Talking baseball was how I connected to the adult male world.
When I was a youngster in the early ’50s, I would sit with my grandfather and three of his friends and talk about ball players and teams they liked — and some they didn’t like.
We met on our enclosed back porch two Saturdays a month from June through September and talked for about three hours. I wouldn’t comment unless I was asked a question or invited to give my opinion.
No one ever became angry or dominated the conversation, even though two of the men had strong opinions.
During the summers of 1951-54, I learned a great deal. In those days the Cubs were a hapless team, but they did have Phil Cavaretta, Bob Rush, Roy Smalley, and the soon-to-be-great Ernie Banks.
The men believed that Smalley should have been an outfielder because of his strong throwing arm. Bob Rush was a decent pitcher who toiled many years for the Cubs, but he never reached the top.
Phil Cavaretta came to the Cubs at 18 years of age after graduating from Lane Tech. He played first base, right field and managed the team from ’51 to ’54 when he left and joined the Sox for one year as a player.
The White Sox had the great lefty Billy Pierce and superb position players — Chico Carrasquel, Nelson Fox and Minnie Minoso. These men and a few others pulled the team up from mediocrity.
The Giants had Willie Mays and a fine pitching staff, and the Dodgers’ lineup included Duke Snider, Carl Furillo, Pee Wee Reese, Roy Campanella, and the incomparable Jackie Robinson.
The Cardinal lineup included Stan Musial, Red Schoendienst, and Marty Marion.
The Reds had the great side-armer Ewell Blackwell and slugger Gus Bell.
The Boston Braves had the pitching duo of Warren Spahn and Johnny Sain, but they didn’t have much more (“Spahn and Sain and pray for rain”).
Robin Roberts was the star pitcher on the Phillies, and Ralph Kiner was the king of swat for the Pirates.
The Indians probably had the best pitching staff in baseball: Bob Feller, Bob Lemon, Early Wynn and Mike Garcia.
My grandfather’s friends believed that the Yankees had the best overall team, and I agreed with them. The Yankees fielded future Hall of Fame members Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, Phil Rizzuto and, in 1953, Mickey Mantle.
The Red Sox pitcher Mel Parnell was one of the best, as was their power-hitting first baseman Walt Dropo, second baseman Bobby Doerr, and Ted Williams after he returned from Korea following service during the Korean Conflict.
The Philadelphia Athletics’ lefty Bobby Shantz won at least 15 games a season for this also-ran team.
Mickey Vernon and his wicked bat kept the Washington Senators out of last place, and Ned Garver won 15-20 games a season for the St. Louis Browns who rarely won more than 45-50 games each season. Garver pitched his entire career of almost 20 years with the Browns.
George Kell, Charley Maxwell and Al Kaline kept the Tigers competitive for many years.
I feel very fortunate that my grandfather and his friends treated me as an equal during our discussions. Although these men were my grandfather’s friends, they became my friends, too.