Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Utica Observer-Dispatch Like YOGI by Carlo DeVito

Posted Jan 10, 2009 @ 11:39 PM

No one who counts the digits after dollar signs would argue that baseball is in trouble.

But diehard fans of my generation still love to complain that you hardly ever see young people playing baseball for fun on the sandlots anymore. Maybe some kids aren’t allowed out of the house unsupervised. Part of it may be the competition from football, basketball, video games and other entertainment. And a whole generation of fans has been lost because the best games on TV end well past their bedtime.

Lighten up, guys. Such concerns are nothing new.

Here’s a statement made 75 years ago today:

“Public interest in baseball may be decreasing. Anyway, it’s not increasing. It’s not going ahead like golf and tennis. And the country’s financial situation has nothing to do with it.“What’s the reason? Simply this: In recent years there haven’t been enough kids playing ball. Why, when I was a boy it seemed that all the kids played. Lately, too many boys have simply been reading about it. You’ve got to play some time or other to become a red hot fan. A new generation is growing up, and the proportion of fans is too small. Unless something is done, a couple of years from now the proportion will be even smaller.”

That was said by none other than Babe Ruth, as he signed his final contract with the Yankees in the office of owner Jacob Ruppert. He may have been a bit morose as he saw his career winding down, but he promised to devote a lot of his time “trying to get more and more kids to play it.”

A newspaper clipping quoting The Babe, who once threw baseballs to a crowd from the roof of the Observer-Dispatch, was sent to us by history columnist Frank Tomaino. “The more things change, the more they stay the same,” Frank wrote.

One of Frank’s quirks when he worked here full-time was his conviction that Yogi Berra did not belong in the Hall of Fame, so it seems unfair to Frank to segue to Yogi here.

But it’s appropriate to bring in Yogi, because he’s the perfect example of a kid who played all day wherever he could find a field and with whatever equipment was available.

Carlo DeVito’s biography, “Yogi – The Life and Times of an American Original,” tells how Berra and pal Joe Garagiola led a team of mostly Italian kids on the Hill neighborhood of St. Louis. They played for themselves and for any sponsor who would give them a shirt. They painted foul lines and bases on the blacktop of Elizabeth Avenue, and during football season, Garagiola recalled, “it could have been called Zebra Drive.” In 1936, Berra even led a work party to clean up a dump, Clay Mines, to make room for a field.

It took a major summit meeting, even including the parish priest, before the school-hating Yogi persuaded his parents to let him quit school and go to work. He eventually ended up in the Navy, where boredom with the routine led him to volunteer for a dangerous job, as LCS rocket launcher. He wound up at D-Day and other dangerous missions before he returned home and began his career with the Yankees, which had signed him before the war.

Now Yogi’s in the Hall of Fame, and there’s a ballpark and museum named for him in New Jersey, where kids play in more structured fashion than he did in St. Louis.

Contact Don Drumm at ddrumm1@uticaod.com

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