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The '50s was the decade of power and the numbers put up by the untainted athletes were impressive.
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Jimmy Palermo, during a historic 7-day span in May, 1939, saw the meteoric rise of Williams and tragic decline of Gehrig.


An exclusive WIWAG ongoing feature.

The field seemed vast to a 7-year old who had looked forward to this day for two months.

The year marks the 60th anniversary of the first major league tryout for black players.


Bud Fowler is the first know black players on an integrated team.

of the '50s

Qualify as Grade A10.

First sports bar featured 12-inch Farnsworth TV.


Two unsuspecting vintage baseball fans rediscover a "National Treasure."
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THE THRILL OF DISCOVERY: "Oh my God, here's a Snider! Holy smokes, look here's Aaron, Big Klu, Hodges, Handsome Ransom, Musial and Mays too!"

Baseball 'archaeologists' 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 does.

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.


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.

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 television.

In the early 1950s, the tavern was remodeled and decorated with all kinds of game-used equipment from all 16 major league teams, including uniforms, 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 Browns 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 homemade wine.

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 baseball perspective rooted in the 1950s and 1960s, made the case that Aaron, Musial, Mays, Snider, Mantle, Williams and Banks would have hit perhaps 800 or 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.


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. The roll-up 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 finally uncovered the old refrigerator box behind a wall of smaller boxes and hanging clothes.

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 King Tut's 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 too!"

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 treasures the proper examination they deserved.


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 Florida 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 knew him well through his longtime connections at the ballpark and the tavern.

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 the Brown's 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 Candidate School; 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.


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 baseball 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 and incentive to share our stories and passion for our national pastime, thus whenitwasagame.net was born.

BROWNS' 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.

PROFESSIONAL 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.

THE 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.

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