Babe Ruth Always Drew Crowds…Even During A Health Crisis
Sep 15, 2020Posted by james

Baseball has been here before – playing its games during a national health crisis.

It was 1918. The nation was at war. The people of Hartford, Connecticut, decided to raise money for sports equipment they would send to France, hoping the local boys in the U.S. Army could occupy their idle time with baseball and football.

James Clarkin owned the Eastern League’s Hartford Senators. On September 9, he traveled to Boston to see the Red Sox and Chicago Cubs finish the World Series at Fenway Park. The series was played early that year, following the regular season that had been reduced to 130 games due to The Great War. The Hartford owner pitched an idea to the players, offering each team $1,000 and a share of the gate, for a quick post-series trip to Hartford for a game or two to raise money for Hartford’s Doughboys.

The proposal struck out. Many players were going into the service, or fulfilling “work or fight” orders in factories. Others just wanted to return home. Babe Ruth, however, liked the idea. So, with Babe in his pocket, James Clarkin created a weeklong barnstorming trip through New England, with stops in Hartford at the beginning and again at the end of the series.

Babe already was a huge attraction for the game. He would fill the stands. Never mind that the pandemic – the Spanish Flu – was spreading through New England at the time. “The grip” had caused panic during the spring and now it had returned in a more deadly second wave.

Warnings from health officials in Connecticut attempted to separate Ruth from his fans. However, his personality was not compatible with “social distancing.” While we know a lot about Ruth’s life, many people are not aware that earlier that year he was hospitalized with a rough case of the Spanish Flu. He suffered with a 104-degree fever and a swelled larynx. He nearly died but enjoyed a successful season with 13 wins and 11 home runs (tying the league record) following his recovery.

The first game in Hartford was scheduled for 4 p.m. Trolleys were added to the schedule to get about 5,000 people to the ballpark. As fans flocked to the game, doctors made house calls (remember these?) and the city’s hospitals were crowded with victims of the flu. When the players returned to Hartford a week later, Ruth again packed fans into the park. Local newspapers pleaded with the public to avoid crowds but also tempted them to see Babe play in a doubleheader.

About 3,000 fans were in the park for the twin bill while 500 convalesced in hospitals and others remained in bed at home. An unknown number of fans who attended the Hartford games were infected with the flu, but they just didn’t understand that avoiding crowds would suppress the spread of the disease. Most of them, luckily, recovered from the illness and bragged for years that they saw 23-year-old Babe Ruth storm through Hartford to raise funds for the local boys “over there.”

A Season To Bond For Hempstead PAL Lacrosse
Sep 01, 2020Posted by james

Hempstead PAL Lacrosse, as with all sports at all levels, was required to cancel its spring practices and games this year due to the COVID-19 virus. This came as a huge disappointment for the team’s fourth, fifth and sixth graders. The 22 kids on the roster were excited and ready to learn the game and, for some,play it competitively for the first time.

The Tigers are part of the Nassau-Suffolk County Police Athletic Lacrosse League. The nine-year Hempstead program, led by Coach Alan Hodish, has introduced the game to more than 100 African-American and Hispanic youngsters, several of whom are from single-parent homes.

Alan is a longtime friend of mine. He is a Garden City attorneyand a revered former lacrosse and football coach at Hempstead High School. He has cherished every opportunity to coach and teach lacrosse on Long Island. Recently, with his induction into the Long Island Metropolitan Lacrosse Hall of Fame, Alan has been recognized for his decades of dedication to our student-athletes.

Hempstead PAL Lacrosse also has the commitment of Coach Bernard Williams and former high school players and other Long Island lacrosse standouts who serve as assistant coaches, role models, communicators and friends for the kids in the program. The team enjoyed several practices during the early spring before the crises paused the program. Only last month, once approved by the village, was the team allowed to gather for a handful of practices and learning sessions.

I have been involved with the program since its inception, providing the support required for these great kids to learn and enjoy a fantastic game. While the on-field activities stopped for a while, I did not pause my commitment to support Alan and the others as they continue to strengthen the program to welcomemore young players.

In honor of Alan’s ongoing devotion to the game and this specific program, an additional $10,000 has been donated to Hempstead PAL Lacrosse. My gift guarantees continued support of team operations, equipment, uniforms, expenses for officials and league registration, and an awards presentation at the end of each season. Even if these youngsters do not pursue lacrosse in high school, college, or professionally, the lessons, teamwork and camaraderie surelywill be a positive experience that the players will carry with them for the rest of their lives.

