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Dreaming About, and Mourning for, the Dodgers' Billy Loes

07/30/2010 10:54 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

This blog fits into the very narrow category of "Dreams and Baseball," two subjects that interest me and sometimes intersect in my unconscious life.

A year ago I published a book, After Many a Summer, which chronicled the long, sad sequence of maneuvers, deceptions, schemes and arguments that led to the departure of the Dodgers and Giants from New York after more than 70 years of spirited competition. If I was asked why I took this subject on, I would offer, among other reasons, that, when they left, I was an eight-year-old Brooklyn kid in love with the Dodgers, and that I'd felt the sting of betrayal and loss throughout my life. But I might have answered, "Well, I dream about Ebbets Field every few weeks or so, so I guess I was sort of compelled to write about this."

The dreams, at least in recent years, have had the same essential theme. The ballpark is still there, and recently has been sufficiently refurbished to allow baseball to be played in it once again, either by the Dodgers or some other team that has replaced them at last. (At least once, however, it was a hockey team!) The dreams usually involve feelings of surprise and excitement about going there, combined -- God knows why -- with a nagging awareness that I have delayed doing so and that I'd better hurry and get there before the park closes again.

But my last dream about Ebbets Field, just three nights ago, was different. I found myself zipping around the ballpark in a helicopter with a reporter named Bill Reel and a sexy woman who was a photographer for The New York Times and doubled as the pilot of the aircraft -- a function she was thoroughly ignoring while she sat talking to us guys and unfolding her legs to provide glimpses of her thighs. The real Bill Reel was a Brooklyn-based columnist for the New York Daily News, but not a sportswriter. He had entered my dream because I had been talking to a bartender about him on Saturday evening. The woman was another of those anonymous Ms. Rights that a fellow conjures up in the wee small hours. The purpose of their aerial mission was to determine whether it was possible for a man pitching in Ebbets Field to lose a ground-ball in the sun.

What? Well, there was a famously heartbreaking moment in the seventh inning of the sixth game of the 1952 World Series when, with the score tied 1-to-1 and the Dodgers leading the Series 3-to-2, the young Dodger pitcher Billy Loes failed to stop a comeback grounder, which glanced off his leg and scooted into right field for run-scoring single. The Yankees won the game, 3-to-2, and afterward, Loes, who was prone to making goofy statements -- he had predicted, for example, that the Yankees would win the Series -- explained that he had lost the ball in the sun.

For the fourth time in 11 years, the New Yorkers took the Series from the Brooks the next afternoon.

In the dream, Reel and Ms. Earhart were trying, not very efficiently, to focus on the area behind and to the left of home-plate to see how the sun might break through the girders there, while I, seeming to represent wide-awake reason, protested that they were going about this all wrong. Why make the investigation from the air? They could better determine the matter if they went down on the field and stood on or beside the pitcher's mound.

I was thinking about this dream again yesterday morning when, turning to the sports pages of the Times, I spotted a brief notice directing me to the obituary page: Billy Loes, 80, had died in a hospice in Tucson, Arizona. And I admit that I thought, for just a second, that what was believed in ancient cultures -- that dreams predict events -- may be true, after all.

Nah, it was just a wonderful coincidence. I have found that, almost without fail, if I think long enough about why a person has showed up in a dream, I will find the spark in an appearance, however fleeting, of that person or some other person or thing associated with him or her in my thoughts over the previous day or two. Why Billy Loes? Sitting in a restaurant early Sunday evening I became aware of a luscious flood of light bathing the room. Then, realizing that the windows faced east, I saw that the illumination was actually a reflection of the western sun coming off a store sign across the street, and at the same time I noticed a young woman -- Ms. Right? -- squinting into the sun as she prepared to cross the street from that direction. No, I didn't think of Loes. The amazing unconscious mind made the connection.

Nor, in fact, do I remember Loes pitching for the Dodgers. But I treasure him as a great Brooklyn baseball character who was, not incidentally, a marvelously effective pitcher for those great early-fifties teams. Once a schoolboy phenom just across the Brooklyn border in Long Island City, he pitched four full seasons for Dem Bums from 1952 through 1955, when he was 22 to 25 years old, and put up a sparkling record of 50 wins and 25 losses. Then he hurt his shoulder, was sold to the Baltimore Orioles for $25,000, and had only one more good year in a career that lumbered on until 1961. He never won more than 14 games in a season, but that was OK. As Richard Goldstein pointed out in his delightful obit, Billy figured that if he ever won 20 games, his bosses would burden him with the expectation of doing that every year.

His insistence that he had lost that ball in the sun was an instance of the boy crying "Wolf!" It was scoffed at because of his pattern of peculiar pronouncements. But as his pitching teammate Carl Erskine, quoted by Goldstein, indicated, the slant of the sun through the walls of Ebbets Field at a certain time on an October day made that excuse absolutely feasible.

So here's wishing time off in purgatory for Billy Loes for having told the truth in his lifetime. And happy dreams forever after.