McGowan: Baseball —’Tis the Season

April 4, 2023

By Richard McGowan, Ph.D.

When I was growing up, only one team sport mattered: baseball. Most boys dreamed of becoming major leaguers. Heck, President Eisenhower was fishing with a friend once and he asked his friend, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” His friend answered, “President.” When his friend asked him, President Eisenhower said, “A major league baseball player.” Of course, neither got his wish, but their exchange captures the importance of baseball to American life.

As a kid, I used to read the sports pages. Newspapers printed photographs of great plays, broken into sequential pictures. Wes Covington’s famous catch in the 1957 World Series, Braves against the Yankees, took five pictures to “explain” the spectacular grab. One picture showed the center fielder’s shoulder banging into the wall as the ball arrived.

These days, pictures are far and few between. Newspapers presume people have watched the game on television or computer screen. Journalists have changed, too.

When Ruth played, teams traveled by train. Everyone got on the train — players, sportswriters, team employees, hangers-on. Everyone rode the train to the next destination. Once, the writers were playing cards and a barely clothed Babe Ruth ran past them. He was being chased by a knife-wielding attractive woman, also in a state of dishabille. As they ran past, one writer said, “It’s a good thing I didn’t see that,” and played a card. Another chipped in, “Me, too, or I’d have to write about it.”

Writers in those days were circumspect. They had something special that has been lost—a sense of privacy. They kept the game on the field and did little reporting about anything else.

That does not mean that sportswriters reported accurately. Dom DiMaggio called me because Virgil Trucks must have told him that I was attempting, in quixotic fashion, to get them in the Hall of Fame. Dom DiMaggio was a class act; he called to thank me. But he also said, “Good luck with that endeavor. I tried to get Lefty O’Doul into Cooperstown and made little headway.”

I asked him what his greatest day was. He immediately asked me, “In baseball? Getting married was a great day. Baseball?” He wound up explaining the decisive play in the 1946 World Series, Red Sox against the Cardinals, when Enos Slaughter ran home from first on a weak hit to center, thereby giving the Cards a championship.

“I hit a good one and thought I could make it to second so I ran as hard as I could. I got a double, but I pulled up lame.” His hit drove in two runs; the game was tied. His replacement in centerfield did not have the rifle-arm of DiMaggio. As one Hall-of-Famer put it, “My brother was a better fielder than me.” He’d have thrown Slaughter out.

“The newspapers reported it as a knee injury but I’d pulled a hamstring and had to leave the game.” Journalists got the facts wrong, but inadvertently.

These days, though, journalists narrate as much as they report.

When I taught at Marquette University as a teaching assistant, my students knew I loved baseball. One day, I made a remark to the class about an incident involving Reggie Jackson. I was not and am not a fan of Reggie Jackson. I had read in the newspapers that Reggie Jackson and Mickey Rivers got into a fight in the dugout during a game. “Can you believe that?” I snorted. I shook my head and muttered “Reggie Jackson.”

A gal raised her hand and said, “That’s not how it was.”

I thought “Whippersnapper, how do you know,” but I asked, “How do you know?”

“I talked to my dad.” Turns out, her dad was Bill White, 13 years in the majors and, at the time, the Yankee announcer, later to become the president of the American League. That Bill White.

I started rethinking journalism.

My late and sorely missed friend, Frank Thomas, ‘The Original One, 1951-1966,’ as he signed every letter I received over the last 20-plus years, did not care for sportswriters. “They make what they want to be the story. It disgusts me.”

Baseball has changed and so has the coverage of baseball in the media. One consequence is that I often watch sports with the sound off. Another consequence is that I do my own research.

My wife and I were once invited to dinner at the house of Butler University’s president, Dr. Bobby Fong, a huge Yankee fan. I brought a broken baseball bat as a gift for the host. I will not address my wife’s view of that gesture.

“Bobby, here is a game-used bat from Clay Bellinger. He played for the Yanks. He was the defensive shortstop for late innings in close games.”

Bobby stood open-mouthed. “If you want,” I said, “we can look up his stats at” I hadn’t known about baseball reference until my former student, Pat Neshek (two-time all-star), told me about it.

Bobby and I immediately went upstairs, where we got seriously involved in baseball reference.

We were late for dinner. Any baseball fan who does homework can be late to dinner. The season has started.

Richard McGowan, Ph.D., an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review Foundation, has taught philosophy and ethics cores for more than 40 years, most recently at Butler University. 

Teams used to play their way north after spring training, scheduling exhibition games along the way. In the spring of 1921 the Yankees stopped in Baton Rouge, Louisiana to play a game against a local team. After the game everyone piled onto a train: the team officials, sports writers, players. On this afternoon, with a dozen writers sitting in the media car, the doors sprung open and Babe Ruth came running down the aisle with an angry woman chasing him, a butcher knife in her hand. Ruth darted out the other side of the car, hopped on the railroad platform, ran the length of the train, and climbed back on a railcar just as the engine pulled away, escaping the blade of the woman. There are dozens of stories like that about Ruth. Once in Detroit, a man with a gun chased the Babe through a hotel lobby while his teammates watched in horror. A few moments later, Ruth reappeared and bought a round of drinks for his pals. Yet none of those stories saw a printed page while Ruth was alive, that was the way journalism worked in those days. Secrets were kept.

Clay Bellinger:  Clay Bellinger Stats, Height, Weight, Position, Rookie Status & More |

Dom DiMaggio: Dom DiMaggio Stats, Height, Weight, Position, Rookie Status & More |

My friend, Virgil Trucks: 

My student, Pet Neshek: 

Bill White: 

Wes Covington: 


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