"A hot dog at the ballpark is better than steak at the Ritz." ~ Humphrey Bogart
*An asterik denotes a current player, mascot, manager, stadium, etc.
One of my great heroes, Bill Veeck, once remarked that there was nothing as beautiful as a ballpark full of people. There is something about ballparks. There is a beauty that cannot be described when you set foot into a modern marvel like Target Field, Yankee Stadium, or PNC Park. There is a feeling of nostalgia that washes over you when you visit the Friendly Confines or Yawkey Way. To many a ballpark is not simply just a place where grown men get paid to play a game – to many the ballpark is a temple.
It is a place that you go on Sunday to interact with other people. You take the time to get ready and pull on your best jersey to show support for the team and players you love. You pass your spending money down the aisle to the guy selling frozen lemonade. Everyone shouts out to their team in unison and everybody stands together to sing Take Me Out to the Ballgame. In the stadium, fans gather to hope, dream, and pray that this year is the year that the World Series returns to their fair city.
I imagine that my perfect game would also be played on a Sunday afternoon – 70 degrees out, no wind and a lazy cloud to help keep the sun from shining so brightly. As I begin my bid for a perfect game, I will take the time to set the stage for this game by selecting my stadium, the announcer, broadcaster, first pitch, national anthem singer, and the mascots.
"And there used to be a ballpark where the field was warm and green; And the people played their crazy game with a joy I'd never seen; And the air was such a wonder from the hot dogs and the beer; Yes, there used to be a ballpark right here." ~ Frank Sinatra, "There Used to Be a Ballpark" (1973)
The Stadium: Ebbets Field (1913- 1960)
Nickname(s): The Cigar Box, The Band Box
Location: 55 Sullivan Place, Brooklyn, New York 11225
Team(s) that Played There: Brooklyn Dodgers (1913-1957)
Signature Moment: April 15, 1947 - Jackie Robinson makes his debut for the Brooklyn Dodgers at first base before more than 26,000 fans, changing the game forever.
Fun Fact: On June 17, 1947 the first known televised soccer game in the US took place at Ebbets Field.
I imagine for a number of people the answer to this may have been Yankee Stadium, Fenway, Wrigley, or Busch. I also know that at a National League Ballpark, there would be no DH but I think we can bend that rule for an afternoon. Those who know me best probably expected me to choose Target Field, Kauffman Stadium, or the Old Met. The truth is though, that there is something about New York and baseball. What basketball is to Indiana, hockey is to Minnesota, football is to Texas, and wrestling is to Iowa – that is what baseball is to New York. When I think of the storied history of this game, I can’t help but get Brooklyn off my mind. To many this field was constricting, a “cigar box”, and not the best way to watch the game, but to many more Ebbets is the symbol of a golden age of baseball. Like Terrence Mann told Ray Kinsella, I too dreamed of playing at Ebbets Field when I was younger. More than half a century after the Dodgers left for LA, there still remains a pain there for what has been lost. The pain is so evident, that when the New York Mets decided to break ground on a new ballpark (Citi Field) a couple years ago, they modeled their new stadium after Ebbets Field and named the rotunda in Jackie Robinson’s honor. The loss of the Dodgers to Brooklyn is one of the great sports losses of all time and for that reason, more than any other, I would have my game here and bring great baseball back to Brooklyn, where it belongs, if only for a few hours.
Others Considered -
1. The Polo Grounds (1890 – 1963), New York, NY, Home of the New York (San Francisco) Giants, New York Yankees, and New York Mets.
2. Metropolitan Stadium (1956 – 1985), Bloomington, MN, Home of the Minnesota Twins
3. Wrigley Field* (1914 – Present), Chicago, IL, Home of the Chicago Cubs
4. Griffith Stadium (1911-1961), Washington, D.C, Home of the Washington Senators (Present-day Minnesota Twins)
5. Comiskey Park, (1910 – 1990), Chicago, IL, Home of the Chicago White Sox and Chicago Cubs (1918)
NATIONAL ANTHEM SINGER
National Anthem Singer: Alicia Keys
Signature Song(s): You Don’t Know My Name (2003), Unthinkable (2010), & Fallin’ (2001)
All I can say about Alicia Keys is this girl’s voice is pure gold. In the age of music we are currently in, it is a breath of fresh air to have someone with her talent as a popular recording artist. And that’s all I can say about that. This was a hard choice to make, even after I decided to exclude all non-American singers, but in the end it has to be Alicia Keys for me.
