"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice
Category: Lasting Yankee Stadium Memories

Heaven Reclaims its Voice

By Ed Alstrom


Like most of you, I just got the news of Mr. Sheppard’s passing. I didn’t know him for as long as some did, but over the course of only 5 years he had become a dear friend with whom I shared many indelible memories.

And that speaks volumes, I think. You’ll be hearing his praises sung by all for several days, but I too will affirm firsthand that for a man of his stature, who is so revered and so famous, to be as kind and friendly as he was to me from the very beginning is, well, almost beyond belief.

From the day I met him, when he calmed me down before my frantic first game as organist at the Stadium by extending a hand and a big grin and saying ‘Welcome to Yankee Stadium!’ (in the exact same tone of voice and volume he delivered it over the PA before every game!), to the last time I saw him when my wife Maxine and I visited he and Mary at their home on Long Island about 6 months ago, and we talked about seemingly everything but baseball for about three hours… he was quite simply one of the finest and most genuine human beings I’ve ever had the pleasure to come in contact with.

Think about this – why would you call an man routinely by the prefix “Mr.”? Unless it’s a total stranger, usually you are forced to do so because it’s someone who commands ‘respect’ only by intimidation, rank, or force (e.g., the contemptible CEO of the company you work for). Rarely these days do you address a man as “Mr.” all the time because you just flat-out love and respect him so much that it actually feels disrespectful to call him by his first name. And that’s Mr. Sheppard to me. Nobody at the Stadium ever told me I had to address him as ‘Mr. Sheppard’; that’s just what everyone did as a matter of course.

(more…)

Memories Are Forever

Our friend Todd Drew passed away almost a year-and-a-half ago. In the days after his death, I coped with the sadness by staying busy. I didn’t want to sit with the pain. We talked about Todd on the site as the Banter sat shiva. What can we do? The rest of the Banter writers and I talked about it. What about a compilation of Todd’s work, from his blog Yankees for Justice, and his Shadow Games columns here at the Banter?

Then Diane Firstman suggested that we compile the Yankee Stadium Memories series into a book. It would have a broader appeal. Made sense to me. So when Skyhorse approached me about doing just that, I knew we had the perfect farewell to Todd.

I’m proud to announce that Skyhorse will release Bronx Banter Presents: Lasting Yankee Stadium Memories this October. The collection features 60 essays including 25 entirely new pieces (the Amazon link above has some errors that will be corrected shortly). And none other than Yogi Berra penned the foreword. The book features original work from the likes of Richard Ben Cramer, Tony Kornheiser, Tom Boswell, Leigh Montville, Pete Hamill, Charles Pierce, John Schulian, William Nack, Steve Rushin and Alan Schwarz.

Marilyn Johnson, Tyler Kepner, Neil DeMause, Ted Berg and I have essays on the new Stadium. Todd’s wife, Marsha, collaborated with me on the final piece in the book, a bittersweet memory of her view from the season-ticket seats in the new place that Todd didn’t live to see. It is the perfect ending. The book is introduced by Todd’s wonderful Stadium memory.

I lost a battle with the publisher in an effort to get all of the Stadium Memories that appeared on-line into the book. I was left to make some painful choices (and the writers whose work didn’t make the final cut were gracious and professional when they didn’t need to be and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that).  Of the essays that first appeared here on the Banter, close to two-thirds have been revised–condensed, mostly to make room for as many as possible–and I think vastly improved.

I’m exceedingly proud of the book. The entire Banter staff had a hand in putting it together and making it as strong as possible. I think this collection stands out for its depth and diversity. There are pieces from Yankee fans and Yankee-haters, New York beat writers and columnists, novelists and actors, New Yorkers and out-of-towners, transplants and visitors. The essays are, at turns, touching and sentimental, vulgar and hilarious, thoughtful and and irreverent, almost always intelligent—a true reflection of Bronx Banter.

I think Todd would dig it and I hope that you do too.

[Photo Credit: Baseball-Fever.com, N.Y. Daily News]

Grace Under Pressure

candle

One year ago today, Todd Drew wrote his final post for Bronx Banter (and for all I know it was the last thing he ever wrote, period). The next day he went into the hospital. He never made it out. We miss him terribly at the Banter though his spirit lives on. I’m sure he’d relish all the Hot Stove activity, all the kibbitzing, all the passion.

So here’s raising a toast in his honor. Spill a little on the ground, and enjoy a moment of silence to remember out dear friend.

Here is his final post, which is grace under pressure if I’ve ever seen it:

SHADOW GAMES: Baseball and Me

By Todd Drew

I went to a baseball game after my father’s funeral. I also went to one after finding out about my mother’s brain cancer.

It was selfish and heartless. I felt guilty before and embarrassed after, but for nine innings I felt only the game. That’s the way it’s always been between baseball and me.

It was my friend when I didn’t have any others. And it has always been there to talk or listen or simply to watch.

Baseball helps me forget and it makes me remember. That’s why it was exactly what I needed on the worst days of my life.

