John Delach

On The Outside Looking In

The Top Banana

May, 2003: Edited May 2023

It is good to be The Top Banana. Someone else does your chores. Someone else runs your errands. The Top Banana does not know who the dry cleaner is, or where the store is located. He never goes to the post office, to buy stamps or mail packages.

The Top Banana has a staff that procures his favorite food and wine. He is chauffeured in black limousines. His airplane seats and hotel rooms are first class, his schedule; seamless, on time with VIP attention. His table and waiter await his arrival, his favorite cocktail, pre-offered and always perfect.

The Top Banana has important opinions. When he speaks, people listen. He is profound, provocative and erudite. He is surrounded by laughter whenever he tells a joke. His criticism is devastating. He is not to be challenged; He is the Top Banana.

It is good to be the Top Banana so long as he doesn’t over-ripen. Bit by bit, the accoutrements of his prestige and power begin to disappear. His jokes are not so funny, the women not so beautiful. He is not so charming. He is not that good looking, not that bright, not that interesting. He is soft, he is spotted; he is not fit for the bunch.    

Jim Brown

Jim Brown died when he was 87 on Thursday, May 18th after leading a long and remarkable life on and off the gridiron. This remembrance is about the three-years I witnessed his football greatness at Yankee Stadium, 1962, 63 and 64; particularly, 1963.

Writing his obituary for The New York Times, Richard Goldstein described Jim Brown’s style:  “In any game, he dragged defenders when he wasn’t running over them or flattening them with a stiff arm. He eluded them with his footwork when he wasn’t sweeping around ends and outrunning them. He never missed a game…in 118 consecutive regular-season games even though he played one year with a broken toe and another with a sprained wrist.”

When I am asked who was the greatest football player? I always reply, “Jim Brown was the greatest that I have ever seen.”

His greatness revealed itself on the playing field at Yankee Stadium on the Sunday of Columbus Day weekend, October 13, 1963 before 62,956 fans. The day featured Mara weather; a sunny coolish afternoon, perfect for football. The Cleveland Browns were 5 – 0 and the Giants were 4 – 1. When it was over, the Browns had won the match, 35-24 remaining undefeated while Big Blue dropped to 4 – 2.

The Giants held their own at the end of the first half, ahead 17 to 14 although Jim Brown did score a one yard rushing touchdown by leaping over the Giants massive tackle, John Lo Vetere and knocking him backwards into the end zone

Robert Riger, author and artist, wrote: “The turning point of the game was an outside run of 72 yards in the third quarter.”

Brown described to Riger how it developed. “Frank Ryan (the Browns QB) just dropped back, turned, and threw to me as I flared out 15 yards to my left. I took the pass at ¾ speed, then came inside a little. Two of our men took care of Scott (LB) on the outside. Huff (MLB) was ten yards deep and as he came up; I gave him  a slight fake inside and then veered to the outside and ran right by him. As I went down the sideline, Barnes dove and missed. Patton never saw me and, Winter, the linebacker chased me to the goal, but it was just a matter of outrunning him.”

Jim Brown finished the day with a 32-yard running play for his third touchdown (although he actually ran 62 yards on that play including 30 yards laterally across the field.) “I ran (from behind Ryan) and had three options: over center, off tackle, or outside. I went outside because that’s where it (my opening) was. Robustelli gave it a half inside move reacting to my start inside, then when I swung wide, the tackle got him. Green put a good block on the linebacker who closed in. When I saw the outside open, I knew it would go. Once you turn that end – Robestelli is the key – you know you have five yards. If your halfback gets the linebacker, you know you’ve got ten. I got both of them. Now, which way? I saw three of them coming across fast from my right. But behind them across the field I saw three of my own blockers. I knew if I dropped a shoulder and went straight, I would get the first down, but when I cut back because I wanted to break it all the way. I cut sharply and ran 30 yards across the field and I caught them all going the wrong way. I picked up my blockers and they just chopped the rest of that defense down as I opened up.”

John Mara, Giants president and co-owner remembered watching Jim Brown play when he was a kid. “He would carry multiple defenders for extra yardage before crashing to the turf. He stood-up slowly and painfully made his way to the huddle as if that run had taken everything out of him. Instead, if he received the ensuing handoff, he would hit the line of scrimmage with even more ferocity.”

Likewise, when the press interviewed him after the game, they would hear this: “That Giants defense busted us but good. I always want to do good in New York. Today I got over 200 yards, but that was the roughest, hardest game I have ever played in the six years I’ve been playing.”       

That was a good day for Jim Brown, but not that unusual. Once, when he had a similar game against the Baltimore Colts, Artie Donovan the Colts prized defensive end remarked when asked what Brown had done that day: “Take away, the one yard power TD, take away the 72 yard catch and run and take away the 32-yard run and he didn’t do nothing!”

Sam Huff, the Giants Hall of Fame Middle Linebackers once said: “You don’t tackle Jim Brown, you grab onto his legs and wait for the calvary to arrive.”

In response Brown retorted: “Sam Huff made it to the Hall of Fame by grabbing onto my legs often,”

Jim Brown also excelled in the sport of lacrosse and he could have been the greatest professional Lacrosse ever, had there been such a thing as professional lacrosse. He was once asked what would be the perfect week for him and replied: “Play lacrosse six days a week and play football on Sunday.”  

