Wednesday, September 24, 2008

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, JOHNNY PESKY




It was some years ago when I was at Fenway Park doing research and interviewing for one of my baseball books. My son Fred was then a teenager and he accompanied me to the park dressed in a red sweater and packing his baseball glove -- just in case.
We arrived at the legendary park quite a few hours before game time as is my practice when I am working. Fenway was empty. There was no one in the stands but my son anxious to catch a ball.
I interviewed one player and then another and then interrupted Johnny Pesky who was hitting fungoes and interviewed him. Gracious, enthusiastic, informed, the man they call "Mr. Red Sox" gave me more than the time of day.
So I figured I could impose.
"See that kid in the outfield stands with the red sweater. Could you hit a ball out to him?"
"And if I hit him on the noggin, then what! We are all in trouble."
"You are right," I said, and walked away to interview others.
Minutes later through the empty ballpark I heard my son's voice and saw him running through the stands to the home plate area. He was shouting: "I got it. I got it." And he had a ball in his hand.
Pesky was near me and yelled. "Get me that ball. The kid isn't supposed to have it."
I went over to my son and got the baseball and brought it to Pesky.
"What's your son's name?"
I told him. He autographed the ball "To Fred. Great catch. Johnny Pesky"
Fred is now an AP Correspondent based in DC. He still has the ball.
And wonderfully we still have the baseball treasure Johnny Pesky who gets his Number Six retired and turns 89 on a terrific doubleheader weekend at Fenway Park starting September 26, 2008!

Harvey Frommer is his 33rd consecutive year of writing sports books. The author of 40 of them including “New York City Baseball,1947-1957″ and “Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball”. His “Remembering Yankee Stadium: An Oral and Narrative History of the House that Ruth Built” (Abrams, Stewart, Tabori and Chang) was published in 2008 as well as a reprint version of his “Shoeless Joe and Ragtime

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.


**Call for Fenway Memories - now working on "Remembering
*****Fenway Park" - will feature stories– first game attended, marker moments, odd events, tales of a special player at the Fens, architectural features... Please contact me by e-mail if you have something to contribute.

Friday, September 19, 2008

REMEMBERING YANKEE STADIUM: OPENING DAY 1923



(As the games at Yankee Stadium dwindle to a precious few - -for your reading pleasure adapted from REMEMBERING YANKEE STADIUM: AN ORAL AND NARRATIVE HISTORY OF THE HOUSE THAT RUTH BUILT)
Jacob Ruppert always insisted "Yankee Stadium was a mistake, not mine, but the Giants.”

And in truth, had it not been for the Giants, there might never have been a Yankee Stadium.
Beginning life as the Baltimore Orioles in 1901, the franchise moved to Manhattan in 1903. Named the Highlanders, they played at Hilltop Park in Washington Heights for a decade. In 1913, the Yankees as they were now known were tenants of the New York Giants at the Polo Grounds. The landlord Giants and the tenant Yankees never got along.

Ruth's Yankees were a magnet drawing more than a million each season from 1920 to 1922. Never had the Giants drawn a million fans. Angered and annoyed at the gate success of Babe Ruth and Company, the Giants told the Yankees to look around for other baseball lodgings.

Ruppert and Huston suggested the Polo Grounds be demolished and replaced by a 100,000 seat stadium to be used by both teams as well as for other sporting events. Nothing came of the suggestion.

So the duo set about to create a new ballpark. Shaped along the lines of the Roman Coliseum, it would be the greatest and grandest edifice of its time. Many sites and schemes were considered. One idea was to build atop railroad tracks along the West Side near 32nd Street. The Hebrew Orphan Asylum, at Amsterdam Avenue and 137th Street, was a serious contender. Long Island City in Queens was also given some consideration.

Finally, on February 6, 1921, a little more than year after the Yankees had acquired Ruth from the Red Sox, a Yankee press release announced that ten acres in the west Bronx, City Plot 2106, Lot 100, land from the estate of William Waldorf Astor, had been purchased for $675,000 (just under $8 million in 2007 dollars). The site sat directly across the Harlem River, less than a mile from and within walking distance of the home of the New York Giants, at the mouth of a small body of water called Crowell's Creek.

Some noted the site was strewn with boulders and garbage. Others criticized the choice as being too far away from the center of New York City. Some dubbed the plan "Rupert's Folly," believing that fans would never venture to a Bronx-based ballpark.

“They are going up to Goatville,” snapped John J. McGraw, manager of the Giants. “And before long they will be lost sight of. A New York team should be based on Manhattan Island.”

