Posts Tagged ‘1937’

The Début of Roosevelt Field

Monday, May 8th, 2017

When Christian Ziegler got the assignment to design a new stadium for Jersey City, he planned a voyage with Parks and Public Buildings Commissioner Arthur Potterton for a reconnaissance trip to Rochester, Cleveland, Montreal, Boston, and Philadelphia, according to the New York Times.

On June 5, 1929, Mayor Frank Hague made the announcement about the city getting a new stadium with a capacity to host 50,000 people.  The Times reported, “Work can start in three months, it is expected, and the stadium should be finished by the Spring of 1930.”

It took a bit longer, as is the tradition with construction projects.

On December 10, 1935, groundbreaking began at the site, adjoining Newark Bay, and which formerly housed Jersey City Airport; the Jersey Observer noted, in particular, Hague’s positive proclamation after making the initial dig:  “This is a great day for Jersey City.  You must realize that all the money needed for the construction of the stadium was donated by the government.  The city merely furnished the ground and pays the architect’s fees.

“This stadium has been the dream of the Jersey City officials for a number of years.”

Hague, a politician who exerted the right amount of pressure on the levers, switches, and buttons of Jersey City’s political machinery to get things accomplished, often colored outside the lines of the law to get things done.

Less than a year and a half later, the dream became reality—named for President Franklin Roosevelt, under whose aegis the Works Progress Administration governed the construction, Roosevelt Stadium débuted on April 23, 1937; the Jersey City Giants occupied home team status in the International League contest, losing a 12-inning game to the Rochester Red Wings.  Final score:  4-3.  In attendance were New Jersey luminaries, including Jersey City  Hague and Senator A. Harry Moore, who was a former governor.

Future Dodgers skipper Walter Alston banged the pitching of Giants hurler Rollie Stiles like a southerner swats flies on a humid night in August—the Red Wings first baseman went four-for-five and drove in two runs, including the game winner.

Roosevelt Stadium’s architecture affected the crowd.  “All who attended yesterday’s imbroglio gasped at the layout which Mayor Hague and the W. P. A. have provided,” reported New York Herald Tribune scribe Stanley Woodward.  “The grandstand and bleachers are of yellow fire-brick and a wall of the same substance surrounds the whole layout.  The end seats of each row are emblazoned on the aisle side with cast-iron shields, painted with ferryboats and square-rigged ships and bearing the motto, ‘Let Jersey Prosper.'”

Nine years after it opened, Roosevelt Stadium became the site of history—on April 18, 1946, Jackie Robinson played his first professional baseball game.  It was a 14-1 pounding of the Giants by Robinson and the Montreal Royals.  Robinson turned in an impeccable performance at the plate:

  • 4-for-5
  • 4 RBI
  • 2 Stolen Bases
  • 2 Putouts
  • 3 Assists

There was, however, one blemish—Robinson made a throwing error to first base on a double play ball.  In turn, the Giants batter, Clefton Ray scampered to second base and then home, when Bobby Thomson swatted a single.

In August of 1984, the Historic American Buildings Survey, an arm of the National Park Service, compiled a detailed history of Roosevelt Stadium, including, among other items, descriptions of the stadium’s interior, layout of seating areas, geographic location, flooring, and landscaping.  Like other stadia lost to history—Mack, Navin, Ebbets et al.—Roosevelt Field marked a specific place in time, when men wore fedoras, newspapers in larger cities had evening editions, and generations of families stayed in the same area code.  “In short, it was a meeting place for all the people of Jersey City and as such, the stadium embodies a time, an era, an overwhelming feeling of the essence of a city in its heyday in the 1930s and 1940s that simply no longer exists,” states the HABS report.

Roosevelt Stadium was demolished in 1985.  Society Hill, a gated community, occupies the site.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on February 3, 2017.

