Photo Credit: Wikimedia
Sievers in 1959.

As a youngster growing up in the 1950s, my two favorite movies were “Angels in the Outfield,” and “Damn Yankees.”

The first was shown in theaters in 1951, and starred Paul Douglas as the boisterous manager of the lowly Pittsburgh Pirates and Janet Leigh (Mrs. Tony Curtis) as the proper reporter reaching her large audience to try to get Douglas to repent his loud, profane ways, so he could be on the right side of heaven and that should help the team win more games.


The black-and-white film also stars the familiar faces of the era of Keenan Wynn, Marvin Kaplan and Spring Byington. Filmed on location in Pittsburgh with great street scenes, the movie has great shots of Forbes Field, home of the Pirates until 1970. President Dwight D. Eisenhower said it was his favorite movie while he was in office. I saw it for the umpteenth time on one of those great movie channels that specializes in old movies.

Another enjoyable flick is “Damn Yankees,” based on the novel “The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant.” The movie, shot in beautiful color, came out in 1958 and the 1950s were made up of two kinds of baseball fans. Those who loved the Yankees and those who hated them. After all, the Yankees were in the World Series in 1949, 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953, missing 1954 as Cleveland won a record 111 games that season topping the second place Yanks.

Back in the 1955 World Series, the Yankees also played in the Series in 1956, 1957 and ’58. The premise of the movie was that a frustrated older fan of the Washington Senators would give anything to have his team beat the Yankees and advance to the World Series. Even sell his soul to the devil for the good of the team and its fans.

Tab Hunter does a great job of playing the aging fan turned into a superstar ballplayer by the devil, alias Mr. Applegate played by Ray Walston (longtime star of “My Favorite Martian”). Actress Gwenn Verdon used by the devil to manipulate the new baseball star uses her great singing and dancing talent. Many of today’s parents in our community would not be happy with Verdon’s costume which certainly is not tznius, but covers a lot more than the costumes of today. The movie contains many great songs such as “Shoeless Joe From Hannibal, Mo.” and “Ya Gotta Have Heart” (my favorite) and are performed well.

The Yankees contributed footage of Yogi Berra, Mickey, Mantle and Moose Skowron for game shots in the movie while the Washington Senators used some of their great slugger of the era, Roy Sievers. Besides using the Griffith Stadium home ballpark of the Senators for game shots, the movie was partially filmed in Wrigley Field, the triple-A ballpark of the Los Angeles Angels at the time, and baseball fans can tell the difference.

Roy Sievers recalled some of his own shots. “The players on both teams were told by the movie people that they were gonna get a hundred dollars apiece,” Sievers told me while we chatted prior to an Old-Timers game decades ago. “Whitey Ford was pitchin’ for the Yankees that day and I hit two home runs and a double off him and they used the footage in the movie.

“You see me hittin’ the ball and they cut the scene and you see Tab Hunter runnin’ the bases. Every time I watched it with the family I say, ‘Yeah, that’s ol’ dad hittin, in that movie there.” Sievers, who had a 17 year major league career as an outfielder, first baseman with the St. Louis Browns, Washington Senators (1954-1959), Chicago White Sox, Philadelphia Phillies and back to Washington where he closed out his playing career in 1965, said of his part in the movie.

Besides collecting a .267 career average with 318 home runs, Sievers collected some interesting memorabilia and memories. “I have home and away uniforms of my St. Louis Browns uniforms, ” Sievers recalled. The team moved to Baltimore and became the Orioles after the ’53 season. I also have White Sox and Senators uniforms and hats from those teams and the Phillies I wore. I kept everything in a big cedar chest and took them out to wear at Old-Timers’ Games.

“Washington was a great place to play to meet important people. I have three letters from Richard Nixon. Two are from when he was vice-president. I had lunch at the White House with four different presidents – Eisenhower, Nixon, Kennedy and Johnson. Gil Coan was an outfielder with Washington in the late ’40s and early ’50s, he told me that he has the baseball that President Truman threw out on Opening Day in 1948. He caught it and then took it to the President’s box and had it autographed and has a picture of the two of them. Washington usually had a team that was always in or close to last place and we didn’t draw many fans in those days, but if you followed politics you had a chance to see and meet important people.”

After his baseball career, Sievers was a supervisor for a trucking company in his home town of St. Louis. He was 90 when he died in 2017.


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Author, columnist, Irwin Cohen headed a national baseball publication for five years and interviewed many legends of the game before accepting a front office position with the Detroit Tigers where he became the first orthodox Jew to earn a World Series ring (1984).