Category Archives: Sports

The Wise Guy of Baseball: Getting To Know Leo ‘The Lip’ Durocher

BOOK REVIEW The history of sports is often written around its most revered role models, as though the noble character of the greatest players comes from the purest devotion to their game.

Leo Durocher, a sterling shortstop and manager for some of the greatest teams in baseball history, was no role model. In most ways, he was the very opposite, a combative player with a rock-star personality.  He’s famously attributed as saying “Nice guys finish last,” not because he actually said it, but because it seemed to be his life’s slogan.

In Paul Dickson‘s fast-paced and often amusing biography, Durocher’s extraordinary accomplishments on the field battle for prominence with the player’s indulgent and never-ending quest for the good life. Along the way, he became an iconic New York sports hero. As a player for the New York Yankees (1925, 1928-29), the Brooklyn Dodgers (1938-48) AND the New York Giants (1948-1955), his story plays out in New York’s greatest ballparks, as well as its most glamorous nightclubs and hotels.

Leo Durocher: Baseball’s Prodigal Son
by Paul Dickson
Bloomsbury Publishing

Durocher, born in Massachusetts to French Canadian parents, has had many nicknames through his career — Frenchy, “the All-American Out,” and a great number of four-letter ones. But “Leo the Lip” seemed to fit him best. His quarrels with other players, umpires and sportswriters are the stuff of legends.

Babe Ruth famously couldn’t stand him. At one point, he accused Durocher of stealing his watch, an alleged theft that would follow the players from the Yankees to the Dodgers. Writes Dickson: “As Leo said, in a half-angry, half-mocking tone, ‘Jesus Christ, if I was going to steal anything from him I’d steal his god-damned Packard.”

Brooklyn Dodgers Leo Durocher on dugout steps in 1939

His expletive-filled spats with teammates and managers tarred him early in his career; at one point, at age 24, Durocher was considered ‘washed out’, a toxic presence distracted by decadence and fame. As Dickson writes, “One rumored reason that all the teams in the American League passed on Durocher was that Babe Ruth let it be known he wanted Durocher out of the league.”

In New York, Durocher hops from the Cotton Club to the Stork Club in fancy suits, racking up debts at trendy hotels and acquiring a coterie of suspicious characters. His gambling addiction is now legendary; although many baseball players squandered their salaries this way, Durocher seemed to treat gambling as a second sport.

This led him into the circles of both mobsters and movie stars. And there, in the middle, was Durocher’s close friend George Raft, the Hollywood actor who frequently played gangsters on film. Durocher emulated Raft — often dressing and parting his hair in similar ways — and the actor, in turn, introduced the baseball player to the thrills of the entertainment world.

Below: Durocher with the stars of the TV show Mr. Ed

Courtesy Baseball Reliquary

Even during his greatest moments as a manager of the Dodgers, many believed Durocher might quit and become a radio comedian and actor. During World War II he even toured with the USO.

Yet he would always return to the game. With the Dodgers, he transitioned from player to manager, overseeing the team during some of its greatest moments. That included the years with Jackie Robinson, the first African-American player. (Of course, Robinson and Durocher would later public feud, almost a rite of passage for great baseball stars at this point.)

Dickson, a long-time chronicler of baseball history, finds a readable balance between Durocher’s on-field achievements and late-night scandals, revealing a charming and exceptionally scrappy, if not exactly likable, sportsman.

He’s harsh and mouthy to the end. But his talent was undeniable; the writer Bob Broeg, at Durocher’s death in 1991, said that “losing Leo Durocher was like losing either an old friend or an old enemy — you could take your pick.” Over the years, the writer had gotten into several fist-fights with Durocher.

Meet the Mets! The Metropolitans, that is, an early NY baseball team

The New York Mets, 2015 National League Champions and New York’s perpetual baseball underdogs, are only 53 years, formed in 1962 to fill the void after the departure of the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New  York Giants* to California. But in name, at least, they’re older than even the Yankees.

The first New York ball club to call themselves the Mets — or really, the Metropolitans, if we’re being fancy — made their first appearance 130 years ago.  They burned bright for many years, inaugurated New York’s first great sports venue, then faded away.

To be metropolitan in 1880 did not merely suggest a team representative of a city and its surrounding area.  It was code for the finest — from the Metropolitan Opera (which formed the same year) to the Metropolitan Museum (whose Central Park building also opened that year).

Jim Donahue, catcher

1

Baseball, however, was not a prestige sport by any means in 1880, but this did not matter to John Day, baseball fanatic and owner of a large tobacco plant on the Lower East Side. One day Day met Jim Mutrie, a shortstop from Boston, and agreed to fund a new team. In September, the New York Metropolitans made their debut on a field in Brooklyn.

