Wednesday, March 22, 2017


By Harvey Frommer

Back in the day, as some are apt to say, I was interviewing and writing Red on Red. It was the autobiography of the legendary coach of the New York Knickerbockers, Red Holzman. He is still the only coach to ever win an NBA title with the Knicks; in fact, he won two.
Red was a walking history book when it came to pro basketball. He was especially informed about league trivia. He also knew had to spin a tale.
Before his days as Knick coach, Holzman plied his trade as a pretty good scout for the team. "I was scouting a kid from Czechoslovakia," Red said. "We decided to give him a vision test. I got hold of an eye chart and told the kid, 'All right. Let's hear you read the bottom line.'"
" 'Read the bottom line?' he asked, 'I know him.'"
If you got that joke, read on.
All kinds of team nicknames grace, deface, maim, highlight or punctuate the landscape of the National Baseball Association. Some are more interesting than others. Some have been "shortened" or "modernized" as time has gone by. Still others are no longer relevant for the franchises they represent.
Some clubs have moved from city to city and stayed with their original nicknames. That makes for some both interesting and confusing combinations—Lakers, a major case in point.
What follows is basically a pithy primer. Enjoy. Questions, comments, suggestions—all are welcomed.
There's a great trivia question: Name the two NBA teams still playing in their original cities.
The answer: the Knicks and the Celtics.
The name Knickerbockers dates back to when New York was known as New Amsterdam, and the city's Dutch settlers wore trousers bunched up at the knee known as "knickers." The name Celtics originated in 1946. It was was given to Boston's pro basketball entry by Walter Brown, the franchise's founder.
"We'll call them the Boston Celtics," he said. "The name has a great basketball tradition, especially when you think of the original 'Celtics' team. Boston is full of Irishmen; so we'll put the players in green uniforms and call them the Boston Celtics after their Celtic ancestors."
The Atlanta Hawks have a long and circuitous name history. They were once the Hawks of St. Louis. Before that they were the Milwaukee Hawks. Even before that in 1948, they were the Tri-Cities Blackhawks.  Moline, Illinois; Rock Island, Illinois; and Davenport, Iowa were the "tri-cities." All the way back in 1831, the Blackhawk War was fought in that tri-cities area. That led to the original Blackhawks nickname, later shortened to Hawks.
A nine-season member of the NBA, the Rochester Royals moved to Cincinnati and kept the name Royals. In 1972, the franchise moved to Kansas City, Missouri. To avoid confusion in the KC region because both the Kansas City and the Omaha baseball teams used the name Royals, the name was dropped. The new name for the franchise became the Kansas City-Omaha Kings, later simply the Kansas City Kings. A decade later, the team moved to California and became the Sacramento Kings.

