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January 23, 2017 / 25 Tevet, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘Ebbets Field’

Abe Stark’s Famous Sign

Thursday, June 7th, 2012

The 40th yahrzeit of Abe Stark, who died at 77 in July 1972, is almost upon us.

Those of you who remember Ebbets Field, abandoned by the Dodgers in 1957, can recall the Abe Stark sign on the bottom of the scoreboard embedded in the right field wall.

The sign, only three feet high and 30 feet long, which read: “Hit Sign, Win Suit,” was the most famous stadium ad in baseball history. It made Abe’s establishment at 1514 Pitkin Avenue known around the country.

The ballpark, bordered by the right field wall on Bedford Avenue, the double decked-stands in front of Montgomery Street (behind left field), Sullivan Place (behind first base), and McKeever Place (on the third base side), was the most famous location in Brooklyn.

The area was a hub of mass transit. Fans arrived via bus lines on nearby streets: Flatbush Avenue, Reid Avenue and Empire Boulevard. Fans poured out of the IRT subway stop only two and a half blocks away, and the closer Prospect BMT subway station a block and a half from the park.

Bedford Avenue limited the capacity of Ebbets Field, as it was only 297 feet down the right field line to the high wall of almost 20 feet, topped by another 20 feet of screen to protect pedestrians and cars.

The cozy little ballpark had seating for about 32,000, but at times fans couldn’t even find a place to stand. Some 37,512 paid their way in on August 30, 1947, to see the hated rival Giants take on their favorites in Jackie Robinson’s first year as a Dodger, which set the all-time Brooklyn franchise record for a single game.

Whether you sat or stood, you saw the Abe Stark sign and may still remember the address of the store on Pitkin Avenue. Most of all, though, you remember the name Abe Stark.

Stark was born in 1895. He saw the transformation from horse and buggy to the automobile. He opened his first clothing store in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn years before he ever heard a radio program. He was in his 30s before movies could talk.

Abe Stark’s famous sign.

Stark himself was a good talker and entered politics in the mid-1940s. In 1953, when many Americans were buying their first television set, Stark was elected president of the New York City Council.

Abe stayed in the position until 1961, when the Yankees of Mantle and Maris were the only game in town as the Dodgers and Giants were in their fourth year on the West Coast. Stark then went on to win three terms as borough president of Brooklyn and got to see men land on the moon via television in 1969.

Stark was involved in many Brooklyn charities and was the founder of Abe Stark Philanthropies and the Abe Stark Hillel Foundation at Brooklyn College.

As much as he loved Brooklyn, Stark opted for retirement in the sunshine and warmth of West Palm Beach, Florida, where he died.

While Abe Stark’s sign is fondly remembered by the older generation of baseball fans, another Ebbets Field sign heralding a soap company generated the most laughs.

That sign, which covered a section of the right field wall from ground upward to screen, read: “The Dodgers Use Lifebuoy.” Sometime one summer night during a Dodgers losing streak, at least one disgruntled fan got into Ebbets Field and, armed with some paint and a brush, added a few words at the bottom of the sign.

The altered sign read: “The Dodgers Use Lifebuoy, and they still stink.”

Author, columnist and speaker Irwin Cohen headed a national baseball publication for five years before working in a major league front office earning a World Series ring. The president of the Detroit area’s Agudah shul may be reached in his dugout at irdav@sbcglobal.net.

Irwin Cohen

A Tale Of Two Ballparks

Wednesday, June 10th, 2009

   Ebbets Field, the Polo Grounds, the original Yankee Stadium, the renovated Yankee Stadium, and Shea Stadium – as I said last month, I’d been to them all.


   And now that I’ve seen games at the new Yankee Stadium and Citi Field, I can say I’ve experienced all of the storied ballparks of New York.


   I went to the Mets’ new home for a midweek day game against the Atlanta Braves along with 40,554 other paid fans, so most of the 41,900 seats in Citi Field were filled. I arrived two hours early and had plenty of time to do a hakofa around the exterior and one around each concourse level before the game.