A few weeks later they would take over a playing field used mostly for polo matches, located at the northeast corner of Central Park. While it would later be known as the Polo Grounds, it would soon host a variety of sports. A larger version of the Polo Grounds, further north on 155th Street, would later be home to the modern Mets franchise.

James John ‘Chief’ Roseman

Courtesy Library of Congress
Courtesy Library of Congress

Day and Mutrie had also formed a second team — the New York Gothams — who proved to be more lucrative. In 1885 they sold the Metropolitans to  land developer Erasmus Wiman who then moved the team to Staten Island as a way to encourage growth for the underpopulated future borough. (Wiman also owned a ferry service.) The Metropolitans went from a polo grounds to a cricket’s ground — the St. George Cricket Grounds.

Below: The Metropolitans in Staten Island

mets

To no one’s surprise by Wiman’s, this idea didn’t work, and the Metropolitans were soon sold for $15,000 to their rivals the Brooklyn Dodgers who dismantled the team by recruiting its best players.  Their last game was 1887.

Below: At the pass off to Wiman, The New York Sun profiles all the players of the Metropolitans. You can read the entire article here.  “The Metropolitan Club, organized by James Mutrie, has had a brilliant career.  Ever since it was started it has been more than successful, and each year it has become stronger, until at present it is probably the finest fielding team in the country.”

1

Another reason the Metropolitans may have disappeared — their weight. The New York Sun, reporting on one of their last games, played on October 30, 1887: “The old men of the Metropolitan have grown very stout. Troy, with his 195 pounds is running a close race with Orr for avoirdupois, while Brady and Kennedy have gained remarkably in weight.” [source]

Dave Orr, first baseman

orr
Courtesy Library of Congress

 

 

**The original article neglected to mention the Giants.

And now, the New York Female Giants: (Briefly) A League Of Their Own

For a very brief period — likely just a single year — there was a female counterpart to the New York (Male) Giants.

The New York Female Giants seem to have an unofficial affiliation with the better known Giants, the city’s most popular baseball team.  Author Michael Carlebach speculates the team was probably formed by Giants manager John McGraw.

2

Early women’s teams — called ‘Bloomer Girls’ — often had a few men playing alongside them.  Occasionally those men even disguised themselves as women as in a revealing case in the summer of 1913 in Washington DC: “Four thousand angry fans surged on the diamond in the old Union League baseball park this afternoon when they learned that the “Bloomer Girls,” who were playing against a team of young men, were not girls. The deception was suspected when the “girl” playing in centre field threw the ball from deep centre to the home plate.” [source]

(The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, featured in the movie A League Of Their Own, would not be formed until the 1940s.)

The Female Giants don’t appear to be all women players either although there are no disguises at least. The men featured in these pictures played with the New York Giants.

The female players were mostly girls from local high schools and women athletes from other fields of sports.  Following her stint with the Female Giants, their captain Ida Schnall would head to Hollywood and become a silent film actress. She would later become an accomplished swimmer and an advocate for women’s sports, petitioning the National Olympics Committee to expand their offerings for women. Below: Ida in a glamorous pose

ida

 

They broke up into two teams — the ‘Red Stockings’ and the ‘Blue Stockings’– and played a notable exhibition game for almost 1,500 people on Sunday, May 25, 1913 at the Lenox Oval, a sports field at Lenox Avenue and 145th Street.

Below: A 1919 soccer game being played at the Lenox Oval

Courtesy Museum of the City of New York
Courtesy Museum of the City of New York

It seems their typical game schedule went unnoticed by the press which is probably a good thing. That May 25th game was written about by the New York Tribune in the following fashion : “The batter hitched up her skirt.  The pitcher nervously adjusted a side comb. Girls will be boys, and the Reds and the Blues of the New York Female Giants were playing an exhibition game at Lenox Oval, 145th Street and Lenox Avenue.” [source]

Below: A catcher from the New York Giants, playing alongside a diminutive young player

3

We know about this particular game because it got shut down by the cops.  In the ninth inning, a detective stepped out onto the field and handed the third baseman — a 17 year old teenager named Helen Zenker — a subpoena to appear in Harlem court.

Due to New York ‘blue laws’, teams were not supposed to legally sell tickets to a baseball game on Sundays. While the women were indeed playing a practice game, Helen had been caught selling programs. She claimed that no such sales activity had taken place; people were just giving her money, including the detective. [More details in this amusing New York Times article from 1913.]

Fortunately, the young Zenker (“seventeen, pretty, active, intelligent, and has the easy gait and springy step of the athlete”) easily charmed the judge, and the case was dismissed. [source]

The photos in this post obviously take place on another date as they’re wearing uniforms which they were not allowed to do on a Sunday.

