Reminiscence: An Era Most Have Forgotten

This article was written by Lawrence Yaffa

This article was published in the 1986 Baseball Research Journal


The thrills experienced by a New York City youth who earned a free trip with the New York Giants in 1928 as a schoolboy MVP contest winner are recounted.

 

In the 1920s, long before the comprehensive sports coverage afforded by television and radio, high school sports heroes were looked upon as local celebrities and were known throughout the teen-age community. There was a very special one in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn where many of us grew up – a youngster named Vincent DeAngelis, whose obituary appeared in the New York Times Sunday edition of October 12, 1980.

Vincent was the teen-age hero that the younger boys wanted to be – a quiet, capable, modest lad whose football, baseball and track exploits during his years at Erasmus Hall High School indelibly stamped him as one of that famous old school’s most noble sons.

His life was a full one – athlete, scholar and professor at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., following his Erasmus Hall school days. A stint in the Army Air Force ensued during World War II, a recall during the Korea exercise and a comfortable, loving marriage to the former Eleanor Isbell.

A stint at an Alabama air base with Vinnie during World War II brought us together for discussions of the old Flatbush of the 1920s and 1930s, a subject close to both our hearts.

Shortly before Vinnie died, we had a brief reunion with a couple of his old buddies from the Parade Grounds, Brooklyn’s famous sandlot area. They were his brother Johnny and George Fallon, who had a brief stay with the St. Louis Cardinals. The nostalgia was amply ladled about, and the conversation turned to the year 1928 when the New York Telegram awarded Vinnie the coveted “Most Valuable Schoolboy Baseball Player” award. It carried with it a western trip with the New York baseball team of his choice. New York had three major league teams in those days, and he chose the Giants. The trip was an experience he remembered all of his life.

It took him to Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis with the 1928 Giants, who were aggressive factors in the pennant races of that period. He was privileged to sit next to the immortal John McGraw, Giant manager. He mixed freely with the players and vividly recalled McGraw wearing street clothes on the bench, especially his very expensive silk shirts which were usually soaked with the perspiration of the sultry Midwest summer climate. McGraw unhesitatingly shared his strategic moves with the eager schoolboy, and Vinnie was given the opportunity to work out with the club before games. During one exhibition game he pitched a few innings for the Giants. Pitcher Fred Fitzsimmons taught him the knuckleball delivery which Vinnie later used during his college pitching career.

Vinnie reminisced about mealtime activity at the hotels which housed the Giants. The players received a fixed sum for daily meal expense on the road. The money was not deemed adequate by some of the more avid trenchermen on the team. Vinnie, on the other hand, had unlimited meal expense money furnished by the New York Telegram and merely signed his meal checks. When the players realized this, they would battle to join him at his hotel table and have him order extra portions of several courses, adding same to the New York Telegram tab. Frank “Shanty” Hogan was one player in particular who had a weight problem throughout his career. Despite the club’s efforts to control his gargantuan appetite – he eventually ate himself out of baseball – many a double dessert he ordered wound up on Vinnie’s check. Executives at the Telegram must have thought they were feeding an army.

Carl Hubbell first joined the Giants during that trip. Vinnie’s initial glimpse of Hub was in the hotel lobby where his long, lanky frame was ensconced in a lounging chair, feet extended and his hat over his eyes, fast asleep awaiting the team’s return to the hotel.

Vin spoke of McGraw’s tirades when things went awry – Mac was capable of thoroughly zinging players who committed key lapses that cost games. On one particular day at Wrigley Field, left-hander Jim Faulkner served up a calamitous home run to a Chicago hitter. McGraw did a number on Faulkner in front of the entire team in the clubhouse, screaming that “You never throw a curve” to that particular Cub in a crucial situation. The fact of the matter was Faulkner actually had fed the batter a fastball. When things quieted down, young Vincent asked Faulkner why he hadn’t defended himself by explaining the delivery was his fastball. The pitcher grinned sheepishly and told him that McGraw only screamed louder when challenged and that he chose to take his verbal lashing passively.

The Giants of 1928 were a formidable group. The pitching staff included Fitzsimmons, Larry Benton and Hubbell among others. Mel Ott and Bill Terry were in the flower of their careers along with Travis Jackson and Fred Lindstrom. Hubbell, Ott, Terry, Jackson and Lindstrom all wound up in the Hall of Fame. Vin sent back daily reports of his impressions and routines at each park to the New York Telegram, which printed them after appropriate editing. He threw batting practice, shagged flies and visited the scenic and cultural areas of each city. He remembered the trip as the thrill of his young lifetime.

As a local celebrity in Brooklyn, Vin treasured his days at Erasmus Hall High School and was proud of a special memento of that period – a rotogravure photo published in the old New York World showing Waite Hoyt, Hall of Famer who pitched at Erasmus Hall 12 years earlier than Vinnie, standing alongside Vin during a visit to his alma mater. Waite was demonstrating how he held his curve or fastball, with Vin looking on.

A special side of Vinnie’s character came to light through his interest in Morty Brinn, a young non-ambulatory, crippled lad whom he frequently drove to his games. He carried the youngster to a reserved seat and saw to it that his personal comforts were completely arranged beforehand.

Vincent never pursued major league baseball professionally, concentrating instead on a teaching and coaching career at George Washington University. In his adult years around the D.C. area he enjoyed the camaraderie of a few other well-known Brooklyn boys who relocated in Washington – Red Auerbach, who attended Vincent’s wedding; Allie Wolff, the Penn State star, and Mac Posnack, another great name in basketball.

In these days of the big-number bonuses to scholastic stars, Vincent’s “prize” – his certificate and trip with the Giants – depicts a time and lifestyle of the 1920s. The rewards of that earlier era were just as much sought after and appreciated as today’s more material incentives.

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