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Mudville: July 19, 2024 11:21 pm PDT

Living Yankees History

You want Yankee stories, Tony Morante has Yankee stories. His knowledge of baseball and the Yankees is historical.

He also knows where to get a great meal in the Bronx.

Morante was the Yankees longtime historian, who also was in charge of Yankee Stadium tours. He started that whole deal with the Boss’ blessing. He first began working at Yankee Stadium in 1958 as an usher. His dad Anthony Sr. was an usher there and Tony had been coming to games from the time he was six.

Anthony Sr. decided it was time for Tony to start working there too. The Yankees became the family business.

“I first started going to Yankee Stadium in 1949 and after about 10 years of that, my dad said I was going to have to work so he flipped me an usher’s mitt,’’ Morante told BallNine. “I became an usher in ’58 and actually one of my greatest memories occurred December 28, 1958.’’

It wasn’t a baseball game.

It was the greatest football game ever played – as the Colts beat the Giants, 23-17 in sudden death overtime when fullback Alan Ameche punched in for the touchdown from the one.

“I was up in Section 22 and I guess a Mack Truck could have probably gone through that hole,’’ Morante said.

Tony was part of the famous “suicide squad’’ of ushers, who raced onto the field at the end of Yankee games to protect Mickey Mantle from fans. Back in the day, and I remember this going to Yankee Stadium with my father back in the early 60s, the fans left Yankee Stadium through the gates in centerfield. That was a glorious moment stepping onto the Yankee Stadium field.

“That was where the party was for the players, I got in there somehow and Billy walked up to me and said, ‘Here this is for you.’ It was magnum of champagne … Billy was a good man.’’

Protecting The Mick was a big job.

“The fans really appreciated Mickey and they wanted a piece of him,’’ Morante explained. “What was happening was that Mickey started getting banged around by the fans and Mickey asked for protection. They needed some guys who were quick enough to get out to second base, meet Mickey and escort him in. When I got the call for that, ‘Oh my God.’ It was so cool. I was just happy to be part of it.’’

Tony spent four years in the Navy and returned to the Yankees in 1966. The Yankees had special fan seating, the prototype for what would become luxury suites. Tony’s father was one of two ushers to work the area. “It was built for a few of the higher end Yankee season ticket holders who wanted some exclusivity,’’ Morante said.

In 1968 Morante joined his dad, getting hot dogs, tea, coffee, beer for the suites area.

They took care of such high-end customers as Howard Johnson, not the baseball player, the restaurant/hotel magnate; Ed Mosler, CEO of Mosler Safe Company, you know, the company that made the vaults for Fort Knox and the safe in the Yankees clubhouse; Jon Hanson of Hampshire Realty, Bankers Trust; Spencer Marketing and others.

“All of these large corporations had these beautifully cordoned off boxes,’’ Morante said. “It was called the Mezzanine Loge. It was also called Millionaires Row.’’

Through the years, Tony Morante became one of the most beloved Yankee employees because of his caring attitude, love for the team and love for the Bronx. He graduated from Fordham and decades later became an adjunct professor there teaching about the history of baseball and how baseball grew with America.

He has a book out called BASEBALL The New York Game. It’s all about how the national pastime paralleled US history.

And remember, this is a guy who has seen it all at Yankee Stadium, the new Stadium and the old Stadium, and has toured it all countless times as Director of Yankee Stadium Tours. He even gave a Yankee Stadium tour to Nelson Mandela, who has a plaque in Monument Park, which is the most sacred of baseball places for Morante.

Tony Morante.

Another plaque out there that is most special to Morante is Allie Reynolds, who “hurled two no-hitters in 1951, starred on five straight world champion teams from 1949-53, five-time all-star, .686 Yankees winning percentage.’’

And remember that day, September 21, 2008 – the last day of Yankee Stadium when “Yankee ghosts’’ took the field, including Babe Ruth, it was Morante who was wearing the Allie Reynolds uniform and playing the role of Superchief. I was there to watch it all unfold.

“I really loved Allie Reynolds because he just beat up on the Dodgers and was part of five in a row,’’ Morante said of the five straight World Series wins. “They gave me a uniform and I went out to the outfield. To be out there in centerfield where my idol Mickey Mantle played was so special.’’

Morante was there too on the June day in 1969 when Mickey Mantle circled the ballpark in a golf cart after his number was retired. Morante cried, like nearly everyone else in the House That Ruth Built.

Also, remember those fabulous red Yankee ushers jackets, the one in the National Baseball Hall of Fame Museum & History, belonged to Anthony Morante, Tony’s dad. Tony donated it to the Hall. On Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series that is Tony’s dad rushing out to protect Larsen after the final out.

Tony worked with his dad for more than a decade. Tony also donated his own usher’s uniform to the Hall of Fame.

In every way Tony Morante’s love for baseball, the Bronx and the Yankees shines through. I’ve known Tony for decades and he was always all about the team and helping people. After his usher years he went into group/season ticket sales, eventually moving onto the tours, and the history. Morante, 78, left the Yankees in 2018.

But he still bleeds Yankees blue and loved working for George Steinbrenner.

Fordham is a big part of his life as well and he is hopeful of teaching another baseball class there soon. What’s better than a book signing on Arthur Avenue? Go for the book, stay for the food.

Tony, Sr's usher's jacket that now resides in Cooperstown.

