Wilmington News Journal - October 25, 1980

Baseball, gentlemen, baseball – one more time


By George Vescey, New York Times Service


NEW YORK – In the last grinding days of the 1964 pennant race, a couple of reporters were chatting in the press box about a football game they had seen the night before. Acerbic columnist, Jimmy Cannon, pounded his table top while uttering the resounding command "Baseball, gentlemen, baseball!"


Slightly altering Jimmy Cannon's words, this journalist wants to take one more glance at the recently concluded season, a seven-month campaign that gave him and millions of other people considerable pleasure. Baseball, ladies and gentlemen, baseball.


There is one look, one expression, that characterizes this past baseball season: the collective smile on faces in Houston, Kansas City, Philadelphia and several cities that never even got into the playoffs or the World Series.


After nearly 10 years of other forms of journalism, and feeling at times like Rip Van Winkle, this writer returned to baseball last March, trying to stay out of the press box as much as possible, trying to be receptive to what the fans really saw, and what the players really did.


The daily surprises, the continual heroism ot the George Bretts and the Steve Carltons, the contact between player and fan, reminded me that no other sport has nearly so much ritual or improvisation or history or individualism or fine skills.


SPRING TRAINING I. In Bradenton, Fla., I was posing some deep psychological question to Willie Stargell of the Pirates when he suddenly grabbed my hand with his own huge hand.


"You don't understand," Stargell said impatiently. "Here. Feel this callus. You know what this means? It means I'm not holding the bat right, and it's rubbing in the wrong place. I've got to correct my grip. That's what spring training is for. I'm not thinking how we can motivate ourselves or any of that stuff."


He dismissed my hand. All season long, when chatting with ballplayers, I tried to remember Willie Stargell's callus.


SPRING TRAINING II. The same day, I lost track of my 10-year-old son during practice, then caught a glimpse of a red T-shirt anong the blue of the visiting Kansas City Royals in deep left field. My son was playing pepper. On the field. With a baseball player.


When practice ended, he joined me and explained how it had happened: "I was watching them play, and one of the players had nobody to hit to, so I said I would play. He told me to jump the fence and play with him. It was fun."


I tried to explain to my son that little boys don't normally get invited to play pepper, not even during spring training. But unlike most of us, he had managed to link grandstand and pepper game. Throughout the year, I would notice little1 boys on the field Earl Weaver throwing temper tantrums, Tug McGraw doing his victory leap - and realize that the fence was not very high.


HOPE SPRINGS ETERNAL. There was rebirth in every division, with none of that "Super Bowl or bust" feeling one gets from football. Baseball fans are realistic and hopeful, thankful for small favors: a good month, a good week, a good game – hell, even a good inning or a good catch.


In Toronto, in the raw Ontario springtime, a 64-year-old rookie manager named Bobby Mattick slipped his team into first place for a night or two. In Oakland, bad-boy Billy Martin would arrive just before game time from his hideaway in the hills and urge his players to steal home and somehow goad the A's into first place for a few nights. In New York, for a few months, the Mets made Shea Stadium quiver again, reminding me that New York, deep down, is a National League town.


NOO YAWK, NOO YAWK. Of the Bronx, where expectations are high, I try to remember joy but come up only with conflict: proud old Luis Tiant being pulled from a game, heaving his glove into the stands; hundreds of louts whacked out on beer and E)t, fights breaking out everywhere; and when the oyals demolish the Yankees in the playoffs, the owner prefers scapegoating to sportsmanship.


THE BASEBALL LESSON. In Houston, I took a cousin to her first baseball game, a vital September match between the Reds and the Astros, and was able to answer good questions from a curious adult. "All those colored lights on the scoreboard are games in other cities. Green is runs, red is innings, yellow is pitchers. The crowd is roaring because SD got 2 off 35 from LA in the 1st. No, the fans are not booing the left fielder, they are calling him 'Crooooz.' Yes, many players are thickly muscled, not long, lean types like basketball players. This is as much a game of skill and power as sheer speed. That chesty little guy who hit the homer is Joe Morgan. Before the game, I heard him tell some of his 'brothers' on the Reds he would hit a homer. You're right, the Reds are waiting the Astros out. That's what makes baseball such a great game: there is no time limit." The Reds won, but I think my cousin became an Astro fan.


GETTING A CALL. In horse racing, a bettor must sometimes settle for hearing the horse being called among contenders on a far turn. In the final weeks of a baseball season, many cities get a call: Atlanta starting too late, Baltimore and Montreal almost making it, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati showing flashes, even also-rans like the Padres and the Tigers knocking off contenders with glee. See the Yankees squirm. Watch the Dodgers suffer. Heh-heh-heh.


In the championship games, the television cameras often captured delight in three cities where new peaks were being reached. The honest open enthusiasm in Houston and Kansas City seemed a throwback to games and political campaigns and parades of past generations, particularly during a presidential season that seemed so joyless.


On the final night of the World Series, men and women hugged one another in the aisles at Philadelphia. Tough young men in sports-club jackets, dissuaded from tearing up the field by the massive presence of the constabulary, realized it was fulfilling to cheer the end of a civic embarrassment. A championship in Philadelphia? It seemed as fitting as any way to end a summer of many pleasures. Go quickly, winter. Baseball, ladies and gentlemen, baseball. 

Sports briefs (excerpt)


Compiles from dispatches


Brett owes Phila.


"George Brett left here this week owing us some taxes," Philadelphia's top financial official says.


Eugene L. Cliett Jr., the city revenue director, noted Thursday that Brett, the Kansas City third baseman, had not paid the city's 4.3125 percent wage tax for the World Series games in which he played here.


Neither has any other visiting professional athlete in the 40 years that the tax has been on the books.


Cliett said he wants to start enforcing the law and is waiting for Mayor William Green to give him authorization.


Cliett disclosed his plans after learning of a federal suit filed by a Navy Department employee who works in the city and has been billed for $5,795 in taxes.


The suit claims members of visiting teams, along with out-of-town musicians and entertainers, are getting special treatment.

Phils cash in on Series title


Associated Press


PHILADELPHIA – The Phillies earned approximately $1.5 million in the National League Championship playoffs and the World Series, though Bill Giles, the club's executive vice president, said yesterday the sum was a "rough guess because exact figures won't be available for a month or so.”


But Giles noted the postseason play enabled the club to earn a profit. Last year, for the first time, the club had no profit because its player payroll increased sharply, Giles said. He had said previously there also would have been no profit this year if the team had not won the NL Eastern Division.


The club took in $1.1 million in ticket sales during the playoffs against Houston and $645,000 in the Series against Kansas City. It got $300,000 for television rights to the games and a 15 percent commission on all concession sales at the games. Giles said that total revenues for the playoffs and Series were about $2 million.


Meanwhile, city Managing Director Wilson Goode said the Phillies' victory parade Wednesday will cost the city more than $500,000. Police estimated that 500,000 people had lined the parade route from downtown to JFK Stadium in south Philadelphia.