Tag Archives: baseball

Website for the Classroom: Turning Points in American Sports

Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, 1973 (AP)

I’m gearing up for my trip to Cuba in a couple of weeks, so the next few posts will be more informational in nature.  More resources, less commentary from yours truly…which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

The Gilder-Lehrman Institute for American History produces an e-journal called History Now.  This quarter’s topic is sports, and no better month to release it than March, as pro hockey and basketball get more important, spring training has baseball on so many minds, and the grandest dance of all, the NCAA National Basketball Championships, both the men and the women.

The journal has some amazing articles.  Start with the introductory article on the importance of sports in American history by Fordham professor Mark Naison.  I’ve met Mark, and have also been on walking tours with him detailing the history of the South Bronx.   He is a fascinating scholar of urban history, as well as the chief archivist of the Bronx African American History Project, an incredible endeavor documenting thousands of oral histories–in essence providing a primary record for the history of the Bronx in the 20th and 21st centuries.

For those steeped in Women’s History Month, look at Gail Collins’ article on the 1973 “Battle of the Sexes” between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, as well as articles on women’s baseball and the importance of Title IX, which guaranteed equality in education and especially sports based on sex.

Along with the articles are great sidebars for teachers to use.  Interactive lesson plans, video clips, and archives of previous editions can allow you into a cornucopia of resources. 

Take a look and have some fun with this.  Let me know how you did, and I might even have more resources for you.

Now if you don’t mind, I have to finish my brackets.

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Celebration via Office Supplies: The History of the Ticker-Tape Parade

Yankees Ticker Tape

Yankees Ticker Tape Parade, from Yahoo! Sports

Being in New York, I can’t ignore the fact that many of my students are out today. 

It’s not swine flu.  More like Yankee Whooping Cough.

Today the 27-time World Series Champion New York Yankees received their hard-earned reward with a ticker tape parade up lower Broadway to City Hall, the so-called “Canyon of Heroes.”  I was at the last such event, in 2000, and the excitement and frenzy are an experience to remember.  There was a chance I could’ve gone to the 1994 parade for the New York Rangers, but a final exam was scheduled that day.

Still, it got me thinking: what’s with all this office paper out the window?  Why does the wanton destruction of perfectly good paper products constitute a proper tribute to a champion? 

Thank the Statue of Liberty for that.  That’s right.  Lady Liberty is the copper culprit that began the tradition of the ticker tape parade.

On October 29, 1886, the first ticker-tape parade was held to celebrate the dedication of the Statue of Liberty.  The banks, brokerage houses and businesses on lower Broadway celebrated by taking the used ticker tape from their adding machines and stock tickers and tossing them out the window on the crowds below.  Nobody planned it—the brokers  probably thought it was a convenient way to get rid of the trash.  Nonetheless, a tradition was born.

From then on, the city fathers saw the popularity of such events and created a tradition of honoring military triumphs, foreign visitors, space voyages and sports championships.  Since 1886, there have been 180 paper-strewn triumphs down Broadway.   Most have taken place before 1963, and are much rarer today.

 In the beginning, mostly military and political heroes were honored.  Admiral George Dewey was honored for his service in Manila in 1899.  Teddy Roosevelt got one in 1910 after he returned from Africa with enough animal carcasses to fill a natural history museum—which is exactly where they went.  1945 was a busy year: if you had at least two stars on your uniform, you went under the tape.  Eisenhower, de Gaulle, Nimitz, Halsey, and General Wainwright (from Corregidor) each received a parade.

In the late 1940, 1950s and early 1960s, however, the city decided to go apeshit on these things.  If you were foreign, had a crown, or some elected office, you got a parade. 

Any tinpot dictator of a moth-eaten republic got a parade.

 Presidents of places like El Salvador, Ecuador, Ivory Coast, Sudan, Guinea…parade, parade, parade, and parade.

And what of the champion sports teams of New York of this era?  The New York Giants got one in 1954, for winning the National League pennant.  For the Pennant!  It was in September and the World Series hadn’t even started yet!  As for the Yankees, champions in 1923, 1927, 1928, 1932, 1936-1939, 1941, 1943, 1947, 1949-1953, 1956, and 1958, they would not receive a parade for their effort until their World Series win of 1961, almost 40 years after their first trophy for the city.  That’s real gratitude, for you!