Not many are aware that a Denver Nuggets team was a charter member of the NBA. But that franchise lasted just one season. When the Denver Rockets of the American Basketball Association was admitted to the NBA, they had to change their name because the Houston Rockets already existed. So the Denver franchise took the "Nuggets" name of the original franchise.
Charlotte, Miami, Minnesota and Orlando all have interesting "name" stories. Originally, the Charlotte team was named the Spirit. The name didn't stick. Hornets was a name selected in a contest launched among fans. Runner-up choices included: the Charlotte Gold, the Charlotte Knights, and incredibly the original name, the Charlotte Spirit.
Miami also held a name-the-team event. Some of the names that didn't make it included Palm Trees, Beaches, Suntan and Shade.
Over 6,000 entries were suggested for the Minnesota team name. The choice was Timberwolves vs. Polars. Timberwolves easily won. That animal is native to Minnesota. No other professional sports team ever thought to use the name.
         The Orlando Sentinel sponsored a name-the-team contest. Magic and Juice were the finalists. Orlando general manager Pat Williams explained why Magic won. "Magic is synonymous with the Orlando area. We have the Magic Kingdom in Disneyworld, and the tourism slogan here is 'Come to the Magic.'"  
        Some claim that the Chicago Bulls got their name from stockyards in that Windy City. It was actually the franchise's first owner Richard Klein who came up with the name in 1966. The rookie mogul liked "Bulls" because it suggested power and toughness. And his wish was to have a team sporting those qualities.
      The Pistons came into being in 1948. They were known as the Ft. Wayne Zollner Pistons. It was a case of an owner naming a team for himself and the business that he ran. Fred Zollner owned a huge piston-manufacturing company. In 1957, the team moved to Detroit, and Pistons moved right along with it.
       Way back in 1925, there was a Philadelphia Warriors team in the American Basketball League. In 1946, Philadelphia joined the NBA and took its nickname from that old team. Many years and many miles later, the Golden State Warriors are a descendant of the old Philadelphia Warriors. They've gone through a couple of geographical shifts. Philly became the San Francisco Warriors, San Francisco became the Oakland Warriors and Oakland became the Golden State Warriors.
       Some years back a newspaper guy suggested a trade of team names. The suggestion had merit, but it did not fly. The idea was that the Utah Jazz become the Utah Lakers and the Los Angeles Lakers become the Los Angeles Jazz.
    Actually, both Utah and Los Angeles have names from cities both franchises vacated. Utah came into being in 1979, when the New Orleans Jazz moved there. The Utah Jazz kept their name and team colors.
   The Minneapolis Lakers made the move to L.A. before the 1960 season and took with it its nickname that comes from the state of Minnesota's motto: "The Land of 10,000 Lakes." There aren't many lakes in L.A. or that much jazz in Salt Lake City—so maybe that newspaper guy really had a brainstorm.
    The three Texas NBA teams got their names this way. The Houston Rockets were once the San Diego Rockets. The name has worked well for both franchises—linked to space programs and industries.
    The San Antonio Spurs got their short name in a public naming contest—a name that makes you think of Texas, and the same is true of the Dallas Mavericks who originated in 1980. A Dallas radio station sorted out many suggested names in a name-the-team contest and picked Mavericks thinking it had Texas flavor.
   In 1963, the old Syracuse Nats were sold and became the Philadelphia 76ers. Anybody who knows anything about American history, knows why Philly got that nickname.
      In 1968, the new Phoenix franchise offered a minimal cash prize and a couple of season tickets to the winner of a name-the-team contest. "Suns" won. Runner-ups included Scorpions, Rattlers and Dust Devils.
   Finally, the New Jersey Nets began as the American Basketball Association entry known as the New Jersey Americans. In 1968, the team left New Jersey and moved to Commack, Long Island and were renamed the New York Nets.   The rationale was that since the New York metropolitan area had the football Jets and the baseball Mets—why not the basketball Nets?
       Just before the 1977-78 season, the franchise moved back across the Hudson River to New Jersey. There were some who thought the original name—New Jersey Americans—should be resurrected. But the name Nets moved right along with the team. Now the Nets are poised to move to Brooklyn, New York.
      They will not exactly be the replacement for the old Brooklyn Dodgers (who got their name because fans had to dodge trolleys near the ballpark). But the Nets will be playing basketball almost in the exact area that Dodger owner Walter O'Malley lusted for back in 1957 but could not obtain. So he moved his team to L.A. but kept the Dodger name...but that is material for another piece.

About the Author:   One of the most prolific and respected sports journalists and oral historians in the United States, author of the autobiographies of legends Nolan Ryan, Tony Dorsett, and Red Holzman, Dr. Harvey Frommer is an expert on the New York Yankees and has arguably written more books, articles and reviews on the New York Yankees than anyone.   In 2010, he was selected by the City of New York as an historical consultant for the re-imagined old Yankee Stadium site, Heritage Field. A professor in the MALS program at Dartmouth College, Frommer was dubbed “Dartmouth’s Mr. Baseball” by their alumni magazine.
His The Ultimate Yankee Book will be published fall 2017. Pre-order from Amazon:
“As a lifelong Yankees fan, I was devouring every last delicious new detail about my beloved Bronx Bombers in this fabulous new book.” —Ed Henry, author of 42 Faith: The Rest of the Jackie Robinson Story
Article is Copyright © 2017 by Harvey Frommer.  All rights reserved worldwide.
      Frommer’s work His work has appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, New York Daily News, Newsday, USA Today, Men’s Heath, The Sporting News, Bleacher Report and more