It has been a tough handful of months for these kids, and for all of us. I want the 2020 Hempstead PAL team to know that Alanand the other coaches will ensure that this season’s disappointment will be converted into a valuable lifetime lessonfor each of them.

2020 Hempstead PAL Roster

The 2020 Hempstead PAL Lacrosse Tigers roster consists of 22 players from fourth to sixth grades.

KayJay Benjamin – sixth grade

Jaden Bolling – fifth grade

Bentley Cannon – fourth grade

Amare Collins – sixth grade

Jonathan Davis – sixth grade

Keon Grier – sixth grade

Josh Hagler – sixth grade

Blake Harris – fourth grade

Jeremy Henderson – fifth grade

Tristan Herron – fourth grade

Jordan Hines – sixth grade

Steph Love – fifth grade

Julius McCloud – fifth grade

Zayden Mendez – fifth grade

Seth Montgomery – fourth grade

Aaden Sarduy – sixth grade

Riley Sarduy – fifth grade

Zyaire Thompson – sixth grade

Michael Toney – fourth grade

Morrell Toney – fifth grade

Ramon Washington – sixth grade

Jalil Watts – sixth grade

From Rookie Extraordinaire To The Hall Of Fame
Aug 15, 2020Posted by james

Earlier this month, I wrote about the death of Cleveland Indians shortstop Ray Chapman from a pitched ball during a game on August 16, 1920 at the Polo Grounds. Following Chappie’s funeral, dazed Indians players, management and fans somehow continued their emotional drive for a pennant.

At first, the Indians placed several other roster players at shortstop. But, no one could play the position as well as Chappie. So, Indians owners dug into their minor league system for a 21-year-old who was a standout on the New Orleans Pelicans. Joe never had seen a major league game. In fact, he never had visited a major league city. By his own admission, Joe never had ventured outside of the south and now he was selected to replace a baseball icon in Cleveland during a pennant race.

The game of baseball was teetering. Soon after the death of Chappie, evidence emerged that the 1919 World Series had been fixed by gamblers and certain members of the Chicago White Sox. What became known as the Black Sox Scandal pulled another dark cloud over baseball as the Indians, Yankees and White Sox fought for a pennant.

The Indians eventually grabbed the American League flag and then headed to Brooklyn for a World Series that had been a baseball dream for Ray Chapman. As the series opened, The Cleveland Plain Dealer featured a three-column by eight-inch drawing of an Indians ballplayer holding his cap to his side while leaning on a bat. The player was gazing toward a giant pennant waving on the horizon. Looking down from the clouds was Ray Chapman. The inscription above him read, “Carry On.” In a reference to the gambling scandal, the caption below the illustration read, “It pays to play clean.”

Cleveland won the championship five games to two in a best-of-nine series to conclude an exciting yet painful baseball season. But, that’s not the end of the story. I am sure you are wondering about that young shortstop who replaced Chappie.

Joe certainly was an emerging star, but he made his share of rookie mistakes. He had only four hits in the series and he made three errors. Fate, though, looked upon Joe to close out the season for the Cleveland World Champs. At 3:57 p.m. in the seventh game, he fielded a grounder and flipped the ball to the second baseman for the final out.

Joe was known for patience and work ethic. He played 10 years at shortstop and third base for Cleveland and then another three seasons for the Yankees. He played 1,103 consecutive games from September 13, 1922 through April 30, 1930. Joe’s lifetime batting average was .312 and he gathered more than 2,200 hits. He always put the ball in play, striking out only 114 times in 7,132 career at-bats for an average of one strikeout every 62.5 at-bats. Joe was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame during 1977.

Joe Sewell excelled as a major league baseball player when, at a tender age, he was asked to replace the beloved Ray Chapman under difficult circumstances for his team, the city of Cleveland and for baseball. A Cleveland sports writer recognized the player’s upside soon after he joined the Indians, writing near the end of the 1920 regular season, “Once more, doff the chapeau to Joey Sewell, rookie extraordinaire.”

Remembering Fun-Loving Chappie
Aug 01, 2020Posted by james

Though none of us recall one of the saddest days in American sports, all of us should pause for a moment on August 16 to reflect on the tragedy that occurred in Manhattan 100 years ago.

~ James C. Metzger

Chappie was known as a happy-go-lucky guy, always laughing, smiling and singing. Everyone who met him loved him. He wasn’t just a Major League Baseball player. He was a star.

All Chappie wanted was to bring a pennant and a World Series championship to Cleveland. If this could be accomplished now, Chappie hinted that this might be his final season as a ballplayer. At the age of 29, he planned to follow a business career with his new father-in-law’s company.

