I got an e-mail from my pal John Ed Bradley the other day with an attached image of this painting:
I bought the picture at auction in Florida last week. It’s by an artist I collect named Reeves Brace. She died in 1932 at age 34. Her name at birth was Virginia Reeves. She used her last name as her first name when she became an artist and married Ernest Brace–an eccentric but nice touch. Most people just called her “Reeves.” Her husband was a fine writer named Ernest Brace; his brother helped start the publishing firm Harcourt Brace.
Reeves was a member of the art colony up in Woodstock, and she often worked in NYC. She might’ve painted this scene as a magazine illustration. I’ve been collecting her work for years although it is difficult to find and rarely comes up for sale. Her obscurity is largely a result of her early demise. Distraught as a result of a failed marriage and the stress of surviving as an artist during the Depression, she hanged herself by her silk stockings from the bathroom door of a hotel room in New York City.
She was quite the beauty, too. She still had a steady hand when she painted this canvas. I find her fascinating and have long hoped to dig deeper into her life and write about her. For now, I content myself with her oil paintings that hang in my writing studio.
The auction house didn’t identify the location but I think this is Yankee Stadium circa 1930. I think some of the artist’s details tell the story and might help us determine the year it was painted. The ads along the outfield wall (Mrs. Wagner’s Pies, Singing Shaves), the buildings in the background…all should provide clues.
Did deep outfield really have a hump like that where warning track now would be? The artist also gives us the depth of the fence in right and shows how the lime stripe tracked up what looks like a board pole.
I love how the figures with their backs turned to us are dressed. Everyone has his or head covered. The men in fedoras, one with a flower or a card or something in the band. They appear to be wearing jackets.
I asked Glenn Stout–winner of the 2012 Seymour Medal for “Fenway 1912″– when the picture could have been painted and he pegged it somewhere between 1932-34. The “Mrs. Wagner’s Pies” sign was up from ’32-’35, he told me. “Google tells me that a sign that read ‘Ever Ready Blades for Singing Shades’ graced the fence in 1932 (see listing at bottom of page).”
It was either the spring or the fall because the fans were dressed for the cold weather but since there is no bunting it wasn’t a World Series game. And:
There is no warning track, but there always was at Yankee Stadium – an actual running track, and the feature was later adopted elsewhere one they realized it was useful. There was , actually, a short, mild rise in CF and Right Center – past the warning track and the stands – the track didn’t skirt the edge of the stands precisely , but was an oval, so it was in front of the stands in CF and fight center, to stay even. So the painting is not accurate, but merely representative.
Of course, I was able to identify the batter.
What a find by John Ed. I thank him for sharing it with us.
Speaking of the Stadium, here’s a good take on the new place by Mathew O’Connor over at Lo-Hud.
Here’s his take on the new Yankee Stadium:
As a guy who spent considerable time in George Steinbrenner’s presence back when both he and I were cogent and unreasonable men (me the barbed newspaper scribe, he the pompous asshole who once called Hideki Irabu a “fat, pus-y toad”), I never expected the Yankees to look anywhere but backward with the new park. After all, this is a family that, in lockstep to George’s scarily tin-eared, tone-deaf take on himself, now runs its corporation by the family’s uncurious, unimaginative philosophy of “I haven’t a clue about vision … but can I buy the guy who everyone else thinks is good?”
So I wasn’t surprised that the new stadium, with its faux-gold façade lettering, emerged with a distinctly Gilded Age/decline-of-the-Roman Empire vibe. The first (and only) time I sat in those thousand-dollar seats behind home plate, and a comely woman who looked like a young Cameron Diaz kept sidling up to ask if I needed anything, I was wise enough to ask for nothing more exotic than shrimp cocktail.
I’ll grant you that the new one’s not a bad place to watch baseball (although annual attendance is a half-million lower than the last year in the old one). But the real problem with wrapping the new place in a retro-traditional-revivalist costume is that once you’re inside there’s not even the slightest pretense about trying to duplicate the original sensorial experience of watching a game in the old stadium, when the borough of the Bronx was part of the fabric of the team’s success. This was when you could reach out from the upper deck and touch the Buy DiNoto’s Bread sign, two stories high, painted in red, green, and white on the back of the six-story, yellow-brick apartment house on 845 Gerard Avenue; when the Ayn-Randian blue-steel screech of the no. 4 train coming to a halt at the 161st Street station wafted the sweet, industrial fragrance of railroad brake linings through the upper rows of the right-center-field bleachers.
But who can complain when the new place is packed with such sophisticated lures as a private dining room where toqued chefs serve crab roll sushi, strip loin, locavore haricots vert, and chocolate mousse?
Lasting Derek Jeter Memories: Hit #2,722
“When he enters a room, there is always a recording of Bob Sheppard announcing his presence …”
“The Oxford English Dictionary apologized to him for neglecting to include the word ‘Jeterian’”
“He has brought such honor to his uniform number, when little kids have to go to the bathroom, their mothers say ‘do you have to do a number 3?’”
