WAIT TILL NEXT YEAR
OCTOBER 17, 1997
Doris Kearns Goodwin discusses her new book about the Dodgers and her memories of baseball.
JIM LEHRER: And, finally tonight, a few words about baseball. The Cleveland Indians and the Florida Marlins play game one of the 1997 World Series tomorrow night in Miami. For some people it's all much more than just a game. One of those people is the NewsHour's own Doris Kearns Goodwin, the presidential historian, author of a just-published memoir, "Wait Till Next Year." First, Doris, for all the non-baseball people listening explain the meaning of the term "wait till next year."
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN, Author, Wait Till Next Year: Well, what I think it meant for so many people as you came to the end of a season was that when you lost and you weren't in the World Series or you didn't win the World Series, there was that collective hope next spring will bring a better time. So for the Dodgers, who lost year after year in the World Series to the Yankees and hadn't won the World Series ever until 1955, wait till next year was our cry, our anthem.
JIM LEHRER: and that's where you became a baseball person was worrying and living with the Dodgers.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: Oh, no question. I think like so many other people it was rooted in family for me. My father loved the Brooklyn Dodgers, passed that love down to me, taught me how to keep score when I was only six years old, so that when he went to work during the day I could record for him the history of that day's Brooklyn Dodger game. And when your dad sits with you at night as in two hours in excruciating detail you tell him every play of every inning that went on that afternoon it makes you think this baseball is a wonderful thing because it's connection with the other people that's really at issue.
JIM LEHRER: And it was so intense that you gave away your St. Christopher's medal to a Brooklyn Dodger?
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: Well, sure. You want to affect the outcome of the game, so I had won this St. Christopher's medal in a catechism contest by knowing that gluttony was the seventh deadly sin, and I met Gil Hodges, he came to my town--
JIM LEHRER: He was first baseman, first baseman for the Dodgers.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: First baseman for the Dodgers, a great guy, but he was in a terrible slump. So I figured since St. Christopher was supposed to provide safe travel for people in cars it could provide safe travel for Hodges around the bases, so I went on the line, I told him the whole story about gluttony and lust and covetedness, he took it with great seriousness, and he told me he'd be proud to wear it, to hold it, and what do you know, the next day he started hitting home run after home run. I was convinced I'd made it happen, even though a reporter said it was because his baby had been born, he wasn't sleeping well, he was on the road, and that gave him the chance to sleep; I knew better.
JIM LEHRER: You knew much better than that. Do you have to have this kind of beginnings in baseball that you had in order to appreciate the game as an adult?
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: I think there's a certain sense in which at a certain point it has to get into your heart and soul. It's a slow-paced game, so that in order to really follow it, you have to be able to think in some ways about, "Oh, my God, I just saw a play." That reminds me of another play. In this playoff series, for example, the catcher dropped the ball. Immediately I started thinking of Mickey Owens in 1941. He dropped the ball. That's what's so great about baseball.
JIM LEHRER: He was playing for--he was a catch for the Dodgers--
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: Of course.
JIM LEHRER: And the World Series.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: It was--so I think unlike football perhaps, where you can just watch the game and it's so intense and so fast-paced you do have to bring something to baseball. But tons of people bring that meaning to baseball.
JIM LEHRER: Yes. And do you think you can pick it up just out of the blue, or do you think you really--it does have to begin almost as a kid, that's my question.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: No. I think what might happen, I think when you're an adult if your team does well--for example, last year when the Yankees did so well, I think thousands of people suddenly got caught up once again in baseball. I'm sure this year in Cleveland and in Florida there are people who really didn't follow it but they enjoy that community spirit that they're now feeling to belong to a place that has a World Series team and then I think once it gets in your heart it will then stay there forever.
JIM LEHRER: What are your thoughts about the Indians Vs. the Marlins?
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: Well, the Indians haven't won in almost half a century. They are like the Dodgers. I got to be for them. I mean, how can you not root for those kind of people who've been waiting so long? I've been reading about people who moved away from Cleveland. They're coming back and without even tickets to the game because they just want to be in the streets in case they win the Florida people have had five years. They're like a child getting the Nobel Prize. It's too soon. Those of us who waited year after year. I waited in 1986 for the Red Sox, my current team, to win since 1918. And now we're still waiting, I think, until I die, so you got to hope for that team whose fans have been so far behind them.
JIM LEHRER: For those who weren't--who didn't begin when you did in terms of loving baseball, has it changed that much?
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: I do think some parts of it have changed. Certainly the game itself is the same, and that's what makes it so special. You still have people chasing Ted Williams' record, the Boston Red Sox hitter, in 1941, of hitting 400. No one's done that since then. But what's changed I think is the loyalty when I was a kid and gave the loyalty to the Brooklyn Dodgers. The heart of that team stayed together through my whole childhood. They weren't free agents. They didn't move from team to team for the highest amount of money. They would sign our autographs without charging a penny.
Now you have a feeling if you love a team you could wake up tomorrow morning and your favorite player has gone somewhere else for money, or the team, itself, has changed overnight. So I think when you're a fervent, irrational fan, you're not getting the same thing back that you once did, but the beauty of the game is still there--no question.
JIM LEHRER: Explain that beauty to somebody who just doesn't get it.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: Well, I think what it is, is that first of all there's just such a symmetry to it. You just watch the players moving slowly each time the batter is up. He is facing the picture--is really a one-on-one duel--so unlike another game, where you have to keep your eye on 10 people, 20 people, you just watch that batter, you watch the pitcher, and you feel a sense of knowing them. You know their quirks. You know what they do before they bat, what they do before they pitch. You enter into their lives. You talk to them. I mean, I find myself saying, please, please, get a hit, or get ‘em out, as if I somehow can change the action by wearing a certain hat, or making a certain motion, or leaving the room or staying in the room. It's so intense, the game, that I think that's it's real attraction.
JIM LEHRER: And you feel you have an influence, sitting there, watching these individual baseball players?
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: There's no question. I mean, the way you talk to them, deciding to stay in the room when something tense is going on, or if you don't have the courage to watch and you leave the room, then something bad happens, it's your fault.
JIM LEHRER: Yes. I used to turn the sound down on the radio when one--when the going got run.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: I do the same thing, and I know that I'm not very brave at that. I sometimes would walk around the block as a little kid, hoping that when I came back the other team's men would be off days, and I'd finally be up to my team again.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. Well, look, thank you very much, Doris.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: Oh, you're welcome, as always.