Take Me Out to the Ball Game, My early Memories of Baseball
Richard J. Garfunkel
September 21, 2006
Baseball is a remarkable game. It’s a wonderful activity that comes up from one’s youth. Not only do most fathers dream that their sons (daughters, also) will become a centerfielder for the Yanks (those from out –of-town, please substitute their team!), but they make sure that as soon as that youngster can sit up straight a baseball shirt, ball, and glove are placed in his hands. There is uniqueness to baseball that separates it from almost all games. First of all there is no clock. Therefore no team can sit on a lead. Baseball is not a scrimmage game like football, basketball, hockey, soccer or rugby. It is the only game where the most important player, the pitcher cannot score, and where the defense puts the ball in play. Unlike any other sport, every position on defense has it own characteristics. Each individual must bat and every at bat is different. One could analyze every one of Henry Aaron’s 12,364 at bats, the Major League record, and not one of them is the same. Aaron obviously has batted multiple times against individual pitchers, but probably no one situation was exactly the same. There are so many variables that include the weather conditions, the score of the game, the inning, the location of the game, the men on bases and how the pitcher feels. Baseball is a game that combines leisure, patience, tension, excitement and beauty. It is a game of inches and a game of perfection. It is a player’s game, and no one is so much alone as the batter, when he faces a tough pitcher in an important and desperate situation.
It was 55 years since I made my inaugural visit to the old Yankee Stadium, whose rebuilt version is obviously still located off the Grand Concourse at 161st Street and River Avenue. I certainly don’t remember much about that game with the Red Sox, but I do remember being very impressed with Johnny “Big Jawn” Mize, the Hall of Famer, who loomed bigger than life at first base. Mize originally made his name, in the late 1930’s, with the latter edition of the Gas House Gang, Cardinals from Saint Louis. Mize eventually wound up with the Giants whose home, the Polo Grounds, was located across the Harlem River in Manhattan. My father who liked the Giants took me a few times to the Polo Grounds, an antiquated and rusting hulk of a stadium, which originally was built in Coogan’s Hollow, the last vestige of a farm granted by the King of England, in the 17th Century, to John Lion Gardiner. The property became the Coogan estate when a Gardiner descendent married James J. Coogan, who was elected the first Borough President of Manhattan in 1890. Twenty years after the original stadium was built in 1911 a fire swept through the 16,000-seat stadium and destroyed it. Eventually a concrete oval stadium was built and by the time it was enclosed in 1923, it held 55,000 fans.
Mize was a pull hitter, and was built for the Polo Grounds, and its strange horseshoe shape that had very short foul lines, which were only 279 feet in left and 257 feet in right. Mel Ott, the one-time home run king of the National League, was also a left-handed dead pull hitter and when he retired in 1947, after 22 seasons, he owned National Leaguer record with 511. Mize, whose salad years seemed behind him when he was traded to the Giants in 1942, wound up in the service for three years and when he came back to the Giants in 1946 his bat seemed to like that “short porch” in right field. By the next year, he hit 51 homeruns. This remained the National League record for left handed hitters for many, many years. Of course, times were a changing, and Leo “The Lip” Durocher, the new Giant manager, switched boroughs and teams, and wound up in the Polo Grounds after a decade in Brooklyn. Leo wanted to make his mark on the lumbering Giants and one of his earliest moves was to bench big John Mize. Mize was not to happy riding the bench, and gathering splinters, so as to shut him up; Durocher shipped him over to the Bronx.
In the hallowed grounds of the “House that Ruth Built,” Mize blossomed as one of the premier pinch-hitters of all-time. In reality he hit only .284 as a pinch-hitter in those five years, but his 53 hits and numerous homeruns were usually in the clutch. He wound up with 25 home runs in 1950, an amazing pace of one home run per every eleven at bats. Mize was one of the few Yankees to play on their five straight World Series championships teams from 1949 through 1953. No wonder I liked him from my earliest days as a fan!
The Yankees were originally known as the Highlanders, who owed their name to the location of their ballpark and the fact that their owner Joseph W. Gordon’s name reminded some folks of the famed British Army unit (Gordon’s Highlanders.) In 1913 the current owners (Farrell and Devery) of the Highlanders, who were quite often were referred to in the press as the Yankees, were unhappy with their antiquated park, and therefore accepted an invitation to play in the Polo Grounds. But moving to the Polo grounds did not bring the Yankees or their owners financial or artistic success
Therefore, the modern Yankees are really traced to the partnership of (NY National Guard honorary) Colonel Jacob Ruppert, (aka The Prince of Beer) who owned the Ruppert Breweries. He was a former four-term Congressman (1899-1906 from NY’s Silk Stocking District!) and reputedly worth between $50 and $75 million, who teamed up with one (retired Army Corp of Engineers) Colonel Tillinghast l’Hommedieu “Til” Huston, to buy the team. Huston, a construction millionaire and Ruppert bought the Yankees in 1915 for the astronomical sum of $460,000 from Big Bill Devery and Frank Farrell, who had paid just $18,000 for the Baltimore franchise in 1903 before moving it to New York, (The Yankees had a previous 12 year losing record of 861-937, and an average attendance of 345,000 fans per season.) Of course, it was the innovative Ruppert, who supposedly designed the team’s brand new pinstriped uniform in the 1920’s. He thought pinstripes would make the Babe, who had a tendency to expand his belt-size, look slimmer. Ruppert liked to win and told his new business manager “I want to win.” He also said, “Every day I want to win ten to nothing. Close games make me nervous.” I always heard that Ruppert, the proto-typical Yankee fan also said, “I like to see the Yanks score nine runs in the first inning and pull away gently!”
The Yankees stayed there as tenants of the Giants until 1922, when John McGraw asked the Colonels Jacob Ruppert and Til Huston to take their team and leave. It is a mystery why he did that. The Yankees were big draws and outdrew the Giants in 1920 (in this year the Yankees set a major league record, drawing 1,289,422 into the Polo Grounds, 350,000 more than the Giants), 1921, and 1922 and most would have thought that the added revenue would have been hard to resist. Maybe the Giants felt that they were being overshadowed by the presence of the Yankees new star Babe Ruth. John McGraw, an exponent of “inside” baseball or “little ball” as they term it today, hated Babe Ruth and his home runs. He said in 1921, “The Yankees will have to build a park in Queens or some other out-of-the-way place. Let them go away, and wither on the vine.”
They moved directly across the Harlem River and built “The House that Ruth Built.” The 58,000-seat concrete and steel edifice, opened up on April 18, 1923, at the cost of $2.5 million. It was built in 258 working days and featured the first triple-deck grandstand. The Opening attendance, with Governor Alfred E. Smith throwing out the first ball, was reputed to be over 74,000, but later on it was revised down to about 60,000. John Philip Sousa and the Seventh Regiment Band led the procession of Yankee and Red Sox players to the centerfield flagpole for the raising of the 1922 pennant. There were a few changes since 1923. The right field triple deck grandstands were extended around the foul pole to the bleachers in the late 1930’s, and some of the outfield distances were re-adjusted before the great re-building in 1974-5. Originally center field in the old ballpark was 490 feet. It was later reduced to 461 feet and to its present day 408 feet. Deepest right center was an astronomical 550 feet, but quickly reduced to 457 feet and to its present day 420 feet. The right field foul line remained at 296 feet until the renovation where it was lengthened to 314 feet and the fence was raised from 4 feet to 8 feet. Left field was originally 280.5 feet but was quickly adjusted to 301, and it is presently 318 feet with and 8-foot wall.
The Yanks still remain on property purchased from William Waldorf Astor for $600,000 and the Giants, who eventually went broke, left in 1957, and currently play in San Francisco. Many years later, in 1974-5, when Yankee Stadium was being re-constructed, they moved over to Queens and became guests of the City of New York, in Shea Stadium, for two unhappy seasons.
But growing up in New York in the late 1940’s and 1950’s was a great era to be a young boy and a Yankee fan. It seemed every year the Yankees were winning the pennant and fighting for the World Championship. The old stadium was quite caverness, and even though it was smaller than in the Babe’s day, center field was still 461 distant feet away. It was so deep that the three massive monuments, erected for Miller Huggins, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, could sit majestically in center field without anyone ever worrying about them being in play. It did happen, once in a while, and even the flaky Red Sox center fielder, Jimmy Piersal, wound up hiding behind the monuments in the waning innings of a dull Yankee-Red Sox game. It even was said that one or two baseballs were caught behind the monuments.
