Tourists crossingthe borders of The Bronx to view a baseball game should be advised that, whileno visa is needed, The Bronx is an independent province possessed of its owncustoms, language and national heroes.
It is known asthe Borough of Universities, the Borough of Champeens, and the Borough of theBagel. A bagel, which is held in high favor by the local populace, is a hoop ofdough possessed of such tensile strength that it has been described in certainquarters as a doughnut dipped in cement.
The wordchampeen, a term of native patois usurped last year by Brooklyn, refers to theBronx Bombers, nee the New York Yankees, who, as deft practitioners of thewillow, have been 15 times world champions, an unprecedented number of winswhich did not commence until they crossed the river from Manhattan in 1923 andbegan to inhale the Bronx's tonic air.
Bounded on threesides by lapping water and on the north by the forest-lands of Suburbia, TheBronx occupies three square miles more than the Republic of San Marino. It isinhabited by 1,600,000 citizens known as Bronxites—which makes it larger thanCopenhagen, Madrid or Rome, and it has more people than 17 of the UnitedStates.
This populousempire is ruled over by Borough President James Joseph Lyons, a smilingsuzerain who has been on the throne since 1933, or just long enough, were he alesser man, to entertain private thoughts of divine right. Although he admitsto the indiscretion of having been born in Greenwich Village, Lyons insists he"migrated early in life, attracted by the attractiveness of TheBorough." In a recent interview with this correspondent in the presidentialsuite of The Bronx County Court House, President Lyons stated, "It was thesalubrious climate of The Bronx that first brought people here from distantplaces with their aches and pains. The fact that the Yankees are champeens isbased on the local salubrity, and it is the climate of the community thatenables them to stay champeens."
Abetted bycenturies of salubrious inhalations, Bronxites have developed such specialcharacter that President Lyons vows he can pick a constituent from a mixedcrowd of neighboring New Yorkers. All he has to do is hear a few spoken words."There is a little more class to their method of expression," he says.The Bronx accent? "It's symbolic of culture." The Bronx cheer?"It's an uncouth method of expression used by people who are not nativesand who are overcome by our climate to such an extent they give vent to anexpression that is not tolerated in The Bronx. People coming here are notalways in accord with the champeens, and they let off steam in thisway."
Besides its owncheer (science has called it a "multivibrational beta"), its own flower(forget-me-not), its own cocktail (gin, vermouth and orange juice), and its ownRiviera (Orchard Beach), The Bronx, like any other state, has its own famousinn and its own renowned tavern. The tavern is known variously by the name ofits owner, Paul Daube, or his sobriquet, "The Dutchman." Located a fewblocks from the Stadium on Courtland Avenue, it was opened by Daube in 1924,who dispensed baloney, hasenpfeffer and pig's knuckles. "What did I knowabout baseball?" he says. "They put up a lot of naughts and everybodygoes, 'Wow! Wow!' "
Herb Pennockdiscovered Daube's first, then came Shawkey, Bob Meusel and Grabowski. "Oneday the Babe came in with Gehrig. 'Hey, Lou,' he sez, 'I schmell sauerkraut.' Ihad an odd knuckle. It weighed three and a half pounds. I give it to the Babe.When that pig's knuckle was served the whole place got up. I said to the Babe,'You better eat that damn t'ing, you're gonna need all the shtamina you canget.'
"Once Ruppertbrought this Spanish kid from the West Coast and said, 'Let him eat here fouror five times a week.' That was Lefty Gomez. He only weighed 134 pounds. Hell,he didn't come here only to eat. He moved in. He sat upshtairs with my kids,playing Monopoly and fighting like hell."
While TheDutchman feeds and fathers the players, they are sheltered by the HotelConcourse Plaza, a 400-room layout which is the only full-fledged hotel in TheBronx. It nestles alongside the Grand Concourse, the local Champs Elysées, ascant three-block walk to the Stadium down an incline known as Lou GehrigPlaza.
Legend says thatBabe Ruth, an early resident, used to walk through its lobby on the way to thepark, his spikes clacking on the marble floors. Such silver-tongued orators asPresident Roosevelt, President Truman and Charles Dillon Stengel have alldiscoursed from its podia. The current home of Bill Dickey, Frank Crosetti,Hank Bauer, Andy Carey, Bill Skowron, Elston Howard and other Yankees, it hasalso been prefight headquarters for Rocky Marciano.
"THIS AIN'TTHE BRONX"
Of the Yankeefront office, only Chief Scout Paul Krichell still lives in The Bronx, and evenhe—the other day—was bemoaning the state of local affairs. "This ain't TheBronx any more," he said. "I remember when the Grand Concourse was adirt road. Terlits were in the backyard, but everybody's terlit was in thebackyard so what was the difference?" Still, when Mantle lifts one 420 feetinto the seats, the roar of the crowd rattles the windows of the ConcoursePlaza and residents who inhabit the higher floors can look out to a clear viewof home plate.
Somewhere downthere, at the bottom of Gehrig's plaza, under the hubbub, fans are mouthingaccents that are symbolic of culture. "Gidemoudadere!" they shout atthe candy butchers. Great puffs of smoke filter out like London fog across theevening air of The Bronx, and the perfume is a secret formula of beer andcigars and mustard. The platinum lights are stronger than six suns, and theypale a full moon when it hangs over the silver tracks of the IRT. Then there'sthe windup and the pitch, and there descends a transient stillness so quiet youcan hear a herring marinate up on East Tremont Ave. Brother, that's what youcall salubrity.