“He is . . . the most interesting shortstop the Yankees have had since Tony Fernandez.”
(CUT TO SHOT OF JETER SEATED AT TABLE SURROUNDED BY MINKA KELLY AND HER EQUALLY-ATTRACTIVE GAL PALS)
“I don’t often drink . . . but when I do, I never drive my new 2011 Ford Edge with the cool Panoramic Vista roof immediately afterwards.”
* * *
Once upon a time, in the days before free agency, “franchise players” were plentiful. Most of the upper echelon teams had at least one such player. Even some of the sad sack teams had their icon.
Here’s a list of the “2,000 or more games in career, all for one team” retired players club
Nowadays, the Braves’ Chipper Jones and the Yankees captain are two of the few active “iconic” players in baseball, easily identified by their career-long associations with their respective teams.
With career-long associations with one franchise comes the inevitable march up the team leaderboard for many counting stats, and hits is probably the “showcase” number. Here are the current franchise leaders for each team (excusing the Yankees for a moment):
|St. Louis||Stan Musial||3,630|
|San Francisco||Willie Mays||3,187|
|Baltimore||Cal Ripken Jr.||3,184|
|Kansas City||George Brett||3,154|
|San Diego||Tony Gwynn||3,141|
|Los Angeles (NL)||Zack Wheat||2,804|
|Chicago (AL)||Luke Appling||2,749|
|Chicago (NL)||Ernie Banks||2,583|
|Los Angeles (AL)||Garrett Anderson||2,368|
|Colorado||Todd Helton (active)||2,308|
|Texas||Michael Young (active)||1,949|
|Tampa Bay||Carl Crawford||1,480|
|New York (NL)||Ed Kranepool||1,418|
Given the Yankees history, its surprising to note that the Bombers have never had a 3,000 hit man. Though Joltin’ Joe, The Mick and the Iron Horse all eclipsed 2,000 hits in a Yankee uni, Joe DiMaggio lost three prime years to the service and Mickey Mantle and Lou Gehrig saw their productivity diminished due to injury and illness respectively.
So when Derek Sanderson Jeter came upon the scene in 1995, no one could have foreseen that this polite, photogenic and disciplined shortstop would stand upon the precipice of Yankee history on the night of September 11, 2009. Jeter’s inside-out, line drive to right-center machine of a swing had pumped out 2,721 hits to that point, knotting him with Gehrig.
Despite it being the eighth anniversary of the Taliban attacks that killed nearly 3,000 New Yorkers, and despite a rainshower that delayed the start of the game by nearly 90 minutes, there was electricity and anticipation in the new Stadium that night. A near-capacity crowd of 46,771 braved the elements to cheer on The Captain.
The Yanks faced Chris Tillman of the Orioles. Tillman was making only his ninth career start in the Majors. Leading off the bottom of the first, Jeter struck out swinging on a 1-2 pitch, but Alex Rodriguez hit a three-run homer later in the inning, and the Yanks still led 3-1 when Jeter stepped to the plate leading off the third.
He took the first two pitches for balls, then in truly “Jeterian” form, rapped a single between Orioles’ first baseman Luke Scott and the foul line, with Nick Markakis tracking the ball down as it made its way towards the right field corner. Jeter rounded first, clapped his hands and returned to the base. He shook first base coach Mick Kelleher’s hand, handed him his shin guard, and then, the Yankees filed out of the dugout amidst a thunderous two-minute standing ovation and chants of “Jeter! Jeter!” from the crowd. Jeter’s father could be seen high-fiving anyone and everyone he could up in one of the Yankee suites. In the opposing dugout, the Orioles clapped in appreciation of the achievement.
It was an odd sight, as the Yanks (and Orioles) were all wearing red caps for the memory of “9/11″, but the night belonged to Yankee navy blue and white. Jeter would end up two for four on the night, leaving the game after a second rain delay. The Yanks would end up losing the game 10-4, but with a nine game lead in the division heading into play and only 20 games remaining, the loss was rendered especially insignificant. Derek Jeter had broken the 72-year-old hits record of Lou Gehrig, and the “new” Yankee Stadium had its first truly memorable moment.
Reggie Jackson turned 65 yesterday. He was my baseball hero as a kid. He was also Jon DeRosa’s idol. To mark the occasion of Reggie becoming a senior citizen, figured this is as good a time as any to share Jon’s Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory (which appeared in the book but not on-line until now).
By Jon DeRosa
On January 22, 1982 Reggie Jackson signed with the California Angels. It was the latest in a series of difficult lessons for me—a six-year-old who otherwise had it pretty good. In rapid succession, Darth Vader revealed he was Luke Skywalker’s father, the Yankees crashed out of the only two baseball seasons I had ever followed, and my Grandmother passed days after my little brother was born on my 6th birthday. I was looking for a fight and George Steinbrenner and his Yankees were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I assigned Steinbrenner and Vader to the same category of evil: each had reached into my life and changed things forever. I actively rooted for the Yankees’ decline the way I rooted for the fall of the Empire. I removed my Yankee baseball cards from the binder, secured them with merciless rubber bands and tossed them in with obscure Seattle Mariners and Cleveland Indians and other total strangers. From that point on, I rooted for the Angels.
