(As the games at Yankee Stadium dwindle to a precious few - -for your reading pleasure adapted from REMEMBERING YANKE STADIUUM: AN ORAL AND NARRATIVE HISTORY OF THE HOUSE THAT RUTH BUILT BY HARVEY FROMMER )
"Yankee Stadium was a home away from home without a doubt. Those were really the best years of my life." - Ralph Houk
As the new decade dawned, America was still at peace in a world at war, and baseball retained its hold on the nation's consciousness. The Yanks had won 106 games in 1939; they'd notched their fourth straight world championship and were favored to do it again.
RED FOLEY: Prior to the Second World War, box seats at the Stadium were regular wooden chairs that went back two or three rows from third to first base. They cost about $2.50. You had the low fences in left and right field only about three feet high. Players could lean in and make a catch. On the other hand, there were a lot of pillars. People sat behind them and couldn't see very well. It was called 'an obstructed view.'
The 1940 season would be one of the tightest American League races ever. As it got underway reverence for the past was displayed at the Stadium on April 16th when a plaque in Jake Ruppert's memory was placed on the centerfield wall close to the flagpole.
Jake Ruppert had passed, Lou Gehrig was no longer on the scene. Joe DiMaggio, victim of a sprained knee in an exhibition game just before the season started, was ailing. The Bombers lost five of their first eight games and all season long played catch-up in the American League pennant race.
BOO FERRIS: In 1941, I played summer baseball in a college league, the Northern League in Brattleboro, Vermont. After the season ended the Red Sox gave me a uniform and had me pitch some batting practice at Fenway Park. Then Boston player-manager Joe Cronin invited me to come along to a weekend series with the Yankees at the Stadium. I stayed with the team at the Hotel Commodore.
I rode out on the subway with Mr. Cronin. It was the first time I had ever been on a subway. We came right up on the track right above Yankee Stadium looking down on the field and I will never forget that sight I saw.
I pitched batting practice at the Stadium. I got to see Lefty Gomez pitch that first game for the Yankees and battle with Ted Williams who was to hit over .400 that season. Ted got three hits off Lefty. I never dreamed that in a few years I would be pitching for Boston against the Yankees at the Stadium in a real game.
The 1941 season was the 39th for the New York Yankees, their 18th at Yankee Stadium. It would be the last season before the United States entered that world at war. Anticipating the conflict that was to come, Yankee president Ed Barrow offered Civil Defense the use of the Yankee Stadium as a bomb shelter, indicating the area under the stands could provide protection in case of attack.
It was a season 23-year-old Phil Rizzuto broke in as Yankee shortstop. As the story goes, Lefty Gomez called him over and asked: "Kid, is your mother in the stands?"
"Yes," said Rizzuto.
"Well," the fun-loving hurler told him, "stay here and talk to me a little, and she'll think you're giving advice to the great Lefty Gomez."
Joe DiMaggio did not get off to quick start in 1941; there were those who claimed he was in a bit of a slump. On May 15, before a small crowd at the Stadium in a game against Chicago, he batted four times and managed a single off stubby southpaw Edgar Smith. The hit was little noticed. More was made of the fact that the home team now had lost eight of its last ten games with this 13-1 drubbing by the White Sox.
Over the next two months, however, the Yankee centerfielder notched at least a hit a game. Joe DiMaggio was in a hot groove. And his fire added fuel to the Yankee engine. The team began winning.
"I became conscious of the streak when the writers started talking about the records I could break," the Yankee Clipper said.
Newspaper stories and radio commentary dramatized what Joe DiMaggio was doing. Since virtually all games in that era were played in the afternoon, radio announcers would routinely interrupt programs with the news of the Yankee Clipper's progress. Day and night, radio disc jockeys played the Les Brown band recording:
Who started baseball's famous streak
That's got us all aglow?
He's just a man and not a freak,
Jolting Joe DiMaggio.
we want you on our side.
From Coast to Coast, that's all you hear Of Joe the One-Man Show.
He' s glorified the horsehide sphere,
Jolting Joe DiMaggio.
we want you on our side.
He'll live in baseball's Hall of Fame,
He got there blow-by-blow
Our kids will tell their kids his name, Jolting Joe DiMaggio.
(copyright 1941 by Alan Courtney)
At Yankee Stadium on June 17th, official scorer Dan Daniel of the New York World-Telegram credited DiMaggio with a hit on a ground ball to short that bounced up hitting Chicago's Luke Appling on the shoulder. It was a call that would be questioned - one of several during the streak where scorers strove to be as diligent as possible. The questioning did not matter - DiMag later slapped a single. . . .
Harvey Frommer is his 33rd consecutive year of writing sports books. The author of 40 of them including the classics: "New York City Baseball,1947-1957" and "Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball," his REMEMBERING YANKEE STADIUM, an oral/narrative history (Abrams, Stewart, Tabori and Chang) Was published in September 2008 as well as a reprint version of his "Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball.".
Frommer sports books are available direct from the author - discounted and autographed.
FROMMER SPORTSNET (syndicated) reaches a readership in excess of one million and appears on Internet search engines for extended periods of time.