Copyright 2006 by Onie Grosshans
This childhood remembrance was written in 2006, as an assignment for a writing classes I was enrolled in. One memory jogged another memory and soon the original intent, listening to Yankee baseball games grew into this “masterpiece.”
One of the more enjoyable things I did as a child in the 1950s was listen to the radio, our only connection to the world beyond my Western Kansas hometown. TV, with its necessary and ugly steel tower, was an instant sign of families who had TVs—and those who didn’t. We weren’t the last ones in our lower-income neighborhood to get a television but close to it.
The earliest memory is listening to the serious-sounding announcer with his “updates from the Air Force’s NORAD radar” on the progress of Santa’s sleigh from the North Pole on Christmas Eve. Early in the evening the serious voice reported a radar blip coming out of the North Pole, heading towards the United States and fighter jets were scrambled to check it out. The next announcement confirmed the blip was Santa’s sleigh, and then the blip disappeared from the radar screen. “Santa must be on the ground delivering presents.” Up in the air again, the announcer had Santa crossing the border into Oregon, then Idaho, and so on, eventually heading into the Midwest. That announcer must have had great fun tantalizing all the kids listening to his broadcast, like me and my younger brother.
I was also captivated by the cowboy programs as a young girl. My favorite was Roy Rogers with his horse Trigger, his cowgirl friend Dale Evans with her Buttermilk jeep, and Gabby Hayes as the faithful sidekick. Gene Autry with his horse, Champion and sidekick Andy Devine were next, followed by the Lone Ranger and Silver and Tonto. And, I remember the theme music, “Happy Trails,” “Don’t Fence Me In,’ and a segment of the William Tell Overture, which made me laugh year later when I learned it wasn’t written just for the Lone Ranger
Growing older my interests switched over to the Grand Ole Opry coming out of Nashville. I liked most of the country music, but the hillbilly comedienne, Miss Minnie Pearl, was my favorite. I remember scanning photos of her in fan magazines, wearing a dowdy-looking dress, clumpy heels and the price-tag dangling from the brim of her straw-hat, until one magazine also showed “Minnie Pearl” in her real, and impressive home, wearing fancy clothes. Minnie Pearl was a rich woman.
The last years of my radio-listening days were divided between two interests; music and baseball. Oklahoma’s KOMA was the best station for music, but I could only get it at night when its signal was stronger. The DJ, Wolfman Jack, introduced each singer or song with interesting tidbits, and on special nights, did the top 50 countdown of Billboard’s hit songs. KOMA played some country music, but mostly it was rock and roll.
During the day I listened to a station in Garden City, Kansas, about 40 miles south of Scott City, and remember one summer afternoon a DJ excitedly announcing, “Fats Domino is traveling across Western Kansas,” and in honor of Fats, played, “Blueberry Hill.”
The very best radio was listening to broadcasts of the New York Yankees. My older brother was a Yankee fan, so I became a Yankee fan. Baseball was a connection we shared throughout childhood and into adulthood. We cashed in empty coke bottles to buy TOPS bubble gum for the baseball cards, and then traded duplicates among our neighborhood friends. Each kid showed up carrying a shoebox full of baseball cards, and oh my, had we kept those cards another four decades….
Still in elementary school, I watched my brother devise his own scorecard to keep score as he listened to the Yankee games. Yep, I devised my own scorecard. I drew columns and rows on my Indian Chief yellow pad, using colored pencils to denote the stats; balls, strikes, strikeouts, singles, doubles, triples, homeruns, hits and errors. I kept a running total of everything to compare with Mel Allen’s summary of the game stats.
Since games were announced ahead of time, I looked forward to the next gameday, getting prepared ahead of time for the opening pitch. On hot summer afternoons I put the radio speaker (we now had two radios) facing the open window with the volume turned up, and I sat outside, leaning against the house, with my tablet, pencils and a glass of koolade, ready for the game to start. The disappointment was overwhelming when, on a sunny day in Western Kansas, Mel Allen announced “game cancelled due to rain.”
I knew the typical Yankee line-up by heart; Phil Rizzuto led off, followed by Billy Martin, then my favorite Yogi Berra, and my next favorite Mikey Mantle. Casey Stengel chose the last half of the batting order based on the opposing pitcher being right or left-handed; Clete Boyer, Hank Bauer, Irv Noren, Moose Skowren, Johnny Mize, Gene Woodling or Gil McDougal; and then the pitcher—Whitey Ford, Ralph Terry, Allie, “Superchief” Reynolds, or Don Larson. As the starting line-ups were given to the home base umpire, they were also announced on the radio. If I missed a name for the opponents, 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 and behind home plate and along first and third base, and an upper deck. The Yankees usually had a sold-out crowd, making a roaring sound with every hit, especially a home run. A cloudless sky, especially if windy, made catching high fly balls difficult while a cloudy day was better for following the flight of the baseball.
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 (my senior year in high school), winning seven championships. All games were played on September afternoons since ballparks didn’t have lights, and started at 1:30 pm eastern standard time, which meant an 11:30 am start time in Kansas. That was fine on weekends, but during the week I was in school.
Our elementary and junior high school (one structure but different wings) classrooms were connected by intercom. If a teacher agreed, then the principal turned on his or her classroom intercom to hear the game on the radio, which was placed next to the intercom speaker in the principal’s office. Even in high school, if the teacher permitted it, the World Series was the class for that day. Not many teachers refused to listen to the games, some thinking it was a good excuse for an easy day. However, for Mr. Woods, my history teacher, the World Series was serious business. He brought his own radio into the classroom to avoid the game being interrupted by intercom messages. And, when the intercom blasted into his classroom, he turned up the volume on his radio.
There were a few regional connections to the Yankees; Mickey Mantle and Allie Reynolds came from Oklahoma, Tom Sturdivant, a relief pitcher, grew up in Central Kansas, but the most interesting connection lived in Scott City. Paul Numrich, a New York City native and avid Yankee fan, owned one of two grocery stores in town. His store had Yankee pennants from different World Series, nailed above the meat counter where he was the butcher. For many Septembers Mr. Numrich, often with his wife Leona, traveled to NYC for the World Series. They were in the stands when Don Larsen pitched his perfect game.
The local newspaper usually had a photo of the Numrichs boarding the train to NYC, and a week later another photo of the Numrichs stepping down from the train, with Mr. Numrich waving his newest pennant. On these trips Mr. Numrich called the editor of our newspaper to give a first-hand account of his experiences, which were written up in the Sports Section. When not attending the games in New York, Mr. Numrich turned on the radio in his small office, placed it next to the store intercom (just like the school principals) so no matter where he walked in the store, he could follow the game.
The Numrichs were one of several families who hired me to clean their homes, so I saw, and touched several pennants before Mr. Numrich tacked them above the meat counter.
From the time I got my first library card in elementary school, I have always enjoyed reading. Throughout my professional life I found time for leisure reading, and now in retirement, I have taken up writing. I discovered it is similar to teaching—a good teacher makes it look so easy others think they can do it. Same with writing. Reading a good book makes one think “I can do that,” only to discover, like teaching, the “easy” part takes a lot of work.
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