My father had a saying,”Never bet what you can’t afford to lose.”
As a little boy I was in love with the Brooklyn Dodgers. I knew all the players names and their positions: Gil Hodges at First, Jackie Robinson at Second, Pee Wee Reese at Shortstop, Jim Gilliam or Billy Cox at Third, Carl Furillo in Right, Sandy Amoros in Left, and the Duke of Flatbush-Duke Snider in Center with Roy Campanella behind the plate, Carl Erskine, Don Newcombe or Johnny Podres on the Mound. They were my team and I thought they were the greatest. They had won the Pennant and the World Series in 1955 beating the New York Yankees 4 games to 3 with a great victory in Game 7. 2-0 pitched by Johnny Podres and featuring a great catch in left field by Sandy Amoros in the 7th inning off Yogi Berra. This was their first World Championship. I hope that brings you up to date. As you can see I loved the Dodgers.
My uncle John loved the Yankees. He was my father’s brother and as much as I loved the Dodgers, he loved the Yankees. This created a great many arguments about who had the best team. For hours we would talk about Mickey Mantle and Duke Snider. We could compare stats endlessly about Pee Wee Reese and Phil Rizzuto. I loved Baseball. I also had one of the greatest baseball card collections in my neighborhood.
A baseball card nowadays is a collectable, money-making enterprise. In those days baseball cards were collected by fans, who collected cards for the pure fun of it and the love of the players, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t serious business. Boys could be seen scaling cards against walls with the closest to the wall winning the other guys cards. Many a fight could happen over who had the closest card. My collection had 400 of my great heroes with all the Dodgers including Duke and Pee Wee, Hank Aaron, even the hated Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays. I had then all.
The World Series of 1956 again matched the hated Yankees against my Dodger’s and I was sure we couldn’t lose.
“Well Uncle Jerry looks like we are going to be World Champs again.” I said.
“Don’t be so sure pip squeak. The Yankees are better this year and I feel that we are going to do it.”
“Oh yeah…I’ll bet ya.”
“Really, well what do you want to bet?” asked Jerry.
“How about your autographed Mickey Mantle Baseball?” This being the prize of my uncle’s collection. I had admired it in its beautiful glass case that would look good in my room.
“You really know how to hurt a guy. That ball is the prize of my collection,” Jerry said. “Alright fair, enough. What do you want to put up?”
“You pick Uncle Jerry.”
“Boy that ball has a lot of value to me! I will have to go
rough on you I guess.”
“Go ahead take your best shot,” I replied with a smile.
“How about your baseball card collection,” said Jerry
My heart dropped. I would have rather bet my brother than that collection. “Alright, but you better be prepared to pay up”, I said with terror in my voice. “We are going to take you 4 straight.” As things had it we looked pretty good. We won the first two games at Ebbest Field and had a 2 nothing lead. “Hey, Uncle Jerry you better wrap up that ball. We are halfway there.”
“Halfway is not whole way pal.” he said.
He was right…The hated Yanks won the next 3 at Yankee Stadium and Don Larson threw a no-hitter in the World Series just for good measure in game 4.
“How much do you think I can get for those cards at the local pawn shop, Jimmy boy?” ‘Nothing Let’s talk about something else.”
Well the Dodgers tied it up 3-3 on a great Game 6 at Ebbets Field. Game 7. We had Don Newcombe on the mound. He was our ace. But the Yankees usually hit him well. Our first update came at school during math. Sister Augustine, the School Principal, came over the speaker with the news. “Bad News from Ebbets Field. Yogi Berra just hit a Grand Slam Homer and the Dodgers are down 4-0.” Sadly it went only downhill from there final score Yankee’s 9 Dodgers 0.
My life was over. My card collection was gone. After dinner I went upstairs and slowly said goodbye to every single card, individually- I put them in a shoe box and brought them over to Uncle Jerry’s home. I left them on the back step with the following note:
“Dear Uncle Jerry, please take care of my 400 players. It has taken me my whole life to collect them and I have lost them all in one day. But it has taught me a good lesson. Don’t bet what you can’t lose.
Fall turned into winter and I never talked to Uncle Jerry about my 400 players. I just assumed he had either given them away or stuck my shoe box down in the basement. My thoughts turned to the New York Giants Football and Knicks basketball.
Soon it was time for the big Thanksgiving football game where the local Catholic High School always beat the shit out of the local Public High School, and of course the biggest day of the whole year-Christmas.
We always had a family celebration. Everyone would open presents and then sit down for a family dinner. Dad got a tape recorder and he thought it would be great fun to tape dinner conversation. All we heard him say all night was “Ok, everyone speak up.”
Uncle Jerry arrived around 4:00 p.m. with a load of gifts. He handed out the gifts to everyone and then sat down and asked to have a Manhattan. When I opened my gift it looked really good in a very expensive box from FAO Swartz and it had a nice weight too. It was the baseball cards!
Uncle Jerry said, “Look, I had no room at my house for these. “Could you look after them for me?” “You bet” was all I could get out. Then I took a deep breath and said, “I love you.”