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September 2, 2014 / 7 Elul, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Yankee Stadium’

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.

Reflections On A Pair Of Detroit Favorites

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

Detroit is in mourning.

 

The most popular sports figure around these parts will no longer be wearing a Detroit Tigers uniform.

 

Curtis Granderson, as you know, will be patrolling center field for the New York Yankees next year and probably for several years.

 

There were days of ranting and venting against Tigers’ management on Detroit’s sportstalk radio programs, but most didn’t realize the Granderson deal is a good one for both the Yanks and Tigers.

 

As you recall, in the three-team trade the Tigers gave up Granderson and pitcher Edward Jackson. The Yankees gave up center field prospect Austin Jackson (“A-Jax”) and pitchers Phil Coke and Ian Kennedy. The Arizona Diamondbacks surrendered pitchers Max Scherzer and Dan Schlereth.

 

The Yanks only get Granderson while Edward Jackson and Ian Kennedy go to the Diamondbacks and Detroit ends up with A-Jax, Coke, Scherzer and Schlereth.

 

The swap pays immediate dividends for the Yankees and will prove to be a great deal for the Tigers in the long run. The Diamondbacks may be the only losers.

 

A college grad whose parents are both teachers, Granderson is a great ambassador for baseball and a model citizen with an engaging personality. He’s glib, graceful, helpful and a favorite of groundskeepers and teammates. The New York stage will catapult him to superstardom.

 

Many of the off-the-wall doubles Granderson hit in Detroit’s Comerica Park will be home runs in cozier Yankee Stadium. Also, Yankee Stadium gives Granderson less area to patrol than the vast outfield at Comerica. With better hitters surrounding him in the Yankees’ lineup, Granderson should easily post a .280 batting average with 35 home runs.

 

*     *     *

 

As popular as Granderson has been among followers of the Tigers, George Kell enjoyed several decades of being loved during his long association with the Tigers.

 

   Kell died last year at 85 and I think of him often. An All-Star third baseman and American League batting champion (he hit over .300 nine times) when I started following baseball 60 years ago in 1950, Kell joined Ernie Harwell in the Tigers’ broadcasting booth in 1960 and the pair was the best play-by-play team I’ve ever heard.

 

Kell’s voice was a combination of Mel Allen, Red Barber and Vin Scully. A friendly man with an Arkansas twang, Kell was also a great storyteller. A bad back and knee made traveling difficult and Kell left regular broadcasting duties after the 1996 season. But he would occasionally visit the broadcast booth and fans were treated to his calls at Tiger Stadium’s final game ever in 1999.

 

Kell was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1983. I sent him a letter of congratulations and he responded with a longer letter. We corresponded at times through the years and I still have his letters.

 

In person, I enjoyed his stories; the modest Kell would always tell of the accomplishments of others, never his own. He broke into the majors a couple of years before Jackie Robinson and promised himself he would do what he could to help alleviate the plight of blacks. After gaining fame, Kell ran for the school board in his native Arkansas and was instrumental in integrating the schools.

 

I often prodded Kell to tell me about Hank Greenberg.

 

“Connie Mack traded me from the Philadelphia Athletics to the Tigers in 1946,” Kell said to my tape recorder. “That was Hank’s last year with the Tigers and the fans and writers loved him.

 

“I was in awe of him. I was a teenager in Arkansas and he was a big star and slugger in the late 1930s. Because of the war I never played against him until he returned late in the 1945 season and didn’t have much of a chance to get to know him.

 

“But when I came to the Tigers the following year, Hank greeted me warmly and took me out to dinner, something he did with all the new arrivals. He was a great charismatic guy and one of the smartest ballplayers of all time.

 

“Hank was the best I’ve ever seen at stealing signs when he was on second base. He would study the catcher’s moves and figure which pitches were coming and telegraph them with his own signs to us.”

 

Greenberg was the first inductee into the newly formed Michigan Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 1986. He was, however, too ill to attend (cancer would claim him only a few weeks later).

 

Pinch-hitting for Greenberg at the kosher-catered affair attended by more than 300 people was Greenberg’s teammate and friend George Kell.

 

 

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. Cohen, whose column appears the second week of each month, is president of the Detroit area’s Agudah shul and may be reached in his dugout at irdav@sbcglobal.net.

Remembering The Moonwalk, Anticipating Kosher Fantasy Camp

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009

   When Gaylord Perry made it to the major leagues with the San Francisco Giants in 1962, manager Alvin Dark told him that while he had the makings of being a good pitcher, he would be a terrible hitter. In fact, Dark told Perry that man would walk on the moon before Perry would ever hit a home run.

