November 12, 2011 — In addition to covering today’s Army vs. Rutgers game for a story in the 2012 New York Yankees Official Yearbook, I had the opportunity to write a feature story for Army’s Game Day Program.
The story that I scribed for today’s program details not only Army’s history of playing football games at Yankee Stadium, but also the New York Yankees history of playing baseball games at West Point.
As I researched the 21 games that the Yankees played against Army at West Point from 1927 through 1976, I began to realize how many great moments took place in that series.
Babe Ruth played in exhibition games at West Point, and in his last at-bat at Doubleday Field, he hit one of the longest home runs the in the history of the cozy ballpark. Joe DiMaggio played there, as did Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra.
As former Yankees first baseman Joe Pepitone told me, he and Mantle missed the Yankees bus to West Point before the 1964 game, took a limousine and arrived as the game was beginning. The two stars, who Pepitone said were out very late the night before, were greeted by a chorus of cheers from the cadets as they arrived on the field.
“Fortunately, we had our uniforms with us, and we literally changed into them on the way up there,” Pepitone said. “Mickey told the driver to pull onto the field. All of the cadets were applauding as we got out of the limo in our uniforms, but the manager wasn’t too happy with us.”
I also spoke to Barry DeBolt, who nearly pitched Army to what would have been the Cadets only victory against the Yankees. In 1966, DeBolt gave up a first inning run on a ground ball to Mantle, which scored a runner from third base. The former cadet held the Yankees without a run the rest of the way, but took a 1-0 loss.
“I have the scorecard from that game in a shadow box,” said DeBolt, 67, who went on earn an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business and ran the investment department of a financial planning firm for 25 years. “After the first inning, I didn’t get into any trouble the rest of the game.
“I had never pitched against a major league team, so I was extremely excited,” DeBolt continued. “Once the game got going, it didn’t feel different from any other day, but in the beginning, I had some trepidation about pitching against a team of that magnitude, particularly with guys like Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris in the lineup.”
As if that day wasn’t interesting enough, former Army basketball coach Bobby Knight added to the lore. While the game was going on, the now NCAA all-time wins leader played hoops with several Yankees — who were lifted in the middle innings — in a gym that was within walking distance to the baseball field.
The Yankees haven’t played a game at West Point since 1976, and whether you followed the Yankees when they played there or not, this story will open your eyes to a little-known tradition that had it all.
This story will also be published in an issue of Yankees Magazine in 2012. I will be sure to note which issue it will appear in on this blog.
–Alfred Santasiere III