Friday, November 7, 2008

Yankees 3, Red Sox 1...

... and Most of the Players Are Still Alive.

That most of them are still above ground surprises me a little bit, since the game was played 50 years ago, on September 19, 1958.

(The illustrations in this post are smaller than usual because they are links to much larger and more detailed images in Flickr. Please click on them to see them as I intend them to be viewed. Thanks.)

Yankee Stadium, September '59 (1 of 4)
Yankee Stadium, After the Game of September 19th, 1958

It was the only major-league game Dad and I ever attended together, and the first one I ever saw in person, so it holds a special place in my memory. I doubt that any of the living players remember it at all, though. It was very late in the season, both teams were insurmountably behind the White Sox for the American League title (in those days there were no "playoffs" -- you either won your league or you didn't), and they were just playing out the schedule because, well, that's what you do. But you do it fast; the game took less than two hours (today, a typical major-league game takes about three hours to complete.)

The inconsequential nature of that particular game is probably why Dad and I were able to attend. Dad hated the Yankees, so he sure as heck wasn't going to pay for his own tickets and travel all the way to New York City (which he also detested) to see them. We had a perfectly good minor-league team to go watch, too: the Binghamton Triplets*, just 40 miles down the Chenango Valley from our home outside Norwich, so why go to all that extra effort and expense, anyway? The company he worked for had a couple of season tickets to Yankees' games. The Yankees of that era were almost always in first place (a big reason why Dad didn't like them), so the corporate tickets were usually spoken for all year -- but not in '59, so Dad grabbed the languishing ones for Saturday, September 19th.

Yankee Stadium, September '59 (2 of 4)
Watching Batting Practice from our Loge Perch

What I remember most clearly about the day was, oddly, our welcome at our seats. The seats were on the loge level (a narrow deck between the lower- and second-decks in old Yankee Stadium), with office-style chairs (not fixed to the floor) and a writing surface for keeping score or for resting hot dogs and drinks -- they were like desk seats. A very suave, tall, black usher greeted us at our seats, and whisked a dustcloth over the chairs. He said, "Welcome to Yankee Stadium" in a somber tone... with his palm outstretched in Dad's direction. I didn't notice that latter part, and was awed by the ceremony. I was twelve years old.

Dad was so caught up in the game in front of him that he didn't take any pictures during the action itself. This picture...

Yankee Stadium, September '59 (3 of 4)
Dragging the Infield Between Innings

... is as close to an action shot as I can find in his slides. Too bad -- four players saw action in that game who eventually would be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Yogi Berra and Mickey Mantle started at catcher and center field for the Yanks, Whitey Ford (whose fluid, powerful, left-handed form I still remember with snapping clarity) was their starting pitcher, and Ted Williams, at the end of his penultimate season, pinch-hit for the Sox late in the game. I don't remember that Teddy Ballgame grounded into a double play; I do remember his stroll from the dugout to the plate and the goosebumps on the back of my young neck as he approached the batter's box.

Dad took one more picture after the game was over:

Yankee Stadium, September '59 (4 of 4)
Postgame fans' stroll.

After the game, fans were allowed to stroll on the field (except for the infield area, which you can see being politely guarded by red-jacketed ushers.) After posting this quartet on Flickr, and including them in a couple of NYC groups, I was astonished at the level of viewing they garnered. This shot, in particular, provoked responses from folks much younger than me. For example:

"Chocolatepoint" says:
Baseball looks so much more interesting way back when. I suspect that just being able to walk on the field gave fans a connectedness to the game, the stadium and their team.
Nowadays, we have to rebuild stadiums so that rich people can have more skyboxes, security will barely let people move around and we have far too many whiny overpaid yet underperforming athletes.

... and ...
"sds70" says:
No way teams would let their fans do this anymore :( :( . . Too many security concerns, issues with messing up the grass, etc. . . . That would've been cool to do once

... and ...
"Jersey2Bronx" said:
Its sad that this era is gone.
I did a Yankee Stadium tour 2 weeks ago, and while we got to walk the warning track, we were not allowed to step foot on (or even touch) the grass on the field. The stadium is closed - there will never be another baseball game there, and yet STILL - a "regular guy" like me was not allowed to touch the grass. That in and of it self is contrary to what baseball used to be about. Its gone from being one of the most accessible and inclusive sports to being one that caters to the exclusive who can afford it - "access" for a price.
Sad...

As "chocolatepoint" noted, the connection between the players and their fans has been broken. I don't know when it happened, precisely, but I know it was after 1964. I know that because, in April of that year, Dad and I went to see a spring training game while we were on vacation in Florida. The game was in Daytona Beach, and the teams -- "barnstorming" out of their Florida headquarters elsewhere -- were the Kansas City Athletics and the Houston Colt .45s (later the Astros.) We sat close to the plate, and chatted with the players exactly as we did with the people sitting next to us in the stands: comfortably, without any sense of separation, physically, economically, or otherwise. Two players, both near the end of stellar careers, who I remember talking to were:

Nellie Fox, March 1964, Daytona, Florida
Nellie Fox (closing it out with the .45s) and...

Rocky Colavito, March 1964, Daytona, Florida
Rocky Colavito (ditto with the A's.)

Adam, my son, it was a different time, one in which the players were more like their fans. But it was the same for fathers and sons then, a game you either got or you didn't, and if you did, it was a bond that surpassed time. Really, really strange, when you think about it.

16 June 2001, A's at Giants
Doug, Adam, and Me at a Baseball Game, San Francisco, Summer 2001.

*I loved going to Triplets games, by the way, and followed several of their players through their careers after Binghamton. One of them was Alphonso Downing, a pitcher who later gave up Henry Aaron's Ruth-surpassing 715th home run; another was Deron Johnson, a big lug who could hit a baseball farther than you could launch it with a bazooka -- but just not very often.