RIP Jim Brown                    

The Golden Age of AM Radio

By 1960, rock & roll had completely established itself as a new entity. The music was no longer an extension of Rhythm and Blues (R&B), nor was it a part of Country and Western scene. Stars like Bill Haley and His Comets, Elvis Presly and Jerry Lee Lewis revolutionized the kind of music available to mainstream listening, white audiences. However, this acceptance of rock and roll by mainstream stations, also opened these broadcasting venues to include young and old black musicians previously relegated small R&B outlets. The Platters, Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, Frankie Lymon, Jackie Wilson, the Cadillacs and the Coasters could be heard on big-time AM radio. Even Little Richard, albeit, his lyrics significantly watered down, found outlets for his outrageousness on mainstream rock.

The coming of age of the enormous wave of post-World War II baby boomers forced many stations to change their programming from traditional pop music formats. Artists like Perry Como, Frank Sinatra and Mel Torme gave way to the likes of these rock and roll singers. The development in the late 50’s and the early 60’s, of the pocket transistor AM radio and the explosion of teenage drivers help to hasten this transition. The transistor allowed teens to take their radios practically anywhere and the explosion of young drivers and Interstate Highways gave them the means to get there.  

WINS (1010), was the first 50,000-watt signal to begin featuring rock programing under the star power of Alan Freed in 1954. When Freed departed to WABC (770), Murray (the K) Kaufman became the host WINS all-night show that he deemed the Swingin Soiree that he opened with the line: “This meeting of the Swingin Soiree is now in session.” 

I became hooked on Murray the K’s “Submarine Race-watchers Fan Club” to the point that I actually became a card-carrying member. I attended his show at Palisades Amusement Park as well as his two rock & roll shows at the Fox Theater in Downtown Brooklyn in the mid-1960s. I don’t remember all of the acts, but my hero, Jackie Wilson headlined one show and at the other, the Isley Brothers brought the house down with their hit song, “Shout.”

The greatest part of Murray the K’s legacy may have been his switch to FM when he discovered that WINS was about to go to an all-news format in 1965. A year later, the FCC ruled that AM and FM radio stations could no longer simultaneously broadcast the same content. Murray became the program director and primetime DJ on WOR-FM (98.7) along with Rosko and Scott Muni who were free to do their own things absent AM’s restrictions.

Little did we realize that this new station and its successors would eventually bring down AM Radio before imploding on itself.

But I digress. When WINS converted from broadcasting rock & roll in 1965 going to all news, they adopted several slogans including “All news, all the time” –  “The news watch never stops.” and “You give us 22 minutes, we’ll give you the world.”

That left WMGM (1050), WMCA (570) and WABC (770). WMGM stopped broadcasting rock 7 roll in 1962. They re-branded their call letters to WHN and changed their format to beautiful music, also known as elevator music.

WMCA began the Good Guys era in 1960. Joe O’Brien kicked off the 6 am to 10 am morning show. Harry Harrison handled the 10 to 1 pm mid-day show aimed at housewives. Jack Spector, whose closing line was “Look out street here I come,” had the 1pm to 4pm slot and Dandy Dan Daniels ran the 4 pm to 7 pm afternoon drive time show.

On December 26, 1963, Jack Spector earned the distinction of making WMCA the first station in New York City to play a Beatles song, live. The song was “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” and despite its modest 5,000-watts of power, WMCA out drew its more powerful competitors soaring to the top of New York’s Arbitron ratings that convinced John Lennon and Ringo Starr to record several spots for WMCA.

Still, it was a losing battle and it was only a question of time before WABC took back the  Number One Arbitron rating. This was also the era of DJ mobility as both rock stations and their personalities sought better ratings. From 1960 to 1979, WABC featured both Herb Oscar Anderson and Harry Harrison hosting the morning show. Ron Lundy handled the mid-day from 1965 to 1982. Dan Ingram ran the afternoon slot for over twenty years from 1961 until 1982.

The evenings at WABC featured two super star DJ’s, Scott (Scottso) Muni and Bruce (Cousin Brucie) Morrow. We lost Scottso in 2004, but Cousin Brucie, who left WABC in 1974, has done it all and currently hosts a retrospective show on rock and radio on Saturday nights from the latest incarnation of WABC, now a conservative talk- show station.

AM rock radio lost its draw as Boomers grew older. Tastes shifted toward more serious sounds, as FM radio emerged as the new rock leader with better contemporary content while the quality of its sound outstripped AM’s. The FM tide did not last long as, first, satellite radio and then internet radio and podcasts further divided the marketplace. 

Many AM stations gave up their music formats and turned to talk radio. This included the two so called “Shock Jocks” Don Imus and Howard Stern.

For those of us who suffered through the rock and roll rebellion, there remained a single AM station that had not wavered. One place where we could find talented personalities who were not rock oriented and who were dedicated to  ”The Great American Songbook.”

That station was WNEW, (1130). Part Three will explore my relationship with what was then my best friend on radio.                                     

AM Radio is Slip-sliding Away

John Delach

May 2023

Part One

Like losing contact with an old friend, AM radio seems to be disappearing from its familiar frequencies. Not just from headlines, but from relevance itself. AM Radio is slip-sliding away.

