Call the Yankees My Daddy: Reflections on Baseball, Race, and Family

Overview

In Call The Yankees My Daddy, sportswriter Cecil Harris reminisces on his years spent covering baseball’s most storied team. In his position as the first full-time black beat reporter to cover the New York Yankees, Cecil Harris had an up-close perspective of the team that he’d followed as a fan ever since the 1960s. Raised in a family that rooted against both the Yankees and Red Sox because of both teams’ seeming reluctance to accept integration, Harris nevertheless carried a passion for pinstripes into his ...

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Overview

In Call The Yankees My Daddy, sportswriter Cecil Harris reminisces on his years spent covering baseball’s most storied team. In his position as the first full-time black beat reporter to cover the New York Yankees, Cecil Harris had an up-close perspective of the team that he’d followed as a fan ever since the 1960s. Raised in a family that rooted against both the Yankees and Red Sox because of both teams’ seeming reluctance to accept integration, Harris nevertheless carried a passion for pinstripes into his professional life. Here, we get priceless insight into the Yankees’ ascendancy in the late 1990s—as well as their struggles to stave off a crumbling dynasty in the twenty-first century. Along the way, we meet Joe Torre, Don Zimmer, Derek Jeter, Hall of Fame legend Joe DiMaggio, and many other top baseball personalities. Harris also offers keen insight into the role of race within baseball and the media, even showing how some American League stars sought to exploit Harris’s race for their own benefit. Call The Yankees My Daddy is an entertaining and highly readable narrative that takes us both onto the field and into the dugout and locker room with baseball’s biggest names, and in its biggest games.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781592289394
  • Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
  • Publication date: 3/1/2006
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Cecil Harris

Cecil Harris has covered sports for numerous publications, including Newsday, the New York Post, Sporting News, and USA Today.

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Read an Excerpt

Call the Yankees My Daddy

Reflections on Baseball, Race, and Family
By Harris, Cecil

The Lyons Press

Copyright © 2006 Harris, Cecil
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9781592289394

CHAPTER ONE

Anyone could have become a Yankee fan in the mid-1990s. I mean, how hard was it to jump on the bandwagon of a team guaranteed to spend enough money on talent to make the playoffs every year? Remember the last non-strike year in which George Steinbrenner's team failed to reach the postseason? 1993. Such ruthless spending makes for one crowded bandwagon.
The Yankees in the playoffs has become as much a part of autumn as burnt orange leaves crackling under your feet on the way to work. Never have I seen more Yankee caps on more heads than I do now in the New York metropolitan area-which, in case you don't live here, also includes much of New Jersey and Connecticut. But I've got a simple, foolproof test to distinguish the serious Yankee fan from the imposter: Just ask that suspicious person modeling the latest in Yankee gear who played second base for the club last season? It's as effective a question for establishing authenticity as the one posed by American GIs to their captives during World War II: "Who's Babe Ruth?" If you couldn't answer that one, then you weren't on our side.
And how apropos that our fighting men picked a New York Yankee to prove someone's allegiance to Uncle Sam and the Stars and Stripes. They didn't ask, "Who's Ty Cobb?" Or "Who's Walter Johnson?" Only a Yankee could provide a true litmus test.
Actually, I wastoo young to know anything about Yankee lore when my love affair with the team began. Little did I know that the year I pledged allegiance to the Yankees, I was committing an act akin to sneaking aboard the Titanic. That's what it was like to become a Yankee fan in 1965-the year the dynasty officially ended, the year the Yankees became old and disabled, the year the Yankees followed a World Series appearance with a sixth-place finish, and then a last-place finish the year after that.
It took a certain blissful ignorance to root for the Yankees then, and as a five-year-old I had an abundance of ignorance and bliss.
As the youngest of three baseball fans in my household in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, 1965 became the year of decision: Yankees or Mets? To root for a team from outside New York was never a consideration. The Boston Red Sox? Please! The Chicago Cubs? Get real.

