Monday, September 13, 2010

"The Dodgers, Are They Still in the League?"

I love September. September means my birthday, pumpkin spice lattes, apple cider, sweaters, fall foliage and of course the excitement of pennant races! To me, the drama is much like that of a good suspense novel. I have the same physical reactions of a racing heart and shallow quick breaths during particularly tense moments. I breathe a sigh of relief when "the good guys" make a narrow escape (only to get in trouble again way too soon!). I wonder if the story will end as I predicted from the start or if there will be a shocking twist. Each September as baseball fans watch the drama play out they often look back at the most dramatic surprise endings in the past, the biggest September collapses. Bill Terry's 1934 New York Giants generally make the list. The 1934 Giants' story is complete with drama, the twist ending and foreshadowing.

Terry took over as manager of the Giants in 1932 when John McGraw swallowed his pride and asked his star first baseman to replace him at the helm. This was the first conversation between the two since an argument two years prior. Terry took the struggling Giants and led them to a World Series Championship in 1933. All signs seemed to point to the team returning to the series in 1934.

In those days, just like today, fans, players and journalists sized up the teams and predicted the season's outcome long before the first cry of "Play Ball!" rang out in the spring. This January 1934 Miami News article reports on Terry's response when asked about the threat posed by the Giants' rivals the Brooklyn Dodgers. "The Dodgers, are they still in the league?" And there it is, Chekhov's gun. The comment made national news and riled the Brooklyn fans who vowed to beat the Giants. Come September, as the season was drawing to a close, Terry's comment seemed inconsequential, however. On September 5 Hugh Fullerton wrote that the Giants had a "seven game lead and handsome prospects of settling the pennant race before they leave the Polo grounds again." On that day, the Dodgers were in sixth place, 28 games out of first place and officially eliminated from the pennant race.

A week later, it still wasn't the Dodgers that Bill Terry was concerned about, but the Pirates, who handed the Giants their third straight loss at home. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported, "it's big news when the Giants lose three straight games and bigger news when they lose them in their beloved Polo Grounds." For the first time the Giants' playoff chances seemed threatened, with the Saint Louis Cardinals now only four games out of first place. Or, as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette put it, "perhaps they haven't the pennant in the bag after all."

It turns out they did not have it in the bag. The Milwaukee Journal describes what happens in the final weeks of the season,
"The way the Giants and Cardinals have been paddling backward at the pennant is a scream.... Every time the Giants faltered some sucker section of the wheel waded in and beat them. The Cards over and over appeared about to expunge themselves from the contender list but each time they stepped into a series with a lot of tough mugs, they suddenly were fighting cripples. At crucial moments the Cards got the breaks by injuries in the ranks of the Phillies, the Cubs, the Braves and the Dodgers. The Giants reached the home stretch sliding on a streak of luck as wide as the Mississippi, while the Cards scrambled home over the lame, the blind and the halt, towed by Dizzy and Daffy Dean."
With just two games left in their schedule the Giants were tied with the Cardinals for the National League title. The team they had to beat to claim the pennant? Chekhov's gun. I mean, the Dodgers. The Dodgers were reportedly, "smiling sinister smiles and licking their chops in anticipation of knocking the New Yorkers off a couple of times over the weekend." Brooklyn's fan's weren't just anxious to ruthlessly prick the Giants' gonfalon bubble because of their long standing rivalry, this Reading Eagle article reports that the fans were "still peeved over Bill Terry's disparaging remark's about their club last winter." They took both games from the Giants while the Cardinals beat the Reds in each of their final two games. The Giants finished two games behind the Cards. The Reading Eagle reported Mr. Terry found out the Dodgers were, in fact, still in the league and "performed the humiliating rite of consuming a large dish of crow." The Cardinals. led by the Dean brothers, went on to beat the Tigers and win the World Series.

Reading about the 1934 Giants' demise makes me approach the final weeks of this season with even more anticipation and an "anything can happen" attitude. It also makes me think about how what I say can come back to bite me. Oh, don't worry friends, I'm not going to stop the friendly trash talking on Facebook and my personal Twitter page. My friends know that my love for the game runs far deeper than any team allegiances. We bond over that love and enjoy the lighthearted sparring. Sure sometimes I have to eat my words when it comes to baseball, but I can handle that. Terry's dish of crow does make me think of the power of words. His words stuck with Dodgers and their fans and maybe gave them an extra incentive to play their hardest in those final games. With two daughters in junior high I have seen how statements that used to get laughed off can now result in tears. The more I use Twitter and Facebook the more I see misunderstandings or disagreements because people feel free to post whatever is on their mind, without much thought of how it will be received. I'll try to remember Bill Terry's lesson and think before I speak because I'd rather spend my September enjoying pumpkin spice lattes and not crow.
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