My father took me to Yankee Stadium for the first time in 1961. It was a game scarcely anyone remembers I do remember Arnold Hano mentioning it in, I think, the Willie Mays book he wrote in the Sport magazine series, or perhaps it was the special Mickey Mantle-Willie Mays issue that Sport magazine did in the spring of 1962.It was a charity game played between the Yankees and the San Francisco Giants, and it was Willie Mays's return to New York after three seasons.
I'll never forget my first look at Yankee Stadium: it seemed like the inside of New York City. And I'll never forget the crescendo that built up when Mays stepped out of the dugout and into the on-deck circle. Mantle, batting left-handed, hit a home run that day. (I could follow the arc of the ball perfectly as we were seated in a box seat on the third base line.) But Mays won the game with a single that drove in two runs.
One of the most vivid memories of my life was the afternoon of Monday, September 30, 1963, when my father came home from work we were living in Old Bridge, New jersey, and my father and al our neighbors commuted effortlessly to Manhattan and held up two tickets for the opening game of the 1963 World Series. I never though to ask how he got them, though I think he said something years later about it being a business friend he met at Toots Shor's saloon.
1963 was one of the few years I didn't root for the Yankees; I was so excited about Sandy Koufax that I was ready to begin studying the Kabbalah. If you don't remember what the World Series was like back then in the days before prime time then it's hard to describe. It seemed to be on everywhere you went TVs blaring out open windows, car radios at full blast, people walking the street and riding buses listening to transistor radios. I was told by my friend Jane Levy that the Koufax Series -- 1963, 1965 and 1966 were the highest rated ever. I'm not surprised.
Our view was perfect, a box seat along the first base line. In the first inning, Whitey Ford struck to the first two Dodgers and took a tapper back to the mound for the third out. I recall my father saying "Well, Koufax is going to have to go some to top that." He did, of course, striking out the first five Yankees on route to a 5-2 victory.
I have on other strong recollection of Yankee history in the early sixties. My father knew a Westchester cop who was later indicted for taking huge amounts of money in the "Prince of the City" scandal. On New Year's Eve eve, he asked us if we wanted to join him and his son, a Fordham student, at the 1962 NFL Championship game between the Green Bay Packers and New York Giants. All I can recall is that it was the coldest day I could have imagined, and bundled up inside a hooded parka, I had my first shot of brandy from the cop's silver flask.
No, actually, as I write this a few other things come back to me: the way Green Bay's fullback Jim Taylor and Giants linebacker Sam Huff kicked bit and gouged each other and had to be separated after each play, and the way some of the punts would hit a wall of wind and flutter down to the concrete-like turf. The Packers' punter, Mac McGee, I think it was, had one blocked for the Giants only touchdown.
Oddly, I did not feel that I was in the same stadium I had been in just two months earlier watching the Yankees and Giants play in the World Series. (My only memory of that game was how hyped everyone was about Mantle and Mays playing against each other.) I do not now recollect if I actually heard this or read about it afterwards: someone yelled out when Mantle came out to bay, "Hey Mickey, we came to se who is the best, you or Willie. Now we're wondering who's the worst." Mantle popped up. As he walked back to the dugout, the man yelled, "Hey, Mantle, you win."
Bob Costas told me that he was also at the game and saw the same play from the same angle; we must have been seated right near each other.
For the life of me, I can't now recall whether you could see the Polo Grounds from the bleachers at Yankee Stadium or Yankee Stadium from the bleachers at the Polo Grounds.
In 1996, when the Yankees beat the Braves in the World Series, Allen St. John and I were out on the field. How this came about, I do not now recall -- perhaps credentialed writers were allowed out on the field after games then. Someone in the dugout popped the first bottle of champagne, and the cork landed near us; Allen scooped it up and handed it to me. It now resides in a glass trophy case in my house.
Allen Barra writes about sports and culture for the Wall Street Journal and the Village Voice. His latest book, "Yogi Berra: Eternal Yankee" will be published by W.W. Norton next spring.