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Posts Tagged ‘Brooklyn Dodgers’

Museum Seeks Jews’ Memories of Baseball

Tuesday, April 16th, 2013

Josh Perelman is seeking kin — but not his own. Rather, Perelman is on a quest for families and individuals who will share memories, artifacts and pictures that help tell the story of the American Jewish relationship with baseball.

As chief curator for the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia, Perelman is mounting an exhibition that will open next March. Instead of focusing solely on American Jewish baseball icons such as Hank Greenberg and Sandy Koufax, the exhibit is meant to be grass roots and personal, revealing how Jews connected to this country and to each other through America’s national pastime.

The connections need not be related to professional baseball, Perelman said. They could involve memories such as rushing through dinner to make Little League games, reminiscences of playing ball in Jewish summer camps and displays of team uniforms that were sponsored by Jewish businesses.

When a caller mentioned to Perelman a friend’s b’nai mitzvah at which guests were seated at tables named for Jewish Major Leaguers — including Lipman Pike, considered the first Jewish professional baseball player — Perelman expressed interest in obtaining a seating card from the event.

On a website launched last week by the museum, fans are encouraged to alert the museum to what items they might want to donate or lend, as well as to stories about the person’s connections to baseball.

Some items to be displayed in the museum might not relate to Jewish ballplayers at all but will help illuminate the exhibit’s theme, “Chasing Dreams: Baseball and Jews in America.”

For example, Paul Newman of Philadelphia posted photographs of two baseballs that were signed long ago by Pete Rose and Johnny Bench, stars on the Reds’ championship teams in the 1970s. The players personalized their autographs for Newman’s late father, Rabbi Max Newman, of Cincinnati.

Another photo shows former Dodgers pitcher Carl Erskine posing in 2011 with a smiling Rebecca Alpert, a professor of religion and women’s studies at Temple University. Alpert wrote in the post that she “grew up believing that rooting for the Brooklyn Dodgers was what Jews were supposed to do because the Dodgers integrated baseball and represented the working class.”

Many of the items that respondents mentioned, posted or offered to the curators relate, of course, to Jewish Major Leaguers: a brilliant color image of a very young Koufax wearing his Brooklyn cap as he delivered a pitch against a backdrop of trees and a blue sky; photos from the 1970s of Washington Senators first baseman Mike Epstein fielding and sliding; and a black-and-white shot of Greenberg with boxing champion Joe Louis, under which the unidentified emailer wrote, “Jews have long regarded themselves as a people on the outside looking in. African-American heroes like Joe Louis and Jackie Robinson have been part of ‘our crowd.’ ”

“The story of Jews in baseball has typically been told by focusing on Major League Baseball, and counting up how many Jews played in Major League Baseball and disputing who’s a Jew and who’s not a Jew: Was Elliott Maddox Jewish? Was Rod Carew Jewish?” John Thorn, the lead consultant for the exhibition, said by telephone. “To me, the far more interesting story was on the other side of the television set: What was the ordinary Jew’s experience with baseball? How did baseball become a binding, integrating, assimilating force in Jewish life?”

Aside from his professional qualifications as Major League Baseball’s official historian, Thorn is in a unique position to examine the issue. Thorn, who is Jewish, was born in a displaced person’s camp in Germany after World War II and settled with his parents in New York. Baseball, particularly the experience of collecting baseball cards, was how the young Thorn made his way in his adopted country — his “visa to America,” Thorn said.

“The story of baseball being more than a game, which is a cliche, of course, resonated for me particularly,” he said.

Up to 200 artifacts will fill the 2,400 square feet on the museum’s fifth floor. After closing at the end of the 2014 baseball season, the exhibit will tour nationally, with smaller versions visiting Jewish community centers, synagogues, historical societies, libraries and stadiums, Perelman said.

Besides the general public, items will come from the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, the American Jewish Historical Society and the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History. Bud Selig, the commissioner of Major League Baseball, is among those serving on the advisory committee.

Farewell To Four Baseball Legends

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

            Ernie Harwell, Bob Sheppard, George Steinbrenner, Ralph Houk – four legendary men long associated with baseball, all of whom died during this baseball season.

 

Harwell, who voiced baseball for the Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Giants, Baltimore Orioles and Detroit Tigers, died in May at 92. Sheppard, who became the voice of Yankee Stadium in 1951, was almost when his voice fell silent in July. Steinbrenner, who had great timing, turned 80 on the Fourth of July and died nine days later on the eve of the All-Star Game.

 

Houk was 90 when he died last month and would have made the most interesting book. Each was worthy of separate columns and maybe over the course of time we’ll do just that. For now, though, a few memories.

