Yankees visited Amsterdam in ’49 at dawn of dynasty
In May of 1949, a year in which they would win the first of five World Series in a row, the New York Yankees came to Amsterdam and bested their Canadian-American League farm team, the Amsterdam Rugmakers, 9-2.
The game was called after seven innings as the Yankees had to catch a train. There was no audible protest from the overflow crowd, according to a Recorder story, even though many had showed up two hours before the start of the afternoon contest.
The Yankees played in Amsterdam at what was then Mohawk Mills Park, today’s Shuttleworth Park, now the home of the collegiate team the Amsterdam Mohawks. The Yankees previously had played in Amsterdam in 1942, fielding a roster that featured Joe DiMaggio in a 9-5 victory over the Rugmakers in 10 innings.
Paid attendance for the 1949 game was 4,564, the largest crowd in the history of the Canadian-American League. The crowd surpassed the 1942 contest between the Yankees and Rugmakers by 530.
Yogi Berra and Phil Rizzuto came to Amsterdam in 1949. Then new manager Casey Stengel told local reporters his club believed in itself and the players believed in each other. DiMaggio was not in the lineup in Amsterdam in 1949, sidelined by heel problems since spring training. Joltin’ Joe would return to the playing field in June.
In that 1949 game, former Rugmaker Dick Kryhoski, playing first base for the Yankees, broke a 2-2 tie in the third inning with a three-run home run. The Yankees traded Kryhoski late in 1949 and he retired from baseball in 1955.
Former Rugmaker Frank Shea pitched three scoreless innings for the Yankees and was awarded the victory. He had a “whizzing fastball,” according to the Recorder account.
Shea had played for the Rugmakers in 1940. Historian David Pietrusza in “Baseball’s Canadian-American League” said pitching was a specialty in Amsterdam as hurlers had to deal with a short but high left field fence. Shea said that he loved playing in Amsterdam but his salary of $85 a month hardly covered expenses. Staying at the Hotel Amsterdam cost a dollar a night and a meal ticket at local restaurants cost $7.50 a week.
Shea told Pietrusza: “By the time you paid for your food, your hotel and your clothing and buy a newspaper and pay your dues at the clubhouse and buy sweatshirts and stuff that you had to have, you’d be lucky if you could get by. In fact I got $5 a week sent by my family to survive.”
Shea had 14 wins and five losses as a Yankee rookie in 1947, won the All-Star Game and won two World Series contests against Brooklyn. Pietrusza said that the Yankees traded Shea in 1951 to the Washington Senators. He retired from baseball in 1955.
Early in the 1949 Yankee game, Amsterdam first baseman Chuck Weiss had an unassisted double play. Later there were seven Amsterdam errors. Despite that, the Recorder report said the game was “quite a show for the crowd” which had come from as far away as Glens Falls.
The manager of the 1949 Rugmakers was Mayo Smith, who had a reunion with Yankee pitching coach Jim Turner at the game. Turner had been Smith’s manager the past two seasons at Portland in the Pacific Coast League.
Smith was a player-manager for the Rugmakers and hit six home runs in Amsterdam in his first month with the team in 1949. He went on to manage Philadelphia, Cincinnati and Detroit in the major leagues. In 1968, his Detroit Tigers defeated the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series.
Bob Cudmore is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Anyone with a suggestion for a Focus on History topic may contact him at 346-6657 or firstname.lastname@example.org.