Carlton FiskOctober 31, 2008
Last week, during The Griddle’s coverage of the weather-enlivened World Series, Bob Timmermann noted the tradition, which resurrects itself whenever it gets a little cold or rainy during the Fall Classic, of sportswriters calling for baseball to ape pro football and move the World Series to a neutral site. Bob pointed out that these articles have been appearing for some time:
“One notable article was by longtime AP writer Will Grimsley who, stuck in the cold and rain for two days during one World Series, wondered why the Series couldn’t be moved to the Astrodome. Grimsley’s article was written the day before Game 6 of the 1975 World Series.”
This morning I heard someone on ESPN radio who had been at that famous game, Peter Gammons, adding his highly influential voice to those calling for a movement toward a neutral-site World Series. He said that people ask him (I suppose because he’s from New England) what he would say to Red Sox fans if this idea was put into action. He said he’d tell them that Red Sox fans haven’t celebrated a World Series victory in their own park since 1918.
I was jogging when I heard him say this. I started running faster. As soon as I got back to my apartment, I took a book off the shelf that included some words I memorized a few years ago, as others might memorize a poem by Keats or a Shakespeare soliloquy. I had to read those words again. They are from October 22, 1975.
And all of a sudden the ball was there, like the Mystic River Bridge, suspended out in the black of the morning.
When it finally crashed off the mesh attached to the left field foul pole, the reaction unfurled one step after another—from Carlton Fisk’s convulsive leap to John Kiley’s booming of the “Hallelujah Chorus” to the wearing off of the numbness to the outcry that echoed across the cold New England morning.
At 12:34 A.M., in the 12th inning, Fisk’s histrionic home run brought a 7-6 end to a game that will be the pride of historians in the year 2525, a game won and lost what seemed like a dozen times, and a game that brings back summertime one more day. For the seventh game of the World Series.
(from Impossible Dreams, p. 280)
Young Peter Gammons wrote those words, among the best ever written about the game of baseball. He was able by some rare lightning bolt of grace to infuse his clear, charged report of the game’s heroics with a deep and powerful sense of place. The pull of that moment, which will last as long as baseball lasts, has everything to do with the fact that it occurred on a cold New England morning with the long dark winter looming. Fisk’s homer occurred, like Joe Carter’s homer, like Kirk Gibson’s homer, like Bill Mazeroski’s homer, like Bobby Thomson’s homer, at home. ”The writer operates at a peculiar crossroads,” Flannery O’Connor once wrote, ”where time and place and eternity somehow meet. His problem is to find that location.” Young Peter Gammons found that crossroads, that place, as well as anyone ever has.
Old Peter Gammons seems to want there to be no such thing as place. In the radio interview, after pointing out that Red Sox fans haven’t celebrated a World Series victory in their own park since 1918 (as if the only thing worthy of celebrating or remembering is the winner of the World Series), Gammons said he’d tell Red Sox fans that the Patriots didn’t win their Super Bowls in Foxboro. He’s right. But where did they win them? Granted, I’m not a big football fan, but I happily watched the Patriots win their Super Bowls, and I couldn’t possibly tell you where those wins occurred. With all due respect to the cities in which they did occur, to me they occurred nowhere. No place. On the other hand, even though my knowledge of football history is spotty, I can tell you where the Patriots’ “tuck rule” victory in the snow over the Raiders occurred, and where the Ice Bowl occurred, and where that old rainy championship game in the 1930s occurred in which the winning team went out at halftime and bought sneakers to contend with the muddy field. Without place: no memory. Without memory: what?
It breaks my heart that Peter Gammons, author of my favorite paragraphs ever written about my favorite sport, seems to have lost not only his memory but his awareness of the singular, irreplaceable power of place.