In those early 1950’s seasons my favorite ballplayers were Gene Woodling, Hank Bauer, Irv Noren, Vic Raschi, Allie Reynolds and Yogi Berra. In the days before Mickey Mantle’s ascendancy, the Yankees depended on balance, excellent defense, great pitching and timely hitting. They were not the Bronx Bombers of the 1930’s or the Murderer’s Row of the 1920’s. The days of DiMaggio, Henrich, Keller, Gordon, Dickey, Rolfe and Gomez had passed with the end of the war. These new Yankees were steady, corporate, and clutch. They did not have much speed, except with their great shortstop Phil Rizzuto, and they didn’t steal many bases. But in those early years from 1951 until 1955 they did hit their share of triples and were always in the top three in the American League. They actually were second in stolen bases both in 1951 (78) and in 1955 (55). But generally speaking the stolen base era would still be a few years away when the Go-Go Chicago White Sox would run their way to a pennant in 1959. They stole 113 bases that year and were led by Luis Aparicio’s 56! His effort would pave the way for a new era in base thievery that would feature running stars like; Maury Wills, Lou Brock, and Bert Campaneris.
Rizzuto and Gerry Coleman, who was a decorated veteran from both World War II and Korea, anchored their defense. Coleman a handsome Californian, like Ted Williams, was a fighter pilot during World War II and like the “splendid Splinter “ from Beantown, was recalled to active duty during the Korean Conflict. The diminutive Rizutto, known as the “Scooter” was from Brooklyn, and originally tried out for the Dodgers in the late 1930’s. The manager of the “Bums” in those days was the “Old Professor”, Casey Stengel. The Dodgers, who were known variously as the Trolley Dodgers and the Bridegrooms, were once nicknamed the Superbas after a very popular local vaudeville troupe named Hanlon’s Superbas. That name caught on quickly and even in the 1950’s some old-timers still referred to the team as the Superbas. “Little Phil” did not impress Casey, and it was said that he told him “to get lost and pick up your shoe shine box.” More than ten years later, when Rizzuto was an established star, Stengel, who himself played 12 mediocre to average years in the big leagues, and who had managed second division teams in Boston and Brooklyn, became the manager of the Yankees. The Scooter was not one of his greatest fans. When he was unceremoniously dumped in 1956, he was gracious about his sudden departure. Within a short period of time he was invited to join the illustrious broadcasting duo of Mel Allen (nee Israel) and Walter “Red” Barber. He was nurtured along slowly, became a fixture with the Yankee fans, and long after the departure of those two broadcasting legends, in the mid and late 1960’s, he remained a beloved figure.
In the 1960’s Phil had a serious lawn mower accident, and had cut up the toes on one of his feet. It was well publicized at the time, and he eventually was able to hobble into the stadium to do his broadcasts. After he returned to the booth that is located on the mezzanine, I left my seat and went up to entrance of the broadcast booth and asked to speak to him. He came out, I wished him well, and welcomed him back to his familiar perch. He responded with graciousness that I have never forgotten. Later on in the late 1990’s Linda saw him walking down Fifth Avenue and said, “Hello Scooter.” He looked up and with a big smile stopped and responded. As usual he was always the gentleman, and genuinely enjoyed being recognized. His signed autograph is framed along with some old Rizzuto cards from the 1950’s.
Always, when he was asked, Rizzuto would invariably make sure to mention that he thought his first manger, Joe “Marse Joe” McCarthy was a much better manager then Old Casey. (Joe McCarthy, was an extremely successful manager, who was born in Philadelphia in 1887 and died in 1978 at the age 91. He managed in the big leagues from 1926 to 1950, except the 1947 season. He started with the Cubs and finished with the Red Sox. But his great success was with the Yankees between 1931 and 1946. He never had a losing season in any of his 24 years as a manager. He won a pennant with the Cubs, and eight with the Yanks. He led the Sox to a first place tie in 1948, but lost a one-game play-off to the Indians.)
Joe McCarthy’s Ten Commandments *
For Success in the Major Leagues:
- Nobody can become a success walking after a ball
- You will never become a .300 hitter unless you take your bat off the shoulder
- An outfielder who throws after a runner is locking the barn door after the horse is stolen.
- Keep your head up, and you may not have to keep it down.
- When you start to slide, slide. He who changes his mind may have to change a good leg for a bad one.
- Do not alibi on bad hops. Anybody can field the good ones
- Always run them out. You never can tell.
- Do not quit.
- Do not fight too much with the umpires. You cannot expect them to be as perfect as you.
- A pitcher, who hasn’t control, hasn’t anything.
* From A Yankee Century by Harvey Frommer, Berkley Books, 2002
The Yankees of the 1950’s were incredibly successful, and they had role players like Billy Martin, Harry “Suitcase” Simpson, Enos Slaughter, Hector Lopez, Bob Cerv, Eddie Robinson, Joe Collins, and others, who filled in when needed. People like, Tommy Byrne, Bob Grim, Bob Kusava, Jim Konstanty, Bobby Schantz, Johnny Sain, and Tom Morgan supported their strong starting pitching. The Yankees always had a strong tradition of relief pitching. Before relief pitchers were fashionable, Wilcy Moore won 19 games for the great 1927 Yankees and many of those games were won in relief. Later they developed Johnny “Fireman” Murphy, who was one of the early relief specialists in the mid 1930’s and early 1940’s. He would lead the team in saves in ten of his twelve seasons. Later Murphy would serve as the early general manager of the Mets. He wound up being the architect of their first World Series winner in 1969. Unfortunately, for him and the Mets, he died suddenly of a heart attack in 1970 at age 61! In the late 1940’s and through 1950, Joe Page saved many a game for that generation of Yankees. But as a youngster I first became aware of relief pitchers with Bob Kusava, who was a mainstay in their bullpen until 1954. But the real “intimidator” was one Ryne Duren, who came in from the bullpen for a few seasons in the late 1950’s. Duren wore the “proverbial” “coke-bottle” eye glasses and threw a very hard high fastball. When Duren came into the game, his warm-up habit consisted of squinting at the catcher, usually Yogi Berra, and then throwing the first pitch over everyone’s head. This usually served as a warning to the next batter about “crowding” the plate. Duren burned out quickly and would give way to diminutive Bobby Schantz, who became the star of the bullpen until the Luis “El Senor” Arroyo came through in 1961. Screw-balling Arroyo was sensational, but unfortunately he was quickly burned out and never came close to his 15-5 and 29-save season. The Mantle-Maris homerun race highlighted the 1961 season, but Whitey Ford’s 25-4 pitching, with Arroyo closing almost all of his victories was just as important.
My early memories of the stadium in those days were of the hard-throwing, crazy left-hander Tommy Byrne, whose wildness enervated most fans, Enos Slaughter’s combativeness in the field, and Billy Martin’s exciting play. Yogi Berra, a notorious bad ball hitter, would pull home runs to right field off pitches almost in the dirt, Mickey Mantle would bring fans out of their seats with his incredible power on one hand, and his mighty strike outs on the other. Leftfield was a long way from home plate at the old Stadium. The power alleys were well over 400 feet, and few left handed hitters ever were able to reach the bleachers to the right of the visitor’s bullpen. I was always impressed by how strong right handed hitters like Bill “Moose’ Skowron, Bob Cerv and Elston Howard would drive the ball to right field and take advantage of the Yankees shorter right field. Currently, Derek Jeter has become the current master of that art. I was at the stadium in the late 1950’s when Ellie Howard hit two massive blows into “death valley,” as it was called and was caught at the plate twice trying to stretch triples into inside the park homeruns. With that deep outfield, the inside the park homer wasn’t terribly uncommon. In those early days I was impressed with the arm on third baseman Andy Carey, who threw straight overhand to first and Hank Bauer who had a rifle arm in right field. Bauer often led the team in assists, and Carey, who had taken over third from Gil McDougal, when he moved to second base, had some good years but wasn’t as good as Clete Boyer or Greg Nettles. Clete had better statistics and a much better arm than the great Brooks Robinson for a four-year period but was constantly overlooked for the Golden Glove award. Maybe it was Brooks’ bat or the fact that Clete was an abrasive sort, who imbibed too much!
