Glory days at Yankee Stadium
Yankee Stadium to be razed! To one born and reared in New York the thought of leveling The House That Ruth Built is akin to heresy.
As a kid in the ’40s and ’50s, part of my education was learning to deftly tune the old Philco radio until a crackling sound announced, “this is The Voice of Champions coming to you from Yankee Stadium!” And oh, the euphoria when Mel Allen would exclaim, “Mantle swings, a high fly to right, it’s going, going, gone!”
We could tick off the many Yankee heroes and championships from down through the decades and note the hallowed KO of Max Schmeling in 1938 by Joe Louis. Some of us could quote Lou Gehrig’s speech easier than we could Patrick Henry or Lincoln.
For many of us living in upstate New York, our first glimpse of the legendary stadium was the 1949 World Series. My dad took me and some of my pals to the American Legion Hall and there it was, in glorious black and white.
Awed, we took in every TV angle; the mammoth three tiers, which to this day have defeated all attempts to be cleared by a fair ball, spacious center field, the infamous “short-porch” in the right field corner. Then, the holy place, the Yankee’s dugout exhibiting Stengel, Henrich, Rizzuto, DiMaggio and the rest, all being thunderously encouraged by a packed house of 50,000-plus.
We stood and cheered with them when DiMaggio homered to left-center then we fell silent as the umpires doffed their caps to the great-one rounding the bases. They were our gods and Yankee Stadium was our heaven. It took me a long time to get to our heaven.
It wasn’t until I got out of the Navy and lived in Connecticut, not far from the city. Somehow I had expected this baseball Camelot was to be initially viewed from afar, suspended in a mirage-like cloud. Disgorged from a New York City bus in front of the place I was jolted by the sight of houses and buildings right across the street. The structure was showing its age, concessions were inadequate, the plumbing archaic but the field and park unfolded magnificently.
The Yankees were not good in 1966. DiMaggio was long retired. His heir, Mantle was at the end of his illustrious career. Leg injuries had slowed “the Mick’s” blinding speed until instead of blazing across the outfield he was relegated to first base.
About the sixth inning, Mantle limped to the plate with the bases loaded. We wondered if he could run out a grounder. In came the pitch. Mantle, batting right handed, took a vicious cut. The contact resonated like a rifle shot driving the ball on a line, higher and higher above right-center where it impacted deep into the third-deck crowd.
Pandemonium reigned with a unique roar I never experienced before or since. Through the crescendo, Number 7 gimped around the bases on his one, almost-good leg.
Since 1988, Kirk Gibson’s gimpy-legged homer for the Dodgers against Oakland has attained baseball immortality as arguably the greatest moment in World Series history. But Mantle’s magnificent blast on that magic day in Yankee Stadium is the greatest moment I have ever experienced in baseball.
After the game I walked on real Yankee grass, passing next to the mound where Yogi leaped into Don Larsen’s arms, across shortstop where Rizzuto earned his moniker, “Scooter”, finally stopping in center field I turned and beheld the view so familiar to DiMaggio and Mantle.
Then, like any kid whoever picked up a bat, I wondered in awe, what it would be like to play baseball in such a place.
A “new and improved” Yankee Stadium will go up next year. With time, memories of the old place, the teams, players, boxers, popes, preachers and presidents will slip further away as relics of another time.
But, oh what a time it was!
Passing through Penn Valley on Highway 20, notice the old geezers in their colorful uniforms playing softball. Once upon a time some of them played against the likes of Berra, Mantle and Maris, when they were all young, and the Philco tubes glowed, the sound crackled and Red Barber drawled, “this is the Ol’ Redhead, in the catbird seat at Yankee Stadium!”
Larry Clark is a Nevada County resident and still plays softball in the Gold Country Senior Softball Association.
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New season. New co-head coaches. Same expectations.