Thursday, November 9, 2017

A Trip Down Memory Lane

While the debate continues as to whether Brian Cashman has, or has not, already identified the next Yankee manager, I have another item to occupy some space.

I was among a few volunteers who won the lottery to read this new book, by Kevin Cook.  It features the 1947 World Series ( Yankees vs. Brooklyn Dodgers ), and focuses on six men who played key roles in that classic match-up.  Truth be told, hundreds of baseball characters ( I didn't count, but it was a lot ) make their appearances in this tale revisited.

As a peek back into history, I was right at home with this book and I flew through the pages.  This book, this era, replayed the beginning of my Yankee commitment.  And it filled in so many memories that were fuzzy, or un-noticed, by the 6 year old Yankee wannabe  that I was at the time.

The key names were players I both adored and hated.  The Yankees got my adoration and the Dodgers my un-ending malice.  In 1947, many of the players mentioned were young, but blossomed through the 1940's and 1950's.  The Duke Snyders and Gil Hodges of Hall of Fame mention.  Lawerence Peter Berra, Allie Reynolds, and Joe Page.  And the great Jackie Robinson, who debuted in this World Series, as a first baseman.

The book focuses on four players ( Bill Bevens, Al Gionfriddo, Cookie Lavagetto and Snuffy Sternweiss, and two managers; Bucky Harris and Burt Shotton.  We learn what made each of these characters special, in addition to the brief ( for some )  moments of fame on the highlight reels
(e.g. Gionfriddo's catch; Cookie's hit off Bevens, etc ).

There is great depth provided on many well known baseball characters.  Insights most people never know or knew.  Some people were odious ( I put Lee Mc Phail in that category) ; and others were heroic and noble ( Branch Rickey fits here ).

When I first started collecting Yankee baseball cards , I was always disappointed when I kept getting George  "Snuffy" Sternweiss  ( wanting Mantle and Joe D ).  Now, I again wish my mother hadn't thrown out my tins of cards when I went to college ( don't we all?).  Who knew how good Snuffy was, how solid a person, how great a friend?  And who remembered that he died, tragically, when his commuter train from Red Bank, New Jersey, went off a bridge into the Newark River?

I always thought the Washington Senators came in last all the time, despite having a few good players like Eddie Yost.  But manager Bucky Harris had guided them to two world championships in 1924 and 1925 as a player /manager.  Bucky was a tough kid out of the Pennsylvania coal mines.  Ty Cobb tried to intimidate him on the base paths and couldn't do it.  Ty was just a tough, mean person but, in the end, showed heart for this young man nicknamed " Bucky."

I am tempted to repeat every insight and piece of history from the book.  But I know that is not my role.  I will tell you a few shocks;  Sherman Lollar caught for the Yankees ( I recall him as a .300 hitting all star for the White Sox ) and Charlie Dressen coached third for the Yankees in the '47 series.  I always loathed him as the effective Dodgers' manager.

Needless to say, I couldn't put the book down.  It was my childhood, retraced.  It fit " right in my wheelhouse," as the saying goes.   I "knew" all of these players ( truthfully, I didn't pay attention to managers until Casey arrived), and listened to and ( when we got a TV)  watched the world series's games portrayed in the book.

Every Yankee fan of that era " hated" Cookie and Al Gionfriddo and, mostly, we still do.  They made world class plays at key moments that burned the Yankees ( made the stoic Joe D kick the dirt in frustration ) , and were forever honored and remembered for those plays.  Though, in truth, both were " bit" players in the history of the game.  After learning more about them, I have given up my enmity.  They are good guys.  Baseball players.

This is one of the things that makes baseball great.  One key play at a crucial moment.  That dream we all had in the backyard with a bat in hand, or glove at the ready.  One chance.  Fame and memories forever.

A final word for two other characters;  Bill Bevens.  This was one of the strongest humans on the planet, developed from hard work, as a kid,  in Oregon.  He got screwed out of one world series win and lost the other, after throwing a 1 hitter.  But he was a fine human being. More importantly, I learned that his son played American Legion ball, as did I. Finally, I have isolated my kinship with Yankee greatness!

