Dedicated to the great Vin Scully, whose loving, gentle voice was not a part of this game, but who started announcing for the Dodgers, along with Red Barber, in 1950. Healthy, once in a while, to allow oneself to contemplate the American century with fond familiarity rather than alienated shame. —DM
One of the miracles of YouTube is the seventh game of the 1952 World Series. No other game before it, and no other game for many years after it is so well preserved, as far as I know. If you have the patience to watch any baseball game, you’ll be delighted to watch this one. Hey, let’s watch it together!
“Good afternoon, baseball fans! This is Mel Allen, with Red Barber, for the Gillette Safety Razor Company … the final game of the 1952 World Series.”
What makes this game so great?
The telecast is good—black and white, but with closeups, split screens and great camera work.
The game features players who are still household names, seven decades later—Jackie Robinson, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra—and more players who even a casual baseball fan knows: The Brooklyn Dodgers’ Pee Wee Reese, Gil Hodges, Roy Campanella and Duke Snider. The Yankees’ Billy Martin, Johnny Mize, Johnny Sain, Phil Rizzuto.
What makes it meaningful is: Baseball in 1952 is the beating heart of the vivid national memory that makes “Make America Great Again” make perfect slogan-sense, even to so many of us born much later, and yes, even us social critics who persistently ask who America was great for, and when. Well look here, buddy: I’m pretty sure if you found yourself in Ebbets Field in October, 1952, America was great, at least for that afternoon, even if you were selling hotdogs. And anybody who promises to make America feel like that again? Even if he’s a liar, we like the sound of those syllables like we like the crack of the bat.
So we might as well pay that powerful time a visit.
Mel Allen opens the broadcast with a solemn call: “Let me remind you people that every fall, careless hunters cause disastrous forest fires, ruining millions of feet of precious lumber, bringing death to game and fish. Now if you’re planning to hunt this year, place these simple rules in your hat, will you? Number one, crush out cigarette, cigar and pipe ashes. Number two, break matches in two after using. Number three, drown all campfires. Then stir, and drown again. Four, find out the law before using fire. Remember, only you can prevent forest fires.”
Oh, to live in a nation whose top acknowledged problem was forest fires that could be prevented by more careful cigarette smoking!
What about unacknowledged problems, like Jim Crow laws? Well, in this game, only five years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, the Dodgers’ pitcher is Black—Joe Black—and making his third Series start for the Dodgers. Star catcher Roy Campanella is also Black. So even a progressive type would have to feel that progress—the watchword of the entire American 20th century—was being made. Oh, to live in a nation where most people agree that progress is being made!
The Series itself “will go down as one of the greatest and most dramatic of all time,” Allen says with confidence. “The Series has bounced back and forth. The Dodgers won the first game, the Yankees the second. The Dodgers the third, the Yankees the fourth. The Dodgers the fifth, the Yankees the sixth. … And the way these teams have battled, has been a joy to behold. … The team that loses certainly will not be disgraced, and the team that wins is proud as punch, for having turned in a wonderful job.” Oh, to live in a nation where the losers are not disgraced, and the winners are proud as punch!
Gladys Gooding sings the National Anthem in what sounds to a modern ear like a drag falsetto. A modern ear defined as any ear attached to a body born after 1952.
As the visiting team, the Yanks are up first. Two weak outs, and then Mickey Mantle comes up. This is his second season with the club, his first full World Series. (In 1951, he tore up his knee in game one, and played no more.) He hits a couple of foul balls, takes a ball, then strikes out swinging, chucks his bat angrily into the dirt and jogs straight out toward centerfield, where his glove will presumably be delivered. (No need to switch hats, as none of these guys is wearing a batting helmet.)