On August 16, 1920, the Cleveland Indians were in New York for a tense three-game series with the Yankees as the teams battled for first place. During the subway ride aboard the elevated train to the Polo Grounds for the first game, Chappie tried to ease the pressure on his teammates. The team had run into bad luck, their shortstop said, because the team had stopped singing as a group. Right there, in the subway car, Chappie began to sing “Dear Old Pal o’ Mine” in his sweet tenor voice.

Later that day, Ray Chapman, one of Cleveland’s baseball icons, was sprawled on the ground near home plate. He had been struck in the head with a pitch from Yankees pitcher Carl Mays. Chappie died in a hospital the next morning.

Many who arrived at the stadium for the scheduled second game of the series had heard about the events of the previous day but they did not yet know that Chappie had died. At the Polo Grounds gates, league officials and detectives told the fans that the game had been postponed. Hundreds of fans walked to the undertaker’s establishment, James F. McGowan at 153rd Street and Amsterdam Avenue, where the player’s body had been transported from the hospital.

That evening, Chappie’s remains were brought to Grand Central Terminal by his widow and team officials. The casket was enclosed in a white pine box. On top was a bouquet of flowers. As the casket was carried through the terminal, hundreds of New Yorkers stopped during their evening rush home. Men removed their hats. Women wept.

News about the death of a major league baseball player from a pitched ball spread across the country. In a Cleveland newspaper, the words of a writer explained the sorrow: “Lawyers forgot to talk of cases, ministers found it hard to concentrate on their work, politicians neglected their interests for the time being, workmen stood at their tools, and all thought of Chapman and his loss.”

Across the city, flags hung at half-mast. At the corner of East Sixth Street and Superior Avenue, where the paperboy known as “Izzy” featured the baseball scores for his customers, game results did not appear that day on the boy’s poster. He was devastated.

Hundreds of people gathered at Cleveland’s Union Station to await the arrival of the Lake Shore Limited from New York. The crowd watched quietly as the widow and her father stepped from the train along with the casket. Following a church funeral, Ray Chapman was laid to rest on August 20 at Lake View Cemetery in Cleveland.

On September 3, when Cleveland again played at its home stadium, a lone bugler walked to the shortstop area of the infield at League Park. Fans removed their hats. Members of the Cleveland and visiting Detroit clubs stood at attention on the field. A sailor, a member of the Cleveland naval reserves that was Chapman’s old unit, lifted the bugle to his lips and played taps.

Ray Chapman is the only Major League Baseball player to die from an injury received during a game. The official boxscore from the August 16, 1920 game at the Polo Grounds simply recorded the incident as “Hit by pitched ball—By Mays (Chapman.)”

_______

The epilogue to this story will be featured in the post to appear later this month.

Beginners Baseball Clinic Makes The Game Fun
Jul 16, 2020Posted by james

It appears that this year’s professional baseball season soon will begin, but yet to be determined is when and how it will end. Cancellation of sports on all levels has devastated our amateur programs, too. Even the clinics that teach the game to the youngest of fans have been affected by the COVID-19 crisis.

In Westchester County, the Baseball United Foundation engages young boys and girls in the game. Director John Fitzgerald believes that capturing the interest of children when they are five or six years old is more critical today than for previous generations as baseball now competes with so many other action-filled options.

John leads the Small Ball Indoor Baseball Clinic for Beginners. Each group consists of about a dozen children that meet at an elementary school gymnasium. They learn the basic skills of throwing, fielding, hitting and baserunning, and John knows how to ensure that learning is fun.

The kids at the clinic do not stand around until it is their turn to step into the batter’s box – they hit with whiffle balls and plastic bats. Instead, John’s emphasis is to keep them engaged in the action. Small groups work on skillsets while plenty of running during the hourlong sessions keeps each child interested, excited and laughing. The children hit off a tee, swing at soft toss pitching and learn proper throwing and fielding techniques. John usually ends each session with a quick game of kickball.

Among John’s coaches are several young players from the Briarcliff High School team, allowing these budding players to obtain coaching skills as they teach the game to children.

Let’s hope John soon will be able to resume these clinics. If you know anyone with young children in Westchester, tell them about the foundation –https://baseballunitedfoundation.org/small-ball/ Don’t forget to ask how to organize similar clinics in the city and on Long Island.

Gymnast Becomes A Model And Breaks Stereotypes
Jul 01, 2020Posted by james

Chelsea Werner is a gymnast from Danville, California. She also has entered the modeling world to showcase her unique perfection.

