October 7, 2018

HOME FROM THE WAR:

The Yankees (July 1946, Fortune)

It is the last half of the ninth in the 1946 opener at Yankee Stadium and the Washington visitors are leading New York 6 to 5. As the first Yankee batsman, Joe Gordon, steps to the plate, the vibrant rumble of 55,000 voices swells ever so slightly, then scales down sharply to near silence. Everybody is waiting for the pitch. As it thuds into the catcher's glove-a clean strike-the tension breaks momentarily and the crowd finds its voice. The pitcher throws two more like it and Gordon, usually a fine hitter, has struck out. An almighty, communal groan rolls over the Stadium, and Gordon, as if to chastise himself, deliberately holds his ignoble strike-out pose. He scrutinizes his bat reproachfully, and for a moment it looks as if he would fling it away in disgust. Instead, he hands it to the bat boy with exaggerated tenderness and slowly makes his way to the dugout. Over the magpie chorus of the crowd a shrill voice pipes, "Tough luck, Joe!" but from another corner of the stands comes a Bronx objection: "Ahh, that Gawdon-anhh."

Now Stirnweiss is at bat. For a big-leaguer he is short (five feet eight inches) and "hard to pitch to." When he has worked the Washington pitcher for a base on balls, the stands begin to hum and a few spectators heading for the exits pop back from the ramps to see what's up. Henrich, a left-hander, bats next. In trying to throw him a slow, teasing ball-close inside-the pitcher nicks Henrich on the wrist. It doesn't look as though Henrich tried too hard to avoid being struck, but the umpire waves him on to first base over the anguished protests of the Washington players. Then it is that the vocal thunder begins to gather. DiMaggio, greatest of the Yankee sluggers, is coming to bat. DiMaggio! DiMaggio! The name is passed around the Stadium from lip to lip like a password, a prayer-and finally, in one section of the upper tier, it turns into pure incantation: DiMaggio! thump, thump, thump; DiMaggio! thump, thump, thump ...

Amid this melee of shouting, stamping, and gesticulation, DiMaggio appears to be the only sane and poised individual in the park. He walks deliberately, but without swagger, into the batter's box, first pausing to scoop up a handful of dirt, the better to grip his bat. Fifty-five thousand pairs of eyes are fixed now on his ritual. He tugs once-just once-at the peak of his cap; he raps the plate once-just once-with the end of his bat; and he takes three-just three-half swings in the direction of the pitcher. Then he pulls back into his distinctive stance, feet wide apart, arms high, bat in air, cocked for the swing. Utterly immobile, he awaits the pitch.

Posted by at October 7, 2018 6:40 PM

  

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