 

Last November at the Yankees fantasy camp in Tampa, Florida, Paul Olden, who replaced Sheppard as the voice of Yankee Stadium, asked me for Harwell’s phone number. Besides catching up with Ernie, who was told by doctors he had only a few months to live, Olden wanted to arrange a conversation with the two iconic voices of Harwell and Sheppard. I called Ernie to see if was okay with him. It was and the conversations took place more than once.

 

Steinbrenner’s group bought the Yankees early in 1973. The Yankees had drawn fewer than a million fans in 1972 for the first time since the war year of 1945. It didn’t take long, however, for Steinbrenner to turn the franchise around and make it a baseball and financial powerhouse.

 

The first time I met Steinbrenner was during spring training in 1976 when the Yankees were based in Ft. Lauderdale. I was the head of a national baseball monthly at the time and picked up press credentials for the field, dugout, clubhouse and press box from public relations man Marty Appel.

 

As I left Marty’s office trailer, I spotted the Yankees principal owner and his manager Billy Martin. I introduced myself and had a lengthy chat with both New York media stars. The following year I saw Steinbrenner at the All-Star Game festivities in New York and again in 1985 in Detroit.

 

Steinbrenner came to my town for a dinner honoring his friend Jim Campbell, a longtime Tigers executive who rose to the presidency of the club and was my big boss at the time. Steinbrenner was relaxed and jovial when he was with me. “Irwin,” he said, “I’m not such a bad guy like the press says. I operate by the Golden Rule. And since I have the gold, I make the rules.”

 

Steinbrenner changed the rules of the game. His group paid less than $10 million for the franchise, with Steinbrenner depositing only $100,000 of his own money into the Yankee pot when the group bought the club and had less than a half stake in ownership, but by the time everything was signed, he was principal owner and called the shots.

 

At the time of his passing from baseball’s bimah, the Yankees were worth well over a billion dollars. He created the highly profitable Yankees Entertainment and Sports Network (YES) and kept ratings high by signing the best available players regardless of the cost and blowing his top at opportune times.

 

He was bullish, bombastic and charitable. Besides being famous for firing people, he also made some gutsy hires. One of them, Suzyn Waldman, who is part of the Yankees play-by-play team, knows more about baseball than most men who populate the broadcast booths. But what other owner would have hired her?

 

Outside of family, winning was the most important thing to him. The Steinbrenner-built Yankees organization should keep on winning – and it will do so in The House that George Built.

 

Ralph Houk was my favorite manager. He began managing the Tigers in 1974, the first year I started my baseball writing career. He sort of adopted me and we had long chats in the Tigers dugout prior to most Sunday home games.

 

Houk came up to the Yankees in 1947. “I never saw a big league ballpark before I came up to the majors,” he recalled as we sat in the dugout with the tape recorder running. “Before the season we played the Brooklyn Dodgers a set of three exhibition games. The first game was in Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field. I couldn’t believe it. It had two decks. I was amazed. I was in awe. I thought the people in the upper deck would fall out. The next day we played in Yankee Stadium and I was really amazed as it had three decks and held more than twice as many people as Ebbets Field did.”

 

Two years earlier Houk didn’t know if he would ever see a big league ballpark. He led several dangerous missions during World War II. On one, he brought back nine prisoners of war. On another, he brought back his helmet with a bullet hole but wasn’t seriously injured.

 

He rose to the rank of major (the nickname he would carry throughout his baseball career). Because of his bravery and service during the war, Houk was awarded the Purple Heart, Bronze Star and Silver Star.

 

The Major took over the Yankee managerial reigns from Casey Stengel after having served as the club’s third base coach. He managed the ’61 Yanks of Mantle and Maris to a championship and eventually moved up to vice president and general manager. He went back to managing the Yankees in the mid-1960s, but the club was in a state of deterioration in those years under the ownership of CBS and suffered one disappointing season after another.

 

Houk left the Yankees after Steinbrenner’s first year as owner, wary of his overbearing ways. The Major came to Detroit to manage the Tigers, a team in transition. It was Al Kaline’s last season and Houk would preside over the departure of many the 1968 World Series heroes. Under his patient service, young stars like Mark Fidrych, Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker and Kirk Gibson made the big leagues.

 

Houk confided in me during those dugout chats. One example came early in the 1977 season. Slugger Willie Horton was taking batting practice and Houk said, “He used to hit them in the second deck and now most of the time he’s just clearing the fence in the lower deck. It’s time to trade him before the scouts catch on.”

 

 That was Horton’s last day in a Tigers uniform as a player.

 

Whatever uniform the Major wore, he had the respect of those around him.

