Baseball and Fine and Schapiro 5-4-10

Baseball and Fine and Schapiro

May 4, 2010

Richard J. Garfunkel


Last night I met Alan Rosenberg, my old buddy from high school, and Richie Teichman another Westchesterite at the Ethical Culture Center on 64th Street. The NY Historical Center, which is undergoing a year long and well-deserved renovation, was hosting an evening of Yankee baseball. We all had last met at the NY Historical Society on January 26, 2010, for a program called “Longshots and Underdogs” about NYC sports with writer and author Bert Sugar, Bob Herbert of the NY Times, and Adam Gopnik of the New Yorker.


This program was the final in a series on baseball with Ed Randall, of radio and television’s Talking Baseball, Bert Sugar and Tony Morante of the Yankees. The subject was about Yankees icons: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle. Of course they digressed about the old Yankee Stadium (1923-2008) which was rebuilt in 1973 and how the Highlanders became the Yankees! Below is an outtake from my essay “Take Me Out to The Ball Park” which one could find in my website


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.


Interestingly, we met Ernestine Miller, who is a good friend of the legendary sports authority and baseball biographer Ray Robinson, who was with us at the NY Historical Society back in January. It was like old home week. Most of their stories were known to aficionados of the sport, but it was nice to hear them once again. Of the four, probably Gehrig was the only one who wasn’t deeply flawed. Both Mantle and DiMaggio had issues inimitable to their upbringing, social skills and insecurities. Gehrig, who was the only one of the four to grow up in New York, came from leveling parents, was exposed to higher education at Columbia and even thought he was quiet, was used to the big city, and knew how to avoid its pitfalls. Ruth was in a league of his own and everyone in baseball history is measured against his career and incredible lifestyle. The Ruth-Gehrig Era moved smoothly into the one dominated by DiMaggio, and Mickey Mantle’s rookie year was DiMaggio’s last. Therefore, from 1920 to 1968, a period of almost 50 years, the Yankee dynasty was dominated by larger than life superstars.


After the “question and answer” period and the book signing, we drove over to Fine and Shapiro’s on 72nd Street and enjoyed kreplach soup, derma, pickles, cole slaw, and pastrami and tongues sandwiches. Not only were we overdosing on Jewish delicacies, but we wound up talking to other fressers about baseball, trivia, and real estate. All in all, another “boy’s night out” was a great success. Blame it all on our host Alan Rosenberg, who organized this grand effort.



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