Friday, November 21, 2008
Remembering Yankee Stadium: THE TWENTIES
(For your reading pleasure adapted from REMEMBERING YANKEE STADIUM: AN ORAL AND NARRATIVE HISTORY OF THE HOUSE THAT RUTH BUILT, on sale everywhere, buy it now)
BOB SHEPPARD: I went a bit in my early teens to Yankee Stadium with a group of fellows from my neighborhood in Queens. And believe it or not the one player who played first base for the St. Louis Browns caught my eye – his name was George Sisler. Left-handed, graceful and a phenomenal hitter. And since I was a first baseman myself, I thought 'That’s my idol: George Sisler.'
The man who would become the idol of Japanese baseball fans, Babe Ruth gave some of their navy officers a thrill in the spring of 1927. Their ships were docked in New York harbor and some of the officers were invited up to the Bronx as guests of the Yankees. Babe Ruth popped two homers, one a bases-loaded job. The officers were much taken with the huge slugger; they had never seen anyone before hit a baseball the way the Babe did.
Seven years later when in 1934, the Sultan of Swat tooled about in Japan, he was a super hero. Some called him “Father of Japanese baseball." Others called him “Baby Roos!” And it all started at Yankee Stadium.
It all started for Bill Werber at Yankee Stadium, too.
BILL WERBER: The great Yankee scout Paul Krichell gave me a good deal to become a member of the Yankees after my freshman year at Duke in 1927. I had a uniform and a locker by myself. I stayed downtown at the Colonial Hotel with a coach by the name of O'Leary. I took the train uptown and got off across from the Stadium at the 161st Street stop. It was maybe a half an hour ride.
Yankee Stadium was enormous. It was immaculate. I was somewhat awed. I was told by Paul Krichell to stay as close to the manager Miller Huggins as I could. Sometimes I was very close . He was really hands on. He didn’t miss a trick.
The clubhouse didn't have any food, and there wasn't anything to drink other than water. The secretary Mark Roth used to come in and place an envelope on the seat in front of every player's locker. One of the players would usually get Ruth's envelope, slit it open, and paste the check which was for about $7500 on the mirror where the fellows combed their hair. The Babe was usually the last player to arrive for a game, and he would take the check off the mirror and put it in his pocket and take it out onto the field with him.
I was a stranger in their territory. They were rough, a hard-nosed, tobacco-chewing crew. If I got in at shortstop to field a ball in batting practice they would run me out. Some player would say: "Get out of here kid." When I would go to the outfield, some player would yell: "Get out of here kid." And I never had a chance to get into the batting cage.
The whole experience in 1927 was not that much of a thrill for me. After I was there for about a month, I told Mr. Barrow, the general manager, that I had made a bad decision and I was leaving the Yankees. One that I felt bad about leaving was Pete Sheehy; he was a good fellow, not much older than me, maybe younger.
RON SWOBODA: Pete Sheehy had started in the clubhouse as a boy working with the 1927 Yankees. He told me how Babe Ruth would come in and say: “Petey, give me a bi (bicarbonate of soda)."
A Yankee culture created by manager Miller Huggins was always in place. The little pilot was like a school teacher, training each member of the team. Players had to report for games at 10:00 at the Stadium - - to sign in, not to practice, a move designed to reduce late night ribaldry. Blackslapping was frowned upon as were flamboyant displays, noisemaking, razzing of opponents.
The 1927 Yankees were a symbol of their time – power and dash. But a rival to their throne was Charles Lindbergh, the daring aviator who had flown solo round-trip across the Atlantic.
On June 16th he was scheduled to be an honored guest at Yankee Stadium. Three field boxes were painted and primed for him and other dignitaries. Extra police patrolled the aisles all over the park. But game time approached, and there was no “Lucky Lindy.”
Fifteen thousand fans who'd come to see the game with St. Louis were antsy. Umpire George Hildebrand held up the first pitch for almost a half hour. Finally, at 3:55 P.M., he decided he could and would wait no more and yelled out: “Play ball!”
"I feel a homer coming on,” Babe Ruth said. “My left ear itches. That’s a sure sign. I had been saving that homer for Lindbergh and then he doesn't show up. I guess he thinks this is a twilight league."
First at bat of the game, the Babe hit his 22nd homer, half way up in the bleachers in left centerfield. It came off 31-year-old southpaw Tom Zachary. The Bambino would hit a much more significant shot late in the season off that same Zachary.
The Yankees romped, 8-1, over the sad sack Browns
The next day’s headlines in The Times declared :
“LINDBERGH GOT TO PARIS ON TIME BUT WAS MORE THAN AN HOUR LATE TO SEE BABE RUTH HIT A HOME RUN YESTERDAY” ….
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 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.