 

   Seven years later, on July 20, 1969, much sooner than Dark had expected, Apollo 11 astronaut Neal Armstrong walked on the moon; shortly afterward Perry hit his first big league home run. While Perry had many thrills in his 22-year big league career, winning 314 games on his way to the Hall of Fame, he never received a World Series ring as none of the eight teams he played for made it to the World Series.

 

   Jewish outfielder Richie Scheinblum hit his only home run of the 1969 season as a member of the Cleveland Indians on the same day Armstrong walked on the moon. After that, Scheinblum orbited around the minor leagues for a couple of years. When he made it back to the majors, he kept on orbiting as he was traded five times within three years.

 

*     *     *

 

   It was my third trip to the new Yankee Stadium this year and seeing Freddy Schuman made it even more enjoyable. Freddy roamed around the old stadium for over 20 years and is a fixture in the new version of Yankee Stadium.

 

   Wearing a Yankees jersey, Freddy, now 84, is accompanied by creative and colorful signs on poster board with his signature “Freddy Sez” on top of the message. You always know when he’s around because he allows fans hoping for a rally to hit his frying pan with an oversized spoon. He’s become such a celebrity that fans ask to pose with him while a camera-toting friend snaps away.

 

   While Freddy is one of a kind, there are more than 80 people holding the same kind of sign. They’re oversized paddles decorated with the Yankees logo and pinstripes titled, “How May I Help You.” They call themselves ambassadors and are there to help you navigate the magnificent new stadium and quickly find what you’re looking for.

 

   A trip to the new Yankee Stadium is more enjoyable than it was in previous years as the Yankees organization has become much more fan friendly.

 

   The latest Yankees innovation is really something: A kosher Yankees fantasy camp where you get to train and play in the Yankees’ beautiful Tampa spring training facilities. Coaches are former Yankees greats and legends – and you’ll be issued your own Yankees uniform to keep after the week of instruction and games to wear the following year at a Yankee Stadium reunion game.

 

   Best of all, you’ll get glatt kosher food and the week is topped off by the Friday Dream Game where campers get to play against the former Yanks. A Shabbat program at the hotel will feature religious services arranged by the local Young Israel, meals, and an interesting roster of speakers.

 

   I’m looking forward to the upcoming camps – November 16-22 and January 11-17, and meeting you and sharing some of my stories on how an Orthodox Jew spent years in the press box, dugouts, clubhouses and front office. Of course, I’ll have plenty of Yankees stories on interviews I did with Joe DiMaggio, Billy Martin, Thurman Munson, Reggie Jackson and numerous others. There will be other interesting speakers, including Orthodox agents who represent all-star big leaguers.

 

   So, how did this come about?

 

   Ira Jaskoll is the man behind it. Jaskoll, associate dean of the Sy Syms School of Business of Yeshiva University, has coached high school and youth baseball and basketball, and kept in shape last year for his 60th birthday by attending the Yankees fantasy camp. But as an Orthodox Jew, Jaskoll faced a couple of problems – the food and the big game, which was held on Saturday afternoon.

 

   “When I inquired,” Jaskoll recalled, “I discovered that I was the first Orthodox or observant Jew who had wanted to attend. To my great relief, they were very accommodating, and said that I could bring my own food and they would reimburse me. I still had one major hurdle, however – the Dream Games, where each team plays against the Yankee Legends on Saturday. I would miss the highlight of the week.”

 

   Jaskoll decided to attend the camp, and though he was unable to participate in the big Saturday game, he still had a great experience playing on a team coached by Ron Blomberg and Chris Chambliss. And Jaskoll was joined by a second Orthodox camper, Stu Shapiro, who came all the way from Israel.

 

   “It was great,” said Jaskoll. “Everyone was extremely respectful of my decisions and limitations. I got to play second base, first base and the outfield. I had the opportunity to get the game-winning hit in our first game in the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded. I completed a double play in the field and had the incredible experience of being coached by the great Chris Chambliss.”

 

   Jaskoll, whose uniform was topped off by a yarmulke, was called “rabbi” by the former Yankees, many of whom asked him questions about Judaism. He used his teaching experience to answer their queries and pave the way for the upcoming Yankees’ Kosher Camp.

 

   At the end of the week, Jaskoll approached Julie Kremer, the director of the fantasy camp and assistant general manager of the Tampa Yankees, about the possibility of modifying the schedule so that observant Jews could fully participate and not miss the big Dream Game this year.

 

   “To my delight,” said Jaskoll, “she agreed, and the Kosher Fantasy Camp was born.” Jaskoll will be back in uniform to meet and greet participants. He can be contacted for further details at 201-836-3195, but not on Shabbos, of course. You can reach the Yankees for camp info at 800-360-CAMP or visit fantasycamp@yankees.com.