But there were no games when a doctor told me that I had cancer. The neighborhood was out of baseball on that cold November day. No one was playing at Franz Sigel Park or John Mullaly Park. And there wasn’t even a game of catch in Joyce Kilmer Park. The last game at the old Yankee Stadium was long gone and Opening Day at the new Yankee Stadium was long off.

So I went home and wished for one of those summer days when I was a kid and my mother would send me to the ballpark with a paper sack stuffed with her famous tuna-fish sandwiches. That was back when you could slip through a delivery gate with the beer kegs and watch batting practice. And it was always okay to come home late with a beat-up scorecard and popcorn stuck between your teeth.

The doctor told me that tomorrow’s surgery and chemotherapy treatment might keep me in the hospital for 10 days.

“At least it’s December,” I said. “There aren’t any ballgames to miss.”

And I will be ready to slip through a delivery gate with the beer kegs when the new Yankee Stadium opens. I’ll watch batting practice with one of my mother’s famous tuna-fish sandwiches and come home late with a beat-up scorecard and popcorn stuck between my teeth.

Cancer can’t change the way it will always be between baseball and me.

Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory #63

By Mark Lamster

In the summer after my junior year at college I got a job working in the records department of HIP, the health insurance agency. In a basement office with no windows, I’d review double-entry ledgers for typographical errors, a tedious process I considered beneath my dignity. It was depressing work, my colleagues were unfriendly, and the most humiliating part of it was that I was just short of incompetent. I didn’t care, and it showed. Then I came home to a message from the New York Yankees. I was going to The Show.

As a budding sports journalist, I’d written to Yankees Magazine, offering my services as an intern. A spot had opened, and the next week I reported for duty at the Stadium, over-eager in khakis and a blazer. The office was in the dingy stadium basement: frayed carpet, no windows. My primary task was to proofread box scores and stat tables for the team’s minor league affiliates—these went in the back of the magazine. Not much of an improvement from HIP, and the climate was no better. The secretary spent her days endlessly defending the integrity of Milli Vanilli, recently revealed to be a fraud, while playing their hit record on a boombox.

This was 1990, and things were bleak for the Yanks. Bucky Dent had been cashiered in favor of Stump Merrill, but the team was still heading for 67 losses and a seventh-place finish. The magazine’s basement office, out of sight and out of mind, was actually a blessing. No one wanted to be upstairs, on the executive level. The Boss’s comings were unpredictable, and the staff lived in a perpetual state of fear for his arrival. It was said that he’d fire employees on a whim, and for no reason other than appearing in his siteline. The place was terrorized—joyless, somber, tense. I’d never experienced anything like it. In my entire time working there, I met one player, Luis Polonia, which tells you everything you need to know about those Yankees. The highlight of my tenure was an elevator ride with Bobby Murcer. He wore white pants and a green plaid jacket—a joyfully loud ensemble—and it a priority to greet every employee with his Oklahoma drawl. He was the anti-Boss.

There was actually one perk to the job. It came with a Yankee ID, and with that I had free entry to as many games as I could stand. I could sit just about anywhere as well; the good seats were rarely occupied, and with a flash of the badge I was clear to do as I pleased. I rarely sat in those good seats. I preferred the bleachers out in right field, where I’d been a regular for years, along with my closest high school friends.

The play on the field was grim, but the bleachers were always a party, and the reason was Melle Mel, the founding genius behind Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. These were the days before “Roll Call,” before the “Bleacher Creatures” became a self-professed institution. Mel was the unquestioned leader of the gang, and was usually accompanied by Busy Bee, a lesser light of the hip-hop stage. The two knew how to get a crowd working; the bleachers were just another club. They usually arrived in about the third inning, rarely sober, often stoned. (I don’t think I’m telling tales out of school here.) I remember them flying especially high one evening, and then returning home after the game to catch the last few minutes of Johnny Carson. On comes a PSA featuring Mel, “Don’t Do It.”

Mel’s signature was a dead-on impersonation of Stevie Wonder doing “I Just Called to Say I Love You,” which he’d sing waving his head to-and-fro while standing in the ass-contoured blue plastic seats that were removed about a decade ago, in favor of benches. (More fannies, more dollars.) Mel wore a ring with his name on it that stretched across his entire hand; it was a real danger during high fives. Whenever games got close in the late innings—this was known as “Toenail Time” for some inexplicable reason—he’d demand the entire bleachers stop drinking and pay full attention.

Mel gave the bleachers a bit of celebrity cache, but what really made his presence special was the sense he gave us that we were all—ghetto rappers, lunchpail types, old timers, Hispanics, even us privileged kids from Manhattan—a part of something uniquely New York, united in our devotion to the Yankees. He was a “star,” and had a magnetic charisma, but he was inclusive. One night Busy came in with copies of his new album, passed them out to the crowd, and invited everyone to his set that night at the Paladium. I wish we had gone, though I suspect we would never have made it past the velvet rope.

