Golden memories of a golden anniversary

After Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium was torn down in the old hometown in 2002, I began describing the vast empty space left behind as “the abomination of desolation.” Things are a bit more sightly now: two apartment complexes and a new Y have been built on the site. In my mind’s eye, though, what I see on East 33rd Street is the old brick horseshoe where I learned baseball from my grandfather Weigel in the late 1950s – and where, a half-century ago, I had a foretaste of the joy of the Kingdom.

There were no air-conditioned skyboxes in those days; there weren’t even seats, but rather wooden benches. So fans (who were not yet a “fan base”) bought a newspaper on the way in as anti-splinter protection, the working class folks sitting on a News-Post and the white collar types on an Evening Sun. Concessions were primitive in the extreme: rubbery Esskay hotdogs; salty, stale popcorn; Nation Boh for those who had achieved their majority and watery Cokes for us small fry. Then as now, Baltimore felt like Calcutta-on-the-Patapsco for months on end. So on hot, humid summer evenings you didn’t come to Memorial Stadium to be seen, or to close a deal, or to consult your broker or your therapist on a cell phone: you came for baseball, period.

The agent of my initiation into the pastime’s mysteries, Frank Moore Weigel, I had christened “Dada” in my infancy: a prerogative inherent in being the Stammhalter, the elder son of his eldest son. Through Dada and those Oriole teams, my brother and I learned that people who say nothing happens at a ballgame don’t know what they’re looking at. Gus Triandos being about all the Birds had in those days by way of a power-hitter, we learned to savor strong pitching (taught by crafty old Harry “The Cat” Brecheen) and we reveled in brilliant defense. For if the Orioles of my youth struggled to score runs, they could do magic with the leather, the chief wizard being a baby-faced third baseman from Little Rock, Arkansas, named Brooks Robinson.

My baseball fever began to rise in 1957, when I was six and the O’s managed to play .500 ball over the course of the then-154 game season. They reverted to their sub-.500 norm in the next couple of years. But in 1960 the Orioles challenged the lordly (and loathed) Yankees for the American League gonfalon before fading to a second-place finish after a disastrous September series in the Bronx that taught me the truth of Ecclesiastes 8.11: “the heart of the sons of men is fully set to do evil.” With my adolescence sneaking around the corner, the Birds made another serious run in 1964, as manager Hank Bauer (whose face was aptly described as resembling a clenched fist) graced the cover of Time and Brooks Robinson was named A.L. most valuable player.

In the winter of 1965-66, the final piece of the championship puzzle fell into place when the O’s acquired Frank Robinson (discarded by the Cincinnati Reds’ general manager as an “old thirty”) in exchange for Miltiades Pappastediodis, whom you will likely remember as “Milt Pappas.” Robinson proceeded to win the Triple Crown in 1966, and to this day I have never seen a ballplayer who could bend a game to his will like Frank Robby. He, Brooks Robby, and the rest of the O’s waltzed through the American League, then flew to Los Angeles as underdogs to the mighty Dodgers in the World Series. But they beat Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax out on the left coast (with, perhaps, some assistance from the saliva of Mr. Moe Drabowsky in Game One). And on return to Baltimore, the Birds won Game Three of the Series with Dada and my brother John in attendance.

I was there with Dada for the fourth game, on October 9, 1966, sitting twenty rows or so behind first base. As Paul Blair caught Lou Johnson’s fly ball to complete Dave McNally’s 1-0 shutout and the Orioles’ four-game sweep, Memorial Stadium erupted, hoary south-of-the-Mason-Dixon-Line racial codes were abandoned as blacks and whites hugged and hollered, and I experienced a moment of unalloyed joy – a prolepsis of the Kingdom, if I may say.

Fifty years later, the glow remains.


COMING UP: Speaking of “deplorables”….

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You’d think presidential candidates would have learned that shooting from the lip in front of deep-pocket donors is asking for trouble. Mitt Romney’s ill-advised comment about the “47%” of us who are “dependent on government” helped sink his candidacy in an otherwise winnable election. Barack Obama’s snark about folks clinging to their guns and Bibles because they can’t handle post-modernity got a mulligan from a star-struck press corps; but among those paying attention that elitist smackdown put the final nail in the coffin of Obama-the-unifier, the trope Obama had exploited since his first appearance on the national stage at the 2004 Democratic convention.

Now we have Hillary Clinton, speaking to a group of LGBT activists and donors and going off-message with a rant about those Americans who fall into her “basket of deplorables:” racists, sexists, homophobes, Islamophobes, whatever. The national media quickly consigned all that to the rear-view mirror. But let me suggest that what was dismissed as an atypical, off-message gaffe was in fact an expression of Mrs. Clinton’s true sentiments – just as Donald Trump’s boorish crack about Senator John McCain being a loser for having been a POW spoke volumes about his fitness for the presidency (or indeed for village dog-catcher). So on the chance that Mrs. Clinton is elected POTUS 45 on November 8, let’s be clear what that revelatory riff about “deplorables” tells us about what’s coming.

What’s coming is an administration in which the Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services will argue in the federal courts that religious freedom in full – religious communities conducting their affairs and providing needed care for the weakest in our society according to their religious convictions about the moral life – is misogynist and homophobic, a mask behind which lurk irrational biases that cannot be countenanced in law.

What’s coming is an administration in which the U.S. Agency for International Development, which dispenses billions of dollars of foreign aid, will continue to condition that aid on recipient nations bowing to the LGBT agenda – thus making enemies for America in traditional societies and cultures that will learn to equate “democracy” with libertine bullying.

What’s coming is an administration that privileges identity-politics in everything from Cabinet appointments to ambassadorships.

What’s coming is an administration that will regard any effort to restore order to homicide-ridden inner-urban communities as “racist,” thus condemning more and more innocent African-Americans to violent, random death.

What’s coming is an administration that looks down its nose at those portrayed with unsparing clarity and deep compassion in J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy: which means that those who aren’t making it in America today – for no fault of their own or because of bad decisions they’ve made – will continue to spiral downwards both socially and economically.

And it means that faithful Catholics who believe in colorblind equality before the law, the dignity and value of every human life at all stages and in all conditions, marriage rightly understood, and an ethic of love that recognizes the truths built into us by the Creator and confirmed by reason will be considered….well, deplorable. And thus will likely be deplored, in any number of ways.

But while we’re on the subject of deplorability, let me go equal-opportunity here and say that I think it utterly deplorable that Mrs. Clinton’s principal opponent, Mr. Donald Trump, continues to praise Vladimir Putin – and is joined in doing so by bears of little brain who’ve doubled-down on Trump’s queer notion that the Russian president is a strong leader who gets things done.

Well. What the ex-KGB hand, Putin, has gotten done is this: he’s erected a kleptocratic quasi-dictatorship on top of a crumbling civil society while murdering his political opponents, invading his neighbors, backstopping Syria’s murderous Bashar al-Assad, and conducting a fantastic propaganda campaign throughout the world (supported, sadly, by the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church): all of which is aimed at reversing the verdict of recent history, rebuilding Stalin’s empire in a new guise, and deconstructing the West. Anyone who doesn’t recognize this aggression as just that, a reversion to the Cold War, is deplorably ill-informed or deplorably gullible. Anyone who thinks Putin’s accomplishment admirable is morally obtuse and, well, deplorable.

The Republic is in deep trouble.