Category Archives: Baseball

Learning to Play Dice Baseball

double-six-diceMy father handed me the salt and pepper notebook and three chunky white dice, cubes with bold black concave circles called pips on each side. The dice were old, their white ivory yellowed with age, but they were heavy, substantial in a way that the dice that came with our Monopoly set weren’t.

Inside the notebook, each page was a hand-drawn baseball scorecard, rendered in my father’s elegant calligraphy, and filled in with the notes and marks he used for scoring a game. Beside each scored game was pasted that day’s yellowed newsprint box score from the New York Daily News, underneath the date the game was played.

My father explained to me that he’d come up with the idea for his dice baseball game when he was fifteen or sixteen. Obsessed with baseball, he figured out how often players walked, made hits, hit home runs, on average, and so he populated the possibilities of the dice rolls with the appropriate number of walks, hits and home runs, plus doubles, triples, ground outs and fly outs.

Here’s how the game worked:

First you rolled one die. A one or a four was a strike. A two or a five was a ball. A three told you to roll two dice. A six told you to roll three dice.

When you rolled two dice, the lower die always came first. So, the order from lowest to largest would go: 1-1, 1-2, 1-3, 1-4, 1-5, 1-6, 2-2, 2-3 and so on up to 6-6, for a total of 21 outcomes.

When you rolled three dice, again, the lower die always came first, then the next lowest, and then the highest. That added another 56 outcomes, for a total of 77. It certainly seemed like a lot more back in the day.

My dad could have stacked the game events up. Since batters make hits about 22 percent of the time, he could have made all but four of the two-dice rolls hits (22 percent of 77 is 17) and all the three-dice rolls outs, but he didn’t. Which made the game more fun, because there was a little suspense while looking up the result of many of the rolls.

While I quickly memorized the codes for home runs (66, 666, 256) and triples (111), other rolls weren’t clear until I found them on the game sheet. A roll of 126, for instance, meant turning the page over, scanning down the column, then, “Ouch, line out to third base, dang.” I would dutifully write the number 5 down in the appropriate box and move on to the next batter.

To play I would take the salt and pepper notebook from the shelf in my bedroom of our house in Smithtown New York. I’d pull the velvet bag of dice out of a drawer, and a pen and ruler from off the table. I would flop down on the floor in my room, onto the carpet by the bed, and carefully draw in the lines for the day’s scorecard, running the pen alongside the ruler. My lines were often but not always straight, usually parallel, but still somehow sloppy, so different from the fine work my dad had done back in his day.

The drawing of the lines took too much time, but there was no way around it. The game couldn’t start until the scorecard was ready. A few years later, I bought a real scorebook to record the game records, to make it easier. I’m not sure the scorebook was the cause, but my interest waned a short while later and that season was never completed.

I would consult the Long Island Press, our daily newspaper, for the lineups and probable pitchers that day, and enter the Mets lineup versus whatever team they were playing. This was what my father had done, in his bedroom in New Hyde Park, 20 years before, following the schedule of the New York Giants in 1944. He was older than I was, 16 years old and in high school, when he invented his dice baseball game, but I could only imagine him bent over the notebook, furiously rolling the die into a cardboard box sitting on the carpeted floor.

“Strike one, ball one, ball two, oh! Roll three dice!”

Shuffling paper, a page turns, the three dice, bouncing off the box’s low sides and clattering to a rest haphazardly.

“One-two-five.”

Another page turn, paper swishes.

“Hmmm, ground out to second base.”

Pick the pen up off the floor, move to the scorecard and write 4-3 in the first inning next to Tim Harkness’s name. Oh, that was me, playing his game. He would write the result next to Ernie Lombardi’s name, or Mel Ott’s, in a statelier hand than mine, but with the same intensity, the same consciousness ensnared by baseball, devoted to recording the events of the game.

