“Take me out to the ballgame, buy me some peanuts and crackerjack….” How about a hot dog too? What goes down better at the old ballgame than a hot dog? I have some stories about hot dogs at Fenway Park that tell tales about more than just eating them. Listen and you shall hear. About one that almost killed me. Another with which I almost killed another guy. Well, a bit of hyperbole there. We’ll get to a preview of that.
Monthly Archives: March 2022
Who was beautiful Priscilla Howe? What has she got to do with handsome Ted Williams? What do I have to do with either one of these two talented people? You’ll have to wait until the end of this note to get to that part of the story, and listen to the podcast to get the whole story.
Let’s start with something more serious, that being the central place baseball held and still holds in American life, in fact a glue that holds it together, as “Rudy Giuliani The First” reminded us as the Mayor of Gotham, days after the Twin Towers were felled. How stuck the diamond game is to our national culture was yet again shown during the pandemic.
Detroit, home to haters Henry Ford and Father Coughlin, was a hotbed of anti-Semitism in the years before and during WWII, when Henry “Hank” Greenberg, two time AL MVP, played there and demonstrated that Jews were no sissies. This handsome 6’ 4” giant home run champion held off the haters with his fists when necessary, joined the service before Pearl Harbor, rose from the ranks to be a Captain, served four years, returned in 1945 to lead the Tigers to yet another pennant, went on to rise to GM and then part owner of the Cleveland Indians, and crossed the line to help Marvin Miller and the players win free agency! Did “Hankus Pankus,” as he was known, personally support, on the field of play, Jackie Robinson in his quest to break the color line? Yes, he did. Did he nurture his lifelong friend, Ralph Kiner, to be the NL Home Run Champ seven consecutive seasons to become worthy of election to the Baseball Hall of Fame? Yes, he did. Was Hank Greenberg the greatest American Jew of the 20th Century? Arguably, yes he was, as the hero to millions of American Jews in an era when anti-Semitism was rife.
You want to know about the Boston Braves who departed Boston for Milwaukee in 1953 taking away from Boston Hall of Fame stars like the winningest lefty in MLB history, Warren Spahn, feared slugger, Eddie Mathews, and maybe the best MLB player ever, the late “Hank” Aaron, not to mention four time twenty game winner Johnny Sain, who could well be in the Hall of Fame. The Braves had acquired other stars to play in Boston, like Paul and Lloyd Waner, known as “Big Poison” and “Little Poison,” Hall of Famers both, two time NL batting champion, and yet another Hall of Famer, Ernie Lombardi, NL 1948 MVP, Bob Elliott, slugger Wally Berger, and many others. Listen and you shall hear.
You want to know about the woeful NFL Boston Yanks whose main claim to fame is bringing to Fenway Park opposing football superstars like Sammy Baugh, Bob Waterfield. Sid Luckman, and Don Hutson to treat us to gridiron thrills. Listen and you shall hear.
OK, let’s talk about Priscilla Howe. Petite, charming, talented enough as a band singer to appear on the Arthur Godfrey show, and regularly at Boston’s well-known Rainbow Room, impressionable enough to be impressed to take a liking to me to the consternation of the leader of her band, one Sammy Dale, who had a Mickey slipped to me which could have killed me. Listen and you shall hear!
Taking Priscilla to one of Teddy Ballgame’s last games ever late in the 1960 season seemed like a better bet to escape harm. I predicted for Priscilla what Ted was about to do which he promptly did. Listen to what he did! That caused my podcast partner and good friend, Jordan Rich, to say on air, “You really know how to impress a chick,” adding, “Thank you Chuck Estrada, wherever you are.” Who is Chuck Estrada? What is he doing in this story? Listen, and you shall hear:)!
People. Always people!
An eighty-two year love affair! That is next to impossible, especially considering that a romance that began in the teen years would now be over one hundred years old! Oh, I forgot, this is a love affair with a ballpark, the most iconic one in America, Fenway Park in Boston, where my Dad first took me at age five in 1936. I have attended there ever since, now more than eighty-two years ago. Could I have known that in addition to the many diamond thrills I enjoyed there, a day at the pinnacle in my late coming literary career would occur there in 2013, a day that added some famous names to the growing list that career brought to me, usually face too face. All that In this short seventeen minute podcast? Oh yes! So better you listen, because what is here written is only enough to whet your taste buds.
The Red Sox, under the leadership of their three owners, the liberal and brilliant entrepreneur, John Henry, the veteran and successful baseball executive, Larry Lucchino, and the well-known entertainment mogul, Tom Werner, brought to Fenway a series called, “The Great Fenway Park Writers Series,” a first in MLB history. Under the guidance of its founder, the late George Mitrovich, politico and idea guy, many great writers stood at the podium in the uppper reaches of Fenway Park to tell about their books. I never thought that I would get the call from George, but I did. George wanted me to talk about my 2013 baseball and cultural history book, “American Jews and America’s Game.” I chose the irrepressible dentist, Dr. Charles Steinberg, far more adept at pulling rabbits out of hats than teeth out of mouths, to be my guest on the show. Charles is the same guy who oversaw all those extravaganzas at Fenway you saw on television with a huge American flag draped over The Green Monster, otherwise known as the left field wall, and former Sox players from the year one trooping in from deep center field to surround the mound. Charles wowed me and everybody there in answer to my convoluted and idiosyncratic first question invoking Edward Bernays, the founder of public relations, and his uncle, famed Viennese psychiatrist, Sigmund Freud. That made it easy for me to get along fine with the now warmed up and softened audience, each required to buy a copy of my book to gain admittance. In the audience were luminaries like Pulitzer Prize winning Boston Globe columnist, Kevin Cullen, who also wrote a best seller about famous mobster, Whitey Bulger, after emerging unscathed but unsettled from his South Boston lair some years before. Kevin and I continued our conversation, begun at the event, later that Wednesday evening at a party at the home of socialites and broadcasters, the late Smoki Bacon and the late Dick Concannon.
Sitting with Kevin was the biographer of Ted Williams that very year, Ben Bradlee, Jr. I suggested to Ben that his marvelous biography on the “Splendid Splinter” could be understood as telling about the greatness and deficiencies of Ted Williams on its surface, and those of the United States subliminally. Ted, after all, was a great player, a storied fisherman, and a courageous wartime flier, as well as often being loud, vulgar, ugly, and violent, sort of a mirror image of America.
My stay in the ether surprisingly continued two days later when Kevin featured me in his Boston Globe column that Friday. He wrote there too about Sox southpaw relief pitcher, Craig Breslow, whom I had talked about on Wednesday, dubbed by many as “the smartest man in baseball” because of his degree in esoteric science subjects at Yale University, and about the entire pennant winning hirsute Red Sox squad. Kevin wrote they looked like rabbis, observing that, “Those beards are working,” as they drove toward their World Series victory. Talk about free publicity!
This podcast ends with a few words about my favorite Sox players, Mookie Betts, now alas the leader of the Dodgers, and the colorful Ted Williams way back, a harbinger of the next podcasts which will take you further into the fascinating world of baseball. See you there.
People, always people!