Tag Archives: New York Yankees

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.

A History of the Bronx Part Two: Building The Borough

PODCAST The story of how the Bronx became a part of New York City and the origin of some of the borough’s most famous landmarks.

In the second part of the Bowery Boys’ Bronx Trilogy — recounting the entire history of New York CIty’s northernmost borough — we focus on the years between 1875 and 1945, a time of great evolution and growth for the former pastoral areas of Westchester County.

New York considered the newly annexed region to be of great service to the over-crowded city in Manhattan, a blank canvas for visionary urban planners.  Soon great parks and mass transit transformed these northern areas of New York into a sibling (or, perhaps more accurately, a step-child) of the densely packed city to the south.

The Grand Concourse embodied the promise of a new life for thousands of new residents — mostly first and second-generation immigrants, many of them Jewish newcomers. The Hall of Fame of Great Americans was a peculiar tourist attraction that honored America’s greatest. But the first time that many outside New York became aware of the Bronx may have been the arrival in 1923 of New York’s most victorious baseball team, arriving via a spectacular new stadium where sports history would frequently be made.

By the 1930s Parks Commissioner Robert Moses began looking at the borough as a major factor in his grand urban development plans. In some cases, this involved the creation of vital public recreations (like Orchard Beach). Other decisions would mark the beginning of new troubles for the Bronx.

To get this week’s episode, simply download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services or get it straight from our satellite site.

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Or listen to it straight from here:
The Bowery Boys #213: BRONX TRILOGY (PART 2) THE BRONX IS BUILDING

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The burial vault of the Van Cortlandts was actually contained within the newly formed park. And it’s still there.

Courtesy New York Park Service
Courtesy New York Park Service

 

NYU’s former University Heights campus (now the home of Bronx Community College) contains one unusual tourist attraction — the Hall of Fame of Great Americans

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Louis Risse’s vision of the Grand Concourse in 1892 obviously did not imagine automobiles using the boulevard.

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Kingsbridge Road near the Grand Concourse, 1890. It was originally a dirt road of course.

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The New York Botanical Garden inaugurated Bronx Park and created another reason for New Yorkers to head up to the vastly evolving area up north.

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A romantic depiction of the Lorillard snuff mill on the Bronx River. The building is still on the river, contained within the Botanical Garden.

By Frederick Rondel, Jr., courtesy MCNY
By Frederick Rondel, Jr., courtesy MCNY

Jerome Park Reservoir, opposite a set of homes, pictured here in 1920 and (below) 1936.

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The unveiling of the Heinrich Heine monument in today’s Joyce Kilmer Park on the Grand Concourse.

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Lavish apartments like the Roosevelt  (pictured here in 1924 and in 1937) were able to attract New Yorkers escaping the overcrowded Lower East Side.

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Fordham Road in 1930 with the Grand Concourse East Kingsbridge Road steaming by.

Photo by William Roege (1930)
Photo by William Roege (1930)

A Yankee Stadium postcard circa 1945

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Courtesy MCNY

Ruth was so integrally a part of the Bronx and Yankee Stadium that when he died in 1948, his casket was taken to the stadium where tens of thousands of people came to pay their respects.

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A few selections from our Instagram account of things we discussed on this week’s show:

A photo posted by Gregory Young (@boweryboysnyc) on

A photo posted by Gregory Young (@boweryboysnyc) on

From the Grand Concourse:

A photo posted by Gregory Young (@boweryboysnyc) on

A photo posted by Gregory Young (@boweryboysnyc) on

A photo posted by Gregory Young (@boweryboysnyc) on

Here’s Tom and our special guest this week — the great Lloyd Ultan

On The House: A history of New York City beer brewing

Behold the lager: A German variety of beer revolutionized American drinking, inspiring a new kind of drinking establishment (Courtesy the New-York Historical Society

Inspired by ‘Beer Here: Brewing New York’s History‘, the terrific summer show at the New-York Historical Society, the latest Bowery Boys podcast explores the story of one of America’s greatest, most treasured products– beer.

PODCAST New York City’s thriving craft brewing industry today hearkens to a time over a century ago when the city was one of America’s great beer-making capitals, the home to a robust industry of breweries and beer halls. In the 19th century, German immigrants introduced the lager to thirsty crowds, manufacturing thousands of barrels per year from breweries in Manhattan and Brooklyn’s ‘Eastern District’ (primarily Bushwick and Williamsburg). 

