Recollections and Reflections
hen I was about eight or nine, we moved to 87 West 169th Street from Sheridan Ave. Mymemories as recounted here begin and end in that neighborhood.
My dad had become involved in the American Legion through a neighbor in our building. Mr. Stein was Manager/Coach of the Baseball team sponsored by Hunts Point Post #58. Of course, Hunts Point is nowhere near where we lived, but many of its members lived there and the entire team was made up of local boys. I was too young, but became an ardent baseball fan. I acquired a glove, and was hooked for life.
Dad took me to The Stadium and Babe Ruth was in the outfield shagging flies. Dad pointed him out to me and said, "That's Babe Ruth." It was 1933.
In a year or so, we moved again. This time it was to Merriam Avenue, and Dad had become Manager/Coach of the team. He got together another group of local boys. One of his favorites was Moe (Fats) Klinofsky. Moe was on all of Dad's teams from then on.
My "territory" was Merriam Avenue between 169th and 170th Streets. P.S. 11 was the school, with some kids attending Sacred Heart, but most went to "11". I remember well the murals on the auditorium walls which had been done by artists under the auspices of the WPA, a Roosevelt innovation to provide work for artists during the depression. The auditorium was also the location for a number of theatrical presentations also done by the WPA. I remember "The Mikado" and "The Pirates of Penzance", both by Gilbert and Sullivan.
Our corner was 170th and Ogden in front of what was then Kaplan's Candy Store. Georgie Kaplan was in my class at 11. The topic was always baseball. You were either for the Yankees or the Giants. No Dodgers fans existed on that corner.
Street games were the order of the day; Ringalevio, War, Kick-the-Can, and of course, StickBall. "Chickie the cops!" and down the manhole went the stick.
Back to baseball. Old Highbridge residents will recall that Edward L. Grant Highway was once called Boscobel Avenue. The Edward L. Grant Post of the American Legion was located on Boscobel just above the Plimpton Avenue intersection on the west side of the street. Its members were all employees of the Polo Grounds; groundskeepers, cashiers, ticket takers, security, etc. The post also sponsored a very good baseball team comprised mostly of players from James Monroe High School. With such stiff competition, Dad recruited from the George Washington High School Team. He mixed those guys up with some of his own; Moe, Al Benkwitt from University Avenue, and some others, and boy, did they have a good team!
I don't recall what year it was, but that year George Washington beat James Monroe for the PSAL Championship, and they were playing for the American Legion NY State Championship in the Polo Grounds, no less. By that time, my Dad was State Chairman of Legion baseball. He proudly accepted the trophy in the name of Hunts Point Post at the Convention held at the Concourse Plaza Hotel. Good old Moe was the ace of the staff. The whole team got medals.
When my class graduated from 11 in 1939, the war was just over the horizon. Taft High School was not yet open, and the choices were Clinton, Walton, Roosevelt, etc. For fifty cents and your G.O. Book you could see the football Giants play on Sundays. We would walk over to the Polo Grounds and see The Packers, Bears, Cardinals, and yes, the Brooklyn Football Dodgers. The Giants were playing the Dodgers on December 7th, 1941 when an announcement came over the PA calling for Colonel William Donovan. He turned out to be the head of the OSS (later The CIA). Of course we were going to beat the Japs in a month.
We also hung out on the corner of 168th Street and Nelson Avenue. That's where the girls were. Boobie, Dubby, Vivian, Arlene, Anne, Nettie and Rhoda, and others whose names fade into the past.
The Doughboy at the top of Ogden and University was the scene of Armistice Day ceremonies. I was in the Highbridge VFW Drum and Bugle Corps, and I got to play Taps at the ceremonies in 1942. Quite a kick.
We had a good sandlot football team called the Highbridge Chiefs. We had good coaches and won most of our games in 1941 and 1942. We played on the field next to The Stadium in Macombs Dam Park. Headquarters for the team was Kantor's Deli on 168th Street just off Nelson. Herbie Kantor was our quarterback, and we ran a "T" Formation just like the Chicago Bears. Hymie Kodak and Bert Windreich worked in Kantor's and we always got fries when they were working.
The first job I ever had for wages was delivering the old Bronx Home News. What a job that was! Every day, rain or shine, hot or cold, The Home News had to go through. The local circulation office was in my building at 1343 Ogden. We would all report there at around mid-day and pick up our load of papers, and go out to make our deliveries. We got to keep a small percentage (I don't recall how much) of the delivery money. My route was down to Jerome Avenue to Featherbed Lane and back around in a circle to 170th Street and home.
I remember Sunday mornings, when the load of papers was so heavy that I needed an old, broken down baby carriage to carry them along. And when it rained, you got wet. I've never been as wet in my life as I was one Sunday morning when I trod along in a downpour just to deliver the old Bronx Home News.
My next venture into the business world was as a delivery boy for the Kosher butcher down on Jerome Avenue around the corner from Shakespeare. Mr. Gross was the proprietor, and boy, what a slave-driver. I got two bucks a week for my labors, and believe me, he had customers all the way down Jerome to 161st Street, and up onto the Concourse near Taft. I think I got two inches shorter on that one.
The tips were great. If you got a dime, you were lucky. But Gross was generous. He gave me bonuses in meat; great stuff like left over beef liver, and the like. Stuff that would make you turn up your nose in disgust. I used to walk along singing to myself. I never did have a great voice, but I knew all the popular songs, and maybe I was having fun.
I remember names from those days; Lenny Hollander, Mitch Ziplow, Marvin Liebensohn, Marvin Katzen, Murray Weintraub, Ephie Litterman, Mike Witkin, and so many others. Some are gone now, but they live in my memories.
When Taft opened in 1941, many of us were transferred, since the school districts were rezoned. Taft had an instant winning basketball team, since Hank Jacobson, the Clinton coach, brought his team with him to Taft. I graduated from Taft in January of 1943, in the first official graduating class. I look through the yearbook now and then and wonder what ever became of those bright young faces from so long ago. A lifetime.
World War II took all of us, and we went our separate ways. But then it was over! We came home, and Let The Games Begin!
My old friend Moe got himself on the team representing Sacred Heart in the CYO. HOW ABOUT THAT? (to quote Mel Allen). A chubby, Jewish kid, with a great left arm, and a wicked drop, as he called his slider, was one of their two starting pitchers. Marty Byrne was the other. They played their home games in the Babe Ruth Stadium in Macombs Dam Park. It wasn't uncommon, on Sunday afternoons, for the stands to be filled, with first row behind the home team bench lined with members of the priesthood shouting "Strike him out, Moe! He's no hitter!" And Moe struck them out. Between Moe and Marty, they had a championship CYO team. Moe got a crack at the Giants, but they said he was too short, and not good material. But he had a wonderful drop. No one could take that away from him.
We all hung out in Mannion's in those days. Beer and old songs were the order of the day. "Heart of My Heart" was a big favorite. But baseball was the number one topic.
We got older, and by 1952, most of us were married, and I lost touch with Moe.
A short while ago, I learned that Moe had passed away. He was fifty-four when he died. So young. But I remember him coming to Van Cortlandt Park on the trolley, with his big, juicy, meatloaf sandwich for lunch in a brown paper bag, and my Dad would say, "How are you going to pitch when you eat those huge sandwiches?" And Moe would smile his warm, friendly little fat boy's smile and reply, "Aw, c'mon Mr. Marks."
I wish those wonderful days were still to be lived again. Moe would be in there chucking his drop in the hot summer Sun, with the bench cheering him on.