In 1982, for a kid in New York, that was difficult. You had to write a letter to the team, addressed to the stadium itself, requesting them to mail you an order form so that you might have the opportunity to buy something with a halo on it. My mother wrote such a letter and, by the grace of Gene Autry, was allowed to purchase a cap, a helmet, a jersey, and for some reason, Angels wristbands. I wore the whole ensemble to Yankee Stadium on Tuesday April 27th, 1982 for Reggie’s first game back in New York. My father and older brother were with me but I was scared stiff. What if he struck out? What if they booed? What if the Yankees were right?
We watched batting practice from right field in a light rain as a buzzing crowd filed in around us. Our seats were in the upper deck between first base and right field, where we munched on hot dogs. I felt grown-up whenever I was allowed to get two, but that night, my nervous stomach wasn’t accommodating. The rain made the bun on the second hot dog a little soggy.
When Reggie came to bat in the second inning, Bob Sheppard announced his name with such elegance that I imagined it was a personal statement, “I should be announcing this name every night.” This was the moment I dreaded. Would they boo? The crowd stood and chanted: REG-GIE, REG-GIE, REG-GIE. Buoyed by the warmth of the welcome, I got to my feet, but my jaw was frozen shut and I couldn’t move my lips. My dad put his arm around me as Ron Guidry poured in a heater. Reggie took his massive cut, but he got jammed and popped out. I was back in my seat the instant I saw Reggie’s reaction.
The game rolled along at a pace more akin to a 100-meter dash than a modern American League baseball game—they got through seven innings in 1 hour and 51 minutes before the game was called due to rain. When Reggie batted in the fifth, the crowd rose for him again. REG-GIE, REG-GIE, REG-GIE. He yanked a single to right field and was rewarded with brief applause. I was silent throughout this at bat, too, but the base hit calmed my nerves temporarily. The crowd asked; Reggie delivered. Contract complete, customers satisfied, right? Even a child should have known better. Yankee fans didn’t ask—they demanded. And they didn’t want a single; they wanted a home run.
When they greeted Reggie with his chant for the third time in the seventh, my stomach knotted, and I wished they would stop chanting. It wasn’t fanatical devotion; it was the begging of spoiled children. REG-GIE, REG-GIE, REG-GIE might as well be MORE, MORE, MORE. I knew it was not fair to ask for so much. In this world I was learning about, teams lose, people die; things just don’t usually work out…
I saw Reggie’s black bat whip through the hitting zone; the ball accelerated at an improbable speed and angle at impact and assumed a trajectory that could have sent it across the street if not for the upper deck façade. As the ball sped past my face it erased all my doubts and fears and I felt a lightness rise from my gut to my head. Pure relief. I couldn’t hear anything because my mind had not yet validated this moment as reality. Then the noise just materialized in my ears: REG-GIE, REG-GIE, REG-GIE, louder than the other three times combined. My brother and father jostled me from side to side as they chanted along.
I stayed quiet. How did this happen? Did I use the Force to will that ball out of the park? I couldn’t even comprehend that I just got exactly what I wanted. What were the ramifications of getting what you pray for? I should have been screaming my head off, but I just stared out at Reggie rounding the bases, making sure he touched every one and hoping he was as happy as I was.
The chanting didn’t end when Reggie reached the dugout. When he came out for his curtain call, as if they had rehearsed it prior to the game, the crowd turned toward Steinbrenner’s box and let him have it. Steinbrenner SUCKS, Steinbrenner SUCKS, Steinbrenner SUCKS! All of the emotion that had built up in my little body flowed through the crowd into the damp Stadium air. My brother and father were gleefully singing the song, rousing me to participate. But I felt bad for George and I kept silent.
Tomorrow night at 10:00 p.m. on the National Geographic Channel:
It is cold and dark and rainy in New York on Black Friday. Looking to shop?
Lasting Yankee Stadium Memories is out. Check, check it out.
Meanwhile, dig Richard Ben Cramer’s essay from the book. It’s priceless:
By Richard Ben Cramer
My grandfather took me to my first game at The Stadium. Not baseball: the Cleveland Browns against the New York Football Giants. I lived in Rochester and, as a consequence, I was a Browns fan. As to whether this was right and proper, I thought not at all. I knew nothing about sports marketing and could not have cared less if small-market Rochester had been gerrymandered into the Browns’ TV-turf as a sop to get the Modells’ vote for the television package. I was 14, and I loved Jim Brown.