The top Manhattan brewers were Hell Gate Brewery and the Jacob Ruppert Brewing Company, situated right next to each other in the old German neighborhood of Yorkville. Both Ruppert and Hell Gate’s founder George Ehret rode the beer craze to become two of New York’s wealthiest businessmen. Meanwhile, out in Brooklyn, a phalanx of brewers clustered along Bushwick Avenue in fine red-brick factories.


Following World War I and Prohibition, New York lost its hold over beer manufacturing to more savvy Midwestern beer makers. But a few local brands weathered the century with unusual marketing ploys — from sports sponsorships to the Miss Rheingold beauty pageant.

By the late 1970s, significant brewing had vanished from New York entirely. But somewhere in SoHo in the 1980s, a renaissance was about to begin…..



For a little extra ambiance, the show is recorded on location, live in Bushwick, Brooklyn, within a couple blocks of the original Brewers Row.

To get this week’s episode, simply download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services, subscribe to our RSS feed or get it straight from our satellite site.


Or listen to it here:
The Bowery Boys: New York Beer History

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NOTE: It wouldn’t be a show without my vocal slipup o’ the month. Perhaps  I watched too much Buffy The Vampire Slayer when I was younger. I keep referring to Hell Gate as Hell’s Gate. Scott says it correctly. Both the turbulent confluence of waters and the brewery are called Hell Gate.  


Next Week: Some books, additional resources, a few more pictures and some more stories left out of this week’s podcast.


Perhaps the most notorious example of an early New York brewery was the Coulthard’s Brewery situated on the banks of Collect Pond. It survived the draining of that polluted body of water, only to survive as the center of the most disreputable elements of the Five Points neighborhood.  It was eventually demolished in 1853, replaced with a mission house.

George Ehret was New York’s most successful brewer of the late 19th century. His assertion that ‘no other brewery east of the Mississippi River has as large a storage capacity as Ehret’s Hell Gate Brewery‘ was certainly accurate.  This ad from 1909 presents a company still at the top of its game. However Ehret would encounter serious opposition in the coming years, with both World War I and Prohibition cutting short the brewery’s meteoric success.

Ehret was stuck in Germany during World War I due to illness, not a great place to be during a war. His entire estate was seized by the government while he was away. When he finally returned, he threw his weight behind pro-American causes to banish any suspicions. This U.S bonds ad from 1918, the year Ehret returned to New York was one of many placed by the brewery.

The brewery of Jacob Ruppert wasn’t just situated next to Ehret’s in this 1894 New York World newspaper; the buildings themselves were near one another, in the burgeoning neighborhood of Yorkville on the Upper East Side.  (Newspaper clippings courtesy the Library of Congress.)

A sample page from a 1909 New York Sun newspaper illustrating some of the many breweries in the region.   Included here are the Liebmanns (who produced Rheingold Beer), the Otto Huber Brewery, William Ulmer, Trommer’s and the Excelsior Brewing Company — Brooklyn most prominent lager brewers.

Temperance causes were greatly beginning to clamp down on the brewing industry, so beer makers attempted to market their product as true American beverages — with links to the Founding Fathers — or as products important to a person’s health. This Knickerbocker Beer ad from 1914 gamely attempts both.

New York’s ‘boy mayor’ John Purroy Mitchell sits with Jacob Ruppert at the Polo Grounds in anticipation of a game by the team owned by the brew man, the New York Yankees. The Yankees would play at the Polo Grounds until 1923, when they moved to the newly built Yankee Stadium.

Rheingold Beer was one of the few remaining locally-based brewers to survive by the mid 20th Century, partially thanks to their annual Miss Rheingold beauty competition. [source]

This jingle, with true New York flavor, was featured in our podcast, but it really works better as a vintage television commercial!

And this Schaefer’s advertisement visualizes a world where robots are all-in-one bartenders. _____________________________________________________________________

I want to especially thank my guest host this week, Scott Nyerges, photographer, filmmaker and my old college friend! 

Please visit Scott’s website (nyerges.com) to check out some of his recent work. And he’ll be having a gallery show in Bushwick coming up in August! The show is at Sweet and Shiny, located at 214 Knickerbocker Ave. (at Troutman),. You can get there on the  L train to Jefferson Street. 