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Opening Day at Yankee Stadium: 1927 By Harvey Frommer

Opening Day at Yankee Stadium: 1927
By Harvey Frommer

Another spring, another season, another baseball opening day.
One of the most memorable of openings days at the “House That Ruth Built” took place in 1927 when the old Yankee Stadium was just four years old.

Owner Colonel Jacob Ruppert was very upbeat about prospects for baseball in 1927 but was muted in his predictions for his team. He did not seem to have a clue as to what tremendous accomplishments lay ahead for his Yankees.

“Everything indicates that 1927 will be one of the most remarkable in baseball history,” Ruppert told reporters.  Although born in New York, he had never lost the German accent inherited from his paternal grandfather. It was an accent that became thicker when he became emotional, usually when talking about the Yankees. 

On April 10th , a New York Times headline proclaimed:

“BIG LEAGUE SEASON TO OPEN ON TUESDAY: Yanks Will Greet Athletics, Picked by Many to Win Flag, at the Stadium”

 “Well, it won't be long now,” James R. Harrison wrote in The Times. “Only a few days more and the greatest show on earth will be on. Tired business men will lock their desks and go uptown for an important "conference" at 3:30 P.M. The mortality rate among the grandparents of office boys will take an alarming jump . . .”

Everything was in readiness for the Yankees of New York beginning their fifth season at their majestic Yankee Stadium home field in the Bronx.  

"The big parade toward Yankee Stadium started before noon yesterday,” Peter Vischer described Opening Day 1927 in the New York World.  “Subways brought ever-increasing crowds into the Bronx. Taxicabs arrived by the hundreds. Buses came jammed to the doors. The parade never stopped.”

"Yankee Stadium was a mistake, not mine but the Giants’," Ruppert had said. The site was chosen for among other reasons to irritate the Yankees former landlords the Giants and because the IRT Jerome Avenue subway line snaked its way virtually atop the Stadium's right-field wall.

Built at a cost of $2.5 million, "The Yankee Stadium", as it was originally named, and nick-named "the House that Ruth Built,"when the park first opened in 1923 by Fred Lieb always one especially handy coming up with a catch phrase, had a brick-lined vault storing  electronic equipment under second base, making it feasible to have a boxing ring and press area on the infield.

 Yankee Stadium was the first ballpark to be called a stadium. A mammoth horseshoe shaped by triple-decked grandstands, the edifice’s huge wooden bleachers circled the park. The 10,712 upper-grandstand seats and 14,543 lower grandstand seats had been fixed in place by 135,000 individual steel castings upon which 400,000 pieces of maple lumber were fastened by more than a million screws.  Sod from Long Island, 16,000 square feet of it, was trucked in. 

        The Stadium had eight toilet rooms for men and as many for women scattered throughout the stands and bleachers, a nice touch for the time. A 15-foot deep copper facade adorned the front of the roof, covering much of the Stadium's third deck, giving it an elegant almost dignified air. This decorative and distinctive element was the ball park’s logo.

Seating capacity in 1927 was now 62,000, increased from 58,000. The admission price for the 22,000 bleacher seats (the most in baseball) was reduced in 1927 from 75 cents to 50 cents. Grandstand admission was $1.10. All wooden seats were painted blue. In right center field there was a permanent "Ruthville" sign. Sometimes , the area was also called "Gehrigville".

The left-field pole was but a short 281-foot poke from home plate. It was 415 feet to left, 490 feet to left center, 487 feet to dead center, 429 feet to right center, 344 feet to right, and 295 feet down the right field line. The 82 feet behind home plate made for plenty of room for a catcher to run and chase wild pitches, passed balls, foul balls.
Above the bleachers in right centerfield was the manual scoreboard.  The Yankee bullpen looked out on left centerfield. The dark green Yankee dugout was on the third base side of the field and remained  there until 1946.

