Results tagged ‘ Polo Grounds ’

Baseball hits the mat

By Freddy Berowski

On Sunday, World Wrestling Entertainment will air the 25th annual Royal Rumble on pay-per-view. Millions of fans all over the world are expected to tune in to see John Cena, Zach Ryder, C.M. Punk, Mick Foley and all the top WWE superstars battle for a chance to be in the main event at WrestleMania: The World Series of professional wrestling.

Professional Wrestling and baseball have a storied history. Major Leaguers like baseball’s all-time hit king Pete Rose and long-time White Sox backstop A.J. Pierzynski have participated in numerous major professional wrestling events. Shea Stadium, home of the New York Mets from 1964-2009, hosted a series of WWE wrestling events featuring Andre the Giant, Hulk Hogan and Bruno Sammartino, from 1972 to 1980.

WWE Legend “Macho Man” Randy Savage was a professional baseball player in the St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds minor league systems before turning his sights to a career in sports entertainment. Hall of Fame third baseman Pie Traynor was a wrestling announcer for Pittsburgh’s Studio Wrestling program in the 1960s. And current WWE star Mick Foley came to Cooperstown in 2006 to give a talk at the National Baseball Hall of Fame on the baseball book he authored, Scooter.

Professional wrestling’s connection to baseball, specifically the National Baseball Hall of Fame, goes back farther than that. It goes back nearly a century – to 1914.

On April 23, 1914, at the Polo Grounds in New York City, the prodigal son returned. Star outfielder Mike Donlin, owner of a career .334 batting average at the time, came back to the New York Giants after being sold to the Boston Braves three years earlier. In honor of his return, prominent New York Giants supporters, among them politicians, actors, song writers and theatre owners, got together and presented “Turkey Mike” with a specially made trophy bat during pre-game ceremonies, honoring him as the most popular Giants player.

The Master of Ceremonies for this event was prominent New York wrestling and boxing ring announcer Joe Humphreys. Among the team boosters who had this trophy bat made for presentation to Donlin was Jess McMahon.

Jess McMahon, a prominent wrestling and boxing promoter in his own right, is the grandfather of the “Babe Ruth” of wrestling promoters, Vince McMahon. Vince McMahon is the owner of World Wrestling Entertainment, the organization that revolutionized professional wrestling from the local, regionalized exhibitions of the pre-1980s, to the world-wide, multi-million dollar phenomenon that it is today.

This bat was donated to the Hall of Fame in 1963 by Mike Donlin’s widow, Rita.

Freddy Berowski is a library associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

The oldest major leaguer

Berowski_90.jpgBy Freddy Berowski

Art Mahan was born 13 months before Babe Ruth made his big league debut.

By the time Mahan died – on Tuesday at the age of 97 – Mahan had lived to see baseball evolve from a simple game to a national treasure.

Mahan, who played in 146 games for the Phillies in his only big league season in 1940, was the fourth-oldest living major leaguer at the time of his death. Ranking first on that chart is Tony Malinosky, who played 35 games for Brooklyn in 1937 and today stands at 101 years and 63 days old.

But Malinosky has a ways to go before he can lay claim to being the oldest major leaguer ever. 

12-09-10-Berowski_Hilltop.jpgThe Sept. 7, 1911 New York Times said of Chet “Red” Hoff’s major league debut against the Washington Senators: “Pitcher Hoff was in the game long enough to have his picture taken.”

This contemporary account is contrary to most published reports nearly 90 years later, largely based on the tales told by Hoff himself. But after a lifetime – the longest lifetime of any former big league player – Chet Hoff earned the right to tell a few stories.  

Chester Cornelius Hoff was born May 8, 1891 in Ossining, N.Y., and lived 107 years, 4 months and 9 days, making him the longest living major leaguer. He pitched in five games his rookie season, going straight from the sandlots of Ossining to the top of the hill in New York City, playing for the Highlanders who would become the Yankees in 1913. He even met up with Ty Cobb that season, but not in his major league debut. 

In the years shortly before his death, Hoff recalled his debut, getting the call from his manager Hal Chase in the ninth inning of a blow-out game, and striking out Cobb on three straight pitches. Hoff claimed he didn’t know who he had faced until the next day when he read the newspaper and was stunned when he read a headline “Hoff Strikes out Ty Cobb.”

