man as for Stengelese, the vocabulary and implausible brand of double talk that came out of his mouth. Red Smith once likened trying to understand Casey to “picking up quicksilver with boxing gloves.”
In late 1965, in advance of his first year of eligibility, Ted Williams was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame with 282 out of a possible 302 votes. He needed 227 for election. He received 93.4 percent of the votes cast by members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, making him just the eighth player elected on his first appearance on the ballot.
Having been born in 1939 into a family with a healthy baseball obsession, I have long been fascinated with that baseball season, not only because it was my own rookie year here on the planet, but also because it signaled the end of one baseball era and the beginning of another—the end of baseball’s Ruthian Golden Age and the beginning of what folks around my age long ago decided to call the Modern Era.
On August 5, 1921, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a 25-year-old studio announcer for radio station KDKA sat in a box seat behind home plate in Forbes Field. Using only a converted telephone as a microphone and some jury-rigged equipment, Harold Arlin broadcast the first Major League Baseball game, calling every play in a game between the Pirates and the Phillies, which the Pirates won 8–5.
It’s hard to learn how to play baseball, and it’s hard to learn how to watch baseball. It’s one of those hard things that the more you know about it, the more you learn about it, the more rewarding it is. . . . It’s like listening to a piece of classical music. If you’re only half paying attention, you probably only half enjoy it. If you’re fully paying attention, you greatly enjoy it, but if you actually know something about music and musicology, then you’ll really be able to enjoy it. I think that is the way it is with baseball.
When I was 10 years old, my grandmother took me to see The Babe Ruth Story, a film starring William Bendix as the Babe. The film was a masterpiece of biopic nonsense which even kids could spot as totally bogus, beginning with the notion that Bendix could throw and hit a baseball with any resemblance to the man he portrayed. Then there was the scene in a bar in which the Babe orders milk, which caused thunderous hoots and guffaws at the Park Hill Theatre in Yonkers, New York, where I saw the film.
The level to which baseball players—at every stage of the game—are superstitious is legendary. The belief in ritual magic is hardly unique to baseball, but it flourishes on the diamond like no other sport. Many of these beliefs are hatched in dugouts where players have time to come up with fresh beliefs, while others are carried over from generation to generation. For instance, talking to the pitcher in the dugout during a no-hitter could jinx the outcome and has become one of the game’s oldest and most honored unwritten rules.
The world is divided into two kinds of baseball fans: those who keep score at the ballgame and those who have never made the leap. For those of us who have made the leap, keeping score can add to the enjoyment of watching and experiencing baseball.
When Hall of Fame catcher Yogi Berra died at age 90 on September 22, 2015, he was one of baseball’s most famous figures, known as much for his memorable quips as for his excellence on the field. But the origins of many of these so-called Yogisms (or Berraisms if you prefer) are murky—and some he never said at all. In the aftermath of his passing, many quotes were attributed to him which were not his.