Dating back to the 1920s, stickball is a New York City street game that had its heyday in the 1950s and 1960s when family and friends could show off their baseball talents right on the street where they lived. All you needed to play was a sawed-off broomstick and a “Spaldeen,” the street name for the high bouncing pink rubber ball with the black stamped Spalding trademark.
Two players or two teams could play. For two players, most any public school courtyard would fit the bill for a game of “pitching in,” with a strike zone painted on the schoolyard wall ready-made for traditional arguments about whether the pitch actually hit inside the box for a strike.
For two teams, usually one-way streets were used with the game being played for the length of the block from one sewer cover to the other. Stickball games were either played during summer weekday evenings when it was cool or on the weekends when different blocks challenged each other for bragging rights.
Playing in the streets brought its own set of modified baseball rules when you played “fungo” or “hitting yourself.” Players got just two swings with “no fouls on last” for a swinging strikeout, and balls that bounced off cars could be caught as outs as long as they didn’t touch the ground.
With one sewer cover designated as home plate and the other sewer cover as second base at the end of the block, two cars midway between the two covers served as first and third base.
As neighborhood generations moved on throughout the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s, stickball simply lost its popularity as a quick pickup game and now only survives in tournament-like competitions that are planned several weeks in advance.
Fortunate enough to obtain MCU Park for the fourth year in a row, Jay Cusato once again organized another full field game for Stickball Day in Brooklyn USA at which the Brooklyn Stickball Team from Park Slope played another team from Sheepshead Bay and posthumously honored a founding team member, Ray Goffio.
As an original member of the Brooklyn Stickball Team and one of the co-founders of the MCU Park 9-11 Wall of Remembrance, Goffio was responsible for setting up the event with the Cyclones in 2016, and was honored at the end of the game with a stadium-wide moment of silence.
“It’s about keeping this game and tradition alive,” said Cusato, who produced the documentary “When Broomsticks were Kings” that fans got to view during the afternoon’s stickball competition.
“I got my son [Jay] into stickball at an early age, dragging him around Brooklyn, and look at him now — he’s organizing these games,” said 74-year-old first baseman Vinny Cusato. “Now that’s what I call an intergenerational sport.”