12-09-10-Berowski_Cobb.jpgHoff’s actual debut came on Sept. 6, throwing a scoreless frame in a 6-2 loss against the Washington Senators. Hoff got his action against the Tigers 12 days later. The Sept. 19, 1911 New York Times stated, “Hoff pitched the last four innings and did good work.”

In his four innings of one-run ball, Hoff faced Ty Cobb and according to the Times, “fooled Ty with a roundhouse curve, which crossed the center of the plate for the third strike”. It was a rare two-strikeout day for the legendary Cobb, who also fanned in his first at bat of the day against Yankee ace Russ Ford.

Hoff pitched in 12 games for the Highlanders and Yankees over the course of three seasons and compiled an 0-2 record, with a 3.89 ERA. Hoff pitched one season for the St. Louis Browns, 1915, and went 2-2 with a 1.24 ERA. He retired from professional baseball in 1918, but his love for the game never diminished. 

He returned home to Ossining, where he went to work as a paper cutter for Rand-McNally, continued to play semi-pro ball on weekends and continued to follow the Yankees. Chet Hoff’s story made national news when he turned 100 and appeared on The Today Show in 1993. He followed up that appearance with some appearances for his old ballclub, including an appearance alongside Gene Michael and Willie Randolph at a ceremony dedicating a plaque on the site of Hilltop Park, the Yankees original home, where Hoff made his major league debut. 

Hoff passed away on Sept. 17, 1998.

Freddy Berowski is a library associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

Worth watching

Francis_90.jpgBy Bill Francis

A familiar face from PBS’s popular show Antiques Roadshow for 14 years made a non-televised but nonetheless enlightening appearance at the 22nd annual Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture this week.

Leila “Lee” Dunbar can often be seen appraising sports memorabilia on the long-running television show – she has provided more than 2,000 verbal appraisals on more than 50 segments – but Thursday afternoon in the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum’s Bullpen Theater she presented a talk titled “Stories in Hand – Baseball History Told Through its Memorabilia.” Before a full house, Dunbar talked of her life and the road she traveled to become a professional appraiser of pop culture memorabilia, including sports. Interspersed was the detective work often involved as well as stories of intriguing baseball items she has been involved with over the years.

06-04-10-Francis_Dunbar.jpg“The Cooperstown Symposium is great because it gives a lot of different viewpoints, a lot of different nuances of history, a lot of stories that you don’t get to hear in the mainstream,” Dunbar said after her presentation. “One of the things about baseball is that no matter how much you know, there’s a lot more that you don’t know. And I’ve learned so much just in a day. It’s been just fantastic, and you meet a great group of people.

“People with different viewpoints is fantastic because in my world, normally, I’m either meeting people who have items, so they are what I would call ‘civilians,’ or I know other appraisers, and we discuss things from a slightly different point of view,” she added. “So the people that I meet here are not looking at this as a business, they’re looking at it as a purely historical exercise of deepening knowledge and understanding and I appreciate that, I appreciate that passion.”

Besides her work on TV, Dunbar’s company, Leila Dunbar LLC, provides all types of written appraisals for insurance, donation, estate tax, divorce, etc. Prior to opening her own business in July 2008, she served as senior vice president and director of Sotheby’s Collectibles department.

“One of the great things about the Symposium is that it has scholars, it has journalists, it has curators, and it has collectors. Me as an appraiser and having been in the business of actually buying and selling memorabilia, auctioning memorabilia, I look at objects in a variety of ways,” Dunbar said. “One, I look at is what’s the price, what’s the value? Be it a replacement value, be it value for estate tax or donation. So I have to think in that regard. But the only way you can get to that number is to do many of the same things that the others do, which is to do your research and then be able to think quantitatively about that research.”

According to Dunbar, she had very little choice when it came to her affection for the national pastime. While admitting to loving all sports, baseball’s her favorite because it’s what she grew up while being exposed to the most intense rivalry in the game.

“I was very lucky. I grew up with a love a baseball on both sides of my family,” she said. “My grandfather is an Episcopalian minister in New York who had tickets to Ebbets Field, the Polo Grounds and Yankee Stadium and idolized all the Yankees. And my mother, a big baseball fan, was actually a member of the knothole gang for the Boston Braves, and to this day I have all these aunts in their 70s, 80s and 90s who all watch, curse or cheer on the Red Sox depending on how well they’re doing.”

As for the institution that was hosting the Symposium, Dunbar had only high praise.

“I think the Baseball Hall of Fame is the ultimate repository of baseball memorabilia, and one that’s able to continually play a role in deepening the understanding of baseball and its history.”

