talk: Museum City of New York, July 19, 2003
Every time I speak in public about baseball I am reminded of a long
ago appearance in Staten Island. That was for my book NYC BB about the old B
Dodgers, NY Giants, Yankees. Publicist prevailed on me to tell all that I was a
Dodger fan since I grew up in Brooklyn. I had no problem until that Staten
Island appearance. A guy all the way in the back shouted out –I remember you
from the old neighborhood ?you were never a Dodger fan ?you were that crazy
Cardinal fan. The guy was right - I am still a Cardinal fan in the - - -NL
FOR ME One of
the perks of writing sports books and articles has been the interesting
characters and I have met, the friendships I have made.
One such person
was Irving Rudd, a Damon Runyan type character who for a time was the publicity
director of the old Brooklyn Dodgers.
Irving became a
good friend of mine and my wife Myrna. His words enrich RICKEY AND ROBINSON. His
words over and over again enriched the five oral histories the Frommer have
I would like to
share a moving and funny Jackie Robinson story from our book IT HAPPENED IN THE
Catskills. It comes to you in the voice of Irving Rudd
Recalling a winter weekend
in 1954. Irving and his wife and Jackie Robinson and his wife Rachel went up to
the famed Grossinger's Hotel for some relaxation. ((This is now Irving’s voiceJ))
Jackie Robinson asked.
"Not very well."
let's go skating anyway."
I said, "Okay,"
and we all went to the icehouse. We put skates on. The wives go to the rail to
watch. Jackie goes out on the ice and proceeds to lose his balance and falls
flat on his back. Geez! The image of Walter O'Malley, the owner of the Dodgers,
came into my head. I just blew my job. Jackie Robinson just fractured something
- why didn't I stop him from skating?
gets up and brushes himself off.
let's race!" He gives me that big smile.
So the two of us
like two drunks go around the rink of Grossinger's. He's flopping on his knees.
I'm sliding on my can. We get up and keep going and flopping and going and
flopping and going. And he beats me by five yards.
"Let's do it
again," he says.
=Around we go.
This time he beats me by about 20 yards.
"One more time,"
By now, he's
really skating. He is such a natural, gifted athlete. He's skating like a guy
who has been at it for weeks. It's no contest. He's almost lapped the field on
Now there's a
crowd that's gathered and they're cheering. He puts his arms around me, and he
wasn't a demonstrative man. "Irv," he says, "am I glad you were here this
weekend with me. I just had to beat someone before I went home."
That story give
true insight into Jack Roosevelt Robinson and what he went through in his time
as a Brooklyn Dodger. And what a time it was: He played in the major leagues
for a decade. He won the inaugural Rookie of the Year Award in 1947, the
National League Most Valuable Player Award in 1949, and he helped the Dodgers
win six pennants and one world championship. Despite all the pressure he played
under, Jackie Robinson was still able to record a lifetime batting average of
From my point of
view there is no event in sports history as significant as the breaking of
baseball's color Line. It changed the national pastime forever. It ushered in a
whole new era in baseball and in all sports. Now
more than thirty some odd years after Robinson's death at the age of only 53 in
1972 - -more athletes, not just the black ones, would be well served to
remember the debt owed Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey.
Here is how I described
what it was like at the very start in my book RICKEY AND ROBINSON.
“With the blue
number 42 on the back of his Brooklyn Dodger home uniform, Jackie Robinson took
his place at first base at Ebbets Field on April 15, 1947. It was 32 years to
the day since Jack Johnson had become the first black heavyweight champion of
“Many of the
26,633 at that tiny ballpark on that chilly spring day were not even baseball
fans, but had come out to see "the one" who would break the sport's age-old
color line. Robinson's wife, Rachel, was there along with the infant Jackie, Jr.
Many in the crowd wore "I'm for Jackie" buttons and badges, and screamed each
time the black pioneer came to bat or touched the ball.
Robinson grounded out to short his first time up. He was retired on a fly ball
to left field in his second at bat. He grounded into a rally-killing double play
in his final at bat of the day.
The Dodgers won
the game, 5-3, nipping Johnny Sain and the Boston Braves. For Robinson it was a
muted performance, but the first of his 1,382 major league games was in the
record books - and he had broken baseball's color line forever.