 

 

Irwin Cohen, the author of seven books, headed a national baseball publication before earning a World Series ring in a front office position. Cohen, who is the president of the Detroit area’s Agudah shul, may be reached in his dugout at irdav@sbcglobal.net.

They Will Be Missed

Wednesday, February 11th, 2009

He was the oldest former major league ballplayer when he died last month at the age of 100. Bill Werber was a teammate of Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth with the Yankees in 1930 and again three years later. He also played for the Red Sox, Philadelphia Athletics, Cincinnati Reds and New York Giants before retiring in 1942 with a .271 career batting average. He outhit Hank Greenberg .370 to .357 in the 1940 World Series, leading the Reds over the Tigers in seven games.

 

Werber is the answer to this trivia question: Who was the first batter in the first-ever televised major league baseball game?

 

It happened in 1939 at Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field. Werber led off for the Reds. The game was described by play-by-play man Red Barber, who was stationed in the upper deck behind third base next to a camera (the other NBC camera was placed behind home plate). NBC’s experimental station W2XBS was headquartered in the Empire State Building with a limited range of only fifty miles, reaching an estimated one hundred households.

 

After baseball, Werber entered the insurance field. He credited his long life to a great 70-year marriage (his wife died in 2000) and his having refraining from smoking and drinking.

 

As we approach spring training, it’s a good time to remember some other former players who died in recent months.

 

● Mickey Vernon’s playing career spanned four decades (1939-1960) and he won two batting championships as a member of the Washington Senators (1946 and 1953). Cleveland third baseman Al Rosen was heading for the triple crown in 1953 as he led the American League in three categories going into the last game of the season. However, Vernon’s two hits in the last game gave him the batting title, one point ahead of Rosen’s .336. Rosen had to settle for leading the league in home runs (43) and RBI (145).

 

Vernon, who lived to age 90, had many thrills as a player and manager of the Senators. The biggest, he claimed, was in 1954. “It was opening day in Washington,” he related years later at an Old Timer’s Game. “I hit a home run in the bottom of the 10th to beat the Yankees. President Eisenhower was sitting near our dugout and stayed for the whole game. He sent some Secret Service men on the field after I crossed home plate. They escorted me to his box and the president told me I was his favorite player and he wanted to congratulate me. That was my most memorable day in baseball.”

 

● Preacher Roe had one of the most memorable faces on baseball cards to us yeshiva kids. His wide cheeks and small chin reminded us of the popular comic strip hero Popeye. Roe was a pitching hero to Brooklyn Dodgers fans in 1951 when he won 22 games and lost only three. From 1951 through 1953 he won 44 games while dropping eight. Roe, who died at 92, was very popular with the press, his teammates and the fans.

 

Most thought that since he was from a tiny town in far off Arkansas, Roe was just a country hick. Roe played the hillbilly role well but he actually graduated from Harding College in Searcy, Arkansas, and once taught high school mathematics. He started his big league career as a 29-year-old rookie with Pittsburgh in 1944 and was traded to Brooklyn in 1947 – the year Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier. Roe hung up his spikes in 1954 at the age of 39, after compiling a career record of 127-84 with a 3.43 ERA.

 

● Herb Score, the fireballing Cleveland Indians pitcher who was rookie of the year in 1955, died at 75. I was with my young yeshiva classmates when Score held our hometown Tigers scoreless. We thought Score was going to be the greatest lefthander of all time. Sandy Koufax broke in with the Dodgers that year (1955) but wasn’t a great pitcher until the early 1960s. Score, though, was great in his rookie season.

 

Score had won 38 games in the big leagues when he took the mound against the Yankees on May 7, 1957. His career would be shattered that night as a line drive off the bat of Gil McDougald caught him in the eye, breaking his nose and several facial bones.

 

Score spent the rest of the year recovering and though he stayed on in the majors from 1958 to 1962, he wasn’t nearly as effective. He won only 17 games over that four-year span while losing 26. Popular with Cleveland fans and an accomplished speaker, he went on to spend 30 years as a broadcaster for the Indians.

 

I saw Score often on the baseball beat and recall many of our conversations. He was born in New York and grew up rooting for the Brooklyn Dodgers and adopted outfielder Pete Reiser as his favorite player. Score credited teammate Al Rosen with helping him get over a severe case of the jitters the first time he faced Mickey Mantle and the Yankees in Yankee Stadium.

 

● Former pitcher Dock Ellis was an outgoing, outspoken fellow and probably remained so until the end when liver disease claimed him at 63. He was a writer’s dream, funny and quotable. He was the Eddie Murphy and Chris Rock of the baseball world.

