Harry "The Horse" Danning
One afternoon at my home in L.A., the doorbell rang. Standing on my doorstep was 88-year-old, Harry "The Horse" Danning, the four-time All-Star catcher for the New York Giants of the 1930s. (They were World Champs in 1933 and National League Champs in 1936 and 1937, with players such as Mel Ott, Carl Hubbell, Bill Terry and Travis Jackson.) Danning had written a letter for one of my Baseball Letters books and promised to drop by when in L.A. (his hometown).
He came into my house, this hulking man, and sat down in my big, red retro 1960s chair. I asked him if I could film his reminiscences. I had a ton of questions, loving baseball history as I do. He said, "Sure."
He then proceeded to talk about being the man behind the plate when Lou Gehrig hit his final World Series home run and when Joe Dimaggio hit his first one. He was also behind the plate when Ted Williams won the 1941 All-Star game with a towering blast. (He was still upset that pitcher Claude Passeau didn't throw the pitch that Danning wanted him to!)
He told personal stories of Jimmie Foxx, Dizzy Dean and his colorful Gas House Gang Cardinals and poor Willard Herschberger, who took his own life three days after one of Danning's home runs beat Hershberger's Reds.
He described card games on the long, yet relaxing train rides, being one of four Jewish players on the Giants in those years and how he didn't even know his own real last name!
It was an amazing afternoon, an old man telling a young man the "way that it was." The day was capped when I showed him his jersey from 1941 that I had in my collection. He signed it, "Harry 'The Horse' Danning."
A few years later, I opened the New York Times to see that Danning had passed away at the age of 93. I realized then that he was the last Giant from those 1930s championship teams
to pass away. I remembered the footage that I took of him and started to re-watch it. I decided to make it into a small movie as a memento of that afternoon and something that I could give to
Danning's family. I interspliced some rare photos and films of Harry taken during his playing days, along with Al Jolsen's version of I'm Just Wild About Harry.
I titled the short film The Last Giant. Incredibly, it was just chosen as a Finalist for the D.C. International Film Festival to be held in March, 2007.
As a collector of historic baseball memorabilia, I love being around all-things historic when it comes to the game of baseball and I was certainly surrounded by it when I was fortunate enough to spend a few hours with "The Horse," Harry Danning.
My parents met Harry when he lived in Foster City California in the late 60's and 70's. My favorite story was his meeting Babe Ruth when the Babe was a base coach. Between innings he stopped the Babe and told he was a lucky man. When the Babe asked why, Harry explained that the Babe "only" nosed him out by 702 home runs!
I remember him as the gentleman you describe and renewed my interest by sending a note to the SF Giants about giving the nickname "the Horse" to Matt Cain. I bet Harry wouldn't mind - I remember he was happy to respond to all notes and really felt lucky to have played ball.
Posted by: Mic Restaino
Jim Sheehan was amember of the 1936 Giants and was a teammate of Danning's on that roster as well as Harry's back-up catcher...Sheehan lived in East Haven, Ct. and I visited shortly before he died...Although he appeared in only one game, he was the only catcher allowed to warm up Carl Hubbell during his record 18 game consecutive winning streak...
Danning was late arriving to the park one day and manager Terry sent Sheehan out to the bullpen to warm up "the King"...that day, Hubbell snapped a personal losing streak and insisted on Sheehan as his personal pre game catcher... That win was the start of the streak...
Posted by: lew bundles
I first met Harry "the Horse" Danning in 1997. We shared a friendship the next 7 years. He introduced me to his friends and we had lunch almost every Friday. Great stories and a great time.
I have his 1927 L.A. High School yearbook where Harry is pictured as a young ball player. Also his retirement letter dated 1945 to Horace Stoneman. Plus numerous signed bats, balls and pictures.
Harry was generous and a gentleman. I miss him.
Posted by: David Sykes
Post a comment