"I was nervous
on my first day in my first game at Ebbets Field," Robinson told
reporters afterward. "But nothing has bothered me since."
On April 18,
1947, at the Polo Grounds, in the shadow of the largest black community in the
country, Jackie Robinson smashed his first major league home run as the Dodgers
defeated the Giants, 10-4.
Baldwin had noted: "Back in the thirties and forties, Joe Louis was the only
hero that we ever had. When he won a fight, everybody in Harlem was up in
heaven. On that April day the large contingent of blacks in the crowd of nearly
40, 000 had another hero to be "up in heaven" about, another hero to stand
beside Joe Louis."
sociological phenomenon, part entertainment spectacle, part revolution, part
media event - the Jackie Robinson story played out its poignant, dramatic and
historic scenes through that 1947 season.
Toward the end
of the season, a Jackie Robinson Day was staged at Ebbets Field. Robinson was
now a major drawing card rivaling Bob Feller and Ted Williams in the American
`"I thank you
all." Robinson said over the microphone in that high-pitched voice. He
acknowledged the gifts he'd received, which included a new car, a television and
radio set and an electric broiler.
The famed and
great dancer “Bill “Bojangles?Robinson stood next to Jackie Robinson. "I am 69
years old," Bill Robinson said. "But I never thought I would live to see the day
when I would stand face to face with Ty Cobb in Technicolor."
of Brooklyn Dodger general Manager
have always been questioned. Why did he sign
How much of what he did came from a moral conviction that the color line must
go, and how much came from a desire to make money and field a winning team?
wrote the foreword to my book who came up to star for the
New York Giants
in 1949, suggests that what Rickey did is far more important than why he did it.
the motives," Irvin observes, "Rickey had the conviction to pursue and to follow
baseball's color line enabled Rickey to tap into a gold mine, but he elected not
to monopolize the rich lode of talent in the
Monte Irvin cold
have been a Brooklyn Dodger, as well as other Negro League greats like
Satchel Paige. But Rickey had Robinson,
Don Newcombe and Joe Black. He was very much in favor of the other teams
league club owners who had called Rickey complaining, "You're gonna kill
baseball bringing that nigger in now," were now asking, "Branch, do you know
where I can get a couple of colored boys as good as Jackie and Campy and Newk?"
invented the baseball farm system when he was with the St. Louis Cardinals and
presided over their famous Gashouse gang. He was an incredibly brilliant
baseball man. He ran the Dodgers with a calm efficiency. Part of that calm
efficiency translated to advising Robinson well. Reacting to the taunts and
threats, and fighting back against the bigots could win a battle. But too much
protesting could lose the war.
took the abuse ?the cut signs by players near their throats, the verbal curses,
the spiking attempts, the cold shouldering, the death threats that came in the
By 1949, Jackie
Robinson was in his third season as a Brooklyn Dodger and was no longer the lone
black man on the baseball diamond - he could now let it all hang out. Branch
Rickey who had kept the man Dodger fans called "Robby" under wraps was elated.
"I sat back
happily," Rickey recalled, "knowing that with the restraints removed, Robinson
was going to show the
a thing or two."
Rachel Robinson told me: "It was hard for a man as assertive as Jack to contain
his own rage, yet he felt that the end goal was so critical that there was no
question that he would do it. And he knew he could do it even better if he could
ventilate, express himself, use his own style."
And what a style
At times the
style seemed to be a case of trick photography. He was an illusionist in a
baseball uniform, a magician on the base paths. The walking leads, the
football-like slides, the change of pace runs ?all were part of Robinson’s
approach to the game.
Robinson remains the stuff of dreams, the striving for potential, the substance
of accomplishment. Today he remains a powerful, driving symbol of a person with
limitless athletic ability, the weight of his people on his soul, raging against
a world he didn't make.
Robinson played for the Dodgers of Brooklyn for a decade, and then he was done.
Not many remember that he was actually traded to the New York Giants in 1956 -
-but he refused to go. The owner of the Giants/ Horace Stoneham/ presented
Robinson with a blank check –“Fill in the amount…” Jackie refused. ?
I came in as a Dodger and that’s how I go out,?he said.