Meanwhile I would go to the Polo Grounds on a few occasions. Unlike Yankee Stadium, where one could feel the warm golden rays of the sun almost everywhere during a game, the Polo Grounds was a dark, shadowy, hulking, and rusting edifice whose time had passed. It was a shadow-enveloped ballpark that was known for its poor sight lines and obscured views by its roof support columns. Even though Polo was never played in that massive rectangular yard, it got its name in a logical way. When the National League franchise that was located in Troy, NY (the home of my grandmother Leah Alexander, who was born in 1888) moved to the city in 1883, the owner John B. Day contracted to play games on the polo field of the owner of the New York Herald, one James Gordon Bennett. His property was located at the corner of 110th Street and 5th Avenue in Manhattan. The team now called the Giants, because the manager once said, “My big boys, my giants,” had to move to 8th Avenue and 155th Street when their earlier location, just north of Central Park had to be cut through for a new street. Eventually when John T. Brush, who then owned the Giants, moved into the defunct Player’s League stadium, he wanted to call it Brush Stadium. There were many ballparks named after their owners; Shibe Park, Navin Field, Crosley Field, Briggs Stadium, Ebbets Field, Griffith Stadium, Wrigley Field, Comiskey Park among others. But the public insisted it be renamed the Polo Grounds. It was strange elongated horseshoe with a clubhouse in distant center field some 483 feet away from home plate. It was a double-decked park that had a roof that partially covered the second deck all the way around left and right fields. Because the shape was narrow the foul lines were quite short. In left field there was even an overhang from the second deck that came five feet closer to the plate than the cozy 279-foot wall. Many a lazy ball dropped into that overhang before it could be caught by a frustrated leftfielder. It was a strange outfield with a 16 foot 10 inch wall in left field and in the even cozier right field, the wall was 10 feet 8 inches high. In the late 1940’s the Polo Grounds became a homerun hitter’s paradise. In 1947 the team hit homers in 16 straight games, broke the Yankees 1936 major league homerun record of 182 and finished with 221 homers. That total was equaled in 1956 by the Cincinnati Reds and only beaten by the 1961 Yankees, with 240 homers, that featured the Mantle and Maris chase to break Babe Ruth's magic mark of 60.
Not only did Mize hit 51, which tied him for the league lead with Ralph Kiner, but also three other Giants finished 3rd, 4th and 5th in the homerun-hitting derby. In the lexicon of that day, someone named those short pop-ups as “Chinese” home runs for some reason. The power alleys did dramatically increase as the horseshoe shape extended to the centerfield bleachers that surrounded the old clubhouse. By far the most famous homerun hit in its history was the one by the Giants’ right fielder Bobby Thomson on October 3rd 1951. Thomson, in front of a mediocre crowd of 34,320 fans, who braved overcast weather, came to bat in the bottom of the 9th inningat 3:57 pm, in the 3rd and last playoff game against the Dodgers, hit the home run called “The Shot Heard Round the World.” He hit it off former Mount Vernon resident Ralph Branca. The unfortunate Branca, who had starred at AB Davis High School in the early 1940’s, had joined the Dodgers at age 18 in 1944. That home run, which won the game in the 9th after the Giants were trailing 4-2, has been called baseball’s most memorable event. The Giants had been trailing the Dodgers by 13.5 games in August and a remarkable run started on August 12th culminating with a finishing record of 37-7, which tied the Dodgers for the league lead. Of course, years later, it was revealed that the Giants were using a “secret” weapon in that stretch.
The Giants Clubhouse was in an elevated structure situated between two large sections of bleachers on both sides of the building in deep center field. It was so deep that in its long history only three players hit homeruns there; Lou Brock, Joe Adcock and Henry Aaron. One could reach the clubhouse by two twin 15 step staircases flanking both sides. Joe DiMaggio happened to make the final catch of the 1936 World Series in deep center field and seamlessly glided up the stairs to the clubhouse without breaking stride. In the stretch of the last two months of the 1951 season, the Giants had placed one of their coaches in the window of that faraway clubhouse with a high-powered pair of binoculars, and he would read and steal the signs that the catcher was giving the opposing pitchers. Through a signaling system, the Giant bench and Manager Durocher would be informed, and he would relay what type of pitch was coming to their batter.
The other most memorable events in the 1950’s were the homeruns by Dusty Rhodes in the 1954 World Series that helped craft the remarkable 4-0 sweep of the record-winning Cleveland Indians. The heavily favored Tribe had won 111 games in 1954 that broke the 1927 Yankee victory total of 110 and had snapped the Yankees five World Series victories in a row that had started in 1949. They were a team loaded with stars. The had the batting champ playing second, Bobby Avila, the league’s homerun champ in Larry Doby, the MVP on 3rd base with Al Rosen a great defense with George Strickland at short and Jim Hegan behind the plate. Besides all of that talent, which led the league in homeruns, their pitching was legendary. They possessed Hall of Famers, Early Wynn, Bob Lemon, who won 23 games a piece and Bob Feller. Along with that famous trio they had 19 game winner Mike “The Bear” Garcia, Art Houtteman and a remarkable bullpen. But of course, the Giants had the great, unparalleled Willie Mays, at the peak of his game, Don “Mandrake the Magician” Mueller, who had a marvelous season, Monte Irvin, excellent defense with Alvin Dark at shortstop and Wes Westrum behind the plate. Their pitching wasn’t as good as Cleveland, but their trio of Johnny Antonelli, Ruben Gomez and Sal “The Barber’ Maglie had excellent seasons. The legendary knuckle ball artist and future Hall of Famer, Hoyt Wilhelm, anchored their bullpen. That series featured the most famous catch in World Series or even baseball history. In game one, with men on the bases, Willie Mays made his remarkable over the shoulder catch of Vic Wertz’s 460+ foot blast to deep right center. Only Willie could have made that catch and the equally unbelievable throw that followed. This incredible catch and throw so stunned everyone, that it is quite possible that it broke Cleveland’s resolve then and there. By the way Don Mueller, who I would say was my favorite Giant, had two sensational years in 1953 and 1954, hitting .333 and .342. He had very little power in those years but his mastery with the bat in 1954 was a joy to behold. Only years later when Don Mattingly was in his “hay day” did I see an equal to Mueller’s bat control.
Meanwhile, my father was an unreconstructed Giant fan. His early days featured the likes of the great and legendary Christy “Big Six” Mathewson, Iron Man Joe McGinnity, Emil “Irish” Meusel, brother of the Yankee’s strong-armed outfielder Bob Muesel, Frank “The Fordham Flash” Frisch, Mel Ott, Memphis Bill Terry, the last National Leaguer to hit .400 (401 in 1930), and the great “King” Carl Hubbell and his “un-hittable” screwball.
By the time I got to the Polo Grounds, the Giants were between pennants (1953) and the old greenish steel and concrete hulk probably was no different than it had been decades before. One of the great ongoing problems was that one had to park usually at Yankee Stadium and than walk over the 155th Viaduct to the Manhattan side. There was practically no parking near the Polo Grounds. Another problem was walking down the huge number of slippery metal steps that led down from the elevated road to ground level. As I recall I didn’t want to go to see the Giants, but the Yanks were out of town and the Phillies were in New York for a double-header on August 15th. The Phillies two pitchers, the ace right-hander Robin Roberts (23-16) and the journeyman right-hander Steve Ridzik (9-6) in 1953, were slated to face Jim Hearn (9-12) and rookie Ruben Gomez (13-1l). The Giants wound up beating them 8-1 and 4-3. Ironically, because of rainouts, the Giants played the Phillies three double-header in a row during the period from August 15th through the 17th.
Of course I began to go to Yankee games in that same period, and I was able to go to both the Old – Timer’s games of 1955 and 1956. Again, I cannot remember anything about the games, except that in those days all the former stars of the whole 20th Century of baseball who were still alive usually showed up. First of all both Connie Mack and Denton True “Cy” Young were there. Connie Mack was born in 1862 and would be 144 years old today and Young would be 139. Besides Mack and Young, stars like Hornsby, Speaker, Cobb, and most of the Hall of Famers who could walk, showed up. Of course in those days and for many years later, the Yankees from the 1930’s and 1940’s would show up in uniform and get into a two-inning game. It was only a few years after the great and legendary Joe DiMaggio retired and he still got back into uniform and was in great shape. The sell-out crowd of over 60,000 heartily, and enthusiastically welcomed him as they would for decades after.
