uncover long forgotten 'Booming Bats of the '50s'
HOLIDAY TABLE TALK lead to the
rediscovery of 42 game-used bats from the 1950s.
Casual holiday table
talk about how the game was before steroids prompts rediscovery of rare
baseball artifacts of a bygone era
It was your classic American holiday gathering: The
bounty was plentiful, multiple generations of family and friends were
assembled, and casual discussion around the table alternated between Thanksgivings
past and current affairs, such as politics, entertainment and sports.
After a short exchange about who might be the front-runner to win the
Heisman Trophy, our sports discussion turned to baseball - as it inevitably
WHEN IT WAS A GAME: Vincent "Jimmy"
Palermo talks about baseball from a first-hand experience and perspective
that few have.
We talked about the unlikely sweep of the Cardinals
in the World Series by the Red Sox. Then the tone turned more somber
as the conversation gravitated to the headline news of the day - the
steroid scandal involving high-profile major league players, including
career home run king heir apparent Barry Bonds.
As we moved from the dining room to the kitchen table to enjoy dessert
and coffee Dad, now 88, launched into a discourse about the absolute
mismanagement and disarray of his beloved game. My brother Jim and I
looked at each other knowingly and moved our chairs closer to the table
to hear what he had to say because of our father's first-hand experience
and perspective of the game that few, if any, living human beings have.
Dad was absolutely incredulous about the steroid abuse in baseball and
what it meant to the integrity of the game.
Beginning in 1927, when he was six years old, until just before World
War II in 1941, Dad was a part of
the St. Louis Browns organization. His first job with the Browns was
as mascot of the team. At the age of nine, he was made the batboy and
by 16 was managing the visitor's clubhouse at Sportsman's
Park, home to both the Browns and Cardinals
JIMMY AT AGE 10 with Hall of Famer Goose Goslin in the 1931 St. Louis
Browns team photo.
AMERICA'S ORIGINAL SPORTS
My father's recollections of how baseball was almost 80 years ago has not been clouded by living
through the Great Depression, tromping through Europe during World
War II and raising four children with my mother, Nadine.
TECH SGT. JIMMY
PALERMO in Europe during World War II.
Upon returning from the war, my Dad had
to give up a promising professional umpiring career to assist his ailing
father in the family businesses.
Among the family's holdings was a neighborhood tavern across the street
from Sportsman's Park.
The tavern opened in 1923 and was also the family homestead for four decades.The
tavern, located at the intersection of Spring and Sullivan Avenues, and
adjacent to the left field gates of Sportsman's Park, is probably America's
Original Sports Bar. As early as 1946 patrons gathered every Friday
night to watch the fights on the newest technology - a 12-inch Farnsworth
In the early 1950s, the tavern was remodeled and decorated with all
kinds of game-used equipment from all 16 major league teams, including
caps, gloves, balls - and hundreds of cracked bats brought over from
the ball park by a good friend of Dad's who worked as batboy for the
and Cardinals from 1950-1955.
Players, managers and coaches from both leagues frequented the establishment,
mainly for my grandmother's cooking, and during prohibition, my grandfather's
During our passionate conversation about the condition of the game,
my brother and I, who are products of the Baby Boom Era and have our
perspective rooted in the 1950s and 1960s, made the case that Aaron,
Musial, Mays, Snider, Mantle, Williams and Banks would have hit perhaps
more home runs if they had taken performance-enhancing substances.
Dad, showing his age
and ever the Babe fan, said Ruth would have hit 1,000.
NADINE PALERMO with 2-year old Samantha.
The conversation then became a discourse on the history and culture of
baseball and how the game has degenerated into nothing more than a bunch
of spoiled cartoon characters (commissioner, players, owners and agents)
who have little regard for the game and even less for the fans. We all
yearned for the time when it was a game.
My mother, Nadine, listening on the periphery as she tended her two year
old granddaughter, made a comment about "those old bats."
Almost in unison, my brother
Jim and I asked, "What ever happened
to those bats!?"
Mom replied that she had packed them up in a refrigerator box sometime
in the early '60s and had the movers put them "somewhere" in
the garage after relocating to Florida from St. Louis in 1985.
Neither my brother nor I had seen those bats in more than 40 years, but
we remembered vividly when they adorned the tavern walls on Sullivan Avenue.
Our curiosity led us to agree to head over to our parent's house early
the next morning to check it out.
'OH MY GOD!'
Upon arriving, Mom had coffee
ready, but we made
a beeline for
the garage. The area was more of a storage room than a garage.
door hadn't been open for at least 15 years and, to our chagrin,
the single light fixture was out of order.
Mom came up with a well-used flashlight and we started moving boxes
and crates around looking for the bat box in semi-darkness. We
the old refrigerator box behind a wall of smaller boxes and hanging
The bat box was bound by twine and dried-out masking tape. While
cutting the twine and ripping away what was left of the tape holding
the box closed,
by the dull light of a single flashlight, we joked that this must
have been what it was like for Howard Carter when he discovered
tomb deep inside the Egyptian desert.