Chelsea was just a four-year-old when gymnastics came into her life as a way to strengthen her muscles. As a gymnast, Chelsea has earned national and international accolades for her routines. She became a champion and, according to Chelsea, gymnastics has taught her new skills and infused her with confidence.

Chelsea needed that confidence and family support in the modeling arena. She faced rejections, because a market did not exist for someone as unique as Chelsea. But, she persisted, and her family never gave up on her.

Patience and perseverance paid dividends. Chelsea was discovered through social media by We Speak, an agency that operates with the motive of promoting body positivity and inclusion in the modeling world. We Speak’s founder saw Chelsea’s bubbly optimistic energy in a viral video, and she immediately decided that Chelsea had the potential to succeed in the fashion world.

Since her first photoshoot, Chelsea has emerged as a global sensation. She can accept all kinds of feedback and she learns quickly about the steps required to succeed. According to many in the business, Chelsea has a bright future as a model.

Now, a little more about Chelsea. Her success in gymnastics came in the Special Olympics United States National Championships (four-time champion) and the World Championships (two-time champion). Chelsea has Down Syndrome.

Chelsea’s path to success in gymnastics and modeling has provided hope to parents with children diagnosed with Down Syndrome. She has shown that nothing can or should stop any person from pursuing interests, fulfilling dreams and achieving success.

Chelsea has proven that each of us is beautiful in our own way.

America’s First Sports Spectacle – Part II
Jun 16, 2020Posted by james

Just a few weeks ago, I teased you with some background about our country’s first sports spectacle. If you haven’t determined yet which event is associated with this designation, I won’t continue the suspense. The event was a horse race, and here’s the rest of the story.

During 1822, a braggart plantation owner dared the owners of Eclipse, an undefeated Northern thoroughbred, to race against Sir Charles, the fastest horse in Virginia, at the National Course in Washington. Before a mostly Southern crowd, Sir Charles pulled up lame a half mile before the finish line. Visiting New Yorkers hurled taunts and insults at the stunned Southern fans.

One man in the crowd called for a rematch. William Ransom Johnson, a renowned horse owner and trainer from North Carolina, offered an amazing proposal – a North-South race at the new Union Course in Jamaica, New York. Eclipse would run against a Southern horse to be named on the day of the race. The purse was stunning for the times: $40,000.

The offer was a trap. Johnson, who was known as the Napoleon of the Turf, stacked the deck in his favor. He felt that Eclipse was not the best horse in America. Southern horse breeders and trainers such as himself always had dominated racing. He believed the North was known for inferior horses and that it did not have the same passion for horse racing as the South.

During the months before the great match race, Johnson scouted the best horses in the South and he trained multiple candidates leading up to the May 27, 1823 race day. He selected Sir Henry. Johnson anticipated a dream win.

Meanwhile, Eclipse’s trainer, Cornelius Van Ranst (known as “the old wizard”), was worried about his horse. Eclipse was eight years old. Deciding to inject some youth on his side, Van Ranst replaced Eclipse’s jockey, veteran winner Samuel Purdy, with an untested youngster.

On race day, 60,000 spectators, a third of them having made the long journey from the South, packed the Union Course grounds and stands. The stock exchange closed. Congress shut down. Andrew Jackson took time off from his presidential campaign to attend the race. Betting reached new heights. Some Southerners wagered their estates.

At the time, horses raced in heats, with the first to win two heats declared the winner. The distances were nothing compared to our Triple Crown races of today. Eclipse and Sir Henry would race four miles, rest for a half-hour and go right back to the racing oval for a second race. A third race, if it was needed, would declare a winner.

Eclipse and Sir Henry split the first two heats by narrow margins. For the final heat, Eclipse’s owners summoned the veteran Purdy from the crowd and begged him to take over for their inexperienced jockey. Purdy, who came to the track dressed in his racing silks, hopped aboard Eclipse.

Two exhausted but determined horses, neither of which ever had found it necessary to race a third heat, fought every furlong of the final four-mile race. At the finish line, Eclipse and Purdy brought home the prize for the North, proving that older and wiser, at least in a horse race that history recognizes as America’s First Sports Spectacle, can be a winning combination.

America’s First Sports Spectacle – Part I
Jun 01, 2020Posted by james

Can you name America’s first national sports spectacle? Could it have been the first Super Bowl? Maybe the 1951 playoff series between the Dodgers and Giants? Or Babe Ruth’s dominance of baseball? Was it the first Kentucky Derby?

The answer would be none of the above. Probably any event that came to mind also would not qualify. You would need to travel farther back into America’s past to find the first sporting event that captured the hearts and minds of a significant portion of the population.

