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Legendary Yankees past and present sit down with award-winning columnist Bill Madden to offer a captivating portrait of what it's like to play for the Bronx Bombers.
Legendary Yankees past and present sit down with award-winning columnist Bill Madden to offer a captivating portrait of what it's like to play for the Bronx Bombers.
"I'd like to thank the Good Lord for making me a Yankee." -Joe DiMaggio, 1949
"It's great to be young and a Yankee." -Waite Hoyt, 1927
On a chilly, sun-splashed mid-December afternoon in 2001, almost exactly 100 years from the day American League President Ban Johnson finalized plans to transfer his Baltimore Orioles franchise to New York City, Jason Giambi strode to the microphone at the center of the podium in the Great Moments Room of Yankee Stadium and held aloft the size 50, No. 25 New York Yankees jersey he had just contracted to wear for the next seven seasons. Looking down the dais at his father, John, Giambi was suddenly overcome with emotion and, in a barely audible, choking voice said: "Look, Pop ... pinstripes."
Although he had grown up in Southern California, John Giambi had been a lifelong Yankee fan and, in particular, a devotee of Mickey Mantle. "During the '50s, the only major league baseball we got was the Saturday afternoon Game of the Week on TV," the elder Giambi explained, "and the Yankees, to us, truly were America's team, playing in the World Series just about every year and playing regularly on that Saturday game. I can remember running to the newspaper stand every day and reading about Mickey and the Yankees. If you liked baseball, that's how you grew up then, watching and reading about the Yankees."
After the press conference concluded, the Giambi family-John, Jason, his mother, Jeanne, and his fiancée Kristian Rice-were escorted down the corridor to the Yankee clubhouse. "This is where Mickey walked," said Jeanne Giambi, and now it was her husband whose eyes began welling up. I later said to him: "From everything you've said, it would seem this is even more of a `dream come true' day for you than it is for Jason."
"You'll never know how many times I thought about what it must be like to play for the Yankees," John Giambi replied.
I did not tell him I had already begun a journey around the country, seeking out former Yankees from all different eras and, in particular, asking that very question of them. This was the premise of the book I had wanted to write about the Yankees on the occasion of their 100th anniversary. It was given birth by a conversation I'd had at the 1997 World Series between the Florida Marlins and Cleveland Indians, with Charlie Silvera, a seldom-used backup catcher for the Yankees from 1949 to 1956. We were sitting at a poolside table at the World Series gala in Miami and Silvera, who was a scout for the Marlins at the time, was lamenting how much change had come over baseball in the last 40 years with the advent of expansion and free agency.
"Don't get me wrong," Silvera said. "I'm grateful to the Marlins for keeping me in the game and bringing me to this World Series when they didn't have to. But I have a hard time believing there's actually a major league team here in South Florida, playing in the World Series no less. I guess it all goes back to when I was playing. There was a saying then: 'Some guys make the big leagues, and some guys make the Yankees,' and I believe there really was something to that. I know I'll always be a Yankee and I suspect anyone you talk to will tell you the same thing."
Love them or hate them-and the legions of baseball fans in both camps are probably about equal in number-no other professional sports franchise has come close to approaching the success of the New York Yankees, winners of 26 World Series and 38 American League championships in the 99 years following their birth as the transplanted Baltimore Orioles in 1903. As George Steinbrenner put it when he bought the Yankees from CBS in 1973 (a time when they were just emerging from one of their lowest ebbs): "I feel like I've bought the Mona Lisa of sports franchises." By contrast, some 20 years earlier it was the famous stand-up comic Joe E. Lewis who had said: "Rooting for the Yankees is like rooting for U.S. Steel."
In any case, the Yankees, with their unparalleled success and accompanying gallery of legends, have become a proud and distinct part of Americana. It is then perhaps no surprise that they conceived the annual Old-Timers' Day event in which they invited back so many of their star players of the past (at no small expense to the team) for what amounted to little more than a five- to 10-second curtain call. Yet, as I watched these rituals through the years, the parade of legends being introduced in order of importance from the mere fan favorites, Billy Martin, Hank Bauer, Tommy Henrich, Elston Howard, Moose Skowron, Joe Pepitone, Allie Reynolds, Vic Raschi, Bobby Murcer et al., to the legitimately great Yankees, Whitey Ford, Phil Rizzuto, Yogi Berra, and finally to the supreme baseball deities, Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio, my attention was always directed to the visiting team players standing on the top step of the dugout, watching in silence as the applause from 55,000 fans built to a crescendo. "What must they think of this?" I said to myself. "How could they not be at least somewhat awestruck?"
