New York Is A Link To Baseball’s Storied Past
Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the New York Yankees are intertwined with the history of baseball like no other team. Yes, their payroll continues to approach the GNP of some Third World countries. Yes, they make more appearances on network television than Bob Costas. And yes, they play in baseball’s most expensive new stadium where even the visiting clubhouse is so spacious you have to send for a search party just to round up your players for pre-game batting practice. But having just spent last weekend in the Big Apple, I must say this. The Yankees and their fans, as well as the New York media, may appreciate and embrace the history of baseball like no other place on the planet.
You see it at the team hotel in midtown Manhattan. The autograph seekers arrive early to their customary sidewalk spot on 51st Street, and they can recite every A’s player’s current stats. You see it when the team bus rolls into the Bronx, and every block leading to The House That George Built features nothing but Yankee merchandise stores. Jerseys of Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle, DiMaggio, Jeter and Sabathia hang from the shop windows. And of course, inside the park, there are those Hall of Fame plaques behind center field of Yankee players of yore. The plaques don’t end there either. In the pressbox where I work, there’s plaques of legendary former Yankee PR men, along with a photo tribute to a recently-deceased official scorer who presided over games for four decades. However, he had nothing on the late Bob Sheppard, whose photo adorns the press lounge to acknowlege for serving as perhaps the greatest public address announcer of all-time (heck, he’s still so loved by local fans, the Yankees play a taped version of his dignified introduction of Jeter every time Mr. 3000 strolls to home plate).
But what I experienced last weekend went beyond a lovefest for Everything Yankee. That was made abundantly clear the first time A’s designated hitter Hideki Matsui came to bat Friday night. He received a rousing ovation. This, two years since he played for hometown team and won the 2009 World Series MVP. The Yankees also played a heart-warming video tribute to honor Godzilla reaching the 500-homer milestone two nights earlier in Detroit. Very classy. Another round of applause came Hideki’s way when the Japanese slugger hit No. 501 Saturday in fueling Oakland’s 4-3 win. Yesterday, New Yorkers showered some love David DeJesus’ way, too, when he made a nice catch in right field. While it may not hurt that David was born in nearby Brooklyn and went to college at Rutgers, it seemed the applause were merely to show their appreciation for a good play, no matter the uniform or local lineage.
And while many of the legendary journalists I used to see in the New York press box have retired or passed away, I did enjoy meeting Bob Rosen, an old-timer who works for Elias Sports Bureau. He was sitting right in front of me. Our conversation led towards the current travails of the Dodgers. Before I could say much, he quickly pulled out a stack of photos from his briefcase. They were taken in 1957. At Ebbetts Field! It was remarkable seeing these 3×5 color shots that showed those large advertising signs of that era along the right field fence. There were outside shots of the famed Ebbetts Field rotunda entrance. And photos of future Hall of Famer Roy Campanella, and a game action photo of Roger Craig on the mound pitching for the Dodgers. And this gentlemen from Elias not only had these photos, he shot the photos. A living, breathing link to baseball’s past right before me. Of course, being a die-hard Dodger fan who lost his boyhood team to the beaches of Southern California, he couldn’t help making one final comment about the Dodgers’ current situation. “Serves them right. I knew there was a curse. They never should have left us!”