My own love for baseball, of any and all sorts, started in the late Fifties, but that was years after millions of hearts, to include those of my Dodgers Blue Mom and Polo Grounds Dad, had been broken into enough pieces to cover the warning track in anybody's outfield.
The 2011 season hasn't even started-the exhibition season is barely underway (Pinstripes' fans are okay salivating at Dellin Betances, right?), there's already been more than enough sadness to fill the season as Sunday afternoon The Duke passed away.
Pay no attention to what baseball players make today-Curt Flood and the end of free agency, broadcast network contracts and endorsement deals changed the money. What counted for decades before the dollars got stupid was the joy with which the game was played and followed. I was in probably the last generation to call baseball Our National Pastime and mean it. Today, most teams willing to pay the competitive balance tax have all the talent and the have-nots watch the game with their noses pressed against the glass as pennant races go on without them or their fans.
When Snider played outfield for the Brooklyn Dodgers, Willie Mays played for the New York Giants and Mickey Mantle plied his trade for the Yankees. For baseball fans five years older than me, there's little more fun than asking innocently, 'of the three who was the best?' You can be there all day listening to that argument and whoever is making it for his guy is doing the other two justice as well because, well, they were that good.
The Mick died first, profligate lifestyle taking a page out of the Eubie Blake notebook. I missed my chance not too many years ago to meet the Say Hey Kid, who, by all accounts, left the joy he felt playing the game on a field of dreams long ago and far away.
And that's really what happened to baseball, and maybe to our country as well-money fixes everything but ruins everything it cannot fix. Players spent their careers with the same team, and kids grew up following their exploits, knowing their stats and emulating their every move. I almost killed myself trying to perfect the basket catch, to no avail-and I wasn't alone.