The show opens Saturday, August 4, 7 p.m. and runs through Sept. 7.


Just one example of his work:
 

Oh, and do you need another reason to have a beer today? Well, it’s the birthday of Joseph Mitchell, born in 1908, the author of a great many profiles for The New Yorker. One of his best known collections is ‘McSorley’s Wonderful Saloon‘ from 1943, featuring a classic New York profile of the old ale house on East 7th Street.

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!

Cheers, College Point; A tribute to kooky Casey Stengel

I love this picture. There are so few century-old images of actual saloons that look like places you’d actually want to go into. This image, from 1905, of a handsome bar and its attentive staff was taken in College Point, Queens. Notice the beautiful cash register, the deer head overlooking any patrons and the food spread on the right.

College Point, a mid-19th century destination for German immigrants, was a village developed by industrialist Conrad Poppenhusen, an early producer of rubber products for Charles Goodyear. It was also home to many late, great breweries, and the combined smell of rubber and beer must have been something else.

Photo courtesy the Queens Borough Public Library. They have several more College Point photos from 1905 in this Flickr photo stream.
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Casey At Bat: The title of the Museum of the City of New York’s upcoming tribute to Casey Stengel The Greatest Character of the Game” is not an exaggeration. A typical Stengel aside: “All right everyone, line up alphabetically according to your height.” More crazy quotes will be thrown out by a panel of baseball historians and Stengel fans this Thursday 6:30 PM. Say you’re a Bowery Boys listener and get the member’s discount on admission! [Museum of the City of New York]

Courtesy LIFE Google images

Some wacky urban legends about New York City

In looking around for information on the blackout yesterday, I stumbled into one of my favorite sites Snopes, the debunking place for urban legend and Internet rumors. They have quite a selection of articles relating to New York City history, dispelling local myths and pointing out some of the city’s crazier moments.

I put some of my favorites below, with the answer ‘true/false’ in white type which you can highlight. Can you tell the truth from the lies? And of course, the link directly to the article it to the side:

1. Nine months after the Blackout of 1965, the birth rate in New York rose suddenly and drastically (apparently thanks to all those dark bedrooms) with hospitals filled with expectant mothers. FALSE [article]

2. In 1823, did “a pair of hoaxsters once lead hundreds of gullible New Yorkers into participating in a scheme to saw Manhattan in half” (as vividly described in Joel Rose’s book ‘New York Sawed In Half’)? FALSE [article]

3. The New York Yankees began wearing their now-signature pinstripe outfits because of the great Babe Ruth. Being a heavy man, the stripes were used to make Mr. Ruth appear thinner. FALSE [article]

4. Alligators once thrived in the New York City sewer system. MOSTLY FALSE [article]

5. Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, upon hearing that an old woman was charged with shoplifting a loaf of bread, demanded everybody in the room pay 50 cents to pay her fine. MAYBE! [article]

6. Did Harlem resident Colin Powell learn to speak Yiddish from working at a South Bronx baby supply shop? TRUE [article]

7. Was early sponsorship of Major League baseball’s annual finale by Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World newspaper the reason the yearly event is now called the World Series? OF COURSE NOT. [article]

8. Was that marvelous synthetic fabric — nylon — named after the two cities in which it was jointly created, New York (ny) and London (lon)? NOT TRUE [article]

9. Those crazy Astors! Did William Waldorf Astor once promote a lowly hotel clerk to head manager of Waldorf=Astoria on the strength of a single kind deed? SORTA [article]
10. Was a 1960s WNBC radio reporter in the middle of broadcasting a live traffic report when her helicopter crashed into the Hudson River, killing her? TRUE, JANE DORNACKER [article]

Hilltop Park: home base for NYC’s premier baseball team


A few hundred well-dressed men and a few women and children enter Hilltop Park, 1912 (See original photograph at Shorpy)

This weekend marks the end of the regular season in Major League Baseball, as the New York Yankees head to the playoffs, and the New York Mets head to, well, I’m sure many very lovely, well-deserved vacations.

