Glory Days: New York Baseball 1947--1957
MCNY's diamond display has too much Bronx and not enough cheer.
Wed Aug 15 2007
Courtesy Museum of the City of New York
Time Out Ratings :<strong>Rating: </strong>3/5
Yankee wordsmith Yogi Berra once quipped, “You can observe a lot just by watching.” And like many of the sage of swat’s aphorisms, there’s a kernel of truth to that—especially if you look at baseball as a microcosm for the state of society. Certainly viewers of ESPN’s The Bronx Is Burning are getting a history lesson on the crises of Me Decade NYC through the window of the 1977 World Series. And what is Barry Bonds’s record-breaking home-run tally if not a parable for our own chemically dependent culture? Visitors to “Glory Days,” an expansive collection of midcentury baseball artifacts at the Museum of the City of New York, are presented with a different equation: The unparalleled success of the Yankees, Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants as a metaphor for the city’s rising fortunes after WWII. Between 1947 and 1957 (when the Dodgers left for Los Angeles), there was at least one NYC team in 10 out of 11 World Series—seven of which were Subway Series. It was a time when sluggers were still role models and rooting for the home team was a matter of borough pride.
The collection presented here is an eclectic mix of old-school Americana that holds appeal for even the sports illiterate. But just in case, a highlight reel narrated by longtime Dodgers announcer Vin Scully gives the lay of the land. It also sets the quasipatriotic tone carried throughout the show’s ten “innings,” each of which examines a different facet of the game’s finest era.
The first installment of “Glory Days” is also its most poignant—a look at baseball’s color barrier and Dodgers GM Branch Rickey’s historic signing of Jackie Robinson. A ticket stub from Opening Day at Ebbets Field in 1947—Robinson’s debut—is on display, as is one of several death threats the second baseman received. we have already got rid of several like you, the poorly scrawled missive reads, one was found in a river just recently. A sympathetic comment from Lena Horne, included in the adjoining text, underscores Robinson’s precarious position: “I’ll never forget how frightened I was for Jackie Robinson…because we knew that if he made the normal mistakes any ballplayer made, it would be a reflection of his race.”
The majority of the exhibition is more nostalgic than maudlin. Once you get past the usual game-used bric-a-brac, most of the memorabilia could have been pulled from your grandpa’s attic: Yankees ashtrays, a Mickey Mantle MM4 model mitt (every Baby Boomer boy’s dream), a Good Humor lid featuring Brooklyn pitcher Preacher Roe. A wall of vintage all-star endorsements is benignly amusing, even if the products they hawk aren’t. (In one, Dodgers first baseman Gil Hodges directs fans to smoke Chesterfields because “They give you the good pitch.”)
Unlike a trip to the ballpark, though, “Glory Days” is not an all-day affair. Even a bona fide sports nut can stare at team jerseys and autographed horsehide for only so long before begging for a seventh-inning stretch. And for a game that inspired so much passion in a generation, all the glass cases, black-and-white photographs and yellowed newspaper clippings feel rather static. The only place where that fervor is really felt is the comment book, where remarks like, go mets! alternate with the mets suck. go yankees!
There’s more than a little Yankee hubris at play, as well—no surprise for a city that considers them the home team even when they play the Mets. Previously unseen images of Berra’s legendary leap into Don Larson’s arms after the pitcher’s 1956 World Series perfect game are touching, but the constant reminders of the Yankees’ hallowed history becomes tedious for those of us who don’t fawn over the Bombers. For that matter, non–New Yorkers may find this kind of adulatory self-reflection boorish—just another example of how the city sees itself as the center of the universe, baseball or otherwise.