Bill Francis is a library associate for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. 

The new Yankee Stadium takes its bow

Appel_90.jpgBy Marty Appel

On Opening Day of the refurbished Yankee Stadium, April 15, 1976, it was nearly 90 degrees and of course, I had overdressed, deeming it appropriate to wear a suit and tie on this formal occasion. I was the PR director; I was the guy on the field trying to make order out of 50 photographers and a long list of VIPs, coordinating the introductions with hand signals to Bob Sheppard in the PA booth. All of my “assistance” from stadium security had vanished, dispatched to Mr. Steinbrenner’s office for his pregame party.

So there I was, alone on the field with Joe Louis, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Frank Gifford, Kyle Rote, Johnny Unitas, Weeb Ewbank and others with Stadium pedigrees. 4-17-09-Appel_OldYankeeStadium.jpgBob Shawkey, who pitched the 1923 opener, was on hand to throw out the first pitch, and he was surrounded on the mound by Mel Allen, the legendary “Voice of the Yankees;” by Pete Sheehy, the kindly clubhouse manager who had been there since 1927; by Toots Shor, the restaurateur whose eatery had been a second home to so many athletes; and by James Farley, former postmaster general, head of the Democratic Party, Haverstraw, N.Y. amateur baseball player, and season-ticket holder since ’23. Whitey Witt stood at the plate — he was the first Yankees batter in ’23.

Although recent publicity has called the remodeled Yankee Stadium inferior to the original, at the time, almost everyone had glowing approval for the project. Escalators, a video-replay scoreboard (which didn’t work on Opening Day), no obstructed-view seating, modern-dining facilities, luxury boxes and a new sound system all had kicked the aging park into modern times. The faade design, not yet held in iconic status as it is today, graced the top of the bleacher billboards. There wasn’t seating in the left-field bleachers until it was hastily installed prior to the ’76 ALCS, and thus the attendance of 54,010 was less than the eventual capacity.

These thoughts were in my mind as I boarded the crowded D train at Columbus Circle for the 15-minute trip to the Bronx. Today, you can always tell when it’s the right train, because everyone is wearing Yankees clothing — caps, Jeter T-shirts, etc. I always remember George Weiss, the GM in the ’50s, supposedly pounding on his desk in front of a promotion man who was touting Cap Day and saying, “Do you think I want every kid in this town walking around in a Yankees cap?” As if it would be sacrilegious.

Upon emerging from the subway Thursday, I the first view is not of the beautiful new Stadium, but of the old one, over there to the left, experiencing the early stages of demolition. I was very emotional when I attended the final game last September, and this is yet another tug at my heartstrings. Sledgehammers are doing their jobs along the bleacher walls, and within the next few months, the concrete will be down, and the reality will really set in. I’ve been going there since 1956. This is tough to see.

I was early enough to take a full walk around the new park. There are no statues, as other teams have included, but plenty of signage and banners remembering great Yankees: Ruth to Gehrig to DiMaggio to Mantle to Munson to Murcer to Jackson to Mattingly to O’Neill to Williams to Jeter to Rivera to Sabathia. Yes, to CC. Hey, he was going for his second Yankees win Thursday! And the first rule of promoting your product is to promote the current product more than the old.

It’s nice that Babe Ruth Plaza not only remains, but is also enhanced. It used to be just three words in broken tile in a patch of concrete breaking up traffic flow on 161st Street. Now it has a more formal presence, as the outside of the first-base/right-field side of the stadium. The inside complement is called the Great Hall. (I might have named it the Grand Concourse, after the nearby Bronx street.)

Everyone is in a festive mood, and there had been rumors in the last 24 hours of not Yogi, but of President Obama — or of Archbishop Dolan, newly installed just Wednesday, handling the honors. The paper this morning said it would be Yogi, which is just fine. He has been a loveable figure in this town since his 1946 debut 63 years ago. How do you stay so lovable so long? You have to be the real deal, and he is. He’s the most honorable, honest and genuine person you could ever know. It is wonderful that he is still with us, just short of 84, to perform this honor. Although he does move closer to home plate with each ceremonial toss!

I arrived about two hours early and spent a lot of time photographing exterior shots. I decided that the crossing of 161st Street by hundreds of fans coming off the subway will take on the look of a Yankees fashion parade in no time. And just a few days after New York’s traditional Easter Parade! It’s quite a sight to see this sea of Yankees blue swarm across the street towards Babe Ruth Plaza.

