The baseball season in North America opened for 2021 on April 1, with some extra measures in place due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. There are 30 teams competing toward the ultimate annual prize — winning the World Series.
Back in the bygone days of 100 years ago, there were only half as many teams in Major League Baseball.
Many consider the New York Yankees of the late 1920s and early '30s to be the greatest baseball team ever, with a roster that included sports heroes Babe Ruth and the "Iron Horse" Lou Gehrig as well as Earl Coombs and the Meusel brothers (Bob and Irish) who were great ball players but remained in Ruth and Gehrig's shadow.
New York was the baseball capital of the world in those days, with three major league teams: the Yankees, the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers, nicknamed the Robins at the time.
Mickey Place was a Charlottetown man who saw all those teams in action.
Making it on Wall Street
Place became well known in Charlottetown in later life as one of the popular acting troupe The Venerables, a group of seniors who presented stories, songs and original skits from their perspective and experience.
Place was always an avid fan of sports, especially baseball. He attended the Old Queens Square School in Charlottetown as a boy, then went on to Prince of Wales College.
He graduated at age 17 and went straight into the banking business in Charlottetown.
"I went to work in a bank here in 1926 for $37.50 a month and one month they took $25 off me for a surety bond. In other words, I worked for $425 a year," Place said. "You were told, 'Look at the education you're getting.'" That was at the Royal Bank. Place said he and other young bankers all had to work late every night, returning to the bank after supper to balance their books.
That was 1926. Later that year his mother, a widow, moved to New York City to live with her brother. Mickey was very close to his mother and decided he would make the move to the Big Apple too. He lived there from 1928 to early 1942, returning to P.E.I. to join the army and after that, got a job on the Island.
He found a job with a Manhattan bank, which later evolved into the Chase Manhattan Bank, starting at $85 a month and working his way up to $120 a month after a few years.
Many of Place's friends during that time were former Canadians. How did he manage to find Canadians in a big city like New York? By hanging out at that most Canadian of institutions, the ice rink. He often went to Madison Square Garden to watch hockey games, which cost 75 cents.
Saw Babe Ruth play many times
Place said he spent many pleasant afternoons sitting in the bleachers at the ballpark. He liked to get outdoors, because he worked indoors all week.
"Oh I went to a great, great many ball games. You could see a double-header for 50 cents! Grandstand, a dollar," he said.
"In New York, working in a bank and working in an office, half the time you didn't know what nationality people were, because there were a lot of different names and a lot of the foreign names are shortened. You didn't know what religion people were, you might know their politics after Roosevelt got in. All of these things you didn't know about people. But you knew who were Brooklyn fans, who were Giant fans, and who were Yankee fans!"
Place was a die-hard Dodgers fan.
"I've never been as strong a fan of anything as I was of the Brooklyn Dodgers," he said. "If they were Brooklyn, they were mine."
But as good as the Brooklyn Dodgers were, the 1920s belonged to the New York Yankees, led by the man many call the greatest player of all time, Babe Ruth. Place said he saw Ruth play many times.
"Oh heavens yes!... He had such a big body, and he had these little ankles. And people only think of him as a right-fielder, but he could also pitch and he could play first base. He had the best arm in the major leagues," said Place.
Yes, Ruth started his career as a pitcher, with the Boston Red Sox. The Sox won the championship in 1918 led by Ruth, their home-run-hitting pitching sensation.
The next year, Red Sox sox owner Harry Frazee needed $125,000 to finance a Broadway show, so he sold the Babe to the Red Sox' arch rivals, the Yankees. Thus began the so-called "curse of the bambino" or "the Ruth jinx." The Sox would not win another World Series for 86 years! That fateful contract was sold for almost $1 million at auction in 2005.
'Booming home runs'
Ruth was described by one baseball writer as "a parade all by himself, a burst of dazzle and jingle." He was bigger than life on and off the field, which helped sell tickets. Yankee Stadium was known as "the house that Ruth built."
Ruth hit 714 home runs, 60 of them in 1927. Sports fans were once asked what their greatest sporting thrill would be and number one on the list was to have seen Babe Ruth hit a home run.
Place was lucky enough to see him play. "Oh probably 25 times. He hit booming home runs, he didn't hit line drive home runs. They were way up in the stands," Place recalled fondly.
Place saw many stars back then, including the Giants with players Mel Ott (nickname Master Melvin), Rogers Hornsby (The Rajah) and Bill Terry, who are all in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Place, being a Dodger fan, saw Floyd (Babe) Herman and Charles (Dazzy) Vance play at Ebbets Field, the Dodgers' home field in Brooklyn for almost 50 years.
Babe Herman was a great player and one of Place's favourites, but Place remembered one game when Herman was booed by his own fans.
"One funny thing I saw one time was Babe Herman got booed when he hit a home run. He was at bat twice with the bases loaded and struck out both times. He come up first man about the eighth inning. First pitch, he put over the wall. Everyone booed him!" Place said with a laugh.
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