Bonding With My Dad Over Dodger Baseball

Father-son relationships are complicated even decades later.

Posted Apr 07, 2021 | Reviewed by Ekua Hagan

Michael Heumann
Source: Michael Heumann

My father passed away three years ago having just reached his 98th birthday. Since I mainly use Facebook for family and friends, I posted his passing and some thoughts that I had at that time. I told a story or two and posted a picture of him. Little did I realize that that day started me on a track to try to understand the role my father had in my life. Here's my Facebook post with the comments:

My dad, Oscar Rosen, passed away yesterday at the age of 98 in Portland, Oregon. This happened at the end of a weekend celebrating my mom's 90th birthday and his 98th so all of his children and nearly all of his grandchildren (plus his great-granddaughter) got to say their goodbyes. It was tough to watch him in pain and I am glad that the pain is now gone. My favorite Dad story is that he likely holds a record for being thrown out of a Little League baseball game twice: first thrown out of the dugout and off the field and then thrown out of the stands. He clearly did not like that third strike call against me since he kept calling the umpire a chicken#$%&. That was soooo my father. He did not mince words. For as long as I can remember, every time I saw him I reminded him (tongue in cheek) that I was not only his #1 son but his favorite! (That always got a laugh and then as the years went by, a wry smile.) The photo below was taken by my brother-in-law a month before his death. The beard was relatively new and stopped my mom from telling him that if he looked scruffy, he should shave (she had this taped to the bathroom mirror!). I will miss my dad, but he had a long life and I am lucky that I had him in my life for so long.

Larry, I am so sorry to hear about Oscar, he was a great person. We spent a lot of time together living across the street from each other, carpooling, playing baseball together. God bless Larry. Please let us know if we can help in any way.

Larry, I'm so sorry to hear about Oscar, he was a great man and an incredible manager of our Little League team. He was very supportive of all the kids and spent many hours coaching us to greatness. He was firm but made all of us feel like we were special and encouraged us to be the best we could be. I'll always remember him fondly. Please give your Mom my very best.

I'm so sorry to hear about your dad's passing. I feel very privileged to have known him during our formative years. I probably learned more about baseball growing up from him than anyone else. I saw this photo and wondered if he might have passed. He will be missed.

I was confused at best and surprised to hear what people, who knew my dad when we all were in Little League baseball from about 8- to 12-years-old, thought of him. This inspired me to figure out exactly why I had a different view than they did and examine what I might have missed along the way.

To do so, I had to start thinking about the stories that I heard over the years about his father, my grandpa Sam. (Note: I cannot vouch for any of this as the stories ebbed and flowed over the years of telling.) In all, three generations shared a three-story house in Brooklyn including my great grandparents, my grandparents and their combined 5 boys (including my dad). My grandpa and my uncle shared a taxi which they each drove 12 hours a day. When my grandpa’s day was done (he started early morning and had regular clients throughout the day while my uncle took the other 12 hours), the story is that every day when he came home, he would deep clean the taxi including cleaning the engine! He was meticulous, to say the least.

My grandpa Sam must have been five feet tall and change and skinny as a rail and yet, as the eldest son, he was the tyrant of the family. If one of the kids misbehaved the line was, “Wait until Sam gets home!” Interestingly, that is not how I remember my grandpa Sam. I knew him as a quiet almost meek man who smiled a little and said few words. He was quiet, gentle, and called all of us “butch” as he could never remember our names. My grandma suffered from terrible migraines and went often by train to the Mayo Clinic. My dad usually accompanied her.

Flash forward to my elementary school, junior high, and high school years where mostly how I picture my dad is the result of the “wait until your father comes home!” declaration from my mother. My dad was a man of few words and just that statement would ensure that we were going to be in big trouble. Having said that, my dad never hit any of us and instead yelled at us for infractions during the day. (No wonder he and my mom had to have their two martinis as soon as he got home!) More often than not, we were “grounded” for several days although I do recall that several times I was grounded for life.

As I got older, I realized that their punishment wasn’t really all that much given that the room that I shared with my younger brother was at the front of the house. While I was a night owl, my parents were early-to-bed people. With little effort, I was able to lift the window, take out the screen, and head down to somebody’s house to hang out.

