Games come and go, but diamonds are forever

April 11, 1999|By JOHN STEADMAN

What makes baseball the greatest game God gave man the opportunity to invent:

Those golden memories, still so vivid in the theater of the mind, that no one can take away, of Hank Greenberg, Brooks Robinson and Mickey Mantle.

It's where a father can be with his son, and explain how once, with his own father, he actually saw Dizzy and Daffy Dean on a cold October night at Oriole Park in 1934 -- making it sound as timely as yesterday, not yesteryear.

Such distinctive nicknames. Pepper, Boog, Flea, Shanty, Mudcat, Stan The Man, Schoolboy, Rowdy and Rabbit.

Projecting the thought that Ken Griffey might be the first to reach 80 home runs -- yes, that many -- in a single season.

Not being entirely sure if Early Wynn would or wouldn't have knocked down his grandmother if she dug in on him at home plate.

How Lloyd and Paul Waner, brothers from Harrah, Okla., called "Little Poison" and "Big Poison," batted their way into the Hall of Fame after learning to hit corncobs, which simulated breaking balls, they threw to each other against the side of the barn.

Contrasting the hostility of Ty Cobb and the gentility of Brooks Robinson.

A game that has been around since 1839 certainly qualifies as fulfilling the test of time.

Players are recognizable. They don't wear face masks, nor cumbersome uniforms and padding that make them look like Sir Lancelot as in hockey and football.

There's no clock to control play, merely three outs per inning, which means the game is never influenced by remaining time.

Men as small as Wee Willie Keeler (5 feet 4) and Phil Rizzuto (5-6) achieve the Hall of Fame, proving size doesn't count when it comes to natural ability.

That the longevity record of the Iron Horse, but not his name, Lou Gehrig, can be surpassed by the working habits of a shortstop, Cal Ripken, who came to play every day because, for no other reason, that's what he expected of himself.

There was only one Babe Ruth, and baseball had him.

Appreciating the true physical artistry of the double play, one of the most rhythmic and athletic movements in all of sports.

"Take Me Out To The Ball Game," a classic, rivals the national anthem in recognition -- which gives baseball an immediate musical tradition no other sport can challenge.

The squeeze play is on, here comes the runner, and it's do or die to get the bunt down and the run across. Maximum excitement.

Diverse personalities managing in the dugout -- such as Casey Stengel, Connie Mack and Earl Weaver -- yet winners all.

Seeing Jackie Robinson in 1946 and wondering if he had the ability, but not the fortitude, to make the grade and admitting the same to him years later.

When baseball in 1949 had 59 minor leagues, even one called the Evangeline League, but only 16 major-league clubs.

How do you separate Napoleon Lajoie, Eddie Collins and Charlie Gehringer when trying to distinguish the best second baseman of all time?

Watching LeRoy "Satchel" Paige, when he finally reached the majors at age 42, was akin to observing a near-magician at work as he baffled hitters with his hesitation pitch and a variety of freak deliveries.

As Red Smith wrote, if you believe baseball is a dull game, then you have a dull mind.

Well-intending cheerleaders try to build a case that the home run deluge of Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire, with their record productions, saved baseball in 1998, but that's giving in to utter simplicity or, yes, even stupidity.

You can work on a crossword puzzle between pitches, argue with your wife, entertain a client and, all the while, still enjoy the leisurely pace of baseball while seated in the stands.

It's a dead heat between Branch Rickey and George Weiss as the most astute builder of a baseball franchise, including the 30-plus farm clubs they operated to supply the parent teams with a non-stop assembly line of talent.

Arguing if Nolan Ryan or Roger Clemens threw the fastest, or was it Sandy Koufax, Lefty Grove, Bob Feller, Walter Johnson or Steve Dalkowski?

That the most serene of all Hall of Fame settings is found in the natural beauty of Cooperstown, N.Y., which makes any pilgrimage almost tantamount to a religious experience -- especially if you're aware of its lore and legends.

Realizing that baseball might never have a true global series, but certainly an enlarged world series, bringing in the Orient, Central and South America, the Caribbean and Australia.

Wondering if there's a collection anywhere of old pitcher's toe plates and sliding pads? Both are forgotten tools of the trade.

And remembering when three outfielders and two infielders left their gloves on the field between innings yet were rarely struck by a batted or thrown ball or tripped over by a player. Providence?

Taking the position that there was never a better catcher or a more productive one than Roy Campanella.

An absolute thrill of childhood -- waiting after a game at old Oriole Park to meet first baseman Les Powers and walk up Greenmount Avenue with him as he headed for a Waverly restaurant.

Believing that Griffith Stadium was the best of all parks for what baseball was intended to be.

Having a boyhood hero, Hank Greenberg, and never being disappointed after meeting him.

Knowing two of baseball's most unforgettable characters, Cletus Ellwood "Boots" Poffenberger and Warren "Moose" Fralick.

Seeing Al Kaline get his 3,000th hit in his hometown of Baltimore and then watching him go to the seats behind first base to kiss his mother in a tender moment of affection.

Yes, baseball, the greatest game God gave man the opportunity to invent.

Pub Date: 4/11/99

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