4

 

5

 

 

EDIT: After going live, I later included the line about the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League and also to clarify that the team also featured adult women playing along with high schoolers. For instance, Ida Schnall, who went on to greater athletic fame, was 24 or 25 at the time of the game described above.

Brooklyn Dodgers vs. Cincinnati Reds at Ebbets Field — in the first Major League baseball game ever broadcast on television

Ebbets Field, Brooklyn, N. Y.

Seventy five years ago today, an extraordinary tradition began — televised Major League baseball!

The location was appropriately Ebbets Field, one of baseball’s legendary ‘field of dreams’. The home team, the Brooklyn Dodgers, was pitted against the Cincinnati Reds in a key National League match-up. Both teams were quite strong that year, although it was Cincinnati at the top of the standings.

Fans who packed the stands at Ebbets that steamy Saturday afternoon noticed some rather unusual contraptions had invaded the field — bulky television cameras.  “One ‘eye’ or camera was placed near the visiting players’ dugout,” reported the New York Times. “The other was in a second-tier box back of the catcher’s box and commanded an extensive view of the field when outfield plays were made.”

The experiment was inspired by the technological marvels at the 1939 World’s Fair in Flushing-Meadows.  In fact, since few people actually owned TVs then, it was in David Sarnoff’s RCA exhibition hall where most people saw the broadcast, courtesy W2XBS (a precursor to WNBC-TV).

Below: A view of one of the cameras broadcasting the game.  Ads for GEM Razor Blades and Calvert Whiskey can be seen across the field. They became the first sponsor of a televised baseball game, although it was purely accidental!

Up until that point, the 400-odd receivers throughout the city — owned mostly by RCA executives and technicians — received broadcasts from a studio in Rockefeller Center. (For more information, check our our New York and the Birth of Television podcast.)

This was not the first baseball game ever broadcast;  a college game between Columbia and Princeton was beamed out to the handful of received that May, near the opening of the World’s Fair.  But it attempting to broadcast a game with broader appeal, like the Dodgers-Reds face off, Sarnoff and his engineers invented a new way of interacting with major sport.

Sports of mass appeal had been heard on the radio for over 15 years by this point. Interestingly, New York teams originally blanched at the idea of radio broadcasts, thinking they would reduce stadium attendance.  Broadcasters were even banned from the field for a few years. [source]

Adding a live visual element was crucial not only in popularizing the game of baseball — uniting fans of a certain team beyond the borders of a stadium or a city — but in popularizing the idea of television itself.  Televised sports, invented here in 1939, had the unique potential of bringing together masses across the globe, as anybody caught up in this year’s World Cup hysteria or last year’s Summer Olympics fandom can attest.**

It’s to the credit of the television engineers that their feat seems not to have disrupted the game.  Coverage in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle neglects to mention the cameras*, and the New York Times mentions it only in a small article.

In the end, the teams split the two-game event — the Reds one the first (5-2), the Dodgers the second (6-1).  The Reds would eventually win the National League pendant and return to the New York for the World Series, facing (and eventually losing quite badly to) the New York Yankees.

*However, RCA ran an advertisement in the Brooklyn paper on August 24, 1939, to drum up a big crowd for their inaugural broadcast:


**As commenter Andrew points out, portions of the 1936 Olympics in Berlin were also broadcast live to several countries.
Top picture of Ebbets Field courtesy Museum of City of New York

The short shelf life of the Tip-Tops, the Brooklyn baseball team situated near the Gowanus River and named for bread

The piping hot uniforms of the Brooklyn Tip-Tops, worn by baby-faced manager Lee Magee

For a brief shining moment between 1914 and 1915, Brooklyn had two major league baseball teams — the legendary Brooklyn Dodgers and the not-so-legendary Brooklyn Tip-Tops.

Baseball has long been a sport of two parallel sports leagues — the National League and the American League — which have gotten together at season’s end to play the World Series since 1903.  But for an unusual moment in 1914 and 1915, there was a third baseball league called the Federal League.

A cartoon from the May 12, 1914 New York Tribune:

 

The Federal League was formed specifically in protest to the signing practices of the two dominant leagues, doing away with pesky reserve clauses (binding players to certain teams for almost their entire careers) and offering higher salaries.  For a second, it seemed possible that the Federal League might provide a new way to organize a major sport.

There were eight teams in the Federal league which such unusual names as the Chicago Whales, the Newark Peppers and the Baltimore Terrapins. (Yes, somebody named a ball team after a turtle.)