 Sadly, the internet and social media have become the main sources for the American public to discover and understand current events. Television weakly occupies third place with radio, in particular AM radio, and newspapers essentially invisible to the average American under sixty.

Once upon a time, but not that long ago, by 7:00 AM every morning about 40% of the driveways in our neighborhood would be occupied by one two or even three morning newspapers delivered by different drivers. Today a single driver delivers newspapers to fewer than 10% of these houses. Granted, many former print customers seem to now read the E-edition of these papers, but at most, the total readership of both print and e-editions is less than 25% of traditional subscribers. The absence of printed newspapers is all too apparent, but the loss of listeners to the AM Band radio stations is far more subtle.

The New York airwaves remain filled with the sound of major stations like WMCA, WFAN, WOR, WABC, WCBS and WINS, but they no longer rely on listeners to tune into to their broadcasts on traditional AM frequencies. They broadcast simultaneously on FM outlets, and Internet radio. A casual listener probably could not identify the original source.

Recently, I discovered that station on-air identification has changed to lessen the identity of their AM frequency, or eliminate it altogether. WFAN identifies it’s call letters as “WFAN 101.9 FM” eliminating 660 AM. The all-news 1010 WINS now tells us we are listening to “1010 WINS all news 92.3 FM” and its sister station, all news, WCBS identifies itself as “WCBS News

radio 880, 101.1 MHZ.

Peter Funk recently reminisced in The Wall Street Journal: “When I lived in Denver in the early 1970s, Sunday nights included an audio excursion of my hometown of New York, a trip only AM radio could provide. At 770 on the dial, I listened to WABC, with its distinctive disc jockeys, rock music and ‘news at :25 and :55’ via a signal traveling more than 1,600 miles.”

After, World War II, the major AM stations, by then, long established, continued to broadcast personality shows like Martin Block’s Make-Believe Ballroom (WNEW) and live studio broadcasts featuring prominent performers. Almost all of the major stations kept their music mainstream, safe, and middle of the road.

Enter Alan Freed, who, I believe is the prime mover who influenced Rock and Roll’s take-over of AM radio content. If you question my belief, I recommend you visit the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio. When you enter the hall’s tribute to rock and roll radio and who set it free, you will be attracted to a silver box set on a pedestal in the center of the room bathed by a spotlight that highlights the room. Alone, under that bright light, the silver box contains Alan Freed’s ashes.

Alan Freed’s career began in in June of 1945 at WAKR in Akron, Ohio. Freed was the bad boy of his era and faced several fines and suspensions from management including a five-year fight to leave WAKR that he lost in court. In 1950. Freed joined WJW (850 AM)) in Cleveland to host their midnight program. Prior to his arrival at WJW, he met Leo Mintz, owner of Record Rendezvous, one of Cleveland’s largest record stores. Mintz told Freed that he had begun selling black music, then called soul or rhythm and blues (R&B), and that he noticed increased interest in these records in his store by white customers.

Freed peppered his on-air speech with hipster language and on July 11, 1951, began playing R&B records on a main-stream radio station. He began calling his show “The Moondog House” and described himself as the “King of the Moondoggers.”

“He addressed his listeners as if they were all a part of a mythical kingdom of hipsters united in their love for black music. He also began popularizing the phrase, ‘rock and roll’ to describe the music he played.”

The following spring, Freed was one of the organizers who created, “The Moondog Coronation Ball”, a five-act show that exceeded the capacity of the Cleveland Arena, an event that now is considered the first rock and roll concert. Over-crowding almost led to a riot and Freed’s popularity soared.

In July 1954, Freed followed his success to New York City and WINS (1010 AM.)

In 1956, he produced a major rock and roll show at New York’s Paramount Theatre, but once again overcrowding again led to a near riot. Unfortunately, badly behaved American youth, rioted at the same time Hungarian youth were dying in an unsuccessful fight to free themselves from the USSR. Life Magazine produced side-by-side pictures of our youngsters battling NYC policemen while Hungarian youngsters shed their blood under Russian soldiers AK-47s.

Freed went on to WABC 770 (AM) another of New York’s powerhouse rock and roll station.

He became embroiled in the federal government’s investigation of payola by disc jockeys. Payola scandals appear from time to time. Payola in broadcasting is defined as an induvial or an FCC licensed radio station accepting money to play a specific song, or anything else. Payola is always with us.   In 2006, the latest settlement, four major radio monopolies, CBS Radio, Citadel, Clear Channel and Entercom paid Uncle $12.5 million to settle payola charges.

Alan Freed refused to testify or to plead so WABC fired him on November 21, 1959.

He died a year later, but his legacy had already been established. Part Two will explore that legacy.

Memory Triggers

Recently my memory was triggered by two serendipitous events: The first came from a fellow member of my writer’s workshop. The second by a bit of news supplied in an email from my daughter.

Party Lines

Joel, a fellow member of my writer’s workshop was reading from a new novel he is writing and presented a passage about the main character, Stan who was talking to his sweetheart, Sheila, on the telephone. He had to remind her when she changed the subject that they were speaking on a party line and this subject was too sensitive for others who may be listening in. He explained that it would be better to hold this conversation until they were alone together.

