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September 17, 2014 / 22 Elul, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Polo Grounds’

Remembering New York’s Old Stadiums

Wednesday, May 6th, 2009

Last month I predicted the Yankees, Indians and Angels would top their divisions in the American League, while the Mets, Cubs and Diamondbacks would do the same in the National League.

 

It’s a long season, full of ups and downs. Even though some good teams have had bad starts, they’ll have more ups the rest of the season.

 

Now, for the postseason spots. The wild card teams – the second place team with the best won-lost record – will be the Red Sox in the American League and the Florida Marlins in the National League.

 

 The Red Sox will use veteran pitcher John Smoltz wisely, will end up facing the Mets in the World Series, and will win it in six games. The Wilpon family (owners of the Mets), via the extra revenue the postseason games will rake in, will be able to recoup some of the millions they lost to Bernie Madoff.

 

*     *     *

 

Next month I’ll tell you about my forthcoming visit to New York and what I think about the new megabuck stadiums of the Mets and Yankees. To set the stage, I’m going to devote the rest of this column to what I thought about New York’s previous ballparks.

 

I’m old enough and lucky enough to have seen Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field twice (1954 and 1957). The fabled, cozy, brown-bricked home of the Brooklyn Dodgers, with the right field wall running along Bedford Avenue, was nestled in a neighborhood that offered very little parking.

 

Red paint adorned the seats inside and colorful signage around the large scoreboard covered the right field wall. A 19-foot fence topped the 19-foot wall, keeping most balls from bouncing around Bedford Avenue traffic. The fence beginning just to the right of the foul pole at the 297-foot mark was brown and initially I thought it was rusted out.

 

It wasn’t until my second visit to Ebbets Field three years later that I realized the fence was painted brown to conform to the exterior of the ballpark. I was also surprised to see large, long advertising signs for Chesterfield cigarettes and Botany ties on the Bedford Avenue side of the wall.

 

While Ebbets Field was probably baseball’s all-time most loved ballpark, New York had baseball’s most unusual in the Polo Grounds. Located across the Harlem River from Yankee Stadium, the mostly double-decked horseshoe-shaped home of the Giants offered unusual field dimensions. It was only 257 feet down the right field line and only 279 feet to the wall in left field. The upper decks at the foul poles hung over the lower outfield stands giving batters home runs on some long high pop-ups.

 

While the dark green interior of the Polo Grounds had short distances down the foul lines, the horseshoe-shaped structure made the center field wall the deepest in baseball at 483 feet in the ballpark’s last year of existence in 1963 (the second year the Mets called it home). The clubhouses were above the outfield bleachers and the scoreboard clock was 80 feet above ground level and its exterior almost backed up to the Harlem River.

 

             Until the late 1960s, much of the exterior of Yankee Stadium looked as it did when it opened in 1923. I was stationed at Ft. Dix, New Jersey, in the summer of 1964 and luck enough to be an assistant to the base’s three Jewish chaplains.

 

When I had a weekend pass, I spent Shabbos at the Bronx home of my mother’s cousins (the Kolitch family) near the Young Israel of Pelham Parkway. The first Sunday I was there, I went on a self-imposed march from their home to Yankee Stadium.

 

It was almost a two-mile trek to the Grand Concourse, and then almost three miles down that handsome boulevard. Its benches were populated with elderly couples sizing me up as I walked to Yankee Stadium. The complexion of the area was much different then; most of the benchwarmers spoke Yiddish.

 

The excitement of getting to the stadium for a Sunday doubleheader kept me going without looking for a bench to share. I stopped to drink in the view in front of the tall, multi-winged Grand Concourse Hotel, home to many Yankee players during the season.

 

Then it was downward, catching the majesty of the stadium from behind the bleachers. The interior was also impressive because it looked as it did in the 1940s and 1950s. The seats, posts, and the famous frieze ringing around the facing of the roof were still in the original light green color.

 

Later that summer, on another weekend pass, I subwayed to Shea Stadium in its inaugural year, right across the way from the World’s Fair. A stadium with escalators and sweeping views not hindered by posts was something new to New York and most cities at the time.

 

Seeing the high, colorful decks from the outside was impressive. Being inside was not as impressive. A full house was on hand to see the Mets play the Dodgers that Sunday as Don Drysdale went the distance downing the Mets 2-to-1. I ended up in the top row just to the fair side of the left-field foul pole. Shea Stadium’s interior looked more like a giant television studio than a ballpark.

 

Through the years Mets management did what it could to enhance Shea, but it was never lovable or even likable. In the latter part of the 1960s, the Yankees did away with the light green interior, painting the seats blue and the facing of the decks and posts bright white. In the mid-1970s, modernization robbed the impressive stadium of what was left of its personality.