   I paid $20 for a seat in the top row of the top deck between home plate and first base. It was a great view but I stayed in the seat for only three innings as the wind blasted between the opening behind me and the roof. I put my suit jacket over my cap to cut down some of the wind hitting behind me but still found it uncomfortable.


   I spent the rest of the game wandering the different concourse levels which afforded fine views of the game behind the seating areas. (Because of the various architectural openings in Citi Field, the wind is also felt by fans in top-row seats on the lower levels.)


   I roamed through the huge Jackie Robinson rotunda, which is reminiscent of Ebbets Field, as is much of the exterior design and color. I liked the roominess of the new ballpark and loved the overhang in right field (the Pepsi Porch). Mets owner Fred Wilpon wanted a reminder of both Ebbets Field and visits to Tiger Stadium and his grandparents in Detroit.


   While Shea Stadium had more seats (57,000) and two different shades of red and blue in its seating, Citi Field uses the same color throughout. To me, and depending on when the sun hit it, the seats looked like a combination of dark gray, light black and dark green, which gave it an old-time ballpark look.


   Similar to Shea are the distances down the lines – 335 feet to left and right and 408 to center. The height of the outfield walls change and offers many quirks. A bit garish and sort of Times Squareish are the high-rise signage boards above the outfield stands. They do serve the purpose of blocking the view of the collection of shabby-looking auto repair joints across the street.


   The only thing I really didn’t like about the new ballpark was the white covering over each bullpen. I know it keeps pitchers from being exposed to the sun or rain, but it doesn’t blend in. Also, I would like to see large murals of the Polo Grounds somewhere. After all, it’s where the Mets began their history (1962).


   I easily found the four glatt kosher concession stands, so you don’t have to bring food, just money. Families will have a fun experience at Citi Field, tickets are far less expensive than at Yankee Stadium, and fans generally use cleaner language.


   Yankee Stadium incorporates its elegant, original exterior look of 1923. Inside is a modernized version of the way it appeared in the 1940s and ’50s (except that the light green original color is blue and white as it has been since the mid-60s). Because of wider seats and aisles, the seating capacity in the new park is down to 52,325.


   Also shaved was 20 feet in the distance behind home plate to the backstop. The current 52 feet, 4 inches shortens foul territory and brings the wealthy folks who can afford those seats much closer.


   I took a one-hour tour of Yankee Stadium on a Tuesday and didn’t see as much as I wanted as the dugout was off limits that day, but Tony the tour guide was excellent. While there, I bought a ticket for the game the following Sunday. I ended up in the third level in left field for $48 (nearly four times more than a closer seat would cost in Detroit).


   Now, $48 may not sound like much, but I went alone. When you take some family members and buy some eats (I found two glatt kosher stands in Yankee Stadium), add gas, parking or subway fares, it really hits you in the wallet. What is really high, though, is the scoreboard at 59 feet. The high-definition board is more than twice as big as what the Yanks had last year.


   The tall board gives a super sharp image and helps to block out the view of tenements behind the bleachers. Even though the new Yankee Stadium is just across the street from the old one, older buildings hover closer and can make one more apprehensive of the neighborhood.


   Yankee Stadium doesn’t offer fans the opportunity to view the game while circling the concourse in the outfield that Citi Field does, and I found the employees at Citi Field a bit friendlier.


   One thing missing in both new megaparks is the feeling that the visitor is in New York, New York. The imposing skyline is miles and miles away. Ballparks in Baltimore, Cleveland, Detroit, San Diego, St. Louis and the new one going up in Minneapolis offer great views of their downtowns. The new ones in New York, however, offer handsome stadiums in not so handsome settings.


   Seeing two good games in two new megaparks was great. But the highlight of my trip to New York was getting together with Jewish Press superstars Eli Chomsky and Jason Maoz. As on a previous visit, we met and supped at one of the fine establishments listed in the Jewish Press Dining Guide.



   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, may be reached in his dugout at irdav@sbcglobal.net.

Irwin Cohen

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.

