When July 4 meant baseball doubleheaders and summer tradition
Our youth can be romanticized. Our decisions centered around whether to go swimming, get friends together for a sandlot baseball game or “agonize” over trading a Ted Williams baseball card for Enos “Country” Slaughter or Allie “Chief” Reynolds.
Somebody else made the meaningful decisions for us. We were free from the tethers of school when the Fourth of July came around.
Major League baseball and its cloistered circle of only 16 teams held our every thought.
Both the American and National League always scheduled traditional doubleheaders on Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and Labor Day. One admission doubleheaders usually having a 1 p.m. start to the openers, and usually having full houses in places other than Washington, Pittsburgh and Kansas City.
It was the half-way point in the season.
The red-hot pennant races had yet to be joined but Williams, Stan Musial, Mickey Mantle, the Dodgers, and those teams chasing the New York Yankees were already in full stride after batting titles, league laurels or World Series rings.
Baltimore had gotten a team in 1954 and the Orioles were interesting because manager Paul Richards was busy putting together a “kiddie corps” of pitchers including several peach-fuzz youngsters barely past 20 years of age.
The hum-drum Washington Senators were close by and despite owner Clark Griffith’s shoe-string approach to economics the team did televise games at times and getting reasonable seats at the old ball park on Florida Avenue was never a problem.
Getting to see a holiday doubleheader was a much-awaited treat if you were 10 or 11 years old.
It didn’t matter that Washington’s Sam Dente, Mickey Grasso, Mickey McDermott, Carlos Paula and Herbie Plews were closer to baseball extinction or the minor leagues than the Hall of Fame.
Washington had Gil Coan, Eddie Yost, Bob Porterfield, Roy Sievers, Jim Lemon, Pedro Ramos and Camillo Pascual to defend the Griffith Stadium fort against the Yankees, Red Sox and White Sox.
The Orioles were an up-and-coming organization that didn’t seem to think about their years in St. Louis as the bedraggled Browns.
Jim Gentile was a slugging first baseman. Clint Courtney was a take-no-guff catcher. Even though he had his difficulties on the bases, Jackie Brandt cruised center field and Bob Boyd was a consistent singles hitter.
But it was the work-in-progress pitching staff that had Milt Pappas, Steve Barber, Jim Palmer, Jack Fisher and Chuck Estrada as its cornerstones that gave promise of years of progress to come and helped draw fans to Baltimore’s side.
The Fourth of July came.
People ran in the dusk with sparklers.
The Orioles and Senators ran until dusk on the base paths.
The pre-teens in the surrounding area ran with them.
Traditions were extended. Some first-seen happenings were created by players like Pete Runnels or Mickey Vernon in Washington or Bob Turley, Vern Stephens or Bobo Holliman in Baltimore. Holliman pitched a no-hitter in first major league start, but did very little following his gem.
Youngsters could roam freely at either Griffith Stadium or Memorial Stadium in Baltimore. Foul balls could be chased even two sections away from where you were sitting. The rather sparse crowds were polite enough to careening youngsters.
And then the doubleheaders were over, and Washington and Baltimore were lucky if they had gained a split of the two games games against Cleveland’s Bob Lemon and Mike Garcia or Chicago’s Billy Pierce and Dandy Dick Donivan.
The wait until the next scheduled doubleheaders on Labor Day seemed interminable.
But when you are 11, that interval can be filled with other things baseball and other things outdoors.