The other tidbit goes to Dr. Bobby Brown a journeyman third baseman ( I always loved those position ).  Bobby had an amazing record as a world series pinch hitter and was a graduate of Stanford.  Aside from Lou Gehrig ( Columbia University ), most ballplayers were hardscrabble kids, signed after throwing rocks against bottles on a farm fence.  If I only knew.

I am done now, though I could talk about this book and its insights for hours.  If it fits your time period, and your team loyalty, you will particularly love this book.  If you are a baseball fan, and enjoy the history of the game, you will love this book.

I am sending it to my friend in Virginia.  We grew up as Yankee fans in Yonkers, New York.  He has been my historian from our earliest days ( teachers, classmates and baseball)..  Anytime I can't quite remember something, or someone, I call ( or text ) him and he knows.

This book brought me back to when I was flipping baseball cards, on summer afternoons,  with friends on Cassilis Avenue.  I had lots of extra " Snuffy " Sternweiss cards I could afford to lose.

Now, I want them back.


Anonymous said...

I'm not sure all of that will fit on the back cover of the book.

That said, I just ordered it for my Dad (92 yesterday - grew up in Hunts Point.) He will love it. Thank you.

Doug K.

KD said...

Nice review. Would love to see a photo of you at the Hot Corner back in the day.

13bit said...

Good God, Alphonso. I, too, grew up as a Yankee fan in Yonkers. Most the ills that have befallen me in life - along with those I have inflicted on others - I chalk up to Yonkers. I made it out alive and have not looked back, but I carry the psychic scars to this day.

ranger_lp said...

Great piece Alphonso. Well guess what...I also grew up as a Yankee fan in Yonkers. I'm a little younger than you, but I did go to the Stadium in the 60's and went to the Polo Grounds twice when the Mets played there as a young kid. Dealt with some of the race riots in the 70's @ Gorton HS. Don't miss that city at all.

Anonymous said...

Mt Vernon for me but I remember hanging in untemeyer park good times...

doug k.

Alphonso said...

I was at PS #8 and we fed into Roosevelt HS, though I did not go there.

My educational highlight was winning two tickets to the Polo grounds through my essay, " I like White Rock because......"

My equally obsessed Yankee fan friend and I would get dropped off at Woodlawn and take the subway ( elevated there ) to the stadium. Gloves in hand, of course. Whose parents would drop off two 10 year olds there now?

We usually tried to find seats in the upper deck between third and home. Almost catching a foul ball. But never succeeding.

The good ole days.

It is surprising how many people I have come across with Yonkers in their backgrounds. I know it could be a heavy
weight to carry ( bordering both the elite Bronxville and Riverdale), and getting out unscarred was not easy. One of my best friends today was a heroine addict then. I was required to leave after my brother was brought home, escorted by the police.

For me to survive, there was Baseball. Stickball. Punchball. Whiffleball. And games on the radio, over the ticker tape ( with fake sound effects ).


HoraceClarke66 said...

I heartily second this recommendation.

Kevin Cook is not only a terrific writer, but a terrific human being. I've even had lunch with him. And he picked up the tab!

That World Series, of course, was incredible. And yes, poor Floyd "Bill" Bevens! Few even remember that he came back
to help save Game 7—and got zero credit for it.

The worst decision of that whole, disastrous 9th inning of Bevens' lost no-hitter, though: Bucky Harris issues an intentional walk
to Pete Reiser.

Reiser was just a shell of his former self. He was essentially playing WITH A BROKEN LEG. Earlier in the Series, he'd been
pulled out of the OF, because he couldn't really run anymore.

Why, why, why, why would you walk that guy????

One of the all-time worst Yankee managerial decisions.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for alerting us to this book, Alphonso. I haven't read it, but I can tell you that the person responsible for breaking up Bevens's no-hitter was not Cookie Lavagetto but . . . Red Barber. That World Series was broadcast over the Mutual radio network, with Barber and Mel Allen handling the play-by-play. Throughout the Bevens game, Allen scrupulously observed the sacred baseball rite of talking around the fact of Bevens's possible no-hitter but not mentioning explicitly. Barber, needing to prove his seriousness as a "reporter," kept hammering away at it. I couldn't find a recording of the ninth inning on youtube, but Barber clearly says "No hits for Bevens" just before the fatal blow.

HoraceClarke66 said...

Barber also finished his broadcast with one of his best sayings:

"Well, I'll be a suck-egg mule!"