On the Parade Grounds
As a boy Seymour not only played sandlot ball every chance he got, he read everything he could find about baseball techniques. He wanted not only to play high-class ball, he desired to help other boys play it well, too.
Starting while Seymour was in high school and continuing during part of his college career, in his “spare time” he started and ran boys’ teams that played on the Parade Grounds of Prospect Park, Brooklyn, during the late twenties and early thirties. These teams-the Falcon A.C., the Creston B. B. Club, and the Fairmont Club–became well-known for their skill. The Crestons sometimes pretended to be an older, stronger club and played weekends as “the Camden Minor Leaguers.” The letter “C” on their caps thus did double duty.
These kid teams financed themselves. They made money by selling chances on some donated product. They also put on entertainments featuring musical pieces and dramatic skits, complete with a printed program, for which they solicited paid ads. One ad was purchased by Harold Seymour’s parents.
Club records in the Seymour Collection show that Seymour kept track, in pencil, of each opponent, game scores, and players’ records. An old scorebook shows that the clubs played teams from as far away as New Jersey, Astoria, New Rochelle, and Canarsie. Seymour also gave his players typed and handwritten directions and club rules, and he prepared playing guides. One instructional piece called “Pitching Hints” opens, “Start from feet and work up.”
Francis “Skipper” Raguson, a member of the original Falcon team, which began in 1929, wrote me recently that “I will never forget Cy Seymour. I admired what he did for the youth of his day: he devoted time and guidance. He was a great role model for youngsters.”
Edward V. Mele, now chairman of the Mele Manufacturing Company in New York, wrote me recently, “I first met Cy when he asked me to become a member of the Crescents. I was 16 or 17 at the time, so that was in 1935 or 1936. Cy had scouted players around the Parade Grounds and then asked those he thought could make a contribution to the team to join him. Cy was a natural for leading the team. He was firm, demanded the best you had, and never hesitated to give you hell if you made a mistake. In retrospect, he had little or no sense of humor, and this is perhaps my only criticism of him. I learned a lot of baseball from Cy. He taught me enough about pitching to prepare me for my senior year at James Madison High School, when our team reached the New York City finals. He was also able to get the Brooklyn Dodgers to let our team into the park for free, and the instruction he gave us during those visits is still fresh in my mind. Most people followed the ball, but Cy wanted us instead to keep our eyes on the player who played our position. It was a great idea, because baseball is a complicated game that requires certain moves to counter action that is taking place, and in watching the player who played our positions we learned the responses to the action on the part of that player. Those visits to Ebbets Field were the best of our training.”
Until Seymour’s death, his best friend from these years remained Herbert Wittkin, whose life work was with New York City department store management but whose heart remained with baseball. Herb wrote many letters praising Seymour’s contribution to the lives of the young men on these kid teams, and when SABR considered establishing an award in his name, Wittkin wrote in support of the idea.
Those teams developed some standout players; they included Bill “Wacky” Lohrman, who played with the Philadelphia Nationals; Bill Gannett, who pitched for Columbia; Jess Furlan, who played at NYU; Frank Raguson, a three-letter man at Bucknell; Ed Boell, star pitcher for Tilden High; and Ben Harrison, slugger of St. Michael’s High. Seymour wrote later that several of his players entered organized baseball, and one played for nine years in the majors.
Joe Madden’s daughter remembers him speaking of playing for Harold Seymour, and she said “all my life I listened to baseball stories.” When Joe died in 1997, “we ended his memorial service with his granddaughter singing ‘Take Me Out to the Ball Game.'”
Making Good in O.B.
George “Bucky” Schneidmuller, a pitcher, was one of Seymour’s boys who made good in organized baseball. He kept in touch by writing to Seymour while he was traveling with his team. [Echoes of Ring Lardner] After George passed away, in 1990, his wife Louise wrote me that Bucky thought so much of his experiences as a member of one of Seymour’s kid teams that he specified that his ashes were to be sprinkled on the pitcher’s mound at the Parade Grounds, and this was done.
Jacinth “Jess” Furlan, a catcher, told me recently he “knew Harold very well as a player and friend.” Jess met Seymour while playing ball at Erasmus Hall High School, but Jess also played weekends at the Parade Grounds with Seymour’s team, The Falcons. “We were truly friends,” he said, “enjoying baseball together. We respected each other and had fun.” Obtaining a scholarship to New York University, Jess played at NYU in the thirties and became captain in his senior year. Even while in college Jess continued playing for the Falcons. “Harold taught us a lot of baseball-and respect for one another.” After college Jess coached and ran athletics at Avon, New York, Central School, for 32 years.
Another kid player who made good in baseball is Harry Eisenstat, who lives now in the Cleveland area. Harry was signed directly from the Parade Grounds to play with the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field. When he became a free agent, Harry signed with the Detroit Tigers, where his roommate was Hank Greenberg. From Detroit Harry was traded to the Cleveland Indians, where he stayed until he entered the Air Force and served for four years. He wrote me recently, “I had wonderful experiences and fond memories of my playing at the Parade Grounds with Harold Seymour.”
