NEW YORK - JULY 17: Members of the New York Yankees 1950 World Series championship team stand during ceremonies prior to the start of the teams 64th Old-Timer's Day before the MLB game against the Tampa Bay Rays on July 17 2010 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Washington Nationals fans outside the Mid-Atlantic region were FOX'd out Saturday night, but the radio call of the game brought us back to another time.
Jack Kerouac was living in Richmond Hill, New York, a neighborhood in Queens, when he sat down to type a letter to his friend Neal Cassady on October 6, 1950. Cassady and Kerouac had traveled the country together for years, and the writer's old friend would soon be immortalized as the character Dean Moriarty in Kerouac’s novel, "On the Road," which the author was already two years into the process of writing at that point. Kerouac had already completed his first novel, "The Town and the City," and was editing it for publication later that year when he sat at the typewriter to write to Cassady. "First let me say that I have been digging the World Series," Kerouac wrote, "…and the tones of the various announcers."
The New York Yankees, led by manager Casey Stengel, shortstop Phil Rizzuto and center fielder Joe DiMaggio were playing Del Ennis, Richie Ashburn, Robin Roberts and the Philadelphia Phillies in the 1950 Series that Fall. Kerouac was taking it all in on the radio as explained in the letter. "This morning I did the World Series the honor of getting up early and blasting ahead of time," Kerouac wrote, "There’s an announcer from Philly called Gene Kelly who is an exact replica of John [Clellon] Holmes (that is, dig John as a radio announcer), with the same way of being proud of his verbs and so on, like a groundball is hit, he’ll say…'a slow, twisting, weak roller' as if baseball was the significance of life in itself, the things that happen in it representing in symbols of action, the symbols of (twisting) despair in the ‘modern world.’"
Kerouac’s life on the road was pretty much over by this point. He was at home now writing about the life he had lived, and recording in detail in his letters the things he was observing in his everyday life. The letter to Cassady continued with Kerouac's enthusiam for what he was hearing on the radio clear from what he wrote. "I must say, it’s mighty cool. Then I return to old reliable southern-accent Mel Allen, who has that simple back-country mind, like Dean [Moriarty], just pointing out things like ... ‘Well, there’s Johnny Mize mopping his face with a handkerchief’ or ‘there’s Del Ennis picking up a bat at the batrack’…"
Allen, who first worked a World Series as a color man in 1938, served as the Washington Senators' radio announcer for a time in 1939 when Sens' outfielder Buddy Lewis, pitcher Dutch Leonard and manager Bucky Harris led the AL franchise to a 65-87 record and a 6th place finish in the American League. But Allen left the nation's capital in the middle of that season to become the Yankees and New York Giants announcer. After serving in WWII, Allen worked for the Yankees exclusively. The 1950 World Series was the fifth of eighteen-straight he would call between 1946-1963.
"You can tell, Neal, how I dig all this;" Kerouac wrote in continuing to praise Allen's work, "... my mind, wrapped in wild observation of everything, is drawn, by the back-country announcer, back to the regular, brake-man things of life, and it is such a relief, and such a joy, and even such a grace from heaven, that I always say: ‘Yes! Yes! that’s right.’"
Baseball never sounded so good…
The Yankees would go on to win the 1950 Series over the Phillies in four straight games, three of them one-run affairs. Joe DiMaggio, in his next-to-last season, was 4 for 13 in the Series with a double and a home run in four games. It was the 13th World Series title in the Yankees' storied history and the second in a row for a team that would win five straight from 1949-53.
This story really isn't about Kerouac, the Yankees or the 1950 World Series though. It's about Charlie Slowes and Dave Jageler, the Washington Nationals radio team. The Nationals and Orioles game was blacked out on Saturday night for those of us who live outside the Mid-Atlantic region, and after taking in all of this season's previous 68 games either live at Nats Park or online via MLB.tv, I was forced to listen to the radio broadcast on Saturday night. Forced isn't the right word. It was a pleasure, "... a relief, and such a joy, and even such a grace from heaven."
Saturday night, the Nationals wore their, "... weekend, alternate red curly-W jerseys, blue and white trim, the road gray pants, the two-tone blue and red caps and helmets," as Charlie Slowes described them. The Orioles wore their, "... Saturday night alternate orange jerseys with black and white trim, their home white pants and their new regular home caps this year, a throwback to the '70's and 80's three-tone cap... [a] black cap with a white crown the Oriole bird logo and an orange bill."
Charlie and Dave didn't miss a thing, noting the late-afternoon shadows on the field at Camden Yards early in the game, the chorus of boos as Bryce Harper stepped to the plate for his first at bat of the night, the long pause in Orioles' lefty Wei-Yin Chen's delivery. They noted Bryce Harper's hustle and his ill-advised headfirst slide at first base. They called, in thrilling detail, the catch the Nats' 19-year-old outfielder made after running a long distance from straight-center to the warning track in right-center and colliding with the outfield wall on a Matt Wieters' fly ball in the Orioles' second.
You could clearly see the picture in your mind as you listened to the call of Harper stealing his sixth base of the year in the third, sliding in headfirst and reaching around a tag, "... with the hand to the back side of the second base bag," as Mr. Jageler called it. You could imagine Orioles' outfielder Adam Jones climbing the outfield wall in center field in the top of the fourth in an attempt to catch what Mr. Jageler described as a, "long, soaring" fly ball off Adam LaRoche's bat that just went out for what Mr. Slowes said was, "A typical LaRoche HR, just clearing the seven-foot wall in right-center, to the left of the grounds crew shed out there."
You could see the pitch and swing clearly as Nats' closer Tyler Clippard threw a full-count change by Adam Jones that came in "belt-high" with the Orioles' outfielder, ".. out front of the change of speed, fooled," as Mr. Slowes called it for the second out of an 11-pitch 1-2-3 ninth in which the Nationals' 27-year-old reliever earned his 12th save of 2012. The Washington Nationals won. There were no visuals, no highlights even, since the game was being broadcast on FOX, but for three hours Saturday night, I was taken back, able to enjoy a game the way baseball fans have for decades, before the social media, instant commentary, highlights, replays and chatter from fans online came to define a new way of covering and following baseball. Two announcers painted the picture, told the story and kept my attention. Bryce Harper had the crown buzzing all night. Adam LaRoche hit a towering home run and Tyler Clippard closed out the Nationals' 41st win. "And a curly-W is in the books in Baltimore!" Charlie Slowes yelled.
"‘Yes! Yes! that’s right.’"