Howie Rose photo by Kevin Ryan

Monday, February 7, 2011

Sweet By & By

     1959. The military-industrial complex was just getting its feet wet. Lady Day and Prez had flipped the mortal coil. Castro was making his big push down on that baseball-loving island. Hawaii became the union's 50th state. The Dalai Lama split Tibet. The "Twilight Zone" made its TV premier. The music died on an icy February morn in Clear Lake, Iowa. Yeah, a whole lotta shakin' was goin' on.

     And on Chicago's South Side not too far from Chess Records and all those storied blues clubs and jook joints where the likes of Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf and Little Walter were emerging as the genre's grand poo-bahs, the go-go White Sox rose to a rare pinnacle by snatching the American League pennant and a chance to meet the L.A. Dodgers in the October Classic. In that long post-war, baby Boomer and beyond stretch from 1949 through 1964, this was the only season that did not feature a team HQ'd in the Big Apple.

A link to games one and five of the 1959 World Series can be found here (selections #10 & 11):

     It occurs to me that the '59 Dodgers and GOP had about as much in common as that year's edition of the Chisox had with the Dems. Think about it: left coasters like Nixon and Reagan were on the verge of replacing the east coast moderate elite as the party's go-to guys mirroring L.A.'s usurp of Brooklyn's beloved "Bums." The transitional phase could also been seen in the Dodgers' personnel as the old guard of Snider, Hodges, Furillo, and Labine were being replaced by clean, well-scrubbed young faces named Koufax, Drysdale, Fairley, Roseboro, and Wills who would define the franchise's relative NL dominance in the coming years and plant the seeds for likes of—ugh—Steve Garvey.

     By contrast, the White Sox were a scrappy, blue-collar enterprise, a no stick/flashy leather one year blip on the American League screen that somehow evokes the city's storied broad shoulders and edgy political stew. Yeah, the well-oiled machine of Mayor Richard J. Dailey was in full force and the team's gallery of multi-ethnic rank-and-file talent, guys with names like Fox, Wynn, Minoso, Aparichio, and Kluzewski who could just as plausibly walked off the floor of a Gary, Indiana, steel plant as out the front steps of the Comiskey Park dugout.

Links to 1959 World Series video clips:

Links to More 1959 World Series Vid:

And for all you Minnie Minoso freaks:

     If I could spin another half-baked corollary that would extend to the broadcast booths of both Comiskey and the L.A. Coliseum I would but I can't so I won't. I will, however, offer that one of the joys of spending some time with these increasingly ancient recordings from the Archive are the forgotten and some even unknown (at least to me) chapters of baseball history lore that can still raise a brow of a know-it-all baseball bore such as myself. Who knew, for example, that the Dodgers bested Milwaukee's Braves in two tight playoff games to secure that season's senior circuit crown? Or that Carl Furillo was such a clutch and productive gamer—30 career World Series hits?!?!

     As the World Series voice of ubiquity during the late 1940s through the early 1960s, Mel Allen you may have fathomed is again featured here joined by By Saam, a Texas native and broadcasting workaholic whose multi-sport career found him at the mic for any number of notable games and one who crossed paths with everybody from characters as diverse as the courtly Connie Mack to the very face of big league baseball rebellion: Dick "Don't Call Me Richie" Allen. As one who commenced broadcasting Philadelphia A's home games in 1939 and the same for the Phillies a year later, Saam was not merely the voice of Philly baseball but the voice of sports in the City of Brotherly Love. Be it football for Villanova, Temple, the Eagles;  basketball for the Warriors before their move to the Bay Area; or even ice hockey for Eastern League's Ramblers, Saam earned his moniker—"The Man of a Zillion Words­­"—the good old-fashioned way, that is to say, the hard way. Along the way, he called thirteen no-hitters including Jim Bunning's 1964 Father's Day perfecto against the Mets at Shea and Wilt Chamberlain's 100 point advent at Hershey, Pa., against the Knicks.

By Saam Biographical and Tribute Links:

      But, let's face it, the Philadelphia teams of Saam's era were nearly always also-rans left on the scrap heap of every pennant race and division race in every sport you can name, the exceptions being of the 1950 Phillies' "Whiz Kids," the '60 Eagles and a couple of very early Warrior squads. With all that hometown bitterness fomenting, no wonder the city fathers saw fit to build a jail under Veterans Stadium to house the unruly prols after one too many.

    For all their until recent dysfunction as a baseball powerhouse, Philadelphia can boast a remarkable legacy in baseball broadcasting continuity and longevity. Saam was paired with Richie Ashburn and then Harry Kalas (who died in the broadcast booth before a game in 2007) before retiring in 1975, a direct seventy-year line between the two Great Depressions (and through a whole lot more black jazz) can be easily drawn. Is there another city that can claim such an unblemished lineage?

     Because Philadelphia is within easy range of New York City, I have over the years occasionally tuned in Philly games (its sometimes scratchy signal wavering in and out of listenability) and am no stranger any of the team's radio voices over the last four decades. While I vaguely recall hearing Saam, I was generally well versed in the banter of the superior if partisan Ashburn and Kalas.

