Known to many in baseball for his love and loss of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Pete Hamill died today at age 85 in his native Brooklyn.
Twenty four years after Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley moved the team to Los Angeles. Hamill wrote, “I believed that the three worst people in the 20th Century were Hitler, Stalin and Walter O’Malley.”
That quip will surely make the rounds as an example of the gruff persona of the legendary New York newspaper columnist. But Hamill’s March 1981 syndicated column in which he included the sentence was a positive ode to a pastime.
“Baseball,” Hamill wrote, “is the sport of a democracy, where the only requirement is talent. You don’t have to be a giant to play it. You don’t have to be able to fight on ice skates. You don’t have to be a 240-pound side of beef, synchronized into a war machine.
“All you have to do is run and field and hit. You don’t even need to be Babe Ruth. You can be a .230 hitter and play in the big leagues, if you can stop a ground ball with a glove. You can be a drunk on your day off, a womanizer, or a model Christian; you can believe that Ronald Reagan has saved the republic, that Ted Kennedy could have done it better, that the Communists are poisoning the water supply, or that God is a 1947 Servel refrigerator; in the ballpark, no one cares. In the ballpark, all you have to do is play.
“Baseball makes a lot of people cranky these days. They think the ballplayers make too much money, that mediocre talent is being too extravagantly rewarded. Some fans are tired of reading about players who will strike to make millions; others resent the rising price of admission. Others think the owners are too often out of the corporate mold… without imagination, obsessed with short-term profits to the point where profits became impossible as the teams stagnate. Maybe they’re all right; I don’t know. I don’t care. I’m from the generation that forgives baseball everything.
“When I was a kid, there was nothing else.”