Paul Dickson is the author of more than 60 books and several hundred magazine and newspaper articles. He has written over a dozen bat and ball books (11 on baseball and one on softball). His most recent is the biography, Bill Veeck: Baseball’s Greatest Maverick. It was named the 2012 CASEY Award for Best Baseball Book of the Year. In 2011 Paul was awarded the Tony Salin Memorial Award from the Baseball Reliquary for the preservation of baseball history. He was also honored in 2008 by the New York Public Library for his award-winning and widely acclaimed Dickson Baseball Dictionary, now in its third edition.
September 2, 2015, marks the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. On that date in 1945, Japan formally surrendered. Six days later, President Harry Truman made his way to Griffith Stadium in Washington, D.C., and brought peace to the homefront by throwing out the first ball of a baseball game.
Before a baseball game can begin, two things must happen: The home plate umpire must signal “Play Ball,” and the catcher must give the pitcher a sign ordering the type and location of the first pitch. More often than not, the latter is a finger sign delivered from the catcher’s inner thigh. If the pitcher is uneasy with the pitch he will “shake it off,” vetoing it with a shake of his head or by some other gesture of rejection.
The catcher gives a new sign . . . or does he?
In 1880, the French comic opera La Mascotte debuted in Paris. It told the story of a farm girl who brought good luck to those closely associated with her—that is, provided she remained a virgin. When an English version of La Mascotte came to New York City in 1881, the name of the opera became The Mascot. Suddenly the term and the concept was everywhere and applied widely but especially to athletic teams.
Mired in seventh place in the eight-team National League and suffering at the gate, Brooklyn’s enterprising General Manager Larry MacPhail staged this game to fill empty seats. It was the first night game ever played in the New York area and only the second Major League park rigged with towers and floodlights. The first had been in Cincinnati at Crosley Field in 1936, which MacPhail accomplished before coming to Brooklyn.
As we wait for those magic words of February, “pitchers and catchers report today,” we can reflect that the influence of baseball on the English language is stunning, strong, and at what appears to be an all-time real and metaphoric high. Tough folks play “hardball,” save for when they relent and ask a few “softball questions.” Everyone seems to be willing to settle for a “ballpark figure,” and there are still a lot of folks who ask you to “touch base” with them.
I was born on July 30, 1939, in Yonkers, New York. My neighborhood in South Yonkers, a few blocks out of the Bronx, was then, is now, and probably always will be New York Yankee territory. My first full month on Earth was Joe DiMaggio’s best month in pinstripes: Between August 1 and September 1, he batted .405, with 14 home runs and 52 RBIs. There were 10 games alone in which he produced three or more runs.
It is fitting and proper that Margaret “Midge” Donahue (1892–1978) is finally getting the attention she deserves as both an innovative front office baseball pioneer and as the first female executive in the game to have risen through the ranks. Her former employer — the Chicago Cubs — honored her as part of 2014’s 100th anniversary of Wrigley Field, and she is on the ballot for election to the Shrine of the Eternals of the Baseball Reliquary.