1. Michael Jackson (The 12 year old who sang I’ll Be There not the 1988 Neverland Ranch version)
2. Billy Joel
3. Frank Sinatra
4. Dolly Parton
5. Marc Cohn
"It may sound corny, but, I enjoyed listening to Vin (Scully) call a game almost more than playing in them. He's been a special broadcaster for a lot of years and he's been wonderful to listen too for a lot of years. He definitely is the All Century broadcaster as far as I'm concerned." ~ Sandy Koufax
Broadcaster: Vin Scully*
Nickname(s): The Voice of the Dodgers
Team(s): Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers (1950 – Present)
Honors: 1982 MLB Hall of Fame Ford C. Frick Award Recipient for Excellence in Broadcasting
Most Memorable Call: April 8, 1974 – Hank Aaron’s 715th career home run that made him the all-time home run king
Fun Fact: Vin Scully has called four perfect games in his career: Don Larsen’s in the 1956 World Series, Sandy Koufax’s on September 9, 1965, Tom Browning’s on September 16, 1988, and Dennis Martinez’s on June 28, 1991.
Expert consensus is that Vin Scully is the greatest sportscaster of all time. He has been on hand for some of baseball’s greatest moments. From the Brooklyn Dodgers’ only world championship in 1955 to Bill Buckner’s muffed ball in the 1986 World Series to Aaron’s 715th home run, Scully has called it all. He is the best man for the job in this instance, there’s no doubt in my mind about that. He has called four perfect games in his lifetime and so I would want him on hand for my perfect game. In a game that’s bound to see several home runs his famous call of “Forget it!” is a must.
1. Harry Caray, Chicago Cubs
2. Jack Buck, St. Louis Cardinals
3. Ernie Harwell, Detroit Tigers
4. Harry Kalas, Philadelphia Phillies
5. Red Barber, Cincinnati Reds, Brooklyn Dodgers, & New York Yankees
"You're not in the big leagues until Bob Sheppard announces your name." ~ Carl Yastrzemski
PA Announcer: Bob Sheppard (1951-2007)
Nickname(s): “The Voice of God” (credited to Reggie Jackson)
Team(s): The New York Yankees
Honors: Inducted into the St. John’s University and New York Sports Hall of Fames
Fun Fact: The award for the most outstanding student-athlete at St. John’s is named for Bob Sheppard
Let’s face it – nobody did it better than Bob Sheppard. There is something about those words of “Good evening and welcome to Yankees field” and I like to think that for one day he could change that over to Ebbets. As Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski once said, “You’re not in the big leagues until Bob Sheppard announces your name”. Bob Sheppard announced more than 4500 Yankees games including 6 no-hitters and 3 perfect games. He was so influential on Derek Jeter that in 2008, Jeter asked Sheppard to record the announcement of his name and even today a year after Sheppard’s death – that recording is used to announce Derek Jeter when he comes up to bat. I never got the chance to go to old Yankee Stadium and hear that voice and it would be a must for a game like this because he’d be the only one who could do this game justice.
Others Considered: None
CEREMONIAL FIRST PITCH
JFK throwing out the first pitch of the Washington Senators season in 1962. Many reports commented that after that game, he was not shy about sticking around to sign some autographs - not only for the fans, but for the players as well.
Ceremonial First Pitch: John F. Kennedy
Past First Pitches Thrown: The 1961, 1962, and 1963 home openers for the Washington Senators (Texas Rangers)
Fun Fact: Every morning at breakfast, President Kennedy ate the same meal – an egg hard boiled for 4 minutes and an English Muffin.
After World War I, baseball grew in popularity and united the nation. It became such a fanfare at Griffith Stadium – home of the Washington Senators – in Washington, D.C. that it was not considered baseball season until the President of the United States had thrown out the first pitch on opening day. It was such a big deal that when Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was not a fan of baseball but loved golf, skipped the home opener to play a round of golf at Augusta National during the Master’s – he received a beating in the national media. When you walk into my living room, the first thing you will see is a framed portrait of John F. Kennedy that my grandmother kept in her house. Being an Irish Democrat, John F. Kennedy has always been one of my greatest heroes. I remember writing papers for school about him as a kid and reading “Profiles in Courage” when I was in junior high. When I began to imagine this game and it’s traditions and pageantry, I immediately knew that my dream game would have him throwing out the first pitch. After all, his message and presidency is one of the influences that inspired me to dream in the first place.
Others Considered: None
TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALLGAME LEADER
"If you were a hot dog and you were starving - would you eat yourself? I know I would."
“Take Me Out to the Ballgame” Leader: Harry Caray
Nicknames(s): The Mayor of Rush Street
Team(s): St. Louis Cardinals, St. Louis Browns (Baltimore Orioles), Chicago White Sox, Oakland Athletics, and Chicago Cubs
Honors: 1989 Ford C. Frick Award Recipient, 1989 Inductee into the Sports Broadcasters Hall of Fame
Fun Fact: Though primarily known for baseball, Caray, a St. Louis native was also the voice of the University of Missouri Tigers and the St. Louis Hawks (Atlanta Hawks) early on in his career.
While Nancy Faust had long played “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” on the organ during the 7th inning stretch of ballgames at Comiskey Park, it was Harry Caray who made it a public singing exhibition. Caray had routinely sang the words to himself when Faust played the organ so one afternoon, local broadcaster Jay Scott decided to leave the broadcast booth mics on without Caray’s knowledge. As Harry sang, others sang along with him in what has become one of baseball’s greatest traditions. A statue outside of Wrigley Field immortalizes Harry Caray leading the crowd in “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” at the Friendly Confines. Who else could possibly be chosen for this role?