Some guys make the big leagues and some guys make the Yankees.
So after my conversation with Silvera, I determined to explore this proposition. I drew up a list of 18 significant Yankees from all different eras with the idea of having them recount the history of this storied franchise as they saw and helped create it. But more than that, I wanted to know what it meant to them to have been a Yankee and whether they had felt, as Silvera did, they had been part of baseball royalty.
First and foremost, I wanted to talk to Frank Crosetti, who, at 90, was one of the oldest living Yankees and most certainly the one who could provide the most detailed history of their golden era. Crosetti, who lived in Stockton, California, had the distinction of having cashed more World Series checks than any other person in baseball history, as a player for the Yankees from 1932 (the end of Babe Ruth's Yankee time) to 1947, and then as third base coach for all the Casey Stengel-and Ralph Houk-managed championship teams, through 1968. "The Cro," as he was affectionately called, had indeed seen it all, but rarely deemed to talk about it. I knew him casually from seeing him as a visitor to the Yankee clubhouse when the team came into Oakland to play the Athletics over the years. Unfortunately, when I contacted him about sharing his memories of what it was like to be a Yankee and part of all those storied teams of Ruth, Gehrig, Dickey, DiMaggio, Mantle and Berra, he put me off.
"Ahhh, I can't tell you anything about those guys," he said. Later, however, he revealed to me he was hoping to write a book of his own. I wished him good luck and proceeded to move on in my interview process, beginning with the two most prominent "locals"-Berra and Rizzuto-with whom I'd developed a warm relationship, traveling with them through the years in my capacity as a reporter and columnist covering the Yankees for the New York Daily News. Both of them lived in New Jersey and were established Yankee legends. Yet, despite having forged Hall of Fame careers, they'd both had their hearts broken by the Yankees, too (in Berra's case twice), and I especially wanted to talk to them about that.
As the months went by and I began traveling around the country-to the Carolinas for Bobby Richardson and Tommy Byrne; to Indiana, where Don Mattingly had gone into self-imposed retreat after his final October disappointment in 1995; to San Francisco to revisit with Silvera and see firsthand those sandlots that had spawned so many talented Yankee players over the first 50 years of this century (DiMaggio, Tony Lazzeri et al.)-I would periodically receive letters from Crosetti inquiring about my progress on the book. At one point, he even provided me with some suggestions as to old-time Yankee players I needed to talk to and what questions I should ask them.
"You really need to see Tommy Henrich up in Prescott, Arizona," Crosetti wrote in August of 2001, "and when you do, ask him about the song `Too Much Mustard.' This happened at the Book Cadillac Hotel in Detroit." He didn't elaborate, but knowing the customarily effusive Henrich as I did, I figured he'd be able to supply the rest of the story in all its color and detail.
I had intended to visit with Henrich while I was at the 2001 World Series in Arizona between the Yankees and the Diamondbacks, but was disheartened to learn he had taken ill and been moved to San Francisco by his daughter, who had put out the word that he was temporarily unable to do interviews. I wrote back to Crosetti, informing him of Henrich's deteriorated state of health and got a reply a week later that seemed to have a tone of urgency to it.
"I may not have enough for a book now," Crosetti said, "and I've been thinking of forgetting it. But I've written a lot of stuff down and I'm sure you could get plenty for your chapter on me. You're welcome to have it. Maybe my grandkids can read what I have written someday. Stay healthy, Cro."
