Bob McGee is the author of The Greatest Ballpark Ever, a lyrical tribute to Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field, published by Rivergate Books at Rutgers University Press. The book won the 2005 Dave Moore Award as the “most important baseball book” of the year.
It was a season with a prelude, beginning way before it started, perhaps even moments after Reggie Jackson had taken his big black bat to the plate, and on three successive swings in subsequent at-bats, put an exclamation point on the end of the 1977 World Series, the last of his three home runs soaring into the batters’ black-background of the Yankee Stadium center-field bleachers.
It was the day before V-E Day, when the throngs would fill Times Square, but on this occasion, arguably Effa Manley’s finest hour, the crowd consisted of the usual cast at a Branch Rickey press conference, notably the scribes who were oft subject to his lengthy discourses in the office domiciled on Montague Street in Brooklyn that the reporters themselves would dub “Cave of the Winds.”
On this occasion Effa Manley decided to crash a party, and stand up to power. And there was nothing unusual about that.
Seasons Past is a cult book. Many voracious consumers of baseball literature don’t even know of it, and even among them, fewer have read it. Lawrence Ritter, though, had included it in his 50-Book Essential Baseball Library with good reason.
Mine was a roundabout discovery.
Grantland Rice had a signature style and a signature hat, and after 22,000 columns, 67 million words, 7,000 poetic ditties, and a thousand magazine articles spread across a half-century plus, his ticker just ran out of typewriter ribbon.
He was arguably the most important print reporter through the first half of the twentieth century, and even at the end of his days, when he died in July of ’54 at age 74, he was still writing a column six days a week for 80 newspapers.
One baseball game across the ages? 1947 World Series, Game 4.
Here’s the pageant: postwar New York City. Almost everyone is home now after cycling out of the military in ’45 and ’46, back from Anzio and Monte Cassino, back from Guadalcanal and Corregidor, out of the B-17s and 24s, off the PT boats and destroyers. Out of the subs.
You could find Arthur Richman at Monte’s, a little Italian place a few steps down from the sidewalk on MacDougal Street, between Bleecker Street and Minetta Lane in Greenwich Village, a few blocks from the top-floor apartment he shared off Seventh Avenue with his wife, Martha. Or you could find him at Yankee Stadium, or any other ballpark in the country. These were the places he preferred to spend his waking hours.
It’s a boy’s living trinity: First game. First kiss. First girl.
Yankee Stadium. Under leaden skies, as one might read in a typical Dick Young–Daily News lead. Saturday, July 29, 1961. I was nine years, one month, and several days old; it was an interminably long time for someone in Brooklyn to wait before going to a Major League game.
My Uncle John and his father Joseph picked me up in Bay Ridge, in the shadow of the rising Brooklyn tower of the Verrazano, a heart-thumping excursion to my first game: a cloudy, rain-threatened Old Timer’s Day at Yankee Stadium in 1961. I was nine years old. Frankie Frisch and Zack Wheat—yes, Zack Wheat—were there; the Yankees beat the Orioles, 5–4, on the strength of an eighth-inning home run by Yogi. Meanwhile, up in Boston, a rookie sat in the locker room while the ground crew never took up the tarp, the game postponed on account of rain.