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It's 30 years since Bobby Thomson of the Giants hit his famous game-winning home run off Ralph Branca of the Dodgers in the last of the ninth inning of a playoff game, the one that denied Brooklyn the National League pennant. Like millions of Dodger fans, I was heartsick at the time. I had been a manic rooter since early puberty and that home run hit a nerve down deep—only partly because Branca's hometown, like mine, was Mount Vernon, N.Y.
Thomson's homer opened up an old wound, a wound that was self-inflicted in the summer of 1942 when, like most passably healthy males of my age who weren't already in uniform, I was waiting to be called into the service. Understandably, I was breaking training a lot, even for a sometime sandlot athlete.
One Sunday in the middle of that summer the phone rang at 8 a.m. I had arrived home somewhere between four and five. "The Moose broke his leg last night," a voice said. "You got to help us. We start a game at 10 o'clock."
The voice was that of a friend named Fred Opper, who was player-manager of a hardball team rapidly being drafted out from under him. The Moose was a good ballplayer named McCreery who was Fred's third baseman.
"You know I can't make the throw from third to first with less than two bounces," I said. "Besides, I haven't swung a bat since May." When you're all of 19, two or three months can seem like a long time.
"You can play second base," Opper said. "I'll move over to third."
"I've never played the infield in my whole life. Couldn't you stick me out in rightfield?"
"We already have our handicap out there," Opper said. Fred wasn't being insensitive, but it appeared sometimes that our entire friendship since childhood had been founded on the insults we traded back and forth about physical skills.
"Listen, in this league your grandmother could play second base," Fred said.
"She sleeps late on Sunday," I said.