A dome for Shea Stadium? It almost happened

Shea Stadium, once the home of the New York Mets and New York Jets, almost had a dome. Fueled by the soon-to-be-opened Astrodome in Houston, New York city officials became convinced, enclosing Shea and putting a roof on it would enable the city-run facility to be used 300 days of the year, rather than the 100 times it was utilized in its first year of existence in 1964.

NYC officials had dollar signs dancing in their heads, especially since the last place Mets drew 1,732,597 fans in their first season and the Jets averaged 42,000 per game in year one at Shea.  Put a roof on the joint and expand the capacity?  Imagine the cash-cow the city would have?  There was even talk of hosting post season football in the enclosed facility.

So convinced capping Shea would be a home run, Ben Finney, the city’s Commissioner of Sports, said the stadium could have a dome in place by the start of the 1966 baseball season and that it would only cost $6 million.  Finney made his recommendation on Mar. 17, 1965.  A parking garage beyond center field was also part of the plan.

The New York Times thought the proposal was a slam-dunk, Charles Bennett writing in the paper: “In sport’s circles last night it was expected that the proposed stadium improvement would be pushed through to reality, just as the stadium proper was after William A. Shea, the lawyer for whom the stadium was named, got behind it.”

Finney was so confident of the dome becoming a reality, he evened named an advisory committee than included among others, a then vice president of the New York Yankees, Dan Topping Jr.  Imagine.

I seemed everybody was on board for a roof at Shea, but alas, it was not to be. 

Would history have changed had the ballpark been given a hat?  Who knows?  Maybe on artificial turf, the ball doesn’t trickle through Bill Buckner’s legs and the Red Sox win that 1986 World Series.

Of course, Shea Stadium is no more, having been razed in 2008.  But its memories endure, leaving one to wonder how many more memories might there have been, if the New York politicos followed through on their dream.

Of All-Stars, Tebow and interviewing umpire Tom Gorman

Major League Baseball is changing the All-Star game.  The owners and leaders from the players' association have announced the changes in addition to several other moves.

In my latest The Baseball Beat podcast, I talk about the changes and also reflect on the latest news, involving Tim Tebow.  My interview focuses on Tom Gorman, the late, great National League umpire.

While broadcasting Richmond Braves games in 1985, I had the chance to interview Gorman, whose son Brian is an MLB umpire.  Tom Gorman had an illustrious career, which I detail in the podcast, before replaying my interview.  Gorman offers several interesting observations, which apply even today to aspiring umpires.  At the time of the interview, umpires were still under the control of the separate leagues, the National and American.  Now they are all under the domain of MLB, working both National and American League games.

Under the grapevine with Tom Seaver

I was so saddened to hear the news about Tom Seaver's health problems and how he will be withdrawing from public life because of dementia.

Perhaps my favorite Tom Seaver memory occurred 50 years ago in that glorious summer of 1969.  My dad, two brothers and I were visiting my grandfather's house, all of us big baseball fans.  It was a warm, July night and we were under my grandfather's grapevine, along with my uncle. listening to the game on my small RCA transistor radio.  Remember those?

I remember we were riveted, as the Mets - suddenly in their first pennant race - were playing the first place Chicago Cubs.  Shea Stadium was packed and the roar came thundering through the small radio's speaker, as Seaver kept mowing down one batter after another.  Twenty-five in a row.  When he retired the first batter in the ninth, we - and I'm sure millions of others - thought "Tom Terrific" might throw a perfect game.

It was not to be, as Jim Qualls, whose name I can recall to this day, singled to spoil history.

A check of the game story finds the contest took place on July 9, with the Mets winning, 4-0, behind Seaver's one-hitter.  The game was played before 59,083 - at the time the largest baseball crowd in Shea Stadium history.  Seaver managed to dispose of Leo Durocher's Cubs in a handsome 2 hours and 2 minutes, pulling the Amazins' to within two games of the Cubs.  Through the miracle of You Tube, the actual radio broadcast of the game is available in its entirety.

Seaver's near perfect game proved to be a prelude to a perfect summer of baseball for the Mets.  How ironic my favorite memory of him should be under a grapevine.  Seaver has spent his life-after-baseball, making wine.   In their announcement of his withdrawal from public life, Seaver's family revealed that is where he will spend much of his time, in his "beloved vineyard."