li0My dad was a Baptist minister and rooted for the Mets. But even at age five, I knew he didn't consider the Mets God's team. Not unless he knew that God couldn't watch baseball without laughing because, at the time, the Mets were the biggest joke in the sport.
Logic actually dictated my father's choice. Born on the Caribbean island of Barbados, he grew up playing cricket, baseball's older British-born cousin. When he immigrated to Brooklyn, he soon learned that to Americans cricket is a critter that keeps a light sleeper up at night, or a top hat-wearing crooner in a Disney cartoon.
Dad chose baseball because it was the closest thing to cricket, and he chose Jackie Robinson as his favorite because the Brooklyn Dodger was the closest thing to an icon on God's earth. The black community turned out in force to see Robinson once he shattered the color barrier in Major League Baseball on April 15, 1947, and Dad was among the legion. Dad taught me how Robinson stared down racism and paved the way for a new generation of black stars in baseball's premier league; and how Robinson asserted his manhood with every step, every gesture and every utterance.
Dad's third-favorite place, after home and church, was Ebbets Field, the home of the Dodgers. Being a Dodger fan allowed him to sit among crowds infinitely more integrated than the rest of America. He was a Dodger fan-until they tried to trade Robinson to the archrival New York Giants after the 1956 season. Talk about a slap in the face! Dodgers did not become Giants in those days any more than Dixiecrats became honorary members of the NAACP. At least that's what Dad said.
When Robinson chose to retire rather than suit up for the enemy, Dad said, "Good for him." When the Dodgers broke Brooklyn's hearts and left for Los Angeles in 1957, and took the Giants to California with them, Dad said, "Good riddance." What he never said afterward was, "Let's go Yankees!"
Dad simply abstained from rooting for any major league team from 1957 until 1962, the year National League baseball returned to New York-well, sort of-in the form of the Mets. Dad treated the Mets as lineal descendants of the Dodgers and Giants, which of course they were not. The rational side of Dad's brain knew the Metropolitan Baseball Club of New York was little more than baseball's naked effort to capitalize financially on fans eager to support a second pro baseball team in the nation's largest city.
"So why didn't you just switch to the Yankees?" I asked with youthful naivete.
Dad glared at me as if I had questioned God's existence. I'll never forget him sitting me down and explaining with the patience of Job, "If you were colored then (that's what we called ourselves in the mid-'60s) and you knew what was going on, you didn't root for the Yankees.
"The Yankees," he said, virtually expectorating the words, "they didn't want black players. That American League, especially the Yankees and Boston, they didn't want black players."
That I would learn was an incontrovertible fact, almost as perplexing to my young mind as the knowledge that some black Africans had participated in the slave trade. I said almost. The Yankees didn't have a black player until Elston Howard in 1955-eight years after Robinson's Dodger debut, seven years after Roy Campanella joined the Dodgers, six years after Monte Irvin suited up for the Giants.
1955! The year after the Giants won the World Series with a young black star named Willie Mays running down everything in center field.
Boston? Pitiful Boston was the last major league team to field a black player: Pumpsie Green in 1959.
"The Yankees saw the Giants win the World Series with colored stars, and the Giants played at the Polo Grounds in Manhattan," Dad explained. "And the Dodgers, playing right here in Brooklyn, finally beat the Yankees in the '55 World Series with colored stars-Jackie, Campy (Campanella), Don Newcombe. The Yankees knew by then they had to get with the program and sign some colored fellas. But for the longest time, they didn't want us."
That's why Dad didn't like the Yankees. And my brother Andrew, three years older than I, didn't like the Yankees either because he was going through that phase in which he wanted to be exactly like Dad in every way. For whatever reason, I never went through that phase.
Dad and Andrew adopted the Mets, but I never would. I saw the Mets as a pathetic mess, and the team's status really hasn't changed appreciably in the past four decades. Still, I was trapped in a Mets' household. Whenever the Mets and Yankees appeared on TV simultaneously (Mets on Channel 9, Yankees on Channel 11), the Mets always ended up on the family's black-and-white Zenith.
My mom, she didn't come to my defense. Instead, she wondered why anybody ever watched baseball in the first place.
"It's too slow," she said. And this was in the '60s when a game took 2-1/2 hours. Decades later, when baseball games have become as bloated as the typical American's gut, I can sometimes hear my mother's voice when a batter like the Yankees' Bernie Williams takes a stroll after every pitch.
