Pennants and Pinstripes: The New York Yankees 1903-2002

Pennants and Pinstripes: The New York Yankees 1903-2002


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Pennants and Pinstripes: The New York Yankees 1903-2002 by Ray Robinson, Christopher Jennison

In 2002, the New York Yankees will celebrate their one-hundredth anniversary-and what a first century they have enjoyed! Whether you love them or hate them, they are the most storied team in baseball history, having captured thirty-seven American League Pennants and twenty-six World Series championships. To commemorate this historic year, Ray Robinson and Christopher Jennison, who collaborated on Yankee Stadium, have pulled together a striking volume illuminating all of the greatest moments of the Bronx Bombers. All the great Yankee luminaries are here, from Babe Ruth to Bernie Williams, Lou Gehrig to Reggie Jackson, Mickey Mantle to Derek Jeter-with every Tom (Tresh), Dick (Howser), and Harry (Howell, the franchise's first winning pitcher) thrown in.

Featuring more than 150 photographs, contributions from experts such as Hall-of-Famer Yogi Berra and commentator Bob Costas, and picks for the "all-time Yankee team," Pennants and Pinstripes will be the ultimate tribute to the century's ultimate ball club-and a must-have for any baseball fan.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780670892143
Publisher: Studio
Publication date: 03/28/2002
Pages: 240
Product dimensions: 9.00(w) x 11.25(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Ray Robinson has written the acclaimed biographies Iron Horse: Lou Gehrig in His Time and Matty: An American Hero, about Christy Mathewson.

Christopher Jennison is the author of several sports books.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

At the outset of the twentieth century, New York, with its more than three million people, was on its way to becoming the unofficial cultural capital of the world. It was estimated that the city had more Irish than Dublin, more Italians than Naples, and more Greeks than Athens. By 1897, the five boroughs—Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island—had been consolidated, though there were those who slyly suggested that this was done because Chicago was on the verge of surpassing Manhattan in population and prestige.

    Flooded by immigrants in pursuit of opportunity, jobs, and money (and, incidentally, freedom), New York had become a magnet for thousands. The tired, huddled masses from Europe provided the brawn that built the city's roads, buildings, and subways, while their brains wrote the country's songs. There was more wealth circulating among the few—and more things to buy than anybody dreamed of. But uninhibited consumers conveniently forgot that New York, at the same time, had more misery and dense poverty than almost any other community in the world.

    By now the theater district had moved up to Times Square from Union Square, giving the upward-striving locals and curious tourists a chance to visit the nickelodeons, cabarets, and flea circuses. The pulsating area remained impervious to reformers. At city hall, presided over by Mayor George McClellan (no relation to the Civil War general), the bureaucrats spent more time working on ticker-tape parades than looking for greedy Tammany rascals, while on stylish Fifth Avenue the rich and famous promenaded in all oftheir hauteur.

    America had recently been engaged, for several months, in Rough Rider Teddy Roosevelt's excursion into Cuba (an event nudged along by the outrageous jingoism of newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst). Meanwhile, in organized baseball, Byron Bancroft Johnson, a burly, overbearing former newspaperman from Norwalk, Ohio, sought his own imperialism over a new American League. Johnson had pounded heads together to create a rival baseball circuit to the venerable National League, which had been inaugurated in 1876. Teams from Boston, Washington, Philadelphia, and Baltimore quickly embraced Johnson's plan and joined the American League. Now Johnson wanted to place a franchise in New York, which made a good deal of sense. So when the Baltimore club self-destructed, thanks to the shenanigans of John J. McGraw, Johnson seized the moment to put New York into his master plan.

    In truth, of course, Ban Johnson had hardly invented baseball for New Yorkers. The game already had made itself felt there following the Civil War. After the great unpleasantness, over a hundred ball clubs were formed in Manhattan and Brooklyn; by the end of the 1860s thousands of young men were playing professionally. Most of these participants were skilled workers—skilled also at heavy drinking and unruly behavior. They played before large crowds, predominantly men, for an admission price of twenty-five to fifty cents. The pastoral nature of the game was especially appealing to urban folks, as were the sharply defined rules and intriguing statistics.

