In baseball vernacular, “the hot corner” is third base – where vicious line-drives, hard grounders, and short hoppers come flying at the fielder like an endless SCUD missile barrage.
That’s what I’ll deliver in this space: a steady stream of hot topics, cool events, and profiles of people, places, and events with good Gotham roots.
After all, I know Manhattan as well as I know my adopted state of New Jersey. As a native New Yorker myself, born in the Bronx in 1948, I’ve been around long enough to see every side of the city and its countless characters.
Did you know, for example, that the real-life inspiration for Seinfeld’s Cosmo Kramer has been running “Kramer’s Reality Tour” for 15 years? Or that a former health-care professional has found a formula for blending the history of pizza and New York’s largest borough with a tour called “A Slice of Brooklyn”?
As a kid, I always thought that the five boroughs were actually burros – stubborn mules pulling a wagon in different directions while the mayor was trying to but failing to rein them in. And I went to sleep at night looking at a skyline dominated by the Umpire State Building, or so I thought. That’s what happens when you play with baseball cards long before you start thinking about cars, college, or girls.
Growing up in the ‘50s and ‘60s was somehow simpler and certainly more innocent. The living room TV had three channels and no color; the mute button – my favorite invention – had not been invented; computers were enormous contraptions controlled by corporations; and phones came with rotary dials and sometimes party lines allowing anyone to listen – not just the NSA.
The advent of the computer age, coupled with universal and ubiquitous cell-phone technology, wasn’t even a Bill Gates pipe dream.
As times changed, so has New York: streetcars, automats, and pay phones are gone, along with wicker seats in the subway.
I’ll never forget attending a sandwich-naming at the late, lamented Stage Deli, another New York institution that has tumbled into the dustbin of history.
The overstuffed sandwich was named after former Yankee Ron Blomberg, who pronounces his name the same way as the former mayor but leaves out one of the O’s because batters hate going 0-for-anything. When Ron asked me what was in his sandwich, I said, “Plenty of bologna.”
I promise a bit of balogna here – I dig deli — plus lots more to sink your teeth into.
I’ll tell you how Fritz Peterson feels about new Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka wearing No. 19, the same digits Peterson wore when he recorded the lowest earned run average in the history of Yankee Stadium.
Fritz and I are drafting a new book, about the 12-year gap between championships that the Yankees endured from 1965-75, when Fritz and Mel Stottlemyre made a mediocre pitching staff respectable. The title fits perfectly: When the Yankees Were on the Fritz.
In fact, it fits almost as well as the 2012 book I did with Blomberg: Designated Hebrew: the Ron Blomberg Story. Blomberg, the first designated hitter, lives near Atlanta but remembers his days in pinstripes well. When the late Dick Schaap asked him what it was like to be the first DH, he said, “Whaddya mean, Designated Hebrew?” Schaap said, correctly, “That’s a book.”
When I’m not writing, I’m reading. And sometimes I’m signing what I wrote. I’ll join former umpire Al Clark at Foley’s, an Irish pub with a baseball attitude, from 5-7 p.m. May 17th to sign our new book, Called Out But Safe: a Baseball Umpire’s Journey. Happy Hour will be especially happy that night.
Foley’s is baseball’s answer to the 21 Club – it oozes atmosphere, with memorabilia squeezed into every nook and cranny. Tucked into a row of Irish pubs on West 33rd, just off Fifth Avenue, it is not only the home of the Irish Baseball Hall of Fame but a major magnet for sports personalities.
I missed seeing the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants before they left for the West Coast but did see the Mets play in the Polo Grounds, memorable for a horseshoe shape marked by short foul lines but a cavernous center field.
Ralph Branca will never forget the Polo Grounds. On Oct. 3, 1951, he threw the pitch that Bobby Thomson converted into “the shot heard ‘round the world,” a three-run, ninth-inning home run that won the pennant for the Giants against the Dodgers. A movie called Branca’s Pitch and appearance by Branca will be featured at the Yogi Berra Museum, in nearby Little Falls, NJ, on Feb. 19th. The film, the talk, and a hot dog dinner cost $25 a head – a bargain that local fans should decide to go in a New York minute.
If Super Bowl frenzy served as an accurate barometer, it’s almost impossible to live in New York without loving sports. For me, spring begins the day pitchers and catchers report – next week. I second the motion of the late Rogers Hornsby, who answered a reporter’s question about his off-season plans by saying, “I look out the window and wait for spring.”
The Hot Corner will be part baseball, part travel, part personality profile, and all fun. I’ll take you to places you didn’t know, introduce you to people you’d like to know, and help add to the meaning of TGIF. Look for my column right here on the First Friday of every month.