 "By game time the vast structure was packed solid," Peter Vicher’s article continued. "April 12, 1927, Opening Day at Yankee Stadium.  Rows of men were standing in back of the seats and along the runways. Such a crowd had never seen a baseball game or any other kind of game in New York." 
The crowd was the largest in all the history of baseball, 73,206, breaking the previous attendance record of 63,600 that had been set in Game 2 of the 1926 World Series. Another 25,000 were turned away.There were 9,000 guests of the New York Yankees plus one thousand who were able to get in with passes.

On the balmy, almost summery day, the Seventh Regiment Band dressed in gray outfits began playing with vim and gusto. Red coated ushers, really into their  effort of trying to keep the level of behavior orderly, worked the crowd, seating people.

 At 3:25 the string bean manager Cornelius McGillicuddy (Connie Mack) of the Philadelphia Athletics, in dark civilian clothes and high stiff collar who was featured on that week’s Time Magazine cover, and the wisp of a Yankee pilot Miller Huggins posed for photographs.

Mayor Jimmy Walker, 45, typified New York City and the 1920s.  A svelte, more dressed up model of the gregarious Babe Ruth, Walker in 1927 was happily involved with Betty Compton, 23, an actress. The two of them, it was said, had a gay time of it in their Ritz Hotel suite.  Largely ignoring public mention of the relationship, the press instead gave lots of attention to the way Walker dressed, the parties he attended, the stories he told. 

Urbane, dashing, positioned in Ruppert's private box, the Mayor threw out the first ball – twice, taking no chance to miss a photo op, to Eddie Bennett, referred to in newspapers of the time as “the hunchback bat boy.”

Bennett gave players their bats, presented baseballs to umpires. He let his cap and hump be rubbed by Yankees before games. He sat on the bench next to Miller Huggins, observing and pointing out things out on the field, a kind of precursor to today’s bench coaches.  He would bring bicarbonate of soda to Babe Ruth before every game generally during batting practice after the big man had downed his massive quota of hot dogs and soda pop. 

Ruth and Bennett would create laughs for early arrivals at the Stadium by engaging in a highly animated game of catch. Starting about ten feet apart, they would toss the ball back and forth. Ruth would throw the ball after a while about a foot above Bennett’s reach, and he would scamper after it. They would repeat the routine and the Yankee mascot would bitch a bit to the Babe who would feign total innocence. The game continued until Bennett found himself backed up against the screen behind home plate. To some, the whole ritual was viewed as cruel behavior on Ruth’s part, a taunting, shaming of a cripple. It wasn’t – just two guys playing around.

On this day of days, the Yankees had two loud voiced announcers using megaphones to inform the crowd of the on-the- field goings on. Previously one megaphoner had sufficed,  colorful Jack Lentz, longtime announcer, who wore a derby hat and sometimes mangled the King's English. He was joined by George Levy, who had made a reputation working the Polo Grounds. He wore a soft hat and made use of a smallish megaphone.  The work of the announcers was simple: speak the name of each player as he came to bat; keep silent after that except when a new player entered the game. 
Knowledgeable fans noticed a significant change in New York’s white wool flannel home uniforms for 1927. "Yankees" was now on the front of the jersey rather than the name of the city. Navy blue vertical pinstripes and stirrups accentuated the uniform. Players wore navy blue caps with a white interlocking "NY" in script on the front.  

The v-necked shirts had a brief tapered extension around the neck. Sleeves extended over the elbows, and the knicker pants reached just below the knees. Belts and cleats were black.  On the road, the team from the Bronx would wear a gray uniform with "YANKEES" in navy blue block letters across the chest, and two colored stirrups, navy blue on top and rust on bottom.

By noon, a carnival-like atmosphere pervaded the area around Yankee Stadium. Swarms of hawkers, vendors, gawkers and fans intermingled in a circus of sounds and colors. 

