Shut Up or Walk Home
y baseball skills were honed playing stickball in the PS 64 schoolyard in the late '50s and into 1960. Together with friends, we played different iterations of stickball after school, weekends, and summers. By the end of 1960, I considered myself to have achieved a decent level of proficiency.
In '61, I became aware that tryouts were being held one weekend at the Taft HS schoolyard for the Concourse Little League. The idea of playing actual scheduled baseball games on a baseball field in uniforms with equipment provided such as baseballs, bats, and batting helmets was just too appealing to pass up. All a player had to provide was a glove. I told my dad that I wanted to join Little League and attend the tryouts and asked if he would pay the fees for me to join and accompany me to the tryouts.
Dad had an affinity for baseball and was an avid TV viewer of baseball. In his younger days, Dad had played semi-pro baseball in the Bronx and had been offered a slot on a Dodgers farm team in North Carolina. Unfortunately, he had to pass on that opportunity because back then, families like his were on their own to sustain themselves and he, an older sister and his mom all had to work to keep their fatherless household afloat that also included Dad's younger brother. As for me trying out for the Concourse Little League, Dad was happy to accompany me to the tryouts, perhaps thinking Little League could be the start of my carrying the family banner to the major leagues.
We got to Taft's schoolyard which was crowded with fathers and sons. A number of the fathers had signed on to be team managers or coaches. The purpose of the tryouts was not to qualify or disqualify kids from acceptance into the league; it was to determine the team any given kid would be picked to play on by one of the manager-fathers. Unbeknown to my father and me, one of the fathers who had signed on to be a team manager was a friend of the family. His wife and my mom were dear friends and he had three sons, one of which was a year older and one of which was a year younger than me. They also wanted to play Little League baseball.
As I recall, at the tryouts we were asked to field ground balls, fungo'ed out by the manager and coach fathers. We're talking baseballs propelling on concrete, like the D train speeding between IND stations. My dad could not fathom having baseball tryouts on concrete, with grown men fungo'ing out baseballs to 11-, 12- and 13-year-old kids. I don't recall how well I fielded any balls that came my way, if I was able to field any at all! I also don't recall any of us kids being asked to do any batting. However, the whole exercise was moot, because each manager-father, long before the tryouts, already had his teams drawn up with his own sons, his coaches, his coach's sons, and friends of the manager's and coach's sons. When the tryouts ended, the manager who was a friend of our family approached my dad and me and told us that of course he had selected me to be on his team with his two sons. I was eager to play on a family friend's team, of course knowing him and his two sons. The team name, as I remember, was either Eagles or Elks.
On the next few Saturdays and Sundays, the teams went into training mode and took turns practicing at Claremont Park. That was a close neighborhood park that everyone could get to easily. I staked out second base as my position and that position was the focus of my training. All the kids, of course, engaged in batting practice. There were more kids on a team than there were positions, so I figured we would all take turns riding the bench here and there.
Fast forward to the regular season. The schedule was set, and the games were to be played at alternating Bronx parks that had baseball fields such as Claremont Park, Crotona Park, Mullaly Park, and Van Courtland Park. The managers, coaches, and spectator dads drove the kids to the parks. The team I was on was pretty good and figured to finish high up in the standings. The season began and I rode to the park in the car with the manager friend of the family. I was initially made to ride the bench. I assumed I would get that benching out of the way early in the season and then get some solid playing time. As the season progressed, however, and we went from park to park playing, I was still made to ride the bench more often than not. What playing time I got was scant. The manager's two sons had played in every game and in my opinion neither was any better a ball player or even as good a ball player as me, as they rarely came into PS 64 schoolyard and played stickball anywhere near as frequently as I did. I failed to consider, though, that since their dad was taking the time to manage the team, that justified their playing in every game.
After each game, when I got home and my dad asked how the game went, I would mumble something about our winning or losing and my playing well. When the season was down to the next to last game, we were playing at Van Cortlandt Park. At game time, I was once again benched. I could no longer take the benching and went to the manager, notwithstanding his being a friend of the family and my chauffer to all the games, rashly blurting out a vociferous complaint over my lack of playing time all season, especially compared to how much playing time his sons were given. Not surprisingly, his face turned red and he yelled back at me, "Shut up or walk home." At that point I realized that I perhaps had been out of line and regretted my blurting out as I did. First, kids were not to speak to adults like that, second, I had no idea how to get home, and third, who was I to cause a rift between our two families. I shut up and slinked back to the bench. I don't recall if I got any playing time in that game, but I did get to ride home with the manager. Later that day at home when my dad asked how the game went. Stupidly, not learning my lesson from earlier in the day, I could not contain myself and I again rashly blurted out how I was treated the whole season and what had gone down that day. My dad, who was a very even-tempered guy, was clearly angry at what I told him. Now, like earlier, I was full of regret. I did not want to make a bad situation worse and I implored dad not to say anything to the family friend and cause a rift between the two families. Probably due to my pleadings and how close my mom was to the family friend's wife, my Dad stood down and didn't say anything. To the best of my knowledge, the family friend, perhaps embarrassed for chastising a kid, also did not say anything to my mom's dear friend, his wife. When the following weekend came and the last game of the season was to be played, I contacted the manager and told him I was under the weather and would not be making it. I'm sure it was no skin off of his nose.
When the season ended, our team finished second. I don't recall any playoffs or any participation trophies for second or lower place finishing. I do remember there being a banquet for the entire league but could not say where it was held. As for our team's finishing second, I said to myself, had I been able to play more, we would have finished first! And while I never asked the manager nor did the manager ever tell me why I was benched so much, I decided that the sons of the coaches and spectator dads had precedent over me. Talk about rationalization. Regarding continuing to play Little League baseball, needless to say that was my one and only season. I was happy to resume PS 64 schoolyard stickball. I will say that in later years when I was older and able to work after school and summer jobs, that same family friend, who in his real job was a manager at a company, was able to get me work at his company so I could make some decent spending cash. I guess that kind of lifted my view of him.