Ah, the party line. Remember party lines? If you are of a certain age, chances are that you had a phone that was shared with others who were probably strangers. It was also called a multiparty – line, a shared service line and a party wire.

 My mother leased our first phone from New York Telephone (a.k.a. Ma Bell) in the mid-1950s. In those days, you didn’t buy the phone, you leased it. Your choice was limited to a black metal device made by another American Telephone and Telegraph, (AT&T) subsidiary, Western Electric.

My mother deliberately chose a party line to save money. I rarely went near that phone as her words were pounded into my head that phones were a luxury and outgoing calls must only be made for important reasons. Important reasons did not include talking to friends. Like most of you, I remember our first phone number: EVergreen-2-5849, but I don’t remember ever making an outgoing call on it. Mom’s preaching was effective. Of course, making a long-distance call was out of the question.

I think we had three or four families on our party line, but I never picked it up to see if I could listen to other conversations. A lasting consequence of my early relationship with that black gadget, and all that followed including its latest incarnation, my I-Phone 13, is that I hate talking on that evil device. Granted, I’m not as bad as some of my contemporaries who treat it like a pay phone, for outgoing calls only, but I’m not far behind. To me, speaking on a phone, any phone for more than five minutes is a waste of time.

How I Met my Wife and Our First Date

Just last week, my daughter, Beth, sent me an article about a project, still in the making, to restore the towers that are part of the New York State pavilion from the 1964 – 1965 World’s Fair. Beth thought to send this to me because those towers played a role in Mary Ann’s and my courtship in 1964.

My buddies and I, all of us over 18, then the drinking age in New York, figured the World’s Fair had to be a great place to pick up girls. Early in June, we made our way to the Wisconsin Pavilion that featured the world’s largest wheel of cheddar cheese that weighed in at 17 1/2 tons.

 Obviously, it wasn’t cheese we were after, it was girls. Our destination was a bar they called, The Red Garter, where the bands played banjo-centric folk music, then a popular style of my generation that became known as a Hootenanny. The 1964-1965 World’s Fair authorities described it as “An old-fashioned  beer garden with (a) sawdust floor, chilled steins  and banjo music. Manned entirely by college boys and girls, the beer garden is probably the liveliest place at the Fair, drawing heavily from the young element, particularly the collegians. No food is sold after 8 P.M., only beer… (that) goes on until 2 A.M.”

I spotted a group of young women sitting at the bar and, after being rebuffed by the first one, I approached, one of her friends and I hit it off with a lively conversation. Before we went our separate ways, she gave me her telephone number. Her name was Mary Ann Donlon, but contacting her again proved more difficult than I expected. In fact, she was out the first three times I called her. I would have given up trying to contact her had it not been for the encouragement her mother gave me to persevere, Finally, we hooked-up and she agreed to go back to the World’s Fair for an afternoon date on a coming Sunday.

That certainly relieved both of us of our anxiety as this was only a little better than a blind date. A Sunday afternoon date at the World’s Fair should be about as safe as a date could be. Still, I found a way to renew her anxiety by suggesting that we include a trip to that New York State Pavilion. My idea was this would be a great way to get a bird’s eye view of the fairgrounds, but she saw danger written all over it.

It didn’t help that the single elevator couldn’t carry more than four passengers at a time, that there were only a few other fairgoers who joined us on top of the tower, or that it only had a low railing. Mary Ann didn’t get her mojo back until we returned to terra firma. Over a meal at Tad’s Steakhouse, she confessed going to the top of that tower was a bad idea for her.” You see, I don’t like heights.”

Laughing out loud, I replied, “I promise never to take you there again or any other high places unless you explicitly agree in advance.”

Now the state has put $24 million into the towers to stabilize then. A Phase II is planned that: “… would allow for limited guided tours of the towers in the future.”

On behalf of my wife of 55 years and myself, “thanks, but no thanks. 

Note: On the Outside Looking In will not be published on May 3rd, but it will return on May 10th.       

Polo Grounds Glory Days: Part Two – 1954

April 2023

A last hurrah, the final World Series championship won by the New York Giants at their venerable Manhattan home, the Polo Grounds.

Bill Christman shares his memories of that season:

August of 1954. My Dad took me to a Sunday doubleheader against the Pirates. We had an early, but traditional Sunday dinner of leg of lamb. My Mom made delicious sandwiches of left-over meat and off we went to see Johnny Antonelli and company win both ends of that doubleheader 5-4 and 5-3.

The Giants were my love, but things were rocky. They had lost three straight to the second place Dodgers reducing a 3 ½ lead to just ½ game. But the lead had replenished itself back to two games going into that Sunday. I kept one eye on the scoreboard that showed the Dodgers losing to the Phillies in both games of their doubleheader in Ebbets Field. I can still see in my mind’s eye the man to my right and several rows back yelling, “Philly got five runs.” When the sun set, the Giants lead was four games.

The Giants opponent in the World Series was the Al Lopez-led Cleveland Indians who won a remarkable 111 games that season, ending the Yankees run of five consecutive AL Pennants.

The Giants went on to sweep the Indians, four games to none. The accepted turning point of the series occurred in the top of the ninth inning of Game 1. With the score tied at 2-2, runners on first and second base, Giants manager, Leo Durocher brought in left-handed relief pitcher, Dick Littlefield, to pitch to Vic Wertz, the Indians first baseman batting second.

