Posts Tagged ‘Newark’

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.

The Last Eagle

Saturday, March 18th, 2017

Once upon a decade—the one that introduced Elvis Presley, car tail fins, and McDonald’s franchises—a ballplayer blessed with speed, grace, and athleticism rivaling Orsippus’s climbed to the apex of baseball, popular culture, and media.

The year was 1951.  The place was New York City.  The ballplayer was Willie Mays.

Talent alone does not make a major leaguer, however.  Responding to this reality, Leo Durocher, manager of the New York Giants, selected a member of his Polo Grounds posse to shepherd the 20-year-old Mays upon the rookie’s ascension from the Minneapolis Millers—the Giants’ AAA team.

Monford Merrill Irvin.  Monte.

In his 1975 book The Miracle at Coogan’s Bluff, Thomas Kiernan wrote, “Irvin not only accepted responsibility for Mays, he took the move as a challenge.  For the first time as a Giant he had a teammate who, it appeared, was every bit as talented as he was.”

Under Irvin’s tutelage, Mays matured into the professional that Durocher et al. hoped he would be.  “Irvin would instruct Mays on game situations, shout out which bases the rookie should throw to, position against each enemy hitter—to make it easy for Mays to turn what would be extra-base hits with anyone else in center field into outs,” stated Kiernan.

Irvin played in the Negro Leagues before desegregating the New York Giants with Hank Thompson in 1949.  Effa Manley, owner of the Newark Eagles, testified, “Monte was the choice of all Negro National and American League club owners to serve as the No. 1 player to join a white major league team.  We all agreed, in meeting, he was the best qualified by temperament, character ability, sense of loyalty, morals, age, experiences ad physique to represent us as the first black player to enter the white majors since the Walker brothers back in the 1880s.  Of course, Branch Rickey lifted Jackie Robinson out of Negro ball and made him the first, and it turned out just fine.”

Appropriately, Manley’s statement is on Irvin’s Baseball Hall of Fame web site page.

Irvin led the Eagles to the 1946 Negro Leagues World Series championship against the Kansas City Monarchs—a shining moment for the kid from Orange, New Jersey, for whom playing playing baseball was oxygen.

When Irvin died on January 11, 2016, he took with him the status of being the last living monument to the Eagles.  In a statement, Mays said that his mentor “was like a second father to me.”

Jerry Izenberg, an iconic New Jersey sports writer, eulogized Irvin in the Star-Ledger, which gained international recognition when Tony Soprano ambled down his driveway in a robe and slippers to pick it up, often thumbing through the pages for the latest news on mafia arrests.

Decades after his career in the Negro Leagues, Irving maintained joyousness that could light up Chancellor Avenue.  Irvin’s exclamations occurred repeatedly in conversations with Izenberg, who recalled the thread of joy running through them, including an excerpt of a conversation from the early 1990s:  “I played in three countries.  I played in two World Series.  But I never found anything to match the joy and the laughter those years with the Eagles brought me.”

Monte Irvin retired with a .293 batting average after eight seasons in the major leagues; the Baseball Hall of Fame inducted him in 1973.  “I hope my induction will help to ease the pain of all those players who never got a chance to play in the majors,” stated the man largely responsible for the career of Willie Mays.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on April 9, 2016.

New Jersey’s Major League Teams

Wednesday, December 28th, 2016

New Jersey, sandwiched between New York City and Philadelphia, divides its baseball loyalties, typically, with the top half of the state rooting for the former’s teams and the bottom half for the latter’s.  Briefly, on two occasions, the Garden State had a major league team of its own.

In 1873, the Elizabeth Resolutes played in the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players, which existed from 1871 to 1875.  Also known as the National Association, it was a precursor to the National League, which débuted in 1876.  Disputes concerning the NA’s status as a “major league” continue amongst historians, scholars, and enthusiasts.  But for the purpose the Elizabeth squad’s story here, it shall be considered a “major league.”

