Monday, November 22, 2010

Polo Grounds, Tallulah, Brotherly Love, Furman Bisher and 2010

(from the Autobiography of Willie Mays by James Hirsch)

The Polo Grounds was hunched on the eastern shoulder of Manhattan beside the Harlem River. Built at the foot of a cliff-Coogan's Bluff-so patrons actually walked downhill to their seats.

The oddity of the Polo Grounds was that no one ever played polo thee. The name was derived from a polo field used by a Giant team in the 1880s.

Baseball Magazine called the Polo Grounds "the mightiest temple ever erected to the Goddess of sport."

The stadium's most distinctive feature was its elongated shape-from above it looked like a horseshoe, a footprint, or even a bowling alley. The right field foul pole was 258' from home plate. The left field foul pole was twenty-two feet farther (280'). Many "pop flies" flew a little farther than originally anticipated as they became home runs if hit right down the lines. The stands, instead of curving into a conventional oval, extended straight out until they reached the outfield bleachers. The alleys were about 450 feet away from home plate. Dead center field was a staggering 505 feet, where the massive green scoreboard urged patrons to buy Chesterfield cigarettes and where the clubhouses offered a distant haven for a struggling pitcher sent to the showers.

Of course, with all of that real estate for Willie Mays to track down balls it made for great theatre. Donald Honig wrote, "Putting Mays in a small ballpark would have been like trimming a masterpiece to fit a frame."

Candlestick Park factoids...

Had artificial turf from 1970-1978.

While the Giants dugout and clubhouse were connected by a tunnel under the stands, the visitors dugout and clubhouse were not. The entrance to the visitor's clubhouse was located beyond the right field foul pole. Whenever visiting players, managers and or coaches were ejected from a game, they had to walk down the right field foul line to the clubhouse. This feature was a carryover from the fourth and final incarnation of the Polo Grounds. At the Polo Grounds, the clubhouses for both teams were located beyond center field. Like the visitors dugout at Candlestick, both Polo Grounds dugouts had no attached facilities other than restrooms and drinking fountains.
Actress Tallulah Bankhead. Her greatest passion was number twenty-four. "Everything he does on the field has a theatrical quality. Even when he strikes out he can put on a show. In the terms of my trade, Willie lifts the mortgage five minutes before the curtain falls. He rescues the heroine from the railroad tracks just as she's about to be sliced up by the midnight express. He routs the villain when all seems lost." Bankhead also noted: "There have been two geniuses, Willie Mays and Willie Shakespeare."
In 1954, three songs about Willie Mays were released.
"Amazing Willie Mays," by the King Odom Quartet.
"Say Hey Willie Mays," by the Wanderers.
And the most famous/popular, "Say Hey (The Willie Mays Song)" by the Treniers, a rhythm and blues group from Mobile, Alabama; the recording session was supervised by a young Quincy Jones.
In 1967, Phillie manager, Gene Mauch, said, "Willie Mays is not Willie Mays four times a game anymore."

When a Philadelphia Bulletin columnist repeatedly asked Willie why he was sitting out, Mays refused to answer. "I'm keeping my thoughts to myself." "You want a story, you write what you want." The columnist did just that: "Everybody thinks Willie Mays is nice, friendly, warm, sociable, fun-loving...a joy to be around. It will come as a shock to those out there in fantasyland that Willie Mays is cold, surly, suspicious, uncooperative. He is not an easy guy to talk to." Only in Philadelphia could you get that- description from a hack- about a player who was tired of answering lame questions by people who "fill-in-the-blanks" any way they see fit. I believe the word for that is confabulation.
(I first saw Furman Bisher back when the Sporting News was all-baseball all of the time)

"Willie Mays," wrote Atlanta Constitution's Furman Bisher, "wasn't supposed to grow old. He was supposed to go on forever, his cap flying off as he broke the sound barrier on foot, face bright and two eyes twinkling like stars, Willie Mays was born for eternal youth. Age is acting in direct violation of that code."
In the October 11, 2010, Sporting News there was a little piece had listed all of the teams that made it to the playoffs. For the GIANTS, a Division rival's view, it was Padre closer Heath Bell offering insights...

"They have a never say die attitude and tremendous hitters. Anybody in the lineup can come up with a big hit. They also have a great rotation and a solid closer. The only bad thing is it seems like they picked everybody up off waivers. They got Pat Burrell, Cody Ross. Maybe they have too many outfielders. Then again, if they all mesh together, they're going to win."

The man some call "Taco" Bell had some complimentary things to say about the Giants and proved to be accurate in his assessment. A tip of the cap to Heath Bell.

Kevin J. Marquez