It is World Series time, and World Series time always brings Donald McGrath back to another time when the world was at war and he was a young soldier home on leave from the Army.
“It makes me think back to 1943,” McGrath said.
The New York Yankees and St. Louis Cardinals in a rematch of the 1942 Fall Classic, which the Cardinals won in five games.
“The Cardinals had some good players,” said McGrath, who lives in Bradenton with Ana, his wife of 61 years.
So did the Yankees, though three of their good players — Joe DiMaggio, Phil Rizzuto and Red Ruffing — were in the service. Among the Cardinals lost to the war effort was future Hall of Famer Enos Slaughter.
Home for McGrath was Woodside, N.Y., a subway ride from Yankee Stadium. He was a Yankees fan. He was home on leave. The Yankees were playing in the World Series.
What could be better?
This: All servicemen in uniform were allowed to attend the games for free.
They packed the bleachers for the first three games, which were played at Yankee Stadium.
A crowd of 68,676 shoehorned into the stadium to see the Yankees win the opener. Crowds of 68,578 and 69,990 arrived for the next two games.
“There were a lot of us,” McGrath said. “We were all out in the bleachers. We could see real well.”
McGrath turns 90 on Nov. 25 and he can’t recall all the details of those three games played 66 years ago, but he does remember the Cardinals’ battery in Game 2 — Mort Cooper pitching to his brother, Walker, and the brothers playing with heavy hearts after their father’s death the day before. And McGrath remembers Johnny Lindell’s slide into Cardinals third baseman Whitey Kurowski in Game 3.
“He knocked the ball out of the third baseman’s hand,” McGrath said.
McGrath remembers the Cardinals weren’t too pleased with Lindell’s aggressive base running.
The Yankees won two of the first three games and clinched the title with two more wins in St. Louis. Yankees pitcher Murry Dickson, who pitched in the clincher, was on a 10-day pass from the Army.
“It was a different time,” McGrath said.
But every bit as confusing as today.
The nation was busy fighting World War II, and the war touched every American. The future was anyone’s guess.
McGrath was a private stationed in Fort Jackson, S.C., that fall. He was never sent overseas.
“No,” he said. “I was lucky.”
The World Series provided an escape during those war years, nine innings to grab a beer and hot dog and forget the troubles.
It was a happy few days for McGrath, which is why the annual showdown between the American League and National League brings back such fond memories.
And not just of those three games, but of growing up in a New York City that had three major league teams and playing roller hockey, football and stickball against kids from other neighborhoods and of watching Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig play and, later, of taking his son, Donald Jr., to Shea Stadium on Father’s Day 1964 and watching Philadelphia’s Jim Bunning throw a perfect game against the Mets.
McGrath is pulling for the Yankees this year because they are his team, and because they are his link to those few wonderful days in October 1943.
“Being 21 and getting to go to the World Series,” McGrath said, “was a great thrill to me.”