I’m in Section 212, sitting with Jeff Idelson, my pal for almost 20 years and the president of the Hall of Fame. Like me, Jeff is a former Yankees PR director. The late Anne Mileo was secretary to us both, and it’s a good day to remember Anne as well.

4-17-09-Appel_Berra.jpgAfter receiving an Opening Day pin (sure to be a collectors item), I continued taking photos inside, thinking, “What would we be wanting to see of 1923’s opener if we could?”

So I shot concession-stand price signs, the restaurants, the signage and the museum, complete with all its signed baseballs, statues of Yogi and Larsen and the World Series trophies since 1977. I took a photo of the signed baseball of journeyman catcher Sal Fasano, one of my son’s favorite players, and wondered why I have no recollection of Frank Tanana ever being a Yankee.

The opening ceremonies were less tear-evoking than the final game last year, but still a marvel. John Fogerty sang “Centerfield” (love it), Bernie Williams did “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” on guitar (love him) and Kelly Clarkson performed the national anthem. (She is a different person than Carrie Underwood, right?)

The old timers introduced were a mixed bag of memories — good for the Yankees to invite the much-maligned Horace Clark, and how good it was to see Jerry Coleman, Whitey Ford and Bobby Brown, who, beside Mr. Berra, were the senior citizens. The biggest hands were for the more recent players — Williams, O’Neill, Tino Martinez, David Cone, etc., probably because younger fans cheer louder. Some of my favorites were there: Bobby Richardson, Moose Skowron, Ron Blomberg, Luis Arroyo, Ralph Terry and Bob Turley. (I guess we’ll never see Jim Bouton at such a gathering.) I wish Gene Michael had received a louder ovation, if only for what he meant as a super scout in the early ’90s, building the Yankees dynasty of that decade.

To me, with a public-relations background, much of a fan’s experience should be about how many cheer moments their day at the ballpark provides. 4-17-09-Appel_Posada.jpgFor example, I was at the first exhibition game on April 3 against the Cubs. Jackson threw out the first pitch. I think the fans would have gotten a chill if the PA announcer had said, “And joining Reggie for the ceremonial first pitch … one of his teammates from those great Yankees teams of the ’70s … one of the most popular players to ever wear the Yankees uniform … here today as the manager of the Chicago Cubs … a warm Yankee Stadium welcome for … Lou Piniella!” It would have been a terrific moment.

Jeff and I then sat back and enjoyed a baseball game as two old friends should. We commented on Sabathia’s high pitch count and rolled our eyes at the leather-lunged fan ahead of us who chose to stand and yell “hip hip …” on every pitch to Jorge Posada, so that everyone would follow with “Hor-HAY!” Wasn’t it a supernatural act, that when Posada hit the first home run in the new ballpark, our hero was off in the men’s room or somewhere and missed it?

Jeff and I shared a lot of observations about the minutiae of the place — the placement of the monuments, the retired numbers, the out-of-town scoreboard, even whether the PR department was correct to omit the 1974 opener at Shea Stadium in the media packet that included Hilltop Park, the Polo Grounds, the original Yankee Stadium and the remodeled Yankee Stadium. (We thought Shea belonged.)

When the Indians got nine runs in one inning, the fans started to yell “We want Swisher!” after Nick had pitched a shutout inning in the 15-5 loss Monday. That was pretty funny, and I hope Nick heard it in right field.

Yankee Stadium traditions continued — YMCA, three-card monte, the subway race, Ronan Tynan doing “God Bless America,” the bleacher bums’ roll call, and of course, the captain, Derek Jeter, being The Man. The fans love him, and he’s worthy of it. As Mantle had been a hero to me, and then 4-17-09-Appel_Jeter.jpgDon Mattingly to my son, it’s wonderful that someone like Jeter has come along for this generation. Baseball perpetuates itself.

It was a Yankees loss, but every team is going to lose 60 games, so you sort of put that aside and move on if you’re a Yankees fan. Posada hitting the first home run was big. The ballpark is a winner. And watching the game with a friend is the best part of it all.

After the opener at new Yankee Stadium, the following items were donated to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum and will soon be on display in Cooperstown: a game-used ball signed by Indians starting pitcher Cliff Lee, the spikes worn by Yankees starting pitcher CC Sabathia and the bat used by Indians center fielder Grady Sizemore to hit a seventh-inning grand slam.

Marty Appel is a special contributor to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

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