The following is excerpted from Slide! (Mascot Books, 2017) by Carl Wolfson and is a tragicomedy about the 1964 Philadelphia Phillies team collapse as well as about Wolfson, his family and the city.
I had been to the ballpark a half dozen times, but the mood was never this upbeat, this communal. A groundskeeper leveling the infield danced and waved to fans in the bright red seats of the upper deck.
Byrum Saam’s cheery pre-game seemed to flow from a thousand transistor radios. People connected with the talk of destiny. Since April, a cast of unlikely names—Allen, Callison, Bunning, Short, Rojas—had defied logic and expectation and put all of us at the center of the baseball universe. In a few days, our Phillies would be National League champions. And in two weeks, the 1964 World Series would open right here.
With the Phils holding a 6 ½ game lead with just 12 games to go, nothing was left but pesky math—the sure and steady reduction of our magic number from seven to 0.
We sure needed some laughs.
A minute later, I decided to give it a shot on my own.
I stepped up and offered my best Ed Sullivan.
“Tonight, ladies and gentlemen, please welcome…” I twisted for effect. “Please welcome the 1964 World Champion Philadelphia Phillies!”
Dad stared at me. Mom twitched as if a beatnik had broken into the house and “put marijuana” in my Chef Boyardee. I squeezed my face and tried harder.
“Unfortunately, Topo Gigio, the Italian mouse, will not perform tonight, since he was just eaten by an Italian cat.”
“I’m pretending to be Ed Sullivan!”
Mom smiled—sort of. “That’s cute, honey. Now get down off the coffee table!”
Was that the end of it? What a fine epitaph: “Not even his parents laughed.”
The mood in the car was gloomy; it was a mausoleum on wheels. So, with Aunt Nelle’s voice in my head, I attempted an impression of the Old Battle-Ax.
“Nobody listens to me about Viet Nam! Trade that Ho Chi Minh to the Cubs, I say! I’d kick his Red fanny to Wrigley myself, but I have the gout!”
There was instant laughter, and I kept going.
“I don’t know what the gout is, but I have it. I got it from an old pecan log.”
Everyone loved it.
“Old Johnson should send me some dough-re-mi for my good advice. I graduated sixth in my class.”
This was a famous Aunt Nelle claim, and Mom played along: “You graduated sixth? Out of how many?”
A little “Aunt Nelle” had flipped the entire mood, and I sat in the back of our Chevy puffed up like a peacock. I couldn’t play the oboe or star in Little League. In fact, I had “no aptitude at all.” But what began as a mimic of Phillies game announcer By Saam had led me to experiment with other voices, other characters. And now I had discovered the freakiest thing: I could make people laugh.
The car settled into a better silence, and I lost myself in the twilight. Only then did it hit me: The Phillies were no longer in first place. We had been atop the league since July 16, and for 73 magical days, I had never been happier.
“Second place” just didn’t sound right.
Carl Wolfson (Knoxville ’75) spent decades working as a comedian, appearing on Showtime Comedy Club Network, VH-1’s Stand-Up Spotlight, An Evening at the Improv and The Joan Rivers Show. From 2007 to 2016, he was the host of “Carl in the Morning” on AM 620 KPOJ and FM 107.1 KXRY in Portland, Oregon. He remains a diehard Phillies fan.