It was just a casual glance at the Twitter app on my smartphone that changed a relaxing night of watching ESPN's "Sunday Night Baseball." With the news that U.S. military action had killed Osama bin Laden, it instantly became a rare "I remember where I was when ..." moment and snapped the game between the Mets and Phillies firmly into its place along the timeline of baseball history. Fans at Citizens Bank Park began a "U-S-A, U-S-A" chant, and I watched American citizens gleefully celebrate what passes for a victory in a war on terror.
I thought of Alfred Eisenstaedt's famous Life magazine photo: the American sailor kissing the girl on V-J Day, Aug. 14, 1945, a Tuesday afternoon, with a caption that read, "In New York's Times Square a white-clad girl clutches her purse and skirt as an uninhibited sailor plants his lips squarely on hers." Sunday night, I watched fans in Philadelphia cheer the announcement of a death anticipated for nearly a decade, and I wondered about baseball on that day back in 1945 and others like it.
The same afternoon that sailor was being immortalized in lip-lock with the girl in Times Square, the Dodgers were nearby hosting the Cardinals at Ebbets Field. Ralph Branca allowed only three hits in nine innings but walked eight, and St. Louis beat Brooklyn 2-1. There were 11,873 people at the game that day, the day the initial announcement was made that the Japanese had surrendered, effectively ending World War II. On that same afternoon, the Giants beat the Reds in front of 3,038 fans at the Polo Grounds. New York catcher Ernie Lombardi went 3-for-4 while Sal Maglie pitched all nine innings in the Giants' 5-2 win.
As I watched fans in Mets and Phillies gear high-five one another, I wondered about big-band swing music on old Philco radios creating a chorus down Brooklyn streets or men in fedoras shaking hands under the big Chesterfield cigarette Polo Grounds sign and, perhaps for the first time in years, taking a deep breath and truly relaxing. How did those fans at those games and their experiences compare to what I was watching Sunday night? Bobby Valentine was in the ESPN broadcast booth when the news was announced and provided one perspective:
"I remember that I was managing the New York Mets on 9-11, and I had the honor of managing a team that took the field on Sept. 21, on the first baseball game in New York after those horrific attacks. That was when the healing began for many people, and we began to get back to a recovering state. Maybe tonight has helped so many who have suffered all these 10 years to continue their road to recovery. I hope so."
Exactly 66 years ago to the day, were the 1,919 fans at Fenway Park celebrating the news of the death of Adolf Hitler? That was a Tuesday afternoon, and Boston's Emmett O'Neill allowed four hits in 7 2/3 innings as the Red Sox beat the Washington Senators 5-4. The declaration of Hitler's death that day came during a period when the objectives of war were more clearly defined, as were our personal and national identities as described by those who lived then. The looks on the faces in those black-and-white photos are ones of pure joy and seem to have more clarity than the expressions I saw on a big plasma HD color screen Sunday night.
The next day, May 2, 1945, negotiations for the formal surrender of Germany began. Brooklyn lost to the Boston Braves at Ebbets Field, 3-1, in front of 3,602 fans. Over at Yankee Stadium, 4,498 fans watched New York left fielder Hersh Martin go 3-for-5 as the Yankees beat the Philadelphia A's 6-4. Fans that day went to ballparks that suddenly existed in a different world. Were they as happy that day as those in Philadelphia seemed to be Sunday night, and how will fans at major league ballparks today feel about our world?
There will be no surrender negotiation today, no definitive end to the war on terror. The cheers will be directed back toward the action on the field, and a declaration of military victory will be left up to each of us to measure.
Follow Steve on Twitter: @SBerthiaumeESPN.