Extra Points: Dodgers’ Championship Special for Cape May Native
Dodgers reliever Julio Urias tugged on his blue cap, peered through his glasses toward the plate, then fired strike three past Rays batter Willy Adames to clinch the Dodgers first World Series championship since 1988 on Tuesday.
While the Dodgers celebrated, sisters Sharon (Maloney), Kathy (Holsinger) and Mary (VanCleave) Hand couldn’t contain their joy. After 32 years, their father’s favorite team had won another World Series.
“Dad’s been waiting for this for so long!” Sharon wrote to her sisters on Facebook. “His team came through.”
Sharon watched the game from her home in Davidson, N.C. just outside Charlotte. Kathy was glued to her TV in Linden, Michigan while Mary took in the action in Lower Township. They hoped, wished and yes, even prayed, the Dodgers would give their dad, Tom Hand, an early 90th birthday present.
“Our dad, who is a lifelong Dodgers fan since their Brooklyn days, needs to see this win!” Mary wrote on Facebook during the game. “It’s been 32 years! Win it for dad! Go Dodgers!”
How he came to root for “Dem Bums” is a mystery, even to his daughters.
Mr. Hand – I’m from the generation that doesn’t not call their elders by their first names – grew up in Cape May, which is generally considered as Phillies territory. Mary speculated that it might have had something to do with his grandfather being a big baseball fan and introducing him to the game as a young boy in 1939.
The Phillies weren’t very good back then. They finished last in the eight-team National League in 1939 with a 45-106 record under manager Doc Prothro, despite having players with colorful names such as catcher Spud Davis, third baseman Pinky May, and my personal favorite, relief pitcher Boom-Boom Beck.
“We never found out exactly why dad became a Dodgers fan,” Sharon said. “Cape May is a couple hours from Brooklyn, but you also had the Phillies, Yankees, (and New York Giants). But Dad has rooted for the Dodgers since 1939.”
That meant experiencing various eras of one of baseball’s most storied franchises.
The Brooklyn Dodgers of the 1940s and 50s won five National League pennants between 1941 and 1953. They were led by legends such as catcher Roy Campanella – who owned a house in Cape May, by the way – first baseman Gil Hodges, shortstop Pee Wee Reese, second baseman Jackie Robinson, outfielders Duke Snider and Carl Furillo, and pitchers Don Newcombe, Carl Erskins and Preacher Roe.
But they lost all five World Series to a Yankees juggernaut that featured catcher Yogi Berra, centerfielders Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle, shortstop Phil Rizzuto, and pitchers Whitey Ford and Don Larsen.
Mr. Hand probably threw a sneaker at his black-and-white TV in 1951 when the New York Giants’ Bobby Thomson hit the “Shot Heard Round the World” off Dodgers hurler Ralph Branca in the playoffs.
The Dodgers finally broke through in 1955, when the “Boys of Summer” finally beat the Yankees behind left-hander Johnny Podres.
The next era featured World Series titles in 1963 and 1965, thanks to pitchers Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale. In the ’65 Series, Koufax famously did not pitch in Game 1 because it fell on the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur, but pitched in game 2 and hurled shutouts in Games 5 and 7 (on two days’ rest, by the way), to beat Harmon Killebrew and the Minnesota Twins.
Third baseman Ron Cey, first baseman Steve Garvey, second baseman Davey Lopes and rookie left-hander Fernando Valenzuela beat the Yankees in 1981. The enduring image of their last World Series win before this season, in 1988, was Kirk Gibson pumping his fist as he limped around the bases after swatting a two-run, walk-off home run in Game 1 against Oakland reliever Dennis Eckersley.
Baseball has always been Mr. Hand’s favorite sport. The 1949 Cape May High School graduate played for the school team all four years and always paid close attention to the local leagues as editor and publisher of the Cape May Star & Wave, which was in the Hand family for over a century.
As a result, Mr. Hand had a strong influence on me, both during my days as a pitcher for Lower Cape May Regional High School and as a sportswriter.
My personal scrapbook contains headlines from the Star & Wave. This may have partly been due to having grown up two blocks from the Hand family. Sharon and I were classmates from kindergarten through high school. As kids, we walked to Cape May Elementary School almost every day, along with a gaggle of neighborhood kids such as Eileen Clancy, Roger Hoover, Butch Main, the late Scott Mericle, Frank “Tater” Smith, Sherman Springfield and Dave Velli.
My wife, Karen, was a bridesmaid in Sharon’s wedding to Bill Maloney in 1981. Our wedding the following year was featured prominently in the Star & Wave.
As I began to pursue my career as a sportswriter, I could always count receiving one or two letters a year from Mr. Hand offering support and encouragement. Running into him in town always turned into 30-minute conversations about baseball and journalism.
Mr. Hand is now in the ninth inning of life. Father Time has him down 0-2 in the count, but he’s already fouled off a few fastballs and is still swinging.
He and his wife, Ruth, (Mrs. Hand to me) celebrated their 63rd wedding anniversary earlier this month at the assisted living facility where they reside. He will be turning 90 in December.
The Dodgers gave him the perfect present.