I spent years of my life out in those bleachers. My friends and I developed our own traditions. After the game we’d take the 4 train back to Eighty-sixth Street and, after a win, go for “victory donuts” at the shop on the corner of Lex. It wasn’t always so fun. In 1988, after Steinbrenner had picked a fight with Don Mattingly over his haircut, I found myself on the back page of Newsday, sitting below a group of regulars holding up letters that spelled “TRADE GEORGE.” We despised him, and though I’m no longer the despising kind, I can’t say I’ve forgotten or forgiven his many trespasses and disgraces. Eventually, of course, Steinbrenner did himself in, and for conspiring against Dave Winfield, always Mel’s favorite. And that was a new dawn for the Stadium, and the team.

By the mid nineties, my friends and I stopped visiting the bleachers with regularity. Schedules intruded, girlfriends, lives. When we did go to the ballpark, and we still went often, we opted for better seats. The bleachers changed. The “Creatures” had begun to consider themselves an attraction, justifiably. With that new fame came unpleasant questions about authenticity, who was a true regular. Mel stopped showing up.

We were still fans, still true, and we got our ultimate reward in 1996. My greatest memory of Yankee Stadium comes from that year, and it wasn’t even at the stadium. I watched the last game of the World Series that year with my future wife in her tiny studio apartment on Eighty-seventh Street and First Avenue. The joy of that game’s final moment, Charlie Hays clutching that last pop—the ultimate exaltation.

I had planned with my friends that, in the case of a win, we’d all meet up for one last victory donut. But somehow we found out that the Yanks would be holding their victory party that night at Cronies, a sports bar on Eighty-Seventh and Third, just a couple of avenues away. By the time we all met there the entire block was shut down and barricaded, fans were cheering and passing around champagne, and the players were arriving by limo—Derek, Tino, Jim Leyritz in a ten-gallon hat. For years, we had been trekking out to the Bronx to cheer on our team. Now, after the win we had all longed for, they came home to us.

Mark Lamster is author of Spalding’s World Tour and cofounder of YFSF.

Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory# 62

By Glenn Stout

It was a nothing game.

September 24, 1992. A Thursday night. The Yankees in fourth place and the Tigers in sixth, neither of them close to the Blue Jays, or, apparently, with any chance of ever getting close to the Blue Jays or anyone else atop the division for at least a few more years. A young Scott Kamienicki vs. an aging Frank Tanana, one-time hard thrower whose fastball had come and gone and left behind a pile of guts and guile.

We were down from Boston, my girlfriend and I. She’d recently moved back in with me after getting a grad degree from Columbia and living and working in Mount Vernon for a few years, and we had some business to take care of in the city.

It had already been a funny day. Taking a bus somewhere downtown I’d seen Liza Minelli poking around outside some antique bathroom fixture store. Down by City Hall I’d used of one of those high tech public bathrooms that had cost 50 cents and gave itself a shower afterwards, like something from the Jetsons. Then I saw Rudy Giuliani walking down the street.

We went to the game – a nice early fall night. Only about 12,000 people were in the Stadium, so we had pretty good seats, probably the best seats I’d ever had for a major league game anywhere at that point – the main boxes, not too high up, almost dead on a line with the left field foul line. We might have paid twelve dollars a ticket, which also would have been the most I’d ever spent on a baseball ticket at the time.

I saw Nicolas Cage. He had better seats, right behind the plate, but still 20 or 30 rows up.

There wasn’t a whole lot of care on display on the field that night. Mattingly played hard, as always, and cracked a couple of doubles, and this new kid in center field, Bernie Williams, had a good night. But almost everyone else one either team – Charlie Hayes, Rob Deer, Tartabull – was packing it in; you could tell.

Seventh inning. Yankees ahead 4-0. Tanana throwing changeups off changeups and the occasional big sloppy curve – nothing much over eighty miles an hour. The crowd was already starting to file out.

Leading off, Gerald Williams. Rookie. I remember liking Gerald more than Bernie at first. He moved like a ballplayer, while Bernie moved like an antelope still wet from birth.

Gerald Williams hadn’t done much so far – a fly out, a strikeout. But now Tanana, thirty-nine years old and in his nineteenth year of major league baseball, gave him a pitch.

Williams didn’t miss it. I’ll never forget the trajectory – almost straight down the line, a little hook to it like a golf shot, that one bright spot against the black going smaller…

And Gerald Williams watching it, and walking, slow toward first before, barely, breaking into a trot. His first major league home run.

I was watching him saunter toward first when I heard someone yelling, not just to get someone’s attention, but REALLY yelling, I mean angry “I’m gonna ruin your face” kind of mad.

It was Frank Tanana. Pissed. Chewing Williams’ ass out every step he took all around the bases for standing there and showing him up. And Williams did speed up – not much – just enough to let Tanana know he heard but at the same time not so much to let him think he had been intimidated. And Tanana kept yelling.

Baseball-Reference tells me that Pat Kelly followed with a walk and Bernie Williams, this time running like an adult antelope, tripled, knocking out Tanana, and the Yankees went on to win 10-1, but to be honest, I don’t really remember much else about the game.

But I’ve got a great excuse. You see, when I was down by City Hall earlier that day, my girlfriend and I had applied for a wedding license. We went back the next day and got married in a ceremony that took precisely 27 seconds.

Or about as long as it took Gerald Williams to run around the bases.