Ruppert never publicly responded to McGraw’s criticism. But he did request newspapers to print the address of Yankee Stadium in all stories. And for the first game at his new baseball palace, he included on each ticket stub:

“Yankee Stadium, 161st Street and River Avenue.”

Design responsibilities for the new “yard” were handed over to the Osborn Engineering Company of Cleveland, Ohio. The White Construction Company of New York was awarded the construction job which Huston oversaw. Ever demanding and meticulous, Ruppert mandated that the massive project be completed "at a definite price" $2.5-million ( about $29-million in 2007 dollars) and by Opening Day 1923.

Ground was broken on May 5, 1922. Sixteen days later Ruppert bought out Huston's share of the Yankees for $1,500,000. "The Prince of Beer" was now sole owner, a driven and driving force behind the vision of the new home.

A millionaire many times over, Ruppert enjoyed giving orders and having them followed to the letter. He lived at 1120 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan in a 15 room townhouse. He also had a castle on the Hudson.

Some thought his new baseball park should be named “Ruth Field.” Ruppert, however, was adamant that it be known as “Yankee Stadium.” It would be the first ballpark to be referred to as a stadium.

Original architectural plans called for a triple-decked park roofed all the way around. An early press release explained that the new ballpark would be shaped like the Yale Bowl, enclosed with towering embattlements making all events inside "impenetrable to all human eyes, save those of aviators." Those without tickets would be unable to catch even a glimpse of the action.

However, that initial lofty design was quickly scaled down. It was thought those plans would create too foreboding a sports facility, being too much a tower and not a place to play baseball, being a place where the sun would hardly ever shine. Instead the triple deck would stop at the foul poles.
And Jacob Ruppert notwithstanding, action on the field of play would be visible from the elevated trains that passed by the outfield, from the 161st Street station platform as well as from roofs and higher floors of River Avenue apartment houses that would be built.

Fortunately, a purely decorative element survived the project's early downsizing. A 15-foot deep copper frieze would adorn the front of the roof which covered much of the Stadium's third deck. It would become the park's signature feature.

The new stadium, virtually double the size of any existing ball park, favored left-handed power; the right-field foul pole was only 295 feet from home plate (though it would shoot out to 368 by right center). The left- and right-field corners were only 281 feet and 295 feet, but left field sloped out dramatically to 460 feet. Center field was a monstrous 490 feet away.

A quarter-mile running track that doubled as a
warning track for outfielders surrounded the field. Under second base, a 15-foot-deep brick-lined vault containing electrical, telephone, and telegraph connections was put in place for boxing events.

Three concrete decks extended from behind home plate to each corner. There was a single deck in left-center and wooden bleachers around the rest of the outfield. The new stadium had the feel of a gigantic horseshoe. The 10,712 upper-grandstand seats and 14,543 lower grandstand seats were fixed in place by 135,000 individual steel castings on which 400,000 pieces of maple lumber were fastened by more than a million screws. Total seating capacity was 58,000, enormous for that time.

The Yankee bullpen was in left center. The Yankee dark green dugout was on the third base side. Bats were lined up at the top of the dugout stairs. There was a record eight toilet rooms for men and as many for women.

As was usual in that era, each white foul line extended past home plate. There was also a dirt "pathway" leading from the mound to home plate.

On Wednesday April 18, 1923, "The House That Ruth Built" opened for business. It had been built on almost the same spot where baseball had begun in the Bronx, a place where the Unions of Morrisania had played and close to where the old Melrose Station of the Harlem Railroad was located. The original street address was 800 Ruppert Place.

"Governors, general colonels, politicians, and baseball officials," The New York Times reported, "gathered solemnly yesterday to dedicate the biggest stadium in baseball.”
True to Jake Ruppert’s mandate and vision – “The Yankee Stadium,” as it was first called, had been constructed at a cost of $2.5 million in just 185 working days.

The reaction to the newest playing field in the major leagues was over the top. A Philadelphia newsman declared: "It is a thrilling thought that perhaps 2,500 years from now archaeologists, spading up the ruins of Harlem and the lower Bronx, will find arenas that outsize anything that the ancient Romans and Greeks built."

Opening Day was, appropriately, Red Sox versus Yankees. A massive crowd assembled for the most exciting moment in the history of the Bronx. The day was chilly. Many in the huge assemblage were bundled up with heavy sweaters, coats, fedoras and derbies although some, in the spirit of the moment, wore dinner jackets.