Mayor De Blasio will throw Yankees a parade, but he loves the Red Sox

The Mayor of New York City, Bill De Blasio, makes no secret of the fact he is a dyed-in-the-wool Boston Red Sox fan.  He even attended the Red Sox-Orioles spring training game on Mar. 2 in Ft. Myers.  But what if the New York Yankees won the World Series?

De Blasio told the Boston Globe's Peter Abraham: "I truly love baseball and if the Yankees win the championship we'll give them an amazing parade and an amazing ceremony.  But I'm a true Red Sox fan."

Say this about De Blasio, he is not one of those pretend baseball fans, trying to score political points.  He knows the game, its intricacies and follows the Red Sox and baseball closely, as evidenced by Abraham's story.  In other words, he is a baseball aficionado.  What is interesting, however, is that he tells Abraham he has not set foot in Yankee Stadium since becoming mayor.

As for the Yankees using the mayor of their city's words in support of the Red Sox as extra incentive, well, De Blasio rooted for the Red Sox last year too.  The Yankees need another starter in their rotation, more than a mayor promoting their archrival, as motivation toward a World Series title.

Interviewing Red Barber and where will Harper go

Where will free agent Bryce Harper end up?  And Major League Baseball cracks down on stealing signs.   Those are some of the topics I talk about in the latest edition of The Baseball Beat.

Baseball is determined to stymie clubs from using the latest technology to steal signs.  And even though Manny Machado has signed with the San Diego Padres, there is still tension between the owners and players over free agency signings.  I talk about that and other recent baseball topics.

Also, I look back at the late, great Red Barber, one of the pioneer, baseball broadcasters.  I interviewed Red in 1978 and provide some background in the podcast.  I also replay the interview I recorded with Red, who along with Mel Allen, were the first broadcasters to be inducted into the broadcasters wing of the baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY.

Elston Howard talked openly about wanting to be first black manager

Elston Howard let it be known he wanted to become Major League Baseball's first black manager, when he was a still a player.

In Hannah Withiam's excellent piece in the Athletic, she writes about Howard's disappointment at not being selected as the manager of the New York Yankees, after Ralph Houk resigned, following the end of the 1973 season.  Yankees' new owner George Steinbrenner, rebuffed in attempts to sign highly renowned manager Dick Williams from the World Champion Oakland Athletics, went with Bill Virdon instead.  According to the story, even Steinbrenner knew his own impulses.  It wasn't that he did not want to be the first owner to hire a black manager, he did not want to be the first owner to fire a black manager.

Withiam's piece quotes Howard's daughter, Cheryl as saying "He definitely wanted to be a manager." But Howard, himself, made no secret of his desires, while still in the prime of his playing career.

Before the start of the 1965 season, just two years removed from his American League MVP award, the Yankees' catcher held a news conference to announce he was signing a $70,000 a contract for the upcoming season.  He had been given a $10,000 raise, after helping the Yankees to their fifth consecutive AL pennant.  However, at that same conference, James Tuite quotes Howard in the Feb. 19, 1965 edition of the New York Times as saying he wanted to play another five years, then coach and eventually become the first black manager of the Yankees.

"When my reflexes start to go and I can't hold the fast ball, I'd like to stay as coach.  If, someday, the manager's job were offered to me, I would accept."

Howard, who in the off season ran a travel agency in New Jersey - the Times reported one of his first customers was the New York Mets Ed Kranepool - was traded by the Yankees in August of 1967 to the arch-rival Boston Red Sox, to help Boston in its pennant push.  He would eventually return to his beloved Yankees as a coach, only to be denied his dream of managing the Yankees.  One of his famous, coaching moments occurred when he was seen on national television in the Yankees' dugout at Fenway Park, restraining manager Billy Martin, during the near brawl between Martin and Reggie Jackson.

Howard stayed with the Yankees as coach, until his premature death from a rare heart disease at age 51 in December of 1980.

Elston Howard would have turned 90 this Feb. 23.

Machado to Padres and interviewing Danny Rodriguez

It looks as if Manny Machado has found his team.

In this edition of The Baseball Beat, I discuss some of the topics making baseball news:

  • Machado to the Padres?
  • Will Bryce Harper be a Philly?
  • The free agent battle between owners and players
  • Bruce Bochy about to call it a career
  • and much, much more.
Plus we have my podcast interview with Danny Rodriguez, who broadcasts on Spanish radio, the games of the Hartford Yard Goats, the Eastern League affiliate of the Colorado Rockies.