Jim pulled the well-packed bats out of their container one
at a time. In the darkened garage, he passed them to me over
the wall of boxes
to take inventory.
I was stunned.
"Oh my God, Jim, here's a Snider! Holy smokes, look here's Aaron,
Big Klu, Hodges, Handsome
Ransom, Musial and Mays
Mom, hearing the ruckus, stuck her head in the garage to see if
everything was OK.
After a cursory, but high-spirited inspection of several bats,
we quickly decided it was too dark in the garage to give our rediscovered
the proper examination they deserved.
INTO THE LIGHT
It was out of the question
to move the entire box, because it was much too bulky, so we brought
them into Mom and Dad's sun-drenched
Room two at a time until 42 bats were lying in neat rows on
the floor - labels up.
Dad, just arising, walked into the room, coffee in hand, and
surveyed the bats.
"I see you guys didn't waste any time," he said.
As my brother and I gave him a briefing about our "who's who"
lineup of '50s baseball, he reached down and picked up "The
Man's" bat, the only unbroken one in the lot.
"I remember when Freddie brought this bat over to the saloon,"
he said. "This is a bat Musial used the day he hit five home runs."
Freddie Buchholtz was the Cardinal
batboy that day over 50 years ago when Musial hit five home runs during
a doubleheader, and Dad
well through his longtime connections at the ballpark and
Seeing and touching
the bats must have jogged his memory as Dad recalled there were "a
bunch" of photos, letters and notes somewhere that chronicled his
days in baseball, from the beginning. Mom, ever the pack rat, said they
were probably in some of those boxes we already moved around - so back
to the dark garage we went.
JIMMY PALERMO at work in
Sportsman's Park in June, 1933.
Grabbing about a dozen boxes, we
brought them all into the bright light of day - but the contents were
even more illuminating: Newspaper clippings with Dad's photos from the
'20s and '30s out of the St. Louis Daily Globe-Democrat;
old photos of Dad in a Browns uniform, and sitting at Goose
Goslin's feet in the Brown's 1931 team photo; Dad in San Antonio during
spring training in 1938; and Dad during his professional umpiring career
before the war.
There also were letters of recommendation from Brown's
owner, William DeWitt, to the War Department for Dad to go to Officer
and a photo of Mom and Dad with my mom's sister, Carmen Berra, and her
husband, Yogi, at the Copacabana Club in New York City in 1952.
HIGH PRAISE: A letter from
William DeWitt (father to current Cardinal owner Bill DeWitt
Jr.) to the War Department recommending Jimmy Palermo for Officer's
Candidate School during World War II.
And then, there was the jackpot - notes about the bats and other artifacts,
which we found out later we unfortunately no longer had, such as Rogers
Hornsby's baseball shoes, Roy Campanella's mitt, an original Pirate batting
helmet, various uniforms and a lot more.
We also discovered signed scorecards from the '50s
and '60s, old Brownie and Cardinal original headshot photos that
once hung in the tavern, a picture taken by Dad of Musial, Red Schoendienst,
Uncle Yogi and Joe Louis, an original reel of 16 mm film of the 1950
World Series, a signed baseball from the '64 series, and more.
WIWAG IS BORN
As we read the notes compiled by Dad, Jim and
I realized that this collection and combination of bats at our
very feet were significant
artifacts of an era gone by. For years we had talked about writing a
book featuring the many fascinating stories about the "Golden Age" of
baseball in the '20s and '30s that we had heard from Dad all of our lives.
This rediscovered group of game-used bats from the '50s provided
us another platform
to share our stories and passion for our national pastime, thus whenitwasagame.net
BATBOY Jimmy Palermo (far left, front) looks on with the Brownie players
as Manager "Sunny Jim" Bottomley receives gifts of appreciation
from the fans, including a bird dog and a radio. This photo appeared
in the July 26, 1937 edition of the St.
Louis Daily Globe-Democrat. Bottomley and Jimmy became close life-long
friends after first meeting in 1926.
UMPIRE JIMMY PALERMO (back row, far right) with his colleagues in
the Wisconsin State League in 1941. His umpiring career was abruptly
interrupted by World War II, and obligations to the family business
prevented him from resuming his umpiring career on his return from
the European theatre in 1946.
SHORT SISTERS: Originally from Howe's Mill, Missouri, Carmen (left) and
Nadine, enjoy an evening out with their husbands, Yogi Berra (left) and
Jimmy Palermo, at the Copacabana in New York City in 1952. In the background
between Carmen and Yogi are Roy Cohn, attorney and right-hand man of the
infamous Senator Joe McCarthy, and actress Ann Blythe.