Did Abner Doubleday know he created the perfect game when he drew up the baseball diamond? We’ll never know. What we do know is that baseball is somehow perfect in its dimensions, in its ability to create a competitive contest. But most of all in its ability to create drama.
And when that drama unfolds in the World Series, no other sport can match it. Baseball, once the American pastime, has been surpassed—by pro football, college football, the Super Bowl, and the Bowl Championship Series according to TV viewer statistics. But if you watch the World Series, the thrill and the drama instantly come alive.
I saw my first World Series at the age of eight, the 1957 classic that had the Milwaukee Braves up against the mighty New York Yankees. I wasn’t at County Stadium in Milwaukee or at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, but I watched the late afternoon shadows creep across the infield on a small black and white television. The Yankees were loaded—players like Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Gil McDougal, Whitey Ford and others had made them famous. The Braves had a young player named Hank Aaron, veterans like Warren Spahn and Red Schoendienst and a young slugger named Eddie Mathews. The Series ended in classic style when my favorite player, Mathews, snagged a hot grounder in the ninth inning of Game 7 and stepped on third base to deliver the championship to Milwaukee.
Lew Burdette, a right-handed pitcher for the Braves, won an amazing three times in the 1957 Series. It’s unheard of now. A few weeks after the Series was over, my cousin called and told me Lew Burdette was going to be at a furniture store close to where I lived—probably to make some extra money in the off-season. And so on a mild November afternoon, I peddled my bicycle to the furniture store with a calendar tucked under my shirt—a monthly calendar my dad had printed up for his boat-building business to distribute to customers the next year.
I walked in and saw a tall man in a business suit standing in the center of the store. “Are you Lew Burdette?” I asked. He looked down at me, smiled and nodded. We shook hands. “Will you autograph my calendar?” I asked. “Sure,” he said, “I’ll sign every page.”
Check out the World Series. The drama is there. And get a 2012 calendar ready. Someone may be coming to a furniture store near you.