Baseball has a unique appeal to history-minded types such as myself that is probably just tedious to those who don’t get it. If I could get into a time machine and go back to one era or place in baseball, I would go without a second thought to Ebbets Field in Brooklyn in the years just after World War Two. I don’t think there’s ever been a more romantic and archetypal ball club than the scrappy, underdog Dodgers, “dem Bums” in their baggy uniforms.
I didn’t blog it at the time, but back in April I was charmed by this NYT article about Mike Sandlock, who at age 97 is the oldest living Brooklyn Dodger. His advice for a long and happy life is something he honed while playing golf after his baseball career: “Win some, walk off. Go in, have a beer. That’s it.” I think that advice could safely and profitably be applied to any field of human endeavour.
This year has been kind to those who remember the Dodgers. “42”, the Warner Brothers film about Jackie Robinson, who wore a Dodgers uniform when he broke the colour barrier in major league ball, was an earnest but entertaining film. I grumbled about the film’s unwillingness to show us any scenes in Montreal, Canada, where Robinson played AAA ball before being called up to Brooklyn, but that’s the price of a film aimed at American viewers. I wonder how many people who saw 42 remembered the 1950 film The Jackie Robinson Story, in which Robinson played himself. Richard Brody in the New Yorker makes a strong case that the earlier film is the superior one. I shall have to track that down a decide for myself, though it will be hard to top Harrison Ford chewing the scenery as Branch Rickey, the avuncular owner of the Dodgers who championed Robinson.
A book I shall be looking for this summer, and possibly taking to the ball park, is “The Victory Season”, Robert Weintraub’s history of baseball in the years just after World War Two and reviewed here. Mike Sandlock was playing shortstop for the Dodgers in 1946, the first of those victory seasons, but he went up to Montreal in 1947, the year Robinson came down to make history in Brooklyn. Sandlock never played in the same lineup with Robinson, but he was aware of a player petition protesting the presence of Robinson, and to his credit he was among those Dodgers who never signed it. While in Montreal Sandlock did work with another player called up from the Negro Leagues, Ray Campanella, who became one of the greatest catchers in the game. “Campy” gave much credit for his success to lessons learned “from a white teammate, catcher Mike Sandlock”.
In such ways does baseball, a simple game played by boys, become something greater than itself, and is thus worthy of memory.