Comfortably Zoned in Vat o’ Pine Tar

April 3, 2021 at 5:35 am (Comfortably Zoned in a Vat o' Pine Tar)

Once again, I’m teasing the book I’m writing with the great George Grimm. Publication date is August, 2021.

Hal Bock and George Case talk about their baseball roots.

February 2021.

George Case III and Hal Bock discuss their baseball memories from when they were twelve years old, with Ralph Tyko and Alan Blumkin.

Ralph Tyko: Let’s start with George Case. What kind of memories do you have of baseball from when you were 12-years old?

George Case: Thank you for bringing up this topic Ralph,  I think it’s very interesting. When I was 12-years old I was playing Little League and more involved in actually playing than following the game. But I followed the Washington Senators because my dad was playing for them and some of his teammates were personal friends.  I followed the Yankees and the Phillies,, because I lived in Trenton, NJ,  which is right between New York and Philadelphia.

But in 1950, Willie Mays was playing in Trenton and my dad had a sporting goods store and he got a call from the Giants front office. They told him that they were sending Willie Mays to Trenton from Birmingham and that he should give him whatever he needed and send the bill to the Giants.

Willie played in Trenton for about six weeks and then moved on to Minneapolis and then in 1951 he made his Major League debut with the Giants. And he went on to be one of the greatest ballplayers of all time. And that’s a memory of mine from back then.

Ralph Tyko: Hal, do you remember the configuration of the 1951 New York Giants before they called Willie up and then what they did to make room for him?

Hal Bock: I certainly do. Willie was so good there was no way to keep him out of the lineup. He was a center fielder and at that time the Giants’ center fielder was Bobby Thompson. So Leo Durocher, their manager scramble the team a bit. He moved Bobby Thompson to third base, despite the fact that Bobby was not a third baseman. Bobby struggled but managed to get through it. And Willie moved into centerfield and stayed there for the rest of his career.

At the same time, they moved Monte Irvin from first base, where he was not really comfortable, to left field and put the left fielder, Whitey Lockman at first. So Durocher changed the positions of three players

George Case: One of the things I had heard about Durocher, when Willie broke in was that Willie went hitless in his first eight at bats or something like that. He  really got down on himself and wanted to go back to the minors and Leo said, ‘No No, you’re my centerfielder., you’re too talented  not to break out of this.’

Hal Bock: That’s a true story, no question about it. And I think he went hitless in his first 22 at bats or something like that. And he was just a kid and he had lost all confidence in himself.

But he was playing in a night game in the Polo Grounds against the Braves and the Braves starter was Warren Spahn, who in my mind had the greatest career of any major league ball player, because he fought in World War II in the Battle of the Bulge and came home to win 363 games in the major leagues. More than any left-handed pitcher in the history of baseball. And that’s a pretty good accomplishment.

So now Mays is in the line up and I’m home taking a bath, listening to the game on the radio. And Willie hit one into the left field seats, his first major league hit and his first major league home run, off one of the greatest pitchers in the history of the game, Warren Spahn. And of course I got very excited about that, while home in the bathtub.  It’s something I’ll never forget.

Ralph Tyko: You had already been to the Polo Grounds with your dad and you had asked him about the press box and the possibility of writing about the Giants. Can you tell us that story?

Hal Bock: The first time I went to the Polo Grounds was for the Mayor’s Trophy game, which was an exhibition game between the Giants and the Yankees with the proceeds going to support sandlot baseball in New York. And so I was eight years old and I walked into the ballpark with my dad and everything was larger than life, I had never seen a place that big.  There was grass as far as you could see, huge light stanchions, 55,000 seats, it was just amazing to me. And as I’m looking around and my eye catches this structure that’s hanging off the second deck behind home plate. And I asked my dad about it and he said that’s the press box, that’s where the writers sit.

I looked at him and said, ‘The writers?’ He said, ‘Yeah, the baseball writers.’ I said ‘They come here every day and sit up there?’ He said, ‘Yes, that’s their job. They write about the game.’ And I thought what could be better than that? So, at the age of eight I decided that’s what I wanted to do with my life.

Ralph Tyko: At least your father didn’t discourage you like mine did when I told him I wanted to be the public address announcer for the Yankees.  He said, ‘Do you know how crazy that is? Do you know how many people want to be the Yankee announcer? That’s ridiculous, that’s nonsense!’ But I can understand that’s the generation he came from. It was the 1950s there was no fallback, no welfare, no food stamps. And being a recent immigrant and coming out of the depression, he wanted me to do something that had more security. But it really set me back because if you notice, I never became the Yankee’s announcer!   

 Hal Bock My father was a mailman. He worked hard delivering the mail. And he wanted something better for his son and he said to me you can be anything you want. Now I don’t know if he really believed that, but I believed it. But I can’t complain I had a very enjoyable career.

