Once upon a time, I was the second press camera for one of the nation’s finest newspapers. It was 1949 when I enrolled in the School of Modern Photography, having graduated from Norwich Free Academy in 1948. The school had classes from 8:30 in the morning until 2 in the afternoon.
Having served as an apprentice at the Norwich Bulletin for years, I approached the New York Herald Tribune and asked if I could work in the photo department as an apprentice. They did, after all, have three Pulitzer Prize-winning photographers, and I thought working with men like that could prove to be valuable.
They took me up on my offer and said I could be second camera for important events, and so it was that I got to meet so many wonderful people in New York and photograph the greats, such as Harry Truman, tennis champion Bill Tilden and, in this morning’s picture, New York Yankees shortstop Phil Rizzuto.
I was reminded of my days in New York when they announced that the Hall of Famer Rizzuto died at age 89. Looking at this morning’s picture of Bill Stanley and Phil Rizzuto, it is hard to believe that Bill is almost 80, and the “Scooter” died at age 89, just days before his 90th birthday.
Last week, another legend, Merv Griffin, passed away and, for old-timers, a little bit of us dies every time we read of the passing of names we associated with our youth.
Phil Rizzuto was one of a kind. He was a great shortstop and made very few errors. As you can see from the photo, he was a little guy, and today in baseball he wouldn’t stand a chance, though he was great at what he did.
Ted Williams once said, “If we had Scooter Rizzuto with the Red Sox, we, and not the Yankees, would have won all of those pennants.”
Rizzuto played ball at the time when, in New York, there were three teams; the Yankees at Yankee Stadium, the Giants at the Polo Grounds, and oh, those Brooklyn Dodgers. Their stadium was in Flatbush, in the Borough of Brooklyn, at Ebbets Field.
I would accompany the Herald Tribune photographers and cover games at all three stadiums. The wildest crowds were always in Brooklyn where they would be violent and throw Coke bottles and beer bottles onto the field. Fistfights were quite common in the bleachers.
The passing of Phil Rizzuto brought back so many memories so long past.
New York was really a great city, and the prices, by today’s standard, were unbelievably low. I lived at the YMCA on West 63rd Street for $9 a week. I remember the Automat where you could get a piece of pie for a dime, a cup of coffee for a nickel and all kinds of sandwiches for 20 cents.
There were no McDonald’s hamburger places, but they sold hot dogs at Nedick’s. Nedick’s also sold orange drinks and it seemed every corner in New York had a Nedick’s store. I never understood, while we have all the hamburger fast foods today, why nobody has hot dogs. Nedick’s was so popular and successful, they would sponsor sporting events.
I remember the slogan whenever a basketball player scored a basket, the announcer would say, “That shot was good, like Nedick’s.” And “Good like Nedick’s” was the slogan everyone knew. You actually got a hot dog and an orange drink for 15 cents. The orange drink was a nickel. The hot dog in a roll was handed to you in waxed paper. Of course, in those days, Coke and Pepsi also were a nickel.
Some of you may remember the Pepsi slogan. When they introduced the 12-ounce bottle, it was “Pepsi Cola is the drink for you. Twice as much for your nickel, too.”
Talking about prices at Yankee Stadium, general admission was $2.50. You could sit in the bleachers for 65 cents, and a box seat was $5. Of course, the box seats from home plate to first or to third were $7.50. It was a time when Joe DiMaggio, Tommy Henrich (Old Reliable), Scooter Rizzuto and Larry “Yogi” Berra played for the Yankees.
In Boston, there were two teams: the Boston Braves in the National League and, of course, the Boston Red Sox in the American League. But in time, the Boston Braves would move and the New York Giants and even the Brooklyn Dodgers would leave New York.
This morning’s picture was taken when I was working for the Norwich Bulletin and a fellow named Bill Dixon, a dear friend, accompanied me to a Yankees game where we both had roving press passes.
Bill Cruickshank was the sports editor at the Bulletin. He had gotten three press passes — his own for the press box and two roving press passes, which Dixon and I used.
The roving press passes were great because you could go into the dugout or onto the field. But, once the game started, you didn’t have a seat and you had to rove through the stadium.
The day this picture was taken, I tried to get a picture with the mighty Joe DiMaggio and my good friend, Bill Dixon. People always say what a friendly, good-natured guy Joe DiMaggio was, but the day I wanted a picture and asked him, “Could I have a picture with you, Joe?” he responded, “Leave me alone,” which crushed me, as I thought so highly of him. We got the picture, but I don’t have a picture of myself with DiMaggio and I would have so treasured it.
Always a Story
Stu Bryer, the voice of WICH, always tells me I should do a book of pictures I have with celebrities. And there is a story for every picture — from Frank Sinatra and Burl Ives to Rosemary Clooney and Buddy Rich. And yes, the picture with Scooter Rizzuto. Every picture has a memory.
This morning I thought it would be nice to reminisce about the Scooter and big league baseball, when the players didn’t use steroids, when the price of tickets was affordable and nobody made millions of dollars a year. Is it possible that TV changed our world, paying so much to broadcast the games that teams can afford contracts for $10 million, $20 million, even $30 million? Babe Ruth never made more than $100,000 a year, yet they built Yankee Stadium to accommodate the crowds the Babe attracted.
Today, we all complain about the price of gas, which used to be 25 cents a gallon, when tickets to the ball game were $2.50.
Now, a good seat at Yankee Stadium or Fenway Park could run $50 to $75, and those hot dogs they used to sell for a dime now cost $5 at some baseball stadiums. So, I guess, looking at the total picture, the price of gasoline has gone up less than the prices of baseball tickets or, for that matter, hot dogs.
This morning we salute Phil Rizzuto, one of the greats of all time who, because of his size, wouldn’t make it in the big leagues today.
But then, of course, Abe Lincoln, with his background and qualifications, could never be elected president today either.
So much for the memories. As the legends pass, old-timers are reminded of better days before the golden years, as they call them.
Bill Stanley’s prize-winning book “The 9-Mile Square” is available at Chelsea Groton, Johnson’s Flowers and Gift Shop in Norwich, The William W. Backus Hospital gift shop and Norwich City Hall.