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Player: Billy Burney   Team: West 60th Street


Young Devils - Spanish Harlem 1940s/early 50s
Click for bigger picture
Young Devils in Spanish Harlem during the late 1940s/early 50s
Billy Burney was one of the best third basemen around; a good hitter, great fielder and "smart ballplayer" who really knew the game.

At 76 years old, Billy Burney doesn't have anywhere near the speed and power he used to posses. But his current teammate and former rival Ray Murray says without hesitation "You should see him in the field. He's still really good, better than most of the guys half his age." Other players agree.

Billy who considers himself a student of the game recalled how you'd modify your game based on the team you played and the nuances of the field. "Whenever you played, you had to go by the home team's field rules," he said. On our court, there were lots of cellars and landscapes where the ball could get stuck. We made it a ground rule double if it went down a cellar and an out if it got caught up in the fire escape. The Rufos' field had a ground rule double if the ball went over a fence into one of back yards that was set off in an adjoining alley way. The Ionas street was paved with cobblestones with the pitcher and batter were up on the sidewalk along the first base line, so you had to position your players taking the angle into account."

Billy recalls how significant a role stickball played in the lives of him and his teammates. "We spent every Sunday morning playing games in the neighborhood, and then we'd often pile into a car to go to play somewhere else. All of the games were for money. You'd bet whatever you had, and their were lots of side bets going on as well. If you won, you'd go out with your wife or girlfriend that night, if not, you'd be spending the evening at home."

"People would argue the close calls and sometimes it even broke up the game. I remember one time when we were behind by a run in the bottom of the ninth when the ball went into an area that we explained would be an automatic ground rule double. We had several hundred dollars bet on the game, but the opposing team refused to allow the player to advance. The game broke up with no resolution. This would happen sometimes. Still most games proceeded smoothly even without an official umpire."

"We took the games seriously," Billy said. "I remember one time when we were playing up by York Ave and the 80s. Our captain John "Baldy" McNamara got a hit and was going towards second. He started to slide, but hesitated which caused his sneaker to get stuck on the pavement and resulted in a broken ankle. The local hospitals were closed so we called the ambulance and as they were loading him in, we were already flipping the coin to see who would take his place. He got a little annoyed with us seeming so unconcerned about his condition. We just shrugged at him. You know, "the game must go on."

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