Tony is Vice President of the Bronx Historical Society. He wants to make sure future generations have a grip on American History through the eyes of baseball.

“They paralleled each other,’’ he said. “Post-revolutionary period, after we got into industrialization, the market revolution, urbanization, commercialization, all of those concepts were growing at the same time baseball was coming up from the Lower East Side and moving further and further north until the developers kept on pushing so far that in 1845 they jumped across the river to Hoboken and Elysian Fields..’’

Morante talks about the birth of the “New York Game or the Knickerbocker Game,’’ he said. “In 1845 we also had Manifest Destiny, and when President James Polk wanted to see people move west of the Mississippi River. They developed the different trails, the Oregon Trail, the trails that went out to the west coast, some of the Knickerbockers in 1849 also went to seek gold that was discovered a year earlier, so they take the New York game out to San Francisco and they become the San Francisco Knickerbockers in 1851. So, the game was starting to spread and it was the New York Game that starting to be dominant over the Olympic Ball of Philadelphia and the Town Ball of Massachusetts.’’

The baseball story grew and grew until it became America’s Pastime.

“The narrative includes many watershed moments that illustrate the importance of baseball during many crises and global conflicts, including the aftermath of September 11, 2001,’’ Morante said. “The reader will integrate concepts that are offered to promote an ongoing discourse of our country’s popular culture. One will witness how leisure and exercise evolved into the structure of fraternities and the formation of an organized sport that became the national pastime. In addition, following the main body of the text is an article on the military in baseball. This is the story of how American history and baseball intertwined.’’

Sounds like we all could benefit from looking at the history of baseball and America.

As for his own history, Morante was the Yankees Director of Stadium Tours as well as an educator with those 60 years of experience behind him.

In 1979, the historical society asked him to do a tour for the Bronx Borough president. That was the first Yankee Stadium tour. Eventually a new business was born and so much money was raised for charity through the Yankees Foundation and, Morante said, “It benefitted the kids’ recreation and education programs so I started to run with that. The program just kept going because people wanted to learn about Yankees history and we had Monument Park. It was a good thing. People were coming from all over the world just to see Yankee Stadium. It was great.’’

In 2007, Morante was watching 60 Minutes when he saw what was going on at Walter Reed Army Medical Center with wounded veterans coming back from the war. He wanted to do something to help.

“I got Johnny Damon, who was an Army brat and I asked him if he wanted to help me get this program off the ground that the Yankees game gave me permission to start.’’

The Yankees soon got involved with the Wounded Warrior Project and that was an honor for Morante, a Navy veteran.

When the Stadium was being renovated in 1973, many of the older box seats – 6,000 seats – were placed in the Yankee parking lot and they were distributed to Yankees season ticket holders by Morante. There were 2,000 left over seats that were then sold.

Thurman Munson may have been tough as nails on the field, but he had a serious soft spot for the Yankees... and baseball.

Imagine that.

Morante had a special relationship with players like Thurman Munson.

“We developed a program where we would sell a thousand tickets to a community,’’ Morante said, “and we would have a presentation on the field, plus we would have them talk to (Phil) Rizzuto in the press box. One day Bristol, Connecticut bought about 1600 tickets, 600 more than what the requirements were. I wanted to do it right for the guy, his name was Aaron Silver from PepsiCo. He and Munson were good friends and everything. So, there was a doubleheader with the Boston Red Sox in 1975 and Aaron said he wanted Thurman to make the presentation, but it was a doubleheader so I said we have to go between games.

“After the first game was over I went down to the clubhouse to get Thurm and he wasn’t there.’’

Munson was locked in a bathroom stall.

“So I yell into the bathroom, ‘Thurm, it’s Tony Morante, you got to come out and make a presentation to Aaron Silver.’’

The response: “Bleep no, I ain’t going.’’

Munson was upset.

“Because Catfish (Hunter) had lost a 1-0 game,’’ Morante explained. “Oh my God was he upset. So I wound up getting Chicken Stanley to come out and do the presentation. Thurman was a gruff guy, but he was really soft inside.’’

Munson had every right to be upset. Hunter pitched a complete game. The only run came in the ninth. Fred Lynn reached base on an error, stole second and with two outs Rick Miller singled him home.

Munson ended the bottom of the eighth by hitting into a double play off Bill Lee.

In baseball parlance, Munson “had the ass’’ and rightfully so.

Morante also built strong relationships with Lou Piniella and his family and so many other Yankees, including Billy Martin. “In the 1978 World Series we had the whoop-de-doo all the way down right-field in the batting cage. That was where the party was for the players, I got in there somehow and Billy walked up to me and said, ‘Here this is for you.’ It was magnum of champagne … Billy was a good man.’’

Through his work with tours of Monument Park, Morante became a celebrity in Japan after the Yankees signed Hideki Matsui.

“I always get juiced up just being in Monument Park,’’ Morante said. “One day I was giving my spiel to a bus load of tourists from Japan and after the tour was over, the interpreter came up to me and said, ‘You are a big man in Japan. People know you through TV.’ That gave me such a good feeling, knowing how popular the Yankees are around the world. The things I’ve seen in Yankee Stadium, it’s incredible.’’

It’s people like Tony Morante, who worked so hard behind the scenes, to help make the Yankees such a success.

45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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