 Wertz hit a long fly ball deep into “Death Valley” also known as the Polo Grounds’ center field. Willie Mays, playing a medium- ranged center field position, took off at the crack of the bat. The ball and Mays reached the 440-foot mark at precisely the same moment. Mays, with his back to the ball, made a spectacular over-the shoulder catch.

 After catching the ball, Mays used his momentum to pivot 180 degrees back toward home plate. As he rotated, his right arm swung out and around him allowing Willie to release the ball at exactly the right moment with an amazing velocity. His perfect catch followed by his perfect throw forced the runners to hold up. Durocher called time-out to go to the mound. Littlefield greeted his skipper with a great understatement, “Well, I got my man out.”

The game remained tied as the runners were subsequently stranded. In the tenth inning, Dusty Rhodes pinch-hit a three-run homerun to win the game 5-2.

The next day, September 30, 1954, the Giants won the last World Series game ever to be played in the Polo Grounds, 3 to 1. Rhodes again was the hero driving in all three of the Giants runs. The Giants finished the series in Cleveland winning the last two games, 6 to 2 and 7 to 4 to sweep the Indians in four games.

1955 belonged to the Brooklyn Dodgers as “Wait until next year,” fell into the same category that the Boston Red Sox did to “Reverse the Curse” in 2004. By winning the World Series, it just did not matter anymore. The Dodgers won the pennant with a record of 98-55 while the Giants finished in third place behind the Braves.

Bill Christman remembered a Fourth of July doubleheader against the Dodgers.

The Giants and Dodgers hardly ever played each other in doubleheaders which made this a special event. I went to the Polo Grounds with a good group of neighbors and friends on a day that, weather-wise, could not have been a better day for baseball.

My scorecard shows that the Giants did not allow the Dodgers to score a run in the first inning of the first game. The next time they accomplished this was the second inning of the second game. Brooklyn won the first game, 15-2 and the second, 6-1.

Willie Mays hit 51 home runs in ‘55, but the pitching floundered. Leo Durocher resigned as manager on September 25 to be effective at the end of a doubleheader against the Phillies. The Giants won the first game 5-2. Here is how Noel Hynd described what happened in the bottom of the ninth inning of the second game with the Phillies leading 3-1 and the Giants at bat:

With Joey Amalfitano on second base and Whitey Lockman on first, Bobby Hoffman lined a ball to Phillies shortstop, Ted Kazanski. Kazanski flipped the ball to Bobby Morgan, the second baseman, to double Amalfitano. Then Morgan threw to first before Lockman could return there. Leo must have been muttering to himself as he took his final walk to the center field clubhouse. His reign in John McGraw’s old job had ended on the short end of a triple play.

The Giants reign in the Polo Grounds came to an end on Sunday, September 29, 1957. The home team lost to the Pittsburg Pirates, 9-1, before an angry crowd who did their best to demolish what they could. Some in the crowd chanted: “We want Stoneham with a rope around his neck.”

The Giants abandoned New York for San Francisco joining their principal rivals, the Brooklyn Dodgers, who abandoned Brooklyn for Los Angeles. The Dodgers home park, Ebbets Field, was quickly demolished to provide land for Urban Renewal housing.

Curiously, the vacant Polo Grounds was left intact. Good thing: It became the initial home, first for football in 1960 when the newly minted American Football League (AFL)  New York Titans made the Polo Grounds their home field.

When the baseball expansion New York Mets joined Titans successor, the Jets there in 1962, the life of this historic ballpark was extended until its replacement, Shea Stadium, could open in April of 1964. A week before the Mets inaugurated Shea with a contest against the Pittsburg Pirates, the jack hammers went to work beginning the destruction to erase this old friend.

 Frank Sinatra memorialized its passing with a song called, “There Used to be a Ballpark here.”     

Glory Days in the Polo Grounds: Part One – 1951

High drama did not return to the Polo Grounds until 1951. It was a bit improbable. First of all, the hated Leo Durocher became the Giants manager. Hated, because he had previously been the Brooklyn Dodgers manager before his mouth, that was beyond being colorful and his antics got him into trouble with the baseball commissioner, Happy Chandler, and Dodger General Manager, Branch Rickey. Chandler had suspended Durocher for the 1947 season for “an accumulation of unpleasant incidents.”

His nickname was “Lippy” and the incidents included having a big security guard beat-up an obnoxious fan, allegedly letting the actor, George Raft, run crooked card games out of his apartment and associating with Lucky Luciano during spring training trips to Cuba.

Durocher led the Giants back from a next to impossible deficit of 13 ½ games tying the Dodgers and forcing a three-game playoff. The teams split the first two games bringing the third and deciding game to the old ball park beneath Coogan’s Bluff.

Don Markey reflected on the ordeal of being a Dodgers fan in 1951:

The Dodgers had a 13 ½  game lead in August yet managed to self-destruct. True, the Giants had something like a 16-game winning streak, but the Dodgers gave them a big shot in the arm by doing things like losing back-to-back doubleheaders to Cincinnati and having Roy Campanella thrown out of a close game in Boston for arguing a play at the plate in the last week of the season.