Glenn Stout is the series editor of the Best American Sports Writing and the author of many books, including Yankee Century.

Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory #61

By Bob Costas

(as told to Alex Belth)

To me Yankee Stadium means the original Yankee Stadium. I know the 1976-through-2008 version saw a lot of great moments and houses a lot of memories but since I’m from a generation prior to that, at least in terms of remembering baseball, my earliest memories are of the classic Yankee Stadium where Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, or for that matter, Bobby Murcer, played on exactly the same field with exactly the same dimensions as Ruth, Gehrig and DiMaggio. That’s what resonates most for me.

The first game I ever saw in person was the second to last day of the 1959 season. Saturday afternoon. It was one of those rare years in that era when the Yankees did not win the pennant. They finished third that year behind the White Sox and the Indians. I was seven-years-old. My father took me and my cousin.

My father was a huge baseball fan, very knowledgeable. His allegiances ran more towards the National League than the American. But there was that four season window, 1958-61, when the Yankees were the only team in New York. Most members of my family were either Giant fans or Dodger fans. But when I first became conscious of baseball the Yankees were the only New York team so they became my team. The Yankees televised a lot of games, even in that era. Mel Allen and Red Barber were in the booth along with the just-retired Phil Rizzuto. The games were on Channel 11 in black-and-white—I don’t think the Yankees started broadcasting in color until 1966.

Anyway, they were playing the Orioles that day. My cousin, who was older than me, was a Giants fan and loved Willie Mays just as much as I loved Mantle. Since the Giants weren’t involved he insisted on wearing an Orioles cap which infuriated me. I had a Yankee cap and we were seated in the lower left field stands. Not the bleachers but the lower left field stands, not far from the 402 sign that was just on the left field side of the bullpen.

There wasn’t that big of a crowd. My cousin and I had our gloves like kids always did and as the game moved along we moved down closer and closer because we were convinced that a home run or a ground rule double would soon land right in that area. And we weren’t just disappointed we were amazed that none did. The Yankees lost the game 7-2. I remember Johnny Blanchard hitting a home run. Mantle did not play which was an enormous letdown.

We didn’t keep score that day but we bought souvenirs. And I’ll be the one millionth person to testify to this but the thing you were struck by was the colors. Because your orientation to baseball, even if you were a very aware seven-year-old kid, was radio, black and white television and black-and-white pictures in the newspaper. And now you walk in and you’re struck by not just the color but how arresting the colors are. The orange of the warning track, how emerald green the grass was, how pure white the batter’s box and chalk lines and the bases were before the game started, the copper color of the façade. It was such an overwhelming place, the scale of it was enormous, and it was breathtaking, especially for a little kid.

Not to diminish the new Yankee Stadium, because many players and fans feel strongly about it and it had great features like Monument Park, but it wasn’t the old place. Not quite as awe-inspiring. The third baseball game I ever did on network Television was in 1980. I was 28-years-old. The Yankees were playing the Tigers on the last Saturday of the regular season. The Tigers were bad then, but they had beaten the Yankees the night before and that kept the Yankees’ clinching number at one. There were a bunch of other games—one involved the Dodgers and the other was the Phillies and Expos. These were supposed to be the featured games on NBC and the Yankee game was a back-up game in case of rain. And it did rain in Montreal and the game was delayed something like four hours. Eventually, the Phillies won that night, I think Schmidt hit a home run to clinch the division. So this combination of circumstances, a rain-out, the Yankees stalled at one, and suddenly this game went out to the whole country.

And I’m sure nobody outside of St. Louis had any idea who I was. I’m doing the game with Bobby Valentine. The Yankees win the game. Reggie hits a home run into the upper deck, his 41st and it ties Ben Ogilvie for the league lead. Gossage comes in and saves the game and they clinch the division. A memorable first time in the Yankee Stadium booth.

Subsequently, when I became part of the Game of Week team with Tony Kubek, we did many games at the Stadium. One happened to be Old Timers’ Day and Mickey Mantle came into the booth for a few innings. I tried to be as professional as I could, that is when I wasn’t pinching myself. Later, I did a number of playoff and World Series’ games there. But even with the pennant and World Series on the line I never heard the Stadium any louder than it was for Mickey Mantle Day in 1969. Mantle had retired prior to the ‘69 season and this was the final send-off day. They retired his uniform. The place was full which was remarkable because the capacity was huge back then and they didn’t sell out often. DiMaggio and Whitey Ford were part of the ceremony. Mickey’s remarks were simple, humble but in their own way eloquent and moving and there was a sustained 8-10 minute ovation. I don’t remember ever hearing a more appreciative reaction at a ballgame.

Bob Costas is the host of NBC’s Football Night in America and HBO’s Costas Now.

Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory #60

By Joe Posnanski

OK, look, I don’t really have a lasting Yankee Stadium memory. I mean, sure, I have them, but they’re no different than the 5,483,794 lasting Yankee Stadium memories that have been told the last six months or six years or six decades or however long this “Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory” series has been running.

