The Seventh Inning Smoke
“How do they get those pictures to come out of that box,” Betty Lou said.
Uncle Charles rolled his eyes and laughed.
“Magic,” he said. “It’s the Dodgers. They can do anything. Except beat the Yankees.”
Uncle Charles’ Dodgers won the National League pennant in 1941, and again in 1947, 49, 52, and 53. Great shakes, except they were defeated in the World Series every one of those years by their cross-town high-rent rivals, the New York Yankees.
That explains a lot about my Uncle. It’s how he learned the dance of the beautiful losers. First step, excitement, then, disappointment, then, expectation — then, excitement, then, disappointment, then, expectation. “Wait ‘til next year.” Repeat.
Uncle Charles introduced me to the Dodgers on that box we call television. He was born and raised a fan in Brooklyn, but in 1942 at the age of 20, left for the South Pacific and World War 2. Charles never talked about those years. At war’s end, he moved to the West Coast finding employment at the Lockheed Aircraft Manufacturing Company in Burbank, California and still waited for next year. In turn, the Dodgers (like magic) countered the horrific recurring nightmares Charles had of killing Japanese soldiers, like the one where he was tearing out a young man’s jugular with his teeth. He was saved by the Dodgers… and cigarettes. “Bogart is the best,” He would say taking a long drag. Then, he would lean forward in his rocker and watch the game.
“I still don’t understand how they get those pictures to come out of that box,” Betty Lou said.
Charles sighed. He had invited the family to his home to watch game seven of the 1955 World Series — Dodgers v Yankees. Somehow, he thought that if he surrounded himself with his relatives, the spell of the beautiful losers would be broken. Fat chance, we thought, but played along. Jack, Evelyn, Joe, Ruth, Jake, Frank, Betty Lou, Bob, Barbara — all in front of the Sylvania, baseball shining through spirals of Camel cigarette smoke and commentary fueled by Schlitz.
In the middle of the seventh inning, while the Yankee Stadium crowd stood and sang “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” Charles took what he called “The Seventh Inning Smoke.” Standing in his backyard in the shade of his orange trees, looking down as if in prayer, Charles pinched the butt of his Camel and took one long last drag. “This isn’t about baseball,” he said. “But they’ve gotta win.”
Something different happened that day. The Dodgers won the World Series. The family had come though. Charles, tears running down his bright red cheeks, arms raised high, did a different dance. The losers ruled.
Three years later, the Dodgers moved to where Charles could see the night game glow of their stadium from his backyard. “They followed me home,” he said.
By 1965, the Dodgers had won three World Series in LA. The city was sweet in orange blossom and blue. Charles was in a groove working on the Stealth Bomber at Lockheed. He was proud and happy.
Then, after the 1978 season — after the Dodgers lost two World Series in a row to the Yankees — Charles started doing the dance of the beautiful losers again. You could see it in his step. A year later, he was diagnosed with cancer. Charles claimed it was caused by the chemicals used on the Stealth Bomber. Betty Lou suspected it was something he picked up from the war — cigarettes or nightmares. I thought it was the damn Yankees.
When the pain was too much, Charles stood in his backyard for a Seventh Inning Smoke. One time, he stepped inside his garage, closed the door, started up his Volkswagen and breathed in the carbon monoxide.
The phone rang. It was my Mom. “Your Uncle Charles killed himself,” she said.
It’s a long way from Brooklyn to LA. After the call, I flipped on the box and cheered for the beautiful losers.
© NathanCallahan.com / Nathan Callahan / all rights reserved
Broadcasting Fridays at 8:50 am from KUCI 88.9 fm Orange County, California