Monday, September 22, 2008

Book Review: "Remembering Yankee Stadium"

I was fortunate enough to receive a copy of Harvey Frommer's wonderful book "Remembering Yankee Stadium - An Oral and Narrative History of the House That Ruth Built" (Stewart, Tabori & Chang). I have been saving this post for today, right before the final series at Yankee Stadium this weekend.

A few things: I receive no compensation for this review nor do I receive any compensation for you clicking on a link if you want to check it out.

First of all, this is not a book solely for Yankee fans. Yes, it will obviously appeal to those of you who root for the team, but really, it's a wonderful written and photographed history of the game. And you can't get through the history of baseball without spending a disproportionate amount of time in Yankee Stadium.

Rather than provide a "traditional review", I'll walk you through this masterpiece.


The opening picture is Larson with the perfect game scoreboard behind him. Turn the page and it's Maris. Then Gehrig at his speech, wiping his eyes.

With a forward by the Voice of God, Bob Sheppard, the book gets off to a nice pace.
"Where else could I have viewed the transformation of Yankee fans from the jacket-and-tie cognoscenti of the 1950's to today's bleacher creatures?"
The book is organized by decade, starting with the Twenties. The Yanks won their first World Series in 1923, the year the Stadium was opened. The history of building of the Stadium is captivating. When the Yanks decided that they'd move from the Polo Grounds to a new stadium to be built in the Bronx, John McGraw, then manager of the Giants quipped:
"They are going up to Goatville. And before long they will be lost sight of. A New York team should be based on Manhattan Island."
What I enjoyed was seeing the pictures not only of the construction, but also how truly farm-like the surrounding areas were. It's hard to imagine the Bronx as a barren farmland but that's what it was 80+ years ago. The other pictures that I found worthy of a good long stare were the ones of the fans in the stands. Every man had a hat on. A derby, a bowler, something. Every man also wore a suit and tie. And not one Boston Sucks shirt in the bunch. Go figure.

There's a picture of Babe Ruth on page 37 that I haven't seen before. We've seen every swat shot, the goofy ones, the ones with kids. This one is different. He's holding the bat in the dugout, hat loosely on his head, focused look on his face as he prepares. Besides the look, one we haven't seen in many pictures, the thing that strikes me is the size of his hands. Ruth has become a comical figure as time passed, but looking at this picture, you can see why this man was so talented.

Speaking of historical figures, there's a picture of Gehrig, on the follow-thru of what seems to be a pop-up in batting practice. I never realized he kept his bottom pinkie off the knob of the bat. And it's also interesting to see how baggy the flannels were back then. Manny has nothing on the pants back then (except they wore them short with real stirrups!)

The Thirties begin with a picture of DiMaggio hardening/readying his bat with what looks like a dinosaur leg bone. Can you imagine the players of today using a bone to harden their bats? Can you imagine a bat lasting more than one game today? On page 51, we see the development of the apartments and subway behind the Stadium. Stan's wasn't yet open for business. More men in hats. A picture of Ruth pitching in 1933 (in an attempt to draw fans during the Great Depression) clearly shows the right-centerfield wall situated 429 feet away! On the centerfield wall, in big all capital letters: BETTING IS PROHIBITED.

We see the famous picture of Gehrig, head bowed, hands clasped as Ruth, in a white suit, addressed the crowd on Lou Gehrig appreciation day on July 4, 1939. Read the entire speech that Gehrig delived and I challenge you to get through it without goosebumps or a welling of emotion. Not possible.

The Forties begin with an overturned Rizzuto completing a double play in 1941. That year, baseball got to experience DiMaggio's 56 game hit streak and there is a wonderfully innocent picture of Joe sitting behind a chalkboard with "44 equals record" on it. Can you envision a team marking an accomplishment in such a basic yet striking way today? The chalkboard would be sponsored and Fox would have it glowing with explosion sounds in the background.

If you've never seen the picture of Ted Williams kneeling between Dom and Joe DiMaggio, with his arms around both of the brothers on Opening Day 1941, this is reason enough to get this book.

One of the best things about this book, aside from the wonderful pictures, are the accounts and stories from various people interviewed, from fans to celebrities to the players themselves. They lend a perspective that adds an element to the storytelling.

The Fifties picked up the way the 40's ended, with a World Series title. And this continued through 1953, a run of five straight WS titles. Pete Sheehey, the longtime clubhouse manager, is shown loading gear and uniforms into trunks for away games. Something I didn't know: Fans exited the Stadium via the field, leaving thru the walkway in right-centerfield, en masse. Can you picture that today? The clumps of grass that would be torn up nightly! Yet, the throng of fans, hats on, naturally, packing the field to exit. Go figure.

One of the accounts recalled the distances from home plate, going from right to left: 296, 344, 407, 461 (center). Wrap your brain around those distances and can you imagine the home run totals if the players back then played in the smallparks of today? A righthanded hitter like DiMaggio would have 100 more home runs if he played today!

