Recently, Hank Waddles conducted a fine interview with Tom Stanton, author of “The Final Seaon,” an account of the last season at Tiger Stadium. Stanton’s other works include, “The Road to Cooperstown,” and “Hank Aaron and the Home Runs That Changed America.”
Here is an exchange that really spoke to me:
BC: You mentioned this a couple of times. I wanted to see if you could elaborate on it a little bit. Much is made about the importance of fathers and sons within the framework of baseball. You write about the bond you shared with your father through baseball, and several of the subjects in your book — Al Kaline, Brian Moehler, for example — speak of this as well. Can you talk about that for a minute? What is it exactly about fathers and sons and baseball?
TS: A lot of writers have been pondering that for a long time… Itís not easy to put your finger on. But the bond seems greater, in my case certainly it is, with baseball than it is with other sports. I donít think itís always just a matter of being a sport. But I think some of it is… one of the things that people who donít like baseball complain about is that itís a slow game. Thereís not continuous action on the field, and you have these dead periods of time when youíre watching. But one of the beautiful parts of that is it allows you to kind of have a relationship within the game with the people youíre experiencing it with, and in many of our cases the people we experience it with are family originally, in the early years. So I think our relationships are more tied to the sport in that sense, that you develop a very personal bond with the sport, or in my case with my father, watching those games either in front of the television or at the ballpark itself. Itís not continuous action, you have a chance to talk, whether or not itís a… itís not a contrived thing where youíre setting out to do that, but it just happens naturally. Youíve got your father talking about his childhood experiences, and the guys he rooted for, Greenberg and Gehringer in my dadís case, and then you kind of pass this love on for the game, and share this passion for it, and I think that canít help but create that bond and sort of reinforce it. And then you have the catches in the backyard, which… when youíre playing catch with your dad in the backyard itís different from maybe having a game of one-on-one basketball in the driveway. Itís not a competitive thing, in any sense. Itís just connecting with that ball going back and forth between you, and so I guess there are a lot of reasons. Iím not being very coherent or enlightening, but I do think it has to do with the pace of the game and the fact that itís been around a lot longer than many games, and so consequently you have the ability to have these family stories that go back generations are shared and then retold.
I didn’t have a similar father-son relationship when it came to baseball, though baseball was a common ground for us. My dad was born in 1937 and though my grandfather rooted for the Giants, and was generally not interested in the sport, my dad was a rapid Dodgers fan. Through my grandfather’s connections, my dad ended up at Yankee Stadium for the World Series often during the 1947-57 heyday. By the time I was growing up, pop was a defacto Mets fan, but wasn’t an active baseball enthusiast any longer. We did connect through the game. He shared his memories from the past about the Dodgers with me on occasion and would use Ted Williams and Willie Mays as examples of how even the greatest performers have to put in blood, sweat and tears in order to be great, when he was giving the ol’ 10% inspiration, 90% perspiration speech.
But our catches, while not necessarily competitive, were anything but relaxing. I don’t think he was ever too eager about playing catch. As a result, he seemed agitated and impatient, consistantly whipping the ball too hard for me to handle. I’d ask to to slow it down, but he didn’t hear me. My had would sting as I tried to make every catch. But I don’t recall it ever being fun. My one clear memory of us having a catch ended with me throwing my mitt down and going inside after I couldn’t take all of his pegs anymore.
But I’ve got a younger brother Ben who played a lot of baseball with me. Early on, I tortured him with the ol’ Great Santini routine, but eventually we grew out of that, and by the time we were in our twenties, he came to regard each other as equals. Stanton is right on when he mentions the non-competitive nature of just having a catch. How wunnerful that can be. It is almost the perfect expression of non-verbal male communication. Sure, you can talk, but you don’t feel neccesarily compelled to. You can give each other pop ups or grounders or pretend to be taking a relay throw. Horse around or just enjoy the act of throwing and hearing the ball pop in the other person’s glove. Most of all, there is a rhythm, that is almost intimate, which defines a great catch. The sense of being connected to another guy through the simple act of throwing a ball back-and-forth, is one of the most satisfying feelings in the world. Believe it.
Speaking of Fathers and Sons, you’ve just got to head over to The Baseball Analysts and read Rich Lederer’s piece about the day his father, a sports journalist, replaced Walter Alston and managed the Dodgers. It’s a special post and we can only hope to see more of the same from the Lederer collection as the year moves on.