 

Ellis broke in with the Pirates in 1969, pitched a no-hitter the following year and had a 19-9 record in 1971. Traded to the Yankees after the 1975 season, he was the toast of New York in 1976 as he posted a 17-8 record.

 

I did a lengthy interview with Ellis around the batting cage in Yankee Stadium during that summer of ’76 when He admired my straw cap and placed it on his head while putting his Yankees cap on my head. It must have looked strange to early arriving fans, but it wasn’t strange to his teammates. He didn’t move the caps back until after the interview.

 

The Yankees moved Ellis to Oakland the following season, then it was on to Texas, the Mets and back in 1979 to Pittsburgh where he wrapped up his career, finishing with a 138-119 mark and an ERA of 3.46. His numbers would have been good enough to earn him an annual salary exceeding some $15 million today.

 

But enough about yesterday. I’m off to follow the sun and spring training. Tell you about it next month.

 

Irwin Cohen, the author of seven books, headed a national baseball publication for five years before earning a World Series ring working as a department head in a major league front office. His Baseball Insider column appears the second week of each month in The Jewish Press. Cohen, who is president of the Detroit area’s Agudah shul, is available for speaking engagements and may be reached in his dugout at irdav@sbcglobal.net.

The Grand Old Game’s Grand Old Man

Wednesday, January 9th, 2008

         He’s older than any radio station and spoke before movies did. My legendary friend Ernie Harwell will be 90 years old soon.


 

         I should say 90 years young. Anyone who can jump rope 300 times and walk two miles daily isn’t old.

 

         Broadcasting baseball through seven decades, Harwell has called well over 10,000 hits and 100,000 outs. Besides working for the Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Giants, Baltimore Orioles and Detroit Tigers, he was the main man behind the microphone for several All-Star Games and World Series.

 

         Harwell teamed with Joe Garagiola for the 1963 World Series in which the Dodgers swept the Yankees. The Series was memorable for Jewish fans as Sandy Koufax went the distance twice against Whitey Ford to account for half of Los Angeles’s four wins.

 

         Harwell grew up following his native Atlanta Crackers minor league club and loved to write. He was Gone With the Wind author Margaret Mitchell’s paperboy and as a teenager would send articles about the minor league players he saw to The Sporting News, which was baseball’s weekly paper at the time. Ernie honed his interest in radio by starting at the bottom in a small station in a small southern town before joining the Marines in World War II.

 

         He gained radio and writing experience while in the service and landed the play-by-play job with the Crackers after the war. A Dodgers scout passing through the area liked what he heard and informed the top man in Brooklyn about the great young announcer.

 

         Rickey eventually came to Atlanta in 1948 to look over some of his young talent when Brooklyn’s Mobile, Alabama, club played the Crackers. He also took a listen to Harwell describing some of the action. Rickey asked Atlanta owner Earl Mann if he could hire Harwell. Mann wouldn’t let Harwell out of his contract but offered Harwell in an even swap for a veteran good-hitting catcher Brooklyn had on its Montreal farm team.

 

         So Ernie Harwell became the only broadcaster ever traded for a player. The player, Cliff Dapper, had seen action in eight games with the 1942 Brooklyn Dodgers. He did well with Atlanta and also managed the club.

 

         The timing was perfect, as Dodgers broadcaster Red Barber was hospitalized with a perforated ulcer and the team had a spot open in the Ebbets Field broadcast booth. It was Harwell’s first trip to Brooklyn and he stayed at the Bossert Hotel until his wife arrived and they could look for other lodging.

 

         Harwell quickly got to know the quirks of Ebbets Field and the quirky people who inhabited it.

 

         “The broadcast booth was so close to the field, it was possible for the batter in the on-deck circle to listen to us,” he recalled. “Below us in a little cut-out area on the home plate side of the Dodger dugout (first base side), sat public address announcer Tex Rickard. He was a great old guy who always wore a Brooklyn cap and a white sweater with the name DODGERS written across it.

 

         “Our sponsor at the time was Old Gold cigarettes, and when a Brooklyn player would hit a home run, we’d lower a carton of cigarettes down the screen to Tex and he’d hand it to the player as he trotted to the dugout.”

 

         (Rickard made several memorable announcements. On one hot day, many fans sitting in the first row had taken off their jackets and hung them along the railing. The umpires were afraid the jackets would get in the way of players trying to catch foul balls and asked Tex to make an announcement. “Will the people sitting along the railing please remove their clothing,” was how it came across the loudspeaker. Another of Tex’s famous pronouncements was, “A little boy has been found lost.”)