My next memory was of going to a Ladies Day game in Yankee Stadium on Sunday May 7, 1960, against the Kansas City Athletics. The new look Yankees with their powerful new right fielder Roger Maris beat the hapless A’s 4-1 behind right-hander Ralph Terry, (10-8), who bested Bud Daley, (16-16). Daley, who had a withered arm, was later traded to the Yankees the next year and had an excellent year. Maris became an instantaneous star with his powerful hitting, great base-running, and terrific arm in right field. The fans were not originally happy that their long-time favorite, and the former Marine hero, Hank Bauer was traded away. But the Yanks bounced back to win the pennant again in 1960 after coming in third the previous year, (their worse finish since 1948), and Roger Maris blasted 39 home runs, knocked in 112, batted .283 and won the American League’s MVP award. Hank Bauer, who had been a great war-hero during WWII, had been one of the few Yankees to play on all of the World Series Championship teams between 1949 and 1953. He was the hero of the 1958 World Series win over the Braves. But after being traded, he hit only .275 with only 3 homers and 31 runs batted in. After the 1961 season he was out of baseball. By the way the box seats cost $3.50, reserved went for $2.50, the grandstand $1.50 and the bleachers were 75 cents! Parking cost $1.00 and their program went for 15 cents. They served Ballantine beer and the hot dogs went for 25 cents. I was always incredibly impressed with Maris as a total ballplayer. He could run the bases, had a sensational arm and could play the outfield. I remember when he made a great catch in right and fell into the lower stands backwards, but held on to the ball. He was a pro’s pro, but unfortunately he was not used to the New York press corps. He was really mishandled by the Yankee public relations department which could have made life much more simple for him.
That summer of 1960 my maternal grandfather John Kivo decided to take me on a trip up to Boston, Cape Cod and then Montreal. My grandfather was 76 and I was all of 15. We rented a car and he drove all the way to Boston, where we saw the Red Sox play the Detroit Tigers on June 30th. My grandfather was an intrepid soul, who as a businessman had been traveling all over the world for decades. Even at age 76, a driving trip to Boston and the Cape, was not a challenge to him. He also wanted to visit the “Hub” and to see some of his old business associates for probably the last time. When we walked into Fenway Park, we were astounded on how different it looked from Yankee Stadium. It was really a remarkable place, and the famous “Green Monster,” in left field, loomed larger than life. It looked as if any batter could tattoo that wall with impunity. In 1960 the Red Sox, denizens of that famous baseball town, were in a slump. They had been in decline for years and had not won a pennant since 1946, though they had tied Cleveland for first place in 1948, they subsequently lost a one game playoff. The Sox were slow to sign black ballplayers and were old and slow. (Their first was one Pumpsie Green who came on board in 1959 and was on the bench that June day.) Their line-up was always stacked with powerful right-handed hitters, so they rarely faced lefthanders in Fenway with that short 309 foot 37 foot high wall. This reality was a benefit for their aging star Ted Williams, who was in his last year. The powerful Williams, a left-handed hitter, had to face few lefties and therefore mostly righties his long career in Fenway Park. Supporting Williams that day were Pete Runnels, Vic Wertz, Frank Malzone, a great 3rd baseman and a number of journeymen. The Red Sox were already 20 games under .500 at 43 and 63 and they were facing the emerging Detroit Tigers who were 32-34. The Tigers, with Charlie Maxwell, who killed the Yankees on Sundays, future Hall of Famer Al Kaline, and Norm Cash were a year away from challenging that emerging great Yankee team of 1961. Meanwhile the boxes seats at $2.50 were cheaper at Fenway than in the Bronx!
That day was terribly hot, and we sat in box seats in a special seating area with metal folding chairs and canvass covers to keep the seats from becoming unbearable because of the heat. We had gotten there quite early, and we were able to see batting practice and the infield work. Since our seats were right next to the field, every time a throw came into the coach who was hitting fungo (practice) balls to the outfielders, and got past the cutoff man, some of the balls rolled back to where I was sitting. By the time I had picked up 4 or 5 balls, the coach got wise. He was not happy, but no one came over and demanded them back. Boston, and Tom Brewer (10-15) won the game in a slugfest 11-7 over Detroit’s star Jim Bunning who was knocked out early. The game featured two home runs, I believe the 509th and 510th by the legendary Ted Williams. This would be his last season, and he would finish with a .316 batting average, and 29 home runs. His career total of 521 home runs placed him, at that time, number three on the all-time list behind the great Babe Ruth’s 714 and Jimmy Foxx’s total of 534. His career batting average of .344 placed him 6th on the all-time list.
Of course it is incredibly hard to believe that1960 was to be Charles Dillon “Casey” Stengel’s last season as the Yankee manager. (By the way he was born in Kansas City in 1890!) As a fifteen year old, I remembered no other Yankee manager. In New York, in those days, there was an unusual degree managerial stability. Leo Durucher had been the Giants manager from 1948 through 1955, and in Brooklyn Charlie Dressen had been manager from 1951 until 1953. He had been offered only a one-year contract after winning back-to-back pennants in 1952-3.He wasn’t happy and was fired. Walter “Smokey” Alston replaced him, was satisfied with one year contracts and remained for 23 straight seasons from Brooklyn to Los Angeles and until 1976. So Yankee fans were used to Casey, who was known as the “old Professor.” (The newspapers referred to him as “Perfessor.”) Now, it’s even harder to believe that Casey left the Yanks 47 years ago. Casey had been known as a ”clown” for decades. He had broken in with the Dodgers in 1912 and hung in the major leagues as a part-time player for 14 years. He was a hero in a couple of World Series with the New York Giants in the early 1920’s. Stengel managed the old Brooklyn Dodgers and the old Boston Braves (or Bees) from 1934-1943. His teams did not do well, and they perennially finished in the second division. In early April of 1943, just before the last season he would manage the Braves, he was crossing Kenmore Square in Boston, (where I lived for two years from September 1963 until June 1965) through the rain and fog and was hit by a car and sent to the hospital. His leg was broken badly. But some in the rough Boston press corps were not too kind to Stengel. One writer, named Dave Egan, who hated Ted Williams so much, that in 1941, when “The Kid” hit .406, refused to list him on his Most Valuable Player ballot, causing him to lose the award to Joe DiMaggio by a few votes, also disliked Stengel. He wrote about the driver, who ran Stengel down, “No one did more for Boston baseball in 1943 than the motorist who ran down Stengel two days before the opening game and kept him away from the Braves for two months.” By a quirk of fate he wound up in the maternity ward which caused many a droll remark from the press. Many of their letters to him were addressed to the psychopathic ward. Old Frankie Frisch, (The Fordham Flash) who was managing the Pittsburgh Pirates, often mocked Casey about the poor quality of his clubs, sent a wire to Stengel addressed in care of the psychiatric ward. He said, “Your attempt at suicide fully understood. Deepest sympathy you didn’t succeed.”
At the end of 1960 when the Yanks lost the incredible World Series to the upstart, over-powered Pirates, the Yankee management was anxious to dump Stengel. After he was dismissed, Stengel was quietly bitter. He said “I commenced winning pennants when I got here, but I didn’t commence getting any younger.” The Yanks had told him that they wanted a “youth” movement and Stengel countered with the remark that “Most guys are dead at my age anyway. You could look it up. I’ll never make the mistake of being seventy years old again.” Casey, with all his warts, was one of the greatest personalities in the history of baseball. Most of the younger players on the Yankees loved him. The veterans gave him mixed reviews. Casey was a platoon player in his final days with the Giants in the early 1920’s He had learned that style from the late great John McGraw. By 1949 there were not many players around who remembered “Old Mugsy” or “Little Napoleon,” who retired in the beginning of the 1932 season. McGraw had managed for 33 years and had been at the helm of 2,840 victories out of the 4,879 games he had managed. He had managed more games when he had retired than any other manager, and was dead two years later. Only old Connie Mack, who would manage for 53 years when he retired in 1950, would manage more. Stengel was always great theater in New York. He didn’t have to wait long to be called to baseball. When the New York Mets came into existence in 1962, he was selected as their field manager. He joined his old boss George Weiss, who had also been dismissed as the General Manager of the Yankees, and was hired as president of the Mets. The great Hall of Fame pitcher, Warren Spahn, who had started with Stengel and the Braves in 1942, finished up with the Casey and the Mets in 1965. After serving in the Army in World War II, he won his first game in 1946 at age 25. When Spahn, who had a great career and won more games than any other left-hander in history (363), joined the Mets, he was asked what he thought of Casey, He stated, “I knew Casey before and after he was a genius.” I love that line!
