Tag Archives: yankees

yankees v. phillies, korean war edition

I called my dad today. He started our conversation, as he always does, by telling me we had a bad connection. When in reality, my dad needs hearing aids but refuses to get them. My dad’s auditory denial drives my brother Sam crazy. Me? I feel like when you’ve lived 80+ years, you’ve earned the right to do pretty much anything you want to do, include force your children to talk very loudly into the phone on occasion.

I call just as Game 4 of the World Series is beginning.

“Yankees Phillies,” my dad says.

He read in the paper, he tells me, that the last time the Yankees and Phillies met in the World Series, the year was 1950. My dad remembers that World Series. Not because he was a Yankees fan, or a Phillies fan, or even a baseball fan.

He remembers that series because he was working as a translator for American G.I.s during the Korean War. There was baseball news in Stars and Stripes and broadcasts of the games on shortwave radio. My dad had heard of the Yankees – and New York City, of course – but had no idea what baseball was or that there was a place called Philadelphia. He could translate words, but he didn’t know the culture.

My dad remembers that one American soldier referenced Nelson Rockefeller, the oil-family scion and soon-to-be governor of New York State. Rockefeller, the G.I. said, had enough money to buy Korea. My dad tells me he didn’t doubt that was true, given that Korea, months into a war that raged up and down the peninsula, was a bombed-out shell of its former self.

North Korea invaded South Korea on June 25th, 1950. The day before, the Phillies, affectionately known as the Whiz Kids, pulled a game behind the Brooklyn Dodgers in the race for the National League Pennant. They would eventually overtake the Dodgers and clinch on the last day of the season.

Throughout the summer, the North Korean army pushed south, all the way to Pusan, which sits at the tip of the peninsula. The U.S. then pushed back. By October 1st, 1950 – three days before the start of the World Series – the North Korean Army was forced back over the 38th parallel (which is today still the dividing line between the two countries).

On Oct. 7, the Yankees completed their four-game sweep of the Whiz Kids.

The next day China entered the war.

For the next three years, the Korean War continued – a stalemate, essentially – with massive casualties on both sides. Afterward, my family immigrated to the U.S., largely because my dad received a sponsorship to study here – the result of his work as a translator and befriending an American soldier.

He never expected to stay, always assumed he’d return to Korea once he finished school.

But here he is, following the Yankees and Phillies in another World Series. This unlikely arc makes my Dad laugh. Eventually, we say good bye. And he goes back to watching the game.

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yankees in 7

I grew up a Mets fan, but as any of my friends will tell you, I bleed New York. So I’ll root for the Yankees over basically anyone but the Mets.

This is surprising to many, as loyalties come out during the World Series. The current accepted narrative is that the Yankees are The Man and represent the team money can buy, with the highest payroll in baseball while everyone else is the Underdog.

Let me tell you, baseball has almost always been about money, for just about everyone involved. Just watch Eight Men Out if you don’t believe me. The Phillies as little guy? Please.

The only people not in it for the money are the fans, it seems to me. Their loyalty can run deep. I have tremendous respect, in fact, for geographic loyalty.

Your team is your team – win or lose – because that’s who you grew up with. It’s a concept that seems to be eroding in the era of globalization. Evidenced by all the Red Sox logos I see in the Bay Area (there can’t be THAT many transplanted Bostonians, can there?).

Here’s a mathematical illustration to recap how, as a New Yorker, I see the World (and by extension, the World Series):

Mets>Yankees>Everyone Else>Red Sox

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athens v sparta

My friend Evan and I went to the Giants game Saturday night. We were given great seats by our friend and co-worker Brent, who has season tickets but couldn’t make it. We sat close to the field, so close in fact that we almost caught a foul ball. A young kid a few seats down from us in our row wound up with the ball, which is how it should be. (At one point later in the game I walked past the kid and he was running his fingers over his souvenir absent-mindedly. I’m sure he’s sleeping every night with the ball stuffed into his pajamas.) Even if we didn’t have great seats, it would’ve been fine – AT&T Park is a beautiful stadium, with its gorgeous brick wall in right field and a view of the bay from the cheap seats.

photo courtesy of antman

photo courtesy of antman

After the game (which the Giants lost – shocker), we took Muni to the Haight. And on the Muni were tons of Cardinals fans. Co-existing peacefully with Giants fans.

Clearly, I am too recent an East Coast transplant because it seemed incongruous to me that Cardinal fans could be allowed to ride Muni unheckled. The last baseball game I’d been to on the East Coast was Yankees-Red Sox at Fenway Park. I kid you not, actual blood was shed, both during the game – a fight broke out right next to me – and afterward, on Lansdowne Street. The SF Muni is not unlike the Green Line trolley in Boston and I can’t imagine Yankees fans after a game riding without deep fear of being dismembered and sold for parts while crammed alongside Sox fans.

Yankees-Red Sox, I realize, is to some extent a special case because it carries the weight of a long-standing historical rivalry between cities. It’s basically our modern day Athens v. Sparta. Baseball is just one of the stages upon which the psyches of these two cities – Boston was once dismissed as “that town” by former NYC Mayor Ed Koch – duke it out for supremacy.

If you’re interested in reading a lyrical, engaging essay about the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry, a piece that elevates their annual battles to that of Greek tragedy by one of the best baseball writers of our generation, then pick up a copy of Why Time Begins on Opening Day. Author Thomas Boswell is a sports writer for the Washington Post. The essays in this book are somewhat dated, but if you love the game or if you love great prose, you’ll love this collection. I read this and Boswell’s other essay compendium, How Life Imitates the World Series, in the mid-80s and fell in love with baseball writing.

Someone once said baseball must be a really boring game because people spend so much time trying to convince us how beautiful it is. Maybe. But before you decide one way or the other, read Boswell. Or Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu, the late John Updike’s piece about Ted Williams’ final game. And then let me know what you think.

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