My father died on Valentine’s Day, just a few weeks ago. He was 87 years old, in failing health, and no words of sympathy are necessary. Infirmity had shrunk his world to a size so unworthy of him that when the heart attack took him in his sleep it felt like a release from a galling injustice. Having said this, my family and I also understand well that 87 years (nearly all of them good) is a world-class run, no cause to shake fists at the sky. We are at peace with the great loss.
Dad had been, for so much of my life, a large figure in every way — well over six feet and 200 pounds at a time when that was uncommon, highly involved in the lives of my brother and me, huge-hearted but never one to shy from an argument. We certainly had our quarrels, particularly during my high school and college years, that universal father-and-son conflict which has played out forever through countless permutations of differences between one another.
But his intentions were unfailingly good, and once I’d matured to the place where I could see that truth, I could never feel anything but love for him. He was a great father and I was so fortunate to know him for 46 years.
My dad was a huge sports fan. If compelled to describe the man to a stranger, that would be a headline item. He never missed a televised event of significance, but it was live sports that really captivated him throughout his life. He had fallen in love in 1938, eight years old and seated beside his septuagenarian grandfather with the grandstand early birds at Ebbets Field as first base coach Babe Ruth hit home runs before a Brooklyn Dodgers game. They went to Yankee Stadium that year, too, saw Lou Gehrig still going strong at first base. Together they attended hundreds of games; they loved doubleheaders most of all.
“What time will you and Howard be home, Gus?” my great-grandmother would call after my great-grandfather as he’d head off for the ballpark, gripping my young father’s hand.
“Plenty past six,” came the standard reply.
Dad was at the Polo Grounds at age 11 on “Tuffy Leemans Day” in early December of 1941 when the stadium announcer directed all military personnel to report to their bases, where they’d learn that the nation was at war. At age 17, he saw rookie Jackie Robinson at Ebbets Field, and he’d one day tell me how novel and exciting it was to see black skin in white Major League flannel, how strange it is now to think how strange it seemed then. He was a year older than Mickey Mantle and witnessed the Triple Crown brilliance of 1956, the Babe Ruth hunt of 1961.
It may seem a surprising thing to occur or admit, considering my profession, but I was not much of a sports fan in my youth – that was not an interest I shared with my father as I grew up under his roof. My arrival at a position in which I am lead cataloger for the largest sports collectibles auctioneer in the world is, in many ways, the result of a series of fortunate unlikelihoods over which I felt only limited control.
But it does begin, unquestionably, with my father, with everything he had told me about that time of his life before my parents left New York for Florida in the 1970s to raise my brother and me. I wrote about my dad for the résumé cover letter for my first job in the sports collectibles field. I was told that was the clincher. That was almost 20 years ago now.
And Dad was such a fan of what we do here every day in Heritage Sports. He wasn’t a collector, but he loved the catalogs because they transported him back to 40 years of New York City sports that had been so joyful for him before everything changed, both in the spectating experience and in his own inhabitation of a faltering human vessel. After two decades and several million words of researched catalog text since my start in the field, I could correct my father’s faulty recollections.
“No, the Yankees played the Dodgers in the World Series in ’47 and ’49, but not ’48. That was Boston Braves vs. Cleveland Indians.”
And he loved that, loved that I knew, loved that I could share that part of his life with him. Everybody that I ever met who knew my dad knew something about my job. He was really proud of me, and he let me know it. That’s a great thing to take with you.
There have been hundreds of times that some object has made me think about him as I’m cataloging, of some story he’s told me far more than once. I know I will always see the golden era of New York City baseball, in particular, through the lens of my father’s experience. So, when I was asked to write this blog today, I realized that it could only be about him, and the things that have crossed my desk over the years that made me call him and say, “Dad, you’ll never guess what I have in front of me right now.”
Here is a far-from-exhaustive list for my father, Howard Scheier, one of the all-time greats, who saw it all and was always ready to talk about it. We’ll keep your stories going.
DiMaggio was my dad’s top sports hero, already the leading Yankees attraction as he started regularly attending games in the late 1930s, and still the team’s marquee star all the way up to his senior year of college. He was 11 years old when the Yankee Clipper strung together 56 games with a base hit in 1941, and it made that summer magical for him. This ball was used in the 50th game of that legendary streak.
“That’s what I’ve always said!” Dad was ecstatic when he heard a sports broadcaster comment that Willie Mays’ legendary catch would have been considerably easier if Mays had turned the correct way as he tracked back across the biggest center field God ever imagined. Dad saw it live at the Polo Grounds, Sept. 29, 1954. We never could talk about Willie Mays or the 1954 World Series without a reminder about that validation of his conviction.
Game Five, 1956 World Series: Dad was there for one of the most improbable events in Major League history. Don Larsen pitched a perfect game against a fierce Brooklyn Dodgers lineup, and Dad always emphasized the dazzling defensive plays by infielder Gil McDougald and Mantle to maintain it. Yogi Berra was the other half of the perfect game battery, and this is his gold Rolex commemorating the championship.
The 1962 NFL Championship game was so frigid that the television crews used bonfires to keep their cameras working. My father and his buddy watched their New York Giants fall to the Green Bay Packers at Yankee Stadium, slugging whiskey to stoke internal bonfires of their own. “By the time the game was over, we didn’t care who won,” he lied. When we sold Packers legend Jerry Kramer’s personal collection at our 2016 New York City “Platinum Night” auction, I made sure to let Kramer know my dad had been there, rooting against him.
This is the experience my father and I shared. I was sitting beside him along the first base line of the old Yankee Stadium for Game Two of the 2000 World Series — the first “Subway Series” game my father had attended since the Larsen perfecto — when Roger Clemens nearly harpooned Mike Piazza with a shard of broken bat. He just fielded the thing like a one-hopper back to the mound and let it fly — strangest thing I’ve ever seen in sports. So now, if anybody ever mentions Clemens, Piazza or the 2000 World Series, I’m telling that story. There’s no avoiding it.
This apple didn’t fall far from its tree.
Written by: Jonathan Scheier Jonathan Scheier is the lead sports cataloger for Heritage Auctions.
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