A great American
was a great Dodgers fan
By MAURY ALLEN
The new Post Office
in New Rochelle, New York, a suburban community in Westchester
County, just a $50 gas tank fill up from Manhattan, will be named
and dedicated in honor of Robert Merrill on June 2.
Thats where you can buy all those new 42 cent United States
postage stamps with the picture of Frank Sinatra.
Merrill, who died in 2004 at the age of 87, was a longtime resident
of the community as he performed at the Metropolitan Opera House
in New York City, Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall or maybe even
La Scala in Rome.
The beautiful baritone voice thrilled opera lovers for more than
half a century and entertained baseball fans for over 30 years
with his stirring rendition of The National Anthem.
Wearing his Yankee pinstripes with the uniform number 1/2 on
his back, standing in front of home plate, looking up at 55,000
people, Merrill would lead the fans in saluting the country.
It all started for this lifelong baseball fan when Yankee owner
George Steinbrenner invited Merrill to a game shortly after he
bought the team in 1973. He soon asked the famed singer if he
would honor him and entertain the fans with his own special rendition
of The Star Spangled Banner.
Merrill was the perfect man for the job.
He was a kid from Brooklyn, mad about the Dodgers and a boyhood
pal of baseball star Tommy Holmes, who died early in 2008.
He used to brag about how good a ball player he was when
we got together in later life, Holmes once said. I
think he only played in one game in our neighborhood.
Holmes went on to a long big league career and Merrill, who started
singing at the age of 15, went on to that long performing career.
His mother had sung in the local Yiddish theater and after young
Roberts voice changed from a boy tenor in his local temple
to that serious baritone, his career was launched. He was soon
performing at the Met and moved quickly to all the famed opera
houses around the world.
I would get the copies of the International Herald Tribune
and look at the sports scores, especially the Brooklyn scores,
even before I would read any of my own reviews, he once
Merrill attended several World Series games with Holmes after
his baseball career ended and they were lucky enough to be at
one of the Brooklyn victories over the Yankees in the only Series
triumph for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1955.
That was something, two kids from Brooklyn, who had taken
different directions in life, being joined together at this great
event when the Brooklyn Dodgers finally beat the Yankees,
Merrill said. What a thrill that was.
Merrill and his wife, Marian, moved to New Rochelle in the 1960s
when Merrill cut down on his traveling and performed mostly in
the New York City area in local theaters, on radio and on some
The Dodgers were gone to Los Angeles by then and I didnt
care, Merrill said. Then the Yankees were sold to
Steinbrenner and we became good friends. I was thrilled when
he asked me to sing at the Stadium. The Dodgers never asked me
to do that.
Merrill rooted for the Yankees after that and recalled some of
his great stadium thrills.
I remember when the Yankees won their first Series in 1977
after 15 years and I went out to centerfield with Joe DiMaggio
to sing the National Anthem with Joe standing next to me. What
a roar from the crowd. Here I was, this kid from a poor family
in Brooklyn, standing at the Stadium next to the great Joe DiMaggio.
After his Stadium singing performances, Merrill would spend time
in the press room, talking with the sportswriters, looking at
the photos on the walls of the great Yankees, reminiscing about
his days as a Brooklyn kid in Ebbets Field.
A lot of the sportswriters wanted to talk about the Met
or La Scala or The Barber of Seville. I wanted to talk about
Dixie Walker, Pee Wee Reese and Jackie Robinson, Merrill
Joan Hodges, widow of Dodger great Gil Hodges, remains a close
friend of Marian Merrill. They will be together at the Post Office
dedication in Merrills name next month.
Im a great opera fan, Joan Hodges said. That
was long before we knew Bob and Marian. Still, I bet we will
be talking a lot of baseball that day. Especially about the Brooklyn
Dodgers. Bob always said he wanted to play for the Dodgers.
Tommy Holmes had a nice baritone voice. Bob Merrill could play
a little baseball. Somehow their careers went in the proper directions.
It is the way things work.
The 42 cent Sinatra stamp will be available at the Robert Merrill
Post Office in New Rochelle. Only fitting. Too bad it isnt
at the Robert Merrill Post Office in Brooklyn.
©2008 by Maury Allen. The Maury Allen caricature is ©2001
by Jim Hummel. The photograph of Robert Merrill is courtesy of
the official Robert Merrill website. This column first posted
May 19, 2008.
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