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For Fans Who Should Know Better

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Mudville: May 24, 2022 11:38 pm PDT
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This column is called Baseball or Bust for a reason.

It’s baseball or bust.

With that in mind, when there is no baseball news being made – thanks, Rob Manfred – and no MLB on the horizon because of the lockout – thanks Rob Manfred – and the season may not starting on time – thanks Rob Manfred – and in what should be the high holy days of faith and optimism of late January, what baseball is there to talk about or watch?

Well, here is what I did on Wednesday and I heartily recommend it to all baseball fans, and will even go a step further. I recommend this to all official Nerds working for baseball teams and all players and team personnel.

Learn something.

Watch Game 7 of the 1952 World Series between the New York Yankees and the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field. The Yankees won, 4-2, but that is only part of the story. It was a fabulous game that can teach you so much about the game, if you only have the desire to watch and have an open mind. That may leave the Nerds out because in their world it is either their way or the highway, but give it a shot, Nerds.

You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

And for today’s players, who think the game begins and ends with them, look at what those who came before you did and watch the game in real time, not highlights. You can feel the tension of each pitch and all these men are pretty much young men, the same point in your career as you are now, and they make mistakes but they are resilient and masterful at their craft.

Their passion is on display every play.

Some mighty examples, watch a 20-year-old Mickey Mantle become the hitting star of the game with a solo home run to right-field in the sixth, hitting left-handed to give the Yankees a 3-2 lead – and then turn around and hit right-handed in the seventh and line a bullet single to left for the 4-2 advantage and the final score. But there is much more from Mantle.

Watch when he hits a smash one-hop rocket that first baseman Gil Hodges snares one step to his right and Mantle – with that incredible speed of a 20-year-old Mick – nearly beats it out at first. On his home run to right field, Mantle is well past first base as the ball clears the wall. No posing. No preening. There is something majestic in that word hustle. He even tries for a drag bunt earlier in the game.

Today’s players, executives and fans could learn a lot by watching closely some of the games of old on YouTube. Hey, you got nothing else going on in Rob Manfred’s baseball world right now, might as well enjoy what used to be America’s Game.

In an inning where the Dodgers load the bases with no outs, both Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella, who remember was a large man, both beat out bunt singles. They just weren’t any bunts, they were perfect bunts and that tells me those bunts came with hours upon hours of practice.

Today’s players are praised often for a weak bunt attempt that is so poorly executed, the ball goes 10 feet foul. These bunts are to perfection. And before you can say: “Bunting is boring” consider there was the long ball in this series too. The Yankees hit 10 home runs, the most home runs ever hit in a World Series while the Dodgers hit six; the combined 16 home runs were a World Series record too in 1952. They used the whole field and still hit for power and still played little ball. It’s amazing, baseball can be played in different ways Nerds, even in the same game.

As for the TV production itself, it was masterful. Hard to believe it was 70 years old. By the way, I wanted to watch a game that was older than me and since I was born on July 4th, 1953, well, you do the math.

I would say the product was as good as anything today on TV in a much different way. Did you know that in 1952 they used a split screen when a runner was at first base? I didn’t. And the play-by-play of the one-man booth was magnificent. Red Barber did the game through the top of the fifth and then Mel Allen closed the game. Both men offered their thoughts in the wrap up.

They were informative but at the same time let the game tell the story.

A fashion note: More men should wear the type of fedora that Mel Allen favored. And the umpires need to go back to string ties and little caps of that time. Home plate umpire Larry Goetz was in complete command of the game and even tossed Dodgers pitcher Ralph Branca out of the game when Branca was riding him from the bench late in the game. Goetz called a great game. Interestingly enough, when Goetz brushed off home plate, he did not do it with his back to the pitcher, he did it with his backside facing the third base dugout, which the Yankees occupied. There was some grousing in the last couple of innings when “Veins were popping,’’ Allen said because the game was so “tense’’ or as he put it, the game was “getting to the point it is past tense, even though we are playing in the present.’’

Barber and Allen had strong opinions and predictions too. Allen said Vic Raschi would struggle in relief before he struggled, “He has never been an effective relief pitcher,’’ Allen noted.

When George Shuba was struck out by reliever Allie Reynolds Red Barber said, “Reynolds tied him into a knot and turned him every which way but loose.’’ The southern born and raised Red Barber also noted of the tension of the game early on “This is it… There is going to be a storm … They will tear up the pea patch before the day is over.’’

Barber added that the back and forth game is “as tight as a brand new pair of shoes – on a rainy day.’’

The antics of Casey Stengel were on display as well. Today’s managers sit quietly or stand near the top step, hiding their emotion. Casey spent most of his time coming in and out of the dugout or walking in front of the dugout and making gestures to the field and the bullpen or yelling to Yogi Berra his catcher.

The bullpens were located down each of the foul lines, the Yankees being along the left field line. At one point, playing a bit of gamesmanship Stengel actually had three relief pitchers warming up even though there were only two mounds. The third reliever slid closer to the Yankees dugout to warm up.

This game was 70 years ago but the drama held up. It was two hours and 54 minutes of drama, delightfully played out by all the characters.

At the time, Barber and Allen called this 1952 World Series the greatest World Series of all time and it was hard to argue.

Red Barber and Mel Allen providing postgame commentary after Game 7 of the 1952 World Series at Ebbets Field.

