Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Turning Men Into Boys

My beloved Philadelphia Phillies will begin their drive to the baseball World Series today after one of the greatest comebacks in the history of baseball. Phillies pitcher Brett Myers celebrates in the photo above in a strange Frankenstein-like pose, his glove freshly flung up into the air after he struck out the last batter to seal the deal. Myers awkward pose made me think of all the other iconic baseball playoffs pictures throughout history that I’ve loved. They all have one element in common—grown men looking and acting like little boys.

In 1956, New York Yankees pitcher Don Larsen pitched the only perfect game in the history of the World Series. Above, catcher Yogi Berra flings himself into Larsen’s arms unreservedly. Larsen reportedly pitched the game with a massive hangover, so if his legs seem a little wobbly, there you go. Here’s a perfect picture of the passion that baseball could engender in the players and fans in the heyday of the 1950s. The Phillies recent ascent, matched with the New York Mets precipitous decline, gave us a taste of those days, at least for a short while, here in the Philadelphia area. People were actively following a sports team for the first time in a long while, giving us something to think about other than the troubles around the world, at least for a short time.

Boston Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk stars in my favorite all-time World Series photo, hoping and praying that his fly ball stays fair, which it did, winning the penultimate game of the 1975 World Series, perhaps the greatest World Series ever. The Cincinnati Reds won the next game and the series, but most baseball fans just remember Fisk’s body English, hopping and jumping like a little boy.

Of course, the Phillies own 1980 championship remains indelibly marked on the consciousness of any Philadelphian of a certain age. Tug McGraw registered the final out and Mike Schmidt came swooping in, hoping to become part of the picture. I prefer the picture above, which shows both of them in the moment of victory, leaping unashamedly in the air. Even Schmidt, whose frustratingly unemotional style of play kept him from becoming a fan favorite despite being the greatest player ever to wear the uniform, can’t help acting like a little boy. McGraw’s leap lives on in Philadelphians’ memories so strongly that, when old Veterans Stadium, the site of that victory, was closed forever, McGraw and other players returned to re-live those moments. McGraw, dying from a brain tumor, walked out to the mound, made his pitching motion, and then leapt again, barely getting his feat off the ground in his condition. He didn’t have to get very high, since once you leap like that into the soul of the child within you, you always look like this:

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