I was naturally encouraged by Crosetti's change of heart, but I still wanted to sit down with him in person and listen to his stories. So instead of telling him to go ahead and send me what he'd written, I made a mental note to call him after the New Year and hopefully arrange a visit to Stockton before the start of spring training. By this time, I was getting nearly a letter a month from him in which he would comment on the most recent developments in baseball or offer a thumbnail critique of the latest baseball book he'd read. I wrote him a letter around Christmas, wishing him well for the holidays while offhandedly mentioning that I'd be giving him a call before heading off to spring training. When, by early February, I hadn't heard back from him, I began to be concerned. Then, one afternoon I got a phone call from Rizzuto, who said he'd just gotten word that Crosetti had taken a fall and was in the hospital in critical condition. "I know you've been wanting to get together with him," Rizzuto said. "That's why I'm calling. I don't think it's good."
The next day word came from Stockton that Crosetti had passed away at age 91.
A few weeks later, at spring training in Florida, I finished up the interviews for the book, visiting with octogenarians Ralph Houk at his home in Winter Haven and Marius Russo in Fort Myers, in between sessions with Reggie Jackson and Bobby Murcer at the Yankee camp in Tampa. Russo, who had inadvertently proved elusive in efforts to locate him, was vital to the book in that he was one of the last remaining links to Gehrig. Meanwhile, I was pleasantly surprised to see how much Houk had mellowed since retiring from the baseball wars and I even detected a trace of remorse (however small) regarding the volcanic and sometimes physical abuse of sportswriters for which he had become notorious.
Murcer, I confirmed, still bears the scars of his unceremonious exile from the Yankees in 1974, but harbors no bitterness at all for the unfair and unrealistic comparisons to Mantle that dogged him throughout his career. Rather-and remarkably-he actually feels honored by them.
In the case of Jackson-who has proclaimed with pride through the years at being "a student of the game" while simultaneously expressing his uncompromising views of race relations in baseball-I was especially curious as to how he viewed himself in the overall context of (mostly white) Yankee history. Humility is not a word generally associated with him, but I nevertheless came away from our time together with a distinct sense of that quality as he began his passage into middle age, comfortable with all he'd achieved.
Upon returning to New York for the final editing process, my thoughts returned to Crosetti. He, after all, had been the link to practically all of them, most notably Ruth. If nothing else, I wished I had taken him up on his offer to send me his writings. Throughout our correspondence, I had tried to convince him how important he was to this project, and in the end he had finally relented. I remembered what he'd said in his last letter about wanting his grandkids to see what he'd written. Through Silvera, I was put in touch with Crosetti's grandson, Jim McCoy.
"I'll see if I can find the stuff," McCoy told me. "Then, after that, it'll be up to my grandmother [Crosetti's widow, Norma] as to whether you can use any of it. But I'll talk to her."
A couple of weeks went by and then, just after the last chapters had been submitted to the publisher, a package arrived in the mail from McCoy. The "Crosetti papers" were a bit disjointed (and, I suspected, a good deal purified), but amid all the banality Cro did manage to dispel one of baseball's longest-enduring myths: Ruth's "called shot" homer against the Chicago Cubs in the 1932 World Series:
"I have been asked this nine million times, if Babe pointed to center field when he hit that home run off Charlie Root. When Mark Koenig was playing shortstop for the Yankees in the '20s, he'd become a good friend of Babe's. The Cubs had bought Mark from the San Francisco Mission Reds of the Pacific Coast League in August of '32 and he helped them win a few games down the stretch with his timely hitting. But the Cubs voted him only a half-share of the World Series money and Babe, outspoken as he was, called them all tightwads-along with a few other choice words. All these remarks got written up in the papers and when Babe came to bat, the Cubs players were all razzing him. Root got two quick strikes on him and now the Cubs players were on the top step of the dugout really giving it to him.
"Babe nonchalantly stepped out of the batter's box. He did not point his finger to center field. Looking at the Chicago dugout, with his bat resting on his shoulder and being held by his left hand, he raised his right arm and shook his index finger in front of his face, meaning he had one more strike. On the next pitch he hit a home run. This shut the Cubs players up. The next day I'm sitting next to him in the dugout and he said: `If the writers all want to say I pointed to center field, let 'em. I don't care.' That's the story, right from the horse's mouth."
If only we'd have had that sit-down in Stockton for so many more stories. My solace is the letters and our "pen pal" relationship in his final year. There is no chapter on the Cro here, but his grandkids should know he was one very significant Yankee.