By modern standards, I was still a casual fan. Football was more fun to play than to watch, and I lived in a neighborhood with wall-to-wall kids. There was a backyard game every Sunday, so I probably missed more Browns’ games than I saw. But even I knew that this would be a big game: December football; the Browns had to win it to get to the championship. It was also a revenge game: the Giants had beaten the Browns two-straight (the final game of the season and a special playoff) to get to the ‘58 championship, said to be the greatest ever played. I knew the Browns would have beaten the Colts, and, dutifully, I reviled the Giants.
I was stunned by the ballpark. My notion of a stadium was Red Wing Stadium, where the Rochester AAA ballteam played. But this was something else—vast and powerful, filled with sixty thousand fans, and the tangy scent of smoke mixed with alcohol (which I wouldn’t smell again till I could go into bars), and noise like I’d never heard in my life. I couldn’t even describe the noise—a wailing screech?—ebbing and then rising as loud as a jet plane. I fell silent. I felt tiny.
But the Browns gave me courage. As I remember, the game was tight, with the Browns clinging to a nervous lead by the half—at which point some kind of miracle transpired. Suddenly, the Browns could do no wrong, and for the Giants, nothing went right. Title was intercepted for a score. Jim Brown caught a pass and waltzed into the end zone. The Giants fumbled, the Browns scored…and again…and again…and I was whooping and cutting up just as loud as I could, just like the (suddenly silent) New York fans…or so I imagined—it only showed how little I understood.
When the Browns’ back-ups scored again, and their score climbed to more than 50 points, I asked my grandfather (rather too loudly) if that big Longines scoreboard could show three digits for the visiting team. A couple of New York fans turned around and gave me the look that was my real introduction to Yankee Stadium. I had known for about the last quarter that they probably wanted me to shut up. But their look now didn’t say, “shut up.” What it said was they wanted to kill me. What is said was this was the worst moment of their lives and if I didn’t shut up they might forget how unutterably sad they were, and have another drink, and kill me for sure.
I shut up. I feared them. But I also respected them. No one I knew felt that way about their team. And they taught me something important, which was the dire seriousness of New York sports—which is what the old Stadium was about.
I had a good time reading from Lasting Yankee Stadium Memories in Brooklyn last night. I went on first and by the time I was finished the Yanks held a 3-2 lead. When I got to the subway, it was 4-2 and that’s the last I knew from anything until I reached Dyckman Street in uptown Manhattan. I sat on the 1 train, clutching my phone, waiting for the train to exit the tunnel so I could get a signal. The anticipation…oh, the anticipation. When I saw the score, the game was final–Yanks 5, Twins 2. I raised my right arm and let out a “Yeah.” A woman sitting across from me looked up and knew. “What’s the score?” she said.
“Yanks won,” I said.
A few more people looked up and we were all smiling.
I waited for the bus on 231st street and called Jay Jaffe for a recap.
When the bus arrived, I said hello to the driver.
“How you doin?” he said.
“The Yanks won, I’m great.”
I found a seat in the back and then I heard the driver’s voice over the loudspeaker.
“What was the score?”
“5-2″ I yelled.
Bus full of sleepy but happy New Yorkers.
Lasting Yankee Stadium Memories is now in bookstores.
To celebrated its publication, dig this piece about Todd Drew from one of his dearest friends:
By Peter Zanardi
We never talked but then Todd Drew didn’t reveal a bit of himself. We never parted without making some kind of future plan. I’m totally convinced that would have continued if he lived to be 100.
The last time we met, Todd talked mostly about his own blog, Yankees For Justice, and his contributions to Bronx Banter. He also expressed his admiration for Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. An unabashed liberal, Todd called Sanders “my favorite Senator.” Because I have Vermont connections, and because Sanders (who is actually Brooklyn born) is so approachable, I made a mental note to see about getting a personalized item for Todd.
My wife Jane and I would give it to him when we returned to New York for a weekend that would definitely include Jazz at Lincoln Center.
Todd’s mind had many, many rooms, and I’ll be forever thankful that I got to visit a few of them. There was, of course, baseball in general and the Yankees in particular. In the last years of his all-too-short stay, that was the warmest, coziest, most comforting of the rooms. He kept the cleanest scorebook I’ve ever seen, and I’m guessing the room was equally tidy.There were also spaces for ballet, jazz, history, politics, and especially the written word. The love between Todd and his wife Marsha was in every room. You couldn’t escape it.
I often marveled at what this son of a Syracuse bartender had become. He was a damn good writer, as evidenced by his Yankees For Justice and Bronx Banter contributions. I loved his style of driving home points with short, jab-like sentences.
Writing this, I now marvel at what I became just knowing him.
Considering the company, Todd’s joy in being one of the contributors to this effort would have been immeasurable. He was more than aware of all the others. His bookshelves rivaled some small town libraries. He loved to discuss particular books, stories, and opinions.
