September 19, 2006


Four Taverns in the Town (Roger Angell, 1963-10-26, The New Yorker)

Already, two weeks after the event, it is difficult to remember that there was a World Series played this year. It is like trying to recall an economy display of back-yard fireworks. Four small, perfect showers of light in the sky, accompanied by faint plops, and it was over. The spectators, who had happily expected a protracted patriotic bombardment culminating in a grand crescendo of salutes, fireballs, flowerpots, and stomach-jarring explosions, stood almost silent, cricking their necks and staring into the night sky with the image of the last brief rocket burst still pressed on their eyes, and then, realizing at last that there was to be no more, went slowly home, hushing the children who asked, “Is that all?” The feeling of letdown, of puzzled astonishment, persists, particularly in this neighborhood, where we have come to expect a more lavish and satisfactory autumnal show from our hosts, the Yankees, the rich family up on the hill. There has been a good deal of unpleasant chatter (“I always knew they were really cheap,” “What else can you expect from such stuckups?”) about the affair ever since, thus proving again that prolonged success does not beget loyalty.

By choice, I witnessed the Los Angeles Dodgers’ four-game sweep at a remove—over television in four different bars here in the city. This notion came to me last year, during the Series games played in Yankee Stadium against the San Francisco Giants, when it became evident to me that my neighbors in the lower grandstand were not, for the most part, the same noisy, casually dressed, partisan, and knowing baseball fans who come to the park during the regular season. As I subsequently reported, a large proportion of the ticket-holders appeared to be well-to-do out-of-towners who came to the games only because they could afford the tickets, who seemed to have only a slipshod knowledge of baseball, and who frequently departed around the sixth or seventh inning, although all of last year’s games were close and immensely exciting. This year, then, I decided to seek out the true Yankee fan in his October retreat—what the baseball beer commercials refer to as “your neighborhood tavern.” I was especially happy about this plan after the Dodgers clinched the National League pennant, for I well remembered the exciting autumns here in the late forties and the mid-fifties, when the Dodgers and the Yanks, both home-town teams then, met in six different Series in what seemed to be a brilliant and unending war, and the sounds of baseball fell from every window and doorway in town. Those Series were a fever in the city. Secretaries typed only between innings, with their ears cocked to the office radio down the hall, and if business drew you reluctantly into the street (fingering your pool slip, designating your half inning, in your pocket), you followed the ribbon of news via elevator men’s rumors, snatches of broadcasts from passing taxi radios, and the portable clutched to a delivery boy’s ear, until a sudden burst of shouting and laughter sucked you into a bar you were passing, where you learned that Campy or Duke had parked one, or that Vic Raschi had struck out Furillo with two on.

Even before Stan Musial had thrown out the honorary first ball to open the first game this year, I discovered that there would be no such attendant melodrama in the city. Just before game time, I walked west in the mid-Forties and turned up Eighth Avenue, searching for the properly athletic saloon in which I could, in Jimmy Durante’s words, “mix wit’ de hoi pollew” who had not felt inclined to plunk down thirty-two dollars for a block of four home-game tickets at the Stadium. I stuck my nose in three or four likely-looking bars, only to find no more than a handful of fans who had staked out bar stools and were watching Whitey Ford and Sandy Koufax complete their warmups. Finally, exactly at game time, I walked into O’Leary’s Bar, on the northwest corner of Fifty-third Street and Eighth Avenue, and found an audience of sufficient size and expectancy to convince me that it was not about to watch an afternoon quiz program. There wasn’t a woman in the place, and the bar stools and nearly all the standing slots along the bar were taken. It was mostly a young crowd—men in their twenties, in sports shirts and with carefully combed hair. There were some off-duty postmen in uniform up front, with their empty canvas mailbags under their feet. I ordered a beer and took up a stand beside the shuffle alley, near the front door, from where I could see the television screen just above the head of the bar. It was a color set, and I was appalled to discover that Whitey Ford had turned blue since I last saw him; he and all the other ballplayers were haloed in rabbit’s-eye pink, like deities in early Biblical color films. There was a black-and-white set at the back of the bar, and from time to time during the afternoon I turned around and watched that, just to reassure myself that Victor Mature was not likely to come in as a pinch-hitter.

It was a Yankee crowd at O’Leary’s.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 19, 2006 8:12 AM
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