Where Have You Gone Nancy Bea?
Funny stuff DFNY. I loved that you went there.
All that talk about manly men and Lou Grant got me thinking about the old days. Remember going to the stadium back when we were young bucks? You could take a seat anywhere in the park and try and keep to yourself, but invariably you’d end up embroiled in a conversation with some old duffer with bushy eyebrows, hair coming out of his nostrils and a voice loud enough to drown out Helen Dell.
I learned the game from guys like that. My father was closer to Fred Claire than Al Campanis when it came to sports – it simply wasn’t his thing. But there was always a seemingly endless supply of hirsute old guys willing to show you how to keep score properly, lecture you on the evils of free agency, or explain why Gil Hodges whizzed from on high all over Greg Brock. I learned to love this game from them.
I still find myself looking for guys like that whenever I make it back to Dodger Stadium, but they are a practically extinct breed (except for the harsh reality that I am rapidly morphing into the last of them myself). Instead of those colorful oldtimers, the stands now seem filled with the younger demographic so clearly prized by the folks that care about such things. Normally I’d say this was a good. After all, how can you argue with the notion of baseball catching on with the young. But I can’t help being a judgmental old bastard and suspecting that most of them come for the wave, or the Gordon Biersch garlic fries or something. But baseball? Hard to imagine it. Not baseball the way I think of it. The game with almost religious implications. I don’t sense a lot of the gospel in Elysian Fields anymore. I’ll put the baseball knowledge and sheer baseball fervor of any one of those old guys from my youth against the entire top deck of one of today’s games.
But my lament today isn’t about old vs. young, but rather the sense I have that Dodger tradition is slipping away – only to be replaced by little more than gimmicks and commerce. Consider the fate of organist Nancy Bea Hefley – marginalized to just a few bars of music a night in order to make room for the same stale stadium rock playlist now featured in every ballpark in America. Or turn your thoughts to the radio broadcasts that no longer start off with the gloriously corny “It’s a Beautiful Day for a Ballgame.“ These days Dodger tradition exists only in the gift shops.
Of course everything changes. We need to embrace change, or so I am told. But for decades visit to Dodger Stadium made you feel like it was possible to beat back father time. From 1968 through 1998 they had a total of two General Managers running the organization. And only two managers sat in the dugout going back even further. Vin Scully was a constant. The uniform never changed. The Infield stayed together throughout my entire childhood and into my teens, and the stadium itself was unsullied. Even the straw-hatted ushers and peanut vendors seemed constant. It was comforting.
Is it wrong to miss that comfort? Is it wrong to lament the replacement of the Cool-a-Coo with the inferior Its-It? Is it wrong to be annoyed by all of the flashing lights and jumbotron gimmicks designed to make the game more like the NBA? Should I just shrug my shoulders at the closing of the venerable Dodgertown in Florida’s Vero Beach – the last preserve for the breed of old guys I mentioned earlier. Where will the last of them/I go now? The great ballpark in the sky?
When I watch a game on TV and I see every square inch of space used for advertising, I’m reminded of the days when the only ad visible from the stands was the Union 76 globe (later it was replaced with a Coca Cola globe). And yes, I know that a lot of the old time ballparks had ads all over the place for Bryl Cream and the like, but the point is that Dodger Stadium was pure – and Dodger tradition is the only tradition that matters to m right this moment .
The thing is – baseball is all about history. Why else would we pit today’s player against the entire history of baseball? That weight of history is what makes the game profound. So when a guy like Cal Ripken surpasses Gherig, we all stand in awe. If we surrender our history, what do we replace it with? Animated jumbotron races?
Maybe some day one of today’s kids will grow up and lament the passing of this era. In fact I’m sure many will. That is how it works. Every generation loves what they know and are unconcerned with the things that fall outside their experience. Maybe they’ll grow to feel as marginalized as I do now as the game continues to change. And when this happens – I wonder if they’ll hand on as stubbornly as I do. Will their connection to the game be as fanatical as mine? Can the watered down attention deficit disorder version of the game inspire the same addictive behavior as the game that hooked me? I wonder. Maybe they’ll just accept constant change as a tradition in and of itself. Who am I to say they shouldn’t?
So there it is. Maybe I have no complaint. Maybe change is natural and tradition is a mirage. Maybe. But I know what those old guys I grew up talking to would say about the subject – and it isn’t something you’d want the kids to hear.