So we return to the sheer joy of the game.
Out of, you know, desperation.
I always think of my favorite baseball summers. In descending order: 1996, 1978, 1998.
The first: Return to Glory.
The second: Greatest Comeback Ever. (This would get the winner's purse, except that sports information was rather ancient in those days. Any Phoenix sports fan over 40 remembers the Republic Sports Line, which was basically an answering machine featuring one guy (I always imagined him as having a beard plus hair to his shoulders) reading the scores in a bored monotone that suggested a coroner's emotional attachment to the deceased. Those a little older may remember the ESPN sports phone number, chanted in commercial after commercial: 900-976-1313! I called fourteen times one month, and caught it from my father over the seven bucks I had wasted, never mind I had to call because the freaking Bud Light commercial ("Bring out your best!") drowned out the freaking scores. Newspapers were worse. In those days, the Republic wouldn't even try to have the scores from the West Coast, a whole one hour behind where we were; when the Yankees played Seattle or Oakland, we got the results two days later, like we were at the freaking South Pole.)
So: greatest comeback ever. But viewed from afar.
The third: Greatest Team of All Time. Too close to '96 to be earth-shattering. But something.
You know whom I have a soft spot for?
Not much love, to be sure. A check of the records indicates they finished . . . oh, I can't remember. Second, third, fourth. They had the hitting (Mattingly, Winfield, Henderson, Clark, Pags, Sluggo), but their starting pitching was bad (John Candelaria started well but was hurt, likewise Al Leiter, likewise Richard Dotson; Ron Guidry was at the end of the line, likewise Tommy John; Rick Rhoden went .500, does that count?) and the bullpen was worse (Rags was ready to move on, some other relievers did what they could).
So: the reason for my soft spot?
1988 was the first time I enjoyed baseball on a daily basis. Ah, I thought. This was how the game is meant to be watched, and listened to: as John Updike wrote, something about "a tissue-thing difference between a thing done well and a thing done ill." This was far preferable to restricting my baseball-watching to NBC's "Game of the Week" and ABC's "Monday Night Baseball," an activity that reduced individual games to college football.
Another thing. 1988 was the last time the Yankees had a decent radio crew. Hank Greenwald and Tommy Hutton--sharp, crisp, giving us an honest account of the game--were fired at the end of 1988. The scuttlebutt was that Greenwald and Hutton were canned for not being cheerleader enough, a fair enough assumption, as their replacement, John Sterling, endeared himself in the first month of the season for calling two Yankee home run balls that weren't, to wit:
IT IS HIGH!
IT IS LONG!
IT IS GONE!
NO IT ISN'T!
So I came in front of the TV tonight. Win or lose, let's enjoy some baseball.