Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Johnny Podres

By Ben Sears

Reading about the passing of Johnny Podres earlier this week jarred my memory. Podres, you might recall, was the winning pitcher in game 7 of the 1955 World Series which saw the Brooklyn Dodgers win their only Series championship before departing for the Left Coast. And they did it against the Yankees. These days, with the sports pages full of stammering self righteous millionaire team owners and commissioners before Congressional committees, it's too easy to forget the more significant side of the world of sports. Podres' death is a reminder. Let me explain.

In the fall of 1955, the Lima Public School in suburban Philadelphia had one TV set. It was in the cafeteria. After school you could go and catch the end of the Series games; the place was full every day that week, as I recall. We could see that the Dodger team that won the Series against the mighty (and all white) Yankees included, of course, Pee Wee Reese, Duke Snider, Gil Hodges, etc. And we could see that it also included, in prominent roles, Roy Campanella, Don Newcomb and Jackie Robinson. In short, it was a different kind of team than the ones we were used to seeing in the major leagues. I think we got more education on the important matter of the budding Civil Rights Movement that week than we got all year long in our 7th grade social studies class.

Today, as the print and electronic media work overtime to make the world of sports a diversion rather than a reflection of our society, I'm remembering Johnny Podres and the 1955 Dodgers.

1 comment:

normanmarkowitz said...

Ben,
Thanks for writing this. I have been a lifelong Dodger fan since 1951 and since I grew up in the Bronx, continued to support the team after they left Brooklyn. My first memories of racism really concern the Dodgers, that is, the attacks on the Black players by Yankee fans, kids, for not being able to win the big games, even though I could figure out that nonesense even when I was eight and nine. In 1953, a vice principal of our elementary school actually told a group of kids in a playground that there was a danger of a Black majority on the Dodgers(he assumed everyone would simply go along with the racism). When I said that the new Black player who was talking about was a good player and as a Dodger fan I was glad he was on the team, he turned on me.

The Dodgers integrated baseball, but it should be remembered that the African-American press and especially the Communist party campaigned to achieve that from the 1930s on, so much so that when Branch Rickey announced at the end of 1945 that a Black player would be signed to a minor league contract, he specifically mentioned that this wasn't a surrender to Communist demonstrations.
I remember literally dancing in the street with the wife of the janitor of our tenement, an African American women who couldn't read or write but was fellow Dodger fan. I saw it as a victory for the people