It Happened In Jersey...
This Means War!
Prior to spring training in 1943, baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis issued a wartime edict that no team could train in the south or west, in order to free up the rails for the military. The Yankeesand Giants trained in New Jersey that March and April. The Yankees spent 1943 in Asbury Park while the Giants headed for Lakewood. In a game full of superstitious players, it seems odd in retrospect that the New York teams would choose the sites of two of the great disasters of the previous decade-—the deadly fire and beaching of the S.S. Morro Castle off Asbury Park and the explosion of the Hindenberg in Lakewood.
The Giants had it pretty good. They rented out all 45 rooms at an old resort hotel, which they nicknamed the Brannick Arms after the traveling secretary, Eddie Brannick. The Giants assembled at the team’s office in Manhattan, ferried across the Hudson and then traveled to the edge of the Pine Barrens by train. From the Lakewood station to the hotel, the players traveled by “tally-ho” horse and buggy. Due in part to gasoline rationing, the Giants would do much of their local traveling—including from the hotel to the county baseball complex—this way. The players also had several bicycles at their disposal. The baseball diamonds were built hastily by the team’s groundskeeping crew on the golf course at the old Rockefeller estate, where John D. Rockefeller spent his summers in the early decades of the 20th century. It had become a county park in 1940, three years after the billionaire’s death. The Jersey City Giants, the club’s top farm team, trained nearby. Upon his arrival in Lakewood, player-manager Mel Ott was presented with an enormous key to the city.
Although the Giants would drop 99 games and finish dead last that season, they had plenty of star power on the roster. Ott, catcher Ernie Lombardi, right fielder Joe Medwick, pitcher Carl Hubbell and first baseman Johnny Mize were all future Hall of Famers. Infielders Dick “Rowdy Richard” Bartell and Billy Jurges, and pitcher Van Lingle Mungo, had already played in nine All-Star Games between them. All of these players, with the exception of Mize and Mungo, were in their mid-30s or older, exempt from the draft. The big first baseman didn’t last the month of March, however, as he was called to duty in the Navy. Mungo was drafted the following season.
The Lakewood deal was struck between Ocean County freeholders and team owner Horace Stoneham, a Jersey Boy. The Giants trained in town each spring from 1943 to 1945 and then headed to Florida in 1946.. In 1944, the Giants switched to the Hotel Monterey and in 1945, the players actually stayed in the old Rockefeller mansion, which famous for its 17 full bathrooms. Dick Young joked that the Giants were the cleanest team in baseball.
The Yanks spent one season in Asbury, often dealing with the wind and fog that rolled in from the ocean or off Deal Lake. They played on the fields of Asbury Park High, including one constructed especially for their visit, creating an irresistible distraction for the students there. The school’s old football coach, Clipper Smith, led morning calisthenics. Batting practice often devolved into a power-hitting contest. Catcher Ken Sears and outfielder Roy Weatherley—who would become productive reserves in the Bronx—both put balls into Deal Lake, which was more than 450 feet away. Sixteen years earlier, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig had done the same during a postseason barnstorming stop. In 1943, the star power in Asbury was provided by young guns Joe Gordon and Charlie Keller, along with veterans Bill Dickey, Spud Chandler and Frank Crosetti. Keller and Gordon made it through the year before their numbers came up in the draft. Chandler led the league in wins and ERA in 1943 and won the MVP.
The Yankees stayed at the Albion Hotel at Second Avenue and the Boardwalk. Its décor was futuristic, with many of the fixtures having been copped from exhibits at the World’s Fair. Its nightclub, the Rainbow Room, was a major hot spot, even with coastal blackouts in force. In 1944, the Yanks moved their spring training site south, to Atlantic City. The New York players stayed in the Senator Hotel. The Red Sox, who had trained the previous two years as Tufts in Medford, MA, joined them in AC in 1945, staying at the Claridge. The Yankees held indoor workouts in an airplane hangar when the weather was uncooperative. Both teams held workouts indoors at Convention Hall for the amusement of the troops.
While the Giants ended up in the National league cellar in 1943, the Yankees finished first in the American League in 1943 and defeated the Cardinals in the World Series. Following their two springs in AC, the Bronx Bombers missed the pennant, finishing behind the Browns in 1944 and Tigers in 1945.