Billy Cox leads off for the Dodgers. What he and the boys are wearing look less like baseball britches than Aladdin’s harem pantaloons. They are glorious and clownish at once. It’s hard to imagine the men’s bodies beneath them, but it sure would be fun to see today’s ultra-ripped athletes play one frumpy game in these burlap sacks, in which I would look just about as good as Aaron Judge. Cox is out, but Pee Wee Reese forces a throwing error from the Yankee third baseman McDougald. Hodges strikes out, and Jackie Robinson comes up. He’s having a terrible Series, 3 for 19 so far. And he flies out to left. Nothing-nothing, after one inning.
And nothing-nothing, after two.
Allen says, “The score is getting tighter and tighter.”
The first basemen don’t bring their mitts into the dugouts between innings, but rather toss them onto the lawn, in foul territory, like little boys. Oh, to live in a nation where you could just leave your mitt in the lawn, like a little boy!
The camera pans across several VIPs, ranging in star power from real estate developer Del Webb, to the major league commissioner, Ford Frick.
In the middle of the third, Red Barber declares, “This ballgame and this Series, just as tight as a new pair of shoes on a rainy day. Boy, that’s tight!”
Still deadlocked at zero, going into the fourth.
“There’s gonna be a storm,” Barber says. “I guarantee ya, they’re tear up the pea patch before the day is over.” Oh, to live in a nation where a general audience still knows what in tarnation a pea patch is!
Yankees’ shortstop Phil Rizzuto raps a leadoff double. Where did he hit it? I don’t know, I wasn’t looking, and instant replay is a still decade off. If you missed it, you missed it. In any case, Rizzuto is on second, with nobody out. Johnny Mize drives him in with a single to left, before a double play gets the Dodgers out of the inning.
Yanks lead, 1-0.
Duke Snider leads off with a single to right, for the Dodgers, and Robinson comes up. He bunts toward third, and is gone from the frame so fast, you don’t doubt for a half second that he’s going to make it to first. Snider on second, Robinson on first, nobody out, with Campanella coming up.
“The ballpark has come alive,” Barber says. “The ballgame has suddenly yanked another emotional string!”
Now the stocky catcher bunts, and beats it out for a single! And the bases are loaded. Yankees manager Casey Stengel signals to the bullpen, and brings a reliever, Allie Reynolds. Allie, Yogi, Pee Wee, Campy and The Duke. Oh, to live in a nation with men named like comic book characters (and with comic book characters named like men)!
Snider scores on a sacrifice fly, and Robinson advances to third on an error. Oh, to live in a nation where baseball bases are damn near as fat …
… as Campy’s rear end, in these pants!
Speaking of asses, Robinson is presenting Reynolds with a giant pain in his, dancing distractingly up and down the third base line, threatening to run for home every time the pitcher prepares to wind up. Reynolds pauses repeatedly, glares over angrily, and then finally resigns himself to pitch, finally getting a groundout to end the inning. Oh, to live in a nation where enraged white boys have to publicly turn the other cheek!
One-one, going to the fifth.
Yankees leadoff hitter Gene Woodling homers over the right field wall. Yanks right back in front, 2-1.
Dodgers are up again. After the pitcher Joe Black strikes out, Billy Cox whacks a double to right, as Pee Wee Reese comes up to bat, with “the Duke on deck,” as Mel Allen says. Reese gets double to left and scores Cox, and now we’re tied again, 2-2. Oh, to live in a nation where we’re tied again, 2-2.
“There is no sense in trying to pick out any more adjectives to try and indicate the greatness of this Series,” Allen says. “Just sit back and watch it.”
Top of the sixth, shortstop Rizzuto lashes a low line-drive, but his counterpart Reece makes a tremendous backhanded catch. Mantle’s up. Takes three straight pitches for balls, then fakes a bunt. Three balls and a strike. Home run, to right field. Even the way Mantle rounds the bases in a fast home-run trot, you go, How well did he run before he crippled his knee?
Mize gets a one-out single to right, and Dodgers go to the bullpen. Preacher Roe comes in. “The Preacher” scratches his way out of a long and messy Yankees’ sixth, which ends with them back on top, 3-2.
Now in Campanella singles to right, to lead off the bottom of the inning, but just as quickly, Hodges hits into a double play, and the inning ends quickly. We go to the seventh.