Mazeroski on the Radio: October 13, 1960

My first baseball memory was the 1960 World Series. It was the ninth inning of the seventh game, the teams were knotted at nine apiece. One for each inning, I probably thought, because I’ve always created relationships between numbers, often fancifully. Of course, maybe not, since I had just turned four and probably didn’t think that much about numbers at all.

How the teams got to 9-9 is a story, but not one I knew. The game was played on Thursday, October 13, starting at about 1:00 PM (television and radio coverage began at 12:45 PM). From the start of the game to its dramatic conclusion took two hours and 34 minutes. I remember coming home some time after the game started, having missed the start.

Home from preschool? My mom had started a preschool at the Presbyterian Church that year, in part to make sure I had a good school to go to, but it only offered half days. Maybe I went home with a pal, or maybe we’d been out shopping. One thing is for sure, my brother was just two-and-a-half months old.

I remember listening on the radio in the kitchen, my mother was getting things ready for dinner, I suppose, or tending to some other business. My brother was sleeping in his cradle, or eating. What else did babies do? I imagine everyone was tired, but I don’t remember that.

We listened on the radio, maybe not that attentively. We listened on the radio because that’s what everyone did for the World Series. Those four to seven games were a soundtrack to the American experience in those days. That week in 1960 the US contemplated the start of sanctions on Cuba, an embargo, and John F. Kennedy and Vice President Nixon debated, as election day approached. But everywhere you went the game was on the radio. People who didn’t pay attention all year long tuned in, or turned on the TV, which would play in the background while business went on.

So, we listened to the radio, and I’m sure I did something or other else, too. I was a baseball fan, just turned four, but I can’t imagine I followed the events of this back and forth slugfest of a game.

The shock of discovering the Yankees trailing, the thrill of the Yankees going ahead 7-5 in the top of the eighth, and then the total devastation of Hal Smith’s homer over Yogi Berra in left, plating  Dick Groat and Roberto Clemente as well, putting the Pirates up 9-7 going into the 9th. (I don’t remember this stuff, but I’m sure I was listening to it on the radio. I didn’t remember Hal Smith’s homer, I looked that up.)

I read today that Mel Allen said in the game’s broadcast that Smith’s three-run shot was one of the most dramatic home runs ever in a World Series game, one that would be long remembered. Right.

I like to think I didn’t give up hope. The Yankees were the best team of all time, they could do it. Singles by Bobby Richardson and Dale Long got the rally going in the top of the ninth. This I know from Retrosheet’s account of the game. Harvey Haddix came in to face Roger Maris and got him to pop out. But then Mantle singled Richardson home, and Long scored on a ground out by Yogi Berra. Tie game!

Ralph Terry, who had thrown the last out of the eighth inning, came out for the ninth. Mazeroski stepped up to the plate.  Maz was a second baseman, batting eighth in the order, just ahead of the pitcher. I probably didn’t know enough yet about the game to think, “No worries.”

The first pitch was a change up high. Maz took the pitch. The catcher Johnny Blanchard went out to the mound. He says he told Terry to keep the ball down, Maz like the high stuff.

Maz at the 50th anniversary celebration of his homer.
Maz at the 50th anniversary celebration of his homer.

Terry’s second pitch was lower, but right down the pipe, and Mazeroski reached out and slugged it. The ball jumped off his bat, shot out to left field, though I couldn’t see that. What I heard was the roar of the crowd and the announcer’s voice, which rose and rose in excitement and exploded with “it’s gone!” After a pause, “The Pirates have won the 1960 World Series.”

To this day, 55 years later, Bill Mazeroski has the only walk-off Game 7 World Series homer. (Joe Carter hit a walk-off Series ender for the Blue Jays against the Phillies, but that was Game 6.) What I remember most was the excitement that homer generated, the chatter and energy and conversation, even as the Yankees lost. It would have been about that time that my love for the game grew. But I imagine myself that day, sagging there in the kitchen, not believing that anything so awful could ever happen. Little did I know.

Here’s a link to the Retrosheet box score.