On the final Sunday, with the teams tied, the Giants won their game early. The Dodgers won in the 14th inning on a home run hit by Jackie Robinson. That blast followed a diving stop he made behind second base in the prior inning. Robinson made the throw to first for the final out to end the top of that 14th inning. Robinson’s lightning quick reflexes and his power saved the day. Had he not made the perfect dive, the Dodgers would have lost the game.

I don’t remember much about the first game of the playoffs that the Giants won in Ebbets Field. The Dodgers won the second game 10-0 behind Clem Labine, their top relief pitcher who had to pitch because there were no starters available. Labine pitched a great game, but his effort made him unavailable to relieve in fateful game three.

I was a senior at Grover Cleveland High School, but I played hooky so I could watch Game Three on television at my family’s apartment on the first floor of 1881 Cornealia Street in Ridgewood, Queens. The Dodgers had, Don Newcombe, their best pitcher, on the mound. He was probably pitching on only two-day’s rest, but this was the same guy who, the year before, pitched a complete game in the first game of a Twi-night doubleheader then pitched into the 7th inning of the second game. 

Newcombe pitched the Dodgers to a 4-1 lead going into the bottom of the ninth inning. Alvin Dark hit a single between first and second. Don (Mandrake) Mueller followed with a single to the exact same place putting runners on first and second. Newcombe then forced Monty Irvin to pop out before allowing Whitey Lockman, a double that scored Dark. Mueller hustled to third sliding in with such a force that he broke his ankle on the play. Clint (Hondo Hurricane) Hartung came in to run for the injured Mueller.

With the score, 4-2, Chuck Dressen, Brooklyn’s manager brought in Ralph Branca to pitch to Bobby Thompson with a very nervous rookie, Willie Mays, on deck. Thompson, born in Scotland, was nicknamed the “Flying Scott” after a fast train in Great Britain. He responded by hitting, “the shot heard round the world,” a three-run homer into the lower deck of the left field grandstand leading to utter joy on the part of Giants’ announcer, Russ Hodges, who shouted over and over again: “The Giants win the pennant, the Giants win the pennant…” In his excitement, Hodges never completed his scorecard, his entries ending with Lockman’s double.

One can only imagine Branca’s despair as he walked that long, long walk back to the center field clubhouse. The next day’s sports pages carried a photograph of Branca sitting on the clubhouse steps lost and, apparently, sobbing.

These dramatics gave the Giants the right to play the Yankees in the last subway World Series between those two teams, four games to two.

Brooklyn won the pennant in 1952 and 1953 with the Giants finishing second and fourth respectively. But the Giants had one last time of glory in store for their fans. Durocher had not quite worn out his welcome as he led the 1954 Giants to a 97-57 record; five games ahead of Brooklyn. Johnny Antonelli was added to the pitching staff in a trade that sent Bobby Thompson to the Braves. Willie Mays’ return from the Army did not hurt their cause either.

Coming Up Craps on Our Super Destroyers

Coming Up Craps on Our Super Destroyers

John Delach

April 2023

From time to time, we buy into radical thinking designed to short-cut and rapidly advance “what if” weapons faster and further than conventional  wisdom believed to be possible. Usually, we put our faith into the hands of the champions of this thinking, those so called  “Whiz Kids,” whose “what if’s” all too often, end in failures.

Robert McNamara, the chief Whiz-Kid of the Kennedy administration as Secretary of Defense, forced a complete reorganization of our armed services. Long story short, and with no love for Mac and what he did, his biggest success was forcing the army to abandon brown shoes in favor of the black ones worn by all the other branches.

His biggest failure was the F-111, Aardvark. This fighter / bomber he decreed would work as well for the Air Force as it would for the Navy. Despised by both air forces, it worked for neither. The Air Force and the Navy quickly abandoned it as soon as they could, the USAF, in favor of the F-15 Eagle, and the Navy, for the F-14 Tomcat. Both aircraft served well and, of this writing, the F-15 remains in service.

It seems we will never learn that “short cuts” and “quantum leaps forward” just don’t work out as planned.  Again and again, we tend to believe the “Big Brains” and their malarkey that a new advanced technology is the answer to solving unsolvable problems that, in reality, don’t need solving.

We are still suffering from the consequences of the decisions by Donald Rumsfeld and others, going back to President George Herbert Walker Bush, (41), that advanced three major projects. Each incorporated weapon systems based on a new paradigm, “Leap Ahead Technology.”

The exact meaning of Leap Ahead Technology is lost to history. Success has a thousand fathers; failure is an orphan. Another instance where think tank, big brain so-called wunderkind analysts convinced DC policy makers that their latest, greatest new-think weapon solutions are in fact: “The way the truth and the light.”

Leap Ahead Technology gave us the terribly flawed Elmo Zumwalt class destroyers, the F-34 Lightning II fighter and the Gerald Ford class nuclear aircraft carriers. Leap Ahead Technology’s goal was to incorporate the next generation of technology into these new weapons by relying on unproven systems still in development. This produced multi-billion-dollar crap shoots that a broad array of new technologies would reach maturity before they became operational.

The lead ship was named after Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, who was the innovative and popular Chief of Naval Operations from 1970 to 1974. When I wrote about the Zumwalt’s in 2015, I noted: “Back in 2009, the GAO “…found that four out of 15 critical technologies in the Zumwalts’ design were fully mature. Six were approaching maturity but five would not be fully mature until after installation.”

