Changes (With Apologies to Phil Ochs)

I heard something recently about an election. But before deciding on my topic for this week, I also heard there was a recent World Series.

DECISION: In the case of Baseball v. Politics, I find for plaintiff. (I always wanted to be a judge.)

My father was a Dodgers fan, which wasn’t surprising for someone who grew up in Brooklyn after he came to the United States as a child. But I lived the first five years of my life on the Grand Concourse and 158th Street, in almost the literal shadow of Yankee Stadium, so I broke family tradition and became, and still am, an avid Yankee fan. I attended many games at the old stadium, first with friends, then with dates, and finally with my own kids, and later at the new stadium with my wife, Sharon. Never with my father, though.

Luckily, I did see games with him at Ebbets Field, that former Flatbush bandbox, where he took me to watch his boys of summer — Pee Wee, Jackie, the Carls, Roy, Gil, and Duke, among others. Me with my glove for foul balls, he with a jacket and straw hat. (It was the ’50s, after all.) Warm memories.

I also remember watching on our old black-and-white TV set and listening on transistor radios (including in school sometimes, even during class) to the World Series battles between my father’s team and mine, being exhilarated by Johnny in ’55 (him) and by Don in ‘56 (me). Neither of us gloated, however. While we reveled in our wins, we also appreciated (well, at least accepted) the other’s victories as well.

So this year, to Sharon’s dismay — she thought baseball TV-watching in our home was finished after the Yankees lost to Tampa Bay in the ALDS — I decided to watch the Dodgers play the Rays in the World Series, so I could root for my father’s team as his surrogate.

It was an exciting series, with leads changing hands, a game won on a combination of a base running and a fielding error, and an attempted steal of home, although, unlike the steal in the ’55 series, this runner was out. (Of course, Yogi claimed to his dying day that Jackie was also out.) And when Willie Adames struck out looking, I raised a cheer in my father’s memory.

If you’re a baseball fan, or even if not, you probably know that there was a tactical controversy in that final game. The Tampa Bay pitcher, Blake Snell, pitching the game of his life, was taken out with one down in the sixth inning and a 1-0 lead, having allowed only two hits while throwing just 73 pitches, striking out nine, and walking none. The Dodgers, however, scored two runs off the relief pitcher in the sixth, and ended up winning the game and the series.

How strange. Remembering the World Series of my youth, I thought of Lew Burdette in 1957, winning three games against the Yankees and my boys of summer — Mickey, Whitey, Yogi, Moose, Hank, Gil, and Tony, among others. I remembered Bob Gibson demolishing the Red Sox in 1967, and the Gibson and Lolich ironmen of 1968. All pitched three complete games, and all pitched the seventh on short rest. Taking out a well-rested star pitcher with a two-hitter in the sixth inning and the series on the line? Really?

DECISION: In the case of Analytics v. History, I find for defendant.

Baseball’s change to overuse of analytics is just one of the aspects of modern baseball that I don’t like. Others include using not only set up men and closers but (grrrr) openers as well; fielding shifts against .220 hitters (the almost unique Boudreau shift was against Ted Williams, the best hitter in the game); almost no day games (even on World Series weekends); no double headers (except during the pandemic); ever-lengthening games; too many stats and ads and too few steals and sacrifice bunts. (I omit the designated hitter because I happen to like it.)

Ok, I know I sound like a curmudgeon, blathering about the good old days and complaining about the new. And I can’t defend myself by saying I’m a baseball purist, because the true definition of that term is simply someone who likes the way the game was played when he was a kid.

So maybe I don’t like change. And there are, in fact, other modern changes I don’t like. For example, I’ve been a daily subscriber to the New York Times since 1962 but I hate the changed sports section and am often not that happy with the news section, though not, I hasten to note, for the reason that some of my friends stopped subscribing.

I don’t mind so much that the sports section’s filled with human interest and sports business stories, but I do wish they’d at least tell us all the scores and some of the details of the games played by local teams. And I don’t expect a full listing of the batting and pitching records of every major leaguer every Sunday, like they did decades ago, but how about the league leaders and a local team box score every once in a while? I also can live with news pages filled with uninteresting pictures and little text and niche issue articles taking up two or more full pages, but how about filling us in on important actual news that took place two nights ago, after deadline?

The Times no longer seems to care about those of us who still read the physical paper (and pay a hefty price for that privilege), expecting us to go on line to get what should be basic and important information. While I use plenty of screen time every day — too much on many days — if I pay for the print edition I shouldn’t have to log on to find out what the Yankees did against the Red Sox or the details of yet another spurious Republican lawsuit challenging the election that was filed two nights before. (You really thought I wasn’t going to mention it at all?)

I’ve also seen many positive changes in my lifetime; of course, most significantly both in baseball and in much of life was the elimination of the color line. (Personal trivia question. Sharon and I were born a month apart yet in two different baseball eras; I when major league baseball was still segregated and she not. How so? Email me your guess.)

In the Jewish world, there have been changes for the better in In the Jewish world, there have been changes for the better in Modern Orthodoxy since my youth, especially concerning the treatment of women regarding Torah learning and religious and lay leadership roles. And Jewish campus life also has greatly improved, with kosher food plans; active Hillel, OU-JLIC, and Chabad programs; and on-campus battei midrashot and minyanim, almost none of which existed when I attended college.

So I certainly don’t want to turn our world into the ’50s and ’60s when I grew up, because in many ways we’re a kinder, more open, diverse, and caring, and less biased and bigoted society — though we still have a long way to go. (Unfortunately, we’re also, in other ways, a more judgmental and divided, less forgiving, and cruder world.)

So how should we think about change? H.G. Wells wrote that “we should strive to welcome change and challenges, because they are what help us grow.” Yet Phil Ochs, the great troubadour of the ’60s whose music I still listen to, sang mournfully that change turns the green leaves of summer to red, sweeps away moments of nighttime magic, and makes passions burn cold. Who’s right?

The answer — cue old Jewish joke — is both. We can grow from all change, both what we like and what we don’t like; what makes life easier and harder; what raises our spirits and turns them gray; what wafts like a spring breeze and rages like a hurricane.

Therefore, as Phil also sang, let’s “race around the stars in a journey through the universe ablaze with changes,” savoring the new (who, 20 years ago, could have imagined now ubiquitous smartphones and GPS?), appreciating the positives, and fighting the negatives. But growing from all.

Sometimes, though, all I want is a lazy summer Sunday afternoon at a doubleheader, sitting with my father and watching Mickey (at the old stadium) or the Duke (at Ebbets Field) hit one into the bleachers. And leave change for Monday.

About the Author
Joseph C. Kaplan, a regular columnist for the Jewish Standard, is a long-time resident of Teaneck. His work has also appeared in various publications including Sh’ma magazine, The New York Jewish Week, The Baltimore Jewish Times, and, as letters to the editor, The New York Times.
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