     So it was with a certain experience I jumped into the deep end with these two 1959 World Series By Saam/Mel Allen 'casts and came away generally enthused by talents of both men and thrilled to being audioported to times and spaces long long ago and far far away. With his deep voice and sing-songy intonation, I can hear why Saam enjoyed the longevity and medium national exposure he did. A little stiff by early Third Millennial standards to be sure and a bit more of strikes and ball guy with a tad too much dead air between pitches and not enough sharing with us with, say, how far a lead Wills is taking off first than I would have expected for someone elevated to call a World Series or (as  in Saam's case) two, but a solid painter of the baseball words nonetheless.

     In Game One he is at his best in the home third when the Sox sent Dodger starter Roger Craig to an early shower in erupting for a dizzying seven runs marked by a veritable merry-go-round of base hits, base runners and the first of two Ted Kluzewski homers. The Sox rally is like a bucking bronco let out of its slot and running rampant on the downtown Commodities Exchange and with Saam hangin' for dear life like some rodeo buckaroo. He also seems to take particular delight in describing Early Wynn, Chicago's Hall of Fame master of every pitch except the fast one unless it was thrown high and inside, whose mix of hurls and deliveries flummoxed the Dodgers in the series' opening salvo won by Wynn and the South Side boys eleven-zip. Mel Allen is really great as well even when mispronouncing Koufax as "Koo-fax."

     White Sox die-hards must have been licking their lips at the prospect of undoing the curse of the 1919 Black Sox scandal. It had been forty years since those dark days when Shoeless Joe scampered the Comiskey's Elysian Fields of Comiskey but the taste of victory was short lived as the Dodgers came back to win the next three games. Those same die-hards (those lucky enough to still left to wander the topside of the Earth's crust anyway) can take a little solace as the Sox Game 5 win in L.A. has also been preserved for the ages.

A link to some Charles Comiskey stuff:

     And what a game it was, a rather long 1-0 affair marked by some grand early Koufax (who struck out six in a seven inning outing) and the forgotten Bob Shaw (who scattered nine hits in his 7.1 innings under the southern California sun) in a combined three-pitcher Sox effort to get the Series back to Chi Town for what turned out to be the Series finale. Koufax is on fire in the early innings and By Saam is rightly enthused when Sandy retires the White Sox in the first on but seven pitches while striking out two on the minimum three throws each. And Sandy was, don't forget, still a couple of seasons from really even beginning to making his meteoric mark. For what it's worth, when Allen points out that former Dodger pitcher Carl "Oisk" Erskine, the man whose record fourteen strikeouts in a single World Series game would be eclipsed by Koufax would best in '63, is sitting in the owners' box with Walter O'Malley, a strange sense of prophetic deja vu all over again can most definitely be enjoyed.

     These games are particularly well-recorded. Both the crack of the bat and the roar of the crowd can be heard and the immediacy of the unfolding action almost tasted. And that both ballparks are featured is something of an added feature. Though I am a big Comiskey Park fan (even making a pilgrimage late in its last season to savor its emerald and turquoise symmetrically gritty fruits), the rare opportunity to hear a game played at the L.A. Coliseum is a treat indeed. What with its embarrassingly short left field with that dopey screen over which Wally Moon sent many of his lunar shots or its Mojave Desert-sized foul territory, to hear all these factors with the mind's ear somehow makes reality of the facility as a baseball venue. And that this broadcast preserves a game witnessed by 92,706 paying customers in a record which will probably stand until the Coliseums in both L.A. and Rome are visited by spacelings wondering how we blew it so bad, stands as a final curiosity.

     All World Series heroics and White Sox glory aside, these games should sing to the hearts of Philly Phanatics whether dressed in ersatz ornithological garb or not and those who kept kosher with By Saam, Whitey Ashburn and Harry Kalas. Back in October of '08 when the Phils were surging to but their second MLB title and the planet's highest profile White Sox booster was making his run for the presidency, I was doing some canvassing in North Philly for that self-proclaimed "Chicago kid" not far from where the ghosts of Shibe Park and the Baker Bowl—the home fields of Phillies and A's teams past—once stood. These were sad, dilapidated neighborhoods ever so slowly emerging from the poverty and neglect that has marked them since the major league last pitch was thrown some forty years ago. And while I was never completely sold on all that year's flavor of "hopey changey stuff" in the first place, I saw spirit in the eyes of those who still called the place home.


  1. I, too, made pilgrimage to see Old Comiskey in the Pale Hose's last season before moving to the new ballpark. If I remember correctly, I attended a game during the second to last series played at Comiskey (late September 1990). Before the game, the great NFL halfback Marshall Goldberg (who'd played games in the '40s at Comiskey with the Chicago Cardinals) was honored. Also honored before the game was the rookie Frank Thomas, who'd just been brought up that September. Thomas received the award for the team's top minor league player. The other thing I remember from that game: The fan in front of me had a gun stuck in his waistband in the back. Every time he leaned forward or shifted to hike up his pants, the gun stuck out from his butt crack. This guy did NOT look like an off-duty cop.

  2. I listened to Saam throughout my childhood, and even interviewed him for a high school class in careers. He was gracious enough to invite my friend and me to Connie Mack Stadium to meet us before a game, and sat and chatted with us for probably 15-20 minutes. He was chomping his usual stogie.

    Pretty sure Bill Campbell called Wilt's 100 point game. I don't remember Saam doing basketball. I do remember him doing this World Series.

    Just found an audio of Campbell calling that game. He was another one of the greats. Bill is now 90 and still living.