Savannah’s Bananas

Thursday, March 16th, 2017

When James Oglethorpe led the settling of Savannah, Georgia in 1733, he used a geometric shape for the layout—squares.  Robert Johnson has the distinction of the first square being named after him; Johnson—South Carolina’s colonial governor—and Oglethorpe were friends.  Savannah expanded to 24 squares; Johnson Square is the largest.  Urban development caused the destruction of two squares.

Savannah’s squares, essentially, consist of eight blocks—four residential and four civic.  But it is a square turned 45 degrees that occupies a firm footing in Savannah’s history, culture, and leisure—a diamond.  Well, a baseball diamond.  Grayson Stadium.

In the year that Grayson Stadium was constructed—1926—under the moniker of Municipal Stadium, Babe Ruth smashed home runs in his prime, Walter Johnson won his 400th game, and Mel Ott made his major league début.

Savannah native Colonel William Leon Grayson was the inspiration for the ballpark’s name.  In his 1917 book A Standard History of Georgia and Georgians, Volume 5, Lucian Lamar Knight wrote, “Colonel Grayson represents a long line of military men, and while his own active field service was confined to a brief campaign during the Spanish-American War, he has for years been active in organizing and maintaining Georgia’s militia, and his work was the basis for a tribute from one of Georgia’s governors, who once said that no braver, more efficient or more reliable officer ever held a commission from the state than Colonel Grayson.”

Since its inauguration, Grayson Stadium has been home to several minor league teams:

  • Savannah Indians (1926-1928, 1936-1942, 1946-1954)
  • Savannah Athletics (1955)
  • Savannah Redlegs (1956-1958)
  • Savannah Reds (1959)
  • Savannah White Sox (1962)
  • Savannah Senators (1968-1969)
  • Savannah Indians (1970)
  • Savannah Braves (1971-1983)
  • Savannah Cardinals (1984-1985)
  • Savannah Sand Gnats (1996-2015)

When the Savannah Bananas of the Coastal Plain League took the field in 2016, the team’s first season, it carried the torch for baseball in the Hostess City of the South.  A wood-bat collegiate summer league with 16 teams, the CPL takes its name from the Class D league that existed from 1937 to 1941 and 1946 to 1952; the CPL shelved its business during World War II.  2016 was the league’s 20th year.

“We had heard that the Sand Gnats were potentially leaving, so we came to Savannah a couple of times to see what a baseball game looked like here,” said the Bananas’ president, Jared Orton, before the 2016 season.  “It’s a beautiful city with a majestic ballpark that’s full of baseball history.  We can celebrate that with a new chapter of Savannah baseball.

“Obviously, we cannot use traditional names, for example, Indians.  So, we narrowed down the possibilities to five and then sent them to Studio Simon for logo designs and colors.  When we saw the Bananas logo and name together, it was a no-brainer.  The name is easy to say, recognize, and market.  So, we can build our brand identity around it.

“One of the things we’re planning is a historical timeline in Grayson Stadium’s concourse to honor baseball in Savannah, including the most famous players to ever have played here.  Babe Ruth is one example.

“We’re focused on integrating the Bananas into Savannah’s culture.  That’s been the most challenging and fun aspect about launching the team’s operations.  We’re constantly meeting with business and community leaders to build and reinforce our relationships and friendships.  Our goal is to make the Bananas games fun for the fans.”

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on April 4, 2016.

McGraw and McGillicuddy

Friday, March 10th, 2017

One was pugnacious.  The other, almost regal.

When John Joseph McGraw took the field, he embraced baseball games as bouts, thus earning his nicknames Mugsy and Little Napoleon.

When Cornelius McGillicuddy managed the Philadelphia Athletics, he wore a suit rather than a uniform.

They were, certainly, opposites with a respect that ran deeper than the Hudson River.

Connie Mack—McGillicuddy’s more familiar moniker—managed the Athletics ball club from its genesis in 1901 until 1950.  When Mack passed away in 1956, it marked the end of a lengthy baseball tenure that began at the end of the 19th century—from 1894 to 1896, Mack was a player-manager for the Pittsburgh Pirates.  This came after playing in the major leagues for 11 years; in addition to Pittsburgh, Mack played for Buffalo and Washington.  Mack’s page on the Baseball Hall of Fame web site honors innovation in the catcher position:  “Mack was one of the first catchers to play directly behind home plate instead of setting up by the backstop.  He was also famous for his abilities to fake the sound of a foul tip with his mouth and ‘tip’ opposing players’ bats during their swings.”