Within the New York area, one franchise was awarded to Brooklyn, owned by a baker named Robert Ward.  His bakery for Tip-Top Bread (centered at 800 Pacific Street in today’s Prospect Heights) was obviously so lucrative that he eventually sank one million dollars in funding the team that eventually took the name of his baking enterprise — the Brooklyn Tip-Tops.

Brooklyn’s other team, the Dodgers, had conveniently vacated their old wooden field, Washington Park, for their brand new home Ebbets Field in Flatbush.  Ward hastily prepared to move the Tip-Tops into the Dodgers’ old home by paying for a spectacular upgrade to the dilapidated Gowanus park.  It was located between 1st and 3rd Streets at Fourth Avenue.

The baker, with his brother George S. Ward, sunk more than $250,000 into the new concrete-and-steel ballpark, situated so near the Gowanus that fans got a good whiff of its toxic odors on summer days.

The new park itself was rather flawed with bleachers extremely close to the field.  According to author Daniel Levitt: “[T]he tiny foul territory caused nearly all foul balls to end up with the spectators.  At the time fans were not allowed to keep foul balls … leading to a tacky atmosphere as team officials constantly wrestled balls away from fans.”

Another set of cheap sets, derisively called ‘sun bleachers’, which provided an unpleasant scorching experience during the summer, were quickly closed after some bad publicity.

Below: Inside the refurbished Washington Park on opening day of their second (and final) season

Construction equipment still darted the grounds when they opened on May 11, 1914.  “The Federal League opened here with a bang,” said the Evening World.  “Bands, horns, sirens and vocal assistance from 16,000 fans gave New York’s fourth baseball club a noisy welcome.” (The other three being the New York Giants, the New York Yankees, and, of course, the Dodgers.)

At first, Brooklynites emphatically supported their new team, quickly nicknamed the BrookFeds.  But it soon became obvious that the team was nothing to write home about.

They finished their inaugural season with an unimpressive record of 77 wins, 77 losses.  In comparison, the Giants, located at the Polo Grounds, made it to the World Series.  However, the young team did finish better than the Yankees (57-94). And even managed to best the Dodgers (65-84)!

Given Ward’s religious beliefs, he instructed that no Sunday games be played at the park, a serious blow given that it was the only day off for many potential working-class fans.

Another strike against the team occurred during the winter when the team was unable to sign away more successful players from the other two leagues.  The one exception was the outstanding Lee Magee (pictured above in a Tip-Top uniform) who was hired away from the St. Louis Cardinals and even managed the team during the 1915 season.  He would later join the Yankees.

“If hustling, hard work and ambition among the players make a winning team, the Brooklyn fans will see one in Washington park this year,” Magee claimed.

An ad for second season opening day, from the Evening World.  The flag raising mentioned below is pictured above:

The fans showed up for the beginning of season two, but enthusiasm quickly ebbed.  In fact, that first game against the Buffalo Buffeds (yes, that’s their name!) seemed to auger a host of frustrations for the rest of the season;  it went unusually long almost into night — the park was not lit — with “three hours of errors and wrangling.”

Behind the scenes, the two other leagues were busy trying to dismantle the Federal League who had filed an anti-trust suit in January.  It did not help the mood in New York that the Tip-Tops were doing worse under Magee.  They completed their season 70-82, second to last behind the scathingly terrible Baltimore Terripins.

Below: Magee with the manager from the Buffalo Buffeds:

 

Machinations outside New York doomed the team.  The National and American Leagues managed to eradicate its rival through series of brokered deals and buyouts.  One of these deals changed the face of American baseball, when the owner of the Chicago Whales was allowed to buy the Chicago Cubs and move them into the Whales’ new stadium — Wrigley Field.

The only team that remained to battle back against the two leagues was the Federal League’s least successful team — the Baltimore Terrapins.  They sued the leagues saying it was a violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act.  The case went all the way to the Supreme Court who, in the landmark case Federal Baseball Club vs. National League, handed Baltimore something they were very familiar with — defeat.

On December 18, 1915, the Tribune revealed the fate of Brooklyn’s second baseball team:

“The Brooklyn Tip-Tops will withdraw from Washington Park, leaving the site barren of baseball and the city in the hands of the Superbas [Dodgers].  Organized baseball will reimburse George S. Ward annually with 5 percent of the assessed value of Washington Park for twenty years.”

By 1916, Tip-Top went back to meaning fresh white bread.

While Washington Park was eventually dismantled, a part of it still exists.  Today on the site is a yard for Con Edison.  The western wall along Third Avenue was once part of the ball park.  Perhaps if you go over to the Gowanus Whole Foods, you can walk over a block or two and check out this incredible piece of sports history!

