I was one of those nerdy kids that you may have read about or seen in movies, the kind who knew (and still knows) the starting lineup of the 1961 Detroit Tigers despite the fact that they were not even a team that I followed. I knew ALL of the starting lineups of ALL of the teams.
Baseball was my summertime passion, my gateway to a larger America. We weren’t dragged around by our parents from activity to activity in the summer; we were pretty much left to our own devices (and I don’t mean “devices”), and many of us picked baseball. We were at home all summer and we played “ball” in our neighborhoods and followed the major leaguers every day as best we could on the radio and in the newspapers and the occasional blessed television game on the weekends. We dreamed of being Dodgers or Yankees ourselves when we grew up.
I was not and am not a “numbers” guy. I wasn’t one of those kids who prided themselves on knowing batting averages and wins or losses or other statistics. I knew the sacred numbers of baseball: 714 (Babe Ruth’s home run total), 56 (Joe DiMaggio’s hitting streak) and .406 (Ted Williams’s batting average the last time anyone hit .400). I knew a lot of “stats,” but I preferred knowing players and teams and who did what to whom, not the numbers.
Here is just a sample of my baseball trivia knowledge:
Where was the Atlanta Braves franchise originally? No, not Milwaukee, like reasonably knowledgeable fans would guess. No, they were the Boston Braves. They moved to Milwaukee in 1954 and on to Atlanta in 1966.
What teams played in the 1944 World Series? Two teams from the same city, but the city wasn’t New York or Chicago or any of the other cities with two teams you might think of. Final answer? The St. Louis Cardinals and the St. Louis Browns. An oddity brought about by the impact of the war on MLB rosters. The Browns typically were terrible.
For those stunned by this answer, who were the St. Louis Browns and what became of them? They have been the Baltimore Orioles since 1954. The Browns hold a special place in my heart because my dad often told the story about how, at the end of WW II (the Big One), while he was on the way to the West Coast to be shipped to the Pacific, the Japanese surrender was announced as his troop train was approaching St. Louis. The train stopped, the soldiers disembarked and rushed into bars and less respectful places and danced in the streets. My dad? He went to Sportsman Park to watch the Browns. My research indicates that they played the Yankees that day. As James Earl Jones says in his famous soliloquy in “Field of Dreams,” “the one constant in America has always been baseball.”
What was the original name of the Houston Astros? They were the Colt 45’s their first two seasons in 1962 and 1963 when they joined the Mets (the Metropolitans) as the first “expansion teams” in the National League.
Where did the Oakland A’s begin? Another trick question. Recent vintage fans might remember them as the Kansas City Athletics, but the correct answer is Philadelphia. They were the better team in Philly for many years.
Until the late 1950’s, Major League Baseball consisted of 16 teams, with three in New York (the Yankees, the Dodgers and the Giants), two in Philadelphia (the Phillies and the Athletics), two in St. Louis (the aforesaid Cardinals and the Browns), two in Boston (my dad’s and my beloved Red Sox and the soon-to-be-much-traveled Braves), two in Chicago (the Cubs and the White Sox, the latter referred to in the media of my childhood as the “Pale Hose”), and on each in Washington D.C.(the Senators, sometimes called the Nats or Nationals: “Washington, first in war, first in peace and last in the American League”), Cleveland (the Indians), Detroit (Tigers), Cincinnati (the Reds of course, except briefly during the McCarthy era when “reds” became a dirty word and they were called the “Redlegs”), and Pittsburgh with my “almost hometown team,” the Pirates (the Battlin’ Bucs, the Buccos). Sixteen teams, ten cities (11 if you count Brooklyn separately), no “West Coast swing,” almost exclusively train travel, no long flights. A nostalgic era. A little before my time, but I have read a lot about those days. My baseball book collection just hit 337.
Here’s another trivia item that is fascinating to me: Before 1969, there were no playoffs to get into the World Series unless teams ended in a tie after the 154-game regular season. One team from the National League, one team from the American League (the Yankees by rule it seemed). So think about this part of baseball history. From 1946 through 1962, 17 seasons, with the Dodgers playing 154 games each season, they ended in a playoff series four times. A “flat footed tie” four times after 154 games: 1946 (against the Cardinals while still in Brooklyn, “Dem Bums”), 1951 (against the Giants, the most famous playoff ever, the “Shot Heard Round the World, ” Bobby Thomson’s homer in game three that broke the heart of everyone in Brooklyn), 1959 (against the Milwaukee Braves with game three in the L.A. Coliseum, the Dodgers’ second season in California), and 1962 (again versus the hated Giants, albeit the San Francisco version, with the last two games played in brand spanking new Dodger Stadium, Chavez Ravine). As someone famously said, “You can look it up.”
So far you might find this piece mildly interesting. For a baseball purist, at least of my vintage, these questions are softballs. Most of my close male friends would be batting 1000. But now I’d like to tell a cute (to me at least) story about the role sports trivia played in my professional life.
Much of my law practice over the last 30+ years has involved the representation of a wonderful fourth-generation (now fifth) newspaper family. I have handled their acquisition of well over half of their 50-odd daily newspapers, as well as many other publications and other businesses, including ski resorts and the majority interest in a major league team. Great fun, great challenges, great relationships. But if not for my fascination with sports I might not have had this opportunity.
How so? My first “first chair” matter for the family involved an acquisition of several newspapers at a closing in Seattle. Their largest to date. The lady in our firm who had been my mentor and the family lawyer up to then had just taken an early retirement, leaving this deal and my future relationship with the client squarely on my shoulders. No net.
The dinner our first night in the great Northwest was the family patriarch, one of his sons who had just finished his education and was returning to the family business, and I. The conversation of course focused on sports. This was at the height of Michael Jordan’s ascendancy to NBA GOAT. The family patriarch (still living and skiing in his mid 80’s) was teasing his son, who worshipped Jordan. He says, “Evans, I think you’re a knowledgeable sports guy. My misguided son here thinks some guy named Jordan is the greatest small forward in NBA history. I’m sure you can set him straight.”
The pressure was on! I probably shared the son’s opinion but I wanted to impress his father. So I began my thought process. The father had been in college in the early to mid-50’s, he had grown up in D.C.; we were in Seattle. After mulling this over quickly, I blurted out “Elgin Baylor of course”. The patriarch smiles, nods his approval and says, “Evans knows his sports”.
For those less informed, Elgin, who passed recently, was one of the NBA all-time greats. I remembered he had been born in D.C., had played his college basketball at Seattle U. and was of the patriarch’s generation. In other words, I pulled the answer out of my you know what.
The rest is history. The deal closed, as did many others after that time.
I’ll end with my favorite sports trivia question for folks who were kids in the 60’s. In 1963, the most valuable player in the American League, the National League, the NFL and the AFL (yes, it was a separate league) each wore the same number. Name them. Don’t cheat and google. Email me your answers. The winner gets my hearty congratulations and robust respect. I only got 3 of 4.
Evans “Buddy” King is a proud native of Christiansburg, CHS Class of 1971. He resides in Clarksburg, W.Va., where he has practiced law with the firm of Steptoe & Johnson, PLLC, since 1980. He can be reached at email@example.com.