Mack’s 50-year governance of the A’s as a manager and a part owner resulted in five World Series championships and seven American League titles.  There were plenty of down years, too.  In 1915, the A’s had a 36-104 record— it began a 10-year run of losing seasons.  Eight winning seasons followed, including three consecutive American League pennants from 1929 to 1931.  The A’s won the World Series in 1929 and 1930.

Contrariwise to Mack’s aura of temperateness, John McGraw breathed flames.  Upon the death of the fiery New York Giants manager in 1934, New York Times writer John N. Wheeler opined that retirement a couple of years prior corresponded with a transition in the National Pastime.  “The game also had become more gentlemanly and, if you will take the word of an old-timer like the writer, less colorful,” wrote Wheeler.  “Not that there is any implication that John J. McGraw was not a gentleman, but when he went to wars he went to win.”

McGraw’s managerial career began with the Baltimore Orioles team that moved to New York after the 1902 season and became the Highlanders— the team later changed to the Yankees label.  McGraw was a Baltimore fixture, playing third base on the Oriole’s National League championship teams in the 1890s.

In the middle of the 1902 season, McGraw went to the New York Giants, where he became the symbol of toughness for the princes of the Polo Grounds.  And he brought several Orioles with him.  Under McGraw, the Giants won 10 National League pennants and seven World Series titles.

Mack and McGraw squared off in the World Series three times—1905, 1911, and 1913; the Giants own the 1905 contest and the A’s won the next two.

In 1937, the Baseball Hall of Fame inducted Connie Mack and John McGraw.  On McGraw’s Hall off Fame web site page, a quote from Mack summarizes his feelings toward his counterpart:  “There has been only one manager— and his name is McGraw.”

A version of this article appeared on March 17, 2016.

Roy Campanella and the Baltimore Elite Giants

Wednesday, January 4th, 2017

Roy Campanella was born in the same year as the team for which he played before signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers organization.  The Elite Giants débuted in 1921 in Nashville, where it stayed for a decade and a half before moving to Washington, D.C.  After spending 1936 and 1937 in the nation’s capital, the team moved about 40 miles north to Baltimore, where it won the Negro National League championship the following year.

In his 2009 book The Baltimore Elite Giants, Bob Luke described team found Thomas “Smiling Tom” Wilson as a businessman who straddled the line separating legal and illegal activities.  “He ran a profitable numbers operation, which was illegal, sponsored numerous events at his namesake stadium in Nashville, Wilson Park, and ran a popular nightclub, the Paradise Ballroom,” wrote Luke.

The Baltimore Afro-American ran a story in the February 5, 1938 edition—May Transfer Elite Giants From Washington To Balto—quoting Wilson, who explained the financial benefit of changing metropolises:  “Last year we lost money with the club operating from Washington.  I sincerely feel Baltimore far superior to Washington as a baseball town.”  Wilson added, “It’s been a long time since Baltimore has had a regular league team and I feel the people there need one and will support one.”

Five weeks later, the Afro-American confirmed the move, heralding the relocation to Baltimore—the team’s last city until its demise in 1950—amongst other decisions made at a three-day Negro National League conference:  “Tom Wilson’s Elite Giants, who operated from Washington the last two years, definitely have been transferred to Baltimore this season and will play out of either Oriole Park or Bugle Field as a home base.

“This gives Baltimore its first real big league club since 1931.”

Campanella credited his rookie season of 1937 with the Elite Giants as forming the foundation for his catching skills, specifically, learning under the tutelage of veteran catcher Biz Mackey, who managed the team.  Though he was 15 years old, Campanella possessed natural abilities that belied his young age.

