With the Dodgers now hot again I went back to the July 5, 1967 column written while their season was turning into a bummer. One season after losing the World Series to the Baltimore Orioles, the Dodgers declined to a record of 73–89. It was their worst record since the war-affected 1944 season, and their worst peacetime record since 1937. The Dodgers would not return to postseason play until 1974. Was this Roundup sour grapes?
When you get right down to it, baseball ranks somewhere between a turtle race and a cricket match in sustained excitement. A baseball game is made up of a long period of dullness, punctuated occasionally by spots of excitement which keep the fans from going completely to sleep.
Yet for some reason, in this mad, mad world, this exceedingly dull game has become a national pastime, and millions of fans pay up to $10 apiece (1967) for the privilege of watching it and rooting for their favorite team.
To relieve the boredom, management makes sure there are plenty of beer and peanuts available, as well as never-ending statistics which are cleverly used to establish “situations,” or a condition of anticipation, so that if a certain set of circumstances transpires the fans will have something to rave about and will come back for more.
The one area in which Little League ball excels is in the scoring department. Since there is no premium on perfect play as in the professional leagues, the error becomes a necessary ingredient, and provides sustained excitement. There is no place for the pitching duel, an artistic occurrence which may gratify perfectionists of the game, but which sends most fans into a stupor between the third and eighth innings.
Thanks to errors, the fans know that anything can happen in a Little League game, and a nine-run lead in the top of the first inning is not a problem of serious concern, where in a professional game it might start the fans for the exit.
I had the enjoyment of attending a double header over the weekend before last. The first game was at Dodger stadium and the second was at the National Little League field, generously spaced so we could take them both in.
In the first game, Pomona’s Bill Singer beat Juan Marichal in one of those pitchers’ duels which would have been exceedingly dull except for the “situation.” Marichal was established as Goliath, and Singer as David and Singer is from Pomona, which made it more interesting than if he had been from Walla Walla, Wash.
And of course, there was the great rivalry between the two teams. Any other year the stadium would have had 50,000 people, but O’Malley was lucky to attract 30,000, even with a Ladies Day.
The following day I again witnessed the Dodgers and the Giants in action (thus setting a McCombs record for attending back to back games between the same teams and both won by the Dodgers). This time there was again three very exciting moments. The first was when Ray Sadecki threw eight consecutive balls to the first two Dodgers at bat (if two walks can be considered exciting, other than the anticipation created by two on and nobody out).
Willie Davis provided the balance of excitement, once midway in the game when he escaped a sure rundown between first and second, and again in the final play of the game when he appeared nailed for sure trying to get from second to home on a short single, with two out, but successfully ran around the Giant catcher to break the tie. The crowd, aroused from its slumber, took it in such good humor it stood up and clapped.
The third inning, in which both teams went down three straight, was livened by a lady and her grown daughter who came in late and sat in front of us. The first thing the mother did was to comb her daughter’s hair. She then searched her purse through two batters and came up with a cigarette, which she lit on the third try. The two then left to take care of something or other.
I spent the remainder of the game teaching my son how to score and trying to explain to him how the Dodgers can get the bases loaded and still get no runs, something that almost never happens in Little League. Willie Davis managed to undo this line of thinking and we all went home on a happy note. The Dodgers left town that night, and by the time they get back everybody will have forgotten everything except Bill Singer’s final and Willie Davis’s final score, and thousands will again flock to the House of O’Malley, hoping upon hope for that one thrilling moment to make their afternoon or evening worthwhile.
But I won’t be holding my breath. I’ll be watching Little League, where there’s a thrill every minute, even if it’s the pitcher’s mother pounding you on the back.