The Yankees, defending World Series champions, were doing okay for themselves a hundred years ago also, when they were called the New York Highlanders, placing second in the American League to the Philadelphia Athletics. Second place was the best the Highlanders would ever do; ultimate victory would only come when they were bought in 1915 by beer mogul Jacob Ruppert and their name changed to the most press friendly ‘Yankees’. (Hear more about their history in our 2008 podcast on the history of the New York Yankees.)

Below I’m reprinting my article from March 2008 about the Highlanders uptown home Hilltop Park. And I’ll get to the old haunt of the Mets on Friday….

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Before they went by their better known name — and before they were really any good — the team that would become ‘the Yankees’ were known as the Highlanders, from 1903-1913. The name played to a couple dated references. The team captain was named Joseph Gordon, and the name referenced a British military outfit named Gordon’s Highlanders. More importantly, the team played on one of the highest points in the city, in a long forgotten ball field called Hilltop Park.

A large but spare field located in Washington Heights on Broadway between 165th and 168th streets, Hilltop Park could accommodate 15,000 to 16,000 spectators comfortably, though more exciting match-ups would draw clusters of almost 10,000 standing room only crowds. In fact, in the rather lax early days of formalized sports, fans were allowed to stand around, almost virtually on the playing field!

I’m sure it was at that capacity on opening day, April 30, 1903, when the Highlanders played the Washington Senators. Yet despite a cost of $200,000 and arresting views of the Hudson River, Hilltop had a swamp in right field and most of the bleacher seats were uncovered until 1912, making for many a hot, steamy game for fans.

The Highlanders were in equally good shape. In fact, many of the best moments in Hilltop Park’s brief history were made by players from other teams against the Highlanders. Cy Young (Boston Americans) and Ty Cobb (Washington Senators), the two best known players from this generation, had spectacular days on Hilltop beating the crap out of the local team.

Hilltop Park is almost completely gone save for one peculiar memorial. In 1914, almost as soon as the Highlanders moved to the nearby Polo Grounds (and thus changed their team name to their popular nickname ‘the Yankees’), the field was demolished. Within ten years, the hospital that today is known as the Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center would be built over it, and it stands there still today.

However a small base-shaped plaque can be found in the grass outfront, placed there in 1993. It’s on the exact spot of the original home place — thank God it happened to be in a garden and not somebody’s room — honoring the now-forgotten home of the team that would become the most successful team in baseball.

Reprinted from the Bowery Boys article from March 20, 2008

Yet another page in New York Yankees history

History is always easy to follow with the New York Yankees, because they always repeat it. This is their 27th World Series win — a streak which began 86 years ago. They will of course receive a tickertape parade down the ‘Canyon of Heroes’, a tradition which has feted astronauts, foreign dignitaries and concert pianists.

Fears that the team would lose their mojo in a new stadium were unfounded. Thank god they unburied that Red Sox jersey from under the new Yankees Stadium last year. The team also won in 1923, the very first year of the original Yankee Stadium.

If history follows a similar pattern (i.e. the results of the 1924 season), next year’s World Series will be won by the Washington Senators, who exist today as the Minnesota Twins franchise. At least they played New York in the series; however it was the New York Giants, and now they’re in San Francisco.

The Mets had a new stadium this year too, but instead of luck, it brought an almost record-setting number of injuries to team members. Better luck next year!

Toots Shor’s and the art of celebrity male bonding


So make it one for my baby, And one more for the road

FRIDAY NIGHT FEVER To get you in the mood for the weekend, every other Friday we’ll be featuring an old New York nightlife haunt, from the dance halls of 19th Century Bowery, to the massive warehouse clubs of the mid-1990s. Past entries can be found here.

NIGHTCLUB Toots Shor’s Restaurant
In operation: 1940-1959; 1961-1971; 1972-73

They really don’t make them like Toots Shor anymore. A stout, gregarious man, back-slappingly friendly with a child’s face, Shor reigned over one of midtown’s legendary martini scenes, his very own eponymous nightspot that attracted the most iconic mad men of music, movies, journalism, and sports. (In fact, Mad Men, the 50s Manhattan throwback TV series, is often set here.) Shor’s was where the world’s most famous alcoholics of the 50s and 60s tippled.

Toots is a bit of a tragic figure today in that he really became a self-branded institution of a simpler time, an old-school, double-breasted nightlife dominated by rich white men. When times became less simple, he foundered and faded.