 

Photographs of college football players in New York (1914)


Above: the Columbia University football team, 1914

Click into the images for bigger view.  The first two team photos were taken sometime in Fall 1914, on the Columbia University campus. (As in, in the middle of campus.)  The first solo portraits were taken on Oct 24, 1914, during the Cornell vs Brown match-up at the Polo Grounds in upper Manhattan.  The second set of solos were also taken at the Polo Grounds, at the Washington & Jefferson vs. Rutgers game on Nov. 28, 1914.

The Columbia University football squads, 1914




Dr. Albert Sharpe (1877-1966), coach for Cornell, former football player for Yale University. Reminds me of this guy, no?

Clarence W. Bailey, right tackle for Cornell

Edward J. Gallogly, left tackle for Cornell

Murray Shelton, right end for Cornell

William Nicholas Ormsby, left end for Brown, later served in the Navy during World War I

Theodore Chandler, full back for Brown

Brown University Quarterback Leslie Russell Clark with left halfback Leonard Horcross.

Brown University team, in a huddle at Polo Grounds. (By the way, Cornell defeated Brown in this game.)

Johnny Spiegel, halfback for Washington & Jefferson College

Hugginweg — full name and team affiliation unknown, although his uniform is similar to Spiegel’s

The amazingly named Burleigh Cruikshank, from Washington & Jefferson

Gordon — full name unknown, probably Washington & Jefferson, given the uniform

And finally, a long shot of the Polo Grounds itself in 1913 (an Army-Navy football game), one of America’s great sports venues of the early 20th century.

All photos courtesy Library of Congress

The Polo Grounds: The final game, 50 years ago today

The Polo Grounds in 1923, the first year of a major expansion to accommodate fans of the New York Giants baseball team and a great many historic boxing matches (LOC)

Fifty years ago today, the final game was played at the Polo Grounds, the legendary sports field that had once been home to the New York Yankees, the New York Giants (both baseball and football), and the New York Mets in their debut season.

The last game at the Polo Grounds was hardly memorable.  The Mets were in their second season, almost as forgettable as their first.  The team went 40-120 in its inaugural season, one of the worst results for a season in baseball history.  In their second season, they fared marginally better  (51-111).  The Mets last home game of their second season — and the last game ever here — was a loss to the Philadelphia Phillies, 5-1.

Hardly anyone cared.  No, really, that’s how the New York Times put it.  “Hardly anyone cared.

The New York Giants at the Polo Grounds in 1950 (picture courtesy Dugout Legends, with another great article on the stadium’s history)

“The smallest crowd to watch the Mets at the Polo Ground — 1,752 paying customers — turned out for this finale at the Harlem ball yard.  Maybe the fact that there had been two previous major league ‘last games’ at the Polo Grounds took a bit(e) from the occasion.”

The writer is referring to the last game by baseball’s New York Giants in 1957 and the Mets last game from the 1962 season, when there were supposed to move into their new digs at Shea Stadium.  But Shea wasn’t ready, and the Mets remained at the Polo Grounds for a final season, apparently to an audience of crickets.

“There wasn’t too much fuss and bother about the affair yesterday,” the Times lamented.

The Mets first game at Shea Stadium was in April 17 the following year.  The brand-new stadium dazzled; the Mets did not.  They lost to the Pittsburgh Pirates, 4-3.  One week earlier, April 10th, their former home was torn down.

Go Thistles! The finest names from old NYC soccer teams

Above: The New York Nationals and the New Bedford Whalers play the Polo Grounds, circa 1928 (Courtesy NYPL)

The announcement on Tuesday of a second Major League Soccer team for New York — sponsored by Manchester City FC and the New York Yankees — has sent me down a rabbit hole of soccer history, courtesy this excellent and exhaustive article on the subject by David Litterer.

The New York Football Club will join the New York Red Bulls on the soccer fields in 2015.  But when do they get a new name? NYCFC seems so, I don’t know, average.

New Yorkers have been playing soccer for almost 140 years with regional leagues forming in the 1880s.  By the early 1900s, newspapers were beginning to call it soccer (or “soccer” football, as in this article). Here are a few of the more interesting names of organized soccer teams from New York City over the many years:

New York Thistles — played from the early 1880s until 1906.  Among their colorfully named competition in those years were the Brooklyn Longfellows, the New York Caledonians, New York Nonpareils and the Williamsburg Shamrocks.

New York Hakoah — The original Hakoah (Hebrew for ‘strength’) played in New York during in the 1920s, derived from a Jewish Austrian sports club of the same name.  (It eventually derived many of its players from the Austrian team too.)  Several players inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame played for the Hakoah at one point.  There is presently a team by this name keeping up the tradition in New Jersey.