 

Because I experienced the original Yankee Stadium, I maintained a strong dislike for the storied stadium after its renovation. Over the last couple of decades, New York’s big league ballparks were on my least-liked list.

 

I’m heading to the new stadiums armed with the knowledge that the Yankees incorporated some of the best features of the original stadium and the Mets included some of Ebbets Field and the Polo Grounds – and that I’m old enough to recognize them.

 

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.

Remembering New York’s Old Stadiums

Wednesday, May 6th, 2009

Last month I predicted the Yankees, Indians and Angels would top their divisions in the American League, while the Mets, Cubs and Diamondbacks would do the same in the National League.

 

It’s a long season, full of ups and downs. Even though some good teams have had bad starts, they’ll have more ups the rest of the season.

 

Now, for the postseason spots. The wild card teams – the second place team with the best won-lost record – will be the Red Sox in the American League and the Florida Marlins in the National League.

 

 The Red Sox will use veteran pitcher John Smoltz wisely, will end up facing the Mets in the World Series, and will win it in six games. The Wilpon family (owners of the Mets), via the extra revenue the postseason games will rake in, will be able to recoup some of the millions they lost to Bernie Madoff.

 

*     *     *

 

Next month I’ll tell you about my forthcoming visit to New York and what I think about the new megabuck stadiums of the Mets and Yankees. To set the stage, I’m going to devote the rest of this column to what I thought about New York’s previous ballparks.

 

I’m old enough and lucky enough to have seen Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field twice (1954 and 1957). The fabled, cozy, brown-bricked home of the Brooklyn Dodgers, with the right field wall running along Bedford Avenue, was nestled in a neighborhood that offered very little parking.

 

Red paint adorned the seats inside and colorful signage around the large scoreboard covered the right field wall. A 19-foot fence topped the 19-foot wall, keeping most balls from bouncing around Bedford Avenue traffic. The fence beginning just to the right of the foul pole at the 297-foot mark was brown and initially I thought it was rusted out.

 

It wasn’t until my second visit to Ebbets Field three years later that I realized the fence was painted brown to conform to the exterior of the ballpark. I was also surprised to see large, long advertising signs for Chesterfield cigarettes and Botany ties on the Bedford Avenue side of the wall.

 

While Ebbets Field was probably baseball’s all-time most loved ballpark, New York had baseball’s most unusual in the Polo Grounds. Located across the Harlem River from Yankee Stadium, the mostly double-decked horseshoe-shaped home of the Giants offered unusual field dimensions. It was only 257 feet down the right field line and only 279 feet to the wall in left field. The upper decks at the foul poles hung over the lower outfield stands giving batters home runs on some long high pop-ups.

 

While the dark green interior of the Polo Grounds had short distances down the foul lines, the horseshoe-shaped structure made the center field wall the deepest in baseball at 483 feet in the ballpark’s last year of existence in 1963 (the second year the Mets called it home). The clubhouses were above the outfield bleachers and the scoreboard clock was 80 feet above ground level and its exterior almost backed up to the Harlem River.

 

             Until the late 1960s, much of the exterior of Yankee Stadium looked as it did when it opened in 1923. I was stationed at Ft. Dix, New Jersey, in the summer of 1964 and luck enough to be an assistant to the base’s three Jewish chaplains.

 

When I had a weekend pass, I spent Shabbos at the Bronx home of my mother’s cousins (the Kolitch family) near the Young Israel of Pelham Parkway. The first Sunday I was there, I went on a self-imposed march from their home to Yankee Stadium.

 

It was almost a two-mile trek to the Grand Concourse, and then almost three miles down that handsome boulevard. Its benches were populated with elderly couples sizing me up as I walked to Yankee Stadium. The complexion of the area was much different then; most of the benchwarmers spoke Yiddish.

 

The excitement of getting to the stadium for a Sunday doubleheader kept me going without looking for a bench to share. I stopped to drink in the view in front of the tall, multi-winged Grand Concourse Hotel, home to many Yankee players during the season.

 

Then it was downward, catching the majesty of the stadium from behind the bleachers. The interior was also impressive because it looked as it did in the 1940s and 1950s. The seats, posts, and the famous frieze ringing around the facing of the roof were still in the original light green color.

 

Later that summer, on another weekend pass, I subwayed to Shea Stadium in its inaugural year, right across the way from the World’s Fair. A stadium with escalators and sweeping views not hindered by posts was something new to New York and most cities at the time.