After the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963, cities across America became very wary of open car parades in crowded cities, especially places with high rises that provide such perfect vantage points for snipers.  The ticker-tape parade became a rarer occasion, often exclusively used for space exploration, military triumphs and sports champions.  Recent non-sports parades celebrated Pope John Paul II, Nelson Mandela, and war veterans of Korea, Vietnam and the Persian Gulf.

Hope all my kids enjoyed themselves downtown.  Today, thanks to computers, there’s no real ticker-tape at a ticker-tape parade.  Most of the paper is either confetti provided to offices by the city, or scrap paper that has been shredded in office shredders—don’t look up or you might get a staple in your eye. 

I just hope my students can do something great to earn their own parade one day.

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Play Ball! Baseball in the History Classroom

It’s spring, and there’s nothing like baseball to get a listless young man to actually do some work in May and June.

Getting a boisterous lad engaged in the classroom is a bit like landing a marlin.  You have to hook on, sit in the fighting chair, be prepared for long periods of exhausting tugs and maneuvering until your prize finally tires out and succumbs to the inevitable. 

Boys are notoriously difficult to focus when delivering instruction.  Heck, I was a boy myself, and I had a million things on my mind–the new episode of Thundercats, how to finally get enough hearts to pass that level in Zelda, whether to smile at the girl in front of me or pull her hair, and imagining the ample bosoms of the young teacher across the hall, just to name a few.  Boys often require a little extra effort in engaging discussion, and this is where America’s pastime comes in.

In the Bronx, my boys are rabid baseball fans.  Most are Yankee fans, some quietly root for the Mets, while a few lost souls root for the Red Sox (well, we can’t all be perfect).  Baseball happens to be a great way to connect with America’s past, at least within the last century and a half.  It is a dynamo of archival information: few sports are so heavily accounted, ranked, analyzed and recorded as baseball, which also can give you infinite amounts of mathematics instruction. 

Furthermore, baseball has often intertwined with the seminal events in American history.  The Civil War involved armies that regularly played the game to pass the time.  The game was definitely a showcase for many Americans who were on the lower rungs of society, especially blacks, European immigrants and Hispanics.  The national game was a propaganda tool in two world wars.  It served as the nonviolent battleground for American issues of race, poverty, labor relations and our consumer culture.

One very tangible connection between baseball and history is the Presidency.  According to Baseball Almanac, almost every U.S. President has had some contact with the game, either as a player, a fan or even simply through their presidential duties.  What follows are some interesting facts found on Baseball Almanac about the Presidents and the old ball game.

— Thomas Jefferson stated that “Games played with the ball, and others of that nature, are too violent for the body and stamp no character on the mind.” Unlike diddling with enslaved girls, which builds lots of character–little brown characters to be exact.

— Abraham Lincoln had an actual baseball field called the ‘White Lot’ constructed behind the White House for games. It was well known that he often played ball with his boys on the lawn.

— Chester Arthur was the first President to invite a professional baseball team to the White House when he invited the Cleveland Forest Cities of the now-defunct National Association on April 13, 1883. Too bad this didn’t get him a second term.

— Benjamin Harrison was the first U.S. President to attend a Major League baseball game and the first to see an extra inning game as the contest remains undecided until the eleventh inning. How could you leave to beat the traffic if the President’s still there?

— In 1907, the National League presented Theodore Roosevelt with a lifetime pass to any game, made of 14 carat gold. The funny thing is he hated baseball, calling it a “mollycoddle” game.

— In 1910, William Howard Taft becomes the first President to throw out the first pitch at a ballgame, throwing to Washington Senators legend Walter Johnson. Not sure if the bullpen teased that Taft threw “like a girl.”

— Woodrow Wilson, our President during World War I, never used his Presidential Pass. He paid for every game he attended, including the first time a President attended a World Series game.

— During World War II, many Americans thought baseball should be cancelled. Franklin Roosevelt said “I honestly feel that it would be best for the country to keep baseball going.” So baseball was played, although Major League players were not exempt from the draft. Some of the worst baseball was played between 1942 and 1945.