So the only reason I’m even writing this is because Alex pretty much bullied me into it by noodging me about it three times a day, every day since before my second child was born. I just assumed he would forget about it at some point, assumed that even for him the expiration date on Yankee Stadium memories would pass, assumed that he would let me live in peace. No. This man, like Billy Martin, simply knows no peace. I am of the firm belief now that that the best way to find Osama Bin Laden is to have Alex Belth assign him a “Lasting Yankee Stadium Memories” essay.

Anyway, what kind of unique Yankee Stadium memory does Alex even think I have? Who am I, Robert Merrill? Hey, maybe my memory was the time that me and the other short-pants kids in the Bronx skipped school and slipped past the front guards at the stadium and caught the last of Larrupin’ Lou’s three homers, which just so happened to heal my sick little brother Tommy. Or maybe it was that day in ’78 when I was a kid sitting outside the stadium and Billy Martin first threatened to hit me in my fat face and then apologized (said he had confused me for “Steinbrenner or one of them”) and then invited me to sit by him and tell Reggie he was benched.

Or maybe, seven years old, and my dad takes me to Yankee Stadium. My first game. We go in through this long, dark tunnel underneath the stands. And I’m holding his hand, and we come out of the tunnel, into the light. It was huge. How green the grass was, the brown dirt, and that great green copper roof, remember? We had a black-and-white TV then, so this was the first I ever saw in color. I sat there the whole game next to my Dad. He taught me how to keep score. Mickey hit one out.

Yeah. Memories. Not my memories. But at this point does it even matter? Others have told all of my memories. Sure, I was there the night when Jeter hit the November homer and listened to the recording of Frank singing “These little town blues …” again and again and again. I was there when John Wetteland went to the mound – this had to be three or four hours after he had gotten Mark Lemke to pop out to clinch the Yankees first World Series in a generation. The stadium was almost empty, and Wetteland stepped on the mound, and he just looked around … it was like he wanted just one more look.

I was there to hear Bob Sheppard say “Yankee Way,” I was there to see DiMaggio’s two-hand wave, I was there to hear a real Bronx Cheer – and it is true that all others taste like grape juice to that fine wine. I was there to see Greg Maddux at his baffling best, there to see perhaps the second-greatest team in baseball history* destroy the Padres, there to see David Cone throw one of the guttiest games I’ve ever watched, there to see Albert Belle snap at some fans, there to catch a glimpse of Bruce Springsteen, there to see George Steinbrenner, there to see Spike Lee, there to see Rudy Giuliani, there to see Mariano Rivera close the door.

*I am writing a book about the 1975 Reds, so by law I must have the 1998 Yankees behind them, and the ’27 Yankees too, and also the ’61 Yankees.

And, yes the memory that Alex probably wanted, I stood in the rain in centerfield back in 1996, the day that Game 1 of the World Series was rained out. I stood out there where (more or less) DiMaggio stood, the Mick, Bobby, Mick the Quick, Bernie, Jerry Mumphrey. I looked around, took it all in, listened for the echoes, looked for the ghosts, all of that. There were a few policemen standing in the rain too, and I thought they were going to come get me, but they seemed to understand what I was doing.

In fact, as I trudged in I passed one of them. He said: “Getting your Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory for Belth, right?” New York police officers are wise.

 

Joe Posnanski is the author of The Soul of Baseball, columnist for the Kansas City Star, and superstar blogger for SI.com.

Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory #59

By Charlie Sheen

(as told to Alex Belth)

I was born in New York but I’ve lived out here in L.A. since I was three. But I’ve always rooted for the Yankees. I also rooted for the Reds because my dad was a big Reds fan. Reggie was one of my childhood heroes and the reason I learned to hit left-handed. He took the world center stage in the Bronx. I was 12, 13 the perfect age. I remember the Reds sweeping the Yankees in ’76 when I was with my dad in the Philippines on Apocalypse.

But the first time I actually went to Yankee Stadium was in 1991. My dad was shooting in Pittsburgh and I flew in the nigh before he wrapped. He was a doing a movie-of-the-week or a mini-series. We decided to do a baseball pilgrimage. We went to game at the old Three Rivers that night. I think we saw both Bonds and Van Slyke go yard. After the game we got on the elevator to leave and Joe Morgan walks on. I happened to be wearing a Reds hat. And I had met him briefly at some point back in the day. He shook my hand and gave me a hug and I introduced him to my dad who was so impressed that I knew Joe Morgan.

The following morning we got out on the road and we took a road trip to Cooperstown to the Baseball Hall of Fame. We visited the Mecca. The next morning we drove to New York and went to a game that night at the Stadium. It was a trip because if I’m not mistaken they were playing Texas. Fifty-five has always been a recurring number for me and the first guy up was Brian Downing and he was wearing 55. You’d have to look it up if it was Downing but it was 55. I just remember thinking, “Wow, of course my first game and the first hitter would have to wear 55.”

We had a great time at that game. Pretty sure Mattingly hit a three-run bomb in the eighth to put it out of reach. When one of the security guys comes to us afterwards and says, “You guys want to see Monument Park?” Everybody’s gone and we got a private tour. Then we’re walking back across the field and I say to my dad, “Hey, let’s go to the dugout. Let’s see what this looks like from the players’ perspective.” So we’re sitting in the dugout and I look under the bench and there’s a ball wedged-up under one of the seat supports. So I pull it out and based on the tint of the ball—it had red clay on the stitches, it didn’t say ‘practice’ on it—I’m convinced that it was a used in a game. It was a foul ball that shot into the dugout and stayed there.

