The Other Days of Summer by William J. Nass
So they’ve taken Sicks' Seattle Stadium off the face of the earth! For a native Seattleite over the age of 35, it’s depressing. Just the mention of the name brings back a flood of memories. Memories not of the Pilots or Mariners, but of the Seattle Rainiers. It was the golden age of baseball in Seattle-before-TV. It was when the whole town either went to the new ball park or listened out on the front porch as Leo Lassen first told it as it is.
My memories are a little different. I remember it from inside the park as a kid who had one of the best jobs in town -- and knew it. While attending Franklin High, I worked at the park as a “Hustler” of peanuts, popcorn, pop and hot dogs. Then I graduated to work in the inside, under the grandstand concession stand, preparing food for the concession booths and hustlers.
It all started when they built the park and I knew I had to have something to do on the inside. I guess baseball has always been in my blood. After all, my mother was first in line on opening day when the right field bleachers opened, and she spent many a year pounding nearby spectators with her purse during close games. My brother had pitched on the great Franklin and Legion ball teams with Fred Hutchinson.
Before I got a job on the inside of Sicks' Stadium I had to start by picking up litter after the ball games. We would go down the morning after, pick up gigantic sacks of garbage, a few pieces of change and lots of sunglasses. This earned us a pass to that night’s game. We’d either sell it outside the park that night or wait for a foul ball to get in with. Either way, it wasn’t too lucrative and the future wasn’t secure.
So I got a job at a nearby private parking lot. We’d risk life and limb, standing in Rainer Avenue, trying to wave cars into Pre’s lot. “Hey park ya car here!” Made about a buck a night but still not inside.
So I appreciated Oscar, head of the “Hustlers Union.” In a weak moment, he asked me to come out that night and give it a try. I was handed a basket of ice cream bars and pointed up stairs. It was one of those Northwest nights about 34 degrees in April. I made 22 cents. But I was in and I hung in there, night after night. Made two cents a bar, but it was my big break! I wanted to be in show business and was rewarded for persistence. I was promoted to Peanuts. “Hey, get your red hot fresh roasted peanuts here,” “hot nuts”! It’s funny, I never did find out who roasted them, and as far as red hot, they were the temperature of the ball park. Same as today. But there was good money in it for me. Lots of 7-10 dollar days. Not bad in 1939.
Persistence paid off again. I was now in hot dogs! The glamour job. Hot dogs sold for 20 cents and that meant a four cent commission. You carried a basket that had a place for a lit can of sterno. On top of that went your pot of hot water and wieners. Alongside were the tongs, napkins and mustard. So you made them to order right there in the stands. The greatest ball park hot dog ever sold and just 20 cents. It’s like yesterday. I can remember yelling out, “Get your Mae West hot dogs here. They’re all curves and no wrinkles and boy are they hot.” Brought the house down every time. I used to wonder what it meant.
Then to the next step. Selling pop. I wasn’t old enough to sell beer, but pop was fine. Another high commission product. Today’s vendors have it made. We used to go down under the grandstand, get a couple cases of assorted pop, and pack that around in our basket. You had to go up, yell your flavors, open the bottle, pour it in the cup, catch money, then carry all the bottles back downstairs. On the hot Sunday double headers, some of us would load up a push cart with 20 or 30 cases of pop, go out to the bleachers and just stay in one place. The customers came to you. We made up to $20 a Sunday and didn’t miss a play!
There were several concession stands scattered through the park. Three main ones as you came in to the grandstand, and then there right and left field bleacher stands. Two cutie pies ran them. Then there was the main place, way down and back under the grandstand. That’s where the trucks brought all the things needed to satisfy the Seattle hunger. Jack Hughes and his wife ran it. They took a liking to me, and wonder of wonders, they asked me if I’d like to work there full time -- during the season. Would I? Does a dog like fireplugs? I had a salaried job of about 50 cents an hour. It was an actual cut in pay from hustling, but I worked for the ball park!
