With today being the 50th anniversary of the infamous fight between the Dodgers and the Giants in which Juan Marichal swung repeatedly at and eventually hit John Roseboro with a bat, I am reminded of the first time I read about this brawl in my childhood. I remember thinking about how brutal and awful of a thing it must have been to actually witness Marichal hitting Roseboro with that bat. The makeshift collage of the incident that I have put together above, including a reprint of an original newspaper account, for me, captures a lot of those same feelings. The photos still shock 50 years later. Examining them closer I am struck (excuse the pun) by two things – 1) how much worse the incident could have been and 2) Sandy Koufax was one brave dude. While the most notorious image from this incident is undoubtedly the one with Marichal wielding his bat like an ax over a stumbling Roseboro, what is not talked about a lot is that he wasn’t the only one wielding a bat in this fight. In a number of the above images, Marichal’s teammate and shortstop Tito Fuentes (#26) can be seen heading straight to the action, bat in his right hand coiled to strike, at both Koufax and/or Roseboro . I don’t think that it is a far-fetched thing to say that if umpire Shag Crawford doesn’t grab Marichal and prevent him from further striking Roseboro or if Fuentes connects with his bat on either Koufax or Roseboro, baseball and the world would have seen a death or even multiple deaths that day at Dodger Stadium. Koufax, for his part, can be seen in the above images courageously heading straight towards Marichal trying to get the bat out of his hands. For me, it was bravery worthy of a battlefield and it further cements the notion in my mind that Sandy Koufax was one of the most honorable and principled men ever to play the game. Another hero of that day was Army veteran Willie Mays who can be seen in one of the above photographs leading a bleeding John Roseboro off the field. Below is a link to a piece from espn.com that fills in some of the background information to what will always be one of the scariest days in baseball history.
Juan Marichal hit John Roseboro with bat in ugly baseball brawl 50 years ago.
On the occasion of what would have been his 81st birthday, I wish Happy Birthday to one of the most iconic baseball figures of my childhood, Roberto Clemente. I remember having a poster of the above photograph that I had pulled out of a 1973 Baseball Preview magazine and it hanging on my wall for years. It simply read : In Memoriam Roberto Clemente, 1934 -1972. Roberto had died of course, on New Year’s Eve 1972 in the course of attempting to deliver humanitarian aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua. His death had the profound effect of making him a larger than life character to me and even now, he looms large in my lexicon of baseball giants. I believe this to be so not only because I grew up hearing and reading stories from older baseball fans and writers that he was without question one of the greatest outfielders ever to play the game, but more so because of the very nature of the way he died – in the course of serving others. Without naming names and and without condemning the current generation of players as a whole, I will say , however, that there are a number of current players /stars who could take a lesson and cue from Roberto Clemente and his humility and sense of humanity. I will have much more to write about this great athlete and man in future posts on this blog but for today, let it suffice for me to say,Happy Birthday Roberto, we miss you still.
Crosley Field circa 1970
Before starting this blog fresh and anew, I found myself spending some time thinking about why I have an eternal love for baseball in the first place. What I came up with was this – the main reason I love baseball is because of the two things it does for me . The first thing is that, to borrow from James Earl Jones’ famous monologue in the deeply flawed, but at times beautiful baseball movie, Field of Dreams , “it marks the time”. It does this not only for my own history and life, but for that of the country of my birth, America, as well. Perusing the stories associated with the game’s beginnings in America in the 1800s and tracing how the game of baseball became the game it is today is a great way to supplement any study of the history of this great nation of ours. All of this country’s inherent promises and contradictions laden in its sometimes glorious and sometimes heart wrenching history, are represented somewhere in the saga of baseball as well. The game of baseball is both a product of American culture and a reflection of it at the same time.
The second thing I can say the game does for me is that at times, it transports me to a place that can best be described as that sacred intersection in my mind where my teeming imagination and precious memories of the eternal summers of my childhood meet and intermingle. This part of my brain is inhabited by the gods, demigods, court jesters and citizens of the game, past and present. Its at these times that images of any given ballpark (preferably with natural grass) can become a dream like paradise to me, my own personal mythical Elysian Field , if you will.
You see, for me, baseball will always be the eternal passageway back to my days of growing up as a kid from the Midwest whose only worry for the day was whether it was going to rain or not. There would be days around this time of the year, July/August in Cincinnati, Ohio, that me and my compatriots would play from the AM hours, when you could still feel the morning dew saturating the grass, until the PM hours when dangerously enough, you could barely see the ball any more. Baseball is a love that no matter how long I stay away, she always welcomes me back with open arms with a glove on one hand and a gleaming white ball in the other. And it is in those times that I am reminded that dreaming and new dreams are always possible and my feverish affection for the game burns bright, fresh and anew like a 100 mph fastball speeding towards the heart of the plate.
So there you have it – the reasons why I will always love baseball in all of its incarnations and with all of its inconsistencies. Now on with the blog…:)