My grandpa, whom I never had the privilege of knowing, was a staunch Republican. He ran a modest country store during the Great Depression and war years in Sarver, PA. All summer long he would have the radio on listening to Rowsey Rowswell call the play-by-play for his beloved Pittsburgh Pirates. (I have to lament a little here. My mother talks about all of the baseball cards that she had from the store throughout the 1940s. She admits they must have been thrown away. I shutter to think about it.)
When the country store talk eventually found itself in the political arena, my grandpa would be sure to show his displeasure for Roosevelt, and you have to admit, 12 years of FDR and the Democrats would have given the Republicans plenty to complain about.
By 1946, my grandpa would have plenty more to complain about. The Pirates went 63-91, setting off on 12 years of mostly futile play. After the 1952 season when the Pirates were an unbelievably horrible 40-112, it must have been quite the consolation for him when Ike won the presidency in November, putting the White House back in control for the first time since Hoover handed over the reins to FDR in March of 1932.
But I bet he would have traded the White House for a pennant.
The 1953 Pirates lost 104 games. The 1954 Pirates lost 101. At least he could read about Ike’s golf scores in the paper.
By the end of the 50’s, things were looking up for the Pittsburgh franchise. They had a winning season in 1958, and after stumbling back in 1959, were poised to compete for a pennant in 1960. There was another competition on the horizon, however. Nixon vs. Kennedy for the White House.
My grandfather, the WASP that he was, could not fathom a Catholic in the White House – and the prospect of a catholic Democrat made it all the more sinister.
But baseball took center stage first in the fall of 1960 – and what a fall it was! The Pittsburgh Pirates entering their first World Series in 33 years – a rematch of the 1927 series versus the dreaded New York Yankees.
That was a series for the ages, and my grandpa, who suffered through decades of bad teams, was finally rewarded when Bill Mazeroski hit a walk-off, series winning home run in the bottom of the 9th inning at Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field to do the impossible – beat the Yankees and win the series.
A month later, fortunes were not as favorable for my grandfather as Kennedy squeaked by Nixon in one of the closest elections of all time.
My grandfather died of a heart attack the next day. My mother says he couldn’t have taken it – having a catholic Democrat in the White House.
But he had satisfaction before he passed on. He saw the Pirates win, and perhaps that was enough.