New York Americans — This patriotic team formed by Hungarian player Emo Schwarz entertained audiences during the Great Depression, along with the New York Brookhattan.  In the 1950s, they actually merged with another team to form a second incarnation of the New York Hakoah.

New York Skyliners — Playing all their games at Yankee Stadium, the New York Skyliners were a curious aberration that lasted only a single season (1967), giving New York two professional soccer teams (the other being the New York Generals).  Nobody on the team was from New York; they were simply the (briefly) rebranded Cerro team from Montevideo, Uruguay.  By the end of 1968, both the Generals and the Skyliners had folded.

New York Cosmos — Soccer made a serious push to rival baseball and football in the United States in the 1970s, and New York’s entrant into this new spotlight were the Cosmos, who played from 1971 to 1984.  In late 1970s, at the height of their popularity, they were packing 40,000 people per game into Giants Stadium, thanks in part to their star player Pelé (pictured above).  Sadly, the excitement for soccer waned in the 1980s. The North American Soccer League folded, as did the Cosmos.

But everything is new again. A new of the NASL started up again in 2011, as is a new edition of the New York Cosmos, starting this seas.  So, for now, this name is off-limits.

There’s also a host of one-shot names that cropped up in old “soccer” football records between 1860 and 1880s.  From that list, I’d like to offer up the following names —  New York Married & Singles, New York Dauntless, New York Gentlemen, New York Pilgrims and the New York Westside Rovers.

Of course, if there is a new name, it will probably be a product of some sort. But at least make it a New York-based product please! The New York Snapples? The New York Katzs’?  The New York Shake Shacks?

NOTE: If any New York soccer fans have any corrections to the information above, please send them along. Thanks!

‘Arctic blasts’, union rousers and hunchbacks: Ten bits of trivia about Ebbets Field’s opening day, 100 years ago today


Inside Ebbets Field, 1913, Library of Congress

The first-ever regular season baseball game at Ebbets Field was played 100 years ago today.  The legendary field, once located in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn, was home to the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1913 until the team left for Los Angeles in 1958.

Here are ten interesting facts about the opening game, played on April 9, 1913:

1)  The Dodgers were thirty years old by the time their lavish new field opened. The team was originally formed under the name the Brooklyn Grays in 1883 by real estate speculator Charles Byrne.  Like many early ball fields, their first home, Washington Park in today’s Park Slope neighborhood, was frozen over during the winter to become Brooklyn’s leading skating rink.

2)  They were originally nicknamed the Brooklyn Trolley Dodgers, for the treacherous skill exhibited by their fans crossing rail-covered streets to get to the ball field.  There were still a great many streetcar lines near their new home of Ebbets Field, but by 1913 the team was more affectionately known as just ‘the Dodgers’.

However several names would be casually attached to the team by fans and local journalists — the picture above calls them the Brooklyn Nationals — until 1933, when the name DODGERS would finally be added to both their home and road uniforms.

3)  As a nod to its first-ever day, Ebbets Field was allowed to open one day before everybody else in the National League.  One of their most popular players, first baseman Jake Daubert (at right), was presented with a golden bat and a floral horseshoe in a ceremony before the game and would, by season’s end, go on to win the league’s Most Valuable Player honor.

“Gentleman Jake,” as he was called, is better known today as being one of the founders of the baseball’s unionization movement.   This did not make him popular with the namesake of Ebbets Field, owner Charles Ebbet, who traded Daubert in 1917 after a salary dispute.   His union connection may also explain why this unique, well-liked and exemplary ballplayer is not currently listed within National Baseball’s Hall of Fame.

4)  The ceremonial first ball was thrown in by Brooklyn Borough President Alfred E. Steers, a resident of the neighborhood Ebbets Field made its home — Flatbush.   However, at an exhibition game played just a few days earlier, Ebbets’ lovely daughter Genevieve Ebbets tossed out the first pitch.



5) The Brooklyn Dodgers played the Philadelphia Phillies that day, which should have boded well for the team in their new home. The Phillies weren’t yet considered a formidable team and were more associated with constant injury. Despite this, the Phillies beat the Dodgers that day, 1-0.

6) Why did the Dodgers lose? Uh, it was unseasonably cold? The Tribune reported that the frightful chill kept the brand-new grandstand partially empty. From the New York Times, April 10, 1913: “It was so cold that the attendance was seriously affected, about 10,000 spectators braving the arctic blasts to see the Phillies win a well-played game by a score of 1 to 0.” [source]

7) The Phillies also had with them an unusual mascot — a hunchback teenage dwarf.  The Phillies home rival the Philadelphia Athletics had a hunchback mascot of their own named Louis Van Zelst, and owner Connie Mack wanted to emulate their success. By, apparently, finding his own young man with a hunchback. Unfortunately, this boy’s name is unknown, but he appears in a 1913 picture with the team:

NOTE: The Tribune infers that this may have been Mr. Van Zelst himself and not another teenager. As the name of the boy in the picture above has not been reported, it’s quite likely that this is the Athletics ‘mascot’.  Note that in the article, the Dodgers are called by yet another name — the Superbas.  

