Sunday, August 20, 2006


The recent ground breaking for a new Yankee Stadium to be ready for business in 2009 led your faithful scribe to muse on the one that has a couple of more seasons left in it. Only Wrigley Field and Fenway Park are older. It’s where Notre Dame coach Knute Rockne made his "Win One for the Gipper” speech, where Johnny Unitas won the 1958 NFL championship in the so-called "Greatest Game Ever Played," where Muhammad Ali fought. It’s where Casey Stengel hit the first World Series home run for the old New York Giants - an inside-the-park job in Game One of the 1923 World Series, where Mickey Mantle blasted a fly ball off the third-deck facade, 109 feet above the playing field and 374 feet from home plate. It’s where Thurman Munson's locker remains the way it was the day he died in a 1979 airplane crash with his Number 15 jersey and catching gear still intact.

From 1903 until April 11, 1913, the New York Highlanders on their way to becoming the New York Yankees - played all their home games at Hilltop Park. Then they became tenants of the New York Giants at the Polo Grounds. In 1920, Yankee attendance, boosted by the drawing power of the sensational new slugger Babe Ruth, doubled to 1,289,422, more than a hundred thousand more than the Giants.

The relationship between the two franchises, never especially cordial, turned even more testy following that 1920 season. The next year, the Giants told the Yankees they were no longer welcome as tenants at the Polo Grounds and should vacate the premises as soon as possible.

Ironically, Yankee co-owner Jake Ruppert had thought of demolishing the Polo Grounds and constructing a 100,000 seat stadium to be shared by the Giants and Yankees. Now, however, he and his partner Colonel Tillinghast l'Hommedieu Huston announced plans to build a new ballpark for the Yankees alone. It would be, Ruppert said, along the lines of the Roman Coliseum.

On February 6, 1921, the Yankees issued a press release announcing the purchase of ten acres of property on the site of a lumberyard in the west Bronx obtained from the estate of William Waldorf Astor for $675,000. Directly across the Harlem River from the Polo Grounds, it was at the mouth of a little body of water called Crowell’s Creek. Identified as City Plot 2106, Lt 100, the land had been a farm owned by John Lion Gardiner prior to the Revolutionary War. “It was all farmland,” recalled former Giant ticket taker Joe Flynn. “It was beautiful. You could get fresh milk and vegetables there.”

Two weeks before construction on the stadium began, Rupert bought out Huston’s ownership share of the Yankees for $1,500,000. The White Construction Company began work May 5, 1922, agreeing to complete the project "at a definite price" ($2.5-million) and by Opening Day 1923. The architectural firm, Osborne Engineering Company of Cleveland, Ohio, was under mandate to create the greatest and grandest ballpark of its day. Original plans called for the Stadium to be triple decked and roofed all the way around. It was to be shaped like the Yale Bowl and contain towering battlements enclosing the entire park that would render events inside "impenetrable to all human eyes, save those of aviators." Those without tickets would have no view of the action.

Alas, this initial, soaring grand plan was quickly abandoned in favor of less ambitious designs. Yankee Stadium was indeed a gigantic horseshoe shaped edifice circled by huge wooden bleachers. But the triple-decked grandstand did not reach either foul pole. And whether Ruppert liked it or not, action on the playing field was to be highly visible from the elevated trains that passed by the outfield as well as from the buildings that were to sprout across River Avenue.

The new ballpark was to have unique touches, however, such as "eight toilet rooms for men and as many for women scattered throughout the stands and bleachers" and a decorative element that would become the logo feature of Yankee Stadium: a 15-foot deep copper facade adorning the front of the roof, covering much of the Stadium's third deck giving it an elegant and dignified air. Another singular element of "The Yankee Stadium", as it was originally named, was a 15-foot-deep brick-lined vault beneath second base that contained electrical, telephone, and telegraph connections and allowed for a boxing ring and press area to be set up on the infield. Yankee executive offices were moved from midtown Manhattan and located between the main and mezzanine decks; an elevator connected them with the main entrance.

The first ballpark to be called a stadium, the last privately financed park in the major leagues, the new park boasted 10,712 upper-grandstand seats and 14,543 lower grandstand seats locked in place by 135,000 individual steel castings on which 400,000 pieces of maple lumber were held down by more than a million screws.

The park’s dimensions favored left-handed power, read Babe Ruth. The right-field foul pole was but 295 feet from home plate, although it was 429 feet in right center. The left-field pole was but a short 281-foot poke from home. Right-handed batters had to contend with a 395-foot left field and left center. The park’s deepest points were a distant 460 feet away. The outfield warning track was initially made of red cinders, later of red brick dust.
Yankee Stadium’s inaugural game took place April 18, 1923. . . .

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Past as Prologue: Red Sox Vs Yankees

Another summer weekend. Another time of joy and heartbreak for fans of the Red Sox of Boston and the Yankees of New York. Where THE GREAT RIVALRY began is known. But where it will end no one knows.

The Boston Red Sox came into existence in 1901 and remained one of the most successful of all baseball franchises through the first 19 years of the team's existence. They were known briefly as the Americans and Somersets and then Pilgrims. Boston won the first "modern" World Series in 1903 and repeated as champions of the American League in 1904.