He read. He read a lot because he was convinced that was the route to becoming a better writer. The passion was always there—a divine gift perhaps. His sense of right and wrong, received from his parents Richard and Linda, was evident very early. He recalled, with pride, walking a picket line at age five or six with his Dad, then a Carrier employee in Syracuse.
The writing skills were not so easy to come by.
Auto racing brought us together. He was working for NASCAR handling media for a northern series. He had gone south to work for Dale Earnhardt. Among the things he brought back north was Marsha. I was involved in racetrack publicity at the time and delighted in listening to Marsha’s drawl.
Soon we wound up at the same auto racing weekly outside of Boston. I was sort of a “Dutch Uncle” at first—not more talented but a generation older. I watched Todd labor over columns. He’d spend an hour finding the right three-or-four word phrase. He’d ask so many questions.
He read living writers and dead writers, and he would experiment. “Where did you get that?” I’d ask. “Furman Bisher, Red Smith, Joe Falls,” he would answer. He’d write in the first person, in the second, in the third. He’d play with quotes, change paragraphs around. Sometimes it would work, and sometimes it wouldn’t, but he battled on.
He moved to a magazine. He started winning some acclaim including an honorable mention in a Best American Sports Stories collection. Bones Bourcier, the award-winning auto-racing writer, and I would kind of talk behind his back about how badly he wanted to be a great writer.
Bones and I were both in Oklahoma when we heard of Todd’s passing. We talked of his desire again, wishing, praying even, that this time he heard us.
The auto-racing run ended. Todd took Marsha back to Syracuse where his folks ran Poor Richard’s Pub. Times were not always good, the truth is he struggled, but the love he had for his native city showed through. He loved its baseball team, its fairgrounds, its place in New York State history, and its people. He wrote for some small newspapers.
I recall sitting in a diner in Baldwinsville outside of Syracuse talking about the Erie Canal. We drove to Rochester to see a ball game because Syracuse was away. The next day we were at the famed Oswego Speedway.
Then I heard Todd and Marsha were moving to New York City. He was taking that passion and that sense of right and wrong to the American Civil Liberties Union. “How perfect is that?” my wife, Jane, asked.
Soon they were living on the Upper West Side, going to Yankee games, to the New York City Ballet, to Birdland and Lincoln Center. He was an active member of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR).
When we visited we took good shoes because we were going to walk. That, he said, was the way to appreciate his new home. He and Marsha would walk up to Harlem to jazz joints. When the subway workers went out, he walked the many blocks to work. He got to the Stadium as early as he could. He often left as late as possible.
Todd loved showing off his new home to his old friend. He taught Jane and me not to be afraid of the city, to enjoy its multitude of possibilities. His writing reflected the same love of New York’s people.
My wife was born in Brooklyn. She still had memories of the house her grandfather, an immigrant from Sweden, had built there. Her maternal grandfather, an English immigrant, was one of the founders of a church a few blocks away. Todd, Marsha, and I decided we would take Jane to those places that are in an area of Brooklyn now largely populated by minorities.
After a long subway ride, we walked many blocks before stopping in front of the house where Jane’s father was brought up. Then we walked on to the church. We couldn’t get in at first. A church elder, an immigrant himself, happened along and, hearing the story, invited us in.
Jane asked about the baptismal font that was dedicated in her grandfather’s memory some 50 years earlier. Sure enough, it was there, still being used. The plaque memorializing her grandfather was intact.
My wife’s eyes filled up. I’m almost sure Todd’s eyes did as well. He appreciated grandfathers and heritage. It was an incredible, very human moment. The fact that Todd Drew, who refused to dwell on differences—be they religion, color, income, education, whatever—was there made it more special.
I’ve was blessed to traveled a lot of miles with Todd Drew. I watched many races with him, went to Yankee Stadium and Shea Stadium with him. We talked and argued, always gently, about many things including the designated hitter (I dislike it) and modern versus traditional ballet. I truly not only loved Todd Drew, I loved being with him.
My lasting memory of Todd is that moment in that church in Brooklyn.
Todd and I went to the Stadium that night, Marsha graciously giving up her ticket. The next day, she took it back, and Jane and I enjoyed New York by ourselves.
“I believe in baseball and an equally free, open, just society for everyone,” Todd wrote. He hit that right on the nose.
Dig this interview with me over at Gelf. I’ll be part of the next Varsity Letters Reading Series, this Thursday at 7:30 in Brooklyn.
Lasting Yankee Stadium Memories hits the shelves next week. Dig this interview with me over at New York Magazine.
Also, for all you NYC heads, I’ll be at the Gelf Varsity Letters series in Brooklyn next Thursday, October 7th. If you are around and available, represent, represent!
By Ed Alstrom
Like most of you, I just got the news of Mr. Sheppard’s passing. I didn’t know him for as long as some did, but over the course of only 5 years he had become a dear friend with whom I shared many indelible memories.