By three o'clock most unreserved seats had been snatched up.  Lines of police were at River Avenue in the back of the park and also along the approaches in front of the Stadium. New York’s Finest checked carefully allowing only those with tickets to pass.
It was exactly half past three when the game got underway. 
  • This was the Yankee Opening Day lineup:   
    • Earle Combs cf
    • Mark Koenig ss   
    • Babe Ruth rf
    • Lou Gehrig 1b 
    • Bob Meusel lf 
    • Tony Lazzeri 2b
    • Joe Dugan 3b
    • Johnny Grabowski c    
    • Waite Hoyt p
The Yankees, scoring four runs in the fifth and sixth innings, triumphed, 8-3, They were in first place where they would remain day in and day out throughout the season.  

About the Author:   One of the most prolific and respected sports journalists and oral historians in the United States, author of the autobiographies of legends Nolan Ryan, Tony Dorsett, and Red Holzman, Dr. Harvey Frommer is an expert on the New York Yankees. He wrote for Yankees Magazine for 18 years, and has arguably written more books, articles and reviews on the New York Yankees than anyone.   In 2010, he was selected by the City of New York as an historical consultant for the re-imagined old Yankee Stadium site, Heritage Field. A professor in the MALS program at Dartmouth College, Frommer was dubbed “Dartmouth’s Mr. Baseball” by their alumni magazine. He lives in Lyme, New Hampshire with his wife Myrna Katz Frommer.

His The Ultimate Yankee Book will be published fall 2017. Pre-order from Amazon:

“As a lifelong Yankees fan, I was devouring every last delicious new detail about my beloved Bronx Bombers in this fabulous new book.” —Ed Henry, author of 42 Faith: The Rest of the Jackie Robinson Story

Article is Copyright © 2017 by Harvey Frommer.  All rights reserved worldwide.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Oral History Flashback
The Bucky “F______g” Dent Home Run!

By Harvey Frommer

On October 2, 1978 , a one-game playoff got underway inside

Fenway Park before 32,925. It was the two teams with the best records in

baseball after 162 games – winner take all for the AL East title. Ex-Yankee

Mike Torrez was on the mound for Boston; Ron Guidry, the best pitcher in

baseball that season, was honed in for the Yankees.

STEVE RYDER: Four of us went. We expected to win that

game, absolutely. The Sox had a good year, they’d come through.

I was seven rows from the field on the third base side directly up

from the on-deck circle.

DENNIS ECKERSLEY: It was electric that day. I had pitched

Saturday and won #20 and was glad I wasn’t pitching that playoff


I was in the dugout. I was in the clubhouse. I was all over

the place. I was more nervous watching than pitching. It was 2-0

in the seventh. They were setting up this little stage for the


STEVE RYDER: Then all of a sudden:

BILL WHITE (GAME CALL) "Deep to left! Yastrzemski will not

get it -- it's a home run! A three-run home run for Bucky Dent and

the Yankees now lead . . . Bucky Dent has just hit his fourth home

run of the year and look at that Yankees bench out to greet him..."

"I've always loved Fenway Park" Yastrzemski said. "But that was the

one moment I hated the place, the one moment the wall got back at us. I

still can't believe it went in the net"

BILL LEE: Torrez threw that horseshit slider that is still

sitting there in middle of the plate, and Bucky Dent hit right near

the end of the bat. I couldn’t believe he hit it out, but he did.

ROGER KAHN: My memory is Dent slamming a foul ball into

his foot and hobbling around and there was a delay of several

minutes. During that whole delay Mike Torrez did not throw a

single pitch. Normally, you just throw to keep loose. Dent got a

new bat from Mickey Rivers. And the first pitch Torrez threw after

the break that may have been five minutes, was that shot to

leftfield. You could see Yastrzemski thinking he could play the

ball and kind of crumpling when the ball went out.

LEIGH MONTVILLE: It was a ball that everyone thought was

going to be caught, a nothing kind of hit.

