John Delach

On The Outside Looking In

Month: April, 2023

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.