Question of the Week: First Favorite Team
The Phillies were my favorite team from the get-go. My seminal moment with them came on Opening Day, 1974, against the Mets, when, in the ninth inning of a game that had everything—we saw a streaker and snow flurries—Mike Schmidt (batting eighth!) hit a two-run home run off of future Phil Tug McGraw to win it, 5-4. For some reason, I told my dad that Schmidt would hit a home run just before he did it. I remember that distinctly. Why I said it I have no idea, given that he’d batted all of .196 the year before. At that point, my reputation as a baseball seer became established and, much like Tony Romo nearly a half-century later, I immediately signed a network contract to work with Jim Nantz on Game of the Week.
I grew up in Yonkers, NY, 11 miles north of Yankee Stadium. My late father was a devout Yankees fan, who regaled me with tales of past Bronx Bomber glory. One of my earliest baseball memories involves he and I walking among the fabled Monuments, then located in the field of play, at the original Yankee Stadium in the fall of 1973. Yet the Yankees were not my favorite team.
My family and I spent the heart of summer in Montauk, NY, out on the eastern end of Long Island. The only broadcast TV came from distant Providence, RI, across Long Island Sound. I fell in love with the Red Sox, watching the games and listening to the calm, reassuring voices of broadcasters Ned Martin and Jim Woods on WTEV, Channel 6. The summer of 1975 was magical. That fall I watched the Red Sox upend the mighty Oakland A’s in the American League Championship Series on a small black and white set in my grandmother’s apartment in the Inwood section of Manhattan. I saw Fisk’s homer and the disappointment of Game 7 at home, on a slightly bigger but still monochromatic TV.
I got my first Red Sox cap in 1977, when I was 13 years old. It’s a miracle that it has survived the ensuing years. It is cheaply made, constructed of genuine, 100-percent polyester imported from Korea. The sides and back are mesh, and the Red Sox logo is glued on. It bears witness to decades of devoted fandom. The last time it sat atop my head was 40 years ago, yet for some forgotten reason I have saved it. It moved with me—to college, to my first apartment, to a house, to my current abode. Curses are shattered, streaks are broken, identities and perceptions are transformed, but my first cap endures—an improbable survivor and a relic that spans nearly a lifetime of fandom.
My favorite team is and always will be the Cubs. Growing up in the Chicago suburbs with parents who were fans, there was never really a doubt. My seminal moment came during the Bartman game during the 2003 NLCS. I was nine years old and completely invested in the first truly good Cubs team I’d known. Though I may not have fully grasped the historical significance of the moment, I cried after they lost and continued to pout until I fell asleep that night.
If ever there was a chance that I’d stray from my Cubs’ fandom, it was gone after that night. You can’t go through something like that and not want to see it through to the end, especially with a franchise known as the “lovable losers.” I was rewarded for my loyalty alongside some of my closest childhood friends in Wrigleyville in 2016, as we watched the Cubs top the Indians in Game 7 of the World Series, ending the Curse of the Billy Goat once and for all.
My father had me in pinstripes when I was four years old, tossing a baseball to me behind our apartment building in Queens, N.Y. There was no question about which team would be my favorite. I was born in 1952, and have vague memories of the late ’50s. My earliest memory was shocking: Bill Mazeroski’s walk-off home run in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series, in which the Yankees dominated but still lost. The game made the name Ralph Terry—who served up the homer to Maz—a dirty word in my house for the rest of my childhood. The next season more than made up for it, with Mickey Mantle, my favorite player, and Roger Maris hitting home runs seemingly every day. I remember watching or listening to Yankees games with my father and younger brother, marveling over the barrage of home runs from the M&M boys. The seminal moment? What else? Roger's No. 61.
A postscript: I got to spend a day with Ralph Terry before an Old-Timers Day at Yankee Stadium in 2016. One of the nicest men in baseball. I'm now a big fan.