    By 1900, ballplayers were often regarded lower than itinerant actors, Bowery bums, or stagecoach robbers in the order of their social acceptance. "They were mostly young and uneducated," biologist Stephen Jay Gould has written. "Hardly any of these men went to college and few finished high school. Baseball, with all of its mythological hyping, really took root as a people's sport in America. Rube, the nickname of so many early players, reflected a common background."

    Curiously, while many people of all ages were collecting baseball cards (first issued in the 1860s) and enjoyed arguing about the relative talents of their favorite ballplayers, many of these same collectors also held them in contempt for their disruptive manners and unwholesome habits. Bryan DiSalvatore, the biographer of John Montgomery Ward (one ballplayer who did have a college education), wrote that in those early days, "the sport had a gawky, vituperative adolescence."

    The new team in New York town was called the Highlanders, who played at the high altitude venue called Hilltop Park, in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan. Hilltop, close to McGraw's Polo Grounds, was located on upper Broadway between 165th and 168th streets (today the Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center stands on the site); it was said to be the most elevated point in the borough. The ballpark, accommodating some 15,000 people, was also known as the New York American League Ball Park, but most people knew it as Hilltop. It opened on April 30, 1903, and was abandoned in 1912, when the field was adjudged to be too small and too out of date for further use as a big league playground. It was about an hour from downtown by the elevated train and just two blocks east of the Hudson River. The plot of land had originally been owned by the New York Institute for the Blind. Home plate at Hilltop faced Broadway, so the fans in the open wooden stands sat with their backs to the majestic river.

    The Evening World often chose to call the Highlanders by another name—the Invaders—because the club had the effrontery to challenge McGraw and his uppity Giants. In those beginning years, the Highlander nickname didn't sit very well with New York's newspapers for the simple reason that it couldn't be squeezed too comfortably into box scores or headlines. The jazzy name "The Yankees" stuck like adhesive and for one hundred years it has had universal appeal, even where Confederates roam.

    The two owners of the Highlanders were Frank Farrell and Big Bill Devery, who had bought the Baltimore franchise for $18,000 and turned it into the New York Highlanders, much to the satisfaction of the scheming Johnson. In later years, these two characters might have had a difficult time winning approval from a board of ethics or a baseball commissioner. But they did invest some $300,000 turning their rocky property into a suitable playing field. An ex-bartender and saloon operator, Farrell also ran a stable of horses and liked, on occasion, to place a bet on them. It wouldn't have surprised anyone if he had also, on occasion, placed a bet against his own animals. (When Kenesaw Mountain Landis came on the scene in the 1920s as commissioner, Farrell would have been slapped down. After all, Landis had thrown the book at .400-hitter Rogers Hornsby for losing money at the race track.)

    Devery was more of a polymath than Farrell. He had been a policeman, a trial-horse prizefighter, and a bartender. After he became chief of police, with important political connections, it was rumored that the crime rate rose dramatically. The two men agreed on the choice of Joseph Gordon as the team's president (another Joe Gordon played second base in the late thirties and early forties for the Yankees) and signed the White Sox's Clark Griffith as the club's first manager. Later, as owner of the Washington Senators, Griffith won the nickname of the "Old Fox." In his five-year tenure with the Highlanders, Griffith also was called on to pitch. He won 14 games in 1903, the year Boston defeated Pittsburgh in the first modern World Series, but after that it was all downhill for him. Instead, Griffith had to rely on Happy Jack Chesbro, a right-hander seemingly as durable as one of Mr. Henry Ford's newfangled inventions. Throwing a tantalizing spitball in the deadball era, Chesbro won 41 games in 1904, pitching 48 complete games in 51 starts. This remarkable performance, still a twentieth-century mark, was overshadowed that same season by Denton Tecumseh "Cy" Young's perfect game against Philadelphia, the first such game in the new century.