DON ZIMMER: When Bucky hit the ball, I said, “That's an

out.” And usually you know when the ball hits the bat whether it's

short, against the wall, in the net or over the net. I see Yaz

backing up, and when he's looking up, I still think he's going to

catch it. When I see him turn around, then I know he's going to

catch it off the wall. Then the ball wound up in the net.

MIKE TORREZ: "I was so damn shocked; I thought maybe it

was going to be off the wall. Damn, I did not think it was going to

go out."

“When I hit the ball, I knew that I had hit it high enough to hit the

wall,” remembered Bucky Dent. “ But there were shadows on the net

behind the wall and I didn't see the ball land there. I was running from the

plate because I thought I had a chance at a double. I didn't know it was a

home run until the second-base umpire signaled it was a home run. It was

an eerie feeling because the ballpark was dead silent."

STEVE RYDER: It was just a pop fly off Mike Torrez. It just

made the netting. The crowd was just absolutely stunned,

absolutely stunned.

Don Zimmer changed the Yankee shortstop's name to "Bucky

F_____g Dent".  Red Sox fans were even more vulgar in their language.

Yaz had two hits in that game, including a homer off Ron Guidry, but

he also made the last out.

DAN SHAUGHNESSY: I was covering for the Baltimore Eagle

Sun in the second or third row. The old press box was down low.

I was downstairs later in the stands when Gossage got Yaz to pop

up because we were getting ready to go to the locker room and it

looked like they were going down and that was interesting how

Sox fans in those days had a sense of gloom, anticipating.

Whatever happened, it wasn’t going to end well.

DICK FLAVIN: I was in a box seat right behind the Red Sox

dugout. You could put your beer right on the roof. So I had a great

look of Yaz coming off the field right after he popped up. He had

his head down, anguish.

STEVE RYDER: I saw that popup up close. It was a fairly

high one, you could say it was a homerun in a silo. It just ended

the game ,and the people left in kind of a dejected attitude and

demeanor. Whipped.

DON ZIMMER: Instead of going into the clubhouse, I sat in

the dugout and watched their team celebrate.

DENNIS ECKERSLEY: Yaz was crying in the trainer’s room. It

was not as crushing for me because when you’re 23 you think,

well, we’ll do it next year. We have such a good team. But if I

knew what I know now, I would have been devastated. We never

really got there again after that.

WALTER MEARS: Tip O'Neill went to Rome that fall and saw

the Pope. When he came back he was at some function with Yaz

and told him the Holy Father had spoken of him. Yaz wanted to

know what the Pope had said.

"Tip,” he said, “How the heck could Yastrzemski pop out in

the last of the ninth with the tying run on third?"

After the game a Bucky Dent buddy called the Red Sox inquiring if

the home-run ball was available. He was told that the net had been littered

with balls from batting-practice home runs –the “Bucky Dent ball” could

not be identified amidst all the others.

JOE MOONEY: I was the head groundskeeper and got blamed

for taking the ball Bucky Dent hit for the home run. I never

touched it. I never spoke to Bucky Dent, but later I found out that

he was accusing me. I know who took that ball he hit. But I’d

never say nothing. We’ll leave that to history.

It was a disappointing finish for the Red Sox of Boston but the

season had been momentous. Very potent at home in 1978, winning 59

games against just 23 losses for a .720 percentage, posting one of the

franchises best all time home records, the team drew two million fans for

the second straight season- 2,320,643 surpassing the 1977 mark of

2,074,549. Fans and franchise looked forward to the last year of the

decade at Fenway Park.
Harvey Frommer, a professor at Dartmouth College in the MALS program, is

in his 41 st year of writing books. A noted oral historian and sports journalist, he is

the author of 43 sports books including the classics: New York City Baseball,

1947-1957″ and Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball,as well as his acclaimed

Remembering Yankee Stadium and most notable and best-selling Remembering

Fenway Park.

A link to purchase autographed copies of Frommer Sports Books is at: