Saturday, March 19, 2005

Radatz and Robbie

Even though this time of year is baseball's rebirth, this week it seems to have gone hand in hand with a good amount of loss.

First, there is the tragic and too early death of beloved Sox relief pitcher Dick Radatz in a freak accident. Now, I am much, much too young to have ever seen Dick Radatz in action. And I feel ashamed to admit that I did not know who he was before this week. But from all I have read of him, he was a true Red Sock, the consummate relief ace, and a damn good baseball player. Anyone who could make Mickey Mantle shake in his boots at the plate deserves a metaphysical raising of the glass from me. And in this week where so much attention is being paid to what is wrong with baseball, it's nice to remember an exemplar of the era when so much went right with the sport. In the 60's and 70's, baseball was finally well on its way to being fully integrated, and saw great teams like the '67 Sox and the late 60s Orioles. Evem though it was a pitching heavy era, seeing the heydays of Koufax, Drysdale and Gibson, it also saw some of the greatest hitters, greatest players ever, in Mantle, Mays, Maris, Robinson (Brooks and Frank), and Aaron. The passing of the "Monster" makes us think about how far away we are from that era in which he played, and appreciate not just him, but his compatriots. One of the most mentioned images this week has been Radatz striking out Mantle one more time up in heaven. I really like that image.

The other loss, fortunately, is professional, and not personal, in the retirement of great 2B Roberto Alomar, afte 17 years in the majors.
Now, Robbie was on the far side of his glory days, toiling away in relative obscurity for the Devil Rays. Some might, sadly. remember him more for the John Hirschbeck incident than for anything else. But the Robbie Alomar I remember was the one I saw, as a 8 year old kid, batting in the 1993 World Series for the eventual champion Blue Jays. Back then, I couldn't tell you an infielder from an outfielder, a bunt from a grounder. One of my lasting memories is my mother drawing me a diagram of the field, explaining exactly how baseball worked. At the time, living in Central New Jersey, and since the Sox were nowhere near the playoffs, we were cheering for the Phillies. I was enamored by men with such names as "Wild Thing", Dykstra, Kruk. Yet, I distinctly remember very much liking this Roberto Alomar guy; he hit the ball well, and he was fun to watch in the field. I vaguely recall him hitting a very pretty SkyDome homer. Though I would not become a fervent fan 'til much later, that series initiated me into the mysteries of baseball, and Roberto Alomar was one of its shamans. He was a figure of my childhood, and his retirement, though it comes with a whimper and not with a bang, is a landmark to me.

My mother has been reminding me repeatedly, if I too often obsess about the exploits of 2004, that it's a new year now. That with baseball, no matter how much we glory in its past, we have to concentrate just as much as its future. The passing of the "Monster", and the retirement of Robbie Alomar, let us do both, really. They remind us of the past, and give us hope for the future.
Good luck Robbie Alomar, and godspeed, Dick Radatz.