We kept it. I had to leave New York the following morning. I was digging through my stuff at the hotel room and I couldn’t find the ball. I’m like, Great, dad kept it. Okay, it was his first game, he’s entitled. So I’m on the plane the next day and about halfway through the flight I’m going through my carry-on and there’s the ball in a little plastic bag. It said, “Hey Charlie, Thanks for taking me out to the ballgame.” There was such a cool, full-circle feeling about that trip. Then of course, finding the ball on the plane. I still have it of course.

The other memory is a little bizarre. Went to a game in ‘96, mid-season before they started making their move. Took a buddy of mine, David O’Neill. He’s a director and a writer and an old friend of mine. We were in a box but he had never been there so he said, “I’m going to go see what this place is like, I’m going to go walk around.”

Comes back with a foul ball that he has caught off the bat of Paul O’Neill. What are the odds? And, another example of him being about the fifth person I took to their first game that got a foul ball. I’ve been to what, a thousand games in my life. Never even touched one.

I bought out the left field bleachers in Anaheim in the mid-‘90s in a game against Detroit. I bought 2,600 seats in the left field pavilion and I sat out there with three friends. I was going to force the hand of the baseball Gods and that didn’t even work. Nothing. Four balls hit the wall that night. And the next night, I watched on television as like maybe four or five landed not just in the section but pretty much in my seat of the day before. It was one of those reminders that you can’t force the organic flow of the American Pastime.

Charlie Sheen is the star of the CBS comedy Two and a Half Men.

Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory #58

By Pat Jordan

I was 12 the first time I visited Yankee Stadium in 1953. I had been invited to appear on Mel Allen’s pre-game TV show because, as a Little League pitcher in Connecticut, I had pitched four consecutive no-hitters and struck out every batter I faced except two. I arrived in a tan suit, and tie, with my glove in a paper bag. I expected the Yankees to ask me to throw a few, and then sign me to a contract. But they didn’t. Mel Allen just talked to my parents, then asked me a question. I mumbled and answer and sulked. That’s all I remember about the Stadium on my first trip.

The next time I went to the stadium was in 1959, when I was 17, and trying to get the Yankees to give me a bonus. That trip, I remember clearly. The Yankee p.r. person ushered me and my older brother down to the team’s press room which, I was amazed to discover, had wood-paneling painted white with blue pinstripes.

Mel Allen was there, again, at a table. He mistook me for Rocky Colavitao, the Cleveland Indians slugging outfielder. Why not? We were both Italian. But he didn’t remember me from six years before. Then I was led to the Yankees’ clubhouse, where all my heroes were in various states of dress. I gawked at my idol, Whitey Ford, with his freckled red skin and blue eyes, and Yogi Berra, squat and homely, and Mickey Mantle, sitting in a whirlpool. I thought Mantle was ten feet tall as a kid but when he got out of the whirlpool I, at 6’1″, towered over him.

I dressed into a Yankee uniform, then went out to show my stuff to the Yankee scouts. When I stepped out of the dugout the vastness of the Stadium loomed up all around me. It was the biggest place I’d ever been in. Now that I was no longer a boy, I wasn’t interested in such things. The scouts sat behind the home plate screen while I warmed up on a mound behind home plate. Johnny Blanchard was catching me. When I finally cut loose with my first fastball Blanchard turned towards the scouts, said something, and tried to slip a sponge into his mitt, without me noticing it. But I did. After that, each succeeding fastball exploded in his mitt and around the Stadium like a canon’s roar. I will never forget it.

After I finished throwing, I went into the general manager’s office where the g.m and my brother bargained over my bonus, while I sat there silent at a big conference table. The Yankees offered me a $36,000 bonus and I was crushed. The Braves had offered me $50,000, but I desperately wanted to pitch for the Yankees in their Stadium which I had come to see, over the years, as my rightful baseball home.

But, alas, it was not to be.

Pat Jordan, the author of A False Spring and A Nice Tuesday, is a freelance writer.

Remembering Yankee Stadium: Your Take

The Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory series will return next week as we come to the finish line. In the meantime, several readers have sent me their own lasting Stadium memories. I thought I’d share a few of them with you…

By Dina Colarossi

So here’s my Yankee Stadium memory. My apologies if this turns out a little overlong. A little bit of back story is required so that you can understand why this is my awesomest memory of the Stadium. Context is important!

I moved to Dallas in August 2003, based on my uncle’s promise that there were plenty of jobs and no winters. He was wrong on both counts. After a couple of months of being unemployed, I started bartending as a way to make some money. Like most newbies in a bar, I got stuck with the crappy weekend day shifts, serving beer to a bunch of old men in cowboy hats who weren’t so sure about this damn Yankee girl with a college degree and no babies. (I wish I were kidding about that.)

