The phrase, The Boys of Summer was penned in a book about the 1950's Brooklyn Dodgers. Mineville's Johnny Podres figured prominently in finally bringing a World Series Championship to the bridesmaid Dodgers. Year after year, the Dodgers would race out to a regular season championship only to lose to the talent loaded Yankees or the much hated New York Baseball Giants. It was an era in which baseball enjoyed its greatest popularity. Perhaps that extraordinary popularity came from the connection that people felt to the players that were often community members.
In many ways, the Boys of Summer, including Johnny Podres, represented the last generation of professional baseball players that had a relatively ordinary life outside baseball. Professional baseball players like Duke Snyder and Gil Hodges lived in ordinary homes in local neighborhoods. There were no multi-millionaire baseball superstars. There were superstars; however, the distance between them and ordinary people was relatively small when contemporary players are considered.
An elderly gentleman that I know told me a story that exemplifies just how different players were from that era. He was at a ball game that featured the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Baseball Giants, though he wasn't sure of the year. He sat behind the Giants dugout where Leo Durocher managed the team. Ed Stankey, the controversial second baseman is alleged to have shown up in the dugout late and not fully dressed to play. Durocher is said to have lined him out with volley after volley of excoriating cursing. Stankey was heard to say in response that he was late because he needed to mow the lawn at home. Stankey informed Durocher that he needed to return home to finish the job before his wife kicked him out of the house. Durocher would have none of it and Stankey did play that day.
The occurrence of a Stankey-like event today in professional baseball is unthinkable. While many baseball players of the Johnny Podres era worked a job in the off season, that likelihood today is probably rare. Yogi Berra said in an interview that winning the World Series provided a strong financial incentive because if you won the World Series you did not have to work in the off season. Some would say that something important was lost when the Boys of Summer passed into history. Some say the Boys of Summer are still around.
As summer is upon us, Little League Baseball will take place in communities around Essex County. As fans and parents, attending games is a way to support our local youth. While in attendance, remember that more innocent time when the Boys of Summer called Ebbets Field home. Pictures of many of the players of that era, show them smiling. It left you feeling that they were happy to play baseball. Let our Boys of Summer enjoy baseball this summer. Help to keep the smiles on their faces. Let the game be about them playing the game of baseball. Don't make it about you by criticizing umpires, coaches or players. The smell of freshly cut grass, the crack of the bat and the close call at home, that's baseball. Remember, all kids count.
Scot Hurlburt can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org