    Sadly, Happy Jack also suffered the ignominy of tossing an errant pitch against Boston on the last day of the 1904 season that lost the American League flag to the Red Sox (then called the Pilgrims). Thus, if Chesbro is remembered at all, it is for being in the same company as Fred Merkle, who blundered at a critical moment in baseball history. "In the history of America, we reserve a niche," William B. Mead chortled, "for the moment back in nineteen-four: Chesbro's great wild pitch." The month after Chesbro's egregious misplay, Teddy Roosevelt, the passionate patriot, was elected president of the United States.

    Chesbro's 455 innings of hurling in 1904 earned him the lordly sum of $1,500, though he may have picked up a few extra shillings when the fans passed the hat around, as was the custom at Hilltop.

    In the years that followed, the Highlanders went from a second place finish in 1904 to Sisyphean depths. Accordingly, attendance plummeted from 211,000 the first season to half of that, even when such stellar attractions as the tempestuous Ty Cobb or the great Washington right-hander Walter Johnson came to town. Meanwhile, the Giants, with their gang of stalwarts including Christy Mathewson, Larry Doyle, Rube Marquard, and Fred Merkle, continued to attract standing room crowds at their swollen outdoor bathtub at Coogan's Bluff.

    There were some epiphanic moments for the Highlanders in 1906, when the club surprised everybody by ending up in second place. But for the most part, they were out of contention, despite the presence of a few outstanding players such as Wee Willie Keeler, Branch Rickey (who caught in 1907 before moving on to greener pastures), and Prince Hal Chase. Keeler actually coined the immortal phrase, "Hit 'em where they ain't," which he invariably did.

    Chase's colorful but questionable career is worth pondering here. He came from California to astound baseball people with his charm and acrobatic skills at first base. His hands were magic at the bag—he could charge in on bunts, throw runners out at second or third, swallow up grounders or pop flies with the grace of a cat. But in other respects he was a deeply flawed athlete. A compulsive gambler, Chase would bet on games, more often than not wagering against his own team.

    A lifetime .291 hitter, Chase had become baseball's foremost recidivist, practicing his dishonesty even as many of his own teammates suspected him of consorting with gamblers. Despite such a reputation, he remained in New York until 1913, when Manager Frank Chance (part of the Tinker to Evers to Chance triad) disposed of his services. However, Prince Hal refused to mend his ways; it was strongly hinted that he had been one of those reptiles who had conspired to fix the outcome of the 1919 World Series between the Chicago White Sox (thereafter called the Black Sox) and the Cincinnati Reds.

    Even in those "good old days," when things went wrong with a ball club the first person to suffer the consequences was always the manager. Thus, in 1908, when the Highlanders hit last place (and, obviously, hit little else), Griffith was dismissed. Arthur Norman Elberfeld, the team's shortstop, was handed the reins. "The Tabasco Kid," as he was called, led the team to a 27-71 mark, which could rival for ineptitude the Philadelphia Athletics of the 1930s, the Boston Braves of 1935, or the Mets of 1962.

    Elberfeld's season climaxed, negatively, when the emerging pitching star of the Senators, Walter Johnson, hurled three shutouts in four days at Hilltop. If the Highlanders hadn't still been observing the Sunday blue law prohibiting baseball playing on that day, Johnson might well have pitched four shutouts in four days! Elberfeld was gone after the year was over, to be replaced by the former plantation owner, George Stallings.

    Oddly, the Highlanders (by then generally called the Yankees) romped all the way to second place in 1910. Perhaps the most intriguing game they played all year took place in August when Tom Hughes pitched a no-hitter for nine innings against Cleveland only to lose in the eleventh inning.

