Forward Five O'Clock Lightning: 2015 Edition
There is always the debate among baseball aficionados, experts, fans - -what was the greatest baseball team of all time?
Perhaps after reading this new edition of Five O’Clock Lighting, you will have the definitive answer, the 1927 New York Yankees.
When Yankee owner Colonel Ruppert's "Rough Riders," as some called them, were not going head to head against their American League competition, they were playing exhibition games in Buffalo, Omaha, Rochester, Columbus, Dayton, Indianapolis, all kinds of places.
Everyone in the little cities and small towns wanted to catch a glimpse of the Babe, Lou and the others. Wherever the Yankees went, there were always packed ballparks and playing fields. The team was a magnet, a syncopated jazz band playing a baseball song with the Babe leading, striking up the band with his home run baton, his bat. Whole towns came out early and they stayed late studying the moves of "the Colossus of Baseball." How the Sultan of Swat walked, how he ran, how he swung a bat, how he caught and threw a baseball, how he joked and wrestled with kids in the fields of play, how many different kinds of home runs he hit. Demand for the Yankees came from all over.
Murderers' Row even played exhibition games in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, National League cities.
In Omaha, Nebraska, the King of Clouts, Ruth, and his protégé the "Prince of Pounders," Gehrig seemed genuinely happy to make the acquaintance of one "Lady Amco" who was known as the "Babe Ruth of chickens." She was a world champ at laying eggs. The morning the Babe and the Buster met her she produced on cue, laying an egg for the 171st straight day.
In Indianapolis, the Sultan of Swat failed to homer or even swat the ball out of the infield in his first three times at bats. Each time the smattering of boos and heckling became louder, all good natured, of course. According to reports, Ruth in his fourth at bat tagged the ball, and it leaped over the fence in right field into the street bouncing into box cars in a nearby freight yard. That was the story.
And its punch line: "I guess I did show those people something, make fun of me, will they," the Big Bam boomed going into the dugout.
In a dilapidated park in Ft. Wayne, Indiana before 35,000 against the Lincoln Lifes, a semi-pro team, the scene was all too familiar. Hundreds of kids screamed, ached to ogle, to get an autograph or just to be close to George Herman Ruth, their idol.
The Bambino, to save his legs, played first base, as was his custom many times during those exhibition games. Gehrig played right field. Going into the tenth inning, the score was tied, 3-3. Mike Gazella was on first base when Ruth stepped into the batter's box. Always the showman, signaling to the crowd that they might as well start going home, the Big Bam poked the ball over the right field fence giving the Yankees a 5-3 win. Hundreds of boys who had been relatively controlled and contained mobbed their idol as he crossed home plate. It took quite a while before Ruth and the Yankees could clear out of the park.
Wherever the exhibition games were staged, overflow crowds sat in the outfield watching the action. Attendance records were broken. Mobs cheered. They roared and howled and jumped to their feet, marveling at the power and magic of the mighty Yankees and especially George Herman Ruth. "God, we liked that big son of a bitch. He was a constant source of joy, Waite Hoyt said. "I've seen them kids, men, women, worshipers all, hoping to get his name on a torn, dirty piece of paper, or hoping for a grunt of recognition when they said, 'Hi-ya, Babe.'
He never let them down; not once. He was the greatest crowd pleaser of them all." In a game played at Sing-Sing, New York against the prison team, Ruth slugged a batting practice home run over the right field wall and then another over the center field wall. "I'd love to be riding out of here on those balls," one of the prisoners joked. During the game the Sultan of Swat turned to the crowd of cons in the stands and bellowed in that big booming baritone voice of his: "What time is it?" Many of the cons shouted back the answer.
"What difference does it make?" the showman Ruth yelled. "You guys ain't going anyplace, any time soon."
The Yankees were going anyplace they could play baseball. On May 26 they were at West Point. Entering the Mess Hall at noon to dine with the Cadets for lunch, the team from the Bronx received a standing and enthusiastic ovation from the 1,200 West Pointers. Before the baseball exhibition game began at West Stadium, "Jidge" Ruth presented members of the Army nine with autographed baseballs and a specially autographed baseball to the leading ball player of each of the twelve companies.
The Yankees used virtually their regular lineup except that Ruth and Gehrig switched places in the field. Earle Combs walked to start the game. Mark Koenig singled. Babe Ruth was struck out by Army pitcher Tim Timberlake and that got a mighty rise from the Cadets.
James Harrison later described the scene in The New York Times: "'Aw, he didn't try to hit the ball,' said one of the cadets. 'He was just trying to make us feel good.' “However, the truth of the matter was that the Big Bam was so eager to hit a homer for the Hudson folks that he went after bad balls which he couldn't have reached on a stepladder.
No matter. A good time was being had by all until lightning, thunder and a soaking rain brought the festivities to a quick conclusion after just two innings. The Yanks, as usual, won another, 2-0. It was said that the Babe got a big kick playing in exhibition games. It was said that he liked that time to show off his skills, play without pressure, and have fun. That was what was said. But there was also the unpublicized financial benefit. At the beginning of his participation in exhibitions gigs, Ruth received 10 percent of the gate receipts. That arrangement ballooned later to a guaranteed $2,500 against 15 percent of gate receipts.
Just how many became fans of the Yankees after attending those exhibition games cannot be measured. Just how many heard about the dramatic doings of the team and became lifelong fans of the team that were calling "Murderers' Row" is also beyond calculation.
The ’27 New York Yanks were the greatest baseball team of all time. Read on in the book and find out why.
