Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Philadelphia Bulletin: Phillies fan finally 'fesses '64 folly

by David Bedein

A common theme of Catholicism and Judaism involves the command to confess your sins.

While Catholics often confess their sins to their clerics, Jews confess their sins to the community at large.

With the news of the Phillies contending for the World Series reaching Jerusalem, the time has come for true confessions of a Phillies baseball fan from 1964, who may have wrought heavenly havoc on a team that was supposed to win the pennant that year, a scant 45 years ago.

Yes, the time has come to confess my sit, with my mitt and scorecard in hand, at the tender age of 14.

You see, I grew up in Philadelphia, a place where the Phillies never won. Prayers never helped.

1964 came, the year after my Bar Mitzvah, when our Rabbis taught us that it was now up to me to keep the commandments of God.

During that momentous year after my bar mitzvah, when our traditions have it that we pray as adults and that God listens intently to our prayers, the Phillies looked like they were going to win.

I put in a special prayer for the Phillies on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, 1964, reciting an incantation of the Phillies lineup and pitching rotation, adding special prayers for the Phillies bullpen when the Holy Ark was open for divine intercession.

It was on the second day of Rosh Hashanah, however, that I made a radical decision: to depart on a personal pilgrimage to Connie Mack Stadium.

The escape to the holy baseball grounds was well planned. Soon after I heard the Shofar Ram’s Horn being sounded to call for repentance, I quietly moved to the back of the schule, feigning a tummy ache to my little brother and sister.

I had five crisp one dollar bills that wouldn't jingle in my pocket, saved from my summer paper route, violating the Jewish tradition of not carrying money on the holiday.

I had thought of everything: My Phillies Hat was even in my Tallis Prayer shawl bag.

Like Moses who had just killed the Egyptian, I looked this way and that, and saw no one in my way from the men’s room exit, and left a place of worship to quietly ascend a PTC bus to 69th street and ascend even higher to the heights of the Market Street subway and then on to the Broad Street Subway.

Wearing my bar mitzvah suit, the destined arrival was Connie Mack Stadium, at 21st and Lehigh, in time great unreserved seats behind home plate.

I clutched my Machzor Rosh Hashanah prayer book together with my score card.

The Phillies were playing the hapless Mets.

In the Fifth inning, time of afternoon mincha prayers back at the synagogue, Frank Thomas, the Phillies much-needed right handed power whom they had recently acquired, was on first. Thomas suddenly sprinted to second base on an infield ground ball, sliding head first into second base, breaking his thumb. Sliding into second base? Hmm...That never happens...

The play by play by former Phillie Whiz Kid Center Fielder Richie Ashburn was very loud on a transistor radio near by. Richie announced that Thomas would be out for the season. Richie Ashburn was the Phillies star turned Phillies announcer who died in 1997. He had been a Whiz Kid in the last Phillies victory during the year of my birth in 1950 and seemed to represent the glorious past and promising present of the Phillies.

In the end, the Phillies lost that day. This was only a sign of things to come. On Yom Kippur, 12 games left in the left in the season. six and a half games ahead, the Phillies began a ten game losing streak and lost the pennant,
I made it back to synagogue for the concluding Maariv service at Overbrook Park Congregation... Or that is at least what I told my mother.

Everything that could go wrong in those ten days of judgement went wrong for the Phillies

Perhaps I had jinxed the Phillies, by leaving the synagogue the second day of Rosh Hashanah.

By Yom Kippur, there was no joy in Philly mudville.

I remember the great despondency when the Sukkot Feast of Tabernacles occurred in early October, when the Yankees of Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Yogi Berra and Whitey Ford did not face our holy Phillies.

So I phoned a call in show on WCAU, then the CBS affiliate in Philly, to ask Richie Ashburn what had gone wrong.

Ashburn gave me an answer that I felt like a reproach for going to the ball game on second day Rosh Hashanah.

Richie said that a great lesson is never to be overconfident and not to do things that you shouldn't do.

He was referring to Phillie manager Gene Mauch overplaying his star pitchers, Jim Bunning and Chris Short, whom he played with only two days rest at the end of the season...

Yet, at age 14, coming into an age where I was supposed to observe God’s commandments, I thought that he was referring to my mistaken pilgrimage to Connie Mack stadium on a day that was supposed to be devoted to prayer.

Forgive me, dear Philly fans of yesteryear, if my shortsighted trek of 1964 may have angered God in some way.

Last year as dawn struck early in the morning of the new Hebrew month of Heshvan the holy city of Jerusalem, word came forth of a Phillies World Series Victory.

Phillie fanatics in the Holy Land promptly cited the traditional Hallel prayer of thanksgiving, that is reserved for the new month, and, of course, dedicated to thanking the Lord for bequeathing a victory to the Phillies, 44 years after the disaster that befell our fallen Phillies in 1964.

Was this a sign of Messiah? Will he be riding on a white donkey from the dugout in Cooperstown?

View the original article in the Philadelphia Bulletin

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