But the rough and cynical manager of the New York Giants John J. McGraw - born in Truxton, New York , one of nine children of a father who was a nine dollar a week railroad man - refused to allow his team to face Boston in post-season action. The Giant manager deemed the American League an inferior organization. He wasn't right about everything despite his often saying he was.

By the early 1910s the nickname for the Boston American League team was the Red Sox. They moved into Fenway Park in April, 1912, and that initial campaign in the little ball park was a momentous one. Boston captured the American League pennant and won the World Series.

Those were the glory years for Boston's Red Sox. In 1915, 1916, and 1918 the franchise repeated as pennant winners and won post-season championships. Those teams were built around a great pitching staff and terrific hitting especially from the outfield of Tris Speaker, Harry Hooper and Duffy Lewis. The rest of the supporting cast fit in quite well.

Manager Bill Carrigan, Boston manager from 1913-16, made the most of his pitchers like Joe Wood, Carl Mays, Dutch Leonard, Herb Pennock, Waite Hoyt, Ray Collins. Pitcher Babe Ruth was on the scene for the 1915,1916 triumphs.

The New York Highlanders (they officially became the New York Yankees in 1913) were a sad counterpoint to the attractive, successful and glamorous Red Sox. In their first 16 years of existence, the New Yorkers finished under .500 eight times, and last in the league twice.

After the Red Sox won the 1916 World Series, Harry Frazee, a former Peoria, Illinois billposter, purchased the club from Joe Lannin. All agreed that the future looked bright for Frazee and the Bostons.

"Nothing is too good," declared Frazee who hadn't even paid Lannin for the purchase of the team, "for the wonderful fans of the Boston team." Hub zealots should have taken Frazee at his word. For as the future was to show time and time again - Frazee meant exactly what he said.

He had a home in Boston, but Frazee's main residence was on Park Avenue. He had made the comment that the "best thing about Boston was the train ride back to New York." A show business wheeler-dealer who owned a theater on 42nd Street in Manhattan, close by the New York Yankees offices, Frazee was a gambler. And he was always hustling, scuffling about for a buck, always overextended in one theatrical deal or another.
And the rest . . .as the cliché goes . . . is history.

HIGHLY NOTABLE: If you are a baseball fan who loves good reading, good photos, good stuff - then you must be a reader of the new, exciting and wonderful magazine:"108" Baseball history, culture, and community are all in its pages. And so is your faithful scribe!
Go now to its website for more info and to subscribe.
Tell them that Harvey sent you.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

The Book Review: The Two Rogers (Angell and Kahn)

If you are a fan of Roger Kahn or Roger Angell or both – on the books shelves now are two books for you. Recycled stuff makes up a lot of both publications, but when we are talking legends like Angell and Kahn, recycled is more than okay, it is even better the second time around.

“Let Me Finish” by Roger Angell (Harcourt, $25.00, 320 pages) is the gifted author’s autobiographical essays from the “New Yorker” focused on a youth growing up in New York during the Prohibition era in the company of the his mother, a founding editor of the New Yorker, his gifted father and his famed step-father, E.B White. We are there with Angell in his memory “Here at home inside a Jane Austen novel, I passed my college weekend, carving Sunday roasts and getting the station wagon service, lacing up skates, sharing by radio the fall of Paris and the night bombings of London . . .having fallen not just in love but into a family.” And we are there with him watching Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Mel Ott, through through later years and four decades at the “New Yorker” evolving into one of America’s best of the best baseball writers.

Roger Kahn’s “Into My Own” (St. Martin’s Press, $24.94, 320 pages) is a look back through 60 years in journalism. Profound, sad, witty, insightful, considered, “Into My Own” is the Brooklyn-born Roger Kahn at his very best musing on Robert Frost, Mickey Rooney, Sen. Eugene McCarthy, Jackie Robinson, Jack Dempsey and on and on.
“Each night . . .I try to look forward to morning,” Kahn concludes. “Like Robert Frost, we remember our old loves and our old poems, but most of the time we look ahead. Now in my eighth decade, I continue to follow the great creed of intellectuality with Brahms and Shakespeare and Milton’s mighty line. But still, too, I relish thieves, gypsies, and, lest I forget, ballplayers.” Kahn’s newest belongs in a prominent place of your sports bookshelf!

HIGHLY NOTABLE: “Casting a Spell” by George Black (Random House, $23.95, 244 pages) is a love of a book tracing as it does about 150 years of American culture with a specific focus on the obsessive (for many) world of fly fishing. We are there with author Black in the remote Maine trout stream, in backwoods China, in all kinds of unique places. Black first picked up a fly rod when he was past 40 – and the Scotsman can claim to have never pout the rod down – willingly ever since. Thnis is a book you will not be able to put down – willingly.

Also from Random House is “Touchdown 2006” by Andy Benoit (Ballantine, $15. 95, 186 pages) a primer on the coming NFL season. The author, a college soph, has self-published the guide since he was eleven years old.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

RED SOX VS YANKEES: The Great Rivalry

Hi All:
With the Yankees and the Red Sox in another dance in 2006 - -fighting for all the marbles - the whole timeline of their battles, epic and ordinary, for your reading pleasure is at:

RED SOX VS YANKEES Battle Timetable

To order RED SOX VS YANKEES: The Great Rivalry or other Frommer books - - go to
Harvey Frommer Sports