— In Dwight Eisenhower’s early years, he played semi-professional baseball for money under a false name. According to Mel Ott, that name was “Wilson.”

— Lyndon Johnson had to miss the home opener of the 1968 season, due to the recent assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The Vietnam War left LBJ with little time to attend games, though he did dedicate the Astrodome in Houston, Texas.

— Richard Nixon is considered the most rabid Presidential baseball fan. Even after the Watergate scandal, Major League Baseball offered him the job of commissioner of baseball. Too bad he declined: Barry Bonds and mark McGwire could’ve used his cover-up expertise.

— Ronald Reagan was the only President to portray a Hall of Fame ballplayer on the silver screen. He played Grover Cleveland Alexander in the 1952 film The Winning Team.

George W. Bush was the managing general partner of the Texas Rangers from 1989 to 1994.  His presidency proved to be just as successful.

Please feel free to post your own baseball tidbits, or any other baseball-related classroom content.

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This Day in History 4/8: Hank Aaron’s 715th Homer

410483918_b01c93debcMr. D is now officially on his spring vacation, where he’ll be taking a well-deserved rest.  That doesn’t mean the Neighborhood won’t be updated. 

But just as a head’s up, I may be updating sporadically, if at all, between April 15-19 as I will be in Las Vegas, hopefully bumped into a suite and ahead on the count at the blackjack table before the pit boss finds out.  Will give a full report on my return–or, if the pit boss does find out, from a hospital bed.

Okay, haven’t done this in a while, but today is definitely a high note historically for the Neighborhood.  On April 8, 1974, Henry “Hank” Aaron of the Altanta Braves hit his 715th home run, surpassing the 714-mark set by the legendary Babe Ruth from 1916-1935. 

Say what you will about Barry Bonds passing that mark in 2006, whether he was juiced or not–to be honest, I haven’t made up my mind.  What I will say is that the Aaron moment, in many ways, was one of the true defining moments in baseball and in society.  After the turmoil and struggles of the 1960s, especially the civil rights movement, it was only a matter of time before a player of color would break records that in baseball are considered sacrosanct. Even with the viciousness of the attacks against him, Aaron’s consistency at bat, coupled by his quiet professional demeanor, made believers out of many people, black and white.

Now a lot will be written–or has been written–about this moment and about Aaron, who happens to not only be one of the greatest players ever, but one of the truly “good guys” in baseball.  I will not belabor the point much more, only to provide an anecdote about the kind of world Aaron was rubbing up against.

One of my Christmas presents was a set of DVDs featuring Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts, a series of celebrity roasts during the 1970s featuring Rat-Packer Dean Martin as your master of ceremonies.  Just before the 1974 season, NBC had taped a roast of Hank Aaron, which featured the usual cavalcade of comedians, sports figures, and other celebrities of the era.  When Joey Bishop, Martin’s colleague in the Rat Pack, took the mike to grill Aaron, it seemed innocuous enough.  After all, Bishop was never known to be particularly biting or vicious–that role went to Don Rickles. 

However, Bishop made a closing remark that, even today, rubs me wrong.  He said that so the Braves could help Hank reach home run number 715, they should “paint the baseballs green to look like watermelons.”  At that moment, Aaron was laughing along with the cast, so I’m not sure what he was thinking.  I doubt he would’ve said anything, as he was too much of a gentleman.  But it burned me up plenty–and I shouldn’t have been surprised.  Even in the early 1970s, a decade after the Civil Rights Act was passed, Aaron still faced some sort of bigotry and ignorance. 

 Much of this humor is now passe, to be sure.    I doubt Bishop would’ve been able to get away with that today.  A lesser person than Aaron would have belted Bishop in the kisser.   Furthermore, I’m no prude–I love saucy and off-color humor as much as anyone.  Yet referring to watermelons, even then, still seems way below the belt.   Also, since Bishop said it on a highly rated show for a national network, it could be assumed he still spoke for blocs of Americans that were still uneasy with the pace of change.

Well, enough about baseball and watermelons.  We’ve come a long way since–and it’s important we salute Hank Aaron as a great player and a great instrument of our social history.  Keep swinging, Hank.

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