Verdugo Views: ‘Baseball greats played right here in Glendale’

Picture this: It is a fall afternoon in 1952. The New York Yankees recently won their fourth consecutive World Series.

Here in Glendale, a crowd of school-age children gather to cheer Yankee coach — and local resident — Casey Stengel and watch as the municipal ballpark is rededicated as “Stengel Field.”

Nearly 2,000 fifth- to ninth-grade students — released from school at 3 p.m. — applaud as a large wooden sign bearing the stadium’s new name is uncovered.

Then, Stengel steps up to the microphone and thanks the city and the Junior Chamber of Commerce for the honor.

“I’ve been thrown out of a lot of ballparks, but this is the first time I’ve ever had one named after me,” he is quoted as saying in the Glendale News-Press, Nov. 13, 1952.

The former Glendale Municipal Ball Park had been built in 1948 at a cost of $100,000.

The 1952 rededication was coordinated by the Jaycees and led by Paul Burkhard Jr. The Joint Service Clubs of Glendale provided the cars, buses and trucks to transport the youngsters to the stadium.

Following the ceremony, Stengel served as umpire-in-chief for a four-inning Little League game with 30 outstanding players from the previous summer’s midget baseball competition.

In the crowd was 7-year-old Jim Pagliuso, whose parents John and Frances were friends with the Stengels. Just a month before, his parents had watched Stengel coach the Yankees through seven games against the Brooklyn Dodgers and win their fourth consecutive championship.

Jim Pagliuso said his parents were with the Stengels throughout the 1952 series and that his father, not a huge traveler, rarely went back to New York City after that, saying he “couldn’t have as much fun as they all had in 1952 at the World Series.”

Jim Pagliuso said in a series of emails that his parents were also close friends of Jack and Helen Lawson. Jack Lawson, brother of Edna Lawson Stengel, served as mayor of Glendale from 1955 to 1957.

They were all part of a group of “power people.” On Sundays, the Pagliusos went to dinner either at the Oakmont Country Club or the Verdugo Club.

“My father always knew everybody in each place, including the employees. [Plus], Casey and Edna went to Incarnation Catholic Church, as did we,’’ Jim Pagliuso wrote.

The 1952 event was the fourth “Casey Stengel Day.” They began in 1949, after Stengel won his first World Series and his adopted hometown decided to honor its “No. 1 baseball citizen.”

The third Casey Stengel Day, in 1951, had been another huge event. Stengel brought Joe DiMaggio, rookie player Mickey Mantle and the rest of the Yankees to the new ballpark for an exhibition game with the Chicago White Sox.

A standing-room-only crowd of 6,000-plus watched in disbelief as the Yankees lost, 5-0. Jeff Prugh, later executive editor of the News-Press and the Burbank and Foothill Leaders, stood in the overflow crowd with his father, watching as the “baseball greats played right here in Glendale.”

Prugh, a young boy in 1951, wrote a tribute to Stengel in the April 6, 1991, edition of the News-Press, describing that day and his envy of the batboy, “12-year-old John Lawson Jr., nephew of none other than Casey Stengel.”

Now, the wooden sign erected during the 1952 Casey Stengel Day has been replaced, and the stadium has been updated, but Stengel Field is still there, in the heart of Verdugo Park.

Readers Write:

A handwritten letter, sent by John C. LaMonte of Los Angeles, noted the July 15, 2017, Verdugo Views column about the mystery of Tom Mix and Glendale.

“We are lifelong fans of Tom and Tony [the ‘Wonder Horse’],” he wrote.

LaMonte enclosed a small book titled “Once upon a dime … A look at the astonishing premiums offered by the Tom Mix Ralston Straight Shooters in the Golden Age of Radio,” which he wrote in 2004 and dedicated to three people — Tom Mix, Curley Bradley (the fourth and last Tom Mix on radio), and his wife Joanne LaMonte.

KATHERINE YAMADA can be reached at katherineyamada@gmail.com. or by mail at Verdugo Views, c/o Glendale News-Press, 202 W. First St., Second Floor, Los Angeles, CA 90012. Please include your name, address and phone number.

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