Archive for the ‘Sports’ Category

Congrats to the 1889 Yale grads from New York

June 23, 2016

It’s graduation season, so meet the 11 native New Yorkers in Yale University’s class of 1889. They’re posing at a dinner thrown in their honor at fancy restaurant Delmonico’s.

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Born after the Civil War, these grads grew up in a fast-growing Gilded Age city. In four years, they’ll be facing the devastating economy of the Panic of 1893.

Apparently they were all jocks, as the dinner was “in commemoration of the victories won in recent years in rowing, base-ball, foot-ball and other athletic contests,” according to the caption.

A hidden Village memorial to a 1930s sports hero

May 26, 2016

HankgreenberghomeOn the slender stretch of Barrow Street just west of Sheridan Square is a typical old-school city tenement.

Blending in discreetly on the outside of 16 Barrow Street is a weathered plaque honoring an early occupant: baseball all-star Hyman “Hank” Greenberg (below in 1933).

The Hebrew Hammer, as one of his nicknames went, lived there for a year after his birth in 1911, after which his family moved to a tenement on Perry Street.

Greenberg never played for a New York team; he spent his long career through the 1930s and 1940s slugging it out for the Detroit Tigers.

Hankgreenberg1933He made a name for himself not just as an excellent ballplayer but as the first Jewish superstar (his parents were Romanian-born Orthodox Jews).

In his memoir, The Story of My Life, he recalls the Village back in the 1910s.

“Baseball didn’t exist in Greenwich Village,” he wrote. “The neighborhood kids played one-o-cat, or stickball, or some other game that could be played on a city street.

“There was no place to play baseball, and nobody thought about the game, or missed it. Kids down in the Village thought the national pastime was beating up kids of other nationalities.”

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The Greenbergs decided the neighborhood was too rough and relocated to the Bronx. At Monroe High School, Hank began playing the game that earned him fame and fortune.

Madison Square Garden’s massive bowling alley

May 16, 2016

Over the years, the various Madison Square Gardens built in New York have hosted just about every sport: football, boxing, track, hockey, basketball, even swimming.

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But who knew the Garden has once been converted into an enormous floor-spanning bowling alley—with pin boys perched at the end of each lane and wooden desks set up where judges sat and did the scoring?

MSG1890It happened in 1909,  when the Stanford White–designed arena was located on Madison Avenue and 26th Street.

The National Bowling Association came to town to hold its championship, transforming the place into a “bowlers’ paradise” with 24 lanes spanning the entire amphitheater—and $50,000 in prize money.

[Photo: Madison Square Garden 1900, MCNY]

Evel Knievel jumps across Madison Square Garden

February 8, 2016

EvelknievelmsgAnyone who was a kid in the 1970s remembers Harley-riding daredevil Evel Knievel—and the avalanche of toys and action figures that hit TV and toy stores in the wake of his popularity.

His biggest stunts took place out West. But in July 1971, he brought his act to Madison Square Garden, which was hosting something called the Auto Thrill Show.

At the Garden, Evel revved his bike, sailed off a ramp, and cleared 10 cars. It wasn’t a record; only 10 cars could fit in the space he had in the arena (viewable here via YouTube).

The New Yorker covered the jump in the July 24 issue: “The ice-cream hawkers and the guards stand in the exits, watching. The audience moves to the edge of its seats,” reported The New Yorker.

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“Knievel’s Harley can be heard, and then suddenly he is tearing out of the wings—a flash of white suit and gleaming white helmet—and up the ramp, and he is free; he is in the air, standing over his motorcycle, flying in a graceful arc over the ten automobiles; and he lands smoothly, halfway down the far ramp, and is almost instantly out of sight again in the wings.

“The crowd roars, screams, cheers, applauds, and then Knievel rides back into the arena, one arm raised to receive the wild adulation of the crowd. The challenge has been met one more time.”

[Second photo: Dan Farrell/New York Daily News]

When Brooklyn teams played baseball on ice

December 28, 2015

The history of sports includes lots of nutty ideas. One of the strangest took off big in Brooklyn in the 1860s and 1870s: baseball on ice.

Baseballice

The game was huge in Brooklyn in the decades after the Civil War. Ice skating was trendy too. Why not combine the two into the ultimate winter activity, right?

Local papers covered the games enthusiastically. “Today a grand match at base-ball on ice will be played on the Capitoline Pond, Brooklyn, 2 pm., the contestants being the best players of the Mutual and Atlantic Clubs who are also good skaters,” wrote the New York Times in January 1871.

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[Capitoline Pond (photo below) was at the Capitoline Grounds, a baseball park on Fulton Avenue]

Problems cropped up though. First, regular skaters complained that the ballplayers messed up the ice. Then there was the freezing cold.

Captiolinegrounds

On January 5, 1879, the New York Times wrote about a game at the Prospect Park Lake, which attracted a “half-dozen shivering spectators.”

The game “was anything but interesting to the scorer and umpire, who became so thoroughly chilled by the fifth inning that they refused to act longer, and thus the game was brought to an untimely end.”

A 1930s daredevil dives off the Brooklyn Bridge

August 10, 2015

Since it opened in 1883, the Brooklyn Bridge has been catnip for stuntmen and attention-seekers.

The first jumper was swimming instructor Robert Oldum in 1885, and last year, two German guys climbed to the top of the bridge tower and stuck a white flag on the top.

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In the 1930s, a slender man in a one-piece bathing suit calling himself “Dare Devil Jack” does a quasi-jackknife off the bridge, up to seven times, reported the New York Daily News.

