Tonight, my sons, I will tell you my favorite bedtime story. It
happened back when your grandfather was a young man, before he
was a father himself. So, of course, I was not there. But
whenever I want to think about the essence of baseball--the
equity of its possibilities--I am there inside that little snow
globe of a ballpark in Brooklyn, amid the fading light and
encroaching shadows of late afternoon on Oct. 3, 1947.
Someday, Adam and Ben, you will learn how a snapshot can capture
not just an image but the spirit of something much larger. A
sailor kissing a woman in Times Square. A girl wailing at the
foot of a student mortally felled by a National Guardsman's
bullet. A line drive ricocheting off the wall in right at Ebbets
Field in the fourth game of the 1947 World Series.
I won't bother telling you so enthusiastically about any World
Series before that. This was the first Series to feature a black
player, the courageous rookie Jackie Robinson, at first base for
the Brooklyn Dodgers against the New York Yankees. Less
important, it was also the first World Series to be televised.
Robinson was but one of five future Hall of Famers on the field
that day--and, Adam, one of those was the player whose picture
hangs right there above your bed, the great DiMaggio. But none
of them had anything to do with what I am about to tell you.
That is why baseball is the fairest of sports.
It was the bottom of the ninth, and Bill Bevens, an otherwise
unremarkable righthander for the Yankees with a 40-36 career
record, was one out away from the first no-hitter in World
Series history. The Yankees led the game, and the Series, 2-1.
Pinch-hitting for Brooklyn with two runners aboard on walks was
Cookie Lavagetto, a lifetime .269 hitter who had batted just 69
times that season with only four extra-base hits.
The Yankees could not kill the clock. They could not sit on the
ball. The Dodgers could not call timeout. They could not design
a play to put the game in the hands of their best player. At its
most critical moments, baseball chooses its heroes and goats
with the randomness of a carnival barker's rickety spinning
wheel. Where she stops nobody knows.
The strapping Bevens blew his first pitch, a fastball, past
Lavagetto. Then, with his 137th and last offering, he tried
another. Lavagetto struck a liner that caromed off the
rightfield wall and then off the chest of Yankees rightfielder
Tommy Henrich, who retrieved the ball and began a vain relay to
the plate. By the time Eddie Miksis came home with Brooklyn's
winning run, Bevens was trudging off the field toward the third
base dugout, his head bowed in mourning at having been beaten by
one hit, Lavagetto's double.
Almost parenthetically, the Yankees would win the Series in
seven games. Bevens, 18 days short of his 31st birthday, would
never start another major league game, ruined by a sore arm.
Lavagetto, finished at 34, would never get another major league
Delirious Brooklyn fans stormed the mottled grass and dusty dirt
of Ebbets Field after Lavagetto's blow. A few of them tore at
his shirt, and one snatched the cap from his head. Whenever I
picture myself there, I am standing along the first base line
with a more reverential cluster of fans, many of them topped by
brushed wool fedoras, staring in awe at the rightfield wall as
big-muscled Buicks and Fords honk like a flock of happy geese
down Bedford Avenue on the other side. Many of the fans are
pointing to the spot where Lavagetto's hit clanked off the Burma
Shave sign, about 12 feet off the ground, as if, like Thomas
probing Jesus' wounds, to make the miracle real.
My gaze, however, is drawn to the advertisement below that one.
It is for a movie starring Danny Kaye. I smile at the perfection
of its placement in the composition of this snapshot: The Secret
Life of Walter Mitty. Anything is possible. Sweet dreams, my
boys. Sweet dreams.
COLOR ILLUSTRATION: ILLUSTRATION BY JOHN THOMPSON After his double, Lavagetto (right) trotted off with Miksis, Robinson and an improbable victory.