 

         After living in Long Beach, the Harwells found a larger place in Roslyn Heights. And then the Giants came calling. Ernie was pleased that New York Giants owner Horace Stoneham and his broadcast sponsors wanted him for the 1949 season, but loyalty to Branch Rickey kept him teamed with Red Barber and Connie Desmond.

 

         But the Giants persisted and Ernie moved to the Polo Grounds booth a year later to partner with Russ Hodges. Ernie’s Ebbets Field spot was given to a young man by the name of Vince Scully.

 

         The 1951 season was a memorable one as Harwell described the debut of Willie Mays and the Giants’ remarkable comeback from 13-and-a-half games behind in August to tie Brooklyn at season’s end, forcing a three game playoff.

 

         Harwell was tagged to do the NBC television broadcast of the tie-breaking final game of the playoff on October 3, while Russ Hodges did the radio play-by-play. Any baseball fan with a sense of history knows Bobby Thomson hit a game and pennant-winning three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth in what would be known as The Shot Heard ‘Round the World.

 

         Unfortunately, there was no videotape of Ernie’s home run call. Hodges’s famous excited utterance of “the Giants win the pennant, the Giants win the pennant, they’re going crazy” lives on only because a Brooklyn fan, certain of a Dodger victory, set up his reel-to-reel tape recorder next to the radio and pressed “play.”

 

         The perennial cellar-dwelling St. Louis Browns became the Baltimore Orioles in 1954 and hired Harwell as their number one voice. Two avid fans of Ernie’s broadcasts were the mayor of Baltimore and his daughter – who grew up to be House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

 

         When the number one spot opened in the Tiger Stadium broadcast booth in 1960, the Harwells moved to Detroit and are still here. Ernie gave up the daily full-time grind of a play-by-play man a couple of years ago, but still does guest spots when ESPN comes to town. His strong voice can still be heard often doing commercials on local radio and prior to Tigers telecasts.

 

         Ernie busies himself with varied interests and has written lyrics to over 50 songs that have been recorded by singers or groups. Probably the best known to baseball fans was “Move Over Babe, Here Comes Henry.” That hit the charts when Hank Aaron was about to break Babe Ruth’s all-time home run record back in the 70′s.

 

         Ernie watches what goes into and out of his mouth. He doesn’t eat fried foods and starts the day with cereal and grapefruit. Lunch is a soup or salad and meat is only once or twice a month, but never hot dogs or hamburgers. He eats fish several times a week; I believe he had his first piece of gefilte fish in my house over 30 years ago. His language is devoid of swear words and words that might harm others.

 

         In addition to our love of baseball, we share a love of our respective religions. A couple of decades ago, Ernie had a tape of a Seattle Mariners post-game commercial sponsored by a Christian organization and played it for me in his Tiger Stadium office. The message at the end of the commercial was that you won’t go to heaven unless you accept the Christian messiah as your lord and savior. Ernie wondered if the advertisement offended me.

 

         I told him it didn’t, because I knew that’s what that Christian group believed and that we Jews believe we go to heaven based on our own merits and not because we accept a certain someone as lord and savior.

 

         Our conversation changed neither Ernie’s religious views nor mine, but at least we were able to have such a conversation. Whether it’s baseball, religion, or other subjects, a conversation with Ernie is a real treat. Listening to him is even better.

 

         I’ve been paid the highest compliment on several occasions as an after-dinner speaker. “Next to Ernie Harwell,” people tell me, “you’re the best and most interesting we ever had.”

 

* * * * *

 

         I met a very interesting fellow recently – Dr. Yisrael Ury of Los Angeles. His daughter married one of Detroit’s finest young men and we talked a little baseball after sheva brachos a couple days later.

 

         Dr. Ury recalled an article he read in the Wall Street Journal by Carl Bialik, the numbers guy. As serious baseball followers know, “K” is the symbol for strikeout on scorecards. Bialik’s article says that research shows that batters with K initials strike out more often than other players.

 

         My own research revealed that big Dave Kingman really helped the K cause. While with the Mets in 1982, he led the league with 37 home runs but batted only .204. His league-leading 156 strikeouts contributed to his low average. In fact, over a 16-year-career, the 6-foot-6 Kingman whiffed 241 more times than he had hits.

 

         When you watch games this year, keep an eye on how the K guys make their outs.

 

         Irwin Cohen, the author of seven books, headed a national baseball publication for five years before earning a World Series ring as a department head in a major league front office. His “Baseball Insider” column appears the second week of each month in The Jewish Press. Cohen, who is president of the Detroit area’s Agudah shul, may be reached in his dugout at irdav@sbcglobal.net.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/sports/the-grand-old-games-grand-old-man/2008/01/09/

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