Copyright 2006 by Onie Grosshans
THE RADIO was written as an assignment for a writing class I enrolled in January, 2006. Not only was it fun to recall this memory from my childhood, but It was fun to do a bit of research regarding the great New York Yankee teams from the 1950's.
One of the most enjoyable things I did as a child in the 1950’s was to listen to the radio. I was a teenager before we could afford to buy a TV set and install the tall steel tower that held the antenna. For many years there was just one radio in the corner of the living room. – a piece of furniture large enough to have its top serve as a shelf.
My earliest memory of listening to the radio was an announcer who came on between programs to update us on the progress of Santa Claus coming from the North Pole. Throughout the evening the radio announcer would report an unidentified object detected by radar of the U.S. Air Force. First a blip over the North Pole, and later in the evening the blip had moved over Alaska, and fighter planes were scrambled to check it out. Still later, it would be confirmed as Santa Claus, now with a protective cover of jets. I think the announcer may have said it disappeared from radar several times, indicating Santa must be on the ground delivering presents. My little brother and I were anxious to hear how close Santa was to Kansas, and of course, my parents and my older brother played along with the radio announcer’s pretense. What fun that announcer must have had – tantalizing us children on Christmas Eve.
I was also captivated by cowboy programs. My favorite was Roy Rogers and his palomino horse, Trigger. Dale Evans was his cowgirl friend with Gabby Hayes as his faithful sidekick. Next I liked Gene Autry (his horse was Champion), and I think Andy Devine might have been his sidekick. Then there was Silver, a beautiful white horse, and his master the Lone Ranger with his buddy Tonto. I remember the theme music – “Happy Trails,” “Don’t Fence Me In,” and that wonderful segment of the William Tell Overture that introduced the Lone Ranger.
Saturday nights was the Grand Ole Opry coming out of Nashville, Tennessee. I liked most country-western music, but my favorite was the hillbilly comedienne, Miss Minnie Pearl. Photos in fan magazines showed her with her trade-mark straggly straw hat with the sales tag dangling from the side brim.
As a teenager Oklahoma City’s KOMA was the radio station we listened to but only at night. During the day, this dial number was full of static. Wolfman Jack was the DJ and he would have the latest countdown of the top 20 (or 30, or 40) songs. He introduced each record flamboyantly with tidbits about the singer or the song. KOMA played some country-western music, but mostly it was rock and roll. During the day local radio came out of Garden City, Kansas, forty miles south of Scott City. I remember one summer afternoon one of their DJ’s saying, “Fats Domino was traveling across Western Kansas this very day.” This announcement was followed by playing his hit “Blueberry Hill.”
But the very best program of all was listening to the broadcasts of the New York Yankees. My older brother was a Yankee fan, so, of course, I became a Yankee fan. Baseball was a connection we shared throughout childhood, and now as adulths. We bought the bubble gum baseball cards, traded some with other neighborhood friends, but protected our own shoebox collection.
I was probably eight or nine years old, when I studied what my brother had constructed, and then I devised my own method of keeping score. Using my blue-lined, yellow Indian Chief writing pad, and a wooden ruler, I would draw 10 or so columns across the page for the innings, realizing the game could go extra innings. Then I underscored 10 or 12 blue inked rows for the Yankee roster, making sure to have extra rows for substitutes. The same procedure was repeated for the other team.
My scoring system included tracking the balls and strikes, strikeouts, walks, singles, doubles, triples, home runs, and errors per inning, per team, and when the game ended, totaling everything for the final statistics. I then compared my stats to those kept by the official Yankee scorekeeper.
Since the games were announced ahead of time, I was always excited and ready when it was game day. On summer afternoons, when it was too hot to be inside the house, I sat outside my open bedroom window - we now had two radios - to listen to the game. I placed the radio speaker facing outside and turned the volume up to hear it as I sat next to the window. I was careful to sit between, and not on any flowers, as my mother would yell at me. Leaning back against the house, I balanced my notebook on my knees, had several pencils in case the lead broke or wore down smudging my pages, and with a glass of koolade nearby, I was ready for the game to start. Nothing was more disappointing than to be in sunny Western Kansas and to hear that the game had been cancelled due to rain on the East Coast.
I knew the Yankee line-up by heart – even the changes dictated by the opposing pitcher being right- or left-handed. Phil Rizzuto led off , followed by Billy Martin, then Yogi Berra, and the clean-up batter was always Mickey Mantle. The last half of the batting order was where the changes were made. There were six or seven players who usually appeared on the roster: Clete Boyer, Hank Bauer, Irv Noren, Moose Skowren, Johnny Mize, Gene Woodling, or Gil McDougal. The last batter was always the pitcher of the day: Whitey Ford, Ralph Terry, Allie, the “Superchief” Reynolds, or Don Larsen. The manager was Casey Stengel. As the starting line-ups were given to the home plate umpire, they were also being announced on the radio. If I missed a name for the opposing team, I just waited until he was announced as the on-deck batter.
Yankee Stadium, as described by Mel Allen, sounded huge. It had columns in the stands behind home plate and along first and third base, to support the upper decks. The Yankees usually attracted a capacity crowd. A cloudless sky, especially if it was windy, made catching high fly balls difficult. A cloudy day, as long as there was no rain, was better for catching pop-ups and was usually a bit cooler for the players.
The Yankees were expected to win the American League race during these years and usually did. They played in 10 of 12 World Series from 1950 to 1961, winning seven championships. Their primary rivals were the Brooklyn Dodgers, but the New York Giants and the Milwaukee Braves slipped in every few years. At that time the World Series was held in mid-September, and all games were played in the afternoons because the ballparks did not have lights. With the Eastern Standard Time factor, a 1:30 pm game time meant it started at 11:30 a.m. in Kansas – and during weekdays, I was in school.
Our elementary and junior high school was in the same building, and an intercom connected all the classrooms. If any of the upper grade teachers permitted it, the intercom was turned on so we could listen to the game via the school radio in the main office. Everyone had to be quiet, but you could do other things if you didn’t want to listen to the game. Even in high school, if the teacher permitted it, the World Series would be the class that day. Not many teachers refused to listen to the games. I think for some it was a good excuse for an easy day, but for others, such as my history teacher, Mr. Woods, it was serious business. He brought his own radio from home so there would be no interruptions if school messages came across the intercom. It was wonderful.
There were a few regional connections that made the Yankees even more exciting to follow: Mickey Mantle and Allie Reynolds came from Oklahoma, and a relief pitcher (Tom Sturdivant) grew up in central Kansas, but the most important local connection was Paul Numrich.
Mr. Numrich, a New York City native and avid Yankee fan, owned one of the two grocery stores in Scott City. He had Yankee pennants, from different years, nailed above the meat counter, for Mr. Numrich had frequently traveled to New York City to attend the World Series. The local weekly paper, The News Chronicle, published a photo of him stepping onto the train headed east, grinning and waving a Yankee pennant. After attending several games, Mr. Numrich called long-distanced to his friend, the editor of The Chronicle, with a first-hand account of his experiences at the World Series. His comments always appeared on the front page of the newspaper. Two weeks later there would be another photo of Mr. Numrich returning to Scott City. Now he was stepping off train, grinning and waving the newest Yankee pennant.
The Numrichs were one of the families who hired me to clean their house, so I could see the pennants up close and even touch them before they were tacked above the meat counter in his grocery store.
From the time I got my first
library card in
elementary school, I have always enjoyed reading. Throughout my
professional life I managed to find time to do leisure reading and
now as a retired emeritus associate professor, I have taken up
leisure writing. It's as much fun, if not more, than reading - but
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Onie's storylist and biography