My next great memory was a special night in the Bronx. My grandfather was a member of the American Millinery Men’s Association, and their trade group bought a whole block of tickets for a game on Friday night, September 1, 1961. One of the highlights of the early part of the evening was the entrance of the then welterweight champion of the world Emile Griffith, who strode into our section of the mezzanine. Griffith worked in that industry. (One may recall the famous Griffith-Benny “the Kid” Paret fight of early April, 1962, where during the weigh-in, Paret impugned Griffith’s masculinity by calling him a “maricon.” Some say, as a result of that remark, Griffith gave an extra beating to Paret who was trapped on the ropes as referee Ruby Goldstein watched and watched. Paret suffered massive head injuries resulting in his death on April 3rd). But aside from that future situation, this was the year of the home run. Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris were making their famous two-player assault on one of the most sacred of the Bambino’s records, his 60 home runs in the legendary baseball year of 1927. By the time September 1st came along, the Detroit Tigers had turned into a powerful hitting machine with Norm Cash, Rocky Colavito, Al Kaline, Billy Bruton and their ace pitcher Frank Lary (23-7) who beat the Yankees almost every time they faced him. On that night they had the old veteran Don Mossi (15-7) facing the Yankee ace Whitey Ford (25-4). It was a warm night, the Yanks and Tigers were tied for first, and there was a sell-out crowd of 65,566. Whitey Ford hurt himself and Bud Daley relieved in the 5th inning. Late in the game, Yogi Berra, who was playing left field, because Elston Howard had become the regular catcher, made a remarkable play in left field and threw out Al Kaline, who was attempting to stretch a single into a double. Luis Arroyo relieved late in the game as the contest remained scoreless, until the bottom of the ninth when Bill ”Moose” Skowron hit a single through the left side that scored Elston Howard with the winning run in the 1-0 victory. It was the turning point of the season for the Yanks. The ballpark, which had been hushed into silence through most of the game exploded. Later the “Moose” credited 3rd base coach Frank Crosetti for tipping him off on Don Mossi’s pitches. The Yanks next swept the Senators four straight and the Indians five straight. They beat the White Sox and then finally lost a double-header to the Pale Hose after reeling off 13 straight victories. By the time they met the Tigers again, their lead had been expanded to 10 games, and they never looked back. By the end of the season Maris had hit 61 home runs, Mantle was in the hospital with an abscess on his hip and had finished with 54 round-trippers. The Yanks had won the pennant with 109 victories to the Tigers 101 and went on to crush the Reds in the World Series 4 game to 1.
I even wound up back at the old Polo Grounds in 1962. On June 1st of that first year of the reincarnation of National League ball in New York, the Giants were coming to town, and someone asked me to go to see the return of Willie Mays to his old ballpark. The Mets were horrible, but there was close to a sellout crowd at the old ballpark to see their old tenants.. The Giants were in first place with a record of 36-15, and the Mets were in last with a record of 12 and 31. They would eventually finish with the worst record in baseball history (120 losses) and the Giants would go on to win the pennant and lose a heart-breaking 7th game in the World Series to the Yanks, when Bobby Richardson caught big Willie “Stretch” McCovey’s savage line drive in the 9th inning. Roger Craig, who would lose 24 games that season, faced their fast-balling ace Billy Pierce (16-6), who had come over from the White Sox. The Giants won the game, 9-6 and Willie went hitless. The only excitement with Willie was when, in his bid for an infield hit, he barreled down the first base line and tripped over the bag, and somersaulted into right field.
There were many more memorable games in the next few years, but I do recall being at the Stadium in August of 1963 when Whitey Ford (24-7) lost to the Indians and Dick Donovan (11-13) by the close score of 2-1. The Yankees had little worries and at that time of the season they were 79 and 44 and were 8 games ahead of the 2nd place White Sox, who were 70-55. In the next series with the Yanks, these same Sox would lose 3 out of 4 games and slip 12 games off the pace.
By the fall of 1963, I was off to Boston University, and my dorm Myles Standish Hall was right off Kenmore Square in Back Bay. One could see the lights from Fenway Park, which was only a stone’s throw away. The Yankees had already been to Boston and had come and gone earlier in the season. Because the Red Sox were a 2nd division team, and Ted Williams was long gone, they were not drawing very well. Carl Yastrzemski had not reached star status as of yet, and their miracle season of 1967 was still a few years away. Therefore the doors of Fenway were opened to all who wished to walk in after the 7th inning. Fenway was an old ballpark in 1963, but in that era most of the ballparks in the Major Leagues were old and had been built before the Crash of 1929. Only the expansion franchises, or the teams that changed cities had newer venues.
Comiskey Park Chicago-1910
Wrigley Field, Chicago- 1916
Crosley Field, Cincinatti-1912
Briggs Stadium, Detroit- 1913
The Polo Grounds, NY- 1911
Yankee Stadium, NY –1923
Shibe Park, Philadelphia-1909
Forbes Field, Pittsburgh- 1909
Sportsman Park, Saint Louis-1902
Griffith Stadium, Washington 1901
Fenway, built in 1912, was old back in 1960 and even when we returned a number of times in the late 1990’s and after the turn of the recent century, it was still pretty antiquated. I still can vividly remember walking from the MTA stop at Kenmore Square, across the bridge over the Thruway, and up to Landsdown Street where we would turn left and walk to the bleacher entrances right along and past the back of the Green Monster.
Downstairs from the bleachers, where we always sat (we couldn’t get tickets anywhere else), there was a large partly underground room where the concessions stands and bathrooms were located. I can always remember the smoking, open charcoal grills where the hot dogs and sausages were being cooked, the French fries boiling in oil, and the beer and soda stands. Late in the games the concrete floors were coated with a thin film of beer slime that had sloshed from the thousands of cups of the bubbly carried up into the stands. It was a real American smell, stale beer, hot dogs, fried onions, boiling cooking oil and perspiration. The only change from the 60’s to today was the lack of cigarette and cigar smoke. Thankfully, in recent days, even the open-air ballparks became smoke free.
But baseball was still big in Boston and when the Yankees met the Dodgers in the 1963 World Series, the television room in the Myles Standish Hall dormitory basement was jammed for each game. The Yankee fans were really outnumbered there. Between the New Englanders that loved the Bosox and the New Yorkers, who were Giant, Dodger and even Met fans, the climate was downright hostile. The venal crowd was fully satiated as the pitching rich Dodgers with Drysdale, Koufax (25-5), Podres, Perranoski, and Sherry totally shut down the Yanks (104-57) as they swept them 4 straight. The Yanks who had won the World Series that past October in San Francisco, and would win another pennant in 1964 would go into their swan song in the 1965 season. It was the end of an era and it would be 15 long years before the Yanks won another World Series in 1977.
The next spring, my first in Boston, my Boston University buddy, Andy Mandell and I went to Opening Day. It was a gray cold day that went extra innings. We were not dressed for the weather, and the Sox eventually won 4-1, in I believe, the 15th inning.
Even though the Red Sox had still not recovered from the loss of Ted Williams in the mid 1960’s, when the Yankees came to Fenway the town was electric. Everyone from the cab drivers to the doormen to the newspaper hawkers and even the college professors were excited. In May of 1965 the Yanks came into town. They were certainly not the Yankees of old. Kubek, Richardson, Tresh, Mantle, and Boyer were still, there but their numbers were way down. Joe Pepitone had joined the club along with Ray Barker and Doc Edwards. On Wednesday night the 12th, Jim “Bulldog” Bouton (4-15) faced Big Bill Monbouquette, and the Sox walked away with a 2-0 victory. Mantle had a single as the Yanks went quietly with 6 hits. They were 10-14 when they came to Boston, and when they returned in early July they were 37-39. Another month and a half later in mid-August they were 60-60 and they stayed around .500 level baseball into mid September when they slipped to 5-6 games under and finished a mediocre 77-85. This was the first time they were under .500 in decades. The Red Sox were really horrible that year, finishing last and losing 100 games. But they did have some attractive ballplayers. Tony Conigliaro was an emerging star leading the league in homeruns. Later on, he was hit in the eye by a pitch, and his career was never the same. Frank Malzone had a great glove on 3rd, but he was gone by 1967. Rico Petrocelli had power at short and new acquisitions in George and Reggie Smith helped the Red Sox move up to first in 1967.