Irwin Cohen

Fifty-Year Yahrzeit For Dem Bums

Wednesday, October 10th, 2007

      The year was 1957. Times were good here in America. The world seemed more peaceful. Taking an airline flight was a lot more fun and much less of a hassle. Automobiles had more style. And a man was judged by what was under his hat, not by the color of that hat.


      Fathers would go to movies with their sons and mothers with their daughters. Entire families would sit in front of a large television with a small black and white picture on the screen.


      The top-rated television programs were “I Love Lucy” and “The Ed Sullivan Show.” Quiz shows were big, and the tube was full of celebrities – Perry Como, Jack Benny, Arthur Godfrey, Red Skelton, Art Linkletter, Phil Silvers, and Lassie, the cuddly collie.


      Radio disc jockeys played music with words you could understand. The top-rated hits during the ’57 baseball season were Pat Boone’s “April Love” and “Love Letters in the Sand,” Paul Anka’s “Diana” and Sam Cooke’s “You Send Me.”


      In Brooklyn, however, baseball fans didn’t feel like singing. It was a heart-wrenching time. The official announcement of the transfer of the beloved Dodgers – affectionately known to the faithful as Dem Bums – from Brooklyn to Los Angeles was made in October. It shouldn’t have happened. We shouldn’t be observing this fiftieth yahrzeit.


      Here’s what should have happened: The Dodgers should have been allowed to proceed with plans for a domed stadium at Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues. Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley had the site in mind and plans in hand as far back as 1954.


      Noted architect R. Buckminster Fuller was engaged by O’Malley to design a futuristic translucent domed stadium and he prepared several models in November of 1955, some ten years before the opening of Houston’s Astrodome, the first domed baseball stadium, billed as the Eighth Wonder of the World.


      O’Malley wanted Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues for its proximity to numerous rail lines – the same reason Barclays is now developing the site, which, of course, includes a basketball arena. New York should have kept both the Dodgers and the Giants. The Giants would have squeezed another couple of seasons out of the Polo Grounds or become tenants at Yankee Stadium, across the Harlem River from their old storied home, until a new ballpark was built. The Dodgers would have remained in Ebbets Field until their new futuristic stadium was ready.


      O’Malley took the blame for taking the Dodgers to Los Angeles, but it was Moses who led the Dodgers out of the promised land. The all-powerful city commissioner Robert Moses, who believed in highway transportation above all else, butted heads with O’Malley, who favored public transportation. Moses wanted the Dodgers to locate to Flushing, Queens, where Shea Stadium eventually would be built. O’Malley objected that it wasn’t Brooklyn and not many subway lines went out there.


      As the distance between O’Malley and Moses grew, Los Angeles made a strong pitch for the Dodgers by offering a large parcel of land near downtown if O’Malley would fund the stadium – precisely what O’Malley wanted from New York. Major league baseball needed two West Coast teams to make it financially feasible for travel purposes, and the Giants opted for San Francisco.


      While the National League approved the transfer of the two New York clubs several months before the Giants made it official in August 1957, Brooklyn fans held out hope as O’Malley and Moses danced around each other for almost two more months until the October announcement made it final.


      Even though a half-century has passed since the Dodgers vacated Ebbets Field, those of us who experienced the heimish little ballpark with fewer than 32,000 seats will never forget it. It was only 297 feet down the right field line to the wall along Bedford Avenue that separated the sidewalk from the playing field. The cozy wall bedecked by signage on both sides was almost 19 feet high and topped by a 20-foot screen.


      A 30-foot high scoreboard ran 34 feet along the right field wall. A six-foot high Schaefer Beer sign with a large round Bulova clock topped the scoreboard and hovered over Bedford Avenue. Besides advertising the beer sold inside Ebbets Field, the Schaefer sign served another purpose: neon tubing surrounded the “h” and the first “e” in Schaefer and lighting the appropriate letter would indicate a hit or an error.


      The biggest error in baseball history was committed by Robert Moses when he thought he could paint Walter O’Malley into a corner. He did, but O’Malley ended up with a beautiful new ballpark in a corner of prime real estate near downtown Los Angeles.


