WHEN IT WAS A GAME: By the time this team photo of the
1931 St. Louis Browns was taken, Jimmy Palermo (pictured above sitting
on the ground between Hall of Famer Goose
Goslin's feet), had been
with the Browns for five seasons.
Beginning in 1927, Jimmy Palermo spent 15 years inside
baseball's most romantic era
During those years the game
featured players that fill the Hall of Fame today and he
knew them all
Field of Dreams, a movie released in 1989,
is considered by many to be the definitive motion picture about the
mystique and glamour of baseball during the 'Golden Era.' Ray Kinsella's
Field, just a holler from his Iowa farmhouse's wrap-around porch, featured
ghosts of legends acting out fantasy that was invisible to all but
And, when Ray's illusionary players finished for
the day, they disappeared into their left field cornfield "clubhouse" reserved
only for themselves and special guests such as James Earl Jones'
character, Terence Mann.
I was a lot luckier than Ray. My Field was one of reality.
So authentic in fact that it played host to more major league games than
any other Field in the history of the game. Although my Field had the
same proximity as Ray's - literally right across the street - my Field
by living legends that played for real in front of millions of fans.
And, when these flesh and blood players finished up
their workday, they retreated to a brick and mortar dugout and clubhouse
they showed they had the same strengths and weaknesses of any common
Beginning in 1923, I lived in the shadow of Sportsman's
Park in St. Louis, at Spring and Sullivan Avenues and adjacent to
the left field gates. From the time I was 6 years old in 1927, until just
World War II in 1941, I was a part of the St. Louis Browns organization.
FIELD OF DREAMS: Jimmy Palermo grew up
across the street from Sportsman's Park (circled above), the host to
more Major League baseball games than any
ballpark in history. Sportsman's park opened in 1902 and
housed both the Cardinals and Browns for 34 years, 1920 - 1953.
I KNEW THEM ALL
My first job with the Browns was as mascot of the team.
At the age of 9 I was promoted to bat boy, and by age 17, I was managing
the visitor's clubhouse at Sportsman's Park - home to both the Browns
JIMMY PALERMO in 1933.
What a job! My duties throughout my 15-year career consisted
of taking care of all the player's needs, which, by the way, included
signing their autographs for them (how many of those balls "signed" by
big league players are real?). During those years the American League
featured players that fill the Hall of Fame today - and I knew them all,
I also had an opportunity to become friendly with many
of the Cardinal players of that era. They would frequent my family's
confectionery store, which was conveniently located across the street
from the park, and
on the way of their three-block walk back to the Fairgrounds Hotel where
a number of them lived during the season.
OSCAR MELILLOThose were the days when baseball was not for the faint-hearted.
Players wore flannel uniforms in 100+ degree heat, the brush-back was
an accepted pitch and violent slides into second base with sharpened
spikes raised were commonplace. There was no night baseball, and don't forget
those gloves, which were not much bigger than the player’s hand.
Nothing illustrates the differences between the contemporary
and Golden Era players better than the fact that most of yesteryear's
players had other jobs during the off-season. For example, my good friends
Melillo both found it necessary to work in other professions
when not playing ball. Kress, a shortstop for the Browns in the '20s
was an electrician during the off-season, and Melillo, the Brown's second
baseman, sold real estate.
RED KRESS of the Browns touches home plate after blasting a two-run homer
Sportsman's Park against the Cleveland Indians on Aug. 2, 1931. Batboy
looks on with the Browns' Lin
Storti, left, and Indians' catcher Luke
photo appeared the next day in the St. Louis Globe Democrat.
HARD WORKING IMMIGRANTS: Paul and Mary Palermo
with their sons Jimmy, left, and Joe in a photo taken in 1946.
My father Paul, who my brother Joe and I called
"Pop," and my mother Mary, purchased the property
at 3701 Sullivan Ave. in February of 1923. Mom and Pop were your typical
hardy and hard-working immigrants of the early 20th century.
Pop worked in the coalmines of Illinois as a child. Mom
was lucky to make it to the United Stated from Sicily because her vessel
was rocked by a violent Atlantic storm that killed the captain and almost
sank the ship. Only 17, and with most of her worldly belongings lost
to the storm, Mom arrived two weeks late - landing at Ellis Island in
March of 1911. Mom and Pop met only briefly before being wed as a result
arranged marriage, which was the norm at that time.
The patriarchs of
the Palermo and Maniscalco families thought they would be a good match,
I suppose they were right.
