Say It Ain't So

Florida Marlins fans didn't just lose the lineup of their World Championship team as it was being ripped apart last winter. The massive fire sale that reduced the payroll also cost fans their chance to savor a World Series victory, according to Doris Kearns Goodwin.

"You rethink it all winter long," says the historian, political analyst, and baseball fanatic. "The thrill of a World Series win lasts, really, until the next spring. The idea is that you are the best and you have the possibility of being the best again next season. Because that [dismantling] was taking place over the entire winter, fans didn't get to enjoy it.

"I remember in 1955, when the [Brooklyn] Dodgers won that first World Series. During the winter we would go over every game as if it was happening again, and it doesn't seem fair to take that away."

Baseball fans everywhere should be able to relate to the underlying theme of Goodwin's book, Wait Till Next Year, which she'll promote in Boca Raton this week. In her memoir the historian, who has written books on the Roosevelts and Kennedys, recalls an idyllic childhood, which included seeing baseball games with her dad and neighbors in suburban Long Island. In 1949, when she was six years old, she was given a small, red score book by her father, who taught her how to tally plays with a system of numbers and symbols. On summer evenings she would recount the afternoon's Dodger game for her dad, regaling him with the exploits of Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Gil Hodges, and Pee Wee Reese.

"The most important aspect of baseball from when we were growing up was that loyalty to the team and the players," Goodwin recalls. "You could wake up in the morning and know that your favorite players would be in the lineup."

And if Hodges, the Dodgers' first baseman, was in a slump, fans would flock to churches all over Brooklyn to pray for him. But today's fair-weather fans would boo him for not earning his paycheck. And they would have a point. Goodwin explains: "That's what has changed in this era of free agency and huge salaries -- baseball is losing the heart of what it was."

The heart trouble began long before the wholesale slashing of the Marlins team. "For me the first jolt was in '57, when the Dodgers were ripped from us," Goodwin suggests. Ebbets Field was still drawing good crowds when the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles. "The fans seemed unimportant compared to the glorious economic opportunity that Los Angeles offered," she says.

That same year, the New York Giants went to San Francisco, ending a grand era for New York baseball fans. Every year between '49 and '57, one of the city's three teams -- the Giants, Dodgers, or Yankees -- played in the World Series.

"That was the beginning of a series of moves in the '50s that signaled the change to what we see today," Goodwin says. Change wasn't taking place just on the field. In Goodwin's old neighborhood, for example, the corner store was a hub of activity where fans of opposing teams swapped baseball stories. "They, too, gave you a certain type of loyalty that you don't get today," she says.

Goodwin's loyalty to baseball, however, never waned. Following the loss of her beloved Dodgers, she became a Boston Red Sox fan. Today she makes trips to Fenway Park with her two young sons, and they keep score.

"I can't help but think of some young kid falling in love with the Marlins and then watching an entire team broken up," she says, "waking up each morning to find that one or more of his or her favorite players had been traded away."

-- John Ferri

Doris Kearns Goodwin will discuss and sign copies of Wait Till Next Year Thursday, June 11 at Liberties Fine Books, 309 Plaza Real, Boca Raton. The 7:30 p.m. talk is free. Call 561-368-1300.

 
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