Spring Training Then and Now
It seems almost like yesterday thinking back to when we were growing up in upstate New York during the 1950’s. The last week of February meant that winter still had at least a month to go, but as today, spring training was beginning for the 16 major league baseball teams in Florida and Arizona.
The only news coming from the spring training sites would be written by newspapers in the cities where the respective teams played, so it was difficult living 175 miles north of New York City to know much about the New York Yankees.
However, thanks to our dad, who brought home either and New York Daily News or the New York Daily Mirror every day from work at the General Electric Co., we were informed fairly well as to what the Yankees were doing in Florida during the month of March.
Our dad bought the paper to work the crossword puzzle during his half-hour lunch break. He got to be real good at solving them in record time. But the Daily News and the Mirror would each send only one beat writer to report on the Yankees to their respective papers. We recall the Daily News had a sports writer named Dick Young.
And spring training during the 1950’s was not nearly as intense or competitive as it is today. The players back then were not nearly in the physical condition that today’s players are in. And there were very few players who had six-figure yearly salaries, either. Most major leaguers had jobs in the fall and winter months just to make ends meet.
These two New York newspapers also had information about the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants—that is until they moved to the West Coast after the 1958 season. Then it was just the Yankees until the Mets were franchised for the 1962 season.
New York Yankee followers already knew the team’s lineup by March 15—it was just a matter of how early in the season they would clinch the pennant. Back then there were two eight-team leagues, the American and National. There were no divisions or playoffs or anything else, unless the season ended with two teams tied for first place. It was merely the two pennant winners playing in the World Series.
The Yankees represented the American League in the World Series from 1949-1953, 1955-1958 and 1960-1964. The Yankees won the World Series 1949-1953, 1956, 1958, 1961 and 1962. Casey Stengel was the team’s winning manager every year except 1961 and ’62 when Ralph Houk had the job.
The only three World Series in which Stengel was the losing manager was in 1955 to the Brooklyn Dodgers in seven games, in 1957 to the Milwaukee Braves in seven games and in 1960 to the Pittsburgh Pirates in seven games.
The strange item about this scenario is that although we followed the Yankees religiously, we never rooted for them to win. Perhaps it was because they were so good year-in and year-out that we got tired of their continuous success, kind of like having to eat fish every Friday night while growing up.
Yogi Berra behind the plate, Moose Skowron on first, Bobby Richardson at second, Gil McDougald at short, Mickey Mantle in center, Hank Bauer in right and Roger Maris in left, were household names in the Big Apple.
The pitching staff consisted of Bob Turley, Don Larsen. Whitey Ford and Ralph Terry as the starters with a relief pitcher named Ryne Duren who wore glasses thicker than Coke bottles and occasionally threw a pitch 10 feet over Berra’s head.
But the fans in New York loved their Yankees. They didn’t care that Mantle was from Commerce, OK. or that Berra hailed from St. Louis. They were Yankees and were from New York—at least during the important summer months.
Mantle was one of the fastest major leaguers as well as one of the strongest, whose nickname back in Oklahoma was “Muscles.” He led the American League in home runs in 1955, 1956, 1958 and 1960 and won the AL Triple Crown in 1956 when he batted .353, hit 52 home runs and drove in 130 runs.
The New Yorkers loved Mantle so much there was song written about him that actually made it near the top of the Hit Parade. “We love Mickey. Mickey who? You know who, that fella with the celebrated swing.” And it went on like that.
Berra holds the major league career record for playing in 75 World Series games, having 259 at-bats and 71 hits. Mantle is second in those three categories and holds the career record for runs (65), home runs (18), runs batted in (40) and total bases (123).
Whitey Ford holds the World Series record for most games pitched (22), wins (10), innings pitched (146), strikeouts (94) and losses (8).
There may never be another dynasty like those New York Yankees when we were growing up, but after more than 50 years, we still don’t like them!!!
KWICKIES…A tip of the Korner Kap to the West Orange-Stark Mustangs boys’ basketball team, which overcame a 35-20 halftime deficit in a playoff for third-place in District 21-3A against the Orangefield Bobcats to pull out a 58-55 victory Friday night in Vidor. The two teams finished the regular season tied for the third and final spot in the state basketball playoffs. With the win the Mustangs (22-11) faced Coldspring (17-11) Tuesday night in the Class 3A Region III bidistrict round of the state playoffs in Dayton.
Last weekend’s NFL scouting combine was not kind to Texas Tech wide receiver Michael Crabtree. The first day of the combine is spent getting medical check-ups and it was discovered that Crabtree has a stress fracture in his left foot and will need surgery to insert a screw in the foot to correct it. Crabtree will face a recovery of 10 or more weeks. And while taking his physical, it was discovered that Crabtree actually is only slightly taller than 6-1 instead of the 6 foot-three listed on Texas Tech’s roster last season.
On Friday our local NBC affiliate will switch from Time Warner Cable channel 14 to channel 11.
Former Little Cypress-Mauriceville star pitcher Cody Trahan chalked up a nifty five-hit shutout last weekend for the LSU Lady Tigers who blanked UAB 11-0.
Phil Mickelson scrambled to par the 72nd hole Sunday and won the PGA-Tour Northern Trust Open preventing one of the biggest chokes of his pro golfing career. Mickelson entered the final round with a comfortable four-shot lead, only to lose it and fall two shots behind with three holes to play. But he recovered with back-to-back birdies and then saved par to also save face and collect the $1.134 million winner’s purse.
The West Orange-Stark Mustangs boys’ track team took first place last weekend in the 16th Annual Battlin’ Bear Relays held at Little Cypress-Mauriceville High School. The Mustangs chalked up 121 points to finish well ahead of runner-up Barbers Hill with 100 points. Bridge City was fourth with 57 points and Orangefield was sixth with 54 points. Mustangs winning their events were junior Trey Franks in the long jump, Ed Ivory in the triple jump, Phillip Jones in the 330-meter hurdles, the team of Franks, James Haynes, Justin Thomas and Ivory in the 800-meter relay and the team of Franks, Haynes, Ivory and Josh Gloston in the 1,600-meter relays.
JUST BETWEEN US…At this writing on Monday, neither of our area’s two daily newspapers mentioned the results of one of the most exciting college basketball games we’ve seen in quite some time. Saturday night the 11-point underdog Texas Longhorns prevented the once-beaten (25-1) Oklahoma Sooners from slipping into the No. 1 spot in this week’s Top 25 College Men’s Basketball Poll by ambushing the Sooners 73-68. Of course, it must be pointed out that Oklahoma’s super star Blake Griffin suffered a concussion early in the game and was a non-factor, but Longhorns’ head coach Rick Barnes had a great game plan that really spelled the difference.