Opening Day and Uncle Moe

Someone who isn’t a baseball fan can’t possibly fathom the importance of opening day. It is what we wait months for, it is when hope springs eternal for even the sorriest team, it is the electricity of the crowd and maybe most of all, it forms the memories that we carry forever.

The 2021 opening day seemed to be even more important because there was no real opening day in 2020…at least not in April. As the years pass through the looking glass, baseball is different but also very much the same. So, maybe it’s time to look back and recapture the feeling of a 10 year-old boy attending his first opening day.

Every family certainly has their quirky relatives and mine was no exception. The most interesting character was my Uncle Moe. Born in New England in 1902, his given name was Moses which was later Americanized to Morris. But to me, my Dad’s older Brother was always Moe. His personality was almost beyond description, as he loved to gamble, drink, smoke cigars, womanize and attend sports events. He had great stories like the one about attending the 2nd Joe Louis – Max Schmeling fight at Yankee Stadium in 1938 when he almost missed the 1st round KO because the cab driver got lost. He called my folks one day and said he wanted to take “Donny” to the county fair. When we got there, it was obvious that the only part of the fair he was interested in was the horse races. I was probably the only kid in my class who could read the racing form before learning long division.

Uncle Moe also shared Red Sox season tickets with a few friends since the 1930’s (an early version of “Fever Pitch”). They were box seats within shouting distance of the Sox dugout and how he could afford them is still a mystery. To this day, I’m still not sure how he made a living. By 1956, he decided that my time had come to join him for opening day at Fenway Park. It was a Tuesday day game and I’m sure my parents had to get me excused from school, but long division could wait for another day.

So, let’s look back at that game against the Orioles that drew a capacity crowd of 32,563. Here’s the BoSox line-up…

  • Billy Goodman, 2B – This was his 10th season with the team and he was a two-time All-Star along with being the AL Batting Champion (.354) in 1950.
  • Frank Malzone, 3B – His rookie season at the hot corner, he went on the make six All-Star teams and win three Gold Gloves.
  • Ted Williams, LF – The greatest hitter in the history of the game, he was in the twilight of his career at age 37. Of course, he still batted .345 for the season and led the AL in On-Base Percentage.
  • Jackie Jensen, RF – A former All-American football player at Cal, he would go on to win the MVP award in 1958.
  • Mickey Vernon, 1B – A veteran presence at age 38, this was his first year with the Sox. He still contributed 15 HR’s and a .310 BA.
  • Jim Piersall, CF – One of the great characters of the game, he was a Gold Glove outfielder.
  • Don Buddin, SS – I played SS in Little League, so I always rooted for him. His 6-year big league career never met expectations with a lifetime BA of .241.
  • Sammy White, C – The team’s primary backstop during the 50’s.
  • Frank Sullivan, P – Won 74 games over a five-year stretch in the 50’s and made two All-Star teams.

“Sully” pitched a complete game that day, as the Red Sox beat the Birds 8-1. They posted 16 hits including three each for Williams & Piersall. And, yes I had a “Fenway Frank”.

In the early 1990’s, I had occasion to be in Boston on a business trip. It allowed me to visit Uncle Moe at the rest home facility and enjoy his company for one last time. He would never admit to being sentimental but never having had children, he lit up when his Nephew showed up. I brought along an album of 1950’s baseball cards to leave with him and even though he wasn’t well physically, his mind was still sharp enough to remember, and talk about,  all those players. Here’s hoping you had an Uncle Moe.

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