I knew that if I wanted to be a baseball writer I had to study journalism,  so I went to New Your University and the sports information director at NYU called me one day and asked, if I would like to work for a newspaper.

So, of course I said yes. I was a freshman at the time and he sent me to see Phil Pepe at the World Telegram and Son, which was a great afternoon paper in New York. Pepe was going to be the high school sports editor there. So I interviewed with Phil and became his assistant. I did that for four years while I was in college, learning what it was like to work at a newspaper.

I was writing short stories every day about local high school games and then when I graduated, and came back from the Army, I called Phil and he got me a job with the Ney York Rangers, where I worked for Muzz Patrick for a couple of years and then one thing led to another and I wound up at the Associated Press for 40 years, writing everything including a lot of baseball.

Ralph Tyko: George, how innocent, or naïve were you about the realities of baseball at the age of twelve?

George Case:  Well, I think I was naïve in the same way as when you’re young and you think the world is your oyster. You think you’re invincible, that there was no problem that you couldn’t solve.

I always wanted to be a ball player. That’s what I wanted to be. The game came very easily to me. And I thought, my dad was a ball player so now I’m gonna be a ball player too.

But innocence gives way to reality and by the time I was in college and had a young family, I realized that playing professional baseball was certainly not a reality because as my dad had pointed out to me, now that you have a family you can’t be knocking around the minor leagues trying to make it to the show when you’ve got bills to pay. And so I was able to make a career out of being in the athletic footwear business which to me was the next best thing to being a ball player.

Alan Blumkin: Hal,  did you see the Bobby Thompson playoff game in person or on television?

Hal Bock: I was in junior high school and it was a two bus trip each way to get to and from that school. I was in class that day, it was a day game of course, and I jumped on the bus and got home at the beginning of the ninth inning. The Giants were losing 4-1 and I had followed them all season long through this tremendous pennant race with the Dodgers back and forth, back and forth and I thought, is this how it’s gonna end? That they’re gonna lose in the playoffs, that’s terrible. So I refused to listen. But my father, rest his soul, was listening on the radio because we had one of the first televisions in the neighborhood but it was broken and we had not had it fixed yet. My dad was in the kitchen listening to Russ Hodges on the radio and I was in the living room looking at the newspapers. I became aware that the Giants were rallying because I could hear the radio – Al Dark got a hit, then Don Mueller got a hit. I was  superstitious at the time and I was thinking that as long I keep turning these pages, they’re gonna rally. So I kept turning pages, hoping I wouldn’t run out of pages Then I heard my father yell and I heard Russ Hodges’ call ‘The Giants win the pennant, the Giants win the pennant’ and I ran into the kitchen and  started dancing with my father. It was such a thrilling way to end that tremendous season You have to remember that we had three teams here in New York and every night there were arguments on the street corners about who was better, Mays, Mantle or Snider. And the Giants had come back from being 13 and a half games back in August and won the playoff. They won the first game of the playoff and lost the second game 10-0 and then we came to the third game to settle everything and I’m in school. How could I be in school at a time like that? Well, I was, but I got home as quickly as I could and got there for one of the greatest moments in my life. It was pure joy. For a 12 year old kid it was magic! And it’s a memory I’ll keep forever.

My wife and I got married on November 4, 1961 and that was a great memory for me. My son was born on January 6, 1963 and that was a great moment for me. But boy October 3, 1951, that was really something!

Ralph Tyko: George, do you have any memories of that 1951 pennant race and playoff.

George Case; Well as I said, the memories I have are of following the Senators. I was probably the only kid in the area that followed the Washington Senators. And I followed them because of my father and I had great memories of those years because I got to know some of those Washington players. They were teammates of my father and some of them later went to the Yankees and some to the Phillies so I would follow them.

I remember that Dutch Leonard, the great knuckleball pitcher, was a good friend of my father’s and he had been very kind to me when I was very young. I remember that he was devastated when his son Tommy lost an eye in a freak accident. That’s not something that the general public would know. But I remember that Dutch was so distraught because of the accident and my dad was so sympathetic and that’s a memory that will always be with me.

Alan Blumkin: George, Gene Woodling was one of my favorite players of that time and he and your dad were teammates for a while, right?

George Case: Yes, Gena and my father were teammates on the 1946 Indians and they were also roommates. I think that was Gene’s rookie year and the Indians wanted my dad to look out for him a little bit.

They became very good friends and then in 1961 the expansion Washington Senators chose Gene in the draft. So here it is 15 years later and my dad’s a third base coach for the Senators and Gene is the starting outfielder for the Senators and they’re reunited.

Alan Blumkin: Wooding went to the Mets in 1962 when he was 40 years old, He and Casey Stengel went back a long way with those great Yankee teams. He told a story once that he was sitting next to Casey in the Mets dugout while they were losing another game, and Casey leaned over and said, ‘This ain’t like the old days is it!”

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