 

   Mrs. Jaskoll was very supportive of her husband’s decision to attend the camp and even traveled from their New Jersey home to Tampa at the end of the week to cheer him on.

 

   Now, that’s a real aishes chayil.

  

   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.

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.

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.

Connecting To The Person In Need

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

    When a person goes through hard times words of encouragement can be a big lift. However, these well-intended words can backfire if they are seen as too unrealistic by the recipient and do not connect to what the person is going through.

 

    Often it’s the context of what’s being said. If a boy grows up having difficulty walking and needs a wheelchair to go more than 50 feet, it may not make him feel so good to hear that he’s going to make the little league baseball team in a month. It’s unrealistic, and it will only unnecessarily remind him of what he can’t do.

 

    However, there’s nothing wrong with dreaming of a brighter future, especially if you’re starting to make progress with some challenge you have. I was very moved when I was at the Baseball Hall of Fame to read a letter written by Babe Ruth to a young boy. By the context of the letter it was clear that the boy had great difficulty walking when he was growing up.  But it was also clear that he was making steady progress as the Babe expressed great happiness at the picture the boy sent of him riding a horse.

 

   The Babe concluded the letter by saying that he hoped that one day the public address announcer at Yankee Stadium would say, “Now replacing Babe Ruth in right field…” and then he wrote in the boy’s name. I would think the boy was thrilled to receive that letter of hope.

 

    In general it can be very positive to have someone think brightly of your future. It can give a different perspective to someone who’s going through a cycle of despair. After all, the giver of these positive words knows it is what he is thinking about the person in need. In general, it is less helpful when a person purports that he or she knows what the other person is thinking, feeling or going through.

 

    To be sure, it can be helpful if someone has a broken leg to tell what it was like when you had a broken leg. But a line is crossed when you say to that person, “I know exactly what you’re going through. I had the same thing.” No two people have the same exact injury and no two people relate to it the same way.

 

    I know of a man who was grief-stricken when his father was killed in an automobile accident. On the day he went back to work after shivah he felt numb and was just going through the motions. What he needed was a friend to draw him out and get him to relate what was going on. A well-meaning person walked up to him soon after he walked into the office and explained that she, too, had lost her father under tragic circumstances, and she knew exactly what he was going through. Then she walked away. Rather than feeling comforted, the man felt that the woman hadn’t connected one iota to what he was going through.

 

    “I’m sorry with what you’re going through” gives a person an opening to express what’s on his or her mind. Sometimes it’s not so important what you tell persons in need, but rather, it’s what they tell you that can be so beneficial to them.

 

    There is a man who has great difficulty speaking. I’ll call him Reuven. He lies in bed all day and all night. To his credit, he is able to do a lot of religious learning by memory and that gives him something stimulating and meaningful to occupy significant stretches of time. It’s wonderful when people compliment him for the great learning he does. Positive reinforcement is very important.

 

    However, there is one man who I think went too far in his compliments. He would say, “Reuven, you’re luckier than the rest of us. We have our bodies that get in the way of our spiritual needs. But you, you can focus day and night on the spiritual. You’re at a much better place than the rest of us.”

 

    And while I’m hearing this I’m thinking that maybe Reuven would love to have better use of his body, would love to have better use of his arms where he could hold his grandchildren. Better use of his legs, where he could go on outings with his family and walk to shul. If Reuven wants to think he’s in a good place, that’s great. But is it really helpful to tell an ill person, in effect, that they’re better off having an infirmity? I think not.

 

    When going to see a person in great need, it can be very challenging to know what to say. This probably keeps a number of people from visiting in the first place. But if you go and it’s a big mitzvah to do so, especially if it’s very difficult, you can just keep things nice and simple.

 

   “How are you?” could lead to a conversation that will take on it’s own natural flow. And if you know there’s something he is trying to accomplish, you can let him know you’re rooting for him and that you think he will succeed.

 

    Realistic hope, given in a caring tone of voice, with body language that says, “I’m there for you,” can go a long way.

   

      Bikur Cholim of Boro Park has organized a program that deals with the specific needs of men who are Holocaust survivors. “The Afternoon Chevra” is for retired men and meets on Monday afternoons at 1:30 p.m. at Sarah Schenirer Hall, 4622 14th Avenue. For more information contact Rabbi Baruch Krupnik at 718/249-3515.

 

    A Daf Yomi shiur open to the community is given by Rabbi Chaskel Scharf at Scharf’s Ateret Avot Senior Residence, 1410 E. 10th Street, Midwood, Brooklyn. It meets at 2:30 p.m. from Sunday to Thursday and 11:15 a.m. on Friday. Call 718/998-5400 for more information.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/features/connecting-to-the-person-in-need/2009/02/25/

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