5 comments:

Adam said...

Man, what a cool post... where do I start? I guess by noting how much you look like your mother in the loge shot.

These photos are priceless!

You must have been so exited when you found 'em Dad. I'd wager you were instantly transported back to that day.

The differences in baseball then to baseball now are many It's true. Hell, things are makedly different now than the game I fell in love with in the late 70s. A young, cocky local boy named Ricky Henderson made good in what you so lovingly call the Oakland "Mausoleum" and I was hooked.

For one, most teams (infinitely wealthier than those in '58) wouldn't hesitate to save some scratch by replacing those redcoats with yellow tape.

Catchers were catchers then huh? There ain't too much leather (and hardly any plastic) between that KC backstop and a 93 mph fastball.

Sadly, the only goosebump inducing players for me were the "Bash Brothers" Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire.

Now that I know those goosebumps were chemically induced, I can't help but feel a little cheated. :(

Don't fret though baseball purists, some things never change. Like the fact that a late september garbage-time game for the Yanks still draws more fans than a playoff push game for my Oakland.....sorry Fremont A's of San Jose. Or is it San Jose A's of Fremont, or Free Jose A's of the Northern Portion of the South Bay?

Whatever.

I digress.

With all it's glaring devolution, baseball is still, in my humble opinion, the greatest game in the universe. The simple fact that the Rays (Devil or not) made it as far as they did this year, gives me reason to believe the higher powers that be still get involved. He or she or they care enough about the game without clocks to let the little guys play on while the Damn Yankees watch at home on their 60 inch flat pannels.

The little guys being the ones that make 5 mil per year as opposed to 10.

I'm fairly confident Grandad would agree.

Nice use of the crossover by the way! Maybe this post will be the catalyst to get some of us SherFans to visit, and join Flikr.

Hope I didn't take up all the comment space for this post. :)

Counting the days till our next game together.

Uncle Jed said...

When I decided to leave Boston University and join the Navy, I found myself too late in the semester to get any money back, but well ahead of the last day to withdraw and keep from wrecking my transcripts. A strange sort of limbo where my rent and meals were all taken care of, and all I really had to do was "be you" (B.U. get it?)

I've never really been one to pass on a chance to experience something that might make a good story one day, so when I found out they were shooting a movie at Fenway, I was there.

The movie, The Opposite Sex and How to Live with Them was a bomb, but they needed extras to sit around Kevin Pollack and Arye Gross. Since the good spots (where you might be recognized in the final production) were taken, I decided to try to blend in with the crew, hovering behind the camera, listening to the director and the camera crew.

Once that curiosity was satisfied (which was WELL before they were done shooting the same scene over and over again) I decided to explore the park.

Walking as if I had a purpose (one of the 7 Tricks To Getting Away With Anything) I headed right down to the field level, onto the turf and straight to the Green Monster. The scale was amazing. I was taken by how much it is just a big wall...not padded, not forgiving in any way.

Withing a few moments a security guard showed up. He said whatever he was expected to say, I said something about having done all I wanted to do, and not wanting to give him any trouble and we walked together to the exit.

Mission Accomplished.

Back at the dining hall, we discussed our days. More than a few of my friends were die-hard Sox fans who had spent the day hearing lectures about economics or 16th century art or whatever people who go to class talk about.

I saw a movie being made, touched the Green Monster, and shot pool at the Student Center.

It was a good day.

Thanks for the memory jog, Sherwood!

Dann said...

Where to start, indeed.

I have to admit that I'm not much of a baseball fan. I enjoyed watching Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker play short and second respectively. But that was more than a few years ago. Not having experienced the difficulties of the earlier decades, I can only offer than watching the two of them play together so seamlessly was one many indications I saw of a world that might have a chance to step beyond color and be something a whole lot better.

And doesn't it look like we have done a bit better since then? I believe we have.

I went to see them in the fall of 1983 with my best friend growing up. We had graduated the previous June and were headed out into the world to see what we could see.

I know it had to be 1983 because Chet Lemon was in right field in 1982 and in center for 1983. He was playing center for this game as well.

I had given myself a camera as a graduation present. I had bought a couple different lenses and took a lot of photographs.

At that game in 1983 I had worked my way around behind home plate to grab a couple of photos. The box seats were mostly empty, so the usher let me go right down to the wall for a while.

I ended up getting a photo of Chet Lemon hitting a line drive. You can even see the ball leaving the end of the bat. I think the outfielder caught it.

Some traditions haven't died all the way, Sherwood. The Tigers let the kids run the bases on select Sundays throughout the season.

Mike Ilitch also owns the Red Wings. The Wings let kids go out on the ice as well.

m.e. said...

great post, sherwood! boy, this takes me back and then some. my dad had a baseball scholarship at the university of michigan way back in the early 1900s, and he loved the game all his life. he used to take me to the fargo-moorhead twins baseball games at night, and while i liked staying up late (like 10 p.m.!!), i liked the fresh roasted peanuts better than the game. anyway, fast forward a few years to high school...one year ahead of me was roger maras (that's how they really spelled it until the sportswriters changed it to maris). his older brother rudy was just as good, maybe better, but roger was cuter.

Sherwood Harrington said...

Maras. Wow.

Things you will find only on SherWords!

Damn' all, folks, this comments stream is so far more worthwhile than the post they comment on that they could easily, easily stand on their own. Thank you, Adam, Jed, Dann, and Mary Ellen!