Classic Yankees: Behind the Scenes

I am sorry for the lack of Classic Yankees posts lately, but I’ve been busy with some personal matters.

But this DOES give me time to recognize some classic Yankees that were not players, but still made their mark in Yankees history; for example, Gene Monahan. The long-time Yankees trainer ended his tenure after this past season.

Do you remember, in the last days of the old Stadium, seeing a player go to the water cooler and while he was there, you saw a plaque on the wall in the dugout? Did you ever wonder why a plaque was there? That plaque would be for Pete Sheehy, who was the clubhouse manager for 60 years.

When you listen to a game on TV or radio, those people become part of your lives. I won’t profile the Scooter, Phil Rizzuto, here, because he merits his own profile by being a great player before joining the broadcast booth, but what of the announcers that brought you Yankees games?

Mel Allen for instance, the “Voice of the Yankees” from 1939 to 1964. Allen was joined by the immortal Red Barber, who broadcast Yankees games from 1954-1966. The firings of both were controversial. Apparently Allen’s firing was ordered by Ballantine Beer. It’s ironic that Allen’s firing was at the same time the Yankees’ dynasty collapsed (Ballantine didn’t last long after that either). Allen, of course, later became the voice of This Week in Baseball. It’s too bad he died in the middle of the Yanks’ glorious 1996 campaign. I’m sure he enjoyed the 1996-2001 dynasty from above.

Barber, who was a legendary broadcaster for Brooklyn before joining the Yankees was Allen’s sidekick from 1954-1964 and then was there without Allen in 1965 and 1966 (Chris Berman still lamely tries to imitate Barber’s “back, back, back” call of Gionfriddo’s catch off Joe DiMaggio from the 1947 World Series). Barber was fired after pointing out the lack of a crowd in the cavernous Yankee Stadium in 1966. In a place that could hold (with SRO) 70,000, there were only 413 on hand in September 1966. When Barber pointed this out, he was fired. Barber died before Allen—in 1992.

I only wish I could hear Allen and Barber doing a Yankees game today. Although both are Hall of Fame broadcasters, only Allen has a plaque in Monument Park.

Shortly after Allen died, I wrote a letter to Yankees Magazine, urging a plaque for Allen. I never got credit (not that I ever asked for one), but a year later, the plaque for Allen was there.

While growing up, one broadcaster I listened to was Frank Messer. The Messer/Rizzuto/Bill White team was together for a long time; Messer being the “professional” broadcaster. For many Yankees’ fans like me, Messer was a voice of the Yankees much as Allen was for the previous generation. Messer was there from 1968 through 1985.

Of course I have to mention P.A. announcer Bob Sheppard, who was the “voice of Yankee Stadium” from 1951-2007. I was there the day they honored him for fifty years of service and dedicated a plaque for him in Monument Park. Until the day he retires, each Derek Jeter plate appearance will be with a Bob Sheppard introduction.

Previously, I profiled Yankees owner Jake Ruppert. Let’s not forget who eventually took over for Ruppert and his heirs: Del Webb and Dan Topping. They owned the Yanks from 1945 until the sale to CBS in 1964. In that span, the Yanks won 10 World Series and 15 pennants.

Ruppert, Webb and Topping aren’t in the Hall of Fame. They built the greatest dynasty in baseball, but…

Let’s not forget the general managers. Ed Barrow (business manager) from 1920-1945, and a good trivia question; that being, who was the last Red Sox manager to win a World Series before they broke their 86 year drought in 2004? The answer? Ed Barrow in 1918.

After Barrow, we have George Weiss. Granted Weiss was a scrooge when it came do contracts with players, but he was the GM during a very successful period in Yankees history: that with Casey Stengel as manager. Barrow was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1953 (and has a Monument Park plaque). Weiss, plaque-less, was elected to the Hall in 1971.

Finally, organist Eddie Layton played from 1967-1970 and then from 1978-2003 in the old Stadiums.

Although none of these wore the uniform, and not all have plaques (Allen, Barrow and Sheppard do), ALL were “Classic Yankees.” They proved that one doesn’t have to wear the uniform or take the field, to be one.

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5 Responses to Classic Yankees: Behind the Scenes

  1. Mike Sommer says:

    I know someone will catch the error, and Rob, please fix. (I'm heading for work today!). I had written Messer/Rizzuto/White. Meaning, of course, BILL White, not Roy.

  2. SteveFromCT says:

    Wow…incorrectly typing ROY went you ment BILL White is equivalent to a verbal ball going thru the legs….A Bill Buckner verbal mistake ;)

  3. Fixed. I liked this article a lot despite the small error. I wouldn't call it a Bill Buckner. It would be more like a Nunez error that doesn't cost the team.

  4. Mike Sommer says:

    I like that last one, Rob. :-)