Terence Mann, played perfectly by James Earl Jones, gave perhaps the best soliloquy about baseball, ever. It is so good, high school English teachers should have their students memorize and interpret it instead of Hamlet’s To Be or Not To Be. In the current absence of baseball, rewatching it reminds us of what we are missing.
Today is June 18, near the summer solstice two days from now. This is the time when, during the 8:00 pm hour, the sun creates a human shadow that makes a person feel 20-feet tall, just as they are in Mann's speech.
This is the time of year when complete strangers gathered in a ballpark bellow in unison, “CHARGE!,” when the organist finishes that familiar string of notes - dun-na din-na!
This is the time of year when hot dogs taste best. Oh, sure a backyard barbecue is good, but it does not compare to the foil wrapped steamy goodness of a ballpark hot dog. Even if the bun is a bit soggy.
This is the time of year when every six-year-old asks for Dippin’ Dots. What the heck are Dippin’ Dots? Can a person buy them at Walmart? (Answer is, well, as you can see, one can buy a type of Dippin' Dots at Walmart). But I digress...
This is the time when people of all generations, strangers mostly, come together as a community, instead of tearing the community apart, to mindlessly watch a baseball game, perhaps paying attention, perhaps not.
Rarely on the summer solstice, does the outcome of a baseball game matter. No team is ever really eliminated from contention by June 20. And besides, there is usually a game the next day. It is not for wins or losses that we watch or listen; it is for hope, for optimism, for a reconnection with peace that we watch or listen.
Indeed, as Washington Post writer Thomas Boswell observed in his wonderfully titled (and written) collection of essays, “Why Time Begins on Opening Day,” “The crowd and its team had finally understood that in games, as in many things, the ending, the final score, is only part of what matters. The process, the pleasure, the grain of the game count too.”
“People will come, Ray... They’ll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past... For it is money they have and peace they lack.”
Being in the crowd is great. For me, listening on the radio is just as good. My earliest memories of baseball fandom involve me listening to Vin Scully and Jerry Doggett narrate a 1970s Dodger game on the giant stereo/record player/behemoth console in our Westlake Village house.
Scully had a way of making you feel like he was talking directly to you; always wishing you a very pleasant afternoon or evening. Early on in the pandemic, he was the voice of reason. Scully retired after the 2016 season following 66 years of broadcasting Dodgers games. Hearing him wish me (and let’s face it, he was talking to me) a good day during the pandemic, reminded me of what we are currently missing.
It was six years ago today, June 18, 2014, I stayed up late, as I often did during the summer, to watch history. Clayton Kershaw threw a near perfect game (dang Hanley Ramirez error) with Vin Scully at the microphone. That night, I went to bed way too late; but I did it with a smile on my face. At peace.
“Baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good and that could be again.”
I was in my sophomore year in college on October 15, 1988. Most Drake University students had disbursed for Fall Break, but I opted to stay on campus. Something about my role as sports editor of the Times-Delphic being so critical I could not afford to leave. The events of that Saturday evening are seared in my mind. Little doubt existed as to where I would be and what I would do that night. As a lifelong Los Angeles Dodgers fan, I would be in front of a television watching Game One of the World Series.
As was/is my wont during tense baseball moments involving the Dodgers, I could not sit still. So I paced my dorm room on the second floor of Carpenter Hall. The dorm had those old-fashioned windows which you hand-crank to open and close. It was an Indian Summer-kind of day, so my south-facing window overlooking the grassy area separating three dorm buildings was open.
Of course, what happened next is familiar to even a casual baseball fan. A severely injured and debilitated Kirk Gibson swung at 3-2 backdoor slider from Dennis Eckersley, lifting the ball into the right field pavilion at Dodger Stadium for a 5-4 Dodgers win. The NBC television cameras showed bedlam in the Stadium and brake lights being slammed on in the parking lot. Vin Scully, the greatest baseball announcer ever, described a “high fly ball into right field. She is… gone!”
I screamed, the noise carrying out the window and up two flights to be heard by a friend also staying in the dorm. The Dodgers would win the World Series a week later. It was an improbable victory for a team brilliantly pieced together by General Manager Fred Claire, who would spend 30 years in various front office positions with the Dodgers.
I knew of Fred Claire, but I did not know Fred Claire. That changed when I read his memoir, Extra Innings, authored by Tim Madigan. I picked up the book, eagerly hoping for some inside scoop on the 1988 team, and while that exists in the book, the story within has less to do with winning at baseball, and much more to do with winning at life.
You see, many years removed from the spotlight as a MLB GM, Claire was battling cancer. Not once or twice, but three times between 2015-2019. He endured painful treatments and experimental treatments for which success rates were 1 in 4 or less. His care administered by the wonderful staff at City of Hope Hospital in Duarte, Calif. Through it all, Claire remained hopeful and treated each person he encountered with respect.
I talked to Claire about a month ago for a book project on which I am working. It is a passion project; something I do in my free time. He was gracious enough to answer my request and give 30 minutes of his time to talk to someone whom he had never met. I was flattered, enthused, and genuinely excited he agreed to talk to me.
As the book chronicles, this is exactly who Claire is. He is someone who gives his time and shares his experiences to anyone who seeks it - whether it is the 16-year-old son of a doctor about ready to treat Claire, or a high school baseball team that just lost a coach to cancer, or a student in a sport business class he is teaching.
As I reflect on the book, I realize our commonalities (teaching college sport business and the Dodgers) end there. I am not always as giving with time as Claire is with his students or anyone with whom he interacts. But I should be. We all should be.
This is not a book about baseball, though baseball is in it. It is a book about the human condition and how we should all aspire to treat one another with kindness, even when staring down our own adversities. It is an important message in today’s troubled times.
You can purchase Extra Innings from Amazon, but it would be better to support the publisher, Mascot Books, directly. Fulfillment was fast, and if you use code "FriendofFred" at checkout, you can save 20%. Link is here.
Best of all, proceeds from the sale of each book go to benefit City of Hope. Follow Fred Claire on Twitter.