By The Wise Old Egg
It was June 1948 , fifty-six years ago, when as a young newsreel sports editor I stood on the floor of Yankee Stadium and watched Babe Ruth's magnificent and moving Farewell as our Paramount cameramen Al Mingalone, in front of the Babe there in the picture with his hat brim pressed back by his hand-held Eyemo, and Lou Hutt shooting down from the press box with the newly-developed Zoomar lens, filmed the historic scene.
The Babe had cancer, and was to die just a few months later, and lie in state beneath this great stadium as thousands filed by his bier in final tribute.
His massive frame was shrunken that day from the effects of his wasting disease, but he greeted the cameramen cheerfully, if hoarsely, as he sat in the dugout awaiting the start of the ceremonies mc'd by Yankee broadcaster Mel Allen. Mingalone and Hutt and the rest were old-timers, and remembered him from the days when he was Lou Gehrig's teammate in delivering that awesome one-two punch – some as far back as 1927 when he had hit his fabled 60 home runs.
The fact that you knew the man was dying made the day as poignant as Lou Gehrig's Farewell must have been in 1937. I know I remember it as vividly as though it had been yesterday.
The Polo Grounds
My friend Dr. Norman Juskowitz drove me up to the Polo Grounds that day in early October 1951, and I rewarded him by smuggling him in the press gate as part of the newsreel crew. Norman , like me a lifelong Giant aficionado, couldn't have bought a ticket if he wanted to. The Giants and Dodgers were tied, 2-2, in a best-of-five playoff for the National League pennant and the great old ballpark was packed to the last seat in the top row.
I got him a spot sitting on an equipment case in the camera cage, which hung from the upper stand, behind first, and embarked on a search for interesting crowd shots with our hand-held Eyemo man, Doug Dupont. We got plenty of them, because it was a well-played game, but when the last of the ninth rolled around, the Dodgers were leading, 4-2, with their powerful right-hander Don Newcombe on the mound looking indestructible, and Norman said to me, “There's no way the Dodgers are going to lose this. I'm going to get out of here so I can beat the traffic.”
And he left.
I had to agree with him, and cameraman Doug and I headed downstairs to get pictures of the Dodgers celebrating after the last out. We went into the field boxes, where we had no business being, but the people who had those choice seats had also departed. But then Don Mueller ripped one through the right side, and Whitey Lockman also socked a single, and suddenly it was Casey at the Bat happening right there in front of you. (“It looked extremely rocky for the Mudville nine that day. The score stood two to four , with but one inning left to play. . . But Flynn let drive a single, to the wonderment of all, and the much-despis-ed Blakey tore the cover off the ball, and when the dust had lifted, and they saw what had occurred, there was Blakey, safe at second! And Flynn, a-huggin' third.”) Well, not exactly. It was first and third, but other than that it was exactly the situation depicted in the immortal poem.
The 55,000-seat stadium was rocking with noise, and Norman was cursing in his car.
And Casey, “advancing to the bat,” as Ernest L. Thayer put it, was a brilliant centerfielder and good power hitter called Bobby Thomson.
The Dodgers took Newcombe out and put in Ralph Branca, despite the fact that Clem Labine, who had struck out 13 Giants in Ebbets Field the day before, was warm in the bullpen.
Branca's first pitch was a called strike. (“That ain't my style,' said Casey. “Strike one!” the umpire said.)
Nice guy Ralph's next pitch was hit where no Dodger could get it, and you got an idea of what the Greeks meant by pandemonium, screaming, fan hysteria, grown men jumping up and down like little children – Casey had come through. Doug and I jumped over the barrier onto the field as Thomson rounded the bases, and you can see us, him closest to the bunch of players at home plate with his camera up at his eye, and me the tall guy in the beige summer suit, partly obscured by a little umpire in black.
That photo, taken from centerfield with a long lens and showing Jackie Robinson, 42, with hands on hips making sure Thomson touches home, the hearbroken Branca, head down, walking off the mound and the hero of the hour jumping on the plate with both feet, is on the wall at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown .
After that, Doug and I walked with the knot of Giant players around Bobby to the clubhouse in centerfield, and you were wading through a sea of roaring sound. It didn't stop until Bobby came out of the clubhouse and gave them a wave.
And although Dodger fans were obviously outnumbered in the enemy ballpark, they were famously vociferous, and I'm sure that if Branca had struck him out they would have been just as hilarious for just as long.
The complete Casey at the Bat (with one modification!)
Return to Wise Old Egg Home Page
Return to westsidestadium.org Home Page