Courtesy the Philadelphia Athletics Historical Society

8) As you could imagine with a 1-0 game, the first-day crowds at Ebbets Field were hardly cheerful.  One might even described them as bored.  The upper seats were barely filled, and the crowd didn’t exactly “wax enthusiastic until the eighth inning” when the Dodgers finally got somebody on base.

9) The first Dodger to ever score a hit in the new field was second baseman George Cutshaw who had only been with the team one year when he scored a single in the first inning.  Ironically, the second basemen was called out when he was caught trying to steal second base.

10) The Dodgers would fare poorly in their first season at Ebbets Field, eventually placing sixth out of eight teams. The winning team that season were their rivals across the East River — the New York Giants.  They would finally bring Ebbets its first pennant victory in 1916.

Boston vs. New York: You think this is just about sports? Origins of an epic rivalry, from Puritans to the Super Bowl



The Metropolitans vs. the Beaneaters, captioned: “Boston and New York players on opening day, 1886, at the Polo Grounds, 5th Ave. and 110th St., NYC. posed in front of stands; Boston player in back row on left has his middle finger raised in obscene gesture.”  LOC

Eli Manning, Tom Brady — how heavy the burden you bear on your shoulders!

When the New York Giants meet the New England Patriots this Sunday for Super Bowl XLVI, the beast of an old rivalry will once again emerge from the gridiron, the latest configuration of a fierce competition between two of America’s greatest cities.

While the rivalry between Boston and New York primarily manifests within the world of sports — the venue of modern warfare —  it echos a spirit of competition that has existed between the coastal cities for over two centuries. But how did it begin?

The cultures of the cities which would become Boston and New York were drastically different from the very start. Boston, after all, was founded in 1630 by Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony (at right), a society based on specific religious values, with little tolerance for variation. New Amsterdam, New York’s pre-cursor, developed as a company town in the 1620s and was quite renown for being notoriously value-less, relatively speaking.

The Puritans, with a moral superiority that paralleled national antagonisms, believed a distasteful mix of cultures, an abhorrent godless mixture festered there in New Amsterdam. As a secular development, New Amsterdam fostered a policy of religious freedom far more in keeping with modern American ethics than the stringent, finger-pointing Puritans. Many so-called heretics fled the Puritans and were granted haven by the Dutch.

The Puritans were fortified by their connection to England, while New Amsterdam was a rowdy outpost of a faltering world power. By 1644, Massachusetts had created a powerful alliance with other colonies, allowing England a stronghold in the New World. New Amsterdam, meanwhile, deteriorated as the Dutch focused on warfare with the Lenape and encroaching colonies such as Swedish. Peter Stuyvesant arrived in 1647 to shape up the Dutch town, but by then motions were already in place to drive them out entirely.

By 1664, the Dutch were thrown out of New Amsterdam and the defeated city was renamed New York, part of a larger British colony named for the Duke of York.  Boston, for its part, became the premier British bastion, capital of the Dominion of New England, and a place many believed chosen by God (the storied ‘City Upon a Hill’) as a shining beacon of humanity. Boston was right to have an attitude. Even as New York and Boston became competing ports in the British era, the Massachusetts city always had the edge.

America has benefited from Boston pride. The opening salvos of American independence were born from clashes between Boston citizens and British soldiers, rebellion in the form of bloody clashes (the Boston Massacre) and economic unrest (the Boston Tea Party). As colonists rose up against British oppression during the Revolutionary War, they could look to the Boston battle at Bunker Hill as an example of victory and perseverance.

Bostonians celebrated Evacuation Day on March 17 because the British were booted from there in 1776 and never returned. New Yorkers celebrated the same holiday on November 25 because the British kept that city for most of the war and weren’t expelled from it until 1783.

Both cities struggled for economic footing after the war. Both had sophisticated ports and bustling harbors ready to send and receive shipping vessels, manufacturing plants rivaling anything overseas, and a growing class of wealthy old-family elites. In Boston, they were the Brahmins and went to Harvard. In New York, they were Knickerbockers and turned to Yale or Princeton. (Columbia was not quite in their league yet.)

