Last week I met my buddy Don for a burger and a beer at The Old Town Bar. Having served its first pint in 1892, The Old Town is New York City's second oldest saloon, right behind Pete's Tavern (which opened its doors in 1864). The Old Town is a classic place, with large wooden booths, detailed carvings in the wall, a crooked staircase to upstairs seating, and the coup de grace of old NYC bars: a huge, five-foot-high tub-like urinal. A trough some would say.
Don is a rabid baseball fan. He follows his team from a distance, as he does not root for either of the New York locals. His rooting interest was cemented by a momentous New York City event that occurred twelve years before both of us were born.
His dad, along with my dad and most of their friends, were New York Giants baseball fans during a glorious time in New York City sports history. From 1947 through 1957 either the Yankees, Giants or Dodgers were in the World Series every year except one. In eight of those years there was a Subway Series.
While that sounds like a lot of World Series appearances, it was easier to make the World Series during that era. There was only one division in each league and the winner of each division went right to the World Series. Despite the ribbing Derek Jeter used to give Yogi Berra about how many rings he would have won if the rules were the same today, it doesn't diminish the accomplishment of winning an eight-team division year in and year out, as the New York baseball teams did quite often during that period.
Unfortunately, this golden era of New York baseball came to a crashing halt toward the end of the 1957 season. Rumors that had been swirling for a while were confirmed as the Dodgers and Giants announced they were moving to California after the 1957 season. They were headed to Los Angeles and San Francisco respectively.
Almost to a man, fans of the Dodgers and Giants, feeling abandoned and betrayed, dumped their teams and stopped following baseball. After all, their teams were gone. National League baseball no longer existed in New York City. They were without a team, and there was no way they could switch allegiances to root for the hated Yankees.
In some neighborhoods in Brooklyn rooting for the Yankees was considered worse than becoming a pinko Commie. Instead, they sat on the sidelines and rooted even harder against the Yankees, hoping for a new team to come to the big city. Their loyalty and patience were eventually rewarded. In 1962 the National League expanded by adding the Houston Colt 45's (now the Astros), and a team in New York, the Metropolitans.
Yet, not all Giants fans were patient enough to wait for the Mets. Some instead practiced a different form of loyalty by remaining Giants fans and rooting from afar. My buddy Don's dad falls into this category. One of the great traditions in baseball, and sports for that matter, is the passing down of a team from father to son. It isn't a fait accompli that a son will root for the same team his dad roots for, but the big board at Caesars has it as a ninety-eight to ninety-nine percent certainty. My pal Don is a tried and true San Francisco Giants fan, with a deep-rooted 'dislike', to put it nicely, of the imperial Yankees.
After a couple of beers, a great cheeseburger, and some laughs with my friend, my plan was to take the N train four stops to Port Authority to catch a bus to New Jersey. As I entered the subway car I saw a man who appeared to be in his late sixties or early seventies, wearing a black baseball hat embroidered with an orange NY, the same one the Mets have on their blue hats.
Instantly recognizing his hat for what it was, I struck up a conversation with him.
"Nice hat. I see you're wearing the old New York Giants baseball hat."
"Correct," he replied, "how'd ya' know? Not many recognize it."
"That was easy. My dad, along with many of his friends, was a NY Giants fan. I was reared on stories of 1950's NYC baseball."
"Hmm, I thought that might have been the case, seeing as you look to be too young to have gone to any games at the Polo Grounds."
"Correct you are my friend. I was born as the Mets were starting to get good. In addition, my dad's friend is still a Giants fan. He continued rooting for them when they moved to San Francisco. As a matter of fact, his son, my best friend, who I just met for a beer, has followed in his father's footsteps."
"You don't say," the gentleman said as he took a moment to ponder what I had just relayed. "Well, please take this card. I just came from a "NY Giants Preservation Society" meeting. We meet four times a year and have a great time. Have your friend contact us, he'd be more than welcome to come to one of our meetings."
"Wow! That's really cool. I didn't know there was such a thing. What do you guys do at your meetings?" I asked, looking to garner as much information as possible to pass along to my buddy.
"We meet and talk baseball, mainly Giants baseball. We discuss the current team, but of course the original NY team also. As a matter of fact, after the Giants won the 2014 World Series last year, Willie Mays and Buster Posey came to our meeting, bringing the World Series trophy with them. It was quite a thrill!"
"It sure was. My apologies young man, but this is my stop. To steal from Burt Lancaster in 'Field of Dreams', I best be getting home before Alicia thinks I have a girl," he said with a wink and a smile, as he walked away doing his best Doc Graham impression.
"Make sure your friend contacts us, ya' here?"
"Will do. Thanks for the card."
"Sure thing kid. Have a nice night," he gestured as he walked out of the car and onto the subway platform.
Just like that he was off into the New York night.
As I sat on the bus headed for the rolling hills of beautiful Hunterdon County in Western New Jersey, the following thought occurred to me; Who would have thought one night, from start to finish, could have such an abundance of glorious New York City tradition?