In honor of the World Series, which commenced last night, Chris Sharp brings us a baseball story combined with Ivy clothes and college life.
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Professor Frederick R. Lapides gave his oral history to Rutgers University in 2006. In the interview, he said that two large clans in New Haven shared his surname. His family was at the bottom of the pecking order of those who were associated with United Smelting & Aluminum Company, an enterprise skippered by Yale graduate Robert E. Lapides, the youngest commanding officer of a fleet destroyer in World War II.
The other family, Professor Lapides recalled, “was a large group that were fairly athletic, and many of them went off to Brown University.” It was this family of Lapides that gave Providence one of its most cherished Ivy clothiers, Harvey Ltd.
Philip Lapides was born in New Haven in 1925 and entered Brown University via Hopkins Grammar School. Brown University had moved to a trimester system for the war. Classmate Edwin Strasmich recounted in the Brown Daily Herald, “It was a cloudy day in February 1943 when 110 freshman were welcomed in Faunce House.” This wartime class was made up of those who were but 17 years of age and those with 1-A draft status — in other words, men just shy of draft age or ones who could be called at any moment.
Strasmich, a sports editor, used his October 5th, 1945 column to feature Bruin sportsmen that were then in the service. Lapides was in the Navy and commanded a PT boat. Strasmich described Lapides as the greatest athlete of the class. Lapides was a third baseman and captain of the team in 1943 and 1944. He would play in the 1943, 1944 and 1947 seasons. His college batting average of .347 would make him a record holding hitter for over 50 years. Sally Lapides, Phil’s daughter, told Ivy Style, “He had wanted to play professional ball all his life and was signed with the Yankees upon graduation.” Philip Lapides played for the Bristol Owls, a Class B team in the short-lived Colonial league. He played 51 games and batted .301 for the pennant and championship-winning 1949 Owls before a back injury forced a career change.
Philip’s brother Harvey was also a ballplayer of note. He followed his older brother to Brown and they played together during the 1947 season. The Sunday Herald on May 21, 1950 boasted that the Brown University team was “heavily stocked with Connecticut products.” The team had five “nutmeggers,” three of them from the Hillhouse class of 1945. Harvey was one of this trio. The Herald described him as a talented center fielder with a rifle-like throwing arm.
Brown coach Lefty Lefebvre, former Red Sox and Senators southpaw hurler, brought Lapides to North Dakota in summer of 1950 to play in the inaugural season of the Manitoba-Dakota league. The Man-Dak League is remembered today as where many former Negro League players spent the twilight of their careers after the MLB was integrated. Lefebvre had accepted a player-manager position with the Minot Mallards and brought Lapides and Paul “Moose” Wasseth with him.
The two were known as the ”Connecticut Yankees,” and “Hustling Harvey” would bat .248 with 12 RBIs and would hit two of the six home runs the Mallard’s had that season. Lapides’ semi-pro ball experience would also include the 1947 and 1948 seasons in New Haven, followed in 1949 in Fort Fairfield Maine, where he batted .381. Lapides received an offer to play in the Northern League but declined after a university official threatened his eligibility to play college ball.
An interesting footnote to Lapides’ college baseball experience is that he played against the man who would become the 41st President Of The United States. President George HW Bush and Lapides reunited years later, and Lapides possesses a photograph of them together. Although they each left baseball behind them, Lapides still laments not being a better curveball hitter.
“My grandfather, Ira Lapides, thought that Providence needed a store that was like J. Press,” recalls Sally Lapides. “The family had a meeting to decide what the store name should be. My dad was one of five boys, so they considered all five names: Philip, Harvey, Martin, Theodore and James. They decided that Harvey sounded best with Ltd.”
The January, 1950 issue of Brown Alumni Monthly carried this note under the class of 1948: “Phil Lapides & Harvey Lapides ’50 announce themselves partners in Harvey Ltd. Clothiers, importers and furnishers. It is a new college shop where you will find the finest collection of apparel for Brown men.”
Harvey Ltd. was dedicated to the natural-shoulder style from the start. A 1952 advertisement geared to freshman states “There is a certain style of clothing which distinguishes the Ivy Leaguer from all other college men. Harvey Ltd. is the store on campus which specializes exclusively in Ivy League clothing.”
Harvey Ltd. was a shop originally run by Brown men for Brown men. Harvey Lapides told the Providence Business News, “We were like a club.” According to Lapides, the students all wanted the Ivy Look. The store’s motto was voici le meilleur, which means “the best is here,” and Harvey Ltd. was there to provide students with buttondowns, tweeds and rep ties. For a university haberdasher, freshman week and rush week were a second Christmas.
Philip and Harvey Lapides came to Providence as students and ballplayers and stayed as haberdashers. Harvey worked the sales floor for over 50 years before Harvey Ltd. closed in 2004. Harvey is retired now. Some days he will talk baseball and the Ivy League Look with those who ask, and on other days he is not inclined to talk about “ancient history.” It is a reminder that in our desire to preserve a style, pay homage to defunct businesses, and celebrate the careers of clothiers, we may sometimes trespass on the lives of the living. Yet even in those circumstances there are interesting results.
I inadvertently contacted Sally Lapides on the anniversary of her father’s death. Philip Lapides died September 24, 1993. She recalled that time “When we were sitting Shiva, someone told me that he was not really gone until the last person who knew him was gone.” Our reaching out to her was “living proof of that” and our story “is keeping his spirit alive.” — CHRISTOPHER SHARP