In 1966 the Yankees made their inaugural return to Fenway for a weekend series. On Friday night, the Yanks, behind Al Downing (10-11), erupted for a 15-5 walkover. Mantle went 0 for 5, but Maris, Tresh and Hector Lopez hit homeruns. The bottom four men, including pitcher Downing, accounted for 10 hits and 11 runs as Boston pitcher Earle Wilson (5-5 before he was traded to Detroit) and three others were rocked.
The Red Sox won the next game on Saturday 6-3, as Jose Santiago out-dueled Mel Stottlemyre. The rubber game was played on Sunday with the Yankees bouncing back with the fading Jim Bouton (3-8) again on the mound against Jim Lonberg (10-10). Roger Maris hit a homerun, and both Mantle and Jake Gibbs contributed two hits each. George Smith of the Bosox had three hits including a homer, and Yaz a double, but it wasn’t enough. The Yanks wound up 70-89 (three games were not made up,) and the Bosox were not much different at 72-90.
In 1967, my last year in Boston, the Yankees were still declining (72-90 and 9th place) as the Boston Red Sox reversed their last years record to 92-70 and won the pennant. On Sunday April 23rd, afterlosing the first two games of the series, Jim Bouton started but was rocked early and out of the game in the 2nd inning. The Yanks had a big inning in the 5th by scoring 5 runs off Jose Santiago and went on to win 7-5. The only players left from 1963 were Mantle and Tresh. Newcomers Howser, Whittaaker, Gibbs, Kennedy, Amario and Horace Clarke would not help this team. It was still exciting to be in a sold-out Fenway and see the Yanks win, no matter how bad they were.
The great Mickey Mantle! Every time I went to the stadium in the Mantle Era I expected lightning to strike. Mickey, who was originally called the “Commerce Comet” came to the Yankees just about when I was able to understand baseball. In the 1951 season, Mantle’s rookie year, every one expected him to be an instant success, or as the poet said, “A no can miss!” Unfortunately he didn’t exactly start that way. The Yankee fans were used to the “Great DiMag,” and any heir to his exalted throne would be scrutinized with a very harsh focused light. Also remember “Joltin’ Joe” had succeeded another great Yankee centerfielder, the Hall of Famer and Kentucky Colonel, Earle Combs. Combs hit .356 in 1927, and finished his great career with a .325 lifetime batting average, which was the exact average that DiMaggio finished up with in 1951! Therefore the “Mick” had big shoes to fill. Of course after he hit his famous homerun out of Griffith Stadium on April 17, 1953, much was expected. This massive drive that cleared 32 rows of bleachers off Washington pitcher Chuck Stobbs, left the ballpark sailing over the 391-foot sign, caromed off a 60-foot high beer sign on the last row of the bleachers, and finally came to rest in the backyard of 434 Oakdale Street. As Clark Griffith, the 83-year old owner of the Senators told the Washington Star, “Wind or no wind, nobody ever hit a ball that hard here before.” Maybe the wind helped a bit, but hitting the top of the beer sign didn’t help either.
Therefore, with all that in mind, and the stories of his epic homeruns in spring training, especially his huge blast at Bovard Field, Los Angeles, much was expected. The famous USC Coach Rod Dedeaux, who witnessed that monster shot, said, “it was like a golf ball going into orbit, it was hit so far it was like it was not real.” His pre-season blast, at Ebbets Field, in an exhibition on April 15th that cleared the 38-foot high scoreboard, caused great expectation and anticipation. Also finishing spring training with a .402 batting average did not dampen the average fans’ dreams of the second coming of Babe Ruth!
But life doesn’t proceed in a straight line, and a slow start by the young rookie tended to dampen some of the enthusiasm. Mantle also suffered from the “boo birds” syndrome regarding his draft status. Mantle suffered from a bone condition called osteomyelitis and was ruled 4F by his draft board. With his 4F draft status, his tendency to strike out, and with the memories of the graceful DiMaggio on their minds, the fans were pretty unmerciful towards the young centerfielder. This proclivity continued until his great Triple Crown season in 1956.
Meanwhile the younger fans, like myself, loved the “Mick” and flocked to the Stadium to witness another chapter in his explosive career. Whether Mantle hit a homerun or struck out, there was a palpable sense of excitement and electricity. As time moved on, and Mantle became a great star, he was never really loved by the average fan until Roger Maris came upon the scene. Maris was well liked right from the start. His first season, 1960, was sensational, and only an injury he incurred while trying to steal second, tempered his statistics. He wound up losing the home run crown to Mantle 39 to 40 but missed 13 games because of the injury, while Mantle missed only one. The next year, 1961, the M and M boys started to seriously challenge the hallowed Ruthian record of 60 homeruns. It was during this famous summer that fan appreciation started to shift away from the moody Maris, who was feeling the pressure from the whole baseball community. It seemed that no one wanted Maris to break the record, including the Commissioner of Baseball Ford C. Frick. Frick declared that if the record was not broken in the 154 game parameter, (which the Babe had played in 1927), but did it within the new 162 game schedule, an asterisk would be placed in the record book next to the number! Frick was a bit prejudiced, since he knew the Babe, and even had ghost written columns for him in the newspaper. Therefore, almost according to all, if it were to be broken, everyone wanted Mantle to do it! When Mantle had to drop out of the home run race because of an abscess on his hip, Roger Maris was doomed. Within a season, Mantle ascended to an exalted level, which he would retain for the rest of his days. For Roger Maris, the home run record was almost a curse! From 1961, it was downhill for the Rajah! My friend, Alan Rosenberg and I, met the surly Maris in the bar at the Stadium Motel, just north of the stadium off the Major Deagan Highway in 1962 or 1963. He was not a pleasant or friendly sort, plain and simple.
With the scene set, almost every Mantle at bat, the crowd would be hushed with anticipation. Of course Mantle usually came through. He hit mighty homeruns and many were in the clutch, when they were needed, and especially in the late innings. Of his 535 homeruns, 177 were hit from the 7th inning on! Mantle hit 298 homeruns with no one on base, and 238 with men on bases.
Of his seven pinch-hit homeruns, three were hit in Yankee Stadium, and I was there for two of them. One he hit on August 3, 1963 and the other he hit on September 2, 1967. The first one was hit in the 7th inning off George Brunet in the 2nd game of a double-header against Baltimore. Mantle had broken his foot on June 5th and had not obviously played since that accident. In the newspapers it was reported that he would most probably be in the lineup that day. The Orioles had won the first game 7-2, with Steve Barber besting Ralph Terry and were leading 10-9 in the second, with the starters Jim Bouton and Dave McNally, two pretty good pitchers, long gone. Mantle entered the game to pinch-hit for relief pitcher Steve Hamilton. The crowd of 38,555, which had been attracted by the thought that they would see the Mick’s return, went crazy when Mantle stepped out of the dugout. They had been waiting for him to make an appearance all day, no less two months. He hit the ball on a line into the left field stands and the Yanks went on to win the game 11-10.
The next game that I remember attending was played on September 2, 1967, when the Yankees were in the midst of their long decline. The Yankees beat the new Washington Senators 2-1 in a short one hour and 51 minutes. Mel Stotttlemyre (15-15) had only given up 6 hits and was on the losing end of a 1-0 score in the 8th inning. Washington’s Bob Priddy was pitching a 2-hitter when Bill Robinson reached first on a single, and the Mick was called upon to pinch hit for the weak hitting infielder, Ruben Amaro. With a full count, Priddy threw a fastball that Mantle deposited in the lower right field stands. Even though there were only 8,645 people there, the noise was remarkable. He had 14 game winning hits including 8 game winning homeruns. The Yanks only batted .225 for the season and the entire American League hit only .236! So Mantle’s .245 on gimpy legs could be almost understood. By the way, this was the season that hitting in baseball hit rock bottom and Carl Yastrzemski won the batting title hitting only .301!
In the long history of the Yankees, not many of their ball players have hit three homeruns in one game. Babe Ruth did it once, but twice in the World Series, Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio did it three times and Lou “The Iron Horse” Gehrig also did it three times. In the more modern era I had the pleasure of witnessing both Tommy Tresh accomplish the feat in 1965 and Bobby Murcer doing it in 1970. On June 6th 1965, the 21st anniversary of the D-Day landings, Tom Tresh, who never lived up to his rookie year success in 1962, hit three home runs in a 12-0 walkover. Al Downing, easily bested Juan Pizarro of the White Sox. In the earlier game the aging veteran White Ford (16-13), in his last decent season, bested the young Tommy John (14-7) 6-1. Ford would win only 4 more games over the next two seasons and finish with 236 victories. Tommy John, who had a very long career, had his first winning season and eventually would pitch a total of 26 seasons, have a surgery named after him, win 288 games, and 91 of those were for the Yanks.
