By Tom Edwards
Long-time baseball fans know there have been a number of great eras (and ERAs) throughout the history of the game.
The 1920s and 1930s would have stood out if the only prominent player was Babe Ruth, but as the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown clearly shows, that isn’t the case. The early 1920s was an important time concerning the future of the game following the Black Sox scandal. Say it ain’t so, Joe.
A trade of Ruth from the Boston Red Sox to the New York Yankees was exactly what the game needed to establish the momentum that has brought it to the 21st century. His unmatched home run power was something new to a game that had been primarily what is today called “small ball.” That wasn’t Ruth’s style and the attendance at his then home park, the Polo Grounds, reflected his ability to draw a crowd. In his first eight games there, he hit 8 home runs. I’m guessing Ruth liked home games. The Giants didn’t appreciate being outdrawn in what was their ballpark and the Yankees were cordially invited to leave after a 10-year stay that began in 1913.
Hello Yankee Stadium. The rest is history.
For New York baseball fans, 1947-1957 is the unquestioned 11-year run that stands out in the long history of three teams in The Big Apple. As Roger Kahn noted on the cover of his book, “The Era – 1947-1957: When the Yankees, the Giants and the Dodgers Ruled the World.” During those 11 years collectively they were frequent World Series representatives for their leagues. It was a special time, as Harvey Frommer noted on the cover of “New York City Baseball – The Last Golden Age: 1947-1957.”
It certainly was for New York fans. I grew up in a home in Brooklyn with parents who closely followed the Dodgers. I’m not positive, but I believe being a Dodgers fan was legally mandatory if you had a Brooklyn address. My parents were able to get tickets to the first night game in the history of Ebbets Field. When your ticket is in the shape of a lightbulb, you may be in for an interesting evening. Every fan there witnessed history as Reds pitcher Johnny Vander Meer pitched his second consecutive no-hitter. I have heard Joe Torre say that although he lived in Brooklyn, he was a Giants fan. I’m pretty sure Torre had them to himself in his neighborhood.
After the 1957 season with only one team left in town, I became a Yankees fan. Actually, that has worked out well. As a baseball memorabilia collector I know the history of the three teams had a large impact on baseball history. Finding memorabilia that features all three teams is something I started doing years ago after I purchased a scorecard from a June 26, 1944 tri-cornered game that was played at the Polo Grounds to raise money for war bonds. Note to younger readers: Ask your grandparents.
The Yankees, Dodgers and Giants played successive innings against the other two teams, and then sat out an inning. Paul A. Smith, a math professor at Columbia University, created the format for the game. Around 50,000 fans purchased war bonds and enjoyed the game.
The Dodgers scored one run in the first against the Yankees and three in the third against the Giants. The final score was: Dodgers 5, Yankees 1, Giants 0. The scorecard from that game is one of the paper items in my collection that is a favorite. I know the Hall of Fame has one in its collection. I recently found an unused ticket from that game that I was pleased to add to my collection. It is a $1,000 bond ticket. The price of the war bond you purchased determined where your seats would be in the ballpark.
Also on that favorites list is a 1953 invitation to a luncheon at Toots Shor’s Restaurant at 51 West 51st Street in Manhattan. The Yankees, Dodgers and Giants hosted a showing of the film: “The 1953 World Series.” After I bought the invitation at a card show I thought about how much fun it would be to have Willie (Mays), Mickey (Mantle) and The Duke (Snider) autograph it. That took a few years but I eventually obtained all three signatures. My invitation is the only one I have seen. When I placed it in front of Mantle and handed him the pen Mays had used and showed him where I wanted it signed he laughed and asked, “Where do you guys find this stuff.”
He went on to tell me a brief but interesting story about how the invitations were collected at the restaurant. As Mantle told me, “I’m Mickey Mantle and I needed one to get in.” I remember getting The Duke to sign it at a show close to where my wife and I lived at the time. You guessed it, the same pen was used. Willie, Mickey and The Duke three outfielders who played the same position in the same town at about the same time, on an invitation. As I stated in an article I wrote years ago: There hasn’t been that much talent in the same position at the same time in one town since DiVinci and Michelangelo were creating amazing art in Florence, Italy.
If you’re looking for a book that covers those three New York centerfielders you may want to check out “Mays, Mantle and Snider – A Celebration” by Donald Honig.
The first subway routes/teams schedule I found was a 1956 edition with Willard Mullin artwork. His work can be found on a lot of New York baseball related printed material. I thought having “Woild Champs” on the Bum was a nice tip of the hat to a Brooklyn accent. The 50th anniversary of Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard ’Round the World” was celebrated in 2001 with a gathering that was held in New York to commemorate the Yankees, Dodgers and Giants and the 1951 season. Players from all three teams were together for a night to remember.
My second subway routes/teams schedule was for the 1957 season as the curtain came down on New York being a three-team town. Although I was only 8 years old at the time, I still remember the sense of disbelief among Giants and Dodgers fans. To a lot of us, California may as well have been on the moon.
Until 1962 a subway routes/team schedule that had just one team listed was enough. That changed, finally, when the Mets brought the National League back to New York. The Polo Grounds were the Mets home park for their first two seasons and as a fan, it was great to be back in the horseshoe shaped park with a great history. My last visit to the historic site was on Sept. 2, 1963 to see the Mets and Reds split a doubleheader. I have spoken to a rookie the Reds had that year, Pete Rose and his recollection of those games was amazing.
The now long gone New York Mirror published a 1937 team media guide that featured all three teams; Santa left it under our tree as a nice addition to my three-team collection. Given the year and the teams there are a lot of notable players listed. Black writing on a white background was a popular choice for three team printed items that highlight three of the most significant franchises in baseball history.
No surprise here, as a fan of three great New York teams with fond memories of their ballparks I thought having seats from those grounds would be the way to go for seating in my baseball room. It took a long time to get seats from all three parks and restore them, but it was worth it. My Yankee Stadium seats were originally installed when the park was built in 1923. For those seats I went with the color they were the day Ruth inaugurated that iconic ballpark with a home run. Sitting in a row of seats from Ebbets Field and watching a Dodgers game, Polo Grounds seats and watching the Giants or a seat from the House that Ruth built to watch the Yankees is as good as it gets for this fan.
Tom Edwards is a freelance contributor to Sports Collectors Digest.