    However, the Yankees managed to achieve a certain status in the off-season when they engaged their hated rivals, the Giants, in the first postseason city series in New York history. McGraw had everything to lose and little to gain by such a confrontation, while the opposite was true of the Yankees. When the Giants took the series four games to two—as the teams alternated games between Hilltop and the Polo Grounds—McGraw was spared apoplexy.

    Despite this exposure to the Giants, attendance at Hilltop remained meager. During the American Revolution some skirmishes had been won on the Hilltop site—but the ball club failed to continue that winning tradition. Things got so bad that the corrupt Chase was named manager in 1911. But with all of Prince Hal's guile the club couldn't do better than sixth. Harry Wolverton, an infielder from Ohio, was a playing manager in 1912 but failed to rouse his tatterdemalion troops. Chance took over the job in 1913-1914, followed by the rangy shortstop Roger Peckinpaugh, who, as a Washington Senator in 1925, achieved reverse immortality by committing eight errors in the World Series with Pittsburgh. After his sojourn with the Yankees, Peckinpaugh assessed the attitudes of his former players. "Their chief concern was not to get beaten too badly," he said. "Sometimes they started to sing songs in the infield right in the middle of the game. Nobody seemed to be bothered too much by the constant losing."

    When a mysterious fire broke out in the Polo Grounds in April 1911, the most mordant suggestion was that McGraw might have burned down the place himself. Barring that, others said, it was a Bolshevik plot. More likely, a careless match had done the job. The wooden stands had been demolished by the blaze, making it impossible for the Giants to use the premises.

    So who came to McGraw's rescue? None other than Messrs. Farrell and Devery, who were content for the moment to stop battling with each other. The two gentlemen magnanimously offered the Giants the use of Hilltop Park. Most agreed it was a gesture of unexpected civility and McGraw accepted the invitation immediately. By late June, when the damage to the Polo Grounds was finally repaired, the Giants returned to their home headquarters, still in a state of mild shock over the Yankees' hospitality.

    By 1912, neither of the Yankees' owners were happy with the disintegrating state of Hilltop Park. It was almost in as bad shape as the ill-fated British ocean liner, Titanic, which sunk in the iceberg-cluttered North Atlantic on the night of April 14, causing the loss of 1500 lives. A week after the disaster, the Yankees and Giants played a special benefit game for the Titanic's survivors. Once again, the Yankees lost.

    Perhaps it was entirely fitting that the last thing most fans remembered about Hilltop Park was an incident involving Ty Cobb in mid-May 1912. In all the years that Cobb had restlessly dominated the American League with his hitting and base running, he had neglected to tame his volatile temper. Teammates and foes alike regarded him as being as angry as a warthog. More contemporary descriptions of him hint that he was a mental case. On this particular Saturday afternoon at Hilltop Park, with an unusually large crowd of 20,000 on hand, Cobb confirmed such negative impressions about himself when he climbed into the third-base stands and delivered a starting beating to a fan named Claude Leuker. After the assault was broken up, it became clear that Leuker was hardly a worthy adversary for Cobb: he had no hands. Cobb's excuse for his vicious behavior was that Leuker kept shouting that he was a "half nigger," words that couldn't possibly sit well with a man who had practiced relentless bigotry all his adult life. The brouhaha ultimately was resolved when Ban Johnson suspended Cobb for ten days and fined him a measly fifty dollars.

    The 1912 season was the last hurrah for the Yankees at Hilltop Park. With their tenancy at Hilltop at an end, the Yankees chose to accept the Giants offer to play all their future home games at the Polo Grounds. In this instance, McGraw felt that one good turn deserved another. Also, he didn't believe that the team from Washington Heights would ever be able to find another home, a prospect that didn't upset him in the least.


Excerpted from PENNANTS & PINSTRIPES by Ray Robinson & Christopher Jennison. Copyright © 2002 by Ray Robinson and Christopher Jennison. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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