Ray Didinger did an article celebrating the Philadelphia fans, including a personal recollection of his grandfather, a life-long Phillies fan. The article appeared in a special pull-out section of the October 23, 1980 edition of the Philadelphia Daily News. The pull-out section was appropriately named "Hallelujah!" to reflect the emotions of legions of Phillies fans who finally got to bask in baseball glory after nearly a hundred lean years.
|From the October 23, 1980
edition of The Philadelphia Daily News (Special Section "Hallelujah!"):
Here’s To The Winners- The Fans
By Ray Didinger
I was watching the Phillies celebrate their first world championship, watching them scurry around the clubhouse wielding their champagne bottles like fire hoses and, all the while, I kept thinking about my grandfather.
That’s right, my grandfather. As far as I was concerned, he was the real hero on Tuesday night. He didn’t get any champagne and he didn’t get on television but he sat there in Section 212, Row 18, and he savored the final out in a way Mike Schmidt and Larry Bowa never could.
I heard Larry Bowa say he waited “a long time” for this moment. Actually, he had waited 11 years, that’s how long he’s been picking up ground balls with the Phillies.
The way I figure it, my grandfather had waited 60 years, most of them longer and grimmer than a Depression bread line.
My grandfather strapped his heart to the Philadelphia Phillies way back in the 1920s and, after six decades, all he had to show for it was a pacemaker and a TV chair with a busted arm.
You see, every time the Phillies did something stupid- which was often- my grandfather would bang his fist on the arm of his chair. You didn’t even have to be in the same room with him to know how the game was going.
Bang. Uh oh, Joe Koppe must’ve struck out again. Bang. Pancho Herrera must have dropped another popup. Bang, bang. Mauch must be coming out of the dugout.
My grandfather and his chair have been through a half-dozen National League pennant chases and, frankly, neither one will ever be the same.
When the Phillies went into their September death spiral in 1964, my grandfather sat there, shouting and banging through every defeat.
I remember sitting with him one Saturday afternoon during that horrid losing streak, watching the Phillies blow a six-run lead against the Milwaukee Braves.
I remember Rico Carty triple off the Ballentine scoreboard to win it and, for the fist time all day, my grandfather didn’t bang on his chair.
He just sat there, staring silently at the TV set. I kept waiting for him to say, “Ahh, we’ll get ‘em tomorrow.” He had said that all along. This time, he didn’t say anything. He just reached over and flicked off the television.
That’s when I knew it was all over for the ’64 Phillies.
My grandfather already had his tickets for the World Series opener at Connie Mack Stadium. He could have taken them back for a refund but he never did. He just kept them in his desk drawer.
He never said so but I always suspected he thought that was as close as the Phillies were ever going to come to a world championship. He just kept those worthless tickets around as a bittersweet remembrance, like rose petals from a summer romance that almost, but didn’t quite, work out.
That’s why I know how much Tuesday’s World Series triumph meant to him. It was his chance to reach out and embrace the moment he had waited for, the moments his Whiz Kids had promised but never delivered.
I’m not writing this just for my grandfather, but for all the people in this baseball-happy town, all the people who have made the long, painful journey from the Baker Bowl to Shibe Park to Veterans Stadium and never lost the faith.
Phillies fans lived on canned beans and stale bread for half a century. They rooted for a team that had seemingly made a pact with last place, yet they sat on their stoops with their transistor radios pressed to their ears and they rooted just the same.
Those are the people I felt he happiest for on Tuesday night. All the people who wept in the stands, the people who danced and sang in the streets. This win belonged to them as much as it did to the mercenaries in pinstripes, maybe even more.
My grandfather’s name is Ray Didinger and if you ever worked up a thirst driving through Southwest Florida, chances are, you’ve made his acquaintance.
He owned a bar on Woodland Avenue for 30 years. He named it “Ray’s Tavern” which should tell you something about his outlook on life. He is a straightforward man, an unpretentious man who never used a neon sign when a hand-lettered one would do.
“Ray’s” was a sportsman’s bar, which is to say it was not the place where you went to listen to the jukebox or sing opera. Anyone who tried to punch up a Frankie Laine record when the Phillies were on TV usually wound up being heaved onto Simpson Street by several burly regulars.
“Ray’s” was a place for guys who loved sports. If you wanted to discuss politics, go to the Union League. If you wanted tips on the stock market, go to the Warwick. But, if you wanted to know what pitch Del Ennis hit in the ninth last night, Ray’s was the place.
Ballplayers, umpires and just plain folks hung out there, drinking beer and trading sports stories. My grandfather worked behind the bar almost all the time, except when he’d toss his apron over his shoulder and head off to the ballpark.
If there was a bigger fan in this city, I’ve never met him. My grandfather is the only man I know who actually went to see the old Frankford Yellow Jackets play football. He talks about seeing Red Grange play the way most people talk about seeing O.J. Simpson.
He ran chartered buses from his bar to all the Eagles’ home games for almost 20 years. Most of his customers bought their Eagles season tickets through him. Maybe 400 of them.
My grandfather put out the money for the tickets. Once in a while, the guys even paid him back. My grandmother would get mad and tell him to get tough with the guys who owed him money.
My grandfather would say, “OK,” and he’d walk away, puffing on his cigar. The next thing you know, he’d be loaning somebody $20 and telling him not to worry about it. That’s just the way he is.
He loves all sports but baseball is his passion. Every March, he and my grandmother used to pack up their belongings and drive to Florida to watch the Phillies train in Clearwater.
They would return a month later, sun-tanned and optimistic, more convinced than ever that the Phillies would win the National League pennant. Their tans lasted the summer, but their optimism usually faded in June.
Every spring, my grandfather would discover one young player who was sure to turn the Phillies around. Bob Bowman was one such “can’t miss” prospect. Ron Stone was another. I don’t think either one ever got a hit north of Jacksonville.
One year my grandfather came back raving about a kid pitcher named Ferguson Jenkins. He said this Jenkins could be a 20-game winner. He was right, except Jenkins was traded and won his 20 games for the Chicago Cubs. My grandfather never forgave Gene Mauch for that one.
My grandfather is a typical Philadelphia fan in that he likes players who get their uniforms dirty, guys with modest ability who get the job done with hustle and desire.
He loved Cookie Rojas and Tony Taylor, for example. He likes Pete Rose, even though he has trouble justifying his salary. He can’t understand how Pete Rose can earn more in one season than Ty Cobb earned in a lifetime.
I try to argue the case from the standpoint of 1980 economics and the impact of the free agent market. Then my grandfather says, “Yeah, but I saw Ty Cobb and he was the greatest player who ever lived,” and I realize I’m whipped.
To my grandfather, baseball is not a matter of economics, it is an affair of the heart. He roots for the Phillies because it’s the one constant in his life. It’s the one thing in this world that isn’t spinning out of control.
He can live with the OPEC oil ministers and the Abscam tapes and all the rest, just so long as he knows Tug McGraw is down in the bullpen and Mike Schmidt is waiting in the on-deck circle.
For years, the Phillies let him down, some years more cruelly than others. But, on Tuesday night, they paid him back. They climbed to the top of the baseball world and they brought him with them.
As I watched fuzzy-cheeked kids like Keith Moreland and Bob Walk revel in their triumph, I could only think of what my grandfather had said earlier that afternoon.
“I hope they win it this year,” he said. “I’m 80 years old. I don’t know how many more chances I’m gonna get.”
Well, they won this one for you, Granddad. They won it for you and all the guys at Ray’s tavern who hung on by their fingernails waiting for this day.
This is your moment. Enjoy.