The NY Historical Society
January 26, 2010
The NY Historical Society hosted, in their Bernard and Irene Schwartz Distinguished Speakers Series, a program devoted to Longshots and Underdogs, Great Moments in NY Sports, with NY Times Columnist Bob Herbert, narrating, author Bert Sugar, and writer Adam Gopnik of The New Yorker. Bert Sugar has written scores of books on sports, is an overall expert on all of sport and certainly the world’s leading expert on boxing. He was a good fiend of the late George Lyons, an old personal friend of mine and the son of the famed late Broadway columnist Leonard Lyons, of the NY Post’s “In the Lyon’s Den” and the brother of Jeffrey Lyons, the movie critic.
I was the guest of my long-time friend from Mount Vernon, Alan Rosenberg, who brought along another friend, Richie Teichman. Teichman originally hailed from New Rochelle, NY. I was there early and was able to meet and talk to both Bob Herbert and Bert Sugar, and induced them sign my first edition of Grantland Rice’s “Sports Lights of 1923.” Both are quite personable and I had a good feeling about the coming night's discussion.
The evening went as advertised, and the talk was spirited. It revolved around the great upset years, especially when the Jets, Knicks and Mets shook up the NY sporting world from 1968 to 1970. Bert, whose forte is boxing, talked about the first Max Schmeling – Joe Louis bout in 1936, when the legendary Brown Bomber was knocked out and the upset of James Braddock over the highly favored, Max Baer, who was more interested in wine, women and song than training. As to football, Bert also mentioned the two most heralded New York City college victories; Columbia upsetting undefeated, un-scored upon West Point at Baker Field, and those Ivy League Lions upset of Stamford in the 1934 Rose Bowl.
Certainly no NY sports evening would be complete without a discussion of the NY baseball Giants’ stretch run in 1951, that culminated with a playoff with the favored Dodgers. The Giants, with stars like Monte Irvin, Don Mueller and the fabulous rookie Willie Mays were 13.5 games behind in mid-August of the front-running Dodgers, led by Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella and Gil Hodges. At the end of the season, both NY teams wound up in a flat-footed tie for the National League pennant. In the final game of a best of three playoff series, Bobby Thomson hit the winning homerun, known as “The Shot Heard Round the World,” off former Mount Vernon and NYU ace Ralph Branca. That remarkable finish to the Giants’ season was a bit tarnished by their loss of the World Series to the Yankees in 6 games and the later revelation that the Giants’ manager Leo “The Lip” Durocher was stealing the catcher’s signs to the pitcher with the use of a player with binoculars in their centerfield clubhouse. Later, cynics and critics, who had heard rumors of this chicanery, now believed that the remarkable Giants’ home record was unfairly enhanced by this un-sportsman-like activity.
The evening ended, with some book signings, pictures and the usual sports banter. We met Ernestine Miller, a women’s sports historian, and learned that she was a good friend of the legendary sports author, Ray Robinson. We debated about Robinson’s age, both Alan and I thought he was over 90, but she insisted he was 87. In an interview I found on the internet, he said that he had attended his first baseball game in 1928, which was 82 years ago. He did say that he was too young to go in 1927, so he could be around 87 or 88! I even got meet Alan Weintraub and his brother, who both lived in White Plains when I was growing up in Mount Vernon. Alan, who still lives there, and was in a great Dodger hat and jacket, played basketball with a young Mal Graham and the great high school All-American, and future Yale star, Bruce Weinstein on their football team. Their 1961 basketball team also featured my first cousin Steve Kivo. That year would mark the beginning of the end of their long dominance of Westchester County basketball, as the new and unified Mount Vernon High School started to emerge as the great county power. Mount Vernon still continues to dominate Westchester and Section I basketball over the past half century, with 25 Section I titles.
Alan suggested we have a quick bite at “Fine and Shapiros,” which is located at West 72nd Street, and after a quick five block drive and a u-turn, I was able to park right in front. Richie and Alan had soup, and I enjoyed a hearty chicken soup with noodles and kreplachs along with a pastrami on rye. There’s nothing like New York!