Distant Love Affairs : Tonight's Old-Timers Classic Brings Back the Greats and the Great Memories

The Washington Post

They accepted life as they found it and went out and played. Now, they live with the memories, most sweet, some sad, all frozen like photographs in their minds.

They'll be playing again tonight at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium in the fifth National Old-Timers Baseball Classic. Limbering up for a return, they speak of their love for a game, a love that has deepened since they've been away.


He could swing a bat. In the late innings, with a runner in scoring position and the game on the line, Gene Woodling was as dangerous a hitter as there was.

A left-handed batter who uncoiled from a crouch with a pure, level swing, Woodling could break up a game with a line drive to the right-field corner or out over second--just the hit his team needed to win. He hit lovely, screaming ropes.

He did this for years for the Yankees (as the left fielder on five straight World Series winners) and Orioles and Indians, then finished up with the Senators (100 defeats in 1961) and Mets (120 defeats in 1962) and went back to the farm in Medina, Ohio, where he's been ever since.

The sweetest moment of all? It was a night in Cleveland--July 12, 1951--when he played for the Yankees. There always was excitement in Cleveland, especially when the Yankees came in. Allie Reynolds and Bob Feller dueled into the sixth--each with a no-hitter until Mickey Mantle doubled.

And then Woodling came up in the seventh. It was the time in a game for his particular artistry.

"I was fortunate enough," he said, quietly, "to hit a home run."

That was it, 1-0, Yankees. A no-hitter for Reynolds, a four-hitter for Feller.

"I'm one of these Depression-days poor boys," Woodling said. "I came up from a very bad section of Akron. So did my wife. Nobody had anything then. If it hadn't been for baseball, I don't know. We count our blessings. We always count our blessings. . . .

"Ted Williams, they asked him who was the guy he feared the most in the late innings. He said me. That was the nicest compliment. I have the article, right here."


When he played for the Yankees, he roomed with Whitey Ford. In St. Louis, he roomed with Stan Musial. Irv Noren got around after he left the Washington Senators.

Of Musial, he says: "I was his answering service. I'd screen his calls." The phone was always ringing; Musial was going for his 3,000th hit.

Of Ford: "You hear stories, the times he and Mantle would hit the town. But the night before he was going to pitch, he was in the room, with room service."

Of himself, Noren still can see clearly that first spring, opening day in Washington, a Senator in 1950.

"My dad had always been hoping I'd make the major leagues. Ever since I was a kid, he'd been talking about it, saying I'd be there.

"I remember my dad taking me to see the World Series in '35, in Detroit. We slept outside in the line all night just to get a seat in the bleachers. That's how much my dad loved baseball. He'd drive from Jamestown, N.Y., over to Detroit and sleep outside.

"Then when I made the major leagues, he got to come back for the game (from California). We were playing the A's. First time up, I got a hit and drove in a run. The first time up in the big leagues!

"When you look back at it now--you know how proud you are of your own kids--you know how he must have felt. Now, later on in life, it strikes me: It was a big thrill then, but just thinking about it, it means more to me now."


If you played for the Red Sox in the late '40s, or you just cared, you know it hurts. Still does, in fact.

Bobby Doerr played for the Red Sox then. He knew how to win--he hit a three-run homer off Mort Cooper to lead the American League over the Nationals in the 1943 All-Star game. Why can't he stop thinking about the late '40s?

But how do you forget? He ticked off the bitter setbacks: the '46 Series, against the Cardinals; the '48 playoff game against Cleveland, in Fenway; '49, when the Red Sox went into Yankee Stadium leading New York by one with two games left in the season--and lost them both.

In the '46 Series, Ted Williams wasn't himself. And the Red Sox had to wait around for the Cardinals to win the National League. That waiting around was a killer. But still . . .

In '48, for the one-game playoff, Cleveland "had used up Feller and (Bob) Lemon. Then (rookie Gene) Bearden pitched an outstanding game."

And '49, the double defeat by the Yankees. Oh, mortal ache.

That last Saturday was Joe DiMaggio Day. "They brought out a boat, for a gift," Doerr said. The Clipper had been felled by a virus, but he played this one, went 2 for 4. "They beat (Mel) Parnell, our best pitcher."

It was 5-4, after Boston led, 4-0. The next day the Yankees scored four in the eighth to win, 5-3. Still weak, DiMaggio went 1 for 4, a triple.

"He didn't look well enough to walk up to the plate," Doerr said. "But he beat us. He was like an inspiration to them, just being in the lineup."


It was 1962, and Boston's gritty right-hander, Bill Monbouquette, had been in a slump. Warming up on a cool Aug. 1 evening in Chicago's Comiskey Park, however, something magical happened.

Not only did he have it, he really had it! His fastball kept exploding, and although he couldn't find his slider he could have thrown his curveball right around Chicago's Loop.

He immediately decided to stop warming up. "Where are you going?" he remembers his catcher asking.

Monbouquette was going to sit on the bench and somehow preserve the magic until the game began. He sat there and wished the game would start. Then he went back out and finished warming up. What else could he do?

He didn't need much help that night. The most timely assistance was provided by Lu Clinton, who speared a line drive against the wall in the second inning and drove in Boston's only run in the eighth inning on what Monbouquette remembers as "a bang-bang play at the plate. If it had gone the other way, then I don't know what would have happened," because Early Wynn was throwing for Chicago and he was almost unbeatable himself.

In a fitting touch, Monbouquette came to bat in the top of the ninth and got a standing ovation from the White Sox fans; American League pitchers batted in those days.

He pitched that no-hitter as he tried to pitch every game--throwing hard stuff to the inside, especially to right-handed hitters, because that's what a pitcher with Fenway as a home park had to do.

Fastballs and sliders inside. Ironically, he liked to pitch in Boston's green bandbox because right-handed batters taking aim at the short left-field fence "would change their stance; they would get all geared up to hit a home run. You could jam them. You just went inside, bad and hard."


"The No. 1 memory," said Bob Friend, workhorse for the Pirates when certain pitchers were known as workhorses, "was 1956, Griffith Stadium. I was the starting and winning pitcher in the All-Star Game. A great day in Washington. Hotter than hell, though."

He was hot enough to fan Ted Williams. "I threw him a curveball on the inside. I figured, 'What the hell?'

"Second memory, 1958, the 20th win." He had tried several times to get it. He had begun "pressing a little."

"We had Dick Stuart on our team. We were playing the Giants, in Pittsburgh, and he came up to my locker and said, 'Number 20 tonight. I know you've been trying to get it, and I'm going to win it for you.'

"He hit a home run in the 10th inning to win it."


"If I had one time to pick out of my whole career," said big Boog Powell, former Oriole, "it would be the feeling I had going into the '66 World Series (against the Dodgers). You had reached the epitome of your profession.

"I was nervous, more nervous than the other World Series. I knew we were going to be tough. I didn't think anybody was going to sweep us.

"That's what people were saying, the Dodgers were going to sweep us. With Drysdale, Koufax, Osteen.

"I remember a sign going into L.A., a billboard. It said, 'Would you believe the Dodgers in four straight?' When we left, the same sign said: 'Would you believe the Orioles in four straight?' "


'I remember my dad taking me to see the World Series in '35, in Detroit. We slept outside in the line all night just to get a seat in the bleachers. That's how much my dad loved baseball. He'd drive from Jamestown, N.Y., over to Detroit and sleep outside.'

--Irv Noren

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World