--Harvey Frommer, Lyme, New Hampshire, 2015
Chapter One Excerpt
Excerpt from The Sporting News
Five O'Clock Lightning:
Harvey Frommer brings
the perceptive eye of an historian to what was arguably the most
feared batting order of all time. Add to that his contagious enthusiasm
for classic baseball and you have a most enjoyable book. -- Roger
The 1927 Yankees
may or may not have been the best team ever, but surely this is
the best book about that wonderful concentration of talent. --George
A great eye for detail and a wonderful ability to bring his characters
to life. --Jonathan Eig, "The Luckiest Man"
team as recounted by baseball's greatest author. -- Seth
Swirsky, "Baseball Letters" and "Something
to Write Home About"
Engrossing and entertaining
look at a mythical baseball team. --Leigh Montville, 'The
Home run. Sweet look
back -- Dan Shaughnessy, "Senior Year"
Harvey appeared on Johns on Sports on WTBQ 1110 AM New York on Nov. 24, 2007 to discuss Five O'Clock Lightning.
Fall Baseball Roundup, BookReporter.com
1927 New York Yankees assembled perhaps the greatest collection of
athletes in history. Harvey Frommer, who has made a cottage industry
out of writing about New York baseball, reaffirms that claim with
FIVE O'CLOCK LIGHTNING: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and the Greatest Baseball
Team in History, The 1927 New York Yankees.
represents a problem that fans have had for generations. Everyone
knows about Ruth, Gehrig, Tony Lazzeri and a handful of other regulars.
But a team is made up of 25 players, and Frommer gives all of them
their due. Using team photos from that year, he gives more than a
passing glance at the "spear carriers" who fill out the
reports on the games, as the reader witnesses the Yankees building
their reputation as the Bronx Bombers; Ruth's 60 home runs were more
than the combined totals of most other teams. But the author makes
the players more human, more accessible. Gehrig, for instance, endured
a two-week slump towards the end of the regular season because he
was so distraught over his ailing mother. Can you recall Joe Giard,
Paul Krichell and Walter Beall? Frommer includes their stories, supplementing
their contributions on the field with substantial background material,
including their lives in post-baseball retirement and a chronological
necrology. Such intimate details are unusual in the rough-and-tumble
genre of sports books.
"The Best Team Ever?," New Jersey Jewish News, Nov. 15, 2007 (PDF)
Despite the lengthy title, Frommer, a Brooklyn ex-pat who relocated to a 17-acre property in bucolic Lyme, NH, 11 years ago, says what differentiates his latest work from previous books on the topic is its detail about the supporting cast who played in the shadows of Ruth, Gehrig, and other high-profile players.
"I think that's what made it such a phenomenal team," he said. "If you read the book closely and carefully, you would have seen there was not one roster change through that year... There was a solidity and uniformity to the team."
The team picture used for the dust cover sets the scene for the narrative. "That photo sold for almost $300,000 at an auction in California," Frommer said. "[Yankees pitching ace] Herb Pennock, one of my favorite characters in the book, went around and got each [player] to sign with a fancy fountain pen that he purchased for the occasion."
In addition to a recap of the team's fortunes during the regular season and in the Series, Frommer tells the story of every man in that photo, including manager Miller Huggins, the Yankees' coaches, even the batboy.
"You get the image of these guys in the roaring Twenties, a group of wild characters. And they were in many ways. But Huggins really was a disciplinarian and a schoolmaster. They had to watch the game, they couldn't eat or drink during the game; all kinds of rules were in effect. It was strictly baseball when they played."
Release About Five O'Clock Lightning
Frommer brings the perceptive eye of an historian to what was arguably
the most feared batting order of all time. Add to that his contagious
enthusiasm for classic baseball and you have a most enjoyable book.
-- Roger Kahn
Yankees may or may not have been the best team ever, but surely this
is the best book about that wonderful concentration of talent. --George
eye for detail and a wonderful ability to bring his characters to
life. Jonathan Eig, "The Luckiest Man"
greatest team as recounted by baseball's greatest author. -- Seth
Swirsky, "Baseball Letters" and "Something to Write
and entertaining look at a mythical baseball team. --Leigh Montville,
'The Big Bam"
Sweet look back -- Dan Shaughnessy, "Senior Year"
A new book -- Five O'Clock Lightning by Harvey Frommer -- quotes
a baseball historian as saying Babe Ruth was "inherently a phallus
worshipper. His phallus and his home-run bat were his prize possessions,
in that order." I'd like to know how this makes Ruth different from
every other male who has walked this planet?
- Five O'Clock Lightning, which will be released in November, also
reveals that one of the Bambino's favourite brothels was the House
of the Good Shepherd. I am no historian, but I believe this facility
later become known as the House That Ruth Built.
Press Blog, Pinstripe Press
Drawing on oral histories, long-buried letters, and other archival
material, Harvey Frommer presents the definitive account of a legendary
ball club, offering the facts and stats that fans love, revealing
the colorful and sometimes controversial details of the lives of the
players as well as what happened to them after the storied season.
-- Michael Aubrecht.
Five O'Clock Lightning: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and the Greatest
Baseball Team in History, the 1927 New York Yankees by Harvey
Frommer (Wiley, Oct.)
When games started at 3:30, the Yankees were hitting bombs by 5 p.m.
"There's a reason Gehrig would say he was the luckiest man. This
book shows why."
--Stephen Power, senior editor.
More: RealGroovy.co.nz, Amazon.com,
Barnes & Noble,
York Post: Page Six,