Baseball memories are special

Published 12:06 pm Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The opening of the major league baseball season each year sparks a lot of pleasant memories.

When I was a youngster growing up in Keyport, N.J., which, by the way, was only 35 miles from New York City, in the early 1950s, The New York Daily News asked fans to vote on which of the three New York teams had the best center fielder.

The New York Yankees had the late great Mickey Mantle, the New York Giants had the great Willie Mays and the Brooklyn Dodgers had the late great Duke Snyder.

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Mantle, arguably the greatest switch hitter of all time, also had great speed on the base paths.

Mays, whose over-the-shoulder catch of Cleveland Indians third baseman Al Rosen’s long drive in deep center in the first game of the 1954 World Series at New York’s Polo Grounds, which the Giants swept four games straight, was one of the greatest defensive plays I have ever seen, and Snyder, who passed away just recently, was one of the greatest clutch hitters in the game.

When the votes were counted, Mays was No. 1, Mantle was No. 2 and Snyder was No. 3.

It would have been hard to have argued with the voting no matter how it came out. Suffice it to say that all three are Hall of Famers and among the greatest center fielders the game has known.

I saw all three play in their primes along with Dodgers Hall of fame third baseman and Cairo native Jackie Robinson and Yankees Hall of Fame catcher Yogi Berra.

If I had saved some of my old Yankees, Giants and Dodgers game programs from those days, they would probably be worth a lot of money today.

In the 1950s, there were no multi-million dollar professional sports salaries like there are today.

Players like Mays, Mantle, Snyder, Robinson, Berra and other greats of the game had to have off-season jobs to make ends meet.

Players of their caliber command the highest salaries in today’s baseball market.

The enjoyable times I had going to see Mantle, Berra and the great Yankee teams play at Yankee Stadium, Mays play at the old Polo Grounds and Snyder and Robinson play at Brooklyn’s old Ebbetts Field with my dear late father are among the most cherished memories of my youth.

The big league season got underway a few days ago, and my current favorite team, the Atlanta Braves, have gotten off to a strong start, winning two of their first three games with the Washington Nationals.

My dear friend Billy Simmons Jr. and I will be making our annual trip to Atlanta this summer to take in a weekend Braves series.

I hope many my readers will do the same. As the late great Braves announcer Skip Cary used to say, you can’t beat fun at the old ball park.