Braves or Cardinals? (Or someone else?)
Years ago, we ran a reader poll for The Clarion-Ledger. We asked which team was Mississippi’s favorite Major League baseball team.
The was back when the newspaper really went statewide and it was before the Internet went widespread, meaning readers had to care enough to put a stamp on an envelope and mail in their answer.
I knew it would come down to either the Atlanta Braves or St. Louis Cardinals.
I was not surprised.
The Braves and Cardinals ended in almost a dead heat. The Yankees were a distant third.
Many people cared enough to attach a note.
The typical Cardinal fan wrote: “I have been a Cardinal fan ever since I listened to Harry Caray broadcasting the games on KMOX radio. I listened to them every night.”
The typical Braves fan wrote: “How can you not be an Atlanta Braves fan when they play in your living room every night on the superstation.”
My guess is that the result of a similar poll currently would produce this result: Braves, first; Cardinals second; nobody else close.
The Braves, now that the Mississippi Braves play Class AA baseball here, have probably moved ahead. But Cardinals fans still are plentiful. That’s just my take. And by the way, I like both. I often fell asleep listening to the Cardinals and Harry Caray and Jack Buck. But I read Eddie Mathews biography in the third grade, and I became a Milwaukee Braves fan, as well. When the Milwaukee Braves came South, my Braves fandom only increased.
The truth is, I grew up a Yankees fan. Mickey Mantle was my hero. Both my parents were Yankees fans. Mantle homered in the third game of the World Series the day I was born. My dad wanted to name me Mickey. Mom thought kids would make fun of me because of Mickey Mouse. So they compromised and named me Rickey, which later became Rick.
We couldn’t get the Yankees games on the radio back then, but I kept up with the score by listening to the Cards. That summer of ’61 when Mantle and Roger Maris had the famous home run race, I wore out the deejay at a local radio station calling to see whether or not one of them had homered. I still remember the phone number: 583-1741. If that deejay is still alive, he still hates me.
I quit pulling for the Yankees when CBS bought them. That was 1964 or ’65, which roughly coincided with Milwaukee’s move to Atlanta. Pretty soon the Braves were on TV every night: twice. Ted Turner would replay the games after midnight. Can’t tell you how many times I fell asleep watching the replay. Meanwhile, CBS sold the Yanks to George Steinbrenner a few years later and my ambivalence where the Yankees slowly evolved into dislike. (I do love to watch Derek Jeter play, and he remains one of my favorite players on my least favorite team.)
I still watch the Braves three or four times a week. And I find that the older I get, the more I love baseball, everything about it, and especially the rhythm of it. I love watching the guys who used to play just across the Pearl River at Trustmark Park now leading the Braves to a run-away lead in the National League East. I remember Phillip Wellman telling me that Brian McCann was going to be “a great Big League hitter.” I remember interviewing both Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman when they were 19 and being struck by their intelligence and maturity. I remember how much ground Andrelton Simmons covered at shortstop and how his throws to first were like lasers. (Simmons, I believe, is a future Hall of Famer. Perhaps Freeman, too. We shall see.)
OK, I am rambling, but this is a blog and baseball remains my favorite sport. I still like the Cardinals, still pull hard for the Braves. But the Yankees of 1961 remain my favorite team.
How about you: Braves, Cardinals or anyone else?