Jackie Robinson stealing home. The #42 just sort of calls you, in an eerie don't you forget kinda way. Then there's the play that sealed Larsen's perfect game in the 1956 World Series:
A second-inning Jackie Robinson line drive off the glove of Andy Carey at third was picked up by Gil McDougal. Out at first.
There is a four photo sequence of this play. Seems that this play doesn't get enough recollection when the Larsen game is told.

The Sixties opens with fans clamoring for a ball in the stands. Much fewer hats and almost no suits. Times, they are a'changin'. We're reminded that Maris joined the Yanks in 1960, just another player. On page 118, there's Maris and Mantle, the M&M Boys, facing each other, bats held as if they were about to take a swing at each other. The opposite page has the buttons "I'm for Mantle" and "I'm for Maris" with "60 in '61" below each of their pictures. I can't imagine there being many who sported the Maris button. I guess it'd be as if it were Jeter on one side and Abreu on the other (or even ARod). Maris never stood a chance.

One other Maris thought (by me): What if a heretofore modest hitting player suddenly hit a record number of home runs in a season. Can you hear the doubt that we'd cast upon this guy?

Mickey Mantle Day, 1965. Mick and Bobby Kennedy. Both youthful, good looking. And neither was able to fulfill their utmost potential. What a shame.

What a way to usher in the 70's than with the famous picture of Billy Martin kicking dirt on an ump? Perfect.

Bat day, 1972, with kids given real bats. I have one from 1977, with Thurman Munson's name on it. Still have it. Not for sale.

There are two pictures of fans taking "momentos" from the last game at Yankee Stadium before the renovation. Guys lifting seats, people fisting clumps of turf. Not so much this season and certainly not on Sunday (the police will be out in force, count on it!). One account of that last game:
"By the sixth inning of that last game, all you heard was hammers. When the game finally ended, people jumped out of the stands trying to get anything that was not nailed down. They even took the stuff that was: second base, sod, signs, advertising paraphernalia, chairs. Using tools my father had brought along, my friend Jerry and I took the chairs we had been sitting on. But we saw people carrying off rows of seats."
Can you just see that?!?!

We are then shown the evolution of Yankee Stadium in the Seventies. This is the reason why I am not as anti-TNYS as most others are. The Stadium from the 20's thru the early 70's is not the same as it is now. Sure it sits on the same footprint but that's about it.

The first shot of a very young Steinbrenner, circa 1976, with the newly renovated field/stadium in the background. Talk about a reign of success/terror. Say what you will but he turned a $10 million purchase in 1973 into a multi-billion dollar empire today.

Then there's Chambliss' mad dash after the pennant winning HR in 1976, getting mobbed by the fans before he can even reach third base. My folks were there for that game, but I can't seem them trying to get to Chambliss. And then there's Reggie. And Billy. And Reggie AND Billy. The decade ends, sadly, with Munson. The picture of Munson on the screen with Nettles paying his respects is chilling.

In the Eighties, Righetti's no-hitter. We're then reminded how time spins by seeing a picture from the 1980 Old Timer's Day featuring Mantle, Martin, Maris, Joe D and Yogi. Only Yogi remains around today.

Goose and the Gator. What hair/mustache rules? A young Donnie Baseball, trim and fit. "George Must Go" sign held by two young fans. Remember how awful the teams were in the 80's? Just terrible with George trying to play some sort of fantasy baseball that never, ever worked. Take note, Hank.

Ah, the Nineties. Starting with Boomer Wells' perfecto. Then Jim Abbott's unforgettable no-hitter in 1993, his hand-less arm held aloft. Jeffrey Maier and Tony Tarrasco. The 1996 World Series Champs. A two page, eight picture spread of Jeter in his various jump/throws. What a great time to be a fan in NY. Four titles in five years. A team anyone, even the haters, could enjoy watching and that anyone could point to and say "see, that's how a team plays the game the right way".

The 21st Century. Clemens/Piazza in the Subway Series. Sepetember 11, 2001. The immortal Yanks/D'backs World Series. Michael Kay's call:
"Swung on and drilled to right field, going back Sanders, on the track, at the wall. SEE YA! SEE YA! SEE YA! A home run for Derek Jeter! He is Mr. November! Oh, what a home run by Derek Jeter!"
Then there's Pedro walking off the hill in 2003 to the hate, scorn, jubilation of the fans. Turnabout is fair play, with 2004, the bloody sock, ARod's slap, Damon's beard.

Finally a look ahead to TNYS, being built.


This book was a great stroll down memory lane. The accounts captured make bring some of the most famous events even closer. For fans of baseball's rich history, this would make a wonderful addition to any collection. For Yankee fans, it's a must.


E-5 said...

Well done BOY...Pop

dimtrios said...

At least now I know what I am getting my brother-in-law for Christmas