Here’s a link to a USA Today story (pdf) about an annual celebration of Maz’s home run in Pittsburgh. They play the radio show of the game, starting at 1:00 PM, so the call of the homer is at 3:36 PM. Nice. Pirates’ Bill Mazeroski 50 years later, shot still echoes – USATODAY

I haven’t found the radio broadcast of the game yet. The radio announcer, Chuck Thompson, says of the final pitch: “Art Ditmar throws…” misidentifying the pitcher, confusing Ralph Terry with Ditmar, who was warming up in the bullpen.

The greatest home run ever: https://youtu.be/65Og0gUKfvc

MLB’s Greatest Moments: Maz’s Walkoff http://m.mlb.com/video/topic/6479266/v3218957

This is a showing of the entire game’s tv broadcast in Pittsburgh in 2010, with interviews.

My First Major League Baseball Game Part 2

yankeestadium1961My dad died last year, perhaps one of the reasons I started digging around in these memories, so he wasn’t around to ask about my first baseball game. Was it the game I remember in 1961? Were there earlier games? What game did we go see in 1961. But then it occurred to me that my old friend John was there, too, and maybe I could find him.

We hadn’t been in contact since high school, at least, and we didn’t run together then. We had last been chums when I was in third grade, when my family moved up the road and I was transferred to a different elementary school. But there he was, on Facebook and LinkedIn. To send a message via LinkedIn I had to be a paying member, I’m not, so I sent a friend request on Facebook, which a short while later was accepted.

I messaged him and we had a brief conversation (my messages are in green):

Hi John. I hope you’re well these days. Are you living in New York? I’m out in Brooklyn.
 
I was thinking about you because I’ve been writing about the first major league baseball game I went to see, and I think it was with you and my dad at Yankee Stadium. I was wondering if you had any memory of that? And any details. Most of the details I recalled were in some way wrong.
 
Of course, it was a while ago.
I think so. I live in the Poconos. My mind is trying to remember.
It’s a pleasant exercise, remembering, but a little chilling to discover none of the details (weather, opponent, who hit homers, time of day) could have lined up the way I remember.
I hear you. My memory is shot.
What was the question again?
 
My dad died last year and I started to put together stories about the way our lives intertwined because of baseball, that’s how I got onto this. Thanks for letting me know if anything comes to mind.
 
The other one was the guy who lived next door to me who was a salesman for Topps. He brought us rolls of uncut baseball cards a few times.
I’m sorry about your dad. I do recall those uncut cards. That was fun
Thanks. I remember cutting them with our little child-safe scissors, so each one had a unique shape.
That’s right. Stay in touch!!
Will do!
Chat Conversation End
Not too promising, I’m afraid. I sent John a link to the first part of this story yesterday and will update here if he has any reaction.

My First Major League Baseball Game

I would have been four, maybe five, but probably four years old. The game certainly took place in 1961.

My father took me and my friend John, who lived across the street in our little neighborhood of new houses on quarter acre lots, to a game at Yankee Stadium.

I remember it was a sunny day. A day game. We drove to the Stadium, and for at least part of it talked about where John had lived before moving to Smithtown, out on Long Island. John grew up in the Bronx, home of Yankee Stadium, and while I don’t remember where he had lived in the Bronx, I do remember that he called the ground outside the floor. That made an impression on me.

This may not have been my first major league baseball game. I could have gone when I was younger, but I have no memories of that game. I would have been two or three, and while I’m sure I was a baseball fan even then, the experience didn’t stick. That is, I have no memory of earlier games.

In the first game I remember, we walked up to the ticket window. My dad always asked what the ticket seller had, and the man or woman would show him a few options. There was a kind of code that passed between them, shorthand grunts this way and that, first base/third base/mezzanine/upper boxes/field boxes, it went on and on. Finally, my dad would say, I’ll take… and the deal was made. It was always like this, going to a game with my dad. In his later years, when I would visit him in Florida, he would ask me what games I’d like to see. I’d tell him I would get tickets online, and he would say nonsense, wanting to drive out to Ed Smith in Sarasota or to the park in Port Charlotte and talk to the guy in the ticket booth about what he had for the day we’d be going. So, while I feel like I remember this happening on that day, I may be superimposing other memories on my first game. But I’m sure this happened.