Bobby Murcer, who has broadcasted baseball for many years in New York, actually hit three homeruns twice in his career with the Yankees. He accomplished it in 1970 and 1973. I happened to be at the Stadium on June 24, 1970, when the Yankees split a double-header with the Cleveland Indians. In the opener Sudden Sam McDowell (20-12) shut down the Yanks, 7-2, and Mel Stottlemyre, (15-13) with his sizzling fastball. In the 2nd game, Bobby Murcer, who had hit a homerun in his last at bat in game one, hit three homeruns in a row to help the Yanks win 5-4. Murcer was one of the rare ballplayers to hit four straight homeruns as the Yanks beat Fred Lasher in the 9th. Both starters Stan Bahnsen (14-11) and Mike Paul were not around at the end. Murcer, who was not very big, had a swing built for Yankee Stadium. When the Yanks moved over to Shea Stadium when the Stadium was being refurbished, Murcer’s numbers declined markedly and he was eventually traded into the National League, where ironically his home run numbers bounced back up. He later came back to the Yankees for five final seasons, but the magic was gone. It wound up being a great move for Murcer, because he was still one of the most popular players from one of the worst Yankee periods. He wound up having a long career in the broadcast booth.
On October 18, 1977, I had the distinct and rare pleasure of attending a World Series game. As it turned out, it wound up being the last game of the 1977 Series and I was a guest of Linda’s cousin Mark Adler. It was a cool fall evening, and the stadium was jammed with 56,400 insane fans. There was electricity in the air. The Yankees had just come home from Los Angeles. They had a chance to win the Series in game five but were beaten by Don Sutton who breezed to a 10-4 victory. Our seats were two-thirds up into the third deck at Yankee Stadium, exactly behind home plate. It was the 6th game and the Yankees were leading the Dodgers, their former cross borough rivals, almost 30 seasons after they moved to Los Angeles, three games to two. Starting for the Yankees was Mike Torrez (14-12) against Burt Hooton (12-7). In the second inning Reggie Jackson walked and scored on a homerun off the bat of Chris Chambliss, who after he was acquired from the Indians, wound up being a terrific first baseman for the Yankees. In the fourth inning Reggie came to bat with Thurmon Munson on base, and the Dodgers up 3-2. Reggie lined the first pitch like a “frozen rope” into the lower right field seats. The blow sent Hooton to the showers down 4-3. In the next inning, the fifth, Reggie came up with one man on and hit Elias Sosa’s first pitch deep into the right field stands. The two homeruns came so fast that one could have missed his at bats if one turned one’s head. By the bottom of the eight, with the Yanks in front 7-3 and Torrez rolling along, I must have been one of the few fans to start working my way to an exit. I walked down to the front of the third deck and started to proceed to the far left field exit and the foul pole. I knew that Reggie was going to be first up in the bottom of the 8th and I wanted to make sure that I did not miss his potential shot for immortality. I can recall clearly all the hundreds of people crammed into the entranceway who, were either standing and watching or making their way back into the stadium. I was standing almost next to the foul pole as Reggie came up to bat. Again, before anyone could focus on the start of the inning, Charlie Hough, the next and third Dodger pitcher, threw his knuckleball right down the middle to the leadoff batter, one Reginald Martinez Jackson. Again, Reggie swung viciously and this time the ball went straight over everyone’s head deep into the black area of deepest centerfield, some 450+ feet away. Reggie had hit three straight homeruns, off three different pitchers and each on the first pitch. The stadium erupted en masse and went collectively insane. Up to this game, Babe Ruth had been the only player to hit three homeruns in a Series game. He did it both against the Cardinals in the 1926 and 1928 World Series. By this year, in the 100+-year history of the Series it has only been done thrice.
I started to make my exit from the Stadium. I had parked at a garage three subways stops north of the Stadium right off the Grand Concourse. As I made my way down the ramps to the street level, the Yankees went quietly down in the rest of the eighth inning, and I climbed up the stairs to the subway station and sat down in a waiting car. I was anxiously waiting for the train to leave. I didn’t want to be caught with a huge crowd. After another few minutes, a roar went up, and then another, and then a final roar, and I knew the game was over. Thankfully, not long after the last cheers, the subway pulled out, and before long I was at my stop, and headed down the stairs to the street level. It wasn’t long before I was alone in the garage, got to my car, started it, turned on the radio, and pulled out into the street. Mel Allen was doing the post-game show from the locker-room and it was so interesting that I was totally engrossed in his interviews. As I pulled out into the Concourse I started driving along on the almost eerily empty streets, happy as a lark that I was heading home before anyone else. In a minute or so, after making every light, I noticed cars coming towards me, honking and waving pennants from their windows. I said to myself, “Where are these guys coming from?” Unfortunately, with all my exquisite planning, I wound up going the wrong way on the Concourse, and I was almost back at the Stadium. The mistake cost me dearly. By the time I turned around, I was in the midst of incredibly heavy traffic, and it took me an extra hour to get home.
Interestingly enough in the opening game of the 1978 season, thousands of “Reggie” candy bars were given out to the fans. When Reggie came to bat in his inaugural appearance of the season, on the first pitch, he again hit a long three-run homer! The delirious fans threw their “Reggie” bars on to the field in a sugary salute and it took five minutes to clean them all up. Reggie had hit four straight homers, each on the first pitch!
Of course the question always is posed to a “baseball fan,” who are your favorites, all-time teams, and whom did you like on the opposing teams? First of all my favorite manager was Casey Stengel and then, of course Joe Torre. Ralph Houk was a disappointment, but the front office let him down. Billy Martin was good theater, but he was too much of a hot-head! Personally I thought Dick Howser, Lou Piniella and Bill Virden should have been given more of a chance. The biggest managerial failures were Dallas Green, and Stump Merrill.
My favorites were the following: All-Time Yankee Team 1903-2005
1B- Don Mattingly, Bill Skowron Lou Gehrig, Don Mattingly
2B- Bobby Richardson, Willie Randolph Tony Lazzeri, Joe Gordon
SS –Derek Jeter, Phil Rizzuto Derek Jeter, Phil Rizzuto
3B- Greg Netttles, Clete Boyer Red Rolfe, Greg Nettles
C- Yogi Berra, Elston Howard Bill Dickey, Yogi Berra
LF- Gene Woodling, Roy White Charlie Keller, Dave Winfield
CF- Mickey Mantle, Mickey Rivers Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle
RF- Hank Bauer, Roger Maris Babe Ruth, Roger Maris
RP- Allie Reynolds, Catfish Hunter Red Ruffing, Allie Reynolds
LP- Whitey Ford, Eddie Lopat Whitey Ford, Lefty Gomez
Relief- Mariano Rivera, Sparky Lyle Mariano Rivera, Joe Page
Opposing Ballplayers: Defense (1951-2005) Opposing Players: Offense (1951-2005)
1B- Vic Power, Keith Hernandez Willie McCovey, Mark McGwire
2d- Nellie Fox, Joe Morgan Joe Morgan, Rod Carew
SS- Luis Aparicio, Ozzie Smith Alex Rodgriquez, Ernie Banks
3B- Brook Robinson, Mike Schmidt Mike Schmidt, Eddie Mathews
C- Roy Campanella, Johnny Bench Johnny Bench, Roy Campanella
LF- Carl Yastzemski, Dave Winfield Frank Robinson, Ted Williams
CF- Willie Mays, Bill Virdon Willie Mays, Ken Griffey Jr.
