... 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, 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.
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...
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:
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:
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 ...
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 ...
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.
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 (closing it out with the .45s) and...
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.
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.