Bumping Heads with New York Yankee Steve Whitaker

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10/22/2009

Yankee Stadium, 1 E 161st St, Bronx, NY‎ 10451

Neighborhood: Bronx

No, I wasn’t going to cut school to go to Yankee Stadium and watch the Yankees play the Orioles during their 1967 season.

“Aw, c’mon, BB, let’s do it,” recommended “Reese,” one of my Southwest Bronx neighborhood pals and fellow schoolmate during my sophomore year at DeWitt Clinton High School. Otherwise easygoing, when it came to missing school, I couldn’t legitimize attending a weekday baseball game . . . that’s what weekends were for and I’d be too guilt-ridden if I had yielded.

Pal “Reese” obviously didn’t mind missing a day of school for what he believed would be a truly memorable game . . . sure enough, that game became legendary when the Orioles’ Frank Robinson did a backwards-flip up-and-over the outfield wall to catch Yankee Roy White’s fly ball.

Both teams’ umpires had a tough time determining this play. Did Robinson actually catch the ball during his backwards-flip? Did he “bobble-the-ball” instead? What actually happened behind that outfield wall? The outcome wasn’t caught by the TV cameras, nor was it within the umpires’ field of vision.

The toughest point of contention was the time that elapsed before Robinson triumphantly arose behind the outfield wall and held-up the ball as high as his arm could extend. The umpires argued whether Robinson’s time behind the wall involved retrieving a “bobbled” or fallen ball.

Fortunately, what the TV cameras captured on videotape suggested that Robinson was directly following the descending ball’s path – that he could have “made the catch” by remaining within the ball’s “flight pattern” as it angled downward over the outfield wall.

Robinson was ultimately credited with “the catch.”

But it was Yankee Steve Whitaker who made that day even more memorable for pal “Reese.” Reese and Whitaker actually bumped heads over the low bleachers wall, beyond which there was an equally-low fence. This low fence separated the playing field from the bleachers wall, leaving enough space for a bleachers spectator to reach over the low wall and to retrieve a ball between the wall and the fence. Eventually, the Yankees removed this gap.

Wow! Pal “Reese” interfered with a play! Always bringing along his fielder’s glove (I still have my vintage 1966 Detroit Tigers Al Kaline glove!!), he wore the glove during every play, anticipating a successful catch if a fly ball approached.

Go for it, “Reese” . . . catch that ball . . . it’s headed right to you. And so “Reese” ran towards the bleachers wall in the direct path of the incoming ball – from which Orioles player I don’t recall – and briskly reached down into the space, or gap, between the wall and the low outer fence.

Yankee Steve Whitaker missed the overhead fly ball as it plummeted into the bleachers gap. Oh, well, at least he could retrieve it and hurl it to the second baseman. Not really – not with pal “Reese” running towards the gap, reaching down into the gap at the same time as Yankee Steve Whitaker.

Oh, no . . . that’s all Steve Whitaker needed – a teenaged spectator interfering with the play, preventing a timely strikeout but allowing for an unwelcome collision as their heads’ “bumped.”

After the game, pal “Reese” waited outside the stadium gates hoping to get ballplayers’ autographs. Just as Steve Whitaker exited, pal “Reese” retreated behind the other fans, fearing recognition. Could you blame him? Only for cutting school perhaps!

Barry F. Bealick, a lifelong resident of The Bronx, was born in the shadows of Yankee Stadium, at 1355 Grand Concourse, which opened in 1923 — the same year that Yankee Stadium was completed. A member of The Bronx County Historical Society, Mr. Bealick subscribes to Back In The Bronx magazine.

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§ 4 Responses to “Bumping Heads with New York Yankee Steve Whitaker”

  • Bob Sosankin says:

    Its been 43 years since what should have been called a home run for Roy White. 11 worlds Series appearances and 7 champioships later I’m still upset about that play. Was at that game also. Our view feom the third base line gave my father and I a poor view but our hearts told us it was a HR.

  • Bob:

    Understandably you’re still upset about that play, a squelched home-run if there EVER was one !

    Yes, Roy White should have been credited with an HR.

    BTW, Bob, you mentioned that you were with your father at that game. SOL Sosankin? Mother GERTRUDE (“Gertie”) Sosankin? Lived in Building 140 in Sedgwick Houses?

    Barry F. Bealick
    bealick@yahoo.com

  • Chris Zmick says:

    I was there too, and I still think about that play all the time. A buddy and I went as a reward for graduating grammar school…..can you imagine 2 14 year olds doing that today? I read somewhere that Houk had witnesses th hat saw Robinson lose the ball to a bit…….I guess only he knows…….someone should ask him about that…….would be a great question. I’m sure he remembers…..

  • Reese says:

    I’m “Pal Reese”–and it was the first game of a twinight doubleheader–Bealick and I were in the upper deck behind home plate and had a clear view of the “catch” (the Yanks won game 2).

§ Leave a Reply

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