And that speaks volumes, I think. You’ll be hearing his praises sung by all for several days, but I too will affirm firsthand that for a man of his stature, who is so revered and so famous, to be as kind and friendly as he was to me from the very beginning is, well, almost beyond belief.
From the day I met him, when he calmed me down before my frantic first game as organist at the Stadium by extending a hand and a big grin and saying ‘Welcome to Yankee Stadium!’ (in the exact same tone of voice and volume he delivered it over the PA before every game!), to the last time I saw him when my wife Maxine and I visited he and Mary at their home on Long Island about 6 months ago, and we talked about seemingly everything but baseball for about three hours… he was quite simply one of the finest and most genuine human beings I’ve ever had the pleasure to come in contact with.
Think about this – why would you call an man routinely by the prefix “Mr.”? Unless it’s a total stranger, usually you are forced to do so because it’s someone who commands ‘respect’ only by intimidation, rank, or force (e.g., the contemptible CEO of the company you work for). Rarely these days do you address a man as “Mr.” all the time because you just flat-out love and respect him so much that it actually feels disrespectful to call him by his first name. And that’s Mr. Sheppard to me. Nobody at the Stadium ever told me I had to address him as ‘Mr. Sheppard’; that’s just what everyone did as a matter of course.
Our friend Todd Drew passed away almost a year-and-a-half ago. In the days after his death, I coped with the sadness by staying busy. I didn’t want to sit with the pain. We talked about Todd on the site as the Banter sat shiva. What can we do? The rest of the Banter writers and I talked about it. What about a compilation of Todd’s work, from his blog Yankees for Justice, and his Shadow Games columns here at the Banter?
Then Diane Firstman suggested that we compile the Yankee Stadium Memories series into a book. It would have a broader appeal. Made sense to me. So when Skyhorse approached me about doing just that, I knew we had the perfect farewell to Todd.
I’m proud to announce that Skyhorse will release Bronx Banter Presents: Lasting Yankee Stadium Memories this October. The collection features 60 essays including 25 entirely new pieces (the Amazon link above has some errors that will be corrected shortly). And none other than Yogi Berra penned the foreword. The book features original work from the likes of Richard Ben Cramer, Tony Kornheiser, Tom Boswell, Leigh Montville, Pete Hamill, Charles Pierce, John Schulian, William Nack, Steve Rushin and Alan Schwarz.
Marilyn Johnson, Tyler Kepner, Neil DeMause, Ted Berg and I have essays on the new Stadium. Todd’s wife, Marsha, collaborated with me on the final piece in the book, a bittersweet memory of her view from the season-ticket seats in the new place that Todd didn’t live to see. It is the perfect ending. The book is introduced by Todd’s wonderful Stadium memory.
I lost a battle with the publisher in an effort to get all of the Stadium Memories that appeared on-line into the book. I was left to make some painful choices (and the writers whose work didn’t make the final cut were gracious and professional when they didn’t need to be and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that). Of the essays that first appeared here on the Banter, close to two-thirds have been revised–condensed, mostly to make room for as many as possible–and I think vastly improved.
I’m exceedingly proud of the book. The entire Banter staff had a hand in putting it together and making it as strong as possible. I think this collection stands out for its depth and diversity. There are pieces from Yankee fans and Yankee-haters, New York beat writers and columnists, novelists and actors, New Yorkers and out-of-towners, transplants and visitors. The essays are, at turns, touching and sentimental, vulgar and hilarious, thoughtful and and irreverent, almost always intelligent—a true reflection of Bronx Banter.
I think Todd would dig it and I hope that you do too.
[Photo Credit: Baseball-Fever.com, N.Y. Daily News]
One year ago today, Todd Drew wrote his final post for Bronx Banter (and for all I know it was the last thing he ever wrote, period). The next day he went into the hospital. He never made it out. We miss him terribly at the Banter though his spirit lives on. I’m sure he’d relish all the Hot Stove activity, all the kibbitzing, all the passion.
So here’s raising a toast in his honor. Spill a little on the ground, and enjoy a moment of silence to remember out dear friend.
Here is his final post, which is grace under pressure if I’ve ever seen it:
SHADOW GAMES: Baseball and Me
By Todd Drew
I went to a baseball game after my father’s funeral. I also went to one after finding out about my mother’s brain cancer.
It was selfish and heartless. I felt guilty before and embarrassed after, but for nine innings I felt only the game. That’s the way it’s always been between baseball and me.
It was my friend when I didn’t have any others. And it has always been there to talk or listen or simply to watch.
Baseball helps me forget and it makes me remember. That’s why it was exactly what I needed on the worst days of my life.
But there were no games when a doctor told me that I had cancer. The neighborhood was out of baseball on that cold November day. No one was playing at Franz Sigel Park or John Mullaly Park. And there wasn’t even a game of catch in Joyce Kilmer Park. The last game at the old Yankee Stadium was long gone and Opening Day at the new Yankee Stadium was long off.
