A Special Weekend
I was unable to participate fully in All-Baseball's Rashomon Project on Sunday because I missed the first half of the Yankees-Dodgers game celebrating Father's Day dinner with my wife and two children. Family comes first in the Lederer household. Despite the fact that we have been known to eat, drink, sleep, and breathe baseball, this wonderful game always takes a backseat when it's time to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, and special occasions.
Although my Dad (George) passed away in 1978, this weekend was all about him. His birthday was on Saturday and Father's Day was, of course, on Sunday. Back-to-back special days. My Dad would have turned 76 years old on June 19. It's hard to believe that he has been gone for 26 years.
My son is 25 and my daughter is 22. Unfortunately, they never knew their grandfather. What a shame. In the meantime, my Dad lives on inside of my two brothers, my sister, and me, as well as his seven grandchildren. I called my Mom on Saturday to acknowledge his birthday, and we reminisced for a while.
I think of my Dad much more often than just on his birthday and on Father's Day. More than anything, I miss having an adult relationship with him. You see, I was only 23 when he died.
In May of 1939, my Dad and his parents escaped Nazi Germany when he was 11 years old. None of them could speak a word of English. They moved from New York to Long Beach in October. My Dad was placed in the second grade for three weeks but was in the fifth grade by the end of the first term. My Dad decided that he wanted to become a sportswriter when he was in the sixth grade, and he never changed his mind. A first-generation immigrant with no knowledge of English when he arrived in the states became a student and master of the language.
My Dad was the sports editor of his high school and junior college newspapers before going to work for the Long Beach Independent--later to merge with the Press-Telegram. When the Brooklyn Dodgers moved to Los Angeles in 1958, he was given the baseball beat at the tender age of 29.
We have a precious photo of him walking in front of the Independent, Press-Telegram on Sixth and Pine in downtown Long Beach in February 1958 carrying his suitcase and briefcase. The black and white photo had the following caption in the newspaper the next morning, "George Lederer, Independent, Press-Telegram staff reporter, left home office Thursday morning bound for L.A. International Airport and plane that carried him and contingent of Dodgers to the club's spring training site in Vero Beach, Fla. Lederer will give I-PT readers complete coverage of the Dodgers."
The first spring training must have been intimidating. The New York writers, furious at being displaced, showed up and sneered at this upstart reporter from a small town who had never even seen a major league baseball game. My Dad didn't spend a lot of time in his room--an old navy barrack--because he was busy covering an impressive cast of veteran Dodgers, including Duke Snider, Pee Wee Reese, Gil Hodges, and Carl Furillo. He reported on each of the team's 36 exhibition games that spring (from the opener with the Philadelphia Phillies in Miami on March 8 to the final spring training game against the Chicago Cubs in Las Vegas on April 13) and was on hand for the season opener on April 15--the first game in the history of the San Francisco Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers. (The Giants, behind Ruben Gomez, shut out the Dodgers, 8-0, in Seals Stadium.)
From 1958-1968, my Dad missed only two Dodger games--and for good reason. The Dodgers were on an east coast swing in September 1961 (and going nowhere) so he left the team after they drubbed the Phillies, 10-0, on a Thursday and headed to New York to catch Roger Maris' pursuit of Babe Ruth's single-season home run record that weekend against the Boston Red Sox. Lo and behold, my Dad was in the press box in "The House That Ruth Built" when Maris hit HR #61 into the right-field stands against Tracy Stallard.
During these 11 years, my Dad was there every step of the way as the Dodgers won the World Series in 1959, 1963, and 1965. On April 11, 1962, he caught the first foul ball hit into the press box at Dodger Stadium. The caption below the Associated Press wirephoto showing my Dad holding up the souvenir baseball reads, "A 'first' in new Dodger Stadium went to Press-Telegram baseball writer George Lederer, who caught first foul ball hit into press box. He caught it on the fly--barehanded--Wednesday night."
One of the highlights of my Dad's career covering the Dodgers was being the official scorekeeper when Sandy Koufax threw his perfect game against the Cubs in September 1965. We still have the official scoresheet as well as the lineup card made out by Walter Alston that hung in the Dodgers' dugout that evening. He was also the official statistician for several years, and he kept copius records and notes in 5" x 8" spiral notebooks. His stat books and scrapbooks with all of his articles remain prized possessions of the family.
My Dad was the Chairman of the Southern California Chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America in 1962. He was also named to the BBWAA Board of Directors in 1968 along with Dick Young (New York Daily News), Bob Hunter (Los Angeles Herald-Examiner), Jack Lang (Long Island Press), Lou Hatter (Baltimore Sun), Allen Lewis (Philadelphia Inquirer) and Watson Spoelstra (Detroit News). Ross Newhan (1961-1967) and Fred Claire (1968) handled the Angels beat for the Long Beach paper during the years my Dad covered the Dodgers.
After the 1968 season, my Dad joined the California Angels as Director of Public Relations and Promotions. Dick Walsh, a long-time Dodger executive, became the General Manager and hired my Dad in one of his first moves. He also worked under Harry Dalton and Buzzie Bavasi during his ten-year career with the Angels--one that was prematurely shortened due to his death at age 50. It was a lean period for the franchise but one in which Nolan Ryan came into prominence, throwing four no-hitters and leading the league in strikeouts six times, including a major league record 383 in 1973 (breaking Koufax's record of 382 set in 1965).
The Koufax and Ryan eras. Boy, those were the years. Eight no-hitters, three Cy Youngs, five ERA titles, five 20-win seasons, and ten times leading the league in strikeouts. Koufax and Ryan threw as hard as any pitcher during the 1960s and 1970s and both had outstanding curveballs. It was certainly a great time to be with the Dodgers and Angels.
I just wish I could have watched Sunday night's Yankees-Dodgers game on TV with my Dad. Maybe we could have collaborated on the All-Baseball Rashomon Project. I'm sure he could have given me a unique perspective on Eric Gagne, who just may have one of the best fastballs and change/splitters in the game today. Eighty-one straight saves. Wow! I wonder what he would say about that?
Happy Birthday, Dad. And Happy Father's Day, too. Thanks for everything. I love you.