Sunday, April 7, 2013

Cy Young & "Old-Timers' Night" in Brookline

On a June night in 1938 on Brookline Field a 71-year old man  wearing a fake beard and mustache took off his hat and coat and threw a ceremonial first pitch to start an old timers' baseball game.

The wind-up and delivery were familiar to many in attendance, as the septuagenarian hurler was none other than Cy Young, former star pitcher in Boston, Cleveland, and St. Louis and a recent inductee into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Cy Young in 1939Young, reported the Brookline Chronicle,

went through the customary wind-up to the accompaniment of thundering applause and then let go the pitch to officially start the ball game. Before the diamond battle of the year got underway, however, "Old Cy" mounted the rubber and gave a demonstration of how he used to "burn 'em over" for which he was roundly applauded. 

[Cy Young, right, at the dedication of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown in 1939, one year after his appearance at "Old-Timers' Night" in Brookline.]

Old-Timers' Night was an annual event in Brookline from 1936 to 1941, though only in 1938 was it graced by the presence of a figure as celebrated as Cy Young.  A handful of other former major league players took part, including Brookline-born Jack Kelleher who played parts of six seasons with four National League teams between 1912 and 1924.

For the most part, the game was a chance to bring back Brookline ballplayers of years past, from Brookline High School and from the many local clubs that competed with one another and with teams from other towns as much as a half-century before.

Brookline Chronicle article previewing 1939 Old-Timers' Night
The Brookline Chronicle's preview of the 1939 Old-Timers' Night included this picture of the old Brookline Marions team from 50 years earlier. (Click for larger view)
In addition to baseball, Old-Timers' Night typically included a parade of vintage vehicles that, according to the Chronicle,
would have done credit to a museum display, ranging from the aristocratic Beverly wagon down through the brougham, landau, surrey, brake, barouche, tally-ho, stagecoach and Irish jaunting car to the common hayrack and cart and including a "steamer" fire engine, a police ambulance and the once-familiar "Black Maria," also a fleet of tandem and single bicycles and high-wheelers and a group of "horseless carriages."

There were also men and women in vintage clothing, including

top-hatted gentlemen with ruffled and bustled ladies and helmeted guardians of the law and red-shirted fire laddies.

The parade, with local luminaries and marching bands, typically began at the Municipal Gymnasium near the High School and wound its way via Greenough, Washington, Cypress, Boylston, and High Streets and Highland and Jamaica Roads to Brookline Field (now Harry Downes Field) where the game was played.  Crowds estimated at 11,000 to 15,000 turned out each year to watch the events.

Old-Timers' Night in Brookline apparently came to an end with the entry of the United States into the Second World War.

NOTE: It's not clear why Cy Young wore a false beard and mustache on Old-Timers' Night.  It would not have been to make his presence a surprise, as his participation had been announced in the paper a week before. Perhaps it was simply a nod to the throwback spirit of the event, mimicking the more hirsute fashion of an earlier era.  If so, it would have been a nice bit of whimsy from a gentleman of 71 years.

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