The thanks is
due the man they called “Robby?for what he accomplished in breaking the color
line in baseball will last through all eternity. He blazed a path for many to
follow, and they have enriched the game of baseball with their talent, verve,
drive, and commitment. It has become a better game.
===I had the good fortune
to interview Jack’s brother Mack Robinson in Pasadena, California. I was a bit
shocked that he taped me taping him ?but that is another story. “From time to
time,?Mack told me, “I’m watching sporting events and I look at the TV screen
and I see Jackie Robinson. I look at the whole spectrum of black America’s life
from 1900 to 1947. We’re no longer the butlers, the servants, the maid. We’re
senators and congressmen. We’re baseball managers. I trace it back to my brother
and Branch Rickey breaking the color line and creating a social revolution in
a white man’s world. Blacks have excelled in all areas because Jackie Robinson
showed the world we could.?
The last words
in RICKEY AND ROBINSON also belong to Irving Rudd:
"I always used
to think of who I would like going down a dark alley with me. I can think of a
lot of great fighters, gangsters I was raised with in Brownsville, strong men
like Gil Hodges. But for sheer courage, I would pick Jackie (Robinson). He
didn't back up."
===Finally, I would
like to conclude PART ONE OF MY BASEBALL BOOK DOUBLEHEADER with a story that
appears in It Happened in Brooklyn, the oral history I wrote along with my wife
Myrna Katz Frommer.
The speaker is identified as MAX WECHSLER:
When school was
out, I sometimes went with my father in his taxi. One summer morning, we were
driving in East Flatbush down Snyder Avenue when he pointed out a dark red brick
house with a high porch.
“I think Jackie Robinson lives there,?he said. He parked across the
street, and we got out of the cab, stood on the sidewalk, and looked at it.
Suddenly the front door opened. A black man in a short-sleeved shirt
stepped out. I didn’t believe it. Here we were on a quiet street on a summer
morning. No one else was around. This man was not wearing the baggy,
ice-cream-white uniform of the Brooklyn Dodgers that accentuated his blackness.
He was dressed in regular clothes, coming out of a regular house in a regular
Brooklyn neighborhood, a guy like anyone else, going for a newspaper and a
bottle of milk.
Then incredibly, he crossed the street and came right towards me.
Seeing that unmistakable pigeon-toed walk, the rock of the shoulders and hips I
had seen so many times on the baseball field, I had no doubt who it was.
“Hi Jackie, I’m one of your biggest fans,?I said self-consciously.
“Do you think the Dodgers are gonna win the pennant this year??br> His handsome face looked sternly down at me. “We’ll try our best,?he
“Good luck,?I said.
“Thanks.?He put his big hand out, and I took it. We shook hands, and
I felt the strength and firmness of his grip.
I was a nervy kid, but I didn’t ask for an autograph or think to
prolong the conversation. I just watched as he walked away down the street.
At last the truth can be told. I am blowing my own cover. That kid,
MAX WECHSLER, was me.
******** Reminds me of time Miami Book Fair . .my wife Myrna and I set to
talk about one of our oral histories and close by was Fay Dunaway set to talk
about her new book . . I told that audience maybe they were wrong place ?with
Old Timer’s Day at Stadium today ?maybe some of you are in the wrong place.
As all of you
know - The NEW YORK YANKES this year of 2003 celebrate their 100th
anniversary?And although the beginning for the franchise was muted - In their
first two decades the New York Yankees won no pennants and managed just two
second-place finishes --- over their next forty-four years the team dominated
the American League, winning nearly two of every three pennants and twenty World
There was a
pennant drought from 1965 until 1975 and then there were years of plenty.
Between 1976 and 1980, the Yankees won four division titles, three pennants, and
two more world championships. From 1981 to 1993 - once again there were no
And then came
the world championships in 1996, 1998, 1999, and 2000.
inauspicious start back in 1903, once the New York Yankees got going, the world
of baseball was never the same. The team from the Bronx has won more regular
season games than any other franchise in the history of baseball, thirty-eight
American League championships in an eighty-year period, and just about one World
Series for every three played, twenty-six in all.
The Yankees have
been in more World Series and won more world championships and league
championships than any other team in history.
bragging rights to the most players inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. No
matter what prism Yankee baseball history is viewed through, the image is
have been ambitious and aggressive, managers prepared and innovative, players
talented and driven..