I was born in St. Louis on September 20, 1920, and was
2-years old when my family moved into the two-story brick structure located
across the street from Sportsman's Park northwest corner. The front half
of the bottom floor was used
as a confectionery store, while the rear was converted
into living quarters to accommodate Mom, Pop, my 11-year old brother Joe, Grandmother Palermo
Spartan by today's standards, we had two bedrooms, one
for Mom and Pop, and one for Joe and me. The bathroom was in the
basement and Grandmother Palermo slept on a cot in the kitchen, which
was the center of the family activities and featured a pot-belly heating coal
stove. Upstairs was an apartment with two bedrooms, living room, kitchen
and bathroom, which Pop rented out for $30 a month.
FIRST HOT DOG STAND
TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS: Paul Palermo, right,
and Joe Schmidt man the hot dog stand on a Summer afternoon before
a Cardinals game in 1938. Paul and his 11-year old son, Joe, built
the first hot dog stand outside of Sportsman Park in April of 1923.
My first memory of Sullivan Ave. was when
Pop and Joe built the first hot dog stand outside of Sportsman's
Park in April of 1923 in preparation for the Browns and Cardinals
season. Pop designed and built the elaborate grill, which could cook
about 100 hot dogs at a time. Small dogs sold for 5 cents, large
10 cents. Sodas were 5 cents. Also for sale were cigars, cigarettes,
chewing tobacco and gum, which were displayed on the counter. On
day the stand would take in $25 to $35, but the first $100 day was
during the 1926 World Series when the Cardinals played the Yankees.
Mom ran the confectionery store which sold everything needed in an early
20th century city dwelling including dry goods, canned
goods, bread, eggs, cigarettes, cigars, candy, ice cream and even hardware
items. The Browns and Cardinal players dropped in regularly to buy smokes,
chewing tobacco and gum because it was cheaper in the store than in the
During the rebuilding of the area's surrounding streets
and improvements to Sportsman's Park in 1925 and 1926, Mom started a
small restaurant inside the confectionery to accommodate all the construction
workers. The confectionery was remodeled to allow for four tables and
a long shelf attached to the wall for stand-up patrons. Mom could feed
about 30 people at a time and worked like a demon. Every one of the workers
ate there really enjoyed her cooking - especially her Sicilian dishes
- and money was rolling in.
JIMMY AUSTIN, seated, and Dixie
check out the latest box scores during
a vist to Palermo's confectionary store in 1926. At the time, Austin was
a coach for the Browns. Davis was a right handed pitcher for the Brownies,
At about that same time, I was in kindergarten at
Columbia school when I met my first big league ball player: Jimmy
a coach for the Browns. Austin would drop into the store to pick up Peter
Hauptmann cigars, which Mrs. Austin wouldn't allow Jimmy to smoke in
their suite at the Fairgrounds Hotel. Every time I saw Austin in the
store I would
ask him for a ball and he would always politely say, "Maybe next time
The second ball player I ever met was Jim Bottomley who
would come by to have some of my Mom's Sicilian-cooked meals. Bottomley,
a first baseman for the Cardinals that year, and I were to become life-long
friends. One day during the 1926 season Bottomley brought Flint
Rehm over to enjoy my Mom's cooking, but what Rehm really wanted
was to taste Pop's
homemade wine. It was prohibition and Rehm loved to drink. Pop
had been a saloon owner for many years before prohibition began in
1920 and was
well known for his talents as a wine maker.
KNOTHOLE CARD, '26 SERIES AN EYE OPENER
I turned 6 in September of '26 I was old enough to get my knothole card
and I enjoyed going to see
games after school. One afternoon while watching the game in the
field grandstand where the knotholers sat, a rowdy kid dropped a soda
bottle, which shattered and cut me just above my left eye.
A wide-eyed usher saw all the blood and rushed me to
the Card's clubhouse where Dr. Weaver, the Card's trainer, was working
on pitcher Bill
Sherdel. Weaver put in three stitches to close the
cut and about that time the game had ended and the Cardinal
players started coming into the clubhouse to shower and go home. Jesse
Haines saw me
with a bandage on my head and asked me what happened, and I told him.
