[Ed. – Guy’s got my vote.]
My generation was also born before play was organized, which was no small break. By organized I mean broken into leagues, conferences, and divisions, with adult coaches and parents sitting or standing around watching. This year, Little League baseball will celebrate its 75th anniversary, but I’m pleased to report that it hadn’t arrived in our neighborhood when I was a kid. Nor did parents come to watch us play. Fathers were at work; mothers, though not so many of them worked at 40-hour-a-week jobs as do now, nonetheless had better things to do with their time than watch their children at play. To use a term that, in another context got Daniel Patrick Moynihan in trouble, we grew up under the reign of Benign Neglect, and it was swell.
Insofar as the sports of my boyhood were organized, we organized them ourselves. After school and during the summer, we met on the school playground. We chose up sides for softball or hardball games. If we hadn’t a full contingent of 18 players, we played something called Pitcher’s Hands Out, which meant that we eliminated the right side of the infield and the right fielder. We also played a game called lineball, with just two boys on each side, or if there were only two of us, we drew a rectangular box in chalk on the wall and with a tennis ball played something called fast-pitch.
Things sorted themselves out so that each of us gravitated to his natural positions. (I played shortstop with a first-baseman’s glove on our schoolyard’s gravel field.) We had no umpires, but managed to settle arguments on our own. The same seat-of-the-pants organization applied in the autumn with football. Basketball was played at nearby Green Brier Park. Games were arranged with kids from other schools, public and Catholic, through boys — never through grown-ups. A kid on our football team even went to our local alderman, a man named Alban Weber, who sprang for football jerseys. Somehow it all worked out smoothly.
We didn’t need adults. Moreover, we didn’t want them. Having parents watch would only have brought a new and not very useful pressure. Bad enough to make an error in a game among one’s friends; to have one’s mother and father witness it could only make it worse. Even more embarrassing would have been to have had one’s father get into an argument with an umpire or yell at kids on the other team.