There have been
Babe Ruth's Yankees, Joe DiMaggio's Yankees, Mickey Mantle's Yankees, Reggie
Jackson's Yankees, Derek Jeter's Yankees. There have been players with unique
talents and standout personas whose images linger down through the decades:
The tiny Wee
Willie Keeler, hitting 'em where they ain't.
on and on through the hurt and the pain.
The adroit Phil
Rizzuto deftly bunting the ball.
Eddie Lopat tossing the junk balls.
busting it down the first baseball line, running head down after bashing
another monster homer.
Ryne Duren, wearing the coke-bottle eyeglasses, throwing the fastball to the
Yogi rushing to
leap into Don Larsen’s arms after the Perfect Game and David Cone on his knees
after his Perfect Game.
Munson in the
dirty uniform, blocking home plate.
squeezing the Roger Maris home run ball.
clutching the Derek Jeter shot.
extraordinarily gifted Alfonso Soriano ?whose talent level has no limit.
Joe Torre and
Don Zimmer sharing secrets, whispering on the bench.
Steinbrenner spending, complaining, spending.
baseball,?nbsp; “Lou, Lou Lou!?nbsp; “Reggie.?nbsp;
Yankee talk is
as much a part of the program as the pinstripes on their uniforms. There has
always been someone, friend or foe at the ready, with a one liner, a quick quip
or extended verbiage on the team from the Bronx.
The Hall of Fame
Bob Feller snapped: - "I would
rather beat the Yankees regularly than pitch a no-hit game." ?
Jerry Coleman - "It was a death
struggle every day being a Yankee - you either won or you lost. There was no
second place. Half of us were nuts by the end of a season."
Star Red Sox
Pedro Martinez "I wish I'd never see
them again. I wish they'd disappear from the league."
Royko: "Hating the Yankees is as American as pizza pie and cheating on your
income tax." ?/span>
Curt Schilling of Arizona, before
Game One, 2001 World Series - -"They have, what, 26
World Series titles? But that doesn't
mean they are going to beat us. We deserve to be here as much as they do. I'm
not trying to get
Babe Ruth or
Lou Gehrig or
Mickey Mantle out. I'm trying to get
the Yankees' lineup out today."
The Yankees have
actually played on four different home fields: Hilltop Park (1903-1912), the
Polo Grounds (1913-1922), Yankee Stadium 1923 to the present. There were also a
couple of odd seasons spent at Shea Stadium (1974-1975) while the old Yankee
Stadium underwent a massive facelift.
But the big
ballpark, the House that Ruth Built, aspiring, powerful, historic, helped create
and maintain the Yankee tradition right from the start. Through the years
players from other teams have come into Yankee Stadium before a game, gawking,
awed and intrigued by the fabled monuments and
That is part of
the Yankee mystique, part of A YANKEE CENTURY
And so is the
sound of the cultured voice of Bob Sheppard, the public address announcer who
has been on the scene since April of 1951 - "Good evening, ladies and gentlemen
and welcome to Yankee Stadium."
It is famed
opera singer Robert Merrill who became a Yankee fan when he was eight years old
Babe Ruth play who sings the national
anthem at Yankee Stadium
It is Frank
Sinatra singing: "...If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere... "
All of that is a
part of the scene, a part of the mystique.
THERE IS SO MUCH
HISTORY, DRAMA, SO MUCH TO A YANKEE CENTURY. Those who know me know I could go
on for days, but we only have minutes ?so I will focus my talk on three of my
favorite Yankee performers . . .
may have been the greatest Yankee of them all.
"There was an
aura about him," Phil Rizzuto said.
sweat," veteran sportswriter Red Foley said, "he perspired."
He was born
Giuseppe Paolo DiMaggio on November 25, 1914 in Martinez, California, one of
nine children of Rosalie and Giuseppe DiMaggio, a crab fisherman father, an
émigr?from Sicily. It was all planned for Joe to become a fisherman like his
But Joe’s real
passion was playing baseball, a game his father called "a bum's game." On the
sandlots of San Francisco, the young DiMaggio developed baseball skills by
hitting balls with a broken oar from a fishing boat. The kids he played with
called him "Long Legs," in Italian. He was always tall for his age.