"Where's he going? Why doesn't he just stay in the box and hit the ball?"
Mom, I'm still groping for an answer.
As for the Mets, I learned to disregard them. Not hate them, ignore them. The Mets were the Jehovah's Witnesses I wouldn't answer the door for on a Saturday morning. The Mets were the telemarketers on whom I hung up in mid-sentence without any pangs of guilt. Until I got my own black-and-white TV at age 10, I always preferred a Yankee game on a transistor radio to a Met game on the family Zenith.
My question throughout the '60s was, "Why shouldn't I root for the Yankees?" So what if they didn't want black players in the '40s and '50s? They've got 'em now. Good ones too like Elston Howard and...well, they have Elston Howard. And he did commercials for Gulden's Spicy Brown Mustard with his wife and kids. (Remember those?) Howard eating a hot dog with Gulden's looked like a good strong family man, just like Dad. Yet Dad didn't like the Yankees at all. He just needed to get over that '50s stuff.
Dad took me to my first Yankee game when I was five-but only after I agreed to attend a Met game first. My eyes would have glazed over while Hank Aaron and the Milwaukee Braves played the Mets that day, except that the Braves won in a breeze and I enjoyed that. I couldn't wait to see the Yankees play the Detroit Tigers the following Saturday afternoon at Yankee Stadium. That became as important to me as breathing.
I've never seen grass greener than the Yankee Stadium grass that September Saturday. All the Stadium colors were the bluest, the greenest, the whitest I've ever seen. While Shea Stadium, the home of the Mets, was only a year old, the place looked artificial. And the Mets had a mascot. Mr. Met. A Disneyland reject with an oversized baseball head. Even at age five, I could see how utterly ridiculous Mr. Met was. And still is.
Yankee Stadium, now that's a real ballpark! No stupid mascots. Real bleachers in the outfield (since copied by the Mets). Hot dogs with Gulden's, like the Howard family ate. Actual monuments in center field. Monuments that the ball could hit, that players could run into and get knocked out cold. How cool was that!
The Yankees lost that day, in extra innings. But the Yankees usually lost in those days. So I wasn't depressed about it. I had a great time. I loved the Stadium's quirky dimensions: 296 feet down the right field line. It looked like I could hit one out. 463 feet to center field? Nobody, not even Mickey Mantle, not even God, could go deep to straightaway center.
Yankee Stadium had electronic scoreboards attached to the outfield wall in left and right fields. Cool. Yankee Stadium had a man who announced, "Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, will you please rise to honor America..." in a voice that I imagined sounded like God himself until I got older and heard James Earl Jones for the first time.
I had never been to a place as classy as Yankee Stadium, and I didn't even need to put on a suit and tie! Yankee Stadium was, and is, a baseball shrine. It's not an amusement park for baseball like Shea Stadium. No, it's a pristine palace.
To this day, nearly three full decades after its renovation, baseball people speak with reverence and awe about Yankee Stadium. If you've ever been there, you know why. But I loved the original joint even more-except for the pillars in the stands that partially obstructed my view on that Saturday afternoon in '65. I loved the history of the place, those scoreboards on the outfield walls, the copper façade that extended like a grand white horseshoe from left field all the way to right.
What I never loved was all the losing. The Yankees helped me develop a thicker skin because my allegiance caused me to be teased relentlessly, within and outside my own house. If only my mind had been able to figure out baseball in '64, when the Yanks won 99 games and played the St. Louis Cardinals in a seven-game World Series epic enough for people to chronicle in books.
The Yankees veered between bad and god-awful from the mid-'60s to the mid-'70s, but I stuck with them, long before I ever heard the name Steinbrenner or the term free agency. How could I have known my patience would be so richly rewarded?
Truth is, both the Yankees and Mets reeked in '65. But at least the Yankees had history and tradition and a majestic stadium in a real neighborhood. And the Yankees had athletic business suits for uniforms, with stylish blue pinstripes and an overlapping NY on the left breast that my young eyes immediately recognized as the classiest in all of sports.
Had the World War II GIs thought of it, they could have carried a card with the Yankees' overlapping NY logo and asked each captive, "What does this mean?" If the guy didn't answer, "New York Yankees," then you would have known he wasn't on our side.


Continues...

Excerpted from Call the Yankees My Daddy by Harris, Cecil Copyright © 2006 by Harris, Cecil. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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