I had absolutely nothing in common with these guys (and a few ladies) who talked about nothing but guns, motorcycles, and the Cowboys. Good lord did they spend a lot of time talking about the Cowboys. Now, I hate football. I actively avoid football, and even more so the Cowboys. Hard to do in Texas. But, I did know an awful lot about this kid the Cowboys just signed who used to play baseball . It was a win-win situation. I got to babble on about Drew Henson and hype and blah, blah, blah, and the old men got the comfort in knowing that their bartender might be a Yankee, but at least she knew something about sports.

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Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory #57

By Mike Vaccaro

What I’ll always remember most are the eyes: eyes belonging to professional baseball players, who aren’t supposed to be impressed by much and are surprised by even less. Eyes filling a clubhouse containing men who had already won three consecutive World Series and 11 consecutive playoff series and were already being listed among the greatest dynasties of all time.

And yet late on the night of Nov. 1, 2001, and early in the morning of Nov. 2, those eyes were all rheumy and moist and wide with wonder. Even the Yankees couldn’t believe what they’d just seen, and done. Even the Yankees couldn’t quite fathom that, a night after Tino Martinez had rescued them with a two-out, two-run home run in the bottom of the ninth inning in Game 4, Scott Brosius had done the same exact thing, taken Byung-Hyun Kim deep and sent Yankee Stadium into the kind of frothy frenzy that you can still summon in your ears, and your memory, all these years later.

I remember it especially well because it is the only time in 20 years as a newspaperman that I’ve ever blown an edition. I was working for the Newark Star-Ledger at the time, and had written a “running” column which described how valiantly the Yankees had fought in losing and going down three games to two in the Series, and I’d done so without composing a backup “early” column in case it didn’t work out that way.

But it was clear: lightning had struck once the night before.

Couldn’t happen again.

And then it did.

I had already left the press box to stand outside the Yankees clubhouse, to avoid the rush and the crush of postgame. There was a TV monitor set up there, which was on a four-or-five second delay. Which helped add to the surreal nature of the moment, because Kim was still in the stretch position on TV when suddenly there emerged from the tunnel leading to the home dugout a roar that defied explanation. And could mean only one thing.

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Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory #56

By Luis Guzman

(as told to Alex Belth)

I grew up in Greenwich Village in the 60s on 10th and Hudson. I went to PS 41. Then when I was ten, we moved to the LES, to the Lower East Side. All my life I’ve been a Yankee fan, B. Mantle, Pepitone. I remember Horace Clarke, Kekich, Peterson, Hamilton, “the folly floater.” When I was between the ages of say 10 and 14 which would have been ’66 to 1970, I’d get together with my buddies in the Villiage, my man Wayne Teagarden, my boy Norman sometimes too, and we’d shine shoes outside of the bank of 7th avenue and Christopher Street. We’d shine shoes in the morning, make enough money, sneak on the train, get up to the Stadium, and sneak into the bleachers. We’d make $2-3 dollars which was pretty good back then. Sometimes we’d pay to get in, it depended. It was fifty, seventy-five cents. We’d fill up on hot dogs and soda and cracker jack, which was the thing at the time.

Back then, they had day games during the week. We used to go out Sunday for bat day and hat day and ball day and yadda-yadda day. It was great. I’d go to every Old Timers’ game, that was a big thing for me, and nothing was bigger than the day Mickey Mantle retired. We had seen Mickey play, he had hit a few home runs when I was there, that was big stuff man. But that day, his family was there, it was heavy.

Between 66-70 the Yankees weren’t doing too good. But we watched Mickey Mantle wind down his career, and you’d see other guys that would come in—Yaz with the Red Sox, Luis Aparicio with the Twins, Harmon Killebrew, Rod Carew.

We didn’t know at the time but the old Stadium was…it was amazing. They had those beams that would come down and we’d wonder how anybody would be able to see if they had to sit behind one of them. But we were always in the bleachers, the right field bleachers, cause we used to like looking into the bullpen to see who is warming up. Remember when the bullpen was in the tunnel? We’d be talking to the pitchers.

Back then Yankee Stadium was a real relaxed, kicked-back kind of a place. They didn’t have guys coming onto the field between innings like now, it wasn’t this high–security place. It’s when it was a ballpark. Dude, we used to wait for the third out in the top or bottom of the ninth and after the third out we’d jump over the railing and run around all over the outfield. There would be fifty, one hundred kids running around. But that’s all we’d do was run around. We were respectful about it. We’d wait for the last out, you know, bro.

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Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory 55

The Only Bond We Had

by Diane Firstman

My mom was born in the farm country of Monticello, NY in the late 1920s. My dad was born in the Boro Park section of Brooklyn around the same time. They met when my mom moved to NYC after high school to find a job as a secretary. They married in 1958.

Some time shortly thereafter, my dad began exhibiting signs of mental illness … bouts of paranoia and/or delusions. Amidst all this, I was born in 1963. It was obvious that my dad wasn’t capable of being a care-giver to the family, so my mom got a quickie divorce in 1965, and my dad returned to live with his mother in Boro Park. My mom and I stayed in our apartment in Jackson Heights, Queens.

