Rituals: The Fall Classic

Humans are creatures of habit. We function best in situations where this is some degree of normal routine so we don’t have to think about every little thing we do. Rituals, holidays and regular annual events mark the passage of time and give structure to our lives. In this weird year of pandemic when so much of our “normal” life has been knocked cockeyed ritual has taken on a whole new meaning and importance.

This may seem trivial to some or most of you, but for as long as I can remember fall for me has meant the Fall Classic, i.e. the baseball World Series. For much of my life I have been a huge baseball fan, and in particular an avid supporter of the Cincinnati Reds. But even on those quite often years that the Reds failed win the National League Pennant I still would not miss the World Series. My memories go back so far that my family didn’t yet have a TV, and I had to listen on the radio. And even well after I was married and had my own television I remember faithfully listening to almost every Reds game on the car radio or a portable set while washing dishes or doing other household tasks.

For real (and old) fans my memories include Willie Mays’ basket catch in deep center field that helped the Giants sweep the Indians in 1954. I remember great subway series when the Giants and Dodgers still lived in New York. I’ve never ever rooted for the damn Yankees but I still cherish the picture in my mind of Yogi Berra leaping into Don Larsen’s arms after the latter pitched a perfect game in ‘56 against the cross-town rival Dodgers.

As a child I got to witness a Reds game at old Crosley Field in the days of big Ted Kluszewski,

Gus Bell, Wally Post, Bob Purkey, and Frank Robinson. Other moments in my personal highlight reel include Pittsburg’s weak hitting Bill Mazeroski’s walk off homer in game 7 against the Yankees. I saw that one back when the Series was still played in the daytime so kids could actually watch. And we even were allowed during study halls at school to go down to the cafeteria and watch.

The very first time my beloved Reds made it to the Series in my lifetime was of course against those stinking Yankees. And if that wasn’t bad enough it was in 1961, the year that Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris both put on a season-long home run derby in pursuit of Babe Ruth’s record for most home runs (60) in a pre-steroid season. (If you don’t know Maris managed to hit 61 but was cursed with an * next to his record because the season was 8 games longer than when the Babe hit 60.). Suffice it say about that painful memory that the Bronx Bombers and ace pitcher Whitey Ford dispatched the overmatched Reds in 5 games.

Nine years later the team now nick-named the Big Red Machine met the Baltimore Orioles in the Series. Both teams had run away with their league pennants. Sad to say a slick fielding 3rd baseman named Brooks Robinson made so many highlight reel plays on defense that the boys of Cincy went down 4-1. Just two years later the Big Red Machine made it back to the fall classic against Reggie Jackson, aka Mr. October, and the Oakland A’s. Rose, Morgan, Perez, Bench and company held their own in an exciting 7 game series but came up just short.

And then in my 29th year of life and 21st year of fandom it finally happened. That 1975 match up between the Big Red Machine and the Boston Red Sox is still considered one of the very best Series of all time. It featured a dramatic 12th inning walk off homer by Sox catcher Carlton Fisk in game 6, and most baseball fans have seen the iconic video of Fisk standing at home plate waving his arms urging the ball headed over Fenway Park’s Green Monster to stay fair. It did, but the next day the Reds pulled out a heart-stopping game 7 victory. I must confess that I was so happy for that win that I expected it to be a world changing event. I’d waited a lifetime to see that World Champions label applied to my very own Reds. At that point in my life I didn’t have a bucket list, but if I had that win would have been one huge items to check off. Sad to say when the sun came up the next day it was just another Monday, and the world had all the joys and sorrows it always has.

The Reds followed that the next year by not only vanquishing the damn Yankees, but they swept them in 4 straight games. It doesn’t get any sweeter than that.

Then for a lot of reasons my love of baseball faded over the years. I no longer watch “Bull Durham” as part of my spring ritual. I was even in Phoenix this spring where many Major League teams do their spring training and didn’t attend even one game. I blame a lot of my loss of interest on disgust with the obscene size of salaries and how often players move from one team to another. I can’t identify with any players when they are here today and show up in a different uniform tomorrow. I did enjoy going to a game at Fenway a few years ago, another bucket list item, and I enjoy a minor league game occasionally at the beautiful stadium that is home for our local Columbus Clippers. I also enjoy, or at least did pre-COVID, going to a local ball field on a summer’s night to watch one of our younger relatives play. Brings back nice memories of my playing days in Little League and church league softball.

And yet as I write this I am watching the first game of this year’s World Series. I have no skin in this game. I truly don’t know any of the players and don’t care if the Rays or Dodgers win, but there is still a sense of order and normalcy in this most abnormal year to sit here and watch two teams compete for the World Championship.

And if you don’t believe me I’ll leave you with one of Annie’s final lines from “Durham”:

“Walt Whitman once said, ‘I see great things in baseball. It’s our game. The American game. It will repair our losses and be a blessing to us.’ You could look it up.”