The story is a fascinating one. Here is some background and a few facts, but I won’t reveal the answer, at least not yet.

The event pitted northerners against southerners, a preview of an increasingly bitter sectional rivalry. Many people did not know or understand the sport, and it was banned in several parts of the country, but they knew that they were rooting for the north, or rooting for the south.

This little hint tells you that the spectacle occurred before the Civil War. Slaves were involved in the event, which was held on what was then the outskirts of America’s center for business and commerce. The location even was beyond Brooklyn, which was its own city at the time.

Much of New York City, along with people who traveled here from across the country, flocked by ferry from Manhattan to awaiting carriages and coaches to take them to the fields in Jamaica, Queens. The people associated with this major sporting event included presidential candidate William Ransom Johnson, sportsman Cornelius Van Ranst and participant Samuel Purdy.

Bands played marching and other tunes, and the crowds kicked up dust on their way to the spectacle. Clever marketing was employed by a Manhattan coffee house and the Fulton markets. You couldn’t watch the match from either location. But, you could enjoy refreshments at either location with a great view of a flag pole in Brooklyn that would announce the winner by raising either a white or blue flag.

One key participant became ill on the day of the event. Another was replaced after a poor showing. Betting, which was frowned upon and even unlawful in many places, including New York, reached the highest levels anywhere up to that time.

Give this some thought. I’ll reveal the rest of the story in a few weeks in America’s First Sports Spectacle – Part II.

From Feeding Umpires To A Multi-Million Dollar Cookie Business
May 15, 2020Posted by james

You just never know when an opportunity will appear and where it will lead you.

Debra Sivyer was raised in Oakland, California, the youngest of eight daughters. Her father was a welder for the U.S. Navy. Her mother was a housewife.

During the 1968 baseball season, innovative Charles O. Finley, the owner of MLB’s Oakland Athletics, introduced ball girls to the game. The young ladies were placed in foul territory during games to retrieve grounded foul balls. When Debbi was just 13, she became a ball girl with the help of an older sister, who was a secretary in the A’s corporate office. Debbi received five dollars an hour when she was on the field.

Debbi was an entrepreneur at that tender age, using her earnings to purchase ingredients to bake chocolate chip cookies. She created a “milk-and-cookies” break for umpires at the park, perfecting her cookie recipe that she found on the back of a package of Toll House chocolate morsels. Fast forwarding a few years to 1977, Debbi married her first husband, Randall Keith Fields. She began marketing these homemade cookies that same year, grossing $75 the first day. Eventually, the cookies would make her a millionaire.

With little investment enthusiasm from outside sources, Debbi secured a loan and supervised operations, brand management, public relations, customer service and product development to grow the business. At its peak under her leadership, the company featured more than 900 owned and franchised stores in the U.S. and in 11 other countries. Debbi eventually sold the business to an investment group, but she has remained the company’s spokesperson while concentrating on her philanthropic interests.

So, who is this cookie girl whose idea was such a success on a major league baseball field when she was just 13? You know her as the founder of Mrs. Fields Cookies.

Lending A Helpful Glove
May 01, 2020Posted by james

“Friends of the Champ” is a non-profit organization that supports ex-boxers in The Bronx and beyond who face a variety of personal challenges.

According to Michael Bernard, a founding member of the organization, “our main goal is to help individual souls living a destitute life.” The program traces its beginnings to a day more than 30 years ago when Michael first met three-time World Boxing Champion and Bronx native Iran Barkley.

Michael has been a physical education teacher for 40 years. A former student who became a police officer called Michael one day as he patrolled the streets. The officer reported that he found the champ sleeping on a bench outside the Patterson Houses. According to the officer, Iran appeared ill.

Realizing that many poorly educated older ex-fighters were experiencing financial and health issues, Michael, Iran and others founded “Friends of the Champ.” Today, Iran is living comfortably with his wife in a two-bedroom apartment.

The 40-member group recently held its first fundraising gala. Not every member is a boxing fan. However, each member is concerned about the plight of all former athletes who once worked hard at their chosen crafts but now face various hardships.

“Friends of the Champ” (718-823-5083) is looking to continue to raise awareness about the mission and spur growth in the organization. The group plans to contact boxing legends Tommy Hearns, Sugar Ray Leonard, Roberto Duran and others as it expands its reach to help additional ex-boxers.

High school, college, amateur and professional athletes regularly support a variety of causes. For many years now, “Friends of the Champ” has reversed the game plan, lending its helpful glove to former boxers.