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A 'must read' for baseball fans

Wait Till Next Year : Summer Afternoons with My Father and Baseball
by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Simon & Schuster, $13

Review by Tom Faucett

Web posted on: Tuesday, July 14, 1998 4:49:28 PM EDT

(CNN) -- In today's world of MTV style editing and short sound bytes, the game of baseball is considered by many as a dinosaur, with its three hour-plus length and lack of break-neck action. Others complain of its overpaid, sometimes obnoxious players and greedy owners. Indeed, hating baseball has become hip.

It might be hard to believe, then, that there was a time when baseball captured the nation's attention, and truly was America's pastime.

"Wait Til Next Year: A Memoir" recounts Doris Kearns Goodwin's magical childhood in Rockville Centre, Long Island -- the youngest of three daughters born to a bank inspector father and an infirmed mother. Goodwin describes a time when the children of the neighborhood grew up spending as much time in their neighbor's home as their own. They knew all the shop keepers, and everyone looked out for each other's child (insert "It Takes a Village" jokes here). But the book's primary focus is Goodwin's love affair with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

The 1940s and 50s were a golden era for baseball in the city of New York. The Big Apple boasted three dominant teams -- the Yankees, Giants, and Dodgers. It was a time before the purity of the game was tarnished by astroturf, free agency, and the designated hitter.

Each afternoon during the season, Goodwin sat on her porch and listened intently to Red Barber call each game. She diligently recorded each ball, strike, and hit with their appropriate symbols in her score book as her father had taught her. Using it as a guide, Goodwin would recount the events of each game to her father when he returned home from work. At first, she simply rehashed the facts, but with practice, she learned how to draw the listener in with a funny anecdote, building the action slowly, until finishing with the exciting conclusion. These tricks of storytelling would later serve her well as an author.

One of Goodwin's most vivid memories is of her first Dodger game at Ebbetts Field with her father. The descriptions of each sight, smell and sound are told with such childlike wonderment that it will melt even the harshest cynic that today's game has created.

The Dodgers in the 50s boasted a powerful lineup with such legendary names as Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, and Gil Hodges. Yet, they were runners-up in the World Series six times in the 40s and 50s. Each year, their fans consoled one another by saying, "Wait til next year."

1955 proved to be the Dodgers' year. After listening over the school intercom to the first eight innings of the final game of the World Series, Doris raced home to listen to the final inning. Once the long-awaited title was theirs, she and her sickly mother danced on the porch. Later, they met her father in the city to join in the communal celebration.

In 1957, citing declining attendance, the Dodgers and the Giants left New York for Los Angeles and San Francisco. Crushed by the teams' betrayal, the Dodgers exit marked a significant turning point in Goodwin's life. A few months later, her mother passed away. Her father, too grief stricken to remain in their house, moved the family out of the neighborhood to an apartment across town, and began drinking heavily.

"Wait Til Next Year" -- recently released in paperback -- is a must read for baseball fans and Brooklyn Dodger fans alike. Those who have seen their team leave town in search of more money and bigger stadiums can also relate. If you have written the game off, then read about a time in baseball when the battle between the hitter and pitcher, not the agent and owner, made news.

Tom Faucett is a freelance writer who lives in Atlanta.

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