In his 1959 autobiography It’s Good To Be Alive, Campanella wrote, “As that season wore on I began to share the catching with Biz Mackey fifty-fifty.  Instead of growing distant as I grew better, Biz gave me everything he could.  I was becoming a good instinctive catcher, doing the right thing without thinking about it.  But my hitting was something else again.  Biz tried to get me to cut down on my swing and meet the ball better.”

Campanella biographer Neil Lanctot investigated the Campanella-Mackey relationship for his 2011 book Campy: The Two Lives of Roy Campanella.  Mackey according to Lanctot, did not mandate a “do as I do” guideline for the teenage protégé.  “Unlike some coaches, Mackey did not try to force his pupil to copy his style.  There were different ways of catching, Mackey felt, and each receiver should use the form that worked best for him.  However, the boy needed instruction in the mechanical and mental aspects of the position.  Roy soon discovered there was much he did not know about catching.  After watching Mackey for a few games, he began to wonder whether he knew anything about catching.”

Branch Rickey, General Manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, signed Campanella after the 1945 season.  Campanella first played for the Nashua Dodgers, a farm team in the Eastern League, where he won the 1946 MVP Award.  Rickey called him up to Brooklyn in the middle of the 1948 season.

The Baseball Hall of Fame inducted Roy Campanella in 1969.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on September 29, 2015.

The 18-Inning Game

Tuesday, December 27th, 2016

From 1928 to 1943, Carl Hubbell, a New York Giants pitcher who enjoyed the nickname “The Meal Ticket” because of his prowess on the mound, built a Hall of Fame career on his left arm.  Pitching against the St. Louis Cardinals on July 2, 1933, Hubbell added a legendary feat to his credentials when he threw an 18-inning shutout.  Facing the Cardinals, a 1930s baseball dynasty nicknamed “The Gashouse Gang,” Hubbell dominated.  It was the first game of a doubleheader, ending with a 1-0 score.

“The Cardinals were completely baffled by Hubbell and were at his mercy the whole way.  Over the eighteen innings they collected only six hits, four being of the scratch variety,” wrote Richards Vidmer in the New York Herald Tribune.  “He didn’t issue a single pass, only one Cardinal progressed as far as third base, and only three others got as far as second.  He struck out twelve.  The Cards waged a grim battle, but Hubbell never for an instant faltered.”

Hubbell’s opposition proved formidable.  James “Tex” Carleton hurled sixteen scoreless innings.  Jess Haines relieved Carleton, pitching one scoreless inning and then allowing the fatal run in the following inning.  Vidmer pointed out that the contest was three innings shy of the record for a scoreless game.  A 2-0 game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Boston Braves lasted 21 innings on August 1, 1918.  A 1946 Reds-Dodgers game took 21 innings to finish, but it ended in a tie.

In the New York Times, John Drebinger recalled that it was the longest 1-0 game measured by innings, tying a 1918 Senators-White Sox contest; the Senators won.  Drebinger added that an 18-inning game in 1882 between National League teams Providence and Detroit ended in a victory for the latter squad.  Additionally, Drebinger praised Hubbell while giving an honorable mention to Carleton, whose performance was equally stunning, if not more so, considering the shortened break from the mound.  “As he had beaten the Giants in the opening game of the series on Thursday, it was not his turn to pitch,” wrote Drebinger.  “Yet he requested that he start, despite only two days of rest, and for sixteen rounds kept the straining Terrymen away from the plate.”

Of Hubbell, Drebinger wrote, “But it was Hubbell who commanded the centre of the state.  The tall, somber left-hander rose to his greatest heights, surpassing even his brilliant no-hit classic of 1928.  He pitched perfect ball in twelve of the eighteen innings yesterday, with not a man reaching first base.”

Drebinger’s use of the moniker “Terrymen” is a reference to Giants skipper Bill Terry.

Hubbell dominated the National League in his prime, pitching five consecutive seasons of at least 20 victories from 1933 to 1937.  In the 1933 World Series, Hubbell won two games—he completed both of them.  One was a 2-1 contest lasting 11 innings.