Haines was a great pitcher and I was so nervous I was crying not
for being in the clubhouse, but what my Dad would say when I got
PETE ALEXANDERThe Cardinals
won their first-ever National League pennant in 1926 and that's
when I realized that big league baseball was so popular, and attracted
very large crowds. The Cards were
World Series and the town went crazy as fans lined up for tickets
two days before the game. Business for the hot dog stand was never
selling out of everything, and Mom was awful busy in her confectionery
The Cardinals defeated the powerful Yankees four games
to three to win their first World Championship. Pitcher Pete
Alexander was the star of the series for the Cardinals as he fanned the
Yank's Tony Lazzeri to
win the clincher. Alexander ended the series with two victories and a
'LUCKY LITTLE DAGO KID'
JIMMY PALERMO, cira 1927.Tuesday, July 5th, 1927 dawned as a typical hot,
muggy St. Louis summer morning. Even though school was out, I arose early to
help my Mom prepare to open the confectionery, which opened at 8 a.m. My
job was to make sure that the trash was squared away and the floors were
swept. I also fed the dog and helped Grandmother Palermo in the kitchen.
Jimmy Austin, back to coach for the Browns that
season, continued to make the confectionery a regular stop-off to pick
up his Peter Hauptman cigars on his way to the park each early afternoon
team was in town. And, as was my habit, I pestered him for a ball.
He looked me over as he lit up his cigar, winked at my mom and said, "Alright
Jimmy, come on. Come with me across the street and I'll get you a ball."
slides under Jimmy Austin in perhaps one of the most famous
images of the hard-playing Cobb. This photo appeared on a 1912 baseball
After being refused so many times his answer caught
me totally off guard. He asked my Mom if he could take me to the ballpark.
She thanked him and told me to behave. Austin held my hand as we crossed
the street and entered the ballpark through the left field gates.
In the Brown's clubhouse, all the players were
getting their uniforms on and preparing to go out on the field to take batting
practice and warm up for the game against the Tigers. Austin sat me
down on a stool in the middle of the room, told me to be good and that
he'd be right
I was in awe as the players walked back and forth, some
in nothing but their jock straps. Red Kress, obviously thinking it a
bit odd for a neighborhood 6-year old kid to be sitting in the middle
clubhouse before a game, asked me what I was doing there. I told him
that Mr. Austin had promised me a ball and would be back shortly. Little
I know that Red and I would become real buddies as the years went by.
ST LOUIS BROWNS Manager Dan Howley in April, 1927.
came back and told me to follow him down into the dugout. Boy, was I
scared - but what a thrill! I watched all
the Browns players working out and then Austin sat me on the dugout's
About that time the Brown's manager, Dan
Howley, came in the dugout
and stared at me sitting there and asked Austin, "What's that kid
"He's the little Dago kid from the corner confectionery," Austin
told Howley. "I've promised him a ball for the last year."
The Browns were in a slump and Howley, a tough old Irishman
said, "OK, let him stay, maybe he'll give us some luck - but make sure
he doesn't move from his seat."
Lucky for me, the Browns crushed the Tigers that day
- scoring 17 runs in the process. Howley, pleased with his team's performance,
asked Austin if he could bring that "lucky little Dago kid" back
the next day saying, "Who knows, maybe he's our lucky mascot."
Pop was at the game that day keeping an eye on me from
the stands, and as I was transferred from Austin's care to my Dad's,
Austin asked Pop if I could come back for the next game. Pop, seeing
in my eyes readily agreed. The Browns won again and I became their official
mascot until 1930 when I was promoted to batboy.
Although my uniform was makeshift that first year, I
was the envy of every kid in my neighborhood. My dad bought me a little
pinstriped baseball jersey, and the Browns found me a team cap to wear.
My job as mascot was to help the batboy, Lefty Lydon, with his chores
and to do odd jobs around the clubhouse like delivering messages and
picking up packages. My pay was one used baseball for every game.
FIRST ENCOUNTER WITH THE BABE
THE BABE was not only the greatest hitter in baseball
was the best tipper too.
Shortly after becoming mascot, New York was in town and
Tommy Bramell, the trainer of the Browns, sent me over to the Yank’s
clubhouse with a message for their trainer. As I entered the visitor's clubhouse,
who do I see? The Babe himself! I had heard about Ruth many times and
he was larger than life!
The Babe was seated in front of his locker, shirtless,
looking over some bats that were just delivered from Louisville where
most bats were made. He looked up, acknowledged me and then said, "Hey
kid, go ask Tommy if he has a bat bone."
Ruth was a great doctorer of his bats. He would put them
in the big gas clothes dryer in the clubhouse to take a bit of moisture
out of the new wood and then used the bone to harden the seams in the
head of his bats. I didn't know what a bat bone was at the time, but
I left the
Yankee's clubhouse at a sprint and ran back to the Brown's clubhouse
as fast as I could. I breathlessly told Tommy, "I just saw Babe Ruth
and he wants to know if you have a bat bone."
Tommy said OK, and looked in several places before coming
up with a large bone that players used to harden their bats. I hurried
right back to the Babe and gave him the bone. The Babe smiled and said, "Thanks
kid - what's your name?"