The pitching hero of the game was someone you never would have expected to be the hero, the Yankees fourth pitcher of the day Bob Kuzava, a 6-2 hard-throwing left-hander. He came on with one out in the seventh inning and the bases loaded and got two of the toughest hitters in the Dodgers lineup to popup. Duke Snider, the Dodgers best hitter in the Series, popped to third and then the legend Jackie Robinson popped to second. The wind was blowing in and Billy Martin had to make a sprinting almost shoestring catch to save the day. Kuzava closed out the game and when the last out was made by Pee Wee Reese, who flied to left fielder Gene Woodling who had made two spectacular running catches earlier in the day, Yogi jumped onto Kusava’s back as teammates pounded on them in an emotional celebration even by today’s standards.

The victory was the Yankees fourth straight World Series win. It also marked Casey Stengel’s fourth straight year of winning the World Series in his first four tries. Kuzava’s outing was one of the best relief outings in World Series history. His nickname was Sarge. Yes, like Gil Hodges he served in the military in World War II and rose to the rank of Sergeant. The war had only been over for seven years. It was a much different time in America.

In the final game of the 1951 World Series “Sarge’’ retired the New York Giants with the bases loaded for the last three outs of the game, two sacrifice flies and a line out to Hank Bauer and here he was a year later setting down the last eight Brooklyn Dodgers. Lefties were not supposed to beat the Dodgers who had a strong right-hand hitting lineup, but Casey Stengel played his hunch – analytics be damned.

Later in life Kuzava became a scout and worked for the Kansas City Athletics. He tried to get Charlie Finley to sign a basketball-baseball star but Finley would not fork over the $70,000 to sign Dave DeBusschere. I knew Dave well during my years covering the New York Knicks and when he was director of basketball operations and drafted Patrick Ewing. Kuzava had to battle his entire career to succeed and even came back from an Achilles heel injury.

(Original Caption) Three of the New York Yankees who had a lot to do in the 4-2 win over the Dodgers in the final game of the Series, whoop it up in GALA style after the classic triumph, October 7. Left to right are: out fielder Mickey Mantle, who homered; pitcher Bob Kuzava, whose mound performance saved the game; and outfielder Gene Woodling, who also homered.

Again, there is so much to learn even from watching the old, old games when there is no major league action. Find games you like on YouTube and you might well fall in love with a game that has lost its way under Manfred & the Nerds.

In this game there was so much more than the three true outcomes: the home runs, strikeouts, walks of today’s boring and unathletic game.

Imagine if a smart team that had leadership that would show its players how the game could be played, and how it was once played, it would be an eye opening experience for today’s players.

They certainly would have been mesmerized by something as simple as why didn’t the players of that era not take their gloves into the dugout between innings. Instead, gloves were tossed in an out of the way spot at the cut of the outfield grass or in the case of third basemen, tossed into the coaching box. As I watched the Dodgers take the field to start Game 7, it dawned on me they were running onto the field without gloves, all except the starting pitcher, Joe Black, who carried his glove out to the mound. Eddie Lopat was the Yankees starter and both Black and Lopat warmed up not in each team’s respective bullpen but on either side of home plate as was the custom back then. No mound, just flat ground.

Eddie Lopat.

An aside, Mrs. AMBS, well before she met AMBS, worked with Lopat’s wife, Libby, for several years at Melburn, a woman’s clothing shop in Paramus, N.J. These ballplayers had jobs in the winter and that is why the payday of winning the World Series was so important to them and you could tell by the way they played, “This is it.’’

I was told about this game from longtime scout Billy Coppola, who watched the game on Tuesday night and marveled at its relevancy regarding today’s game and sent me a text.

The television crew back then over at WNBC New York, did a phenomenal job with that era of equipment, never losing the flight of the baseball or the importance of each play. The camera work was magnificent. My favorite shots were those of Jackie Robinson dancing off third base and then breaking and stopping, several times, disrupting the rhythm of the pitcher as he faked stealing home. The camera was right on it. Also, thankfully, there was no replay. The production and the game did not come to a full stop while play after play were re-inspected by the cameras and the home office in New York. It could not have been done even if they wanted. There was no replay because there was no replay. Live action. That was it and that was enough.

1952 WS Program

As a result, as a fan watching the game, you had to pay constant attention to all the little things happening before your eyes. Those 33,195 lucky souls at the game had their eyes glued to the action unlike today’s crowd which is constantly scanning their cell phones while the action takes place on the field. The fans were also on top of the action and the media, perched along the catwalks. It was a pleasure too to hear Ebbets Field organist Gladys Goodding play between innings. You could hear her playing Yankee Doodle Dandy one inning and she also sang the National Anthem.

From start to finish the crowd was engulfed in the game and that is because you had to watch to know what was going on in the game: “This is it.’’

There they were, men in their suits and women in their dresses of the day, some wearing fur coats. There was a holiday family feeling and there also was a crowd that seemed to understand how difficult the game is to play.

They appreciated being there.

Gil Hodges, just one of nine Hall of Famers there that day, was in the middle of the worst slump of his career. He went hitless in this World Series (0-for-21) but with each at bat that day the crowd cheered and in three of his four at-bats Hodges crushed the ball, the first a shot to the centerfield wall that was caught by Mantle; the second time up, a line out to left that scored a run from third on a sac fly; the third time a rocket in the hole at short that slick-fielding Phil Rizzuto turned into a 6-4-3 double play and in his last at-bat Hodges reached on an error by third baseman Gil McDougald.

There was empathy.

Today’s players, executives and fans could learn a lot by watching closely some of the games of old on YouTube. Hey, you got nothing else going on in Rob Manfred’s baseball world right now, might as well enjoy what used to be America’s Game.

As for me, get Michael Torres over here from Behind the Dish. I need a few hot dogs to watch my next YouTube baseball game. This is it. Even if it was 70 years ago.

45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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