 

Seeing the high, colorful decks from the outside was impressive. Being inside was not as impressive. A full house was on hand to see the Mets play the Dodgers that Sunday as Don Drysdale went the distance downing the Mets 2-to-1. I ended up in the top row just to the fair side of the left-field foul pole. Shea Stadium’s interior looked more like a giant television studio than a ballpark.

 

Through the years Mets management did what it could to enhance Shea, but it was never lovable or even likable. In the latter part of the 1960s, the Yankees did away with the light green interior, painting the seats blue and the facing of the decks and posts bright white. In the mid-1970s, modernization robbed the impressive stadium of what was left of its personality.

 

Because I experienced the original Yankee Stadium, I maintained a strong dislike for the storied stadium after its renovation. Over the last couple of decades, New York’s big league ballparks were on my least-liked list.

 

I’m heading to the new stadiums armed with the knowledge that the Yankees incorporated some of the best features of the original stadium and the Mets included some of Ebbets Field and the Polo Grounds – and that I’m old enough to recognize them.


 


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.

Remembering The ‘Yiddish Infielder’

Wednesday, December 10th, 2008

It was the 20th yahrzeit of Andy Cohen (no relation) recently, and he was remembered by some of the fans in my favorite shul.

Cohen checked in on October 25, 1904, in Baltimore to European-born parents. The family moved to El Paso, Texas when Andy was four. As a young man he starred on local baseball fields and signed a minor league contract with Galveston in the Texas League.

The National League’s New York Giants, who for years had been looking for a Jewish player to increase attendance at the Polo Grounds and to cut into the popularity of the Babe Ruth Yankees across the Harlem River, purchased Cohen’s contract for the same price ($25,000) an entire Texas League franchise was fetching.

Newspaper articles around the country heralded the big league debut of Cohen in 1926. Articles described him as a “stocky little Jew” a “Yiddish infielder” and a “young Hebrew lad.”Westbrook Pegler, one of the most widely read syndicated columnists of the time, explained to his vast reading audience Cohen’s importance to the John McGraw-led New York Giants:

 

Outside New York it is not easy to visualize the extent of the public that Mr. McGraw is appealing to. From Mosholu Parkway, on the north, down to Central Park, an expanse miles long and miles wide, except in the negro district of Harlem, there are thousands of restaurants and herring stores, almost all with Yiddish lettering on the windows.

The tailor shops, the meat markets, the groceries, the dry goods stores, almost all the places of business [bear] such names as Levkowitz or Lefcourt, the English equivalent; Levy, Levitach, Myer, Mandelbaum, Katz, Jacobs, Rosenbloom, Segal, Gans and Schanz.

In the tall apartment buildings, which stand in solid rows for miles, the names on the doorbells are Jewish by a vast plurality.

 It is the same in miles of Brooklyn territory and on the Lower East Side, and almost the same on West End Avenue and Riverside Drive, two expensive streets, where the Jewish aristocracy live.

 

Cohen played in 32 big league games for the Giants in 1926, batting .257. McGraw hated to lose his big Jewish drawing card but sent Cohen to minor-league Buffalo the following year for more seasoning. A warm relationship sprouted between Cohen and the Jewish community of that city. Cohen’s .353 batting average helped lead Buffalo to the International League pennant.

Brought back to the Giants in 1928, Cohen batted a respectable .274 in 129 games and was warmly embraced by Jewish fans and organizations. He received numerous gifts and the Giants responded to their second baseman’s popularity be selling “Ice Cream Cohens” at Polo Grounds concession stands.

Cohen’s average went up to .294 in 101 games in 1929, but McGraw wanted a more polished defensive second baseman and sent him to Newark in 1930. The Giants manager figured Cohen would work on his fielding while local Jewish fans could still follow him as he played for the nearby top minor league team.

McGraw told Cohen he would be brought up soon, but the 25-year-old infielder suffered a leg injury that would keep him in the minors for the rest of his playing career.

In 1939, Cohen began managing in the minor leagues, moving up the chain before being called for three years’ service in the military. He resumed his managerial career after the war. When the Yankees brought up their top minor league manager, Ralph Houk, from Denver to help coach the Yankees for the 1958 season, they hired Cohen to manage the Denver club.

Cohen made it back to the majors as a coach with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1960. When Phillies manager Eddie Sawyer resigned, Gene Mauch was hired as skipper but could not arrive in time for the next game. Cohen was tagged as interim manager.

Andy won the only big league game he ever managed, 5-4 in 10 innings, and returned to the coaching box for the rest of the 1960 season. Cohen then took the opportunity to return to El Paso, Texas, to become head coach for the University of Texas baseball team, a position he held for the next 17 years.

He hired his brother, Syd, who’d pitched in the major leagues with Washington in 1934 and again in 1936 and ’37, as pitching coach. Syd died a few months before Andy in 1988.

