biographer Doris Kearns Goodwin's political punditry garnered her campus
visit as the University's Fogelson speaker last fall -- but her baseball
stories hit the real home run
note: The following is an edited excerpt
of Goodwin's fall speech in TCU's Ed Landreth Auditorium.
lifelong love of history is really rooted in two childhood experiences.
It began to take dimension when I was only six years old and my father
taught me how to keep score of Brooklyn Dodgers baseball games so that
I could recount the history of those afternoon games to him when he would
come home every night from work.
For two hours
each evening, I would go over every excruciating detail of every play
of every inning. The game had just taken place that afternoon but he made
me feel I was telling him a fabulous story. At first, I had no idea how
to construct a story. I would blurt out, "The Dodgers won! The Dodgers
lost!" which took much of the drama away of the two-hour story to come.
So I finally learned you have to tell a story from beginning to middle
root of my love of history can be traced to my mother's chronic illness.
She had rheumatic fever as a child, which left her with a damaged heart,
so damaged that doctors said she had the heartbeat of a 70-year-old when
she was only 30 years old. It bound her to our home as an invalid, but
it also meant she read books in every spare moment she could find. Books
could take her to the world she couldn't see.
night she would read to me as long as I could stay awake. The only thing
I loved more was listening to stories of her own childhood. I somehow
became obsessed with the idea that if I could keep her talking about the
days when she was young and healthy before her illness set in -- when she
could jump rope or take stairs two at a time -- that somehow her mind would
control her body and the premature aging process we were witnessing would
I would constantly
say to her, "Mom, tell me a story about you when you were my age," not
realizing how peculiar that was until I had my own three sons who have
never once said to me, "Mom, tell us a story about you when you were our
which I grew up in -- New York in the 1950s -- was a stable world. Our block
had more than a dozen kids exactly my age living right next to each other.
The houses had such small lawns we actually were part of one giant house.
On summer mornings, we could race into one another's houses and then onto
the street which was our common playground.
I talk to
my kids about the games that we somehow managed to entertain ourselves
with from morning to night, which sounds medieval to them -- tag, hopscotch,
jump rope -- with a house key around our necks. Childhood then was separated
from the adult world of violence, sexuality and divorce in a way that
is no longer true today.
the days when players were not free to move from one team to another at
the clink of the highest coin. So lineups stayed the same year after year.
Loyalty was a two-way street; we knew and could repeat the starting lineups
as well or better than we knew our relatives' names. In fact, if our favorite
players were in a slump, as Dodgers first baseman Gil Hodges was, entire
families in Brooklyn would pray for him. I even took it a step further
by giving him my St. Christopher's Medal -- that's like the Pope -- that I had
won in parochial school for knowing the seven deadly sins. (My opponent
remembered sloth, envy, pride, but fortunately she forgot gluttony, which
I yelled out.)
was the patron saint of traveling.I
figured that if I gave it to Gil Hodges, then St. Christopher would protect
him as he traveled around the bases until he got safely home. Miracles
of miracles, the day after I gave him the medal, he hit two home runs
and I was sure that I had made it happen.
so ardent was my love for the Brooklyn Dodgers in those days that I had
to confess during my first holy confession at age seven that I had two
sins related to baseball. The first had to do with Dodger catcher Roy
Campanella and the day he came to Long Island to deliver a speech.
I was so
excited; it would be the first time I had ever seen a Dodger player outside
of Ebbets Field. But it was announced that he was speaking in an Episcopal
Church. Now when you're brought up in the Catholic Church, you have this
feeling that if you ever step foot in a Protestant Church, you'll be struck
dead. My father assured me that it was not a religious event, so it was
okay. Still, as I walked over the threshold that night, I could feel my
after I came home after having a wonderful time, I couldn't sleep, certain
that I had somehow traded the life of my everlasting soul for one night
with Roy Campanella. The next night, I was still having trouble sleeping
when all these sirens started ringing in the town. I ran down to see what
had happened, and it turned out that two trains had collided at the village
station. My parents were debating whether to go to the station when I
began to discern the opportunity for my redemption.
I had learned
in catechism class that if you came upon a dying person as a lay person,
and there were no priests present, you could baptize them and they could
go to heaven and all your sins would be wiped out. So, I had been practicing
on my doll at home for months, and never did I need it more than at this
slipped away to the train station, which wasn't very far to walk. The
only thing that prevented me from the utter humiliation of lifting up
blankets and asking dying people if they wanted me, a 7-year-old, to baptize
them, was that there was a priest already there. So I immediately ran
home with the sin still on my soul.
So, at my
first confession I decided to tell the priest immediately and get it off
my chest. He confirmed what my father had said almost word for word, but
then he said, "What else my child?" And unfortunately I had the second
set of sins related to baseball -- and that was I wished harm on players
on other teams. I wished that other players would become ill or break
their arms so the Brooklyn Dodgers could reach the World Series.
said, "How often do you think these horrible wishes?" And I said, "Every
night." And then, talking too much at the confessional (I still talk too
much everywhere today) I explained to him that if God was powerful enough
to hurt these players, then surely he was powerful enough to cure them
once the Dodgers won the World Series.