This Jewish-born Philadelphian made his entry into New York nightlife in the most obvious way for a man of his frame — as a doorman to some of the city’s most famous speakeasies during the dry 1920s. “A kid on the hustle,” in his own words, Shor made 40-50 dollars a week in several places like the Five O’Clock Club and the Napoleon Club, where he would “flatten a guy a day, maybe two.” Along the way, he befriended celebrities and journalists alike; most importantly he also made connections with the influential mafia figures who owned the night spots.

He eventually moved on to a management position in 1936 at a popular tavern owned by Billy Lahiff (158 W. 48th Street), acquiring from his famous clientele the confidence and ease of a celebrity himself. He even married a Ziegfeld girl, nicknamed Baby, who was a virtual pixie next to him.

(By the way, just three years earlier, Lahiff’s served the last meal to Fatty Arbuckle, the embattled silent film star who died in bed that night.)

Shor moved on to his own establishment in 1940. Toots Shor’s Restaurant (51 W 51st Street) would be an instant success, ruling for two decades as the neighborhood lounge for some of New York’s biggest lushes. Most associated with the early years was Jackie Gleason, who would spend the day there drinking, go home and take a nap, then return to Toots for the nighttime crowd.

BELOW: Toots and Jackie and the ground breaking of his second restaurant in 1960 (Bob Gomel, LIFE archives)

You could eat at Toots — it was a restaurant — but, as the 1996 documentary Toots makes clear, it was all about the “whiskey and beer.”

Shor would befriend many of his clientele, calling them ‘crum-bums’ upon entry, joking with them, creating an inner circle for some of the most closely observed men in New York. In particular, the restaurant was quite popular with sports icons (and, by extension, sports writers); for this reason I would describe Toots as one of New York’s greatest sports bars ever. It didn’t need memorabilia on the walls; the memorabilia just walked in through the front door.

If you were a Yankee, you came to Toots. Mickey Mantle was his most recognizable regular; Joe Dimaggio came in for awhile, until Shor called his wife (you know, Marilyn Monroe) a whore, a slight Joe never forgave.

Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra would frequently enter to applause. Supreme Court justice Earl Warren would enjoy a drink at one end of the bar, while the most notorious gangster in New York, Frank Costello, would be dining on the other side.

When it wasn’t filled with icons, regular businessmen would hit Shor’s for a lingering martini lunch. Few places in the city fostered such a tightly closed fraternity.

Mickey Mantle and his bespecled wife Merlyn, not exactly the most loving of couples, pull it together for master of ceremonies Toots Short, at right (1965, photographer John Dominis, courtesy of Life archives)

Along the way, Shor became quite well-known, a television star even. (That 2006 documentary features footage from his appearances on ‘What’s My Line?’ and ‘This Is Your Life’.) However his penchant for gambling and comping thousands of dollar of beverages for friends took a toll on his finances. Shockingly, he announced in 1959 that he had sold his restaurant. By the next year, it was demolished.

He tried again in 1961 at 33 West 52nd Street, closely copying his old formula. Some of his old friends even came back. But this type of nightlife was swiftly fading from view in the city. How could Shor coexist in a neighborhood with places like the Peppermint Lounge enticing people with the vibrations of counter-culture? It didn’t help that Shor continued to have financial problems; his celebrity and mafia connections couldn’t help him this time.

His new restaurant was unceremoniously closed in 1971 due to income tax evasion. He tried once more in October 1972 in a smaller place on 54th Street; it was closed within a year. Strapped for cash, Shor then sold his name to the Riese Corporation, who opened a small chain of Toots Shor bars throughout the city. Today, Riese operates such chains as TGI Fridays, Dunkin Donuts and Taco Bell. The bars had nothing to do with Toots, and what’s a Toots Shor establishment without Toots? Eventually the notoriety of his name would soon fade and even those knockoffs would close.

Shor died in 1977, living with his family at the Drake Hotel at Park and 56th Street.

Luckily, Shor is fondly remembered today as a vestige of old midtown Manhattan, a starched precursor to today’s more colorful party promoters. I highly recommend the Toots documentary, lovingly made by his granddaughter. Anybody interested in 1950s New York would be remiss not to spend a few minutes over a stiff martini this weekend in his memory.

By the way, his real name? Bernard.