A historical perspective, written by an unknown author…
The year was 1950. A subway ride was 10 cents and so was a slice of pizza. Fresh milk in glass bottles was delivered to front doors that were rarely locked. One could navigate through the saw-dusted aisles in the supermarkets without knocking anything down. It was a time before hip-hop, doo-wop, disco, Beatles, Elvis and rock and roll. It was before oldies. The NCAA basketball champion was City College. The new comic strip was Peanuts. There were no PC’s, CD’s, VCR’s, ATM’s, Nintendo 64, cable or MTV. No answering machines. No touch-tone. No cell phones. No zip codes. Nothing dot com. No Mets, Jets, or New Jersey Nets.
But in Inwood, there were 3 movie theaters, 3 bowling alleys, ice cream parlors, candy stores, egg creams, spaldeens and the Miramar outdoor salt-water pool. You could take a ferry to Englewood Cliffs from Dyckman Street. You could jump butt-naked off C-rock into Harlem River ship canal when the Circle Line came by.
Some things change, but some things remain the same. The New York Yankees were the world champions. And kids played baseball in Inwood.
THE FIRST SEASON
On June 12, 1950, in the first ever Inwood Little League baseball game, Robert Lyons pitched Garry’s S&A Club to a 1 hit 8-0 shutout victory over the “Leaguers.” The next game featured the other two teams, Inwood Community Center and the Sherman Rams.
The Sherman Rams Men’s Club sold the idea of a little league to the community. In May of that year, 300 boys tried out for 72 spots on the 4 teams. Of the final 72, “names were drawn out of a hat by the 4 managers in rotation”… the first draft. There were 12 players in uniform and 6 substitutes per team with strict age rules so that ages 12, 11 and 10 were represented.
The boys played for free. Inwood citizens were asked to “just send a dollar to the league treasurer”.
10-year old John J. Cregan would later try out for the New York Giants at the old Polo Grounds. 12-year old John Garlepp had a good season and he still lives in the neighborhood. Slugger Buster Patrick hit 4 home runs and now owns Piper’s Kilt and is one of our sponsors.
One of the umpires was Jack Loughlan who later devoted his life to Little League as manager, league president and district administrator. He passed away in 1998 and the Inwood players wore the letters “JL” on their shirts.
THE LEAGUE GROWS
Within a few years, the farm system and the minor league were formed.
In 1956 the farms was run by John Woefel who, a few years later, died suddenly. An annual award was named for him. It went to the 12-year old minor league player who showed exemplary sportsmanship. It was once given to a tall kid from the Dyckman projects named Lew Alcindor. Although not a great baseball player, this young man followed this first experience in team sports to become one of the greatest basketball players of all time as Kareem Abdul Jabbar. In 1992, he was enshrined in the Little League Hall of Fame in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.
In 1960, the Majors league underwent expansion with the addition of a 5th team, Good Shepherd, which is now Copos Blancos Travel.
In the early days Manhattan was in the same Little League district as Staten Island which has always had a great baseball tradition. In 1963, there was a tournament game between Inwood and Staten Island where every seat in the old diamond 1 stadium was filled. Inwood lost.
In those days, there was a fund-raising Ladies Auxiliary group. In the late 60′s they organized Bingo events where up to $500 a night was raised. This money went into the formation of the Senior League for players 13-15 in 1968. Therefore, Senior and later Junior leagues were added, thus starting our tradition of excellence at the teenage level.
THE EARLY YEARS
The season was divided into a spring half and a summer half of 12 games each with the all-star tournament in between. In early September, there would be a major event at Gaelic Park with a raffle, minor league all-star game and the major league championship game between the winners of the 2 halves.
The flannel uniforms were collected at season’s end and sent to the tailor for repair and storage for re-use the following season.
At the trophy dinners, the league would shell out $150-$200 for real major league speakers like umpires Tom Gorman and John McSherry, Mets Ed Kranepool and Jerry Koosman and Yankees Gene Michael, Bill Robinson, Steve Kline, Fritz Peterson and Mike Kekich. Back then they could use the money. There was one player who promised to show but did not…Bobby Valentine.