Over the years, I have begun to understand my dad’s relationship with me. My dad hated his job as an auditor for the state of California. He could not wait to retire and did so at his very first opportunity. Watching him in retirement was a dramatic rendition of watching someone morph into someone else. My retired dad became his retired dad and talked softly, was friendly with people at their independent living apartment house, and one step away from calling everyone butch like my grandfather did.

In hindsight, I suspect that the angry dad was really just letting off steam from his crappy job and we three kids were easy targets. But there is more to our relationship than just his anger at his job being projected onto us (mostly me).

Oddly enough, baseball helped me gain a new picture of my dad’s relationship with me. In 1958, the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles. My dad grew up in Brooklyn and was a Dodger fan. I am sure that we went to a few games that year at the Coliseum, but in 1959, everything changed. My dad and I became more interested in the games and actually attended about 25 of the 77 home games. That spawned an addiction to the team that has grown over the years. My dad got me an official Little League score pad and taught me how to be an official scorekeeper. I listened to nearly every Dodger game on my transistor radio and kept score on my score pad. I subscribed to Sporting News, a weekly paper with detailed information and statistics on all sports teams including minor league baseball. I also subscribed to Baseball Digest, a monthly magazine that gave me even more stats (hmmm … I wonder if that is why I love statistics, have taught them at all levels from intro to advanced?).

I had truly become a diehard Dodger fan.

In 1959, the Dodgers vied for that National League pennant with the then Milwaukee Braves. In those days there were no playoffs. The National League champ played the American League champ in a seven-game series. It came down to the final day of the season and the two teams were tied. An error allowed the Dodgers to win the right to go on to play the World Series against the Chicago White Sox.

My dad somehow got tickets to game 5 and I was excited to go to a world series game. The night before my mother informed me that I would not be going since I had school that day and school was more important than baseball. Needless to say, I was very angry. And that got even worse when I found out that we had a substitute teacher because my teacher went to the ball game!

The 2020 baseball season was, of course, a short season. Being retired, I was able to watch every single Dodger game on my phone as well as every playoff game and the world series. As the season moved on every game brought up thoughts of my dad. I usually wear something related to the Dodgers. I have two jersey tops (one generic and one Clayton Kershaw for games he starts).

For some reason, maybe because the pandemic gave me lots of time to think about relationships, I started thinking about my dad and baseball and our life together. I had bought him a Dodger hoodie sweatshirt that says “Brooklyn” across the front, and I wore it a few times. While wearing the hoodie I started thinking again about my relationship with my dad, I thought if I could jump in a time machine and go back to 1959, I might understand my dad and his relationship with me.

Larry D. Rosen, Ph.D.
Source: Larry D. Rosen, Ph.D.

On a whim, I searched and found a company that offered a full set of the Topps Dodger baseball cards. I bookmarked the page and went back to whatever I was doing at the time the Dodger bug hit me.

I found myself increasingly interested in establishing a part of my office as a tribute to the 1959 Dodgers and as a sort of shrine to my dad. I found a cabinet to hold and display the cards, a program from the 1959 World Series, a ticket to Game 5, a biography of Sandy Koufax (thanks Grant and Kaylee) as well as a paperback titled “Bums No More” about the Dodgers redeeming their status as fans as “The Bums.” I put up some pictures that were taken when my oldest son took me to an event where we got to go on the field and meet Dodgers from the current team all the way back to some of the ones I followed way back when.

Dodgers Sports and Entertainment Commission
Source: Dodgers Sports and Entertainment Commission

I have a picture of Adam and I sitting next to Rick Monday and Tommy Lasorda. I met Corey Seager, Justin Turner, Ron Cey, Bill Russell, Chase Utley, Steve Garvey, Steven Yeager, and Orel Hershiser. It was a magical day and spurred me on to make a Shutterfly book chronicling the 1959 season, my trip to the stadium with Adam, and my feelings about my dad. That effort took weeks, and through that process, I came to understand and appreciate my relationship with my dad. The shrine is close to my treadmill desk and I look at it often to remind me that my relationship with my dad focused on our mutual love of the Dodgers. With that in mind, I am, finally, able to grasp a bit of understanding about my dad and my perception of him that stretched into my 60s and his 90s.

Thanks, Dad.