Bill Madden, October 1, 2002
Excerpted from Pride of October by Bill Madden Copyright © 2003 by Bill Madden
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
|A Huckleberry Friend and the Loss of Innocence||1|
|Echoes of the Iron Horse, Cro, and Fat Freddie Fitzsimmons||21|
|The Wild Man of Wake Forest||41|
|Lord of the Rings||61|
|Breakfast at Lefty's||89|
|A Hero Just the Same||105|
|Slick as They Come||123|
|The Major in Winter||163|
|God's Hall of Famer||217|
|There's Trouble on Joe Pepitone's Line||241|
|Not Mickey, But a Pretty Fair Country Ballplayer||285|
|The Boss's Boy||313|
|Mr. October's Legacy||343|
|Down on the Farm with Donnie Baseball||373|
|Twilight of the Warrior||407|
Posted July 3, 2003
This is the first book I have read in many years. Once I picked it up I couldn't put it down especially when I got to the chapters I remembered from growing up as a Yankee fan starting in the late '60's. As I read all the memories of what I was doing and who I was came flooding back. It made me laugh and brought tears to my eyes all at the same time. No matter what era of Yankee fan you are from an enjoyable and must read.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 17, 2003
I read this book during the past week during a cross country flight. I have been a Yankees fan since 1959 and have consumed almost every word written on the team. Madden's publication is the very best of anything I have read on the team in the past 43 years. The writing took even familiar Yankees' lore to another level by digging beneath the surface to fully understand how being a Yankee impacted each and every one of the subjects even beyond their playing days. Regardless of the player's era, he delivered a consistently enjoyable book that flowed and entertained at the highest level. Thank you for your effort.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 17, 2003
It was Hall of Fame pitcher Waite Hoyt who once said, 'It's great to be young and a Yankee.' Hoyt uttered those words in 1927, yet it's a theme that has held true for more than three-quarters of a century. Donning those famed pinstripes is an honor similar to that of wearing the uniform of a Roman soldier during the time of the Caesars. And the pride is felt whether you're a star like Yogi Berra or a backup catcher like Charlie Silvera, who was a member of five world championship teams from 1949-53 yet got into fewer than 200 games during his seven full years with the Yankees. In fact, it is Silvera who perhaps captures the essence of what it means to be a Yankee in this wonderfully nostalgic book written by Bill Madden, a noted baseball columnist for the New York Daily News. 'Why would I want to be the first-string catcher for the St. Louis Browns when I could be a Yankee and be part of all those World Series? I was there. I had success. I was a spear carrier to the kings.' Indeed. Being a Yankee is something special. Even Bobby Murcer, who played for the Yankees during the club's worst period from 1969-74, admitted that his life was never again the same after the club traded him to the San Francisco Giants after the 1974 season. In compiling the book, Madden interviewed 17 former players and the wife of the late Yankee catcher Elston Howard. He devotes a full chapter to each subject and the result is an insightful probe into what makes it so extraordinary to wear a Yankee uniform. Baseball fans everywhere will enjoy the reminiscenes of stars such as Yogi Berra, Phil Rizzuto and Reggie Jackson as well as those of unfilled promise such as Ron Blomberg and Joe Pepitone. 'I've been with the Padres for 29 years now,' said San Diego baseball announcer Jerrry Coleman, 'but in my heart of heart I'll always be a Yankee.' The book is a winner -- like the Yankees.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 14, 2003
Bill Madden's Book 'Pride of October' is for ALL baseball fans. You don't have to be a Yankee fan to get the feel of what it was like to play in the Major Leagues during the various periods of time represented. While the book uses the Yankees as the center piece, the reader can get an appreciation of what it was like to play for a Major League Baseball team and what it was like to be a rookie. Great stories and insight about Yankee players you would normally never read about today such as Ron Blomberg and Joe Pepitone. Reading the backgrounds of the players is also extremely interesting when you consider today's 'commercialization' of players and their images. I highly recommend this book for baseball fans.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 18, 2003