With the San
Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League in 1933, DiMag hit safely in 61
straight games. The next year, playing shortstop, he batted .341, but injured
his knee. Yankee scouts Joe Devine and Bill Essick downplayed the injury in
their reports to General Manager Ed Barrow. "Don't back off because of the kid's
knee," Essick recommended. "He'll be all right.
permission was granted for DiMag to drive cross-country with fellow San
Franciscans Tony Lazzeri and Frank Crosetti to the Yankee spring training camp
in Florida. Lazzeri turned to DiMaggio after the trio had concluded one day of
driving and asked: "Would you like to take over and drive?"
drive." It was reported that those were the only words uttered by DiMag in that
three day cross country trek.
On March 2, l936
DiMaggio finally reported to spring training. Yankee pitcher Red Ruffing
greeted him with "So you're the great DiMaggio?"
DIMAG would step
into the batter's box and stub his right toe into the dirt in back of his left
heel. It was almost a dance step. His feet were spaced approximately four feet
apart, with the weight of his frame on his left leg. Erect, almost in a military
position, Joe Dee would hold his bat at the end and poise it on his right
shoulder - a rifle at the ready. He would peer at the pitcher from deep in the
batter's box with a stance that almost crowded the plate. He was ready.
first four seasons (1936-39), the Yankees won four straight World Series. "Joe
was the complete player in everything he did," said his former manager Joe
McCarthy. "They'd hit the ball to center field and Joe would stretch out those
long legs of his and run the ball down. He never made a mistake.?/span>
Secure in his
feeling that he was the greatest baseball player of his time, Joe DiMaggio was
fiercely concerned about his public image. Being silly in public was not for
him. His shoes were always mirror shined, his impeccably tailored clothes fit
seamlessly. DiMaggio led the major leagues in room service. On road trips, no
one ate alone in his hotel room as often as he did. It all fit DiMaggio's
personality which seemed placid, disciplined, calm.
Only those in
the Yankee clubhouse saw the legs scraped and raw from hard slides or diving
catches. Only those in the clubhouse saw him sit for a half hour or more in
front of his locker after the Yankees had lost or when he thought he had played
beneath his exceptionally high standards.
In 1941, the
Yankee Clipper put together his season of seasons. He batted .351, paced the
American League with 125 RBIs, hit 30 home runs. He also struck out just 13
times. But the centerpiece of that marvelous season was DiMaggio's 56-game
hitting streak which was a main reason for his winning the MVP award, narrowly
edging out Ted Williams who batted .406.
and injuries limited DiMaggio to just 13 years in pinstripes. But it was a time
the Yankees won 10 pennants and nine world championships.
On Joe DiMaggio
Day in 1949 the Yankee Clipper said: "When I was in San Francisco, Lefty O'Doul
told me: 'Joe, don't let the big city scare you. New York is the friendliest
town in the world.' This day proves it. I want to thank my fans, my friends, my
manager Casey Stengel; my teammates, And I want to thank the good Lord for
making me a Yankee."
three MVP awards, two batting titles, was named to the All-Star team every
season he played, slammed 361 career homers, was struck out just 369 times, had
a .325 lifetime batting average.
In 1951, the
man they called the Yankee Clipper, retired at age 36. Management attempted to
get him to perform in pinstripes for one more season. But he had too much pride,
and too much pain.
DiMaggio left behind the imagery of a player who moved about in the vast
centerfield of Yankee Stadium with a poetical grace. He was one who played when
he was fatigued, when he was hurt, when it mattered a great deal, and when it
didn't matter at all. "I was out there to play and give it all I had all the
time," he said.
Elected to the
Hall of Fame in 1955, Joe DiMaggio passed away on March 8, 1999 at age 84.
Yogi Berra . . .
was not only a great Yankee but a very funny guy.
- - In his
prime, Lawrence Peter Berra was the heart and soul of the great Yankee teams of
1949-1955. That was when Yogi led the Yanks in RBI's each season and won three
The kid who
grew up on the Hill in St. Louis eating banana sandwiches with mustard grew up
to be one of the legends of Yankee baseball. ****As an inexperienced catcher in
1947, Yogi Berra once fielded a bunt in a game against the St. Louis Browns. He
tagged the hitter and a runner coming home from third on a squeeze play. "I just
tagged everything in sight," said Yogi, "including the umpire."