The park was quieter and less used than it is now. There was no fence around the upper fields. Practice space was easier to come by. We didn’t even need permits to play the games.
But the times, they were a’changin’.
The league changes and grows more Moving into the neighborhood were Puerto Ricans, Cubans, and later Dominicans bringing with them skills and knowledge and love of baseball. We were growing.
Assemblyman David Friedland fought for and got diamond 6. It had been proposed to put it on the soccer field but that site was very close to the hill and to paraphrase Yogi Berra, it got late early there. The current Boat Basin site at 218th street was chosen and only one tree needed to be chopped down. It was planned that home plate would be where left field is now, but someone forgot. Ground was broken on November 1, 1970 and the field was ready for the 1971 all-star tournament. It is one of the few fields where every point on the outfield fence is equidistant from home plate.
The 70′s and 80′s saw great success for the League.
The 1978 12-year old all stars won one game past the district before losing 2-1 to South Shore, Staten Island. That’s the farthest the 12-year olds have ever gotten.
In 1981, the Junior division was added even though Inwood had been winning the 13 year old district championship for years.
Some of the great players of that period were Brian Peguero, Danny Roche, Jason Irizarry and Andrew Apostle. Kevin Kramer pitched in the College World Series for the University of Pittsburg. Chris O’Connor later played with the Nashua New Hampshire team in the Northeast league, Sammy Rodriguez in the Mets organization, Vinny Roma in the Astros organization.
Miguel Jimenez pitched 5 solid innings at Yankee Stadium for the Oakland A’s.
In 1993 and 1994, the Parks Department closed the upper fields for repair. There was a cave underneath diamond 3 among other things. Registration was down. The 4 combined junior and senior teams played on the Dyckman fields. The farms played on the soccer field.
In 1995, the upper fields opened. The diamond 5 stadium had been removed and the diamond 1 stadium had been redesigned giving a more open and airy feel. It was a nice place to play. The league rebounded.
In 1995, Inwood all-stars won the district at 4 age levels. The 10-year olds beat West Side in the last at-bat with a homerun from Amado Vargas. After beating Kingsbridge, the 12 year olds faced the impressive South Shore Staten Island team, with the warm-up shirts and the busloads of fans. Inwood’s Matt Kramer shut them out for 3 innings before losing 10-1.
The 1996 Seniors “Dream Team” won the section but lost to Massapequa Long Island by one run in the State semi-final. The next year, our 1997 seniors beat Massapequa at the New York State finals at the Triple A stadium in Syracuse NY but then lost in double elimination. That is the farthest Inwood has gone in any tournament.
1997 also saw the first time we had to close registration early, even with 10 minor league teams. We were so popular. In 1998, we fielded 4 big league teams for those players aged 16-18. Unprecedented. We also started a seven-year old program.
In 1999, our success and registration dipped slightly. However, ponder this. On the road to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, the national champion Phoenix City AL lost to Tom’s River NJ who lost to Rolando Paulino of the Bronx who lost to none other than Inwood. Do the math.
In 2001, the first American-Dominican was elected to President, Alex Martinez. Mr. Martinez previously had served as League Commissioner and Vice-President.
Research has recently uncovered the fact that the land where diamond 6 is now is the last segment of what was a quarter-mile peninsula that extended from the Bronx into Spuyten Duyvil Creek. On that land was the old Johnson Foundry which manufactured iron products including shot, shell and cannon that was used against the Confederacy during the Civil War. In fact the first torpedo boat in the United States Navy was named the USS Spuyten Duyvil named after the creek that flowed around the peninsula. In 1938, most of the peninsula was demolished to straighten the Harlem River ship canal. Later a big blue “C” was painted on the Bronx side. Finally, a little bridge was built connecting our diamond 6 island to Manhattan. Remember, until 1874, the Bronx was part of Westchester.
In 1910, the airplane carrying history’s first-ever airmail letter landed in the field across from our clubhouse on Indian Road. The landing interrupted a baseball game.
Did you know??
In the Forties, you could see the New York Cubans Negro League team with its stars Minnie Minoso, Luis Tiant Sr and Sylvio Garcia play at the Dyckman Oval at 10th Avenue and Dyckman St.