Lucky for us, on May 24, 1930, a news crew caught Jack Latkowski diving 155 feet into the East River on film.

From the moment he emerges from a car that’s pulled over to the side of the bridge to his careful climb down to a beam to his plunge into choppy waters, the “New Steve Brodie,” as he’s called, makes it look easy.

Notice how he crosses himself before his feet leave the bridge.

An iconic TV commercial from 1980s New York

July 13, 2015

Aside from the Crazy Eddie and Milford Plaza ads that ran constantly on 1970s and 1980s, is there any more iconic New York City commercial than Phil Rizzuto shilling for The Money Store?

“Can you imagine what you could do with $5,000, $10,000, $50,000?” the Yankee shortstop turned announcer bellowed in a series of ads for this national mortgage lender based in New Jersey—ads which seemed to run constantly whether it was baseball season or not.

PhilRizzutothemoneystoreThe commercials were terrible, but Rizzuto was a character, and every New York sports fan knew his face and his voice.

He left the Yankee announcer’s booth in 1996 and died in 2007 at 89.

Luckily YouTube has preserved Rizzuto’s Money Store ads in all their low-budget, 1980s glory.

The man who dove off the Flatiron Building

June 15, 2015

Henri LaMothe was a showman by trade. Born in Chicago, he first made a living dancing the Charleston.

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“Then came the Depression, when jobs weren’t so easy to find,” LaMothe said in 1977, “and I started diving into the water for a living.”

LaMothe came up with a signature diving stunt he ended up doing thousands of times around the country: from a height of 40 feet, he’d do his “flying squirrel” dive into a pool filled with four feet of water.

HenrilemothedivemcnyIn 1952, he decided to celebrate his birthday by climbing 40 feet up the Flatiron Building and diving into a 4-foot pool on the sidewalk.

He repeated the birthday stunt for 20 years, decreasing the water in the pool every year. By 1974, at age 70, he was down to about a foot of water, states The New York Times.

How did he not crack open his skull?

“When I’m on the platform I go through yoga, stretching and limbering exercises,” he told a newspaper. “Then I wipe out all thoughts and concentrate on the circle and sense my aim, which is what zen is.”

LaMothe discontinued his yearly Flatiron birthday dive after 1974 but continued diving around the country until his death in 1987.

If a man like LaMothe tried that stunt in today’s New York, his arrest would be all over social media before he had time to dry himself off on 23rd Street!

[Top: New York Daily News; Bottom: Museum of the City of New York]

Miniature yachts set sail inside Central Park

May 11, 2015

Most New Yorkers know this body of water as a the sailboat pond, a peaceful spot near Central Park’s East 72nd Street entrance that often has toy sailing boats gliding along the surface.

Conservatorywater

But Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, the park’s brilliant designers, conceived it as the “Conservatory Water,” a pond that was originally supposed to be part of a large glass conservatory, or greenhouse.

Financial problems made building the conservatory impossible. But the water remains, a lovely place to sit and enjoy the park’s gentle beauty.

When the Yankees were on top (of 168th Street)

May 11, 2015

Hilltoppark1912Broadway and 168th Street, with its rocky terrain, isn’t exactly the best place for a baseball stadium.

Which partially explains why in 1903, New York’s newest baseball team, the appropriately named Highlanders, only played in a ball park at the site for the next 10 years.

Called American League Park and nicknamed Hilltop Park, it was hastily built in six weeks, just in time for the start of the spring season.

Hilltoppark1912entranceA New York Times piece summed up the challenge of turning a hilly nine-acre trapezoid of land into a worthy stadium:

“From Broadway looking west, the ground starts in a low swamp. It rises into a ridge of rocks perhaps twelve to fifteen feet above the level of Broadway. From the top of the ridge the land slopes off gradually to Fort Washington Road.”

“As the property is today it will be necessary to blast all along the ridge, cutting off a slice eight feet or more. … There are about 100 trees to be pulled up by the roots.”

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With the help of Tammany insider Thomas McAvoy, construction on the park began. Five hundred men (paid $2 a day) set to work digging, blasting and carting away 12,000 cubic yards of bedrock.

“In a remarkable six weeks, the McAvoy construction crew had converted a picturesque but forbidding mesa into a serviceable, if unfinished, venue for major-league baseball,” states the Society for American Baseball Research.

HIlltopparkcolor

“Fans would be accommodated in three grandstand sections ringing the home-plate area and extending along the baselines. Single-deck bleacher areas extended from the grandstands to the outfield fences while an adequately sized scoreboard was erected near the left-field foul line.”

Over the decade, the Highlanders didn’t win many games. But they attracted big crowds to the 16,000 person venue, especially with the help of the new subway system.

DSCN5324-copyThe 1912 season was their last at Hilltop Park, which was constantly beset by flooding and other problems.

The team now known as the Yankees shared the nearby Polo Grounds with the Giants, then moved into their own stadium in the Bronx in 1923.

Nothing appears to remain of Hilltop Park, bulldozed to make way for a tabernacle and then Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in 1925, which occupies the hilltop today.

hilltopplaqueBut there are a few interesting remnants. First, the lone tenement apartment building that stood out so prominently in early photos of the park still exists on 168th Street, long surrounded by other apartment houses.

And a small base-shaped plaque in a hospital courtyard marks the site of home plate.

[Top photos: Library of Congress; fifth photo: copyright David B. Stinson; bottom photo: Uptown Collective]


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