The Giants won the second game of the doubleheader, also by a score of 1-0.  Dizzy Dean pitched for the Cardinals on one day’s rest against Giants ace Roy Parmelee who had a 13-8 record in 1933.  Ironically, Parmelee went to St. Louis in 1936, his only season in a Cardinals uniform—he went the distance against the Giants in a 1-0 shutout; it was a 17-inning game.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on July 2, 2015.

Radio, Baseball, and the Gipper

Thursday, December 8th, 2016

Before he treated a chimpanzee named Bonzo like a child, pleaded the Notre Dame football team to win just one for the Gipper, and told Mr. Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall, Ronald Reagan was a baseball announcer.

Reagan called baseball games for WOC in Davenport, Iowa.  Started by Robert Karlowa as an experimental station in 1907, WOC later fell under the aegis of Bartlett Joshua Palmer, a chiropractor following in his father’s pioneering footsteps in chiropractic healing.  The University of Iowa’s Biographical Diction of Iowa web site details B.J. Palmer’s radio endeavors:  “In 1922, he obtained a license to operate station WOC in Davenport— the call letters stood for “World of Chiropractic”— purportedly the second radio station licensed to broadcast in the United States.  That venture expanded in 1929 to include WHO in Des Moines, and was incorporated as the Central Broadcasting Company, an NBC affiliate.

“The first WOC broadcasts were made from the living room of the Palmer home at 828 Brady Street in Davenport.  Broadcasts included lectures, musical programs, and many other programs.  The main purpose of the radio station was to advertise the chiropractic school and clinic, and B.J. was remarkably successful at that.”

Reagan’s audition for WOC took place in 1932.  “He had to stand in front of a microphone in a studio and make up a game,” explained William Gildea in his 2004 article “Former President Had A Passion for Sports” in the Washington Post.  With extraordinary detail and excitement in his voice, he recounted much of the fourth quarter of a game in which he played for Eureka— only in his fictitious version, Eureka won a game it actually lost.”

Reagan became the voice of sports for WHO before he launched his movie career in Hollywood in 1937.  Announcing the Chicago Cubs games allowed Reagan to develop his oratorical gifts, which served him well as an actor and a politician.  Sometimes he broadcast games on site.  Gildea stated, “More often, though, he was tucked away in the studio, recreating the games, using his imagination to flesh out the minimal description of the action available to him from the dots and dashes sent from the ballpark by a telegraph operator to the telegraph operator sitting across from him.

The future president’s involvement with the National Pastime continued in Hollywood.  In the 1952 movie The Winning Team, Reagan portrayed baseball icon Grover Cleveland Alexander.  Co-starring Doris Day as Alexander’s wife Aimee, The Winning Team ends on the climactic note of Alexander’s performance in the 1926 World Series featuring the St. Louis Cardinals and the New York Yankees.  It went seven games.  In the 7th inning of Game Seven, Alexander struck out Yankee powerhouse Tony Lazzeri to end the last viable Yankee threat.  Alexander kept the 8th and 9th innings scoreless, giving the Cardinals a 3-2 victory and the championship.  In a career spanning 1911 to 1930, Alexander compiled a 373-208 record, including four consecutive seasons of 30 or more wins.

The Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation & Library web site cites a 1983 quote capturing Reagan’s passion for baseball:  “I really do love baseball and I wish we could do this out on the lawn every day.  I wouldn’t even complain if a stray ball came through the Oval Office window now and then.”

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on November 15, 2014.

All Aboard the Hooterville Cannonball! Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of “Petticoat Junction” (Part 5 of 5)

Thursday, September 26th, 2013

A Hollywood urban legend dictates that The Wild Wild West and Petticoat Junction used the same locomotive.  Like most urban legends, this one has a kernel of truth.  Jensen clarifies the issue by explaining the lineage of the trains involved.

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Tarzan Takeoffs in Films

Saturday, April 6th, 2013

Tarzan inspired film studios to invent their versions of a jungle hero.  The results range from hysterical to sober.

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