The other day, my wife reminded me that we had attended the May 14, 1996 game in which Dwight Gooden, then with the Yankees, had no-hit the Seattle Mariners. She didn’t remember all those details. I had to look them up. All she remembered was me patiently explaining—and explaining some more—the importance of Gooden’s achievement as the last outs were recorded. Monica and I were new to each other then, having met the previous fall.
How odd that I would forget that. It’s certainly the only baseball game of any historical significance I ever witnessed. I can dimly remember it now that I’ve been prodded to do so. (In an an odd statistical anomaly, no New York Met has ever thrown a no-hitter in their 49-year history, though two former Mets, Dwight Gooden and David Cone, have thrown no-hitters for the Yankees.)
I loved baseball as a boy. We played it eight months of the year, March through October, on the street in front of our house, in the municipal fields of our town, and in Little League. My father took me to games at Yankee Stadium. In March, when the new schedules were printed, I would study the tiny print of the little twice-folded piece of glossy paper, looking for TV games. In those days, the early to late ’70s, WPIX-TV out of New York might show 45 to 50 games in a season, with a few others appearing on NBC’s (or, later, ABC’s) Monday Night Baseball. All the other games were relegated to the radio, which in those days meant WMCA, a very-low-wattage station at the very bottom of the AM dial. I can remember listening to games with my ear pressed flat to the speaker of my mother’s clock radio, my fingers making infinitesimal tweaks of the tuning dial to maintain some whisper of the play-by-play amid the rising and falling background tide of static.
Phil Rizzuto, Frank Messer, and Bill White called those TV games for the Yankees. When Frank Messer, the play-by-play man, would recap a play, he would explain it in terms of a scorecard. “That’s six unassisted to three for the double play, for those of you scoring at home,” or “Tidrow got a piece of that one, so score it one-six-three for the putout.” Messer was talking to kids like me who were assiduously marking up our scorecards at home as we watched the game.
Each year, I would buy a big wirebound pad of scoresheets at Ramsay’s Sporting Goods, the official kind stocked in the section with umpire’s chest protectors and rosin bags and such, and I would fill it up with carefully notated accounts of games. I’d follow a player’s transit around the bases by inking the lines around a tiny diamond in that particular inning’s slot on the grid. A dot in the center was a run scored. An F7 was a flyout to left, but a P7 was a shorter fly, a pop-up, also to left. An S7 was a sacrifice fly to left which, like a walk or a bunt, didn’t count as an at-bat. At the end of a season, I’d have 40 to 45 scorecarded games in my pad.
At the very height of my Yankee mania, I would cut the Yankee stories out of the local paper, the Daily Advance, and tape them into binders. I lived and died with those Yankees: Graig Nettles and Elliot Maddox, Jerry Kenney and Fritz Peterson, Mickey Rivers and “The Stick,” Gene Michael. In 1976, my mother, who knew nothing of baseball, wore a Yankee cap as I watched the Yankees play the Cincinnati Reds in the World Series. It didn’t help. In 1979, my mother, who still knew nothing of baseball, cried when Thurman Munson died, seeing how devastated I was.
That 1996 no-hitter might have been the last major league game I ever went to. I can remember, in the early ’90s, growing increasingly disenchanted with the rowdiness, drunkenness and hostility of the Yankee Stadium crowds. (The expense-account salesmen and stockbrokers were the worst offenders.) I was one of those fans who never really came back after the strike-shortened 1994 season. My kids have never been to a MLB game, and show little interest in the sport. Owen’s Little League career lasted twenty minutes. Abby disdains all competitive sports and likes horses, drawing, fashion, and swimming, in roughly that order.
We go to one or two Lakewood Blue Claws games a year and sit among other families, content to ignore the specifics of the game and enjoy a night out under the stars, watching three people in rubber suits (Ham, Egg, and Cheese) chase each other around the field in a promotion for some diner or other. I can’t speak for the major leagues, but I know they don’t sell scorecards at the Blue Claws’ home field. No one’s huddled over a pad, alternately penciling in facts and keeping an eye out for foul balls.
Tonight, I’ll watch an inning or two of the All-Star Game, something I try to do every year. In my youth, the All-Star Game was a magical thing, a chance to see confrontations that could exist nowhere else. Rod Carew, a guy who barely got a sniff of the post-season, trying to get a hit off Don Sutton. Amos Otis against Steve Carlton. Willie Stargell versus Catfish Hunter. The National League was mysterious to me then, with its players glimpsed only occasionally on Monday Night Baseball or Mel Allen’s This Week in Baseball recap show. That’s all gone, too, in an era when the Yankees play the Mets as often as they play the Kansas City Royals, and every game, everywhere, is on TV somewhere.