It’s that time of year, again … World Series time. And, for baby boomer and former New Yorker Bill Cushing — who now lives in Glendale, California — the World Series has always been more than a baseball game. Much more. It is the stuff of memories. He’s written this piece about the 1978 World Series, maybe the greatest Series of all time. Bill calls it, “The Captain, Baseball, and me.”
Most Boomers grew up watching television, especially Captain Kangaroo, Robert Keeshan’s character whose cast of puppets, props, and assorted actors taught us citizenship, manners, and other “virtues.” The Statler Brothers even sang about “smokin’ cigarettes and watching Captain Kangaroo.”
Like Keehsan, I’m also from New York, which means having a long baseball memory. Because there are two teams, baseball in New York cuts across divisions of age, race, gender, even social status.
Forty years ago, I found this out for myself.
The 1978 Yankees roster included Hall of Famers like Goose Gossage, Catfish Hunter, and Reggie Jackson. The team captain was catcher Thurmon Munson, so admired that when he died in a plane crash later, there was an actual moment of silence in Yankee Stadium.
However, the Red Sox also intended to win the championship. Behind by 14 games, the Yanks were pretty much written out of the pennant race. But this was the year of miracles. Winning 48 of its last 68 games, New York tied Boston and traveled to Fenway for a tiebreaker, winning what some baseball historians consider one of the greatest games ever played.
What happened to me, however, happened earlier, in Manhattan that August as the Yankees whittled away at Boston’s lead. At day’s end, I waited for my train at the Iron Horse Saloon. On Penn Station’s top floor, the Iron Horse was the precursor to the sports bar and a favorite place for sports people of all stripe, even players. Paintings of New York sports hung like stained glass in church: Walt Frazier driving to the boards, Don Maynard snagging a Namath bomb, the Don Larsen-Yogi Berra embrace after 1955’s “perfect game,” Willie Mays making his “impossible” over-the-shoulder catch.
That day, the place was pretty empty. A few seats over sat an older man sporting a distinctive moustache and thick silver hair. I ordered my beer, and he turned toward me.
“Why are you drinking that,” he asked, pointing to a bottle of Guinness Stout. “How about a real beer?”
He waved me over. Anyone willing to buy me a Guinness is welcome to do so. I moved next to him as the bartender poured a fresh glass. He introduced himself; his name was Bob, and like me, he was headed to the Island. The two of us waited for our trains, drinking and talking about “our” Yankees and the team’s exploits. We projected hopes for an October berth, praying to unseat the dreaded Red Sox.
Eventually, Bob thanked me for the company but, before leaving, bought me another bottle. The bartender returned for the empties, wiped down the bar, then asked, “Do you know who just got you these?”
I shrugged; he looked familiar, but I couldn’t place the face. The barkeep smiled, leaned forward, and informed me that, for the last hour or so, I had been drinking with Captain Kangaroo.
Forget the cigarettes. No matter how old I get, I doubt I’ll ever forget drinking a brew with Captain Kangaroo.