- Why I Love Baseball – When did you become a fan of baseball? Did someone influence you this way?
I became a fan of baseball in the Spring of 1947. No one influenced me but in early March a few of the older boys in the neighborhood did not have enough kids to play a regular game of baseball so they taught me a game called “one ol’ cat” or “two ‘ol cat.” One or two ol’ cat refers to the number of bases involved and so old “ol’ cat” games were played when there weren’t enough players play regular baseball – where three bases are involved.
After the first time I played the ol’ cat game I had trouble sleeping that night as I could not wait to play it again the following day. The ol’ cat games are in my opinion the best way to arouse interest in, and to teach the fundamentals of the game to young people. I wish more parents would introduce their children to the sport by playing the ol’ cat games instead of starting them in a more formalized little league program.
- Why do you love the Yankees?
Some time later during the spring of 1947, I heard my neighbor yelling almost every morning, “the Yankees won again.” My curiosity piqued, I wanted to learn all I could about this team called the Yankees.
Next, I remember the thrill of attending my first Yankee game in on July 25, 1947. Taking the bus from College Point to Flushing. Walking down several flights of stairs to the Flushing, Main Street Station where we, my parents and I, boarded the subway. Within a minute the train emerged from underground onto the elevated tracks and traveled east until it reached the East River. The train went underground again and we disembarked at Grand Central Station where we went up several steep escalators to the Lexington Line and boarded the Woodlawn-Jerome subway. We made our way to the first car where I stood enthralled as the dimly lit tracks and pillars rushed toward me until finally the train emerged from the darkness onto the elevated tracks, the majestic Yankee Stadium suddenly appearing bigger than life beside the station at 161st. Street.
Once in the ballpark, I saw for the first time, in their traditional pinstripe livery, the greatest team in baseball, THE NEW YORK YANKEES. Now those ’47 Yankees were an excellent team, but certainly not the greatest of all Yankee teams. There was number 5, the “Yankee Clipper”, Joe DiMaggio, number 15, “Old Reliable” Tommy Henrich, number 6, “Doctor” Bobby Brown and number 22, the “Super Chief” Allie Reynolds among others like Phil Rizzuto, “Yogi” Berra, George McQuinn, George “Snuffy” Stirnweiss and Johnny Lindell. That Yankee team won the pennant by 12 games, winning a total of 97 plus four as they defeated the arch-enemy, the Brooklyn Dodgers in a seven game World Series.
I looked up to and emulated these athletes when I was a boy, and nothing I have discovered has or ever will change my attitude toward them. It is one thing that has enriched my life and allowed me to transcend the realities of everyday life. Over the next 18 years, the Yankees rewarded my allegiance with 15 American League pennants, losing only in 1948 and (despite winning 103 games) in 1954 to the Cleveland Indians, and then in 1959 to the Chicago White Sox. During those 15 Fall Classic appearances from 1947 through 1964, the Yankees won 10 World Series Championships. It was difficult for me not to assume that God was a Yankee fan.
Perhaps the greatest advantage of being a Yankee fan and growing up in NYC during that era was that I had the ability to “see” every game on radio. The “Voice of the Yankees,” Mel Allen could describe the details of each pitch and play so vividly, that my mind’s eye gave me a choice seat behind home plate for every game, home or away. Everything I learned and know about baseball I credit to Mel Allen. I literally “saw” better ball games on radio, due to Mel’s play by play announcing than any game seen on television. Hey Mel Allen, “How about that?” (FYI, how about that was Mel’s favorite expression and for which he was well known.)
As I continue to reflect on your question on why I love the Yankees, it’s also because the Yankees have dominated the game of baseball from the glory of “Babe” Ruth and the “Iron Man” Lou Gehrig, to the grace of Joe DiMaggio, to the reign of Mickey Mantle and Casey Stengel, through the turmoil of Reggie Jackson, Thurman Munson and Billy Martin, to the 1998 World Champion team with their 125 total victories and into the twenty-first century teams of Jeter and A-Rod and now of Judge and Stanton. The Yankees rule baseball as no other major team ever has.
From any viewpoint, the Yankees are baseball’s greatest team. They are today and they always have been. That is their reputation and that is their tradition.
Another high point as a lifelong Yankee fan was an opportunity to attend their fantasy camp in 1998. Obviously I have many good memories from that week in which we played two games a day “with our heroes in pinstripes” of the past. At the particular camp I attended, the 1961 infield of Bill “Moose” Skowron, Bobby Richardson, Tony Kubek and Clete Boyer was featured.
Then each night we would gather around and toss questions at these Yankee legends. One evening someone asked Don Mattingly if he thought he had “retired one year too early?” Mattingly was one of the greatest first basemen in Yankee history, having played for them from late 1982 through his retirement year of 1995; years in which the Yankees did not play in the World Series. The year following Mattingly’s retirement the Yankees won it all, thus the reason for the question being asked of him.
Mattingly is now the well groomed manager of the Florida Marlins; but in 1998 he had hair down to his shoulders and sported a Fu-Manchu mustache. He did not answer the question immediately. Many in the room thought Don was upset by the question, so a hush of silence filled the room.
Then he gave an answer I’ll never forget. Mattingly said, “No.” He paused and added, “I never look back and ask why; but instead I always look up and give thanks.”
All of the world’s great sermons have never said so much in so few words.
- Why did you decide to host Yesteryears Baseball? Where did you get the idea for the show?
I’ve already mentioned my admiration of Mel Allen, the “Voice of the Yankees” from the late 1930’s into the early 1960’s. At one point in my life I wanted to follow in his footsteps, but as many of you know I successfully pursued a career in the academic world instead.
Now retired, when our good friend the Eidson’s purchased Ocean Waves Radio and were discussing programming ideas, I suggested Yesteryears Baseball; a program in which great teams of the past would hypothetically be statistically and randomly matched against each other.
I would use what many consider the best baseball game as it calculates every players performances for a given year (batting averages, fielding averages, speed on the bases, pitchers ERA’s, etc.) to within a 3% margin of error. The only variable, other than randomly generated numbers, is how the teams are managed.
I purchased my first APBA in 1954. The Bush family (George, GW and Jeb) has played it for years, as do several state justices and retired ball players. When I introduced the game to my son, who was 10 at the time, he could not stop playing it.
I became thoroughly convinced of it’s realism when my son and I would over hear conversations of much older fans at Yankee Stadium, discussing various players of the 20’s or 30’s. My son would often respectfully agree or disagree with their assessments of players from forty and fifty years earlier. They were amazed at how much my son knew about past players whom neither of us had ever seen play. His knowledge was the result of having played APBA games involving those old time players.
- What do you want to do before dying?
Wow, your questions are getting harder. I’ve been so blessed during my lifetime that there really is not anything more I want to do before dying other than to serve my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ in whatever way He directs my paths. At this stage of my life I am much closer to the tomb than the womb and so I can only echo my namesake, the Apostle Paul, and say as he did, “To live is Christ, to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21)