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DUST OF THE FIELDS BEHIND US

A Maglie Mole in Dodgerville
By Judith Testa

In the beginning there was baseball—at least in my beginnings. If there was a time when baseball meant nothing to me, I no longer remember it. Even before I started school in 1948, I was sitting on the floor by our big wooden radio cabinet, listening to baseball games with my maternal grandfather. He must have found a way to explain the game to me, because I knew what was going on. Kids are easily bored, so if what came out of the radio sounded like gibberish, as baseball jargon does to those unfamiliar with it, I would never have stayed around to listen to Red Barber and Vin Scully broadcasting Brooklyn Dodger games on summer afternoons and Russ Hodges reporting on the New York Giants. Theirs are voices I can still hear in my head.

I grew up in Rockville Centre, a fair-sized, prosperous town on Long Island, about a forty-minute train ride from New York City or Brooklyn, and I grew up with baseball. The mid-1940s and 1950s saw thousands of families move to "The Island" from the urban boroughs of Brooklyn, Manhattan, and the Bronx, bringing with them a fanatic loyalty to one of the three local baseball teams. Bronx natives rooted for the Yankees, most Manhattanites were Giants fans, and if you came from Brooklyn, you lived and died with the Dodgers. My parents came from Brooklyn, so I was born a Dodger fan and one of my first life lessons was learning to loathe the New York Giants. From 1950 on, that included cultivating an intense hatred of the Dodgers' most devastating opponent, Giants pitcher Sal Maglie.

Growing up in the 1950s as the child of two devoted Dodger fans, I not only had an obligation to hate Maglie and the Giants; I also needed to have a favorite Dodger player, a special guy to root for even beyond the fervent devotion inspired by the team in general. All the kids I knew had favorites and almost everybody in our house had one as well. My father chose Roy Campanella, perhaps because the Dodgers cheerful, roly-poly catcher was half Italian, and maybe also because my father's own rotund but solid physique resembled Campy's. My mother had a fondness for pitcher Carl Erskine. Mom always did go for handsome men (such as my father), and Erskine with his chiseled features and luminous dark eyes was, as Mom always put it, "SO good-looking." My maternal grandmother had only a mild interest in baseball, but even she had her favorite Dodger: right fielder Carl Furillo. Like my mother, she chose her favorite on the basis of his looks. Whenever she saw a picture of Furillo, who really did have a face that belonged on a Roman coin or a Renaissance medal, she would murmur, "Land sakes, that man is handsomer than God!" This sentiment never sat well with the one dissenter in the family, her husband and my maternal grandfather, who for mysterious reasons hated the Dodgers. He had spent most of his adult life in Brooklyn but rooted for the St. Louis Cardinals. Go figure. My paternal grandmother, an Italian immigrant who also lived with us, did not understand baseball or why we got so excited about it. When ball games were on, she would busy herself in the kitchen.

As the only child in a house full of adults who took a lively interest in my ideas, I grew up surrounded by intense baseball talk. My father and my grandfather sometimes sat and discussed baseball for hours and at other times stomped around the house refusing to speak to one another for days because of an argument over baseball. Often asked who my favorite Dodger was, I never made a choice; I adored them all. I had grown up with Pee Wee Reese, Gil Hodges, Jackie Robinson, Carl Furillo, Duke Snider, Roy Campanella, Don Newcombe, Clem Labine, and Carl Erskine, and could barely recall a world that did not include them. Still, none of the Dodger players jumped out at me as the guy to give my heart to. Instead, I harbored a secret, subversive passion I did not dare confess even to my Dodger-hating grandfather. The player who fascinated me, the man I silently and guiltily rooted for even when he was beating my beloved Bums, was the Dodgers' absolute, ultimate archenemy: New York Giants right-hander Salvatore Anthony Maglie, known to fans of that era as "Sal the Barber."

 

To read the rest of this story, click here to order a copy of the Winter 2005 issue.

—EFQ

JUDITH TESTA is a retired professor of art history who grew up in New York and currently lives in Illinois. She is the author of three books and numerous articles on Italian and Northern European art and culture, and more recently has begun writing about 1950s baseball. She is currently at work on a biography of Sal Maglie.

© 2005 Judith Testa

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