Others Considered: Is this even a question?
Charles Finley once announced to a room full of reporters (with his mule by his side) that he was going to ride Charlie O. around the bases at a Dodgers game to which one reporter wrote, "If not for the program, you would not be able to tell which one was the owner."
AL Mascot: Charlie O. Mule
Team: Kansas City Athletics/Oakland Athletics (1963-1976)
Fun Fact: Charlie O. shared a pen in the Kansas City Municipal Menagerie with Warpaint, the horse mascot of the Kansas City Chiefs.
Those who know me best are not going to be surprised that I chose a live mule, nor are they going to be surprised that I chose a Kansas City mascot. The truth of the matter is though that as a good, loyal 816er I am not a fan of Charles O. Finley in the least. When Finley brought the A’s from Philadelphia to KC, there was concern about how committed Finley was to staying in Kansas City (apparently not so loyal after only a 12 year stay) so Missouri Governor Warren Hearnes gave Finley a Mule (the state animal of Missouri). To demonstrate his commitment to Kansas City, Finley embraced the mule and named it Charlie O. He changed the team’s colors to green and gold and ditched the longtime elephant and made Charlie O the mascot of the Kansas City A’s. When the team moved to Oakland, Charlie O the jackass went along with Charlie O. Finley (the even bigger jackass). When Finley sold the team, the new owner re-adopted the elephant as the logo but kept the colors of green and gold the same.
The reason I had to choose Charlie O. was because Finley would take his Mule with him EVERYWHERE – bars, hotel lobbies, everywhere. There is something about the spectacle of Charlie and his mule and an old traditional live mascot that would make me want to see Charlie O at this game.
He carries around a cannon that shoots hot dogs into the crowd (and occasionally the face of an elderly woman) - how can you not love Sluggerrr?
1. Sluggerrr*, Kansas City Royals (1996 – Present)
2. Wally the Green Monster*, Boston Red Sox (1997 – Present)
3. The Bird*, Baltimore Orioles (1979 – Present)
4. Rally Monkey*, Los Angeles Angels (2000 – Present)
5. Andy the Clown, Chicago White Sox (1960 – 1990)
National League mascots are just better than those in the American League. Can you really blame me for having to pick two?
NL Mascot: The Phillie Phanatic* (1977-Present)
Team: Philadelphia Phillies
Honors: Inducted as a charter member of the Mascot Hall of Fame in 2005, Named the best mascot ever by Sports Illustrated for Kids
Fun Fact: The Phillie Phanatic is only one of two MLB mascots on display at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. Our next mascot is the other.
In 1977, Dennis Lehman felt the Phillies needed a mascot similar to the famous San Diego Chicken to attract more families to Veterans Stadium. Named for the Philadelphia fans, the Phanatic wears a Phillies jersey with a star for a number. He has always proven popular with fans but not as much with opposing players. In fact in 1988, Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda assaulted the Phanatic for mocking his players. There is probably not a better known mascot in all of sports than the Phanatic.
NL Mascot: Youppi (1979 – 2004)
Team: Montreal Expos
Honors: His likeness is on display at Cooperstown
Fun Fact: On August 23, 1989, Youppi became the first mascot in Major League history to be ejected from a game after Tommy Lasorda complained during the 11th inning of a game between the Dodgers and the Expos.
Youppi has been a longtime favorite mascot of mine and a reminder of a past baseball team. I have always really valued great mascots since my favorite team (the Minnesota Twins) has always had mascots that were pretty awful. Youppi was designed by the same company that developed the Phillie Phanatic and was similar to the Phanatic in many ways – Tommy Lasorda was not a fan of his antics either. Youppi was so popular in Montreal than in 2004 when the Expos moved to Washington, D.C. and adopted the eagle “Screech” as their mascot, the Montreal Canadiens bought the rights to Youppi making him the first mascot to make the jump from Major League Baseball to the National Hockey League.
The Swinging Friar is cool but what the Padres really need to bring back is the Swinging Friar logo (and Tony Gwynn while they're at it)
1. Swinging Friar*, San Diego Padres, (1958 – Present)
2. Fredbird*, St. Louis Cardinals, (1979 – Present)
3. Mr. Red, Cincinnati Reds, (1955 – 2007)
4. Pirate Parrot*, Pittsburgh Pirates, (1979 – Present)
5.Mr. Met*, New York Mets, (1962 – Present)
Well there you have it. The stage has been set for a truly perfect game at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, New York. With the anthem sung by Alicia, the first pitch thrown out by JFK, and the shenanigans of the Phillie Phanatic and Youppi – how can this not be a great day?
In the third inning we will get into the stuff you probably care about – the players. I will start by selecting the Catchers and 1st basemen in the next installment of The Greatest Game Never Played.
Which stadium and mascots would you choose?
Questions? Comments? Snide Remarks? Let me hear ‘em!