25 September 2014

The Captain's Next Career?

Tonight, Derek Jeter is scheduled to play the last home game of his career.  After he takes off his Yankee uniform for the last time, who knows what's in store for him?

Perhaps he could follow in the footsteps of another Yankee icon and officiate at bicycle races.

Yes, you read that right.  At the old Inwood Velodrome--just a sprint and a long fly ball away from Yankee Stadium, one of the Italian-sounding names wasn't that of one of the racers.

Il Bambino himself fired the starter's pistol that sent legs pumping and wheels spinning up and down the embankment on the the track's opening night, 30 May 1922.

Babe Ruth in 1922, at the Inwood Velodrome

Baseball's first great home run-hitter--and one of its most (in)famous party animals (which was saying something during the "Roaring Twenties") --was playing his third season for the Bronx Bombers, who'd bought him from the Boston Red Sox for $125,000, or half of what it cost to build the Inwood Velodrome.

One thing that's particularly intriguing about this bit of history is that the opening of Yankee Stadium was still a year in the future.  That season--1922--would mark the last in which the Yankees would share the Polo Grounds with the New York (now San Francisco) Giants.

What's perhaps even more interesting is that some of the cyclists who competed that day--including Ray Eaton, Alf Goullet and Orlando Piani--were actually earning more money than The Babe, or any other baseball player (or, for that matter, American athlete).  In spite of its popularity, baseball was only at the beginning of its evolution (some would say devolution) into a big-money sport.  The National Football League had begun only two years earlier, and the National Hockey League--which did not yet have a team based in the USA--three years before the NFL.  The National Basketball Association wouldn't start play for nearly another quarter-century.

Believe it or not, even some soccer (football to the rest of the world) players in the US were making more than baseball players were.  If I had to explain why guys in shorts were making more money than flannel-uniformed ballplayers, I'd guess it had something to do with the international popularity of cycling and soccer.  Baseball's popularity, on the other hand, was almost entirely confined to the United States.

Anyway...I could see Derek Jeter sending the racers off the starting line in Trexlertown, Encino, St -Quentin -en- Yvelines or Vigorelli.   Couldn't you?


  1. Thanks for sharing that great piece of history. Wouldn't it be grand if Americans rediscovered cycling? OK, Lance inspired many to march down to their LBS and buy bikes. But we all know how that turned out.

  2. MT--Thank you for the compliment. As you can probably tell, I really enjoy writing that kind of post.

    I think your analysis of the effect Lance had on America's cycling scene is spot-on. Whatever else can (or can't) be said about him and his career, I think that he was , in the end, a marketing tool. A few people profited handsomely from him (Some of those bikes are collecting dust.) so they don't really care whether or not all of his wins were fraudulent--or whether Lance is actually the bully he's been made out to be ever since his fall from grace.