Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

01 October 2012

Can the “Bums” Win Again?


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This evening I took a break from politics and policy. Or so I thought.

I watched a PBS feature on the 1955 World Series. That was the Series which the Brooklyn Dodgers finally won, after winning the National League pennant ten times and losing the Series, each time, to the New York Yankees, their arch rivals.

I was only ten at the time. A nerd from birth, I didn’t have much interest in what we now call “professional” sports. But baseball was different.

Both my parents had been born in Brooklyn and were avid fans. When the Dodgers came to Los Angeles two years later, in 1957, we were ecstatic. We never considered rooting for any other team. To my surprise, I still remember the names of the key players in that historic game.

The PBS feature promised a bit of nostalgia and escape. But there is no escape from what our country has become. As the players’ and teams’ stories unfolded, they recalled the vast gulf between the country I was born into and the country I live in today. It’s almost like a different planet.

In those days, baseball was a game and a pastime, just as law and medicine were callings and professions, not businesses. The players earned $150 per month. That wasn’t a bad salary then but didn’t make them anywhere near rich.

No one knew or cared how much money they made. The players were all there for love of the game. Most had to work “day” jobs during the off-season to make ends meet.

Even in that day, the Brooklyn Dodgers were special. The players all lived in the same place as their fans—mostly-blue-collar Brooklyn. When they traveled, they went by train, spending hours together talking and playing dice and cards. They got as close as family.

Fans walked or took the subway to the ball park. There they got to know each other as they traded sandwiches during the game. They were fiercely loyal, rain or shine.

But most of all, the Dodgers were special because their manager, Branch Rickey, had integrated major-league baseball. He had hired Jackie Robinson, the first “black” major-league player, who became a great star. Others followed. In his declining years as a player, Robinson still managed to steal home in that Series.

What’s odd is that there were other “black” players, and I didn’t even know. I always thought that Roy Campanella, the All-Star catcher, was pure Italian. His father was Sicilian, but his mother was African-American. I hadn’t remembered Sandy Amoros, the left-handed fielder who clinched the Series by making an impossible catch with his right hand. Born in Cuba, he was as ebony in hue as anyone else on the field. He didn’t get much publicity because he didn’t speak English well and was as taciturn as they come.

That was the Dodgers: a melting pot like America, as it was then and always will be.

The Dodgers were also a working-class team from a working-class neighborhood. Their own ballpark, Ebbets Field, was smaller, darker, and more dilapidated than Yankee Stadium. It’s players were far more diverse. Their fans loved them.

The Yankees were different as different can be. They were all about winning. They hired the best players and held on to them. Their uniforms had pin stripes, to match the suits on Wall Street. Their fans loved them as long as they won. They were a purely corporate team in a young nation that didn’t yet know much about corporations.

The Dodgers’ fans kept their loyalty through thick and thin. When some Yankee wag called them “those bums,” they took “The Bums” as their nickname. Every time they won the Pennant and lost the Series, they posted signs saying “Wait for Next Year.” They had to wait 65 years to win, but they persevered.

As I look at Mitt Romney, the male Barbie Doll with perfect hair, perfect chin, and perfect alpha-male stance, I think of the Yankees. When I look at the President, with his oversize ears, easy humor, grace and humility, I think of the Dodgers.

When I think about the two teams in that historic Series, I think of one as a modern corporate “team” of “associates,” and the other as a family. There is not the slightest doubt in my mind which was which.

There is also not the slightest doubt in my mind that the Dodgers’ triumph in the 1955 World Series reflected and symbolized the meteoric rise of our middle class and its more slowly growing racial equality. Those two things made our society, for a few brief decades, the envy of the world, and our nation the happiest and fairest there ever was.

I doubt I’ll ever see the same closeness of community again. At that age I lived in the same same upscale West L.A. neighborhood where O.J. Simpson later lived. All the front lawns were open and accessible then. We kids played football in my front yard, in full view of neighbors and the street. Today the same houses (much enlarged) are hidden by high walls or impenetrable hedges.

“Armed Response” warnings are the only visible signs of inhabitants. They stick up at odd angles, saying “I’m rich and scared; don’t mess with me.”

The old pepper tree that I used to climb, right on the street, is gone. Where it once stood is a massive hedge, shielding the house and grounds from view. My old street looks more like a fortress than a neighborhood.

But all is not lost. There is always change, and sometimes redemption. The “Bums,” I think, can win again. I hope so.

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