Tonight, my sons, I will tell you my favorite bedtime story. It happened back when your grandfather was a young man, before he was a father himself. So, of course, I was not there. But whenever I want to think about the essence of baseball—the equity of its possibilities—I am there inside that little snow globe of a ballpark in Brooklyn, amid the fading light and encroaching shadows of late afternoon on Oct. 3, 1947.
Someday, Adam and Ben, you will learn how a snapshot can capture not just an image but the spirit of something much larger. A sailor kissing a woman in Times Square. A girl wailing at the foot of a student mortally felled by a National Guardsman's bullet. A line drive ricocheting off the wall in right at Ebbets Field in the fourth game of the 1947 World Series.
I won't bother telling you so enthusiastically about any World Series before that. This was the first Series to feature a black player, the courageous rookie Jackie Robinson, at first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers against the New York Yankees. Less important, it was also the first World Series to be televised. Robinson was but one of five future Hall of Famers on the field that day—and, Adam, one of those was the player whose picture hangs right there above your bed, the great DiMaggio. But none of them had anything to do with what I am about to tell you. That is why baseball is the fairest of sports.
It was the bottom of the ninth, and Bill Bevens, an otherwise unremarkable righthander for the Yankees with a 40-36 career record, was one out away from the first no-hitter in World Series history. The Yankees led the game, and the Series, 2-1. Pinch-hitting for Brooklyn with two runners aboard on walks was Cookie Lavagetto, a lifetime .269 hitter who had batted just 69 times that season with only four extra-base hits.
The Yankees could not kill the clock. They could not sit on the ball. The Dodgers could not call timeout. They could not design a play to put the game in the hands of their best player. At its most critical moments, baseball chooses its heroes and goats with the randomness of a carnival barker's rickety spinning wheel. Where she stops nobody knows.
The strapping Bevens blew his first pitch, a fastball, past Lavagetto. Then, with his 137th and last offering, he tried another. Lavagetto struck a liner that caromed off the rightfield wall and then off the chest of Yankees rightfielder Tommy Henrich, who retrieved the ball and began a vain relay to the plate. By the time Eddie Miksis came home with Brooklyn's winning run, Bevens was trudging off the field toward the third base dugout, his head bowed in mourning at having been beaten by one hit, Lavagetto's double.
Almost parenthetically, the Yankees would win the Series in seven games. Bevens, 18 days short of his 31st birthday, would never start another major league game, ruined by a sore arm. Lavagetto, finished at 34, would never get another major league hit.
Delirious Brooklyn fans stormed the mottled grass and dusty dirt of Ebbets Field after Lavagetto's blow. A few of them tore at his shirt, and one snatched the cap from his head. Whenever I picture myself there, I am standing along the first base line with a more reverential cluster of fans, many of them topped by brushed wool fedoras, staring in awe at the rightfield wall as big-muscled Buicks and Fords honk like a flock of happy geese down Bedford Avenue on the other side. Many of the fans are pointing to the spot where Lavagetto's hit clanked off the Burma Shave sign, about 12 feet off the ground, as if, like Thomas probing Jesus' wounds, to make the miracle real.
My gaze, however, is drawn to the advertisement below that one. It is for a movie starring Danny Kaye. I smile at the perfection of its placement in the composition of this snapshot: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Anything is possible. Sweet dreams, my boys. Sweet dreams.