My Home Town
June 20, 2010 – There are few – if any – stories I will ever
write that mean as much to me as the one you will see in the September issue of
My late grandmother, Mildred Santasiere, who lived in South
Orange, New Jersey for the first 80 years of her life, witnessed history when
she was 19 years old.
In 1929, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig played for South Orange’s
semi-pro team in a state championship game against New Brunswick. The Yankees
icons, who were no stranger to barn storming games, were promised $100 for
every home run they would hit out of South Orange’s Cameron Field. Gehrig hit
three homers and Ruth hit one. The duo combined for eight of the Villagers 14
runs, and they helped the South Orange club claim the 1929 championship.
There weren’t many stories my grandmother enjoyed telling
more than the one about that fateful game. In honor of her 100th
birthday, which she would be celebrating in September, I returned to my
hometown and conducted extensive research on the day that Ruth and Gehrig
visited the small suburban town. I have attempted to uncover every detail,
including the distance of the sluggers’ home runs and the recruiting efforts of
Mike Gazella, who played for the Yankees before joining the Villagers. There
are still a few stones left to be unturned – which is among the reasons the
story won’t be published until September. But I am confident that my version of
this story will be the most riveting and interesting of them all – except, of
course, for the account that my grandmother shared with me so many times.
Several years after Ruth and Gehrig played at Cameron Field,
Whitey Ford pitched there as part of the Army’s baseball team. In September of
1952, at which time Ford was serving in Fort Monmouth, he threw a complete game
against the South Orange American Legion Giants. Fort Monmouth won the game
When I spoke with Ford about the game for a sidebar that
will also run in September, I asked him if he would like to take a trip back in
time, and return to Cameron Field for the first time in nearly 58 years. The
Hall of Famer was game, and he and I met Yankees team photographer James
Petrozzello at the field last Thursday for a very special photo shoot.
My father, Alfred Santasiere, Jr. (pictured below), who was saw Ford pitch in
South Orange, served as our tour guide through town.
“I often talked about seeing Whitey Ford pitch in person at
Cameron Ford,” my father said as we left the field. “I’m not sure if you ever
believed me when you were a kid. Never in my wildest imagination did I think I
would meet Whitey Ford on the baseball diamond at Cameron Field 58 years
–Alfred Santasiere III