Annapolis Capital - October 8, 1980

Memory Wanders To Childhood


By Joe Gross


It's funny how nostalgia can take you away from a sports event you really want to see.


Being a native of Philadelphia, it's rather natural for me to pull for the Phillies in the National League Championship Series - that's the formal name for the playoffs. But, I found that wasn't really the situation. The Phillies of today, those who were on the field last night, are not the Phillies of my era. I left Philadelphia just one year after Veterans Stadium was opened. Steve Carlton and Larry Bowa are the only real carryovers from those days, at least they were the only players I ever got to know.


But going back those eight or so years, is not what I consider nostalgia. Nostalgia takes me back many more years, to my only memory of the Phillies playing in the World Series. That was in 1950 and that was only the second time the Phillies had ever reached that pinnacle. The previous World Series appearance was in 1915, which is a few years before even my time.


Those were the "good old days" of baseball. There were 16 teams with 25 players apiece. Only the very best players were able to play in the major leagues. The real baseball fans knew virtually every player on every team.


There were no free agents jumping around from team to team. There were no big legal battles. Baseball was fun then.


Managers used just about the same lineup every day and the fans, the real fans, even knew the lineups of just about every one of the 16 teams.


There were no "championship series" because there were no divisions. There were eight teams in each league and the champion of the league went to the World Series.


The only playoffs came when two teams tied for the title at the end of the regular 154-game season. There weren't very many of them.


Making the nostalgia thing even worse was a picture of Shibe Park, which was Philadelphia's stadium back then Later it was renamed Connie Mack .Stadium in honor of Cornelius McGillicudy - Connie Mack - who owned and managed the Philadelphia A's of the American League. Yes they are the predecessors of the Kansas City and now Oakland A's.


Shibe Park was a majestic edifice a city block square. It even had real grass across the broad expanse of playing area that included a distance of 446 feet to dead centerfield. Of course, even after expanding the seating capacity, only 33166 fans constituted a sellout crowd.


I remember my mother putting me on the trolley car at our corner and giving me a dollar to go to the ball games. Most times, especially when the A's were playing, kids my age-six or seven - were let in free by the friendly ticket takers. I remember going to the top of the upper deck stands and sitting with an old man in a straw hat. I didn't know him, but occasionally he would buy me a hot dog. I learned later the man in that top row seat was none other than Connie Mack himself. That never meant much to me until I was grown up and realized just who and what Mr. Mack was.


I remember later taking my little brother to see a ball game at Connie Mack Stadium. He didn't understand how we went into a huge building and walked to our seats which were outdoors. I'm not sure whether or not he ever figured that out.


I can still tell you the names of just about every player on the Phillies and A's teams of those days, though I'm not sure why I really remember them.


The worst thing about my boyhood is that I was a Brooklyn Dodgers fan simply because my father came from Brooklyn. Every once in a while the family would take a train to New York - trains were reasonable enough then that a family could ride them together - to see the family. I would be able to go to Ebbets Field to see my special heroes, the Dodgers. I can tell you just about every player on the Dodgers team, too.


The stadia sure were great for watching baseball games back then. The stands started close to the field. The variations of the walls made a ball hit off the wall an experience. Outfielders had to learn to play the nooks and juts of every wall. The infielders had to learn to field a ball on the grass and on the dirt, not on a plastic carpet with seams and spots of dirt.


Baseball was different back then. The players were different and the fans were different. The talent in the major leagues had not been watered down by vast expansion and the players were proud to be major leaguers.


That, however, is all in the past. Nothing can bring back those days and I don't think I'd really want to. After all, that would take away the need for nostalgia and what would life be without the "good old days'" to look back on?