BY: RALPH GOLDFARB
My earliest recollections of baseball go back to 1956 as I approached my 10th birthday.
Ted Williams was the biggest thing in the Boson Baseball World and Mickey Mantle and the Yankees were the biggest thing in the wider Baseball World. I suddenly comprehended baseball statistics. I knew how to compute earned run averages (earned runs divided by innings pitched multiplied by 9). Wins, losses, batting average, slugging percentage and ERA were all you needed to know and I had figured them all out. No spin rate. No WAR (stupidest statistic in sports history except for Plus/Minus).
But I digress. In 1956, Mickey Mantle won the Triple Crown (52 HR, 130 RBI, 353 BA.) Ted, at age 37, batted 345 just missing out on beating Mantle. Painful days for a young Red Sox fan in love with Ted and the numbers. But Ted came back to win the batting title in both 1957 and 1958, at ages 38 and 39, hitting 388 in 1957, the highest average in major league baseball since............(wait for it) Ted himself batted 406 in 1941.
Again, not really the point here but important for you to understand what the CIA would call “Deep Background” In 1957, the Milwaukee Braves won the National League Pennant and beat the hated Yankees in the World Series, winning Game 7 on October 10 1957, my 11th birthday. And then I found out another sad truth.
I already knew about the meanest man in the world, Harry Frazee, the prick that sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees so he could finance a Broadway show (No No Nanette). 1957 is when I learned about the other Boston Strangler, Lou Perini. On March 18, 1953, Lou Perini took our team, the Braves, to Milwaukee. In 1957, I discovered that Boston Baseball fans had Warren Spahn, Lou Burdette, Eddie Mathews, Joe Adcock and on and on, but, above all, above all, we had Hank Aaron. Hank Aaron. And those Braves won the 1957 World Series, game 7, on my (did I already mention this?) 11th birthday, October 10 1957. Sadly, 11 year old little Ralphie had to adopt the Braves that he should have had as his own. Does 1918 mean anything to you? The Braves made it back to the World Series in 1958 but lost the World Series in 7 games to the despicable, hated Yankees on October 9th 1958 saving our young hero from the ultimate birthday disappointment. But the scars remained until 2004. Fast forward to the summer of 1967, a magic season for long tortured Red Sox fans.
After years of mediocrity followed by putridness, the Red Sox mattered again. Dick Williams (more on him later) was hired as manager and declared “We’ll win more than we lose”. It was a bold prediction at a time of virtual hopelessness for Boston Baseball.
For years, if you wanted to go to a Sox game, you just went. Tickets were not an issue. We jump on the MTA (yes, just MTA. The MBTA was a Johnny come lately marketing idea). From Mattapan, you took a trolley, a train and a trolley to Kenmore Square and baseball paradise. 75 cents for a bleacher seat or 50 cents for kids for the right field grandstand, where you could wait until the 6th inning and then they would open the split and let you move into the infield grandstand seats. The Box Seats were still defended like the Berlin Wall for the entire game. But you couldn’t get from the bleachers into the grandstand until well into this century. So we weren’t idiots. We knew when the split would open. The entire gang of young people would hang out at the split, waiting for the magic moment when we would invade that other world with glee. For another 10 cents, as you passed through Kenmore Square, you could buy a Record American with a score sheet on the back page but you always had to remember to bring your own pencil because they got another nickel for the pencil. And yes, little Ralphie had learned how to score baseball back in the awakening year of 1956.