DENT & THE HIGH WHITE NOTE
has a way of crystallizing life, freezing it, making snapshots
of otherwise lonely, boring fall afternoons.
week these words hit the newsstands it will be the eve of the twenty-fifth
anniversary of what has now come to be known in the circle of baseball
freaks as the "Bucky Dent Game".
It was 10/2/78, and I had just turned sixteen. I was a rabid fan of
the New York Yankees.
Insanely so. I have not been a fan of anything, save for sex and money,
Realizing that now puts a perspective on the little absurdities of life
and how the human capacity for memory maximizes the details of their
impact, regardless of peripheral import.
And that is what is great about sports, really. Not all that other stuff
you read and hear about like heroics or riches or drama or bloodletting.
Its about being a kid and remembering exactly where you were sitting
and what - at the precise moment of a life filled with zillions of moments
- you were thinking at 6:11 pm or thereabouts on the second day of October
a quarter of a century ago. Sports has a way of crystallizing life,
freezing it, making snapshots of otherwise lonely, boring fall afternoons.
But this isnt really a commentary on baseball or memory, but on
the strange things which make up the minutest actualities of our lives,
good or ill, and what chooses to remain in that eight percent of gray
matter housed inside our skulls. Rattled every once in a blue moon by
music or scents or a name from the bygone days or maybe a book or a
film or a teacher or a lover that changed your world.
I spend a great deal of space in this column every week or so poking
fun at things people claim they care about like social issues and world
politics and national spats and whatever the hell the supposed intelligentsia
or monosyllabic radio callers masturbate about incessantly. But it all
comes and goes, and is most likely to run through our eight percent
to reprocess any way wed like anyway. So whats the point?
Still, making the monumental personal is as old as dirt, but it isnt
any better than turning the seemingly inconsequential into seminal moments
of elation. Its what F. Scott Fitzgerald called the "high
white note". Everyone has them. Think about yours, right now; some
ancillary event that attached itself to you for some odd reason and
would not let go. Ever.
I had one on October 2, 1978.
Watching a baseball game might not always fit into that category, but
sometimes it does. A bike ride. A sunset. An aria. A swim. A smile.
Kids. Girls. Debates. Great paragraphs from people who know how to formulate
I can close my eyes and relive the feeling of that Monday afternoon
way back then. The Yankees were 14 games behind the Boston Red Sox in
July. Two months later they were three games ahead. One week later they
were in a dead heat. Ninety-nine wins each. Both teams met on the ancient
Beantown stage in the autumnal shadows of Fenway Park to decide six
months of a season and sixty years of curse and rancor.
I had nothing to do with much of it. I had only been on the planet less
than two decades, spent one decade living in an apartment ten minutes
from Yankee Stadium, and for some reason I saw enough reason to attach
some part of my psyche, my hopes, and my breathless sense of being to
a baseball game. During it, the damn thing seemed almost apocalyptic,
a madness borne of these moments that stick, despite their otherwise
Innocuousness for a sixteen year-old kid sitting in his living room
in Freehold, NJ, but not for one, Russell Earl "Bucky" Dent,
whose life changed that day. He was a light hitting poster-boy shortstop
who had nearly quit the game a year earlier in a fit of frustrated anger,
the kind young men sometimes wrestle with. In the seventh inning, with
162 games and sixty years on the line, Mr. Dent hit his third or fourth
home run of the 1978 season barely clearing a mythical thirty-seven
foot monolith called the Green Monster to erase a two-run deficit and
allow the Yankees to win the game 5-4.
In all corners of New England he would no longer be Russell, Earl or
Bucky, but the infamous, Bucky "fucking" Dent. Another of
the Bambinos imps from Hades sent to torture the bastion of the
Hold it. Im there right now.
Suffice to say, I tried putting these thoughts about satellite emotions
attached to sporting events into what was to be my first book about
six times in fifteen years. I talked to nearly everyone living who played
on both teams, and have had drinks with at least ten people who were
in the place that day. Id dissected the tar out of it, and it
was a labor of love for a while, but alas, for millions of reasons,
I never finished that book. Since, three others sort of got in the way.
A veteran of the business, and arguably the finest sportswriter this
country has produced, helped and inspired me to finish that damn thing.
His name is Roger Kahn, who wrote the quintessential baseball book called
"The Boys of Summer" when I was nine or ten years old. I read
it in the fateful summer of 1978. In the early 90s he became a
friend and a mentor, while I was making my way around major league parks
as a professional. I even ran into him during one of the World Series
I covered, and felt Id let him down somehow. Well, this past summer
Roger picked me up and released his gazillionth book called "October
Men" about the game and the summer and that magical autumn late
afternoon. His publisher sent me a copy. I read it twice. It is more
than I could have done, naturally, and Im happy for it. The story
is deeper than I can go here, but Roger more than managed to hit its
"high white note" with a sting worthy of an aging wordsmith
Ive covered elections, sporting events, wrote songs and poetry
and ran madly and strongly with jewel friends and passing ghosts and
fell in love with the coolest woman on the planet. I have wrestled with
the big boys and toiled in the back alleys, and no matter where I may
be at any point, I still recall this "high white note".
So, on this anniversary of small miracles and stolen moments, close
those peepers and gather up yours.
Be my guest.
Otherwise, whats the point?
© James Campion September 26th 2003
Part One of Georgetown in CA: Arnie in California and other stories
all rights reserved