Baseball and ethics

Johnny Podres died last Sunday. That most likely doesn’t mean much, except for members of his family and friends. But it means something to me.

Johnny Podres, in October 1955, pitched the Brooklyn Dodgers to their only World Series championship. An excellent obituary in the Jan. 15 issue of The New York Times by Richard Goldstein gives the details. Podres was 23 at the time and an unlikely hero on a team that included Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider, Pee Wee Reese, Don Newcombe, Carl Furillo and a host of others. For comparison, the Brooklyn Dodgers winning the World Series was the equivalent of the Cleveland Browns winning the Super Bowl – recognizing that at the time baseball really was the national pastime.

Reading about Johnny Podres and the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers provides a striking contrast to the news these days about major league baseball and steroids. Podres, Snider, Reese, Robinson and the rest strike me as having integrity – and they became heroes to an earlier generation by playing by the rules and striving for success: honestly and fairly. I wonder what future generations will say about Roger Clemens and others who are about to make the long trek down the halls of Congress to talk about the alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs. I have said previously that I hope Clemens is telling the truth. But I have some doubts based on some recent press reports. See an excellent article about Clemens and reputation management in an article written by Alan Schwartz in The New York Times.

Well, here’s the point. There’s no separating personal integrity and ethics. Not in baseball. Not in public relations.

I remember the 1955 Dodgers. I came home from grade school in time to see the last out of the seventh game – in all its glory on black and white TV. That was a different era. But it’s too bad that we don’t hold our public figures to the same ethical standards today.

If you’re interested in reading an exceptional book – not just about baseball but about our nation only 50 years ago – read The Boys of Summer by Roger Kahn.

As a young reporter he covered the Dodgers for the now-defunct New York Herald Tribune. Then as the Boys of Summer, the Brooklyn Dodgers of 1955, left baseball and became relatively (from my point of view) old men, Kahn visited with them and wrote about their lives as baseball heroes and after they left the spotlight. These were guys who didn’t make a lot of money. And they returned to “regular” lives and jobs after their days in baseball were over.

Interested in profiles that depict personal ethics and integrity? Take a look.

Here’s a sample from the book:

The team grew old. The Dodgers deserted Brooklyn. Wreckers swarmed into Ebbets Field and leveled the stands. Soil that had felt the spikes of Robinson and Reese was washed from the faces of mewling children. The New York Herald Tribune withered, changed its face and collapsed. I covered a team that no longer exists in a demolished ball park for a newspaper that is dead.

But the lessons of the Brooklyn Dodgers of a generation ago don’t die easily, particularly when looked at in the context of today’s news: character, integrity and ethical conduct really do matter. And playing by the rules is just as important in public relations as it is in baseball.

And for my poet friends, here’s the source for the title for the book:

I see the boys of summer in their ruin

Lay the gold tithings barren,

Setting no store by harvest, freeze the soils.

Dylan Thomas


3 responses to “Baseball and ethics

  1. Is the Dylan Thomas from the book’s epigraph? If so I appreciate the literary wit. The last section of that poem is this (and I think even more appropriate now in today’s context):

    I see you boys of summer in your ruin.
    Man in his maggot’s barren.
    And boys are full and foreign in the pouch.
    I am the man your father was.
    We are the sons of flint and pitch.
    O see the poles are kissing as they cross.

  2. As always, Rob, your points about ethics and integrity resonate with us all. But despite the sad news of Mr. Podres’ passing, your post had me smiling, remembering a 7-year-old kid in Norwood, Mass., who was obsessed with baseball cards.

    One of my prized possessions featured the Dodgers’ “Big Three” in that era, Podres, Don Drysdale, and, of course, the great Sandy Koufax. I recall some pretty good ballplayers of my father’s era who passed up a chance to play pro baseball because you could make as much or more working in the coal mines. And yeah, I remember when the World Series was played in the daylight, and before the first snowfall.

  3. Bill,

    Well, I can remember when we were outside (no Internet, not even much TV) “pitching” or “flipping” baseball cards. And you sure didn’t want to lose a Drysdale, Podres or Koufax.

    Good grief. We’re old!


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