Yanks make it 4-2, as McDougald singles, gets bunted over to second, and Mantle singles McDougald home. “The magnificent Mickey!” Allen says. Oh, to live in a nation where RBIs are alliterative!
After a leadoff walk, the Dodgers bring in pinch-hitter Rocky Nelson, who is still warming up by swinging two bats when he arrives in the batters box. Yankees’ manager Casey Stengel is leaping off the bench, clapping his hands and yelling, “Let’s go!” Nelson pops out to Rizzuto at short. Billy Cox singles to right, and the Dodgers have two on with one out and Pee Wee Reese at bat. With Dodgers’ coach Cookie Lavagetto cheering the team on—oh, to live in a nation with men still nicknamed Cookie!—Reese walks to load the bases, with still, only one out.
The Yankees change pitchers.
Duke Snider steps to the plate.
“Strike one, fastball. … Outside, ball one, one and one. … Foul ball over the Yankee dugout, strike two, one and two. The Duke takes a curve inside, two and two. And the crowd, oohing and ahhing. … Ball three. Boy, the crowd is roaring now ….” Snider pops out to McDougald, at third, two outs.
Jackie Robinson’s up. Stengel comes out of the dugout as if to change pitchers, goes back in. Strike one, ball one. The pitcher is walking all around the mound, everyone is agitated. “Veins are starting to pop in the necks of everybody right now,” Allen says. “It’s rough and tough.” Long foul ball down the left field line. A ground ball, foul.
(Goddamn, I’m rooting so hard for the Dodgers!) [Oh, to live in a nation with the hard-luck Brooklyn Dodgers still to root for! At least we have the imperious Yankees still to root against!]
Robinson pops it up in the infield, right next to the mound. Where’s the pitcher? Where’s anybody? Here comes Billy Martin from second, charging in to make a near diving catch of a ball the wind is killing, for the final out of a heartbreakingly promising inning.
Yankees go quietly in the eighth. While the Dodgers bat in the bottom of the inning, Dodgers’ pitcher Ralph Branca gets thrown out of the game for arguing with the umpire from the dugout. “You can’t blame ’em, boys and girls, ladies and gentlemen,” Allen says. “This is rough and tough!” But despite a Yankees error, the Dodgers go quietly, too.
Not much doing for the Yankees in the ninth.
Now the Dodgers are up in the bottom of the last. “Breaths are short, hearts are beating rapidly, pulses are racing on every pitch,” Allen says, speaking to me in the summer of 2022 even though I know how this ends.
Two outs, and the Dodger dugout fills with policemen. Yes, they needed security in 1952.
Fly-out to left, and the Yankees win. Dodgers’ announcer Red Barber (on the left) and Yankees’ announcer Mel Allen (on the right) amiably agree that neither team ought to feel shame in defeat or arrogance in victory.
“So fans, that’s that. The story of another World Series goes into the record. But Gillette’s Cavalcade of Sports carries on. … And now this is Red Barber with Mel Allen, saying, ‘Smooth sailing, smooth shaving, and good afternoon from your host, the Gillette Safety Razor Company.”
Oh, to live in a country where you could hope for smooth sailing and smooth shaving wished for you by your host, the Gillette Safety Razor Company.
Joe McCarthy, I know. Emmett Till, I know. Invisible women, I know. Sexual repression, I know.
But strictly regarding the good old days as the bad old days is blind and deaf and dumb. Paving over the richness and beauty of America’s past is as culturally destructive as attempting to “Make America Great Again,” by harboring a fantasy time-traveling back there. However great America can still become (and you know I love an underdog), it’ll do so on the shoulders of its inherited cultural strengths, at least as much as in avoidance of its weaknesses.
Meanwhile, another game just popped up on YouTube: It’s Vin Scully on the call, in game seven of the 1965 Series, between the L.A. Dodgers and the Minnesota Twins. Koufax, Drysdale, Oliva and Killebrew. Grab us a Ballentine’s Ale, and pull up a chair.