- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
In these glorious years, Dillman discovers the complexities of an apparently simple game. But even more fascinating, he becomes intimately involved with the game's best players. ...
In these glorious years, Dillman discovers the complexities of an apparently simple game. But even more fascinating, he becomes intimately involved with the game's best players. He listens as Ted Williams explains how he became baseball's greatest hitter, witnesses the breaking of the color barrier with the emergence of black players, and sees the Casey Stengel era begin with the New York Yankees.
With vivid detail, Dillman shares the often unknown events of major league baseball. Players had nicknames unheard of to fans and had their own language to describe events on the field. Dillman also discovered that his heroes were just ordinary men-some nice, some not so nice, and some hilarious.
Hey, Kid! A Tiger Batboy Remembers offers a slice of nostalgia from baseball's post-World War II years. Dillman provides insights into clubhouse life and offers vignettes of players, famous and lesser-known, from the forgotten age of baseball.
"Baseball is a ballet without music. Drama without words.
A carnival without kewpie dolls"—Ernie Harwell's 1955 Opening Day essay in the Sporting News, entitled "The Game For all America."
In September 1999 the Detroit Tigers played their final games in Tiger Stadium (Briggs Stadium, Navin Field, Bennett Field). Co-America Park would be their new home downtown about a mile away from the site where major league baseball had been played longer than at any other. My sons, Christien and Evan, wanted to share with me one last experience at the old ball yard at Michigan and Trumbull Avenues, so they had called the Tiger community relations office and asked if anything special could be arranged for an old batboy attending his last game "on the corner."
I was thrilled by the possibility of once more seeing the place where my life changed so dramatically when I was a teenager. The opportunity to bond with my sons in this way was not to be missed, because they each had growing families and seldom had time for such an adventure. During the 1940s and 1950s, Tiger Stadium was called Briggs Stadium after the team's owner, Walter O. Briggs. The ball yard at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull Avenues previously had been named after an earlier owner, Frank Navin, and before that a 19th century catcher, Charlie Bennett. Names changed, but the location of the playing field remained the same. The Tigers became identified with one corner of the intersection of Michigan and Trumbull Avenues, which carried important street car lines until after mid-20th century. The phrase—baseball at the corner—eventually became synonymous with Tiger baseball in Detroit. T-shirts carried the phrase with a likeness of the stadium as a popular logo. 'Save the stadium' groups even used it as a part of their message to preserve the venerable structure in the 1990s.
Little did I realize then, that a visit to the corner of Michigan and Trumbull Avenues would revive so many pleasant memories. The three years from 19481950 became instantly real again when the old ballpark stood before us clothed in bright white paint with the old English D Tiger logo on the walls. We went through the tour group entrance on Michigan Ave., and I immediately began to describe for the boys what we would see inside. I paid little attention to the tour guide, as my excitement increased with each step. I had my own story to tell. Christien and Evan were surprised that I remembered so much detail about my former work place after 49 years. We never again would experience the sounds and smells of this classic old ballpark getting ready for a day's game. But if I had been sightless, I could have told the boys our exact position. The only new smell came from the concession stands preparing slabs of pizza, America's staff of life.
We eventually were separated from the main body of the tour group for our "special" experience. We paused in the upper deck grandstand in right field and in left field, before going down to the bullpens in deep center field. The boys stared in disbelief at the tall iconic flagpole near the home bullpen gate over 400 feet from home plate. What happened if a batted ball hit the pole, they asked? I explained that the ball was in play, and I twice had seen a ball carom off the pole. By now they were converted to preservation of Tiger Stadium. Our last stop on the memorable tour was the visiting team's dugout. So many happy memories flooded back as I looked into the dugout, where my former perch on the steps near the drinking fountain and the bat rack greeted me as though I had never left. We all agreed the trip had been worth every penny.
Several hours later, we were in good seats behind the Minnesota Twins bullpen in right field. The Tigers rose to the occasion by playing well and edged the Twins 2-0. Before the seventh inning stretch, a group of half a dozen young people from public relations arrived at our seats to serenade me with "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow" and to present me with a sack full of mementos, much to the surprise of everyone around us. A drunken young woman seated nearby loudly exclaimed to her equally trashed friends—in slurred speech, "Who the hell is he? Why's he getting all that shit?" The nostalgia of the moment ended abruptly with that sincere expression of envy, yet I couldn't forget that over fifty years ago I had realized every boy's dream—to be a batboy for his heroes. As we returned to Detroit Metropolitan Airport after the game for the flight home, I relived those early games in the alleys of the inner city when I hoped to some day play for the Tigers.