Playing home games in Waverly Fairgrounds—a product of the imagination, expertise, and dedication of agriculturalist James Jay Mapes—the Resolutes compiled a 2-21 record, failing to draw crowds necessary to sustain appeal.  In the June 21, 1873 edition of the New York Times, an article highlighted a deficit in marketing efforts as the culprit:  “The game between the Mutuals, of this City, and the Resolutes, of Elizabeth, N.J., which was played on the Union Grounds yesterday afternoon, was very poorly advertised, and consequently poorly attended, there not being more than 500 persons present.”  The Mutuals pounded the Resolutes, winning the game 9-1.

Hugh Campbell pitched both victories for the Resolutes in 1873.  Compiled and edited by David Nemec, the book Major League Profiles: 187-1900, Volume 1, The Ballplayers Who Built the Game, highlights Hugh Campbell’s major league genesis:  “In several 1872 exhibition games against NA teams Campbell had fared reasonably well.  These outings gave the Resolutes confidence that they could compete in the 1873 NA, but it was illusory.”

Campbell’s brother Mike played first base on the 1873 Elizabeth Resolutes; the Campbell brothers had also played together on amateur teams.

The Newark Pepper occupied a slot in the short-lived tenure of the Federal League, a third major league, which existed for two seasons—1914 and 1915.  The team originated in Indianapolis as the Hoosiers in 1914, won the Federal League championship, and migrated to Newark for the 1915 season under the auspices of team owner Harry F. Sinclair, an oil and banking magnate.  Sinclair had been a principal owner in Indianapolis.  He bought the remainder of the team after the 1914 season concluded.

Future Hall of Famer Bill McKechnie played third base for Newark and managed the team for part of the season, achieving a 54-45 record.  He was 27 years old.  McKechnie’s managerial career included pennants with the Pirates, the Cardinals, and the Reds—he is the only manager to win pennants on three different National League teams.  With World Series titles for the ’25 Pirates and the ’40 Reds, McKechnie became the first manager to win a World Series championship with two teams.

Edd Roush, another Hall of Famer, played outfield for the 1915 Pepper.  In 1962, the Hall of Fame inducted McKechnie and Roush, along with Jackie Robinson and Bob Feller.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on July 9, 2015.

New Jersey’s Hall of Famers

Sunday, November 6th, 2016

New Jersey is more than the land of Bruce Springsteen, Tony Soprano, and the Meadowlands.  It is also the home state for three players in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

In a career spanning 1888 to 1901, Billy Hamilton played for the Kansas City Cowboys, the Philadelphia Phillies, and the Boston Beaneaters.  The Newark native holds the record for most runs scored in a single season—198 in 1894.  During that season, Hamilton also tied George Gore’s record of most stolen bases in one game—7.  Gore set the record in 1881 with the Chicago White Stockings.

The Baseball Hall of Fame inducted Hamilton in 1961.

Leon Allen “Goose” Goslin and Joseph Michael “Ducky” Medwick received their inductions in 1968.  Goslin, a native of Salem—in the southern part of New Jersey—grew up shouldering chores on his family’s 500-acre farm in nearby Fort Mott.  For Larry Ritter’s book The Glory of Their Times, Goslin recalled baseball interfering with farm work.  “I always played ball around the sandlots here when I was a kid,” said Goslin.  “I’d ride 10 miles on my bike to play ball, play all day long, and then get a spanking when I got back ’cause I’d get home too late to milk the cows.”

When he got to the major leagues, Goslin received the nickname “Goose” from sports editor Denman Thompson, according to Goslin’s Society for American Baseball Research biography.  A left fielder for the Washington Senators, Goslin won the 1928 American League batting title with a .379 batting average.  He beat Heinie Manush of the St. Louis Browns by .001.

Goslin played for the Senators, the Detroit Tigers, and the Browns in a career lasting from 1921 to 1938.  His pedigree includes a .316 lifetime batting average, 1,609 RBI, and two World Series championships—1924 Senators and 1935 Tigers.

Medwick, a native of Carteret, New Jersey, enjoyed a 17-season career, including stints with the St. Louis Cardinals, the Brooklyn Dodgers, the New York Giants, and the Boston Braves.  Also a left fielder, Medwick compiled a .324 lifetime batting average that includes 2,471 hits, 540 doubles, and 1383 RBI.  In 1937, Medwick won the Triple Crown Award and the National League Most Valuable Player Award.  Medwick’s Cardinals and Goslin’s Tigers faced each other in the 1934 World Series; the Cardinals won.

