My Turn: A girl of summer leaves us

Published: 5/4/2021 6:53:54 AM

By Bill Newman

Last Saturday was glorious — sunny, with dogwoods and cherry trees in blossom. Our small group, gathered together at a graveside to say goodbye to Barbara “Bobbie” Newman Kravitz, who had passed at 89, was grateful for the warmth.

Bobbie’s younger son, Neal, shared this story: As his father was approaching his death 16 years ago, he asked Neal to call his mother every day. And for 16 years, with only the rarest of exceptions, Neal did that. “It was,” he said, “just talking, . . . two people totally comfortable in the knowledge that they could say whatever was on their minds, without fear of judgment or anything else.”

I came to know Bobbie and her husband, Art, when I was in law school in Boston and lived near them some 48 years ago. Two summers ago I wrote a column about her and one of the loves of her life — baseball. I never suspected then that she would be gone by now.

In memory of Bobbie, here is that column shortened a bit for space considerations.

‘A Girl of Summer Still’

Bobbie soon will turn 88. Bobbie is my late father’s father’s brother’s daughter, which is to say, my first cousin once removed. Trust me on this. She is slight, with curly white hair and blue eyes. She’s bright. And funny. And has opinions. And is a rabid Boston Red Sox fan, who knows all the players and their stats.

Before that, she was a rabid Brooklyn Dodgers fan. As was her father, my Great Uncle Douglass. On Sundays Bobbie, Douglass and her mom, Stella, would visit Douglass’ mother, my Great Grandma Lena, in Far Rockaway, Long Island. On the drive there from Brooklyn, they’d listen to Red Barber’s radio broadcast of the first game of the Dodgers’ doubleheader, and on the way home, the second.

In September 1948, Bobbie began her freshman (as female students were called then) year at Radcliffe where she met Arthur Kravitz, a junior, at a mixer. They married three years later. (This is probably the place to mention a fact I learned from George Wills’ “Men At Work: The Craft of Baseball” — that the Brooklyn Dodgers, named for dodging trolley cars in the borough, were once called the Brooklyn Bridegrooms.)

Bobbie and Art had a wonderful, 54-year marriage. He died in 2005. I miss him.

Fifty years earlier, in 1955, two important and related events occurred in Bobbie and Art’s life. First, the Dodgers finally beat the Yankees to win the World Series. Second, they had their first son, who they named Carl — after the Dodgers’ right fielder, Carl Furillo.

Why Carl? Because they didn’t want to name the kid Duke after Duke Snider or Campy after Roy Campanella or Pee Wee, after Pee Wee Reese. “Anyway, I just liked Furillo,” Bobbie says. So Carl it was.

Furillo was a star — a super star in today’s lingo — with a terrific career that spanned 15 years. A stalwart hitter, he had a lifetime batting average of .299, a point higher than Mickey Mantle’s. He also was a fabulous outfielder. One of his nicknames was “The Reading Rifle” — “Reading” for his minor league team and “Rifle” for his amazing arm.

Sadly, the Furillo-in-baseball story ends badly. After his playing days ended in 1960, the owners ostracized him for the sin of successfully suing the Dodgers, who had refused to pay him his last season’s salary after he tore a calf muscle and could no longer take the field. Furillo later earned a living installing elevator doors in New York City. Baseball forgot about him. He died in 1989 in his hometown of Stony Creek Mills, Pennsylvania at age 66.

Back to Bobbie. She has lived in and around Boston since college and after the Dodgers in 1958 deserted Brooklyn’s gloriously drab Ebbets Field for the glitter of Los Angeles, she needed a new baseball love. The Red Sox were the perfect fit. In “Wait Till Next Year,” Doris Kearns Goodwin, another former Brooklynite who grew up loving the Dodgers and later fell for the Sox, explained, “I could [not] have found a team more reminiscent of the . . . Dodgers than my new team, the Boston Red Sox (who were) exciters of hope and destroyers of dreams . . . . Now, once again every season would begin with large expectations and end with large disappointments. . . .”

Consider 1951-1954. In those four years the Dodgers twice lost the pennant in the last inning of the last game of the season and twice lost the World Series to the Yankees.

In “The Boys of Summer,” published in 1972, Roger Kahn captured the Dodgers’ existential allure: “You may glory in a team triumphant, but you fall in love with a team in defeat . . . The team was awesomely good and yet defeated. Their skills lifted everyman’s spirit, and their defeat joined them with everyman’s existence. ...”

Another life lesson: We all know that you never forget your first love. And last month Bobbie confided to me something I had never even suspected. She still has feelings.

For the Dodgers.

And so, when Boston faced Los Angeles in last year’s World Series, she felt conflicted.

I expressed shock. “Bobbie,” I said, “You were two-timing your baseball team?”

“I’ve always been partial to the National League,” she replied, without a whiff of guilt, remorse or regret. “I’ve never liked the D.H. And the National League is a better game.”

“But,” I responded, “rooting for the Red Sox while secretly harboring love for the Dodgers — in the World Series — that’s serious infidelity.” I love goofing around with Bobbie.

She peered over her glasses and gave me a how-did-you-ever-pass-the-law-boards kind of look. “Bill,” she said, in a tone that conveyed the confidence, indeed the assurance, of years. “It’s only baseball.”

Bill Newman lives in Northampton. 


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