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Thinking back, I must have been about 10 because Dizzy Dean was still making baseball games sound like stories by Mark Twain. I was too young to care that Ol' Diz might be corrupting my English or to defend him as the Will Rogers of baseball. As far as I was concerned, if Ken Boyer "slud" into third, that's how he got there. I only cared that Stan Musial brought him home to up the Cards' lead.
But I wasn't too young for heroes. Musial was my No. 1, the cause of endless arguments with my brother, who preferred Ted Williams. I was almost as devoted to Warren Spahn and Willie Mays, and I liked all the Cardinals. But on this particular day, the only baseball player I could see was Rocky Colavito. I don't remember Cleveland's opponent that day on TV, nor can I recall the score, though I know the Indians won. Rocky saw to that. Actually, all I can remember is a single inning, a single at bat, a single swing. I was alone at home—my dad at work, my mother shopping with my sisters and my brother off somewhere with his friends. It was just me and Rocky, with Dizzy Dean drawlin' away in the background.
There was nothing special in Colavito's stance to fire a kid's imagination. He kept his feet apart, his shoulders square and his knees slightly bent. It sure didn't resemble Musial's swanlike curl, the one I tried to imitate in our pickup games. To a smooth-cheeked kid, Colavito's bristly jaw looked strong enough to drive rivets, but that wasn't what made me gape in admiration. It was that swing. That lovely, wicked, monstrous swing. While the pitcher took his sign, the bat swept smoothly through the strike zone, its barrel pausing to point at the pitcher menacingly. As the pitcher kicked into his windup—I've no idea who was pitching; it didn't matter—Rocky cocked that big-barreled bat, momentarily frozen, then whipped it across the plate with graceful but appalling strength. Faster than my eye could follow the action, bat crushed ball over the leftfield fence and into my memory forever.
My most memorable baseball game since the one in which Colavito hit his home run was Game 6 of the '75 Series between the Red Sox and the Reds. One astonishing feat followed another: Bernie Carbo's pinch homer, Dwight Evans' catch in right to rob Joe Morgan, then finally Carlton Fisk's home run—an exclamation point to one of the greatest baseball games ever. But spectacular as they were, I recall those events without having vivid impressions of them. Perhaps there were more Great Moments in Baseball History than my brain could process and store in one evening. Or perhaps the difference in my age—27 instead of 10—made me less susceptible to hero worship, less capable of wonder and awe. But maybe the difference was something much simpler. Do I, paradoxically, recall that astonishing '75 World Series less vividly because I saw each of its many spectacular moments throughout the games over and over on instant replays?
I'm no ardent Golden Ager; I'm not nostalgic for my own past or anyone else's. I think our Cuisinart is a terrific help in preparing Chinese food, and although computers remain a mystery to me, I'm otherwise quite comfortable in the machine age. I find most technological miracles user-friendly. But I'm not so sure that instant replays are an altogether good thing for sports fans.
I've been at football and basketball games when I've wanted to see that wonderful catch or that apparent non-foul one more time, to rekindle my amazement or validate my wrath at some lousy so-and-so of a referee. But when I'm watching those games at home on TV, more often than not the replayed reception isn't so impressive after all, and the ref—@!%?#! him!—is usually correct. Even when I'm right and he's wrong, it's not very satisfying. When the evidence is conclusive, there's no point in arguing and beating the floor. Controversy is fueled by doubt.
The trouble with instant replays is that referees and umpires are forever acquitted or damned: Heroic feats become merely human. A home-run swing or a diving catch takes place in an instant, but what the eye misses, the memory reconstructs. And with no cold facts to interfere, the reconstruction usually outstrips the original. Seen once, the centerfielder who leaps high to snatch a towering drive at the instant it disappears over the fence seems to have defied gravity and several other laws of physics. Seen twice, or three times, in slow motion from three different angles, what happened becomes clear: He stepped here, then there, jumped perhaps a foot and a half off the ground, then reached his glove above the fence to catch the ball on its descending arc.
The camera affects the way we remember. It demystifies, demythologizes, reduces as it explains. Irving Fryar's dropped pass in the end zone in the closing moments of this year's Miami-Nebraska Orange Bowl game was heartbreaking when it occurred. With replay after endless replay, it became mere absurdity. Franco Harris' "immaculate reception" seemed to be a decree of fate the first time; the second, third, and 20th, it was merely a timely fluke. When dunking, Dr. J soars not just above the rim, but also beyond the imagination. In slow motion, replays simply demonstrate the mechanical range of the human body.
In carping about instant replays, I feel a little like the glutton who refuses a second piece of Boston cream pie, then sneaks it in the kitchen later. Whenever I watch a great play on TV, I do want to see it again. But the second time, it's never as impressive; the third and fourth times it becomes even boring. All those Great Moments I see replayed and analyzed are eventually dumped into that heap of indistinguishable great moments in the dustbin of my memory. I don't have to watch, of course. But I'm incapable of turning away when the replay begins; I seem unable to think of what I'll lose by watching the play again. Of course, I can hardly expect the networks to throw out their videotapes to keep us fans from overindulgence. So I voice my lament fully aware of its futility, but I must voice it anyway. I'll continue to be a replay junkie and feel assured that if I miss a play, I can catch it on the second go-round. But I also know I'll never have a sports memory from television to match Rocky Colavito's home-run swing a quarter century ago.