During Happy Hour down at the Elks Club lounge, talk was heating up again about a Phillies-Red Sox World Series.
Most of the regulars decided the Red Sox will win it in seven games.
Willie “Two Brains” Sousa, the fill-in bartender opined it would be close though.
Arthur, the steady bartender is taking his two weeks vacation at the Bide-a-Wee motel on Cape Cod. His mother owns the property and he always dries out there in late July.
Willie got the name “Two Brains” because he explained to the senior Elks how to compute a batting average. After he finished a demonstration of this mathematical formula there was some applause and the seniors stood Willie and themselves a round of Narragansett bottled beer. The slogan “Have a ‘gansett” is invoked occasionally and there is appreciative chuckling because Narragansett brewers once sponsored Red Sox radio and television broadcasts. Tradition is observed down at the Elks.
It is reported that votes have been taken at several other saloons and bars around town and results there also favor the Red Sox over the Phillies. This is a common occurrence in New England after the Red Sox win their game the night before.
If they lose, the bubble of optimism bursts and then the consensus is that Boston will not reach the playoffs let alone make it to the big dance.
At midseason there is good reason for older Bostonians to stand on two sides of every important question involving the Red Sox .
For example, as grizzled veteran pitcher/philosopher James “Catfish” Hunter sagely remarked one time after being lit up for four consecutive homers in one inning the Fenway winds in June are not the winds of September. It is a truism the New York Yankees have lived by for nearly a century on their way to 27 world championships and the “Catfish” certainly proved his point to the Sox over several seasons.
Lazy fly balls that clang off the left field wall in summer die on the warning track in the fall.
Radio and television promotion departments have been known to place dollars before duty so recent interleague meetings between the Phils and Red Sox have been touted as a resumption of a blood feud.
This mystifies the current collection of Red Sox and Phillies who bear no ill will toward each other and merely consider the recent meetings as exhibition contests even though they do count in the standings.
Now the Boston Celtics versus the Philadelphia 76’ers or the Philadelphia Eagles against the New England Patriots or the Broad street bullies—the Flyers versus the Boston Bruins causes a bump in the blood pressure and a snarl or two. But the Sox and Phils last meaningful clash was the 1915 World Series won by the Sox. It is a stretch to think the poisons of ’15 still roil the digestions of the Phils of 2011.
The hard feelings between Boston and Philadelphia are legitimate in some historic aspects. The farmers of Lexington Green shot up the Brits in 1775 so Boston rightfully celebrated the Bicentennial in 1975 whereas Philadelphia complained the true Bicentennial was celebrated a year later because it was 1776 when Congress was playing their home games in Philadelphia that it finally got around to telling the world what they were up to…..and why they were doing what they were doing.
All that is off the point but that never stops the promotional wheels from turning out some overheated rhetoric about old wounds between the Phillies and the Red Sox.
It was Edward R. Murrow, the father of television news, who had the right slant:
It was back in the dark ages of television, the 1950’s when Saint Edward observed,
“Long ago we gave up on the idea that television is supposed to be a weapon of intelligence and sophistication.”
The old cliche goes: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” and maybe that’s why there was a time in the Hub and environs when the Phillies were sentimental favorites. It was 1950 the year of the Whiz Kids of Philadelphia and they scratched their way past the Dodgers to win the National League pennant and won the right to be humiliated by the New York Yankees in four straight much to our disappointment.
There was good feeling about Richie Ashburn, Pudd’nhead Jones, Seminick, Hatton and Hamner and Sisler, Robin Roberts and Konstanty but most of all we pulled for the first baseman, Eddie Waitkus.
He was born in Cambridge and he lived in Melrose, for heaven’s sake. He was a Boston guy even though he was a Phillie.
He was named the Comeback Player of the Year in 1950.
And this is what he came back from:
In Chicago on the night of June 14, 1949 after going 1 for 4 against the Cubs, Waitkus returned to his hotel, the old Edgewater, and found a note in his room box.
“It is extremely important that I see you as soon as possible,” the note read. “We’re not acquainted, but I have something of importance to speak to you about. I think it would be to your advantage to let me explain this to you as I am leaving the hotel the day after tomorrow. I realize this is out of the ordinary, but as I say, it is extremely important.”
Waitkus called the room number. A young woman answered and asked him to give her a half-hour so she could get dressed. About 11:30, he knocked on her door.
She invited Waitkus into the room.
He walked over to a chair. What’s all this about?
He turned around.
She was holding a rifle.
“You’re not going to bother me any more,” she pulled the trigger, the bullet narrowly missed Eddie’s heart.
She called the front desk. ”I shot a man.”
Waitkus was rushed to a hospital and it was touch and go in surgery but he survived.
Ruth Ann Steinhagen told police she was obsessed with Waitkus, stalked him for years from the time he was a Cub then after he was traded to Philadelphia.
“I wanted the thrill of murdering him”.
Ms. Steinhagen was found insane and institutionalized. In three years she was out and little has been heard of her since.
Waitkus recovered and played well in the Phillies ’50 pennant drive but he never hit with power again.
In these times of mass murderers and suicide bombers maybe it doesn’t have the drama it did in 1949. But for young baseball fans it was an eye-opener, the first reality that their baseball heroes were vulnerable to deranged, murderous adoring fans.
Most of them were shocked and shaken but not all were surprised…and here is one theory from this desk why there was little surprise over the events in Chicago.
At Fenway Park a cyclone fence about 8 feet high separates the mob of waiting autograph seekers and the players entrance.
A rising tide of screams and wails and tearful supplication erupts when players exit the locker room and go into the tiny parking lot reserved for the regulars and their expensive automobiles.
The players slide behind the wheels of their cars, the guards swings open the gate and the baseball royalty begin their exodus at a snail-like pace because the stampede has begun.
Children and parents and adults surge around the cars pleading for autographs.
But if you were in the throng that awaited the departure of Ted Williams, the Red Sox immortal, well it was frightening to behold, especially if you were a youngster desperately trying to survive being trampled on by other kids and men and women considerably larger than your skinny frame. It was then you knew early on the blind terror, the fear and madness of a mob gone wild. For Williams part it was business as usual and he rarely slowed down as he left, most of the time with little or no acknowledgment of the adoring multitude.
If you were that impressionable young man on so many of those post game brawls then you had a flicker of understanding how manic and murderous baseball fans can be.You had the cuts and bruises to show for it.
But now that young man grows older and eventually he understands what it all means.
If you perform before millions and get paid millions then millions think they own you and too late you realize you have lost what you learn to treasure most, your privacy, the guarantee of time away from the glare of publicity and your personal safety which is always at risk. You have gone public and now the public owns you. At least it thinks it does.
So is the story of Eddie Waitkus, the inspiration for the motion picture the Natural , relevant today?
Obsessed fans still choose to do things they ought not do.
Fans of opposing teams are still targeted for beatings, insults and harassment from L.A. to Boston. Assaults of all kinds take place in America’s stadiums.
The danger zone between players and fans and between fans themselves continues to narrow.
There is a new promotional video asserting that all Red Sox fans are Sox for Life.
Just don’t make it your only life.