Don Cunningham: The Philadelphia Phillies, and Pressing the Mute Button on Hate

By Don Cunningham on November 7, 2022

This column, written by LVEDC President & CEO Don Cunningham, originally appeared in The Morning Call and on the newspaper’s website on November 4, 2022. (Click here to read Cunningham’s previous columns.)

Don Cunningham

Don Cunningham

For a moment there were no Democrats or Republicans, no liberals or conservatives, no black or white.

The ball had cleared the fence and 46,000 fans erupted.

There were high-fives and hugs, howls of joy and an outpouring of love for one another, a team, a city.

In that moment, it felt like childhood again where all was possible, every difficulty could be overcome. The stuff of fairy tales.

Yes, it was America in 2022.

Phillies star Bryce Harper had just belted a baseball over a fence in the first inning to give his team a 2-0 lead over the Houston Astros in Game 3 of the World Series.

In the ballpark and watching on television, the often-suffering fans of the Philadelphia Phillies continued an improbable season of joy as the mystery and magic of a simple game was doing something not happening elsewhere in American life.

People were united by one great similarity, not divided by a dozen little differences.

In this moment, in this city, the only color that mattered was Phillies red, not the assigned color of your political tribe or the one of your skin.

It’s odd that this should be so unique.

Unfortunately, for those watching these games on television, the barrage of inane political ads between innings pushing all the hot buttons of American hate was a reminder that it’s all too unique.

The mute button was necessary to preserve both sanity and the moment.

Its inventor should be as known and venerated as Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell.

Baseball is often held up as a metaphor for life in America.

In this moment, it’s more guidepost than metaphor, a fantasy of what life could be and a reminder of what it is.

Why is it that a sports team can unite so many in a common bond when sharing a place, a neighborhood, a country, and an American heritage can’t?

In the end, we share more similarities than differences.

There’s a great book by Doris Kearns Goodwin, “Wait Till Next Year,” that captures this in another time and place. It’s a memoir of her growing up in Brooklyn during the 1950s when the Yankees, the Giants and the Dodgers all played baseball in New York City.

On the surface it’s a book about baseball but it’s really the story of family and place and neighborhood. It’s the story of her childhood and a different America.

It was far from idyllic. Her mother was often ill and died when she was 15. Wrought with depression, her father sold their house and left the neighborhood. Nuclear threats and fallout shelters were part of life during a Cold War between the U.S. and former Soviet Union.

But, running throughout the story is her inheritance of her family’s and neighborhood’s love of the Brooklyn Dodgers despite the team’s inability to win a World Series, hence the title, based on the annual fan refrain “wait till next year.”

After Brooklyn finally won the World Series in 1955, team owner Walter O’Malley moved them to Los Angeles within two years, crumbling the golden era of NYC baseball.

Those who grew up in the Lehigh Valley during the 1970s had our own golden era of three-team baseball via television. Every Yankees, Mets and Phillies game was broadcast for free.

A 10-year-old boy with summer days to whittle away could listen to Phil Rizzuto and Bill White broadcast the Yankees on WPIX-Channel 11, Ralph Kiner and Bill Murphy with the Mets on WWOR-Channel 9, or Harry Kalas and Richie Ashburn and the Phillies on WPHL-Channel 17. I watched them all but became a Yankees fan.

Like Doris Kearns Goodwin did listening to the Dodgers, I learned to keep a baseball scorebook watching those games.

It was in her love of baseball and keeping a scorebook that Kearns Goodwin developed her love of history and recording it.

It was in my love of history that I discovered Kearns Goodwin, reading her presidential histories of FDR, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt.

More recently I discovered her baseball and family memoir. In two of my favorite passages, she writes:

“For as long as I could remember, my sense of place, my past, and my identity had been rooted in this house, this street, this neighborhood,” and, “Sometimes, sitting in the park with my boys, I imagine myself back at Ebbets Field, a young girl once more in the presence of my father, watching the players of my youth below. . . there is magic in these moments.”

Twice I’ve gone to listen to her speak, once at a conference in Boston and more recently at Northampton Community College. A few weeks ago, she returned to the Lehigh Valley to speak at DeSales University.

My wife Lynn and I were fortunate enough to be invited to a pre-lecture dinner.

I hauled along my hardcover, first edition copies of Team of Rivals, her Lincoln biography, and The Bully Pulpit, the Teddy Roosevelt biography, with the hope of meeting her and getting them signed.

In a season of dreams coming true, I met her, and she signed both books.

Like watching this fall’s improbable run of Phillies playoff wins, a record-breaking DeSales lecture series crowd of 1,100 people listened to Kearns Goodwin tell stories of history, showcasing a better America, of leadership rooted in character and focused on a common purpose highlighting American similarities, not differences.

It felt like a Phillies game.

Best of all, there were no political ads or the need to hit a mute button.

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