The new baseball season hovers on the horizon and my brief time at Yale Field with “Poppy” Bush and Babe Ruth makes my heart beat faster every April.
“Destiny and Power,” Jon Meacham’s surprisingly vivid biography of former President George HW Bush, is Shakespearean in its depiction of family, power and public service. It also briefly described an incident from one of the great days in the life of 10-year-old Richard Press.
My beloved uncle, State Senator and New Haven City Court Judge Harold E. Alprovis was a 1948 political crony of then Connecticut Republican Finance Chairman and later US Senator Prescott Bush. He invited my uncle with me in tow, along with a gaggle of politicians to the Princeton baseball game at Yale Field. It was also the day Babe Ruth came to New Haven to gift his memoirs to Yale.
Prescott’s son, George HW, familiarly tagged “Poppy,” was the first baseman and captain of the Yale team. He accepted the manuscript from Ruth at a temporary microphone set up on the pitcher’s mound. It had rained all morning, but with Babe’s appearance the sun came out. Ruth was already frail, stricken with cancer that would kill him three months later.
The bleachers were loaded with local kids, many of them my fifth-grade classmates at Beecher School. Republican Mayor William Celentano, part of our crowd, presented Ruth with a certificate proclaiming lifetime membership in New Haven Little League. Ruth sadly responded, croaking tortured words into the microphone. After the ceremony he donned a cream-colored Ascot cap and the politicos fittingly seated him next to 10-year-old Richard Press right on the first-base line. He kindly signed my program before leaving after a few innings.
After the game (which Yale won), Mr. Bush introduced us to his son Poppy, who autographed my program right underneath Babe Ruth’s signature, a misbegotten treasure lost to the ages.
Meacham’s treatise recalled Poppy’s early married years in New Haven, a GI war hero gallantly completing his Phi Beta Kappa Yale degree in two-and-a-half years. Paul Press, obsessive raconteur of celebrities he befriended in and around his York Street store, recalled the era in a magazine interview.
“Poppy Bush was a very nice man,” my dad exclaimed. “In the ’40s his wife Barbara was working at the Yale Co-op on York Street. I ran into her so often that she teased me I never invite her for lunch.”
When Bush was running for vice president in 1980, he gave a speech on the Yale campus that was interrupted by a heckler who accused him of being a “Brooks Brothers Republican.” Bush opened up his jacket alleging his suit was actually by J.Press. None of us Presses, nor any of the sales staff, remember his patronage. Biographer Meacham clarifies the issue, noting “his suits (42L, 38 waist) came from Washington clothier, Arthur A. Adler; his shirts (which Bush, in a phrase that betrayed his Greenwich origins, called “shirting” in private) from Ascot Chang, a Hong Kong tailor.”
Nowadays the presidency of George H.W. Bush can be comfortably digested, perhaps even by Democrats, distributing triumph and disappointment of times past. HW never regretted articulating the famous credo that cost him his job,
“Read my lips.”
I was a classmate of Poppy Bush’s albeit there was a three/four year gap in our ages as I was a 17 year old incoming freshman and he was a 21 year old, married, returning veteran. Despite the difference in years I did have some memorable experiences with Bush’s. A little known fact is that Poppy Bush was a fine soccer player having played at Andover and possibly before that in Greewich. He was the center forward on a very good Yale team that was rated one of the top three teams in the country and only lost one game. I was fortunate enough to be on the team and got acquainted with him in that way. He only played for one year and after that devoted his time to baseball.
While Poppy was playing soccer, Barbara was working at the Yale Co-Op at the shirt and tie counter. I used to buy an occasional blue oxford button-down shirt or rep tie from her and we got acquainted in that way. As the fall of 1945 went on, it became apparent that she was pregnant and, sometime around the Holidays, she stopped working at the store. A few months later, she gave birth to George W. and some more history was in the making.
After that fall, I only saw George Bish occasionally with the exception of a fifteen minute visit at a fraternity rush party, however, he was always friendly and a very nice person. Even in those early days, I had him tabbed for great things.