IT’S ALL IN THE GAME

I had to laugh. Was it really about batting ninth? Pulling himself from the New York lineup last weekend, Jorge Posada had me chuckling for two reasons. Initially, it was the Yankees–’nuff said. Secondly, I thought to the lack of ego shown by my friends over the years…playing just a game.

Team sports being what they are…the human condition being what it is….why is it kids on a sandlot can better perceive of their relative worth? How was it playing just “for fun,” when it might have made sense to be democratic… to take turns batting first, be quarterback, shoot…why is it WE all knew our place (and were just glad to have it)?

My intro to team sports was “swift pitching.” Played against a brick wall, it was generally two on two with one pitcher and one fielder per team. Never the source of intra-squad squabble, we all got it: the strong arm threw, the other chased balls. It was a law both unwritten and time-honored…and no one sulked.

The best was when more bodies showed. South Euclid was growing and Jews, in the midst of “white flight,” were beginning to infiltrate. We’d play, back then, on the north lawn of Rowland. With home facing east, long balls hit left– if missed—or too foul, would roll down the hill. When I first moved in, they were all older guys. There were the neighborhood veterans: Bulb, Turd, Fromin and Bobby Stain. Not to mention Johnny Matejka, Paul Erlich and Bernie Pleskoff. There was even that bully Jerry Wolf. (The older guys didn’t let him play. Once they left and we got the field, Wolf would grab our ball and throw it on the roof). Me? I was new and an unknown commodity. I’d hang around, await my chance, and in the interim, be happy for the little action I got:

“Hey, go get that ball!” they’d yell as it rolled down toward Belvoir.

Schlepping down the hill, I’d return like Pavlov’s dog, sit idly, and wait for the next foul ball. As years passed, of course, Stuart and I got in. The torch passed to a new generation as our kid brothers Hal and Ricky groaned, smiled, and trudged down and up the hill.

Football was no different. We all knew our place. There was a team in sixth grade. Practice lunchtime in Raisin’s backyard…Snyder always quarterback….no questions asked. Everyone else would just “go out.” I quit that team when my Dad forbid I play tackle. Bob, for one, didn’t find out; he never threw to me anyway.

High school brought basketball. Wieder formed a team and got us in a tournament at Cudell Recreation out on Cleveland’s west side. Snyder, Cohen, Kraut, Alan…me. (Perhaps even Codgie). One practice I missed a layup and heard from Alan:

“You’re job,” he told me, “is not to shoot.” If I couldn’t shoot, I wondered, (being neither a runner nor a jumper), what WAS my job? Then it occurred to me. We’d piled five of us in my Mom’s green Chevy to head ‘cross town. My job was to drive.

By college I played football again. My friends, oddly, were not. When Hal’s peers included me, though, I was not only thrilled, but noted again that YES there was a caste system, and NO, no one bitched. Dick Baskin led one team, and while he could pass we were run-oriented. Nary a peep was heard from Herzog, Ross or the two Bogarts as our bread ‘n butter was just Baskin sweep right, Baskin sweep left. Across the line was Mandel’s team. Bruce’s squad included brother Dooey, Dick’s brother Tommy, and interchangable wide receivers. Our huddle was always peaceful; I can’t speak to theirs. (What I do know is that Bruce rarely threw to his brother—he always made him block—and that one day Doug, for whatever reason, up and left the country).

No one, though, complained. (Well, almost no one). Pear (not his real name), was traded annually. Named not for his gonads but his silhouette, Steve constantly beckoned “I can get open. Throw it to me!” Fact is that he couldn’t and they didn’t.

Well…that’s not true either. You see, there was this unwritten rule. As players tired…when the troops were pretty much in agreement that we’d had enough…there’d be a signal. THEN, whoever was quartering Steve’s opponent, on cue, would intentionally throw an interception Pear’s way. Both teams would then jump all over him and grind him to the ground before going home. (Not that he was unhappy, though. Steve always left gloating, proud of his “pick”).

The most fertile ground for dueling egos, of course, could have been Sol’s Boys. It never was. A team of core friends improved by talent met in high school or college or competition, we not only never fought, but we jelled. Geographers note that from embryonic days as Waxman Plumbing to the last trophy in the last year for Sol, Arthur kept moving across the outfield getting further from the left field line. He never questioned, never sulked. Others too wound up in positions less prestigious than those they’d earned their bones on in Little League or beyond. No one cared. It was, truly, all about the game.

Which reminds me of one more story. Pay attention, Jorge:

’69 was not only the summer of contact lenses and the summer of my Mustang, but also the season of my batting title. To the surprise of many (most specifically my teammates), I led our league in hitting. As the team won two titles, I’d outhit the stars.

Where, you might ask, do you think Wieder batted me? Leadoff? No. That was Bobby. Always. (In his contract). Tenth? No. That was Arthur. Always. (Alan told him it was an honor…a set up for the top of the lineup).

No. The league’s leading hitter hit NINTH. NINTH. And guess what? I never sulked. Never complained.

It was all about the game.

4 Responses to “IT’S ALL IN THE GAME”

  1. Bobby says:

    There was a strategy to your batting ninth. Back then I ran like the wind and would stretch singles into doubles. If you were in front of me you couldn’t always get to third. Arthur’s job was to move you over or force you out so we would then have a better chance to have runners on 2′nd and third so a hit would then score two. It was all about the game.

  2. Marc says:

    B,
    You never really had to worry about slowing Bobby down, as he didn’t bat leadoff-Ray did. Everyone slowed Ray down. It should be mentioned that even though you led the league in hitting, which is obviously impressive, you were that much better in the field and played your position as well as anyone could. Those were fun days which I miss and it was a joy to play with you.

  3. aunt helen says:

    Bruce, I would like to comment on this blog.
    But, I can’t.
    I was never invited to one of your games.

  4. alan says:

    Marc is right, Bobby was 6th or 7th in the line-up as I recall. Also, everyone wasn’t as happy as you recall, partially I suppose because I could be somewhat acidic. Not Hasidic I promise. Also, in the same vein, it was I who would not let Aunt Helen come to the games. I was worried that her presence might make you less fearless as you were the bravest catcher ever. As for your batting championship, I will always smile when I remember that you batted lead-off the last day of the season to assure enough at bats. By the way, there was at least one person who was not happy by that decision and I’m not talking about Steve Heller. Anyway, like Marc and Bob have already said, what a great time.

Leave a Reply