So I went home and wished for one of those summer days when I was a kid and my mother would send me to the ballpark with a paper sack stuffed with her famous tuna-fish sandwiches. That was back when you could slip through a delivery gate with the beer kegs and watch batting practice. And it was always okay to come home late with a beat-up scorecard and popcorn stuck between your teeth.
The doctor told me that tomorrow’s surgery and chemotherapy treatment might keep me in the hospital for 10 days.
“At least it’s December,” I said. “There aren’t any ballgames to miss.”
And I will be ready to slip through a delivery gate with the beer kegs when the new Yankee Stadium opens. I’ll watch batting practice with one of my mother’s famous tuna-fish sandwiches and come home late with a beat-up scorecard and popcorn stuck between my teeth.
Cancer can’t change the way it will always be between baseball and me.
By Mark Lamster
In the summer after my junior year at college I got a job working in the records department of HIP, the health insurance agency. In a basement office with no windows, I’d review double-entry ledgers for typographical errors, a tedious process I considered beneath my dignity. It was depressing work, my colleagues were unfriendly, and the most humiliating part of it was that I was just short of incompetent. I didn’t care, and it showed. Then I came home to a message from the New York Yankees. I was going to The Show.
As a budding sports journalist, I’d written to Yankees Magazine, offering my services as an intern. A spot had opened, and the next week I reported for duty at the Stadium, over-eager in khakis and a blazer. The office was in the dingy stadium basement: frayed carpet, no windows. My primary task was to proofread box scores and stat tables for the team’s minor league affiliates—these went in the back of the magazine. Not much of an improvement from HIP, and the climate was no better. The secretary spent her days endlessly defending the integrity of Milli Vanilli, recently revealed to be a fraud, while playing their hit record on a boombox.
This was 1990, and things were bleak for the Yanks. Bucky Dent had been cashiered in favor of Stump Merrill, but the team was still heading for 67 losses and a seventh-place finish. The magazine’s basement office, out of sight and out of mind, was actually a blessing. No one wanted to be upstairs, on the executive level. The Boss’s comings were unpredictable, and the staff lived in a perpetual state of fear for his arrival. It was said that he’d fire employees on a whim, and for no reason other than appearing in his siteline. The place was terrorized—joyless, somber, tense. I’d never experienced anything like it. In my entire time working there, I met one player, Luis Polonia, which tells you everything you need to know about those Yankees. The highlight of my tenure was an elevator ride with Bobby Murcer. He wore white pants and a green plaid jacket—a joyfully loud ensemble—and it a priority to greet every employee with his Oklahoma drawl. He was the anti-Boss.
There was actually one perk to the job. It came with a Yankee ID, and with that I had free entry to as many games as I could stand. I could sit just about anywhere as well; the good seats were rarely occupied, and with a flash of the badge I was clear to do as I pleased. I rarely sat in those good seats. I preferred the bleachers out in right field, where I’d been a regular for years, along with my closest high school friends.
The play on the field was grim, but the bleachers were always a party, and the reason was Melle Mel, the founding genius behind Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. These were the days before “Roll Call,” before the “Bleacher Creatures” became a self-professed institution. Mel was the unquestioned leader of the gang, and was usually accompanied by Busy Bee, a lesser light of the hip-hop stage. The two knew how to get a crowd working; the bleachers were just another club. They usually arrived in about the third inning, rarely sober, often stoned. (I don’t think I’m telling tales out of school here.) I remember them flying especially high one evening, and then returning home after the game to catch the last few minutes of Johnny Carson. On comes a PSA featuring Mel, “Don’t Do It.”
Mel’s signature was a dead-on impersonation of Stevie Wonder doing “I Just Called to Say I Love You,” which he’d sing waving his head to-and-fro while standing in the ass-contoured blue plastic seats that were removed about a decade ago, in favor of benches. (More fannies, more dollars.) Mel wore a ring with his name on it that stretched across his entire hand; it was a real danger during high fives. Whenever games got close in the late innings—this was known as “Toenail Time” for some inexplicable reason—he’d demand the entire bleachers stop drinking and pay full attention.
Mel gave the bleachers a bit of celebrity cache, but what really made his presence special was the sense he gave us that we were all—ghetto rappers, lunchpail types, old timers, Hispanics, even us privileged kids from Manhattan—a part of something uniquely New York, united in our devotion to the Yankees. He was a “star,” and had a magnetic charisma, but he was inclusive. One night Busy came in with copies of his new album, passed them out to the crowd, and invited everyone to his set that night at the Paladium. I wish we had gone, though I suspect we would never have made it past the velvet rope.
I spent years of my life out in those bleachers. My friends and I developed our own traditions. After the game we’d take the 4 train back to Eighty-sixth Street and, after a win, go for “victory donuts” at the shop on the corner of Lex. It wasn’t always so fun. In 1988, after Steinbrenner had picked a fight with Don Mattingly over his haircut, I found myself on the back page of Newsday, sitting below a group of regulars holding up letters that spelled “TRADE GEORGE.” We despised him, and though I’m no longer the despising kind, I can’t say I’ve forgotten or forgiven his many trespasses and disgraces. Eventually, of course, Steinbrenner did himself in, and for conspiring against Dave Winfield, always Mel’s favorite. And that was a new dawn for the Stadium, and the team.