As a Yankee fan, did you ever wish you could just sit down with your heroes and ask them some interesting questions about themselves and their time with the Yankees? Well, in his book, Pride of October: What It Was Like To Be Young And A Yankee, Bill Madden makes our wishes come true. In a book that's as entertaining as the players and team it covers, Madden brings back so many memories of our past heroes. For me, the book really hit home, when Madden sat down and talked with Bobby Murcer, who was a hero of mine as a youngster. In that chapter, Madden, through Murcer's words, tells the story of how disappointed Bobby was when he was traded from the Yankees after the 1974 season. When I read the passages, it brought me back to when I was fourteen years old and was crushed when I found out my favorite player was traded. Now, almost thirty years later, I realized Murcer was as devastated as I was. Through Murcer, Lou Piniella, and Reggie Jackson, Madden also captures the very emotional days after the tragic death of Thurman Munson. Yankee fans who remember those sad days of August 1979, will have the strong emotions brought back when they read the words of Munson's former mates. The book has many interesting tidbits about some very famous Yankees. For example, when talking to Phil Rizzuto, Madden, explains to us why Phil was and still is so scared of lightning. Yankee fans fondly recall how the 'Scooter' would 'bolt' from the booth as soon as he saw lightning. Well, when you read the book you'll find out why. You will also read how the events of September 11th, affected Phil's life. An early chapter in the book deals with former Yankee pitcher, Marius Russo. Though I've been a die hard fan for over thirty years, I frankly never heard of Russo. Madden's chapter on Russo was special because Russo was a teammate of Lou Gehrig and the former Yankee pitcher tells how sad it was to see Gehrig suffer with ALS. As a Yankee fan since 1967, I not only enjoyed the book, but also appreciated the fact that Bill Madden gave me a chance to 'talk' to my heroes.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 25, 2003
Madden has a well deserved reputation as one of the toughest reporters on the Yankee beat. Unfortunately this is a total softball, interviews and profiles with former Yankees who have all been interviewed and profiled innumerable times. Madden doesn't bring anything new to the table, it's just the same stories you've heard and read a hundred times before in another package.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 5, 2003
Pride of October is one of the best of all baseball books about the Yankees. Bill Madden has written a memorable work that makes the reader feel that he is in the room with Madden and Rizzuto or Mattingly or O'Neill or Russo. Reading the book leaves one with extremely mixed feelings because after finishing a chapter, one realizes that there is one chapter less to relish. Madden's work is that good.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 31, 2003
. . . Then this book is like a manual written by management. I mean, while there's nothing wrong about psuedo oral histories that lavish praise all over the franchise, after a while it gets to be a little too much and in the end doesn't result in a very serious book that says anything new about the team. I love the Yankees but after 40-50 pages of mash notes my eyes started to gloss over. If you follow the Yankees closely you've either read much of this before or read material so similar in other books that at times you'll swear you've already read this book before. Uncritical and in the end not as interesting books of this type should be. I shoulda waited for the paperback.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 6, 2003
I have always found baseball to be the most 'human' of the professional sports, with players who have the best stories to tell. I caught Madden one morning on the 'Brother Wease' morning radio show here in Rochester where he spent two hours sharing many of those stories. Intrigued by that preview, I read 'Pride of October' and found it to be very rewarding. Madden covers an interesting variey of young and old former Yankees, from Paul O'Neill all the way back to Marius Russo. (No, I had never heard of Russo before reading the book either, but found the chapter to be fascinating) Even with the familiar names that have been the subject of many other books, like Berra, Riaauto and Ford, I found the weave of Yankee history with their very personal recollections and perspectives on what it meant to them to be 'young and a Yankee' to be a great perspective. I thought that Madden taking Whitey Ford back to his Astoria, Queens roots was particularly inspired. I was also enlightened by Arlene Howard's rememberances of everything that she and her husband endured when he broke what Madden describes as the toughest of all color lines. Don Mattingly's heartfelt regrets on what he missed as a Yankee and Jerry Coleman's very real 'war stories' particularly stand out. They were 'new' to me and I think will be the same to any other reader. Unlike the Wells book, you know that this book belongs in the 'non-fiction' section. I found it to be an insightful, warm and thouroughly delightful read that I give five stars.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 24, 2010
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