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Posts Tagged ‘New York City’

The Yankees and Mets just completed the most recent edition of the Subway Series, but if past events had transpired differently, train travel wouldn’t have been needed to host the rivalry.

Bill Shea throws out the first pitch on Opening Day 1964, christening the stadium that bared his name.

When the Dodgers and Giants left town after the 1957 season, there was an immediate push to return National League baseball to New York City. Although the Yankees had emerged as the dominant team in town, the senior circuit’s roots in the Big Apple were long and deep. So, even while the Bronx Bombers battled the Milwaukee Braves in the World Series, Mayor Robert Wagner commissioned a task force to find an immediate replacement for its two departing teams. In a sense, it was the city’s way of telling the Dodgers and Giants to not let the door hit them on their way out west.

Mayor Wagner’s Special Committee on Major League Baseball, which included four prominent members of the city’s business community, was charged simply with getting a National League team by any means necessary. Chaired by a well-connected lawyer named William A. Shea, the committee’s first course of action was to explore the possibility of poaching an existing team. In order to entice potential candidates, Shea and Wagner revealed plans to build a state-of-the-art ballpark on a city-owned plot of land in Flushing, Queens (ironically, it was the city’s insistence that Walter O’Malley use this site for his proposed new ballpark that forced the Dodgers to leave town in the first place). Meanwhile, the committee lobbied hard to have the territorial rules governing relocation amended so the Yankees couldn’t veto the arrival of a new neighbor. With the groundwork laid, attempts were then made to convince the Cubs, Reds, Phillies and Pirates to relocate to New York, but despite Shea’s best efforts, there were no takers.

When the relocation efforts stalled, Shea shifted the committee’s attention toward winning an expansion franchise. However, despite professing support for a new team in New York, Commissioner Ford Frick and the existing owners in the National League continued to drag their feet on the issue. So, Shea decided to take matters into his own hands. If organized baseball wouldn’t readmit New York, Shea reasoned, then the city might as well spearhead the creation of a brand new major league.

Shea’s brainchild was the Continental League. On July 27, 1959, the ambitious attorney revealed plans for a new circuit with founding franchises in New York, Houston, Minneapolis, Denver and Toronto, all cities that felt neglected by the current baseball structure. Because only New York had an existing major league team, Shea expected his Continental League to play alongside the NL and AL, not compete against it. Perhaps he was being naïve, or maybe he thought the threat of a lawsuit would force the hands of the existing 16 owners, but Shea fully expected his new venture to gain full acceptance and recognition as a third league that would eventually compete in the World Series.

We anticipate the cooperation of organized baseball, but we are all in this to stay and we are not going to back out no matter what happens.” – William A. Shea, quoted by UPI, July 27, 1959

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Larry Granillo’s (Baseball Prospectus and Wezen-Ball) recent forensic investigation into Ferris Buehler’s whereabouts on his now infamous day off made for one of the more creative and entertaining blog posts in quite some time. For those who missed the piece, Granillo attempted (and succeeded) to determine the date of the game that Buehler attended with his fellow truants by analyzing the footage from WGN that was used in the movie.

In addition to being greatly amused by Granillo’s investigation, it got me to thinking about how many other unsolved baseball mysteries remain cloaked in movie clips from years gone by? The list of unidentified baseball references on the silver screen are probably too numerous to count, so let’s start at the beginning by examining one of the first movies to incorporate live baseball action into its script.

The movie in question is called Speedy (which will be featured at this year’s Rhode Island International Film Festival in August). Created by renowned silent-era funny man Harold Lloyd, the comedy tells the tale of hapless Harold “Speedy” Swift, whose addiction to the Yankees constantly interferes with his ability to remain employed. During the course of the movie, this compulsion causes Speedy to lose several jobs, including one as a taxi cab driver, but not before having the chance to chauffeur Babe Ruth in a harrowing ride from Manhattan to Yankee Stadium.

Speedy was Lloyd’s last silent film and resulted in his only Academy Award nomination, but more than anything, it is best remembered today for the spectacular footage filmed in 1927-era New York City. The extensive on-location filming pushed the movie’s price tag toward $1 million, an unheard of figure for the era, but  Lloyd’s expense immediately paid off thanks to the buzz his month-long stay in New York created.

Over the years, the movie’s archival footage has made it even more valuable as a historical reference. As Speedy whirls around the town, we get detailed glimpses of a city brimming with motor cars, horse-drawn carriages, trolleys, and elevated trains. The movie also includes vivid images of Luna Park in Coney Island, Columbus Circle, the Brooklyn Bridge, Penn Station, the Battery, Times Square, Fifth Avenue, and most importantly to baseball fans, Yankee Stadium, which is where the real point of this exercise begins.

The first glimpse of Yankee Stadium occurs early on in the movie (4:32 in the first clip). Unfortunately, the lack of clarity and detail prevents the date of the game from being indentified…at least to this point. In the meantime, we’re treated to several amusing scenes as Speedy endeavors to perform his duties while keeping tabs on the ongoing game via telephone calls to Yankee Stadium and a visit to a public scoreboard outside the local sporting goods store (which we’ll examine later).

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