Jim was the other guy down there with me during the day. We’d show up about ten o’clock on the morning of the game. Most of the day was spent bagging peanuts. One big scoop to a bag. Then staple it and into a vendors basket to be stored in a warm room. Maybe that was the hot roasting of the red hot peanuts! Then we’d load pop and beer into the big walk-in cooler. A hundred odd jobs like that on game day. There were fringe benefits during the day, we’d probably eat a dozen hot dogs, three to a bun. Ice cream bars and always a pocket full of peanuts. I still remember taking a bottle of cream, pouring a half a cupful, adding a can of root beer to it and filling it with ice cream bars. Now there’s a float!
It’s getting near game time. We can hear the footsteps and the excitement of the crowd noises. The hustlers are on their way upstairs. They’ve bought their basket full from the cashier, turned their slip in to us and we’ve filled the basket. From then on, they rush down with empty baskets and we replenish. Our stand was only about 29 yards from the Seattle dugout and also the dressing room. Oh boy! Before and during the game, players come to us to buy a hotdog and pop. It’s also the place that started me on the way to damnation. I operated a weekly, nightly, numbers pool with the ball players. Put in four bits, pull a number and one out of the 10 wins all. Can you imagine how it felt to have Mike Hunt or Dick Barrett pull a number from you?
Jim and I had another deal going. Once the game got started, he and I would take turns running the stand. The others would go slip into the Rainier dugout and sit on the edge of the bench with a constant eye out for Eddie Taylor. He took a dim view of anyone but players in the dugout. That dugout was also the source of my biggest let down. You old timers, do you remember Bill Lawrence? Well, I always thought of Bill Lawrence as Jack Armstrong, all American, as we think of Jim Zorn today. My first night in the dugout, Bill Lawrence was burning an umpire as I’ve never heard before or since! Say it isn’t so Bill!
Old timers, there’s another thing you will remember. Stamping your feet in the Kingdome just isn’t the same. Remember when a rally was going? The place shook. A thunder that started plenty of lightening in its day. And how about when every one stood up on their own and sang, “Take Me Out To The Ball Game.” Everyone knew the words, and it was a tradition.
There are other things you don’t see in the domed stadium. The nights that it rained and we all helped pull the tarps over the infield and then off and then on again. The green of the outfield grass. It looked artificial. It was so good. No one could have done better than Ted or Joe with the perfection of their field. If an infielder found a pebble to blame for his error -- he brought it in.
Then there were the players. I’ll always remember my first shock at being in the dressing room and seeing Kewpie Dick Barrett in his jock strap and that belly going in four directions. Probably the most unlikely player around, till you saw that 180 degree pivot on the mound and come in with that roundhouse curve for strike three! Who can forget Billy Schuster climbing the backstop behind home plate and jumping up and down like a great monkey? Can you imagine Craig Reynolds doing it? How about Gilly Campbell, a catcher on his way down who spent two hours before every game sobering up, but how he could hit. How about Edo Vanni slashing hits to all fields and Jo Jo White and his fade-a-way slide into second base, kicking the ball out of the second baseman’s glove as not. Then there was the classy George Archie. Remember him? He handled that glove like an artist. I could go on and on. Hal Turpin and that easy motion. Coffee Joe Coscarart, Dick Gysleman, the human octopus on third. Alan Strange and the one and only Mike Hunt and those baggy pants. The wide stance, then, “Back, Back, Back and it’s over”! We used to take turns carrying a cup of cream up to Leo Lassen. It was a long walk up the catwalk to his booth, but it helped his ulcers. There was another news man around. A quiet fellow. We wondered if he’d ever make it. Name of Royal Brougham.
Remember that unforgettable night when Hutch pitched his 19th win on his 19th birthday? So far, 80,000 people claim to have been there. I was. The aisles were jammed. The field was roped off and we hustlers made a killing. There was another night that should have been good. Wendell Wilkie was in town. He was running against Roosevelt and was to make a major speech at the ball park. He spoke from a platform around second base and everyone was standing around listening. It was horrible for us hustlers. Too crowded and folks couldn’t see us or hear us. I never did like Wilkie after that, and was glad he lost.
I still see a few of the old hustlers here and there. Still doing their things at the Coliseum, the Opera house, or the Dome. Quite a sight to see Pete or John in tuxes. But, like everything, those boys of summer are old men now.
Now the game is over. Kate Smith has finished singing "God Bless America" for the last time. My work was done for the night. I’d head home with a pocket full of peanuts.
They might tear Sicks' Stadium down, but they can never tear it out of my mind!