When I told him "Jimmy Palermo" he said, "Oh, a Little
Dag!" I didn't know what he meant at the time, but when he told me
to reach into his locker and "get yourself a dollar," I was flabbergasted.
Man! A dollar was some tip! From then on he called me "Little Dag." When
the Yankees left town, Ruth would give all the batboys, mascots and kid
helpers $1. We all sure loved him, and I would get to know the Babe very
well as the years passed and I grew into manhood.
HALL OF FAMERS Babe
Ruth of the Yankees and
George Sisler of
the Browns shake hands before a game in 1927.
MARY PALERMO, the "Baseball Lady."As mascot and batboy I was
paid one used baseball for each game - two for double headers. Sometimes I got
doing chores like delivering messages and packages to the main office.
one of the ball players would slip me a ball. I gave every ball to
my mother, and she would clean them up with milk and put them in a showcase
in the confectionery.
She was known all through the St. Louis area as the "Baseball
Lady." She sold them for 50 to 75 cents for the used ones, and $1 to
$1.50 for new ones I got on special occasions.
Every little town in the area had a baseball team that
played on weekends, as did the small towns in Eastern Missouri and across
the river in Illinois - and they were all customers. My mother, unbeknownst
to me, put all the money from baseball sales in my account. I was allowed
50 cents a week. Picture shows were 10 cents, hamburgers were 15 cents
and sodas were 5 cents, so 50 cents went a long way during the depression.
SPRING TRAINING 1930: Coach
Lena Blackburne, left, manager Bill Killefer, center, and coach Jimmy
Austin prepare the Browns
in Florida for the upcoming season - Jimmy Palermo's first as batboy.
PROMOTED TO BATBOY
In 1930, Bill Killerfer became the manager
of the Browns and Lefty Lydon departed to take a job to make some
money (he was paid in used balls too). So, after three years as mascot
I was promoted to batboy of the Browns.
SAM WESTThat same year, the Browns and Senators swapped future
Hall of Famers: Heine
Manush for Goose Goslin. Both were great hitters,
but Goslin hit with more power. Goose and I hit it off right away and
shared many experiences together in the subsequent years until his death in 1971.
He was the highest paid Brown ever at $30,000 a year, but he'd always
on Jimmy, let's warm up," and we would play catch often.
HALL OF FAMER Goose Goslin as a Brownie in 1930. Sitting in the dugout behind
him is first-year Browns batboy Jimmy Palermo (circled above).
Goslin had three good years with the Browns and was traded
back to Washington after the 1932 season. I sure missed him, but the Browns
got a great center fielder in the trade, Sam
FIRST ALL-STAR GAME
West was one of the greatest fielders
I've ever seen, and not too bad at the plate either. He was the only
Browns player selected
to play in the first
All-Star Game in July of 1933, at Chicago's Comiskey
Park. Chicago was hosting the World's Fair and the game was actually
an exhibition for the fair.
I remember putting a shine on his baseball shoes so bright
that you could see yourself, and he promised to bring me something back from
the game. Everyone was happy for Sam and hoped he would get in the game,
which he did - in the ninth inning.
Sam was good to his word and brought me back a baseball
from the game with every All-star player's signature. I thought that
was great and took my autographed ball back to my mother. Not thinking,
put it in with the other balls for sale.
A couple of days later, I wanted to show it to some
of my friends and asked my Mom for it. She said that she sold it, and
I hollered, "Oh, no Mom!" She told me not to holler and said
she got $1.50 for it. Just imagine what that ball would be worth today.
But, I would bet that ball was used in a pick up game in some small
town in Missouri or Illinois.
Game made its debut on July 6, 1933, at Chicago's Comiskey Park.
Sam West is in the front row, third from right, and true to his word,
brought back Jimmy Palermo a ball signed by every player.
PALERMO in 2008.I've
been relating my experiences about those incredible days of baseball
in the "Golden Age" from the mid-20s to
the early '40s for as long as I can remember. My stories have been
through three generations of Palermo's.
My first hand perspective and
recollections of the game we love has provided a historical platform
for WIWAG. The launch of WIWAG features my most memorable week in the
clubhouse at Sportsman's Park (see Williams and Gehrig).
fascinating, firsthand "Clubhouse Chronicles" (featuring greats such
as Lefty Grove, Goose Goslin, Oscar Melillo, Rogers Hornsby, Bob Feller
to name a few) are planned for future updates of WIWAG. We will
give our readers a historical inside look into baseball and a new
for when it was a game.