The announced attendance was 74,217, later scaled back to 60,000. The Fire Department ordered the gates closed and 25,000 were denied entrance. Those unable to get inside soldiered up outside against the cold listening to the noise of the crowds and the martial beat of the Seventh Regiment Band directed by the famed John Phillip Sousa.

Red Sox owner Harry Frazee walked on the field side-by-side with Jake Ruppert who always claimed that his idea of a great day at the ballpark, was when “the Yankees score eight runs in the first inning, and then slowly pulled away.” Yankees and Red Sox were escorted by the band to the flagpole in deep centerfield, where the home team’s 1922 pennant and the American flag were raised.

Ruppert then took a seat in the celebrity box where Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, New York State Governor Al Smith, and New York City Mayor John Hylan were waiting for the game to begin.

At 3:25 Babe Ruth was presented with an oversized bat handsomely laid out in a glass case.

At 3:30 Governor Al Smith tossed out the first ball to Yankee catcher Wally Schang.
At 3:35 home plate umpire Tommy Connolly shouted: "Play ball!"

The temperature was a brisk 49 degrees. Wind blew dust from the dirt road leading to the Stadium and whipped away at pennants and hats.

In the third inning with Whitey Witt and Joe Dugan on base, George Herman “Babe” Ruth stepped into the batter’s box. He had said: "I'd give a year of my life if I can hit a home run in the first game in this new park.” Boston pitcher Howard Ehmke threw a slow pitch. Bam! Ruth slugged the ball on a line into the right-field bleachers - the first home run in Yankee Stadium history.
The New York Times called it a “savage home run that was the real baptism of Yankee Stadium."
Sportswriter Heywood Broun remarked: “It would have been a home run in the Sahara Desert.”
Crossing home plate, removing his cap, extending it, Ruth waved to the standing, screaming crowd.

LEIGH MONTVILLE: Babe Ruth always said that of all the home runs he hit, his favorite home run was the one he hit the day they opened Yankee Stadium, the ballpark that was kind of built for him.
The game moved on. Yankee stalwart "Sailor" Bob Shawkey, a red sweatshirt under his jersey, fanned five, walked two, allowed but just three hits, and pitched the Yankees to a 4-1 victory.

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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 September 1, 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.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Remembering Yankee Stadium: SIXTIES!

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

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“There was a great, dark mystery about when I first came here from Oklahoma. Now I think this is about the prettiest ball park I ever saw." - Mickey Mantle


RALPH HOUK: I moved into the manager’s office in 1961, and the great clubhouse guy Pete Sheehy had everything ready for me. It had all I wanted: a room, a desk, a place to keep my records. Most of my memories of that office was bringing guys in and telling them things they didn’t want to hear.
I was usually down at one end of the Yankee dugout managing from a standing position with one leg up. I stood rather than sit on the bench. I was always moving.


JOHNNY BLANCHARD: Roger Maris had the locker next to mine. When he was popping those long ones out of the park, I had to get out of my own locker because 20, 30 writers would flock around him, and they would sift into my locker space. Roger was an introvert and did not like all the bright lights. That was what gave him the reputation of being nasty. But he was not.

SAL DURANTE: I was with my girlfriend Rosemarie who became my wife later on and my cousin and his girl. We were hanging out in Coney Island doing nothing. So I made a suggestion that we go to the last game at Yankee Stadium. I knew that Maris was going after the 61st home run. I knew about the promised $5,000 reward for the guy who caught the ball. I had read all about it in the News.

I was a Yankee fan as far back as I can remember although not really a Roger Maris fan. I was a Mickey Mantle fan and watched every Yankee game as I was growing up because of him.

We asked the ticket guy for four seats in right field. I never expected there would be any. The guy thumbed through tickets like a deck of playing cards, “Yeah, I’ve got four seats.”
I had no money. Rosemarie paid for the tickets. We were in Section 33, Box 163D , the sixth row of the right field lower deck. In those days you had six seats to a box. I was sitting in the row below Rosemarie with John and his girl Rose Marie was sitting by herself in Seat Four. I switched seats with her so she could talk to them. It was the smartest thing I did.

PHIL RIZZUTO (GAME CALL) WCBS radio:
They're standing, waiting to see if Maris is gonna hit Number Sixty-one. We've only got a handful of people sitting out in left field, but in right field, man, it's hogged out there. And they're standing up. Here's the windup, the pitch to Roger. Way outside, ball one...And the fans are starting to boo. Low, ball two. That one was in the dirt. And the boos get louder...Two balls, no strikes on Roger Maris. Here's the windup. Fastball, hit deep to right! This could be it!

