October. The post-season. A prosaic name in a poetic game. Playoffs. Similarly boring. World Series. Ah, now that's duly grandiose.
Best of all: the Fall Classic.
I suppose the Yankees will be favored. They're the only team to have won over 100 games, and the only ones with a winning percentage of over .600.
I hate the Yankees. This visceral antipathy found its way to my heart the same just as loyalty and hostility are usually born when it comes to sports: my father was a Brooklyn Dodgers fan, thus automatically a Yankee-hater, so I was born into it.
When I was a kid in the 50s, the Dodgers faced the Yankees in the World Series four times, losing all four. It so happens that the pastor of my church had season tickets to Yankee Stadium, so from box seats behind first base, I watched Yogi Berra, Bill Skowron, Bobby Richardson, Gil McDougald Billy Martin, and the great Mickey Mantle. I hated them, and booed them, but it was hard not to admire Mantle, with his picture perfect swing from both sides of the plate . http://www.theswearingens.com/mick/swing.htm Boston RedSox star Carl Yastrzemski once said of "The Mick, "If that guy were healthy, he'd hit 80 home runs."
Then, finally, in 1955, the Dodgers beat the Yankees and became World Champions. On the front page of the Daily News, the cartoon figure of a hobo, headlined: "Who's a Bum!" Exclamation point, not question mark.
They were a remarkable group of men and players, and in one very key respect, they were not like the Yankees: they were not all white.
They were the Boys of Summer: Roy Campanella (c), Gil Hodges (1b), Jim "Junior" Gilliam (2b), Captain PeeWee Reese (ss -- the nickname came from childhood prowess at marbles), Jackie Robinson (3b), Sandy Amoros (lf -- he made the spectacular catch that staved off disaster in the final game for Brooklyn), Carl Furillo (rf), and Edwin "Duke" Snider (who hit more than 40 home runs in five consecutive seasons).
And on the mound: The great Don Newcombe ( W20-L5); Carl Erskine ("Oisk"); Billy Loes, Johnny Podres, Clem Labine.
The heart and soul of this fabled team was #42, Jackie Robinson, although by their championship year, Robinson was 37 years old, and had hit only 256 during the season. But he stole home in the first game of the series http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6XY-XshGhMU&feature=related a play as famous for Berra's protest as for the play itself.
I saw Jackie Robinson steal home once. Well, I didn't really see it. I was there, in a seat behind third base at Ebbets Field. When Robinson broke out of his pigeon-toed dance and broke for home, all the grown-ups stood up, leaving me, still a kid, with no view.
In 1957, Walter O'Malley broken my heart and thousands upon thousands of other hearts, when he moved his team from Brooklyn to Los Angeles.
Since Horace Stoneham had taken Willie mays and the Giants to San Francisco, the only thing for National Leage fand to do was hate the Yanks. But that's nothing compared to actually rooting for a team.
Five years later, there came a team. The New York Metropolitans. The Mets, first playing in the Polo Grounds, former home of the Giants, and then in Shea Stadium, in Flushing, in the borough of Queens, where I grew up.
In their first year, the Mets lost 120 games, inspiring Jimmy Breslin's book Can't Anybody Here Play This Game?
Yet, in a comparatively short while, under the guidance of manager Gil Hodges (who inexplicably has never made it into the Hall of Fame, despite impressive numbers on and off the field), the Mets won the Series in 1969. Unfortunately, however, it was 1986 before they repeated the feat, and have never done it never since.
The Mets have had almost good teams the past few years, losing always to the Atlanata Braves, the way the Brooklyn Dodgers used to lose to the Yanks. In 2006, the Mets won the Eastern Division title. In 2007 and 2008, they blew significant leads by losing to second division teams.
This season, the Mets were plagued by injuries. Key players like Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes, Carlos Delgado, John Maine, Oliver Perez and Johan Santana lost significant amounts of time, to the point that supicions were raised about the training and conditioning staff. The players on the disabled list have contracts worth $90 million. At an end-of-season auction, the Mets decided to sell off their disabled list in lieu of a lineup card. The starting bid was $5000, and Jerry Seinfeld bid 20 grand.
Even with the injuries, the Mets had a bad year, but I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and believe that all those hamstring injuries were just coincidence.
Meanwhile I try to get enthusiastic about the NBA. My team, the Knicks, haven't been in contention in almost a decade and, this year, most of the talk is about whether LeBron Jones might come to Madison Square Garden NEXT year, when he's a free agent.
The two local football teams are undefeated, so there's some hope in Gotham. And, oh yeah, there's the Damn Yankees.