I saw my first Dodger World Series game in 1920, 7 years before I was born. The viewing instrument was my father, who relished baseball and had so vivid and detailed a memory that friends called him, somewhat laboriously, the walking encyclopedia.
We were indeed walking on a quiet Brooklyn street and he began to recall a game, Oct. 10, 1920, when the Dodgers fell behind the Cleveland Indians. That World Series was tied, 2 games apiece, but the Indians moved ahead, knocking out a glowering spitballer with the manor house name of Burleigh Grimes. Clarence Mitchell, another spitballer, relieved and in the fifth inning two Dodger batters reached base.
Mitchell hit a line drive up the middle. The Cleveland second baseman, Bill Wambsganss, was shading that way. Wambsganss caught the liner, stepped on second base and retired a baserunner, Pete Kilduff. Then he ran toward first and tagged out the second runner, a catcher named Otto Miller.
"And that," my father said, "was the only unassisted triple play in World Series history. But here's the kicker. Next time Mitchell came to bat, he grounded into a double play. Two at-bats. Five outs. Hard to do."
For anyone with a reasonable sense of history, the World Series is a continuous event. Each builds from ones that went before, so that Clarence Mitchell, who died in 1963 and Orel Hershiser, born in 1958, stand in the same picture, perhaps giving one another batting tips.
Walter O'Malley knew that history. "The Dodgers," he said once, over a Lucullan lunch at Perino's, "are the only team to win the World Series on both coasts."
"I don't think so," I said. "The Athletics won in Philadelphia and in Oakland."
O'Malley gave me a fierce look. "Damn, you're right. But I'm the only \o7 owner \f7 who has won on both coasts. You mustn't take me all that seriously."
Past 70, O'Malley was feeling merry. He had exacted a promise that I would pick up the tab. He reminded me from time to time that he had known me first at Froebel Academy, a sedate private school in Brooklyn, which he had served as a trustee. In all that reach of years, he pointed out, I had never bought him a meal.
He was right. He was worth a hundred million dollars and he was right. "What's worked for you out here?" I asked. "How in the world do you draw 3 million people?"
"It's a good operation," he said. "I notice that when the president of the Dodgers comes to work at 9 a.m. the rest of the staff tends to do the same." He paused to chew. O'Malley could think and chew simultaneously. "It's a nice ballpark," he said. "And the restrooms are clean."
"Walter," I said, "nobody goes to a ballpark for clean restrooms."
"No," he said, "but a dirty can sure as hell will keep 'em away."
We proceeded to raspberries and cream. I grabbed the check. Walter never looked happier.
"Here's something for you," he said. "All those years in Brooklyn, we wanted a big Jewish star. How that would have helped our attendance. But we couldn't find one. I come out here and everything works so well that I could fill the ballpark with nine Chinamen. And what do I get? Sandy Koufax."
There has been precious little mellowing in Brooklyn. Few people past the age of 50 really forgive the Dodgers for moving West and hyperbole being what it is, some assert, "The borough of Brooklyn was ruined when the Dodgers left."
That confuses baseball with urban renewal. I can sometimes terminate the nonsense by saying: "Right. The Yankees stayed in their stadium and look what that has done for the South Bronx." And sometimes not. Rooting is a passion, resistant to argument.
Now a young clique swells the anti-Dodger crowd. They are furious at the Dodgers for defeating the Mets in the league championship playoff. All summer long these people heard that the Mets were the best team in baseball.
Reality takes time to to settle in. The Dodgers wore down the Mets. They were better managed, more competitive, gutsier. Dwight Gooden still has not won a postseason game. Keith Hernandez choked on a bunt. But most New York journalists who picked the Mets are having a hard time with such considerations. One actually wrote the other day that the Dodgers have only two good ballplayers, Hershiser and Kirk Gibson. (He then picked Oakland to win the World Series in 4 games.)
I have dwelled in such emotional territory before. From 1947 through 1953, the Dodgers lost the World Series to the Yankees four times. There were decades to wonder why. It startled me last year when Carl Erskine said he had finally thought it through. "The Yankees were a better team."
Obviously. But like the tungsten filament in the light bulb, the answer was obvious only after someone else had figured it out. The Dodgers beat the Mets because they are a better team.