The brothers were memorialized when the city of El Paso built a new downtown ballpark seating 9,725 to house the Diablos of the double-A Texas League and named it Cohen Stadium. The ballpark’s unusual canopied roof looks like a bunch of sailboats hugging. It’s very fitting, as the Cohen brothers were warmly embraced by the citizens of El Paso for better than half a century.

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 in 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.

Remembering The ‘Yiddish Infielder’

Wednesday, December 10th, 2008

It was the 20th yahrzeit of Andy Cohen (no relation) recently, and he was remembered by some of the fans in my favorite shul.


Cohen checked in on October 25, 1904, in Baltimore to European-born parents. The family moved to El Paso, Texas when Andy was four. As a young man he starred on local baseball fields and signed a minor league contract with Galveston in the Texas League.


The National League’s New York Giants, who for years had been looking for a Jewish player to increase attendance at the Polo Grounds and to cut into the popularity of the Babe Ruth Yankees across the Harlem River, purchased Cohen’s contract for the same price ($25,000) an entire Texas League franchise was fetching.


Newspaper articles around the country heralded the big league debut of Cohen in 1926. Articles described him as a “stocky little Jew” a “Yiddish infielder” and a “young Hebrew lad.”
Westbrook Pegler, one of the most widely read syndicated columnists of the time, explained to his vast reading audience Cohen’s importance to the John McGraw-led New York Giants:

 

Outside New York it is not easy to visualize the extent of the public that Mr. McGraw is appealing to. From Mosholu Parkway, on the north, down to Central Park, an expanse miles long and miles wide, except in the negro district of Harlem, there are thousands of restaurants and herring stores, almost all with Yiddish lettering on the windows.


The tailor shops, the meat markets, the groceries, the dry goods stores, almost all the places of business [bear] such names as Levkowitz or Lefcourt, the English equivalent; Levy, Levitach, Myer, Mandelbaum, Katz, Jacobs, Rosenbloom, Segal, Gans and Schanz.


In the tall apartment buildings, which stand in solid rows for miles, the names on the doorbells are Jewish by a vast plurality.


 It is the same in miles of Brooklyn territory and on the Lower East Side, and almost the same on West End Avenue and Riverside Drive, two expensive streets, where the Jewish aristocracy live.

 

Cohen played in 32 big league games for the Giants in 1926, batting .257. McGraw hated to lose his big Jewish drawing card but sent Cohen to minor-league Buffalo the following year for more seasoning. A warm relationship sprouted between Cohen and the Jewish community of that city. Cohen’s .353 batting average helped lead Buffalo to the International League pennant.


Brought back to the Giants in 1928, Cohen batted a respectable .274 in 129 games and was warmly embraced by Jewish fans and organizations. He received numerous gifts and the Giants responded to their second baseman’s popularity be selling “Ice Cream Cohens” at Polo Grounds concession stands.


Cohen’s average went up to .294 in 101 games in 1929, but McGraw wanted a more polished defensive second baseman and sent him to Newark in 1930. The Giants manager figured Cohen would work on his fielding while local Jewish fans could still follow him as he played for the nearby top minor league team.


McGraw told Cohen he would be brought up soon, but the 25-year-old infielder suffered a leg injury that would keep him in the minors for the rest of his playing career.


In 1939, Cohen began managing in the minor leagues, moving up the chain before being called for three years’ service in the military. He resumed his managerial career after the war. When the Yankees brought up their top minor league manager, Ralph Houk, from Denver to help coach the Yankees for the 1958 season, they hired Cohen to manage the Denver club.


Cohen made it back to the majors as a coach with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1960. When Phillies manager Eddie Sawyer resigned, Gene Mauch was hired as skipper but could not arrive in time for the next game. Cohen was tagged as interim manager.


Andy won the only big league game he ever managed, 5-4 in 10 innings, and returned to the coaching box for the rest of the 1960 season. Cohen then took the opportunity to return to El Paso, Texas, to become head coach for the University of Texas baseball team, a position he held for the next 17 years.


He hired his brother, Syd, who’d pitched in the major leagues with Washington in 1934 and again in 1936 and ’37, as pitching coach. Syd died a few months before Andy in 1988.


The brothers were memorialized when the city of El Paso built a new downtown ballpark seating 9,725 to house the Diablos of the double-A Texas League and named it Cohen Stadium. The ballpark’s unusual canopied roof looks like a bunch of sailboats hugging. It’s very fitting, as the Cohen brothers were warmly embraced by the citizens of El Paso for better than half a century.


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 in 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/remembering-the-yiddish-infielder/2008/12/10/

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