Bill “Wacky” Lohrman, who made the big leagues, wrote Seymour of his gratitude in 1936: “I know that I have a lot to thank you for. . . . When I joined the Crestons I never expected to learn as much as I did about baseball. In one short year with you Cy, I have improved in baseball more than I did in the previous five years put together…I want you to know that I appreciate it more than I can say. Your ballteams have always been hard fighters, but clean fighters, and I will always be proud to be a member of the Crestons. You demand quite a lot from all your players, but you give twice as much as you demand. . . I have never met anyone so unselfish with his own time and knowledge . . I could think of nothing better than to be considered as one of your ballplayers. . . .”
After Bill Lohrman got into organized baseball, he wrote Seymour letters that sound uncannily like those written by Ring Lardner. [Echoes of Ring Lardner]
Some fellows on Seymour teams became successful in baseball in different ways. Joe Trimble, a good friend, became a well-known reporter on the New York Daily News.
Besides training them in baseball, Seymour developed their character, as they began to recognize. In 1936 he wrote letters to his club members commenting on their progress and praising their contributions to the team. Some responded with letters of their own, saying how much they appreciated what he was doing for them.
Bill Payne, for example, wrote Seymour in 1936, “I don’t think a more wonderful friendship among fellows can be found anywhere, than that which exists among the Crestons. . . .the fellows gave the best that was in them, each one fought hard in his own way. . . .It is only I alone who fully realizes and really knows the amount of time and service you put into our club, in its organization and building. . . .The least we can do to compensate you would be to win for you.”
Player Ed Lavery complimented Seymour on “your part in molding our club into a hustling and classy outfit,” calling him “a shrewd baseball man, an untiring worker in the interests of the club.” Player Edward V. Mele closed his note with “I wish to thank you again for what you have done for me.” Another player, who simply signed himself “Red,” said “I prize that letter from you Cy more than any medal or trophy I have ever received.”
Boell wrote much later, reporting on the whereabouts of some of Seymour’s “kid players” and announced that he had become a SABR member. Bill Wolfe of Napa, California, wrote his appreciation for Seymour’s work with his “kid teams,” declaring that his two years with the Crestons were “the happiest of my teens. The competitive spirit you instilled in us carried over, and I have become quite successful.”
Several fellows have since told me how valuable Seymour’s coaching was in turning them into responsible young men. Edmund Fountaine phoned me from Darien, Connecticut, insisting that Seymour’s work with young men was much more significant than the books he wrote. Fred Strober, a Philadelphia lawyer, called me to say how much his father, Sid, had enjoyed playing on the Crestons of the thirties, adding that his dad was the only Jew on that team, which was largely of Irish descent.
While Seymour was at Drew he entered his last kid team in the Brooklyn Amateur League-the only time he did so. Despite the team’s being the youngest in the league, averaging just 17 years 3 months, the team won the championship.
One boy who played on the Parade Grounds made good in another way: Kevin “Chuck” Connors, who passed away only a couple of months after Seymour did. Chuck’s career in Hollywood included starring in a popular film called “The Rifleman.” Connors played for teams that competed against the Seymour clubs on the Parade Grounds.
In the twenties through at least the forties, young baseball teams played to considerable crowds on the Parade Grounds of Prospect Park. One fellow who remembers these days in detail is Herbert Johnson, whose career later led him abroad to a different kind of life in Paris but who never forgot those thrilling times of his youth.
Another is Lawrence “Larry” Yaffa, whose father owned the pharmacy in the St. George Hotel, Brooklyn, where many Brooklyn players stayed. Larry wrote to Harold Seymour in 1971 about playing against a Seymour team and his other baseball experiences. More recently, Larry wrote about Parade Grounds baseball and Harold Seymour in Memories of Brooklyn Baseball.
Memories of the Parade Grounds, Brooklyn
As a Flatbush resident born in 1910 and reared on the Dodgers, Harold Seymour developed his love for baseball in various ways. Not only did he play baseball, he organized and ran teams for younger fellows. These teams played in the local park called the Parade Grounds, a section of Prospect Park. There they faced other well-organized clubs in those days when amateur and semipro ball loomed large in the consciousness of many Americans.
On the Parade Grounds Harold became known as “Cy” Seymour, after the famous pro player (when asked if there was a family relationship, Harold claimed the player as his uncle). He was also called “McGraw,” because he ran his team with tight controls and dictated the members’ actions both on and off the field. Soon the fans who attended those games recognized him and came out to root for his current team.
A Brooklyn resident who remembers those days, Herbert Johnson, recalls how thrilling it was to watch the exciting competition there. Herbert also played on clubs there and remembers Harold Seymour as part of it all.