By the mid nineties, my friends and I stopped visiting the bleachers with regularity. Schedules intruded, girlfriends, lives. When we did go to the ballpark, and we still went often, we opted for better seats. The bleachers changed. The “Creatures” had begun to consider themselves an attraction, justifiably. With that new fame came unpleasant questions about authenticity, who was a true regular. Mel stopped showing up.
We were still fans, still true, and we got our ultimate reward in 1996. My greatest memory of Yankee Stadium comes from that year, and it wasn’t even at the stadium. I watched the last game of the World Series that year with my future wife in her tiny studio apartment on Eighty-seventh Street and First Avenue. The joy of that game’s final moment, Charlie Hays clutching that last pop—the ultimate exaltation.
I had planned with my friends that, in the case of a win, we’d all meet up for one last victory donut. But somehow we found out that the Yanks would be holding their victory party that night at Cronies, a sports bar on Eighty-Seventh and Third, just a couple of avenues away. By the time we all met there the entire block was shut down and barricaded, fans were cheering and passing around champagne, and the players were arriving by limo—Derek, Tino, Jim Leyritz in a ten-gallon hat. For years, we had been trekking out to the Bronx to cheer on our team. Now, after the win we had all longed for, they came home to us.
By Glenn Stout
It was a nothing game.
September 24, 1992. A Thursday night. The Yankees in fourth place and the Tigers in sixth, neither of them close to the Blue Jays, or, apparently, with any chance of ever getting close to the Blue Jays or anyone else atop the division for at least a few more years. A young Scott Kamienicki vs. an aging Frank Tanana, one-time hard thrower whose fastball had come and gone and left behind a pile of guts and guile.
We were down from Boston, my girlfriend and I. She’d recently moved back in with me after getting a grad degree from Columbia and living and working in Mount Vernon for a few years, and we had some business to take care of in the city.
It had already been a funny day. Taking a bus somewhere downtown I’d seen Liza Minelli poking around outside some antique bathroom fixture store. Down by City Hall I’d used of one of those high tech public bathrooms that had cost 50 cents and gave itself a shower afterwards, like something from the Jetsons. Then I saw Rudy Giuliani walking down the street.
We went to the game – a nice early fall night. Only about 12,000 people were in the Stadium, so we had pretty good seats, probably the best seats I’d ever had for a major league game anywhere at that point – the main boxes, not too high up, almost dead on a line with the left field foul line. We might have paid twelve dollars a ticket, which also would have been the most I’d ever spent on a baseball ticket at the time.
I saw Nicolas Cage. He had better seats, right behind the plate, but still 20 or 30 rows up.
There wasn’t a whole lot of care on display on the field that night. Mattingly played hard, as always, and cracked a couple of doubles, and this new kid in center field, Bernie Williams, had a good night. But almost everyone else one either team – Charlie Hayes, Rob Deer, Tartabull – was packing it in; you could tell.
Seventh inning. Yankees ahead 4-0. Tanana throwing changeups off changeups and the occasional big sloppy curve – nothing much over eighty miles an hour. The crowd was already starting to file out.
Leading off, Gerald Williams. Rookie. I remember liking Gerald more than Bernie at first. He moved like a ballplayer, while Bernie moved like an antelope still wet from birth.
Gerald Williams hadn’t done much so far – a fly out, a strikeout. But now Tanana, thirty-nine years old and in his nineteenth year of major league baseball, gave him a pitch.
Williams didn’t miss it. I’ll never forget the trajectory – almost straight down the line, a little hook to it like a golf shot, that one bright spot against the black going smaller…
And Gerald Williams watching it, and walking, slow toward first before, barely, breaking into a trot. His first major league home run.
I was watching him saunter toward first when I heard someone yelling, not just to get someone’s attention, but REALLY yelling, I mean angry “I’m gonna ruin your face” kind of mad.
It was Frank Tanana. Pissed. Chewing Williams’ ass out every step he took all around the bases for standing there and showing him up. And Williams did speed up – not much – just enough to let Tanana know he heard but at the same time not so much to let him think he had been intimidated. And Tanana kept yelling.
Baseball-Reference tells me that Pat Kelly followed with a walk and Bernie Williams, this time running like an adult antelope, tripled, knocking out Tanana, and the Yankees went on to win 10-1, but to be honest, I don’t really remember much else about the game.
But I’ve got a great excuse. You see, when I was down by City Hall earlier that day, my girlfriend and I had applied for a wedding license. We went back the next day and got married in a ceremony that took precisely 27 seconds.
Or about as long as it took Gerald Williams to run around the bases.