April is the kindest month, raising from the ashes of a spent winter the promise of first green and the return for their annual debut the Boys of Summer. Yes, baseball is back! Politics is banished if only for a few days. Glory Halleluiah!
I realize not everyone feels this way. But those who do know precisely what I mean: For us, America’s own game borders on religion, a game unlike all others, evoking our pastoral past, when a kid met challenges of all kinds alone with a leather glove or stick of wood or horsehide-covered nine-inch ball on a green field of play that theoretically includes an eighth of the Newtonian universe. Ou sont les jours d’innocence?
It is said that baseball fever is a lot like prostate cancer. You usually don’t die of it; you just die with it. I would agree as one doubly afflicted, having got the baseball bug back in the summer of 1938 when my machinist dad took off from his WPA Depression day duties of leaning on a shovel and took me to League Park in Cleveland for my first Major League game.
Love at first sight. I don’t remember who the Indians played that summer day. All I know is I came out of the encounter a fan of Roy “Little Thunder” Weatherly, Bruce Campbell and Hal Trosky--names as familiar today as a roll of Nubian queens. As my father took me to more games, I soon showed signs of becoming a more discriminating fanatic, idolizing Bob Feller, Lou Boudreau and Jeff Heath, and listening to the grainy radio voice of Jack Graney on those lucky days when I was sick (or faking it) and home in bed from school to listen to their feats of daring done.
I also remember the suspense of waking to the front page of the Cleveland Plain Dealer where a line drawing of Chief Wahoo would signal the results of the day before. If the smiling Chief had a scalp in his hand, the Tribe had won; if he had a black eye, we’d lost; if he held a scalp and had a black eye, we’d split a double header, if he had two black eyes, well, you know....
It all came to a glorious end in 1948 when Cleveland won the American League Pennant in a one-game playoff with the Boston Red Sox (Lou Boudreau was the hero) and then went on to defeat the Boston Braves four games to two in the World Series. I was not among the celebrants in city streets then, for my father had already moved his family to Southern California, where I rejoiced by myself, my addiction sealed.
I used the word “end” above advisedly. The Indians have not won a World Series since, partners in ignominy with the hapless Chicago Cubs. That said, I remain a lifer among Indian fans. Try as I might, I can’t kick the habit. Each spring brings hope anew; by most mid-Junes the Indians are struggling, and by August they’re out it.
Have I ever returned to Cleveland, you might ask. No. Why should I? I’ve got no one there. And as Ken “Hawk” Harrelson, who did some brief time with the Tribe as a first baseman, is reputed to have said, “Cleveland is the only city where it’s better to have a plane crash flying in than taking off.”
The defense rests. Of course, if by some chance the Indians should finish in....
I’ll have my picks for the season in the next post for you to check out before you go to Vegas to place your bets.