Below: Boston in 1873

But only one city had access to a river inland, a point made explicit with the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825. Suddenly, New York became a gateway into the expanding American west. Not only would New York traders and merchants grow rich and form a nouveau upper-crust (thriving in the wake of men like John Jacob Astor), the canal would siphon away much of Boston’s livelihood, one ship at a time.

Bostonians were not pleased. The founder of Boston’s first daily newspaper saw a diversion of goods to New York as ‘evil‘ and recommended the city jump on a newfangled transportation idea just debuting in England — the steam-powered railroad. Within a few years, train tracks stretched down the old Boston Post Road (almost, but not quite, to New York) in an effort to connect Boston to the waters of the Hudson River. Or as author Eric Jaffe observes: “…the goal of everyone involved in Boston’s railroad system at the time was clear: to move Manhattan toward the [Massachusetts] Bay along the highways of the future.”

The two cities remained locked in quiet, but stiff, competition throughout the 19th century, not only in industry and trade, but in intelligentsia, literature, politics and social ‘quality’. The dynamics of both cities changed with the immigration boom that began in the late 1840s. Soon, one fifth of the populations of both cities would be Irish. The culture of Boston was greatly affected, perhaps more that any American city, by these new Irish arrivals, but it was New York that felt the most weight. By 1860, with New York as the biggest city in America, even the city of Brooklyn had a greater population than Boston.

Bostonians had their legendary, steely pride for their city — in many ways, America’s first, greatest city — but New York was a powerful, untouchable metropolis by the time of the Gilded Age. Despite its grime and squalor, despite its sinful and corrupt reputation (or perhaps because of it), New York had bested Boston to become the biggest, richest, most powerful city in America by the time of the Civil War.

Below: New York City in 1873 (from George Schlegel lithograph)

And so it was that, in the late 19th century, an apparatus arose for which the undercurrent of rivalry between the cities could take a more explicit, more robust form — sports.

Universities already organized sports teams — with accompanying rivalries of their own — and now, in the post-war era, professional teams began sprouting up in a wide variety of games. The first sports leagues formed in the Northeast, thus it was natural that teams from Northern and Rust Belt cities would often clash.

The first organized baseball league principally concerned New York and Brooklyn teams. (Don’t even get me started on the New York/Brooklyn rivalry!) Teams wouldn’t truly take on defined regional characters until the formation of the National League in 1876, which included the Boston Red Stockings, a precursor of the Sox, among its original teams.

The two baseball franchises that would cement the Boston-New York conflict were born in the 20th century. The Boston team came first, in 1901, with the inauguration of the American League, but were not referred to by their distinctive bold-colored foot coverings until 1908. In 1904, the Boston team was declared champion of the American League. However, National League teams looked down upon the ‘inferiority’ of the younger American League teams, and thus, what might have been the first World Series — between the Boston Red Sox and National League victors the New York Giants — never occurred.

The Giants were considered New York’s principal baseball franchise and even spawned a successful soccer team. (They frequently played a soccer spinoff of the Boston Beaneaters.) By this time, another New York team limped into the city in 1903 — the Highlanders, who later changed their name to the New York Yankees.

In 1918 came an event that changed the fortunes of the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees forever. Red Sox star Babe Ruth was traded to the New York Yankees during the off-season 1919-1920, allegedly because Sox owner Harry Frazee was looking to finance his Broadway musical offering No No Nanette. (That’s the popular legend, although many believe the trade was to finance another, equally  ridiculous production called My Lady Friends.)

Whatever the origin of the ‘Curse of the Bambino’, it had a psychological effect on fans and players on both sides. Boston, once the league’s most successful squad, didn’t win another World Series until 2004, while the Yankees, well, changed sports history with 27 World Series victories.

The deep animosity spilled over into other sport match-ups. In basketball, the New York Knicks pale under the legacy of the Boston Celtics, simply put the best basketball team in history. In hockey, the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers became the first two American teams to play each other for the Stanley Cup in 1929. The Bruins cleaned the ice with the Rangers.

But it’s in football that the two cities have had some truly dramatic clashes. The New York Giants football team, hardly a threat when they first formed in the late 1920s, were a force to be reckoned with by the time they first met the Boston Patriots in 1960. Notably, when the Boston team changed its name to the New England Patriots and moved to Schaefer Stadium in Foxborough in 1971, the first game they played was against the Giants.

The Giants and the Patriots have met in the Super Bowl just once before — and notably so — in 2008. New York was the victor, in one of the greatest upsets in sports history. This Sunday, Boston seeks revenge. As you sit through a halftime show with Madonna (a New Yorker in her formative years), ponder upon the weight of history hanging over both teams.



To sports fans: I welcome any clarification of details if I’ve gotten something wrong!