Baseball? It's All Relative

If the sign of a dysfunctional family is the inability to agree about anything, then I suppose that's what we were. Every time we went out to a ballpark. Of course, no one in a ballpark ever used the word "dysfunctional." But there were a lot of other, more colorful words that meant the same thing, which the people in the stands yelled at the players whenever they booted a ground ball or took a called third strike in the clutch.

Now, Rockies fans may have their little arguments. Is Dante a better hitter than the Big Cat? Who deserves the longer stay down in Double-A--the rag-arm starting pitchers or those Santa Clauses out in the bullpen? Is there a more ridiculous mascot in the major leagues than that hideous purple dinosaur thing? In general, though, baseball-loving Colorado families adore their power-hitting, no-pitching Rockies--as long as the Rox are playing at home, where they can win. The fans remain solid in their admiration for the green glories of Coors Field. They have also come to understand the squeeze play and the sacrifice bunt, although these admirable baseball tools are rarely employed in the home of the nine-run inning. For the most part, the fans are delighted every time their heroes eke out another 15-14 win in a five-hour, seven-hotdog marathon down on Blake Street. We're all in this together, aren't we?

When I was growing up, no such unanimity of purpose and emotion ever paid a visit to our house. In New York in the 1950s, there were three major-league baseball teams. And while some entire families--the Levinsons and the Catanzeritis come to mind--put up an impenetrable front of support for their Giants or their Dodgers or (it pains me even now to say it) their Yankees, individual members of the Gallo family had just one thing in common, baseball-wise--namely, the stubborn, half-psychopathic belief that your club, and your club alone, was The One. Everybody else's club deserved to burn in hell, alongside kidnappers, mean Mr. P. from the candy store and my Uncle Vinny. Vinny was so cheap that he used to count the bottles of Pepsi in his icebox before any of us kids were allowed up in his apartment. He also had a kind of dipstick for his quart of Scotch so he could, you know, keep tabs on my embattled Aunt Lucille's weekly thimbleful.

Anyway. Compared to us, those bickering families Leo Tolstoy dreamed up were models of decorum and intergenerational understanding. We were the Hatfields and McCoys, trapped under the same stadium roof.

The starting lineup, circa 1956:
Danny Gallo (BR, TL, 5-6, 125 lbs.). At the age of fifteen, my older brother could already run a mile faster than most guys on college track teams, and a two-column picture of him had recently appeared on page 78 of the New York Daily Mirror for winning a big schoolboy cross-country race at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx. Like most people, though, my brother had secrets. He smoked Camels, lots of them, and for years the only piece of real estate he really wanted to run around was the huge green peninsula that was center field at the Polo Grounds. This was Willie Mays country, sacred ground to my brother, and he would gladly have relinquished any triumph on the cinders, past or future, to spend just one afternoon where the great number 24 spent all of his--bathed in the center-field sunshine and the cheers of the Giants faithful.

Danny had his own way of expressing this, as well as his lifelong love for the game:

"Fuck Duke Snider," he would say. "And fuck you, too. Those half-assed pieces of crap over in Brooklyn can't hit their way out of a paper bag. And Newcombe. Don't even talk about Newcombe. I can hit Newcombe. My man Mays eats Newcombe for breakfast. You just wait. Giants'll win two, maybe three World Series in a row, and it'll be all over for, well, you know...those bastards."

As he said this, Danny would be dangling a smoldering Camel from the corner of his mouth in the James Dean style, eyes tragically narrowed. "And Reese!" he would go on. "Reese couldn't play goddamn Little League! Al Dark is twice the player Reese is. Hit .412 in the Series. Yeah. Gimme Dark. Giants all the way again."

Blanche Gallo (BR?, TR?, 5-3, 112 lbs.). My mother never faced live pitching, and she never played pepper between games of a doubleheader. She probably never grasped the strategy of the hit-and-run. Her sport was golf, and had been since just after The War. But as a baseball fan, she had something no one else in our family could claim--a long and undeniable track record. She was, of course, the Yankee fan. To my brother, the Yankees were "those bastards," for whom he held the kind of animus he otherwise reserved for the North Koreans or the recordings of Patti Page. To me, the Yanks had always been a bad dream, or a cut that wouldn't heal, or polio. I hated them, too, and until the Dodgers finally won the Series in 1955, when I was ten years old, I thought they'd never go away.