RF- Al Kaline, Roberto Clemente Bobby Bonds. Hank Aaron
RP- Bob Gibson, Juan Marichal
LP-Sandy Koufax, Warren Spahn
Relief- Hoyt Wilhelm, Dick Radatz
All-Time Team 1951- 2005 All-Time Team 1900-2005
1B- Willie McCovey, Don Mattingly Lou Gehrig, George Sisler
2B- Joe Morgan, Rod Carew Rogers Hornsby, Eddie Collins
SS- Ernie Banks, Cal Ripkin Honus Wagner, Cal Ripkin
3B- Mike Schmidt, Eddie Mathews Mike Schmidt, Pie Traynor
C- Johnny Bench, Yogi Berra Johnny Bench, Bill Dickey
LF- Ted Williams, Stan Musial Ty Cobb, Ted Williams
CF- Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle Willie Mays, Joe DiMaggio
RF- Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron
RP- Bob Gibson, Nolan Ryan Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson
LP- Sandy Koufax, Warren Spahn Lefty Grove, Sandy Koufax
RP- Mariano Rviera, Hoyt Wilhelm Mariano Rivera, Hoyt Wilhelm
All-Time Announcers 1951-2003
Mel Allen, Red Barber, Bill White and Phil Rizzuto
There, of course, is an unlimited amount to say about baseball. Unlike other sports it is written about almost daily throughout the year. Every day during the season, which lasts now 7-months, something new happens. It is said that in every game one can see something new. Unlike other sports, hitting .300 for a career, or getting a hit only 30% of the time gets one in the Hall of Fame. Great, great teams lose 33% of their games. Therefore the baseball season is always an unfolding saga, with new heroes and “goats” every day. With rookies emerging and aging grizzled veterans coming through with unexpected heroics, baseball is very much like life. It unfolds methodically, and it moves along with measured care. But opportunity in baseball only knocks sporadically, and that opportunity must be taken advantage of immediately, or it can be lost forever. There are many other stories to tell, like meeting old friend and fellow Mount Vernonite, Ken Singleton, while he was broadcasting a Dodger-Expo game at the cavern-like Olympic Stadium in 1994, or seeing the Yankees blast Cleveland 21-1 in late August of 1999. That was a real Jake Ruppert-like game. There have been about 9,000 Yankee games since 1951, and I can say that I have had the pleasure of listening and seeing a great many of them via the radio and the television. On the other hand, I have probably been to a few hundred over the years, and I am always thrilled with the prospect of “Take Me out to the Ballgame.” Today with crowds of 52,000+, at each and every game, the Yankees and baseball, in general, are enjoying a golden age of interest. The excitement that is generated is marvelous. But with all that wonderment in mind, I wanted to add an essay I wrote about a game I did not attend, but I sure will remember forever.
“The Yankees Win! The Yankees Win!’
John Sterling, Yankee announcer at 11:30 pm – July 1, 2004
Last Thursday night, July 1st, was quite memorable for Yankee fans of all ages. Not only did the Bombers dispose of their century old archrivals from New England, the Boston Red Sox, but also they swept the series. The Red Sox, once known as the Beaneaters, had been drifting further and further back in the Eastern Division race, making this series critical to their pennant hopes. Of course the Red Sox started fast, and earlier in the season they had taken six out of seven from the slow starting powerless Bronx Bombers while establishing a 4½ game lead. But as this month ended, the Red Sox found themselves suffering from a “June Swoon” malaise. But in baseball, like life, hope springs eternal, and after losing the first two games in the Bronx, they trotted out their flaky, but fearsome, ace Pedro Martinez to the mound. With the quixotic Martinez facing the Yankee rookie Brad (Admiral) Halsey, who was making his 3rd start of his nascent career, things looked good for the Bosox.
Of course baseball doesn’t follow a predetermined script, and the Yanks opened up a 3-0 lead on the back of two massive homeruns by fill-in first baseman Tony Clarke and all-star catcher Jorge Posada. They were cruising along with the “Admiral” into the fifth inning, when like life itself, things started to change. Eventually with a hit here and a large homerun by former Manhattan resident Many Ramirez, the score was tied at.3-3. The game went into extra innings, with both sides sparring back and forth with any success. They both experienced the frustration of loading the bases only to be thwarted by great defense. Finally with two on and two out in the top of twelfth and the runners on the move, the great Derek Jeter ran for a slicing hump back floating liner that was heading for the 3rd base foul line. Jeter, who has made a career of tracking down these tricky and dangerous floaters, ran at full steam, caught the ball, and headed right for the stands. Facing the consequence of running into the concrete wall or flying over it, Jeter chose the latter. It seemed like something out of Superman with the “Captain” taking off with the momentum of a runaway locomotive and landing on top of a flock of people, their food and souvenirs, and the unforgiving metal seats. Of course even though two runs were saved, the hushed standing room crowd of 55,000 plus held its collective breath as we all waited for Jeter to be lifted back into sight. When, after what it seemed like an eternity, the wounded Jeter emerged bloodied but unbowed, the crowd roared its love and approval that the “Captain” had survived his short flight into immortality. He walked off the field under his own steam but with some assistance, obviously bruised but not broken.
After a few moments, the game resumed with the Yanks again loading the bases in the bottom of the twelfth. But to no avail, they could not score. When they took the field in the 13th inning they had a makeshift lineup in the field. With Jeter gone, and different pinch-hitters used, the Yanks had to improvise at a few positions in the field. Down to two pitchers, the Yanks were forced to use journeyman Tanyon Sturtze on the mound to open the inning. Facing Yankee nemesis Manny Ramirez, the fearsome slugger late of George Washington High School, (where my mother graduated in 1925), Sturtze served up a “gopher ball” that flew over the center field wall. Suddenly it was 4-3 and the Red Sox had hope once again. It seemed like Jeter’s catch and resulting injury would be all for naught. The rest of the inning went quietly, and the Yanks, with their backs against the wall, faced the bottom of the inning and their last “licks.”
The bottom of the 13th did not start well for the shaken Yanks. The first two batters went up and down with nary a whisper. But, as it often happens in baseball, lightning struck in the late evening hours in Bronx County. Ruben Sierra singled, and then the platooned second sacker Miguel Cairo, who killed the Yanks in the last World. Series, strode to the plate. After fouling off pitch after pitch, Cairo went with the pitch and drilled a line drive to right center that scored Sierra with tying run. With the huge crowd rocking and the game 4 hours and 19 minutes old, pinch hitter John Flaherty, the seldom-used back up catcher hit a ball over the shallow fielding Manny Ramirez’s head. The fans went crazy, the run came in, the Yanks won again, and the bench ran to the mound with an eruption of uncontrolled joy! Wow, what it means to be young, rich and a Yankee!
Of course there have many great and memorable games in the long and illustrious history of the Yankees. From the early days of Ruthian greatness in the 1920’s through the Bronx Bombers days of Gehrig and DiMaggio of the 1930s and 40s, to the Stengel-Houk eras of the 1950s and 60s, to the tempestuous days of Billy Martin and the Bronx Zoo, and to the current Torre Dynasty, the Yanks have always delivered excitement and success. I myself have seen thousands of Yankee games from the early 1950’s to today. Back in 1961 I had the pleasure of being at the Stadium, with 67,000 others on September 1st, a Friday night, when the Yanks and Tigers came into the Bronx tied for first. The game was scoreless until Moose Skowron singled in the winning run in the bottom of the ninth giving the Yanks and Whitey Ford the victory. The Yanks went on to win 109 games, Maris hit number 61 and the Yanks won the Series over the Reds. Maybe game seven of the 1960 World Series with its ups and downs, and its final score of 10-9, resulting in the improbable Pirate victory, could be seen as one of baseball’s most exciting games. Of course great performances like Don Larsen’s Perfect pitching in the 5th game of the 1956 World Series, or Reggie’s 3 homeruns do not make all-time great games. I was lucky to be at the stadium for Reggie’s home runs, and also for Bobby Murcer’s and Tom Tresh’s three homeruns performances. I watched on television the great pitching performances of Dave Righetti, Jim Abbott, David Welles and David Cone. Of course, talking about excitement in my time, Mickey Mantle hit 177 homeruns from the 7th to the 11th inning. Great performances are the exclamation points that make baseball the marvelous game that it is and will always be.
Again the setting was great. Each Yankee-Red Sox contest is another contribution to one of sport’s great rivalries, and again there was another sell-out in the Bronx. So the scene was set, the players came out for this latest chapter in this century-old saga, and the fans were enraptured by the ebb and flow of a great game. Hurrah for baseball!
On the day after the Yankees clinched their 45th Pennant or Division championship, I must close this piece with a quote from the great Branch Rickey, who wrote in 1965, “The unique strength in the game of baseball as a team sport lies in the ingenious geometry of the diamond. It is really a game of individuals: nine men and a batsman play out of drama on separate stages as the action unfolds. The greatest single individual contest, both in action and the suspense immediately preceding the action that ever confronts any player in any sport comes when the batsman faces the pitcher.”