The NY Giants' Sing Sing Farm Team

Tim Mara, whose family still owns the franchise, supplied equipment and coached the team in its first year.

The Longest Yard

Q: Did the New York Giants ever have a farm team that played in Sing Sing prison? That’s what my grandfather told me.

—JJ Weaver, Sleepy Hollow

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A: The old geezer isn’t as crazy as you may have thought… though he’s not exactly correct.

In 1931 the warden at Sing Sing subscribed to the notion that prison’s job had more to do with rehabilitation than punishment. Athletics were seen as good for body, mind, and spirit, so he encouraged inmates to get involved in sports. (I recently answered a question about Babe Ruth’s longest home run purportedly having taken place at Sing Sing, when he hit a shot over the wall in right field—and I mean over that wall, not just the outfield fence.)

The prison fielded a pretty good football team, called the Black Sheep, or, sometimes, the Zebras. The founder of the Giants, Tim Mara, whose family still owns the franchise, supplied equipment and coached the team in its first year, with help from some of the NFLers.

The Black Sheep played all home games and weren’t allowed to travel, but the general public could watch them play at Sing Sing. The ticket sales paid for the program, and some games saw more than 5,000 in attendance. They played regional semipro teams, including the Port Jervis Police Department squad. A planned game against a prison in Washington State was nixed because they didn’t want inmates leaving the prison. Concern for security was valid as one of the team’s quarterbacks escaped on a game day shortly before kickoff.

A new rule came into effect in 1936 that banned out-side ticket sales and killed the funding for the program.

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The Philadelphia Eagles signed one player, quarterback Alabama Pitts, who was serving time for armed robbery, after his release. Many claim it was mostly a publicity stunt; Pitts was cut after three games.

He was stabbed to death shortly after that, for trying to dance with another man’s date at a club.

Murder and Mushrooms

Q: Is the David Lewis who is currently representing former NY Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos in his corruption case the same attorney who represented “Fatal Attraction” murderer Carolyn Warmus?

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Catherine Buzzetto, Millwood

A: Indeed, he is. Lewis is seen as an expert in cross-examination and trains attorneys in the finer details of that skill. The Warmus case is remembered for the glamour of the defendant and the TV-movie-ready murder-plot theme that kept it in the headlines for four years and three trials. Warmus was accused of murdering the wife of the man she was having an affair with. For courtroom-drama junkies, Lewis’ cross-examination of the “grieving husband,” Paul Soloman, was riveting TV and rivals even the best episode of Law & Order.

A great example came when Lewis asked Soloman about a visit the husband had with Warmus six months after his wife’s murder. Soloman claimed his therapist had suggested that he go visit Carolyn to ask her directly if she murdered his wife. Soloman said she had denied it, which is when Lewis asked him if he had sex with her before the visit ended. Soloman said he couldn’t remember.

“Can’t remember?” Lewis bellowed, calling Solomon’s veracity into question. Earlier in the day, it had been noted that Soloman did remember that his wife had cooked him a mushroom omelet the day she was murdered. Later, in a crowded courtroom elevator, a passenger was overheard saying, “Can you imagine, he can’t remember having sex with Carolyn, but he remembers having a mushroom omelet,” to which another passenger retorted, “Well, there’s nothing like a good mushroom omelet.” 

High, snarky drama from Lewis resulted in a hung jury, but at a third trial, Warmus (represented by another attorney) was sentenced to 25 years to life. She is up for parole in 2017.

 

Touching an Irv

Q: I pass a building on my commute every morning, named Music Minus One. I’ve figured it was a place for piano lessons, but a friend told me they make karaoke recordings there. Do you know what it is?

—Jamie Polanski, Mahopac

A: Karaoke? Ouch, I think the folks at Music Minus One (MMO) would bristle at that description. And, no, there aren’t any piano lessons, per se, going on there.

Launched in 1950 by then-college-student Irv Kratka, the company began by recording chamber music—minus one instrument. The first recording was Schubert’s Trout Quintet, and they made five separate tracks of the performance with one of the five instruments removed. In that way, a performer could practice their instrument with accompaniment but without having to, as they say, “get the band together.”

The company relocated to Irvington in ’95 before settling in Elmsford in Y2K. Over the years they moved on from chamber music to jazz and then to pop music. Giants like Stan Getz and Max Roach performed for MMO, and today their library has grown to more than 900 albums in a variety of genres. They also retail similar work from other publishers, bringing their offerings to 7,000-plus. At age 85, Kratka still heads up the operation.

My favorite selection? That’s easy: Audition Songs for Male Singers: Elvis Presley.

Thank you… thank you very much! 


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