*     *     *


      Tom Glavine’s atrocious one-third-of-an-inning effort in the final game of the regular season sealed the Mets’ fate for 2007. Who should get the blame for the season-ending collapse of the Mets? Was it bad managing or bad general managing? Was it Willie Randolph’s fault – or should GM Omar Minaya shoulder most of the blame? One thing’s for sure: Minaya no longer has gadol status among members of the press.


      I’ll give you my feelings next month along with a look at other teams and players who gained fame and shame. But let’s wait for the dust to settle from the post-season games.


      In the meantime, I’d like to hear your opinions on what went right and what went wrong (not only about the Mets’ terrible finish and the Rockies’ great finish) in the 2007 season, and we’ll bat it around 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, president of the Detroit area’s Agudah shul, may be reached in his dugout at irdav@sbcglobal.net.

Irwin Cohen

New York Visit: Memories Of Scooter And More

Tuesday, September 11th, 2007

      My recent stay in New York included two trips to Yankee Stadium, one to Shea Stadium and one to KeySpan Park, home of the Brooklyn Cyclones, the minor league club of the Mets in Coney Island.


      I also caught up with Celia Bobrowsky, director of Community Affairs for Major League Baseball. Celia held the same title for the Detroit Tigers the last couple of years, and took the opportunity to move to New York to be closer to her roots and family. Though she’s not Orthodox, she spent a Shabbos in my home and came for Pesach meals while with the Tigers. She was also introduced to some of the popular Lunch and Learn speakers under the Gateways umbrella who came to town through Ohr Somayach Detroit.


      Anyway, when Celia left Detroit I thought the best gift I could give her would be The Jewish Press Dining Guide, and I circled the Manhattan establishments close to her office. We lunched at one of the midtown restaurants that advertises weekly in The Jewish Press and that has become one of her favorites. Then we trekked a few blocks to her high-in-the sky baseball-appointed Park Avenue office.


      Celia showed me some of the great baseball-related items she’s collected while working in the headquarters of baseball, but the top drawer of her desk contains one of her prize possessions – The Jewish Press Dining Guide.


      While I enjoyed the games and catching up with Celia, the time spent with Marty Appel was the highlight of my trip. We go back over 30 years to when Marty was the twenty-something head of public relations for the New York Yankees and I headed a national baseball monthly. Marty went on to represent many baseball-related people, events and organizations, and handles public relations for the Israel Baseball League. Somewhere along the line, he’s found time to write 16 books.


      Our time together at Marty’s impressive midtown office/residence was constantly interrupted by calls from writers and radio/television types seeking information regarding Yankees legend Phil Rizzuto, whose passing dominated the news. Marty was an award-winning executive producer of Yankees games on WPIX-TV. Not only was he Rizzuto’s boss, he was a friend of the family.


      We swapped Rizzuto stories. Marty related that Rizzuto and his bride of 64 years, Cora, had a relationship that most couples could only wish for. The former Yankees shortstop couldn’t wait to scoot home after each game. As Marty put it, “Cora is 85, but still turns heads.”


      Being a couple of baseball seasons older than Marty, I was able to give him some personal memories of Rizzuto as a player. We – my young pre-teen yeshiva classmates and I – would take a bus to the ballpark for midweek summer afternoon games whenever the Yankees came to Detroit in the early 1950’s. We rooted against the Yanks but for Rizzuto. After all, he was the smallest player in the major leagues at the time and looked more like one of the guys in the yeshiva’s higher grades.


      We marveled as he took fielding practice from his shortstop position and quickly realized why he was called “Scooter.” He covered a lot of territory quickly. We loved it when he jumped high in the air while throwing to first base, practicing for the time he would cover second base as a runner would be sliding under him. Rizzuto mastered the art of bunting and the art of being courteous to kids hounding players for autographs.


      In the late 70’s, when I was a member of the media, Detroit boasted a Lakewood kollel for a few years. One of the new kollel fellows asked if I would take him to a ballgame before vacation ended. Since he was from New York, I took him to a Yankees game at Tiger Stadium.