So much went wrong that the navy cut the order from 32 ships to three and deemed that this trio would be utilized, “…as state of the art platforms for experimental weapons such as lasers and electromagnetic rail guns… The cost, $4.2 billion for each ship, did not include an additional $10 billion in development costs plus invoices still to come to make these systems workable.” 

 “They are unable to fulfill the original intended role of multipurpose destroyer warships, while the scale of cost overruns brings the viability of the program into question even if the destroyers were able to function as intended.”

Sebastian Roblin, a military expert called the destroyers an “Ambitious but failed ship concept “

Roblin noted that the ship’s long-range land-attack projectile guided shells cost roughly $800,000 each-about the same price as a cruise missile. Sad to say, the contract to purchase these shells was cancelled after the guns had been installed in the lead ship. Think about it, our destroyer for the Twenty First Century went to sea with state-of-the-art weapons, but no ammunition!

“The Zumwalts lacked several vital features, including anti-ship missiles, anti-submarine torpedoes and long-range area-anti-air defense missiles. A complete and utter failure.

Finally, the navy recently declared a moratorium on new destroyer design and construction until 2032. They will continue building their tried-and-true Arleigh Burke-class destroyers first built in 1988 while new designs are tested out. This will allow the Burkes to have the longest construction period of any class of ships in the navy, 44 years. 

Meanwhile, the three Zumwalts will live in limbo until the navy feels that decommissioning is no longer a major embarrassment.

DD 1001 was named after Michael Monsoor, a Navy Seal, who was killed in Iraq during Desert Storm and DD 1002, named after President Lyndon Johnson.

Funny, Ike, Washington, Lincoln, Truman, Bush 41, Ford and JFK all had front line carriers named for them.

Not so LBJ. Sorry, Lyndon, at least they can’t blame you for this fiasco.

My Ordeal at Grand Central Madison

I decided that my recovery and rehabilitation from knee surgery had progressed far enough for Mary Ann and I to make the trip  to Grand Central Madison and enjoy lunch at the Bryant Park Grill nearby\to the LIRR’s new East Side destination. To eliminate any threat of overcrowding, we scheduled this adventure for Saturday, March 4th.

To prepare for our trip, I examined an article from a 2015 edition of Trains Magazine that contained an extensive diagram of the new terminal. Back then, it was informally called the East Side Access project and it would not receive its current moniker, Grand Central Madison until just before its opening.

Little did I realize how overwhelming the actual experience of navigating the new LIRR terminal would be.

When the conductor came to punch our tickets, I first realized how much attention these LIRR ticket-takers were spending with each passenger making sure that they understood that this train was not going to Penn Station and that they had to change trains in Woodside to continue on to Penn. The extent of the railroad’s concern that passengers were going to their correct destination became more apparent as we approached the Woodside Station. A crew member used the P/A to give a detailed explanation of how to transfer to the correct train.

On arrival at the new squeaky-clean, well lit and well-signed platform, we realized we had de-trained on one of the lowest levels, so we used an elevator to ascend to the mezzanine level. There we found one of the four banks of escalators that took us 120 feet up to the new LIRR Concourse that ran north to south from 48th Street to 43rd Street.

Since our destination was located in Bryant Park between 42nd and 41st, we headed south to the end of the LIRR Concourse and into the corridor that connected this passageway with the traditional Grand Central Terminal, the subway and the new skyscraper named Vanderbilt 1. I was so intent on navigating us in the right direction, that I ignored the troubling signals I felt walking along this concourse. We reached the street via another escalator on the corner of Madison Ave. and 42nd Street. Our destination was only two and a half blocks away.

Lunch was fun and brought back fond memories of other meals at the Café. This was our first visit since the COVID 19 virus first hit three years ago in March of 2020.

We became a bit confused trying to figure out the time of departure for the next train that would return us to Port Washington from Grand Central Madison

rather than from Penn Station. Finally, we determined that we would make it if we left the Bryant Park Café in the next ten minutes.

Even though paying the bill was easy, I had a funny feeling that making our train on time would be a problem.

We retraced our steps back to Vanderbilt One and those escalators that returned us to the entrance to both GCT, the subway and the entrance to the LIRR Concourse. We walked north to check out the ticketing area and the waiting room. Mary Ann remarked that the relatively narrow concourse with its low ceiling reminded her more of an airport. We both were surprised how empty it was. All of the shops on both sides of the concourse are unoccupied with the windows papered over that added to this strange sensation of claustrophobia.

The almost totally empty ticket office and the waiting room only added to my confusion. I think the combination of the absence of people in this hall, poor signage and the miniscule seating area for a maximum of three dozen ticketed passengers further disoriented me. Of course, that number exceeded the few passengers awaiting their trains. It began to seem like other than the two of us, almost everybody else in those spaces all worked for the LIRR. Cops, staff, ticket agents and guides.

It all closed in causing me to lose my bearings. When Mary Ann told me our train had been called, I was able to walk us over to the down escalator, but vertigo set in. When we reached the mezzanine, my ability to locate our train had almost deserted me.

Fortunately, I figured out that we had to take an elevator going above the mezzanine to reach the platform for our train I led us to the closest door and seats inside. At this point, my thinking process shut down. Mary Ann asked me something about the station, but all I could do was mumble gibberish.