Inner city kids lacking playgrounds in Detroit often were forced to find recreational space in the alleys. Many people staying in the Astor Court Apartments on West Grand Boulevard (across from Henry Ford Hospital), where my family spent ten years, were transients with few or no kids to play ball. There were only four of us, two boys and two girls, who were the perennials for touch football, but mostly for baseball. Rawboned, scholarly George was several years ahead of me in school and never without a plastic pocket container for his pens and pencils. In college his best friend would be his slide rule when he studied engineering at Michigan Technological University. Tall, slim and willowy, Barbara had long brown hair and also was older and wiser about the ways of the world. No doubt she became a stunningly attractive mature woman. And finally, there was sweet Sally, who was younger, more compact and shapely than Barbara and had short wavy blond hair. George and I were very fortunate to have had such pretty companions who liked to play baseball—with boys. They threw and hit as well as any boys their age. No allowance was made for gender difference. In fact sometimes Barb and Sally kicked our butts good and gleefully taunted us for the rest of the week. Oddly, I can't remember one time when any of the four fathers appeared in the alley to mentor their kids on the finer points of the game. George and Barbara's dads were completely uninterested. Sally's father got his exercise by walking the family Dalmatian. My dad was a traveling salesman and away for long periods of time and lacked athletic ability.
Our games were interrupted only by homework, Sundays, and occasional family trips and vacations. But the most abrupt disruption occurred when my passion for baseball got the better of good judgment in answering calls of nature. If we took a break, George went to the seventh floor, Barb and I went to the fifth floor, and Sally returned to the fourth floor. A quick trip to the fifth floor meant waiting for the elevator, then running down a short hallway, then a long one, the length of the building. One day when I was wearing my replica of a Tiger uniform, I was forced to leave the "playing field" quickly. A leap upward to snag a ball hit over my head resulted in loss of control over my bowels. Suddenly, the crotch of my beloved uniform pants were filled with poop. The elevator ride to the fifth floor was even more embarrassing because people kept getting on at each floor! My stressful condition was obvious to each new arrival in the elevator, yet no one offered a sympathetic word! Maybe the worst part of this trip to my apartment was the long hallway route. Running was impossible because much of what had been in the crotch of the uniform succumbed to gravity and fell down each leg coming to rest at the bottom of the pants tucked into uniform socks!! The afternoon ended as my mother, aghast at my appearance and my odor, insisted on hosing me down in the bathtub. All future sessions of ball playing were coordinated more carefully with physical needs, once my uniform was ready again for competition.
I was convinced, however, that my efforts to become a professional baseball player had suffered a huge setback. Major league players certainly didn't shit their pants! Actually, several years later, an outfielder for the Washington Senators would call time during a game, then run full throttle to the dugout, bound down the dugout steps, speed through the tunnel heading for the clubhouse toilet, and frantically drop his uniform pants, just as he arrived not a second too soon. Teammates were convulsed with laughter and offered no sympathy for his discomfort. I had thought only dumb kids filled their pants while playing. I was almost right.
Playing ball with two pretty teenage girls had both advantages and disadvantages. Their skill level was competitive with boys their age but the girls advancing physical maturity could be distracting, especially for teenage boys with raging hormones. The girls were not reluctant to tease and to raise expectations of what might be possible—but always at the wrong time. A trip down in the elevator with arms made immovable by bats, balls, and gloves suddenly became a darkened journey when the overhead light went off and soft lips touched lightly in the darkness. Was it Barb or Sally? Identities could be traced to the smell of bath soap or light perfume. Crowded elevators conveniently forced the girls against the boys, an opportunity for the girls to move seductively and cause uncontrollable physical responses by male bodies. I needed help to carry our equipment out of the elevator because I had to hold my glove in front of me to hide obvious signs of my excitement. The girls giggled at the visible results of their teasing. They usually had little difficulty in scoring the most runs after such an episode quickly weakened my attempt to seriously concentrate on a game of alley baseball.
Baseball always was my favorite sport, either as a participant, or vicariously, when I created my own fantasy league and calculated batting averages, earned run averages and traded players from team to team. Playing baseball in paved alleys of inner city Detroit during the mid- and late 1940s was, to say the least, an exciting challenge. Unable to mark off a real diamond with three bases, the hardy band of mixed gender kids in my apartment building instead, without knowing it, reinvented the one ol' cat version of baseball. In other words, we had home plate and a convenient telephone pole serving as first base. The batter hit the pitched ball down the slot of the narrow alley, then ran back and forth between the telephone pole and home plate until the ball, if not caught on the fly, arrived back to the pitcher. One round trip, pole to plate, put a runner on second base, two round trips meant a homerun.
Balls deteriorated rapidly, however, as the concrete surface took its toll. Soon, almost any of us were able to hit the loosened cover off the ball. Enter friction tape as an emergency and cheaper substitute for horsehide. The unforgiving hard alley surface altered the tools of the game in other ways, namely, choosing sides. Swinging a bat and dropping it before scampering for the telephone pole quickly broke off the knob of the bat handle. It was impossible to claim "eagle claws" around the knob, when hand after hand was placed upward around the handle of the bat that had been tossed from one person to another in preparation for forming teams. Still other obstacles hindered our play; jagged nails jutting out from garage doors, uneven sewer drain openings in the alley floor, apartment house windows inviting wickedly powerful line drives, high-tension wires between utility poles, parked cars eagerly awaiting the daily collection of dents, and most challenging of all—horse droppings.