SAL DURANTE: As soon as Maris the ball, I knew it was going to be a home run that would go over my head. I jumped up on my seat and reached as high as I could. The ball hit the palm of my hand. It didn’t hurt. It was a thing from heaven that knocked me over into the next row.

TRACY NIEPORENT: We were at the Stadium on May 14, 1967 when Mantle hit his 500th home run in the seventh inning of a game against Baltimore. As it turned out, he didn't have that many home runs left in him after that.

JOE GARAGIOLA: (GAME CALL, NBC) Three balls, two strikes. Mantle waits. Stu Miller is ready. Here’s the payoff pitch by Miller to mantle. Swung on! There she goes!. . . Mickey Mantle has hit his 500th home run . . .


BOB SHEPPARD: At one time Bob Fischel said to me: “I think it would be nice to recognize the boys and girls, the young people.” That was when I began saying: “Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls,” But I did it under force for a short time and then returned to saying just “Ladies and Gentlemen.”


FRANK RUSSO: My first game at Yankee Stadium was Thurman Munson's first game. August 8, 1969 . My dad was a huge Yankee fan and he read in the papers that their number one draft pick had been recalled from the minors. We went to the second game of a twi-night doubleheader against Oakland. We walked right up and my dad bought the seats, good seats behind the first base line.
Munson was definitely a confident guy. He had some swagger to him which was what I liked. He got his first major league hit against Catfish Hunter, another single and his first two RBIs in that game. We knew if the Yankees were going to get better in the 1970s, he would help lead the way.

About the Author:
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 September 1, 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.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

REMEMBERING YANKEE STADIUM: THE FORTIES!




(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 )
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"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.
Joe...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.
Joe...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.

Monday, September 08, 2008

THE BOOK REVIEW: Babe Ruth: Remembering the Bambino in Stories, Photos and Memorabilia


If you are looking for book for browsing, for studying, for coffee table placement, for ogling - Babe Ruth: Remembering the Bambino in Stories, Photos and Memorabilia by Julia Ruth (one of the Babe's granddaughters and Bill Gilbert (talented author who has been around the baseball block quite a few times) is the book for you. Reasonably priced at $35.00, hardcover, 176 pages with 125 photos and illustrations and 10 removable facsimiles this terrific tome is a keeper.

The facsimiles themselves are worth the price - -they include the Babe's birth certificate, his contract with the Red Sox for 1916 and 1917, a five cent scorecard from opening day at Braves Field in Boston, a movie program for the 1948 film "The Babe Ruth Story."

"The End of Baseball" by Peter Schilling, Jr. (Ivan R. Dee, 352 pages, $25.00) is an imaginative, thought-provoking novel. It puts forward Bill Veeck returning from the Army with one leg missing after Guadalcanal. He becomes the owner of the Philadelphia Athletics and gets rid of white players and stocks his roster with Negro League stars. The book is fiction but is created against a backdrop of real life characters. Just a terrific read!

"Dark Side of the Diamond" by Roger Abrams (Rounder, $24.95, 216 pages) is a look into the sordid habits, misdeeds, bad guy instincts of famous flawed baseball notables like John J. McGraw, Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Pete Rose, Barry Bonds and others.

It is as its sub-title says about "gambling, violence, drugs and alcoholism in the national pastime.
"Warrior Girls" by Michael Sokolove (Simon and Schuster, $25.00, 308 pages) is all about a first class job of investigative reporting into injuries in women's sports. The book is as timely a today's headlines and long overdue.

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Harvey Frommer is his 33rd consecutive year of writing sports books. The author of 39 of them including “New York City Baseball,1947-1957″ and “Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball”. His “Remembering Yankee Stadium: An Oral and Narrative History of the House that Ruth Built” (Abrams, Stewart, Tabori and Chang) will be published in 2008 as well as a reprint version of his “Shoeless Joe and Ragtime

REMEMBERING YANKEE STADIUM (The Definitive Book)
Fall 2008 (Abrams, STC) http://baseballguru.com/hfrommer/analysishfrommer50.html
http://bp1.blogger.com/_8WWV-eP4j-8/SDBUHdzKWPI/AAAAAAAAABU/AH5oRji7F0I/s1600-h/catalog.jpg

**Call for Fenway Memories - now working on "Remembering Fenway Park" - will feature stories– first game attended, marker moments, odd events, tales of a special player at the Fens, architectural features... Please contact me by e-mail if you have something to contribute.

EMail Harvey

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.