I realized that I couldn’t communicate, but I couldn’t explain this to Mary Ann. I finally made it clear that I was out of it and she left me alone.

Somewhere during our journey, I got my act together allowing me to reconnect with my brain and communicate. First, I convinced Mary Ann that I was back on the same planet with her. Then, I swore to her that I was there the whole time, but that some kind of sensory depravation had temporarily shut down my ability to communicate.

Fortunately, my explanation made sense to her.

I have no interest in having that experience happen to me again so I have decided that on my next visit I will stay on the street for as long as possible.

The Long Island Railroad’s Version of the Big Dig

The Long Island Railroad’s (LIRR) “Big Dig” finally commenced operations this past January with a soft opening. The initial service was limited to shuttles running between Jamacia and the new station to discover hidden bugs and gremlins lurking in the new physical plant before subjecting it to the chaos of twice-a-day rush hours. Next, a modified schedule followed until it was finally time for  full-service to be introduced in March.

This seemingly endless project to bring LIRR service to the East Side of Manhattan was first proposed in 1963, but didn’t get legs until the creation of the new super commuter operating agency, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) in 1967. This super authority  subsumed most existing transportation agencies including the NYC Transit Authority, the LIRR,  Metro North and those operations of the New Haven Railroad into Grand Central with the cooperation with the State of Connecticut. Other agencies were also included particularly the Triboro Bridge and Tunnel Authority that built and operated all of the tunnels and toll bridges that cross the East River.

In 1968, New Yorkers approved a $2.5 billion MTA bond issue to fund its Program for Action that provided few details how the MTA would spend this money or the additional money they would also need.  Their top-priority project was a new four-track tunnel to cross from Queens to Manhattan along 63rd Street to carry a new subway line and give the LIRR access to the East side of Manhattan.

The planners decided to use a big chunk of the available funds to build the tubes under the East River. Rather than use traditional machines to dig out a path beneath the river, they contracted with Bethlehem Shipbuilding of Baltimore to construct four tubes in a dry dock like they were submarines. When each tube was completed, both ends were sealed, so that they could be floated out and towed to New York. The first tunnel segments were delivered in May of 1971, and by March of 1972, all four had been lowered into place. By that October, the two completed tubes and the middle land section on Roosevelt Island that included a subway station had been linked together.

Unfortunately, by the mid-1970’s New York City was essentially broke and when President Ford refused to bail-out the city: “Ford to NYC: ‘Drop Dead,” its ability to borrow money collapsed  All capitol construction came to a halt. NYC suffered through massive lay-offs. And massive default was staved off by a last-minute injection of cash from the Teachers Retirement Fund. Other forces finally convinced the Feds to intervene.

Still a period of hard times would freeze projects for the foreseeable future. Despite Mayor Abraham Beam’s public announcement that all work had ceased, Richard Ravitch, the MTA Chairman said the work on fitting out the tubes had to continue or they would deteriorate to the point of being unusable. Fortunately, he preserved the core of the project.

Finally, in 1989, construction on connecting the subway line resumed with a new target date for its completion to a dead-end station in Long Island City set for October. (This new subway “to nowhere” would remain unfinished until 2011 when new tunnels connected it to the main subway lines under Queens Boulevard.)

By 1999, conditions at Penn Station had grown chaotic thanks in part to the initiation by NJ Transit of their Mid-town Direct connection that allowed trains from their northern routes direct access into Penn Station rather than terminating in Hoboken.

In 2002, Congress passed a bill that allocated $132 million for infrastructure projects in New York State that included enough seed money to resurrect the East Side Access project.

Construction began when two tunnel boring machines began the one mile journey from the East River ends of the tubes west to Park Avenue and then south digging out two new tunnels to two new terminal caverns each 100 feet beneath the original Grand Central Terminal. Each cavern would accommodate two platforms servicing four tracks stacked on top of each other and separated by mezzanines. Theses mezzanines 0would house elevators and four stacks of escalators to take passengers 70 feet to a new LIRR Passageway 30 feet under the existing station. Those banks of escalators provided new exits at 45th , 47th and 48th Street. Additional exits connected to GCT, the subway at 42nd Street and the brand new skyscraper, One Vanderbilt Avenue.

Finally, East Side Access became a reality. All it took was 60 years and $12 billion to build this dream. Frankly, the only reason it was actually finished was it became too big and too expensive  to fail.

But be careful about your dreams. It seems we became so used to not having a choice where to get on and off the train in Manhattan. We now have to choose where to go and when. Schedules had to be split between Penn and GCT. The same train no longer went to the same place. Commuters are confused and annoyed.

The railroad also had to decide on how to divide service between these two terminals with their analysis fogged by the new work-from-home movement developed during the COVID 19 quarantine. Good grief, does this mean we didn’t need this new terminal after all?

And don’t even let me get started about what the LIRR did to their service to Brooklyn, the LIRR’s bastard son.

At least the railroad is reacting to the debacle they created and is working on changes to routes, stations, length of trains and timing. But this remains a moving target and they have a long way to go before Grand Central Madison can be declared a success.

On “The Outside Looking In” will not publish on March 22 and will return on March 29th