Nick, who tends bar at Gallagher's, a New York City joint where ghosts linger like cigar smoke, has been pouring booze in this town for a good long while. "Let's say I'm 75," he lies. "I was born at 29th Street and First Avenue, and my first job in a bar was at the Queens Terrace. I would say I worked 30 bars. I worked up and down Second Avenue. I was the first bartender in the London Room at Idlewild [now Kennedy] Airport. I worked the Gaslight Club at 56th and Lex." Nick has ministered to Rocky Graziano, Jack Dempsey, Sinatra, many gangsters, many ballplayers. "I saw Mantle out a lot," he says of the late Yankees legend and nighthound. "Mickey Mantle, Billy Martin--Billy got in a fight with an off-duty umpire when he was loaded, and I had to act as referee. I saw Joe DiMaggio."
Such are Nick's bona fides as a pulse taker of New York City, where the proud but aging New York Yankees will face a bent-for-glory New York Mets team for the city's, not to mention baseball's, championship. So tell us, Nick, what's this Subway Series all about? What has it done to the Apple's heart?
"Oh, my God, forget it!" Nick says. "It's all the conversation! Anybody who's not into it is just shut out of it! Our bar--everybody's a Yankees fan. In Flushing, where I live--all Mets. Both places, it's tense! There's gonna be fisticuffs before this tug-of-war's through. It's just like it was in..."
The year eludes Nick, but it doesn't escape Robert W. Creamer, who's had a few lunches at Gallagher's since 1956, when he covered the last Subway Series for a struggling young rag called SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. "I did that one and '55," says Creamer, biographer of both Babe and Casey (Ruth and Stengel, for the baseball illiterati). "Back then a Subway Series was of a piece--there were 13 of them in New York between 1921 and '56. The Yankees were playing the Giants, or then later they were playing the Dodgers. It was a rivalry renewed, and players developed histories within the Subway Series. DiMaggio played in six of them. Ruth, Mantle, Whitey Ford, Pee Wee Reese of the Dodgers, Jackie Robinson." The Subway Series even has a patron saint. Stengel was on the Giants' roster in the very first New York-New York Series, when both the Yanks and Giants played in the Polo Grounds in 1921. The Giants won that Series and the next year's too. In the first game of the 1923 Series, Stengel hit the first World Series home run ever in Yankee Stadium, an inside-the-park job that broke a 4-4 tie in the ninth. He lost his shoe while running; Damon Runyon made fun of him in the papers. Two days later, Casey hit another homer and thumbed his nose at the Yankees while rounding third. Ruth hit three that year, though, as the Yanks won their first of 25 championships.
By 1949, Stengel had switched to managing and changed into pinstripes. He won his first of five Subway Series as a skipper that year, when his Yankees beat the Dodgers four games to one, and his last in '56, when the Bombers beat the Bums 4-3. The Dodgers left Brooklyn for Los Angeles in 1958, but in 1962 Queens got the Mets. And who was the first manager of the Amazin's? Stengel, tying things up nicely.