Friday, December 25, 2020

Lest We Forget...

Filed from the technically challenged computer of HoraceClark66

It’s been a turbulent year—how’s that for understatement? But really, between all the suffering and death, and the petite mort of our favorite baseball team, I fear we have forgotten a key piece of Yankees lore.



2020 marks the centennial of George Herman “Babe” Ruth’s arrival in New York City. It was 101 years ago, in fact—December 26, 1919—that the colonels, Jacob Ruppert and Tillinghast L’Hommedieu Huston (I just love writing that name) closed the deal with Red Sox owner and Broadway producer Harry Frazee, to bring the Big Man to the Big City.


Baseball—and all of professional sports, everywhere—would never be the same.


(Yes, that’s them. Huston was so devoted to that bowler that the writers nicknamed him “Cap,” and “The Man in the Iron Hat.”)


Ruppert and Huston first told the Lords of Baseball that they were interested in buying the New York Baseball Giants. They were haughtily informed that the Giants, then the most glamorous, profitable team in the sport, were not for sale. But if they minded their p’s and q’s, they might be allowed to purchase the Chicago Cubs.


The mind reels at how different the last century of baseball might have been if the colonels had meekly tugged their forelocks and accepted Baseball’s offer.


“Chicago is a long way from Broadway,” was Col. Ruppert’s chilly, German-accented reply. (Nobody could be chilly quite like Jake Ruppert.)


They were persuaded to settle for the Giants’ tenants, a forlorn American-League team renowned for their bad luck. Some thought the bad luck actually came from the fact that the team was owned by a couple of corrupt characters named Bill Devery—the most venal police commissioner in the history of New York, which is saying something—and Frank Farrell, probably the biggest gambler in the country. 


But I digress.


The colonels were persuaded to go ahead and purchase the Yankees in good part because Ban Johnson, the president of the American League, gave them the old nudge-nudge, wink-wink that they would soon be allowed to acquire such stars as Tris Speaker, Eddie Collins, and Shoeless Joe Jackson.


Shoeless Joe on the Yankees? Again, the mind reels. (Hmm, maybe I should change my prescription…)


When that proved to be a lie, the colonels responded by running Johnson out of the league he had founded. They then sacked a Red Sox franchise that had sacked the Philadelphia Athletics a few years before.


When Charlie Stoneham and the other sleazy, Tammany hacks who ran the Giants tried to chase them out of New York by ending their lease, Jake Ruppert pointed out that among other things, the Yankees now held the mortgage on Fenway Park.


Again, the mind…well, you know.


Ruppert and the Yankees stayed in New York and built the biggest stadium in baseball. Babe Ruth changed the entire way baseball was played, and put pro sports on the map for the first time.

 (When Ruth came to New York, all of professional baseball brought in less money than the sheet music business.)

 The moral of my little Christmas story?


The Yankees have often been owned by ruthless (Get it? Ruth-less? You don't get this on other blogs!) and even brutal men. But at their best they threw out the rules and went their own way.


They were usually in the forefront of innovation and change in the sport. The Yankees were one of the first teams to build a farm system, one of the first to utilize relief pitching, and to start their own television network—the very first to go big on free agents.


There were some glaring exceptions. They got on radio and regular TV late, and—unforgivably—were late in signing Black and Hispanic ballplayers. When CBS owned them, they didn’t get the chance for “synergy” staring them in their bloated, corporate faces.


But the lesson is the same. Ignore the conventional wisdom, and pay no attention to what your fellow owners want you to do.


MLB wants to cut back on the minor leagues? The Yankees should step up and expand their minor-league system—instead of ripping off the taxpayers of New York by terminating the Staten Island Yankees.


All the rest of baseball lets itself be suckered by the sabremetricious into playing the dullest version of the game yet invented? The Yankees should hire on a coaching staff to bring back real baseball.


Right now, Hal Steinbrenner looks content to fall into line, play patty-cake with his fellow tycoons for the next 20 years, and let the Yankees keep drifting toward mediocrity. And, oh yeah, become an international soccer magnate.


That ain’t gonna cut it. He would be better off remembering 101 years ago, when a Babe came among us.


Happy Holidays, you wonderful savings-and-loan!


TheWinWarblist said...

I've had a few libations. Buttocks!!!

Local Bargain Jerk said...

Horace, why do you think soccer took over the entire world and yet baseball never caught on anywhere outside America (except Japan, but only then because it was imposed onto them by their new masters in 1945) ?.

HoraceClarke66 said...

Actually, LBJ, baseball's popularity in Japan predated 1945. The Japanese went ga-ga for the sport during Ruth-led tours in the 1930s—by which time they were already playing it.

And of course it caught on big in the Caribbean, Central America, Venezuela; to a lesser degree in Canada, Taiwan, Italy, Australia, The Netherlands.

As for soccer, a friend of mine has a theory that it's only predominant where a country has no sport that it's already crazy about—such as ice hockey in Canada. I don't know if that's true. And hey, I give soccer credit. It's a beautifully simple game requiring almost no equipment.

But it's never going to be the pre-eminent sport in this country.

Carl J. Weitz said...

Agreed, Horace. All you need are shorts, bare feet and a soccer ball (or reasonable substitute). When the NASL failed even after the great attendance the NY Cosmos had in the mid-70's Pele period, pundits claim that the league failed because there was no home-grown fan base of youngsters to grow up with the game. In other words, the NASL was a top-down structure with no grass roots.

Flash forward 45 years to today. Even with all the school soccer teams and kids involved in after school soccer leagues, the same problem still exists: No Interest. Perhaps there never will be.

Local Bargain Jerk said...

You must be kiddin` Carl my old mate!, has it perhaps escaped your attention that the USWNT have won The World Cup 4 times since its inception 30 years ago, something totally unrivaled in world sport (and it should`ve been 5 if not for that dumb-arsed mix-up in the US defence that let Japan back into the final in 2011). Admittedly the USMNT haven`t achieved anything like that level success but, contrary to popular belief, they`re not a bad side (they`re nearly always ranked in the worlds top 20 by FIFA, and they have been ranked in the past as high as 4 ! ! !). Actually though, specifically regarding the geezers team in America, the rest of the world (if they`re being honest) is quite happy for the US population to stay fixated with Baseball, American Football, Basketball and Ice Hockey as 'The Big Four Sports' (as it were), because they`ve always known that if The American geezers decided to really throw themselves into the sport the US would soon come up with a team that would be totally invincible on the world stage (just like the American birds did!), and that of course keeps everyone in Europe, South America, Central America, Africa and Asia very happy!.

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