May 18, 2006


Long Shot (Ralph Kinney Bennett, 18 May 2006, Tech Central Station)

That Monday night, May 28, 1956, is etched in my memory. School had ended that day, Daylight Savings Time was in full bloom and ancient ritual demanded that even though it was a cloudy and relatively cool day, we boys of Rector, Pa., should go swimming until dark at Devil's Hole, our favorite "deep spot" in the rushing mountain creek a mile above our house. But what about the big game?

Did I say life was good? Our family had recently acquired a then-new and exciting piece of technology -- a transistor portable radio. It was a teal-colored plastic Philco, about the size of a big dictionary, with a convenient gold handle on top.

We sat it on some rocks beside the swimming hole, volume turned to the max, listening to a rasping Bob Prince's play-by-play. The Dodgers had the superb Carl Erskine, who had recently pitched a no-hitter, on the mound. And even before he had to walk out to the hill, Duke Snider smashed a home run, knocking in Junior Gilliam for a two-run lead in the first.

We swam and horsed around, our lips turning blue from the ice cold water. We paused only when Long came to the plate, standing shivering in our dripping trunks around the radio. Long's first time up he grounded out to second. Back to the water. Then, in the fourth inning, Long was at the plate again. The count went to one and one. Erskine fired what he later described as "a good overhand curve. Low and away."

I wish I could say I heard the "crack of the bat." I didn't. Long had poled the ball into the lower deck in right center. The only thing I remember is the roar from that Philco portable. It overwhelmed the little speaker. The plastic grill on the radio vibrated. You couldn't hear the hoarse-voiced Prince, just the long roar that reverberated across the water of Devil's Hole and through the woods. I could hear someone whooping through the open window of a cottage just down stream.

At Forbes Field Bob Skinner tried to take his place in the batter's box. The noise was deafening. Erskine and the other Dodgers and the umpires stood patiently, looking around the park. Every time Skinner tried to step in and let the game continue the roar got louder. He'd step back out with a kind of a shrug and a grin.

Finally, and this was rare in those days, Dale Long stepped out of the dugout and doffed his hat to the delirious crowd. Branch Rickey, former general manager but now an "adviser" to the club said he had never seen anything like that during a game.

The Pirates went on to win 3-2. Long got his eighth home run in the record streak and Bob Friend got his eighth victory. We walked down the dirt road from Devil's Hole in the darkness fiddling with the Philco to hear snatches of the post-game banter. But the batteries were almost worn out. We made up a little chant. "How long can Long go on? How long can Long go on?"

Well, we learned how long the next night. Don Newcombe tamed Dale Long 0 for 4 at the plate, and hit a triple to help his own cause as the Dodgers won. A couple of weeks later, Long hurt his ankle with a fouled off pitch. He slumped and the Pirates, after a heady start, slumped too. They ended the season with 66 wins and 88 losses, in seventh place, 27 games out of first. At least they didn't repeat in the cellar. The Cubs finished eighth. [...]

Dale Long died of cancer in Palm Coast, Fla., January 27, 1991, having seen his record tied but not broken. He had come to know both sides of the old saw that the distance from obscurity to fame is much longer than the distance from fame to obscurity. But his name still shimmers in the flickering light of his one great feat. Each time a run like Mench's or Bonds' takes place I think of him and, frankly, I always hope the now thrice-shared record holds a little longer. And I think of the roar from that old Philco on a spring night half a century ago.

How could his parents come that close but not make his middle name Kiner?

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 18, 2006 1:59 PM

I had to read his name twice. At first I read Ralph Kiner.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at May 18, 2006 2:31 PM

Bob Prince. I grew up listening to him, and all the baseball noises, on the radio. Whenever our family traveled on the weekends, Bob Prince was on the radio, keeping us riveted to the little box on the dashboard while we drove through the countryside.

Posted by: jim hamlen at May 18, 2006 2:34 PM

A very fond memory I have was listening to the 1973 World Series (the Swingin' A's) on a transistor radio while we were swimming off of my family's boat on Soldier Key in Biscayne Bay. I believe it was a day game on the weekend and it was a game 6 or 7. I was 8 years old.

Here in Eastern Nebraska, we get the KC Royals games on the radio. I don't like the announcers, Denny Matthews and Ryan Lefebvre. In addition, the Roylas are dreadful; however, even if a team is bad the announcers really make or break a game. For example, we also get some Chicago Cubs games on another radio station. Sure the Cubs aren't doing well; however, Pat Hughes is a great announcer and I have come to really like Ron Santo. At first I thought Santo was an idiot homer but that changed. Santo is a genuine guy, the perfect antidote to the smarmy smart-alec ESPN Sportcenter pretty-boys (although I do like Joe Morgan and John Miller). I wished we got Cardinals games because Mike Shannon is good. When I lived in the Pacific Northwest, Dave Niehaus was the Seattle Mariners broadcaster and he was great.

Posted by: pchuck at May 18, 2006 2:59 PM

A favorite touchpoint memory of my childhood is of the Saturdays out driving around with my Daddy (I'm a Southern girl) in his '65 Mustang ...with "the" ballgame on the radio in scratchy perpetuity. I don't have any brothers, and I guess he could've left me at home while he ran his errands - but I will forever appreciate those small adventures into the outer edges of his masculine world. The barber shop where he went to "get his ears lowered", with its smell of wildroot, seemed like some kind of mysterious shrine. I will never forget those sounds or smells, and every time I hear a Braves game on the radio, I know that the next sound should be the pipe tapping in the car ashtray.

Posted by: Barb in Georgia at May 18, 2006 7:00 PM

I used to listen to Yankee baseball on WPOP 1030 AM with my Dad. Phil Rizutto did the color commentary, I don't remember who else there was, but I do remember that Phil's wife was named Cora.

Posted by: Bryan at May 19, 2006 9:33 AM

Never much for radio, but I do have fond memories of Vince and Lou doing the Cubs games. Fond memories also of Jack Brickhouse and of Kiner, Skinner et al., killing the Cubs. But what else is new? Didn't Dale Long play for the Cubs,too? Too lazy to check.

Posted by: jdkelly at May 19, 2006 9:06 PM

Neither Fox Sports nor ESPN, with all the technological bells and whistles on their telecasts, can match the view of a baseball game on the radio. Surfing up and down the AM dial on a late night drive, catching bits of different games, is one my guilty pleasures of summer.

Posted by: Jeff Tirrell at May 20, 2006 3:55 PM