Dad had visitation rights, once a week at my apartment for a few hours on a Saturday or Sunday. He would hop on the B train, then the F, and upon arriving at our house, plop himself down on the couch and turn on the TV, invariably to the Yankee game on Channel 11 with Rizzuto, Messer and White. My mom scolded him for this seeming lack of interaction with me. So, sometimes we’d ride the Q66 bus on Northern Boulevard out past Shea Stadium to Main Street in Flushing to do some shopping or see a movie in the (now boarded-up) RKO Keith theater.

I soon inferred that if I wanted to engage with dad, it was going to involve baseball, especially the Yankees. My dad heartily encouraged this. I took a fondness to Bobby Murcer, since he was the only “name” on those middling early 70s teams. So dad got me a t-shirt with an oversized Murcer head on a cartoon body. He knew I was good with numbers, so he got me a Strat-o-Matic game, and occasionally we sat down to play.

Our “big events” were schlepping on the train to Yankee Stadium (though, in my kid mind, we lived only 15 minutes on the 7 train from Shea … why couldn’t we go there?). In the early to mid-70s, before the Yanks made free agency their own version of “Candy Land”, you could easily walk up and grab a couple of field level seats on game day.

We went to Old Timer’s Day quite often, and regardless of the particular day/game, we always sat on the 3rd base side, seemingly always behind one of the girders (sigh). I’d be sitting there with the program dad had bought me, filling out the scorecard and attempting (in my own baseball shorthand) to keep score. Dad would be enjoying a beer or two and a dog.

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Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory #54

By Rob Neyer

My first visit to Yankee Stadium, and for that matter my first visit to the East Coast, was in 1991. I was working for Bill James then, and accompanied Bill to New York for the annual Society for American Baseball Research convention. At that time, I had seen only five major-league ballparks, and none east of Cleveland.

Of course I’d been reading about Yankee Stadium since I was a little boy. By 1991 I was utterly obsessed with baseball — this was before I developed any other serious interests — and in a sense Yankee Stadium was New York.

Just one problem: When Bill and I were in town, the Yankees weren’t. Instead we went to a Mets game at Shea. Now, I don’t mean to complain because it was baseball and it was New York and of course there’s been plenty of history at Shea Shadium. But it wasn’t where Ruth and Gehrig and DiMaggio played. So one afternoon during our stay, I hopped on the subway and headed for the Bronx, just to see what I could see.

From the outside, I couldn’t see much. If you’ve been there, you probably know that the building doesn’t look like much (and I didn’t walk around to the third-base side to see the big Louisville Slugger). But a big gate beyond the right-field corner was open to the sidewalk, and I could see the field, blindingly green in the sunlight. I wanted to see more, so I scrunched up my courage and walked in like I belonged there.

I got about two steps when a beefy security guard with a mustache and a blazer stepped right in front of me. I couldn’t see the green anymore.

“Where do you think you’re going?”

“Uh. I just wanted to, umm, see the field.”

“You can’t do that.”

So that was Yankee Stadium, and would be for nearly nine years.

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Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory #53

By Todd Drew

Memories Are Forever

The memories will not stop. Sometimes they come in the middle of the night and you have to walk. So you head down five flights to Walton Avenue. You pass the spot on East 157th Street where a bat boy once found Satchel Paige asleep in his car after driving all night from Pittsburgh.

Memories say it was 15 minutes before the first pitch when the boy shook him awake. It also says that Satchel asked for five more minutes and then threw a two-hit shutout.

Memories say things like that.

You cut over to Gerard Avenue where a Mickey Mantle home run would have landed if the Stadium’s roof hadn’t gotten in the way. That’s how the memories tell it anyway.

You walk up River Avenue behind the bleachers of the old Yankee Stadium. There will be no more games here, but you keep coming back because this is where your memories are.

You move past the millions that have huddled in the cold and the heat and the rain and sometimes the snow for tickets. The line wraps around the block and down East 161st Street near where a Josh Gibson home run once landed.

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Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory #52

By Kevin Baker

There are so many choose from, it’s hard to pick just one. There’s my first (and only) game in what was truly the old (pre-1976) Stadium, the first major-league game I ever attended, back in 1967. It was against the California Angels, and as I recall Horace Clarke hit a home run, and Joe Pepitone lost the game on an error. Par for the course for the Yankees of that year.

There were the World Series clinchers in both 1996 and 1999. The 1996 game was especially thrilling, a very close contest with the crowd roaring continuously, and the stands literally shaking. It also featured tens of thousands of Yankees fans, waiting to get in, breaking into a “F**k the Bra-a-a-ves!” version of their tomahawk chant. Afterwards, people were carrying around a coffin, marked Atlanta Braves, like something from four or five decades ago. The 1999 clincher was a little less exciting—the Yanks already had a 3-0 lead in games, and Clemens shut the Braves down for most of the game—but it does stand out for watching Mariano Rivera break Ryan Klesko’s bat three times in the ninth, reducing a team that was about to be swept in the World Series to helpless laughter.

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Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory #51

By Hart Brachen

Soxaholix strip

link to this reference The Soxaholix home