From 1946 to
1965, Yogi averaged about 500 at bats a year and never struck out more than 38
times in a season. He played in 15 straight All-Star games, on 14 pennant
winners and 10 World Champions, more than anyone in history. He is "Mr. World
Series" holding records for games played, at-bats, hits and doubles .
Stengel called him "Mr. Berra" and "my assistant manager." One of the great
clutch hitters of all time, Berra golfed low pitches for deep home runs and
stroked high pitches for line drives. Eight times he led the league in games
caught and chances accepted, six times he paced all catchers in double plays,
five times he posted more than 100-RBIs.
although Berra never led the league in a single offensive category, he did just
about everything else. In 1972 he was very deservingly elected to the Baseball
Hall of Fame.
And if there
were a Hall of Fame for baseball talkers ?there would be a place of honor for
Yogi. Just a few of his gems include:
on breaking my record last night. I always thought the record would stand until
it was broken.?–to Johnny Bench who broke his record for career home runs by a
"If you don't
know where you are going, you will wind up somewhere else."
"If you come to
a fork in the road, take it."
"A home opener
is always exciting, no matter if it's home or on the road."
90-percent mental. The other half is physical."
"I’ve known this
guy so long. Can’t he spell my name right?" -- after receiving a check that said
“Pay to the order of Bearer"
"I think Little
League is wonderful. It keeps the kids out of the house."
And speaking of
Yankees who had a way with words = the old Professor Hall of Fame manager Casey
Stengel is way up there with the best of them.
Stengel was born on July 30, 1890, in Kansas City, Missouri. He died on
September 29, 1975 in Glendale, California. "There comes a time in every man's
life," Casey said," and I've had plenty of them."
A few of his
favorites lines were:
On Yogi Berra’s
luck - - "He'd fall in a sewer and come up with a gold watch."
three things you can do in a baseball game: You can win or you can lose or it
autograph business - once somebody sent up a picture to me and I write: 'Do
good in school.' I look up to see who was gettin' the picture. This guy is 78
"I didn't get
the job through friendship," Casey was serious at his first press conference on
October l2, l948. "The Yankees represent an investment of millions of dollars.
They don't hand out jobs like this just because they like your company. I got
the job because the people here think I can produce for them. I know I can make
people laugh. And some of you think I'm a damn fool."
"It was a
shock," said pitcher Eddie Lopat. "We thought we got us a clown. But we could
see it was a treat for him to be with us after all the donkey clubs he had been
In 1949, the
string of five straight pennants and world championships began. In the clubhouse
celebration, Stengel who would be voted in as Manager of the Year, announced: "I
want to thank all these players for giving me the greatest thrill of my life.
And to think they pay me for managing so great a bunch of boys."
His time as
manager of the New York Yankees ranks way up there. Under his leadership from
1949-60, the Yankees won 10 pennants and seven World Series, a record five
straight world championships, 1949-1953.
in l960 in a
tough pennant race, the Ol'' Professor rallied the Yankees to another flag. But
Bill Mazeroski’s walk off homer gave the world championship to Pittsburgh.
Dan Topping and Del Webb, anxious to get rid of Stengel, used the defeat by the
Pirates as an excuse. Casey was fired.
winning pennants when I got here, "Stengel rasped, "but I didn't commence
getting any younger. They told me my services were no longer desired because
they wanted to put in a youth program as an advance way of keeping the club
going. When a club gets to discharging a man on account of age, they can if they
want to. The trick is growing up without growing old. Most guys are dead at my
age anyway. You could look it up. I'll never make the mistake of being 70 years
It was perfect
Casey Stengelese . . .and then as some of you know ?he was re-born in NYC as
manager of the New York Mets and uttered that phrase that became very, very
famous “Can’t anybody here this game??nbsp;
the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1966, Casey Stengel is viewed by many as
"Baseball's Greatest Manager."
“Casey was a
great, great manager, probably the greatest of all,?mused former Yankee great
Jerry Coleman. “He understood his players, what they could do and what they
couldn’t do. He understood the front office ?what they wanted from him. He
understood the media and that was vital in New York. He understood the fans ?he
was great communicator. You don’t forget a man like Casey.?/span>