NBC News Political Contributor Mike Barnacle said this week, "Our country needs playoff baseball." He's right. We need a distraction from the rhetoric, the name-calling and downright ugly commentaries going on in our country right now. We are so divided as a nation, not even our national past time can rescue us, but it can distract us enough that we can forget about our problems for a few days.
Playoff baseball is much different than it was when I was a lad. The first World Series I can remember watching or taking an interest in was in 1960. My favorite team, the New York Yankees, was facing the Pittsburgh Pirates in the best of seven fall classic.
That's when Bill Mazeroski of the Pirates hit the home run to win the Series. That dinger crushed the Yankees as well as the heart of a nine-year-old boy in Nashville, Tennessee. I was in the fourth grade at Amqui Elementary school and our teacher allowed us to watch a few of the games when we finished our work. We all finished quickly so we would have a chance to watch baseball in school. The World Series was so big back then, most every teacher allowed students to watch the games on television or, if they saw a student with a transistor radio listening to the game with an ear piece, they usually ignored it.
The next year, 1961, I was really into baseball because of the home run battle between Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle of the Yankees. Mantle would finish with 54 homers, while Maris broke Babe Ruth's record with 61 home runs, still an American League record. In the World Series in 1961, the Yankees beat the Cincinnati Reds four games to one. I can remember being a bit sad that the series only lasted five games and it cheated us out of watching a couple of games at school. But since the Yankees had won, I got over my sadness very quickly.
In the 1960s there were no playoffs. When the regular season ended, the American League champion would face the National league winner in the World Series. There was no wildcard game, no divisional series and no league championship series. The series would last nine days unless one of the games was rained out or if one team won the title by winning four games in less than seven opportunities. All games were played during the day. Night time World Series contests wouldn't be played until the early 1970s. That's why those games were so important. You had to try to carve out time to watch or listen to them while at work or in school. When the World Series was on, everyone became your friend and even your teachers were interested in what was going on. It was a pleasant distraction back then, just as it can be now.
Yes, Mike Barnacle. We do need playoff baseball now as much as ever.
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Randy Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org