FIFTY YEARS AGO THIS WEEK
But first, a little family history. In the months before I was born my mother stayed with her in-laws while Dad finished his semester at Babson College.
Everyday Mom and MomMom would go to the ball game; to the Bronx to see the Yankees or to the Polo Grounds to see the Giants.
I had always thought we were exclusively Yankee fans but look at this picture of Alan, aged five. That's a Giants uniform--he wore it every day. I don't know how Mom ever got it off him to wash it.
Here he is with our grandfather, PopPop Brown. You still can't see the writing, but the orange and black socks are the clue. This is definitely a Giant's uniform.
Dad always used to say, "Say Hey!" That's a quote from Willie Mays, the great Giants center fielder. I can still see him teaching Alan the basket catch--Willie's signature move where he held both hands in front of his belt buckle to make a catch.
I even remember a poem Dad used to recite:
"These are the guys who give me the woe woe Willies;
Kirkland, McCovey, and Mays
A trio of bullies with bats' stead of billies
Kirkland, McCovey, and Mays.
rippin' my curveball,
smashin' my hummer
makin' the home fans glummer and glummer
makin' me feel like the world's biggest bummer
Kirkland, McCovey, and Mays.
Willie, Kirkland, Willie McCovey, Willie Mays.
Very literary, no?
I asked Alan why I had these Giant memories when I thought we were life-long Yankee fans.
"No, he said, Dad was a Giants fan."
Exclusively? No Yankees at all?"
"It was all Giants. He told me he once touched Carl Hubbell's elbow."
He took me to a Giants game and we saw Willie Mays hit two home runs. We loved the Giants. I named my dog Willie May, even though she was a girl...
But the Giants moved to San Francisco and Dad said, 'From now on, we're Yankee fans.'"
Doesn't it sound like a Papal decree?
"From this day forward...Choose you this day whom you will cheer, but as for me and my house,
we will cheer the Yankees."
For a few years, New York was a one-team town. In 1962 The Amazin' Mets were born. It was a rocky start, with 120 losses in their first season under the leadership of the legendary Casey Stengle, who was quoted as saying, "We're coming along slow but fast."
"Come out and see my Amazin' Mets," he said, "I been in this game a hundred years and I seen ways of losing I never knew existed before."
He also said, "Doesn't anybody here know how to play this game?"
Casey retired in 1965 and Gil Hodges came on board.
In 1969 everyone celebrated, even we Yankee fans--we're all New Yorkers. And the Mets had come so far in such a short time. It was a miracle.
Willie Mays returned to New York to play the last two years of his career for the Mets in 1972.
I think Dad did well in choosing his hero. this is what Leo Durocher wrote about Willie Mays:
"If someone came up and hit .450, stole 100 bases, and performed a miracle in the field every day I'd still look you in the eye and say, Willie was better. He could do the five things you have to do to be a superstar: hit, hit with power, run, throw, and field. And he had that other magic ingredient that turns a superstar into a super superstar. He lit up the room. He was a joy to be around."
He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015.
The Move to California wasn't a tragedy for everyone; Lawrence Ferlinghetti was inspired to write a wonderful poem;
Look it up--you'll be glad you did.