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Notes on the National Pastime
Page 36
"I have observed that baseball is not unlike war, and when you get right down to it, we batters are the heavy artillery." -- Ty Cobb
There was an informal, nonprofessional quality to Ebbets Field and the Dodgers. It was very personal. The fans loved the players. The players loved the fans. All a player had to do was walk out onto the field, and the fans would begin waving at him and hollering to be waved back at, and they would throw down little vials of holy water and religious medals, and when a ballplayer had a birthday, there would always be one or two homemade cakes in the clubhouse for him.
In Ebbets Field there might be 5,000 fans in the park, but it would sound like ten times as many. Five fanatical fans that made up the Dodgers Symphony would play and dance on top of the dugout and walk through the stands playing their ragtime music, and when the umps came out before the game, they would play "Three Blind Mice," until the year when the National League added a fourth umpire to the crew, lousing up their little joke. If an opposing pitcher was knocked out, the symphony would razz him by playing "The Worms Crawl In, The Worms Crawl Out," and they would wait for an opposing batter who made [an] out to return to the dugout and sit down, and just as the player's backside would touch the bench, the cymbal from the symphony would crash, and the Dodger fans would applaud and chuckle at the player's embarrassment.
....Never had there been such involvement .... At Ebbets Field before each game, the fans would line up along the railing, and the players would walk along and shake hands with everybody and sign autographs and chat about that afternoon's game. For many of the fans, the Dodgers became part of their family. And every once in a while, the Dodgers made a fan part of theirs.
IRVING RUDD: "I remember when I was a kid, I used to major in hooky. I would run off to the ballpark at the drop of a hat. And one day .... I was hanging around outside the ballpark, holding my scrapbook under my arm, when Al Lopez came out of the clubhouse. He was a kid catcher, about twenty years old, and he's got with him a guy by the name of Hollis Thurston, who had been a good pitcher with the White Sox, and a guy by the name of Louis 'Buck' Newsom, who was Bobo later, Jake Flowers, and Clise [Dudley] .... Lopez says to me, 'Hey, kid, how 'bout going to dinner with us?' I said, 'Gee, I have to ask my mother.' He said, 'Give her a call.' Who had a phone in those days? .... I told him we didn't have a phone. They asked me where I lived, and I told them, 'Powell Street in Brownsville,' and Lopez said, 'We'll drop you off on the way home. You ask your mother.' And he added, 'Wash your face, too, and put another pair of pants on.' I was a sloppy kid in those days.
"So we got into the car ... and they drove me to Brownsville....
"It was so different then. I remember going up to Dazzy Vance, when he was leaving the ballpark. I said, 'Hey, Daz, that pitch you threw in the ninth inning...' He said, 'Kid, let me tell you about it. Now, you got a guy like Hack Wilson playing against you...' and as we walked, we talked about the game. And that's the way it was then."
....The Dodger fans were part of the show, part of the sights and sounds that made Ebbets Field so special. Some of those fans became almost as renowned as the players they came to watch. The other Dodger fans may not have known their names, but they could count on them being there and adding to the noise and craziness.
....The most famous of the Dodger fans -- perhaps the most famous in baseball history, was named Hilda Chester, a plump, pink-faced woman with a mop of stringy gray hair. Hilda began her thirty-year love affair with the Dodgers in the 1920s. She had been a softball star as a kid, or so she said, and she once told a reporter that her dream was to play in the big leagues or start up a softball league for women. Thwarted as an athlete, she turned to rooting. As a teenager she would stand outside the offices of the Brooklyn Chronicle every day, waiting to hear the Dodger score. After a while she became known to the sportswriters, who sometimes gave her passes to the games. In her twenties Hilda worked as a peanut sacker for the Stevens Brothers ... who owned most of the concession stands across the country .... [I]n her capacity as peanut sacker she was able to work and attend the Dodger games. By the 1930s she was attending games regularly, screaming lustily, one of hundreds of Ebbets Field regulars.
Shortly after suffering a heart attack, she began her rise to fame. Her physician forbade her from yelling, and when she was sufficiently recovered, she returned to Ebbets Field with a frying pan and an iron ladle. Banging away on the frying pan from her seat in the bleachers, she made so much noise that everyone, including the players, noticed her. It was the Dodger players in the late 1930s who presented Hilda Chester with the first of her now-famous brass cowbells.
In 1941 Hilda suffered a second heart attack, and when she entered the hospital this time, she was an important enough personality that Durocher and several of the players went to visit her. As a result Durocher became Hilda's special hero, and by the mid-1940s she was almost the team mascot. Sometimes during short road trips, Hilda even went with the team....
During the games Hilda lived in the bleacher seats with her bell. Durocher had given her a lifetime pass to the grandstand, but she preferred sitting in the bleachers with the entourage of fellow rowdies. With her fish peddler voice, she'd say, "You know me. Hilda wit da bell. Ain't it trillin'? Home wuz never like dis, mac." When disturbed her favorite line was, "Eacha heart out, ya bum!"
Hilda had a voice that could be heard all over the park. It stood out above all the other voices, and the players could hear her raspy call followed by the clanging of her cowbell all through a game.
-- Peter Golenbock
Bums: An Oral History of the Brooklyn Dodgers
 Bums: An Oral History of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Peter Golenbock
Copyright 1984 by Peter Golenbock
Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons (New York), 1984

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