Remember that in the 1940s milk deliveries to houses and apartment buildings were made by horse-drawn wagons. The milkman supplied a range of dairy products and block ice for iceboxes. At each apartment house stop along the way, horses were left to stand in the alley with oat bags attached to their muzzles while the milkman went from floor to floor—as many as eight floors in my building with sixteen apartments per floor. While the milkman labored, his horse defecated in copious amounts and formed dung piles of, at times, grand dimensions. The players in a game of one ol' cat were forced to make instantaneous decisions when playing on such a surface dotted with mounds of sweet-smelling horseshit. Was catching and throwing the ball back to the pitcher really important when the ball was smeared with dung? You never used your glove after the milkman's visit. It was far better to have feces on your hands than on your glove. Batters also faced a moment of truth when they stepped to the plate following milk deliveries. Swing or not to swing? It always was high comedy (at least for the pitcher) to switch balls before delivering the pitch and to serve up a dung ball over the heart of the plate that was too inviting for the batter to pass up. Splitter, splatter and raucous laughter. Usually the two guys pulled this stunt on each other and the two girls likewise. We all saw the choice of gender target as an expression of politeness. But, perhaps, even more as a means to keep our small group together. No doubt the four mothers often starred in disbelief when their children returned from the playing field in need of a thorough hosing down. Perhaps I had more to lose eventually on each game day than my three dear friends. I insisted on wearing my Tiger uniform and instantly became the object of taunting and derision. Even the two girls now anxiously awaited their turn to pitch, hoping that the Old English "D" on the uniform might somehow become emblazoned with an equine glob. For the most part, my charm prevailed, and I only got splattered twice.
But these carefree days with my apartment house friends George, Barbara, and Sally were destined to end. The girls moved away and my parents relocated in the neighborhood to a duplex inconveniently located away from the alley playing field. In another sense, the four of us had outgrown our recreational space. We were all in high school with new interests and priorities—except for me.
Baseball became a part of me, as with many people my age, by way of radio broadcasts during the WWII years. President Franklin Roosevelt used major league baseball as a means to boost morale from 1942-1945. First in Detroit, I listened to Ty Tyson, whose effective use of silence and pause in his delivery set him apart from others describing the game. When my family returned to southern Illinois for summer vacations, I picked up the night broadcasts of the St. Louis Cardinals and the St. Louis Browns. Night baseball was a necessity then and still is in the suffocating heat of St. Louis. In addition to following the Tigers, the two teams from Missouri commanded the attention of a young boy. No one in Detroit understood my affection for the lovable losers in brown uniforms and caps, who even managed to reach the World Series in 1944. The St. Louis Browns won their only pennant that year but lost to the Cardinals in the World Series. But in the days of an eight-team American League, every team had a few good players, the Browns included. In later years, I treasured the autographs of Walt Judnich, Jeff Heath, and Chet Laabs, who were hard-hitting outfielders for the often woeful Brownies.
After the Tigers victory in the 1945 World Series, baseball fever swept over Detroit. Everyone followed the fortunes of the snarling Bengals. Meanwhile, skinny, sickly Danny Dillman began to lift weights, drink a quart of milk daily, eat plenty of Wheaties and a pound of bacon for breakfast, when possible. I went to Palmer Park, about three miles away near Woodward Avenue, on weekends with my dad. He hit grounders and fly balls to me until he tired long before I was ready to quit. I knew that I also needed a strong throwing arm in order to make it to the big leagues.
I practiced long throws in the alley next to Astor Court Apartments to strengthen my arm, and I tried to pitch to my friend George wherever we found open space—even along the sidewalk in front of the Presbyterian Church, which proved to be a poor choice of location for a bullpen. One day I expertly destroyed the plate glass in the church's sign with a curve ball that didn't. The sign advised the neighborhood about the importance of telling the truth. I had no choice but to fess up and offer to help with sweeping and other cleaning jobs for Sundays. As it turned out pushing a holy broom was good training for the visitor's clubhouse at Briggs Stadium.
A summer day's journey to Briggs Stadium by streetcar or bus passed through corridors filled with the voice of Harry Heilmann, the Tigers popular broadcaster. He was said by many to have been one of the two greatest right-handed hitters in history. Before air conditioning and television, you could follow the progress of the day's game with Harry from one neighborhood to another, from shop to shop, and house to house, as open windows and doors poured the sound of baseball into the streets. Heilmann's calling of the game was more a sequence of anecdotes than a faithful description of events. Yet for a few years, he was as beloved to Detroit fans as Harry Caray would be in St. Louis and in Chicago. His premature departure from the broadcast booth due to illness changed forever the summer day personality of the best baseball town in America as society, and the game entered a new phase in the Motor City.
Excerpted from HEY KID! by DANNY DILLMAN Copyright © 2007 by Daniel Dillman. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. 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.