      As we were going through the corridor to our seats, I spotted Rizzuto in the distance heading our way for the elevator to the broadcast booth. I brought the kollel fellow over to Rizzuto (we knew each other from the baseball beat) and introduced him. Rizzuto shook hands with him and asked, “Which yeshiva did you go to?” “Lakewood,” the young kollel fellow replied, somewhat surprised at the question. “I heard of that,” Rizzuto said. Just then, the elevator to the broadcast booth opened and Rizzuto scooted in.


      “That was Rizzuto,” Marty Appel said when I related the story. “You don’t know if he meant he heard of the yeshiva or the town. But he always made you feel good.”


      After dazzling each other with Rizzuto tales, we headed uptown to the Museum of the City of New York, where Marty had an appointment with one of the museum’s top officials. We arrived early and had a chance to take in the display that Marty had a hand in – The Glory Days: New York Baseball 1947-1957. It’s quite impressive and we traded anecdotes as we shuffled along visiting the photos and memorabilia.


      The following day, I focused on an earlier piece of New York baseball history -Washington Park, the ballpark Brooklyn’s National League club played in prior to Ebbets Field. I called a car service to pick me up from my sister’s Boro Park home and hoped for an English-speaking driver to take me to the Red Hook area of Brooklyn near the Gowanus Canal. I lucked out. Shimon Gifter turned up. Not only did he speak English, he spoke baseball fluently.


      There were three versions of Washington Park, named after America’s first president. The first Washington Park opened in 1883 on property bordered by Fourth and Fifth Avenues, Third and Fifth Streets. George Washington slept there. The Gowanus House was his headquarters during the Battle of Long Island in the Revolutionary War. Later the house had a more important historical role as the clubhouse for the Brooklyn baseball team.


      A newer ballpark a pop-up away, seating over 18,000, opened in 1898. A colorful entrance at the corner of Fourth Avenue and Third Street was festooned with flags and bunting. The first-base line ran along Fourth Avenue while the third-base line followed Third Street. Leftfield was along Third Avenue – which today happens to be right across the street from the front entrance to the Jewish Press building.


      Non-baseball mavens see a 20-foot high brick wall that borders the Con Edison storage yards on the site. That’s the exterior of the leftfield wall, the other side of which was where Casey Stengel made his major league debut as a leftfielder for Brooklyn in 1912.


      The area is also where the Brooklyn club became the Dodgers. Previously the team had been known by many names including the Atlantics, Bridegrooms (several players married during the off-season), Superbas and Robins. To get to Washington Park, fans had to dodge trolleys and so the Brooklyn team became known as the Trolley Dodgers and, eventually, just the Dodgers.


      Charley Ebbets was a one-man front office who became the owner of the team. He was concerned that the foul odors from the nearby factories and Gowanus Canal would keep fans away and began buying property near and along Bedford Avenue that led to Ebbets Field. While the Dodgers moved to Ebbets Field in 1913, a third version of Washington Park was being readied.


      In 1914, a new entry challenged the American and National leagues as a third major league. The new Federal League put a team in Brooklyn called the Tip Tops. Owned by the Ward Baking Company, manufacturers of Tip Top Bread, the team used a renovated Washington Park. Steel replaced wood in the ballpark, and the owners also lured fans by offering bigger contracts to established major leaguers. Brooklyn’s Federal League team hurt attendance at Ebbets Field, and other cities had similar experiences.


      The owners of the Tip Tops topped off Washington Park by building five 80-foot-high light towers in 1915. The plan was to introduce night ball in 1916 (well ahead of the first major league night game in Cincinnati’s Crosley Field in 1935). However, the Federal League was having financial problems and ceased operations after the 1915 season. An agreement was reached between the leagues allowing two Federal League club owners to buy major league franchises and for players to return to the major leagues without penalty if their services were sought.


      While you’ll find plenty of history in each issue of The Jewish Press, you’ll find plenty of baseball history across the street from the newspaper’s headquarters.


      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, president of the Detroit area’s Agudah shul, may be reached in his dugout at irdav@sbcglobal.net .

Irwin Cohen

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/sports/new-york-visit-memories-of-scooter-and-more/2007/09/11/

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