"Look, I am a Dodgers fan, too. But I can promise you that one day
they will win fairly and squarely and you do not need to wish harm on
other teams. Do you understand?" And I assured him I did. As I left
the confessional, he said, "I will say a special prayer for our Brooklyn
Dodgers." How lucky I was that my first confession was to a baseball-loving
priest, but each year it seemed the Dodgers would manage to lose at the
very last moment.
in 1955, our dreams came true and the Dodgers beat the Yankees in a dramatic
seven-game series. In those days, games were played in the afternoons,
which was so much better than it is now. You had to figure out how to
listen in school without the teachers knowing. Boys would sit in the back
with the radio on their lap and then send a note forward or whisper any
us to hear the seventh game over the P.A. system but not the earlier games.
So we had to find ways to listen. We were in Ms. Brown's geography class
and the boys had the radios in their laps. She was the meanest teacher
we had. We had to know every single stop on the Trans-Siberian railroad.
And she loved to ask the class, "What are the three outer provinces of
outer Mongolia?" to which one student responded, "Yaks, Yurts and Yokes."
Just at that
moment, a home run was hit. The boys whispered the news, and we all started
clapping instead of laughing. At which Ms. Brown said, "I'm so glad
you love geography!"
I made it home in time for the last two innings of the seventh game with
my mother, and when the Dodgers announcer Vin Scully said after we had
won the game 2-0, "Ladies and gentlemen, the Brooklyn Dodgers are
the champions of the world," we jumped up and down with tears streaming
down our face.
my father called from Brooklyn where he worked and said we had to come
into the city, there was a great celebration in store that evening. Later
we learned that more people were on the phones in that hour after Brooklyn
won than after V-J Day a decade earlier. I would remember that magical
night for years to come, for soon after the elements of my childhood world
began to crumble step by step.
after that victory, the Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley announced the unthinkable -- and
now I speak to you not as an objective historian -- that he was ripping our
team away from us and moving them to Los Angeles because the New York
Giants were moving to San Francisco at the same time. There was a horrible
saying going around New York at that time. What if you were in a room
with this man and with him were Hitler and Stalin. And what if you had
two bullets. Who would you shoot ╔ besides O'Malley?
year the Dodgers left, something far greater happened to my own family.
My mother, after having fought so valiantly and for so long against heart
disease, suffered a heart attack in her sleep and died. I had just turned
15 years old. Somehow, when she died, our house seemed to shrink around
us, with my father finding himself unable to enter the porch where they
shared cocktails in the evening, unwilling to eat in the breakfast room
where their day had begun, incapable of sleeping in the bedroom where
she had died.
left him no choice but to sell our house and move into an apartment way
on the other side of town. I found it impossible to understand leaving
the only house, the only block, the only neighborhood I had ever known.
I found it difficult to talk to my father about his decisions until one
day shortly before we moved he came and sat down beside me in our attic
as I sorted through all the stuff I had saved over the years. Old baseball
cards. Report cards. Scorecards.
And for the
first time, we began to talk about the decision, and he promised me that
moving would not mean forgetting my mother -- my real fear, I suspect, because
she was connected to every room in the house. It was just, he said, he
had to try and pick up the pieces of his life and start over again. And
just at that moment, I saw him smile for the first time in months as he
picked up an old pennant on which the Dodgers slogan, "Just wait until
next year!" was printed in big black letters. Here was the glue, the anthem
of pain, bravado and prayer that had somehow served Dodgers fans for so
many years and would now serve our own family as the promise of the healing
that time would bring.
years, my father's eternal strength reasserted itself once more. Seven
years later, he married a warm and wonderful woman and began to take pleasure
in life again -- and became a passionate New York Mets fan.
year, when I was at Harvard, my boyfriend took me to Fenway Park. I had
not followed baseball for those seven years so saddened I was by the loss
of the Dodgers. But the moment I stepped into Fenway, with its odd angles
so reminiscent of Ebbets Field, I sadly became an irrational Boston Red
Sox fan (nor could I have picked a team more reminiscent of the losing
love of baseball allowed hours of conversations on the phone with my father
about his Mets and my Red Sox until he died of a sudden heart attack when
I was in my late 20s. Not long after his death and after I got married
and had three sons, my love of baseball took on an even more intense form.
With our season tickets, I can sit in Fenway park with my boys and close
my eyes and dash myself back to Ebbets Field, a young girl once more in
the presence of my father watching the Dodgers play on the grass field
below╔ Roy Campanella, Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider, Pee Wee Reese.
I must say
there is magic in these moments. When I open my eyes, I see my sons in
the place where my father once sat, I feel an almost invisible loyalty
and love linking my sons to the grandfather whose face they never got
a chance to see, but whose heart and soul they have come to know through
the game of baseball.