In late December, 1959, New York City was staggering toward the new decade reeling from humiliation in baseball, humbled in hockey, kayoed in boxing, beaten badly in basketball, and only second best in football. Outside a Kilarney Rose Tavern in mid-town two men were having a conversation.
"New York ain't New York anymore," a man in a Burberry coat offered along with the cigarette.
"What'cha mean?" Another guy wearing a camel's-hair coat asked, as he accepted the proffered cigarette, and the light that followed. "I mean, the Burberry clad gent said, "besides bein' a loser in just about every sport there is, there ain't no respect for tradition."
"Oh?" the other said, then took a long drag on the Camel hanging from his lips.
"You know, The Polo Grounds and Ebbets Field are gonna go. We'll be down to one lousy ball park... well maybe the stadium ain't lousy, but hell, Chicago has two ball clubs now; is Chicago bigger or better than New York?"
"No," the other guy conceded. He wore a Camel's-hair coat that had obviously seen better days. It was well worn and in desperate need of dry-cleaning.
The attaché case he carried was battered and weather stained. Yet, in the manner of many New Yorkers, there was a certain sophistication about him.
"Right!" the Burberry coat said, then sighed. "I mean, consider, first they steal two great baseball teams. And I don't wanna hear that the Giants ain't a great team, either."
"An off year and they finished third," the man in the Camel-haired coat said emphatically.
"But in some forlorn place called Seals stadium; you know what that place holds, crowd-wise?" asked the Burberry coat. He didn't wait for a response, but followed quickly with, "Not even 23,000."
"Still they're gonna get themselves a new ball park this year... I mean next year, Geez, sometimes I don't know what day it is," the Camel-haired coat opined.
"Yeah, yeah, I know, the new joint will hold 63,000, and that's more than the 55,000 plus the Polo Grounds seated." For some unknown reason he switched the subject. "Still and all, only six years ago they swept the Indians and their great pitching."
"Hey, the Giants had Willie make that catch..."
"Right, the catch -- on Wertz -- and don't forget the great job pinch-hitting by Dusty Rhodes."
"Leo was a genius."
"I couldn't agree more," The man in the Camel-hair coat said.
"It was a good year," Burberry conceded, "but lookit what we got now; the championship banner that should be flying over in Brooklyn is waving over the Coliseum in Los Angeles."
"And the Giants might take it all this coming season."
"Yeah, they might, at that. They got Antonelli and Sad Sam Jones and more."
"And with the Yanks a solid third—place club, we ain't going nowhere's for a while."
They were quiet for a short time, and then Burberry spoke up again.
"There's talk about a new team... a new league..."
"Yeah, the Continental League; a third league. A bush league, you ask me," the man in the Camel-hair said emphatically.
A man in a leather jacket, hovering nearby, couldn't help but throw in, "I think you guys are being too hard on the Big Apple. I mean, what about the Giants? The football Giants?"
The man in the Burberry laughed. "You got that right, nothin' second-rate about them Giants."
The man in the Camel-hair coat glanced from one to the other. "Got another cigarette?"
The leather coat offered him a filtered Marlboro. He took it and broke off the filter tip, accepted the light offered and once again took a deep drag before expelling a cloud of smoke over the three of them. "Nothing wrong with this," he said. "I always say it's up front what counts."
The leather coat said, brusquely, "Don't go changing the subject man; we're talkin' about the Giants, we're talking about Conerly and Rote and Gifford. Remember that!"
The man in the Camel—hair coat nodded, and flicked the ash from his cigarette, "But them Colts down the road made them a second best team, am I right, or what?"
He dropped the butt and stepped on it as if it were a bug. "Like Patterson since the Swede came over and knocked him silly, making him second-best in the heavyweight division."
The group was silent. The guy in the leather jacket squirmed uneasily. The Burberry man frowned. The Camel-hair coat shook his head. "Oh, I think Floyd will take Ingmar in the rematch."
"Think he'll get a rematch?" The man in leather asked.
"It's in the original contract. I read it in the News," the man in the Burberry coat said.
"Face it, New York is second best. Take 'em one by one. The Rangers: Last in the league. When did they win last?" asked the man in the Camel-hair.
The man in Burberry said, "It was 1942."
The man in the Camel-hair coat followed with, "and the Knick-knacks?"
"The Knicks," Burberry conceded, "Also in last place."
The man in the leather jacket added, "They took poor old Carl Braun and made him coach as well as player. They offered to trade anybody on their roster and got no takers."
"College football is a laugh," the man in the Camel-hair coat spat out, looking at the others to see if he might cage another cigarette.
Neither man made a move to offer him one.
Camel-hair ignored the slight and continued. "Columbia finished last... in the Ivy League. Hey, anyone got a butt?"
"I'm tapped out," said the man in the Leather jacket.
""I'm down to my last Camel," Burberry said, not caring that the man asking knew he had at least half-a-pack remaining.
"Last week," the leather jacket said, "we host the Holiday Festival and all three local teams get whacked out of their own tournament."
"A shame, a real shame," Burberry said. "We got a great basketball heritage, but that Oscar Robertson from Cincinnati, now he belongs in New York full time. He can play with anyone. It's no shame to lose to a guy plays like that. What'd he get... 50 points against Iowa?"
"We got great heritages too," the man in the Camel's-hair added, "not only basketball, but football and baseball too."
"Wanna add insult to injury?" Burberry asked. "Consider racing, if you will. Here we got a French horse, trains on artichokes, no less, comes over here and beats Trader Horn in the International at Roosevelt.
The man in the Leather jacket pulled out a fresh pack of Marlboro's and said, "Here," to the guy in the Camel-hair coat. "Take a fresh one. I held back before 'cause I thought you were a phony. But I can see you're a guy knows what he's talking about."
"Thank you," said the man in the Camel-hair coat, throwing back his outer coat to reveal the narrow lapels of a Brooks Brothers suit that looked like it might have been slept in. He accepted a light and inspected the filter tip, which he had not torn off this time.