“I believe in the church of baseball. I’ve tried all the major religions and most of the minor ones. And the only church that truly feeds the soul day-in, day-out is the church of baseball.” Susan Sarandon (aka Annie Savoy in the film Bull Durham)
My introduction to baseball was the film Bull Durham and I really love this quote from kooky baseball groupie Annie Savoy (played by Susan Sarandon). The film conveys a game that is intricately woven into the American psyche, overflowing with colourful phrases and bizarre rituals honouring the winning streak.
But does Hollywood portray the real thing? I wanted to see for myself – and where better than New York, home to the most successful baseball team in history, the New York Yankees.
Even rookies know some of the folklore. In 1920, the Yankees bought the contract of Babe Ruth from the Boston Red Sox for $125,000, which was followed by a long drought for the Red Sox (who didn’t win the World Series again until 2004). In contrast, the Yankees have won the the title 27 times.
At the Yankees, Ruth reignited public interest in the game. In 1921, the Yankees clinched their first American League pennant and in 1922 construction began on Yankee Stadium. This marked an era of Yankee domination in the roaring 20s. In the 1927 World Championship year, Ruth, by then dubbed the “Yankee slugger”, hit a record 60 home runs.
“He was a circus, a play and a movie, all rolled into one,” said team-mate Lefty Gomez. “Kids adored him. Men idolised him. Women loved him. There was something about him that made him great.”
It was also the era of Lou Gehrig, who hit 493 home runs in a record 2130 consecutive games for the Yankees. In May 1939, he was diagnosed with a degenerative muscle disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and only two years later Lou Gehrig was dead. He had farewelled his team-mates and fans at Yankee Stadium in July 1939, in a now-famous speech, saying, “I am the luckiest man alive”.
Now I was inside that stadium, making my way to the highest point in the bleachers. We heard the announcer welcoming fans: “It’s a bee-yooo-tiful day for baseball.” Continue reading