Medwick’s hometown furthers the legacy of its favorite baseball son with Joseph Medwick Park.  It is Carteret’s largest recreational facility—88 acres, including two Little League fields.  One is synthetic, the other has natural grass.  Medwick’s portrait hangs in Carteret’s Borough Hall.

A version of this article originally appeared on www.thesportspost.com on November 1, 2013.

Biz Mackey: Baseball’s Unsung Mentor

Saturday, October 29th, 2016

Without James Raleigh “Biz” Mackey, there would be no Roy Campanella.

A three-time National League MVP and an eight-time National League All-Star, Campanella played for the Baltimore Elite Giants when Mackey managed the team.  Campanella was 15 years old, not even old enough to drive.  He held his own in the Negro Leagues, thanks to Mackey’s tutelage.  “Biz Mackey was the master of defense of all catchers,” said Campanella.

Mackey’s introduction to Campanella is lost to history.  But Neil Lanctot surmises how these baseball icons met.  In Campy, his 2011 biography of Campanella, Lanctot poses the theory that Mackey was hurt, thereby in need of a replacement catcher for the Giants circa late 1930s.  Mackey learned of Campanella through the baseball grapevine.

Without Biz Mackey, there would be no Monte Irvin.  No Larry Doby.  No Don Newcombe.

When Mackey managed the Newark Eagles in 1940-1941, he mentored these future major league players who led integration in the major leagues by the end of the 1940s.  Fired by Eagles owner Effa Manley after the 1941 season, Mackey returned to play for the Eagles in 1945.  Mackey batted .307, a stellar batting average made even more impressive by his age—48.  Manley hired Mackey to manage the Eagles in 1946.  His governance led the Eagles to champion status in the 1946 Negro League World Series against the Kansas City Monarchs.  Newark’s tenure as the home of the Eagles ended just two years later; the team moved to Houston, where it played in 1949-1950 before disbanding.

Fired by Eagles owner Effa Manley after the 1941 season, Mackey returned to play for the Eagles in 1945.  Mackey batted .307, a stellar batting average made even more impressive by his age—48.  Manley hired Mackey to manage the Eagles in 1946.  Under his governance, the Eagles beat the Kansas City Monarchs in the 1946 Negro League World Series.  Its tenure in Newark ended two years later—the team moved to Houston, where it played in 1949 and 1950 before disbanding.

Born in Eagle Pass, Texas—the first American settlement on the Rio Grande River—Biz Mackey never reached the major leagues as a player or a manager.  But his influence is questionable, if not properly recognized.  Biz Mackey got inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006, decades after his baseball career ended.

Mackey did, however, receive accolades from his peers in the baseball community other than the Hall of Fame entry.  The book Blackball Stars cites Cum Posey as saying that Biz Mackey is the all-time best black catcher, including Josh Gibson on Posey’s Homestead Grays ball club.  Posey’s praise of Mackey over Gibson is like the Steinbrenner clan saying that the best shortstop of the 1990s was Nomar Garciaparra, not Derek Jeter.

Scholars, historians, and enthusiasts of the Negro Leagues will know of Raleigh “Biz” Mackey and dozens of other players that don’t get the marquee recognition of Satchel Paige or Josh Gibson.  Mackey deserves to be recognized in the pantheon of Negro League icons who played before Jackie Robinson broke the racial barrier in 1947, not only for his achievements on the baseball diamond, but also for his mentoring of those who changed the game of baseball.

Biz Mackey died in 1959.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on June 30, 2013.

Uncle Robbie and the Athlete Dying Young

Tuesday, August 6th, 2013

Wilbert Robinson managed the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1914-1931.  Gentle and genial, Robinson earned praise from The New York Times upon his departure.  But Robinson was not always gentle and genial.

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Mascot Power

Wednesday, May 15th, 2013

Coal.  Logging.  Natural gas.

West Virginia is more than a state rich with natural resources.  It is, in fact, a minor league baseball treasure.

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