At 3:58 on the afternoon of Oct. 3, 1951, at the ancient Polo Grounds in Harlem, New York Giants play-by-play man Russ Hodges was no better than Gotham’s third best-known baseball broadcaster. Mel Allen of the Yankees and Red Barber of the Dodgers ruled the electronic horsehide scene in an era when radio still held sway over television. Most of Hodges’ national recognition came from working the Wednesday night fights on CBS-TV along with “Bill the Bartender.”
After the 2004 Boston Red Sox rallied from a 3-0 deficit in games against the New York Yankees to clinch a World Series berth, Red Sox owner John Henry called it “the greatest comeback in baseball history.” Most fans believed it was the first time any major league team had won a best-of-7 postseason series that way, but there was an obscure precedent.
Sometimes when we write these essays, “Twilight Zone” moments happen. On the day I sat down to write about Damon Runyon, my wife was running in a 5K race at Yankee Stadium to raise money for the Damon Runyon Cancer Fund.
As I read an obituary on Runyon from 1946, I noted that the last sentence said he was living at the Hotel Buckingham on 57th Street and Sixth Avenue at the time of his death.
Jim Creighton was baseball’s first hero, regarded as the paragon of pitching perfection during the 1860s and 1870s, and never forgotten by his contemporaries thereafter. Many a promising young pitcher was referred to as “another Creighton.”
The basic story is familiar in baseball history: A hulking, strong-armed young pitcher overwhelms hitters for a few years, winning nearly 100 games before moving to the outfield. There he becomes an astounding slugger, the most feared hitter in the league for the rest of the decade, setting records for career home runs and RBI that most likely will never be broken.