At the age of five I was a free agent fan, in the market for a squad to support. Logic and convention pointed me toward the Red Sox, as everyone in Rhode Island is a Sox fan. (The only thing more ubiquitous than Dunkin’ Donuts around there are Red Sox hats.) From a young age, though, I didn't follow the crowd. The next logical choice would have been my dad's favorite team, the Dodgers, since I idolized my dad and he is the one who introduced me to baseball. But as much as I loved that guy, I didn't want to be a complete clone. Somewhere, I heard about a team called the Philadelphia Phillies, and I had my answer. My favorite letter was F, and having yet to see the name in print, I made some assumptions. Before long, Don Carman was decorating my walls and Steve Lake was my favorite catcher of all time. I never looked back.
I became a Braves fan in 1957, when they represented Milwaukee and won the World Series against the heavily-favored Yankees. I am still a Braves fan, and thankful for career opportunities that have allowed me to meet and interview the players I idolized, from Warren Spahn and Hank Aaron to Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz.
My first interview was Milwaukee Braves manager Bobby Bragan in 1965, when I was 17. My favorite moments were the worst-to-first title chase of 1991, the Francisco Cabrera game that won the 1992 NL pennant in the bottom of the ninth, the world championship of 1995 and the amazing ability of a team without starting pitching to reach the 2020 playoffs and provide the best pitching of anyone in the 16-team field. It may not be politically correct anymore, but Do the Chop!
My first favorite team was the 1967 Red Sox, the Impossible Dream team managed by Dick Williams and led by Carl Yastrzremski, Jim Lonborg, Rico Petrocelli and George Scott. Boston wasn't supposed to do much, but shocked everyone not only with its first winning season since 1958, but the American League pennant, before taking the Cardinals to seven games in the World Series. I have been a Red Sox fan since then.
Being born a year after their 1986 championship, the Mets team I’ve clung most closely to was from 1999. It was the first time I experienced a playoff run … even though they made Rasputin look like he gave up quickly. A late-September collapse that nearly took the Mets out of the postseason picture was coupled with Bobby Valentine's ongoing feuds with his GM, his players and the media. A final weekend push got them into a winner-take-all for the Wild Card. Al Leiter's gem in the one-game playoff. Todd Pratt’s NLDS walk-off homer. The 15-inning, six-hour heart-stopper against Atlanta in Game 5 of the NLCS, capped by Robin Ventura’s “grand-slam single.” Those Mets weren't a roller-coaster, they were an entire amusement park. As a kid, I couldn't help but enjoy the ride.
The Giants of my youth were Johnnie LeMaster, whose 11 seasons in San Francisco can be summed up with one eye-popping statistic: Only one player—not just on the Giants during his tenure but with any club at any time in the modern era—came to bat as many times as he did and created fewer runs. LeMaster ushered in the longest stretch of playoff-free baseball—from 1972 to 1986—that the franchise had seen since well before the turn of the century, which basically covered my entire childhood.
Without hope for victory, the only enduring motivation for Giants fans of my vintage was beating the Dodgers. Even that was rare, with the rivalry growing so one-sided that in 1980, The Sporting News ran an entire feature about the Giants having won only 15 of 60 against LA to that point since Tommy Lasorda took over as LA’s manager in 1977.
This was the mindset in 1982, when the Dodgers came to town for the final three games of the season. I was 12. With LA chasing Atlanta for the division crown, Bay Area hopes turned to playing spoiler.
So what happened? The Dodgers won the first two games by a combined score of 19-2. That left us to funnel our hope into the season finale. With the Braves having already lost in San Diego, the Dodgers needed a win to force a divisional tie. If the Giants somehow prevailed, they’d knock the Dodgers out.
I remember a few things from that day. One is that Candlestick was packed, a departure from the desolate grandstand I was used to. Then, with the game tied 2-2 in the seventh, Joe Morgan hit a three-run homer for a lead that held up. The Giants won. The Dodgers lost. And we fans at Candlestick lost our damn minds.