We sat right behind home plate. In those days, in 1961, you could walk up to the ticket window and walk away with three seats behind home plate, on a teacher’s salary. (My dad was a high school teacher, baseball coach, and graduate student.) My dad had been a high school phenom, signed by the Boston Braves, and played for a year or two for their affiliate the Homer (NY) Braves. He liked sitting behind the plate, he said, because you can see the ball move, you got to see what the hitter sees.

Years later I was at spring training in Port St. Lucie, Florida. It was a day when Jason Isringhausen and Bill Pulsipher were going to throw in a make believe game, to gauge how their rehabs were going. Davey Johnson, the Mets manager, brought a folding chair out onto the field, set up right behind the catcher, just behind where an umpire would set up and watched them play their make believe game from the best seat in the house.

mickey-mantle-roger-maris-signed-photo-bb32eMy memory is that the game I went to with my dad and John was against the Kansas City Athletics. And on that day in the epic year of 1961, when two Yankees had one of the most exciting home run races ever, both Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle hit homers for us.

Maris’s landed in the upper deck out in right field. Not right down the line, but in that little section of boxes from which you could look straight down into the bleachers. Mantle’s blast landed in the bleachers, a little more straight away. My buddy John was a Maris fan and I favorited Mantle, and we argued whose ball went farther. We argued on the drive home, and in my yard and his yard in the days that followed.

My first major league baseball game was a memorable one.

There is one problem. A search of games between the Yankees and Athletics in Yankee Stadium in 1961 shows only one game in which both Mantle and Maris homered. That game took place on June 9. It seemed promising, but June 9 was a Friday and the game didn’t start until the fairly unkidfriendly time of 8:13PM. That wasn’t the game.

That meant that if the opponent really was the Athletics, only Mickey Mantle homered. Maris’s only homer against the As that season at the Stadium was on June 9.

Mantle’s other homers against the Athletics in Yankee Stadium came April 17th (too early in the year), June 10th (a day game, but overcast, he hit his 17th of the year to deep right), and August 2nd, in the second game of a doubleheader. The game started at 4:38pm, and it was overcast, which again doesn’t jibe with my memory.

So, maybe I got the weather wrong, or maybe the other team wasn’t the Athletics.

What other days in 1961 did both Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle each hit a homer in Yankee Stadium?

On June 11th, in the second game of a doubleheader against the newly hatched California Angels, Mickey and Roger each homered off starter Eli Grba, and Maris knocked another off Johnny James. All three homers were to deep right, the weather was cloudy, and game time was 4:56.

In a Saturday day game, on July 1 with a start at 2:04pm, against the Washington Senators, Mantle hit two homers and Maris one. The weather was cloudy, 84 degrees, but both Mantle’s shots were to left field.

The next day, the game started at 2:02pm. It was 92 degrees, cloudy, and Maris hit two to RF, one up the line, giving him 30 for the year. Mantle hit a two-run shot in the eighth to deep right. That’s a possibility, though wouldn’t I remember if Maris had hit two? Elston Howard and Moose Skowron also dinged in that game.

On July 25th, in a Tuesday game that started at 6:04, Mantle and Maris homered at home in the same game for the last time in that historic season. Maris homered twice, Mantle once, and they deadlocked at 38 homers apiece. Whitey Ford ran his record to 18-2 in that game. That’s all of interest, but tells me nothing about my memory except that it it isn’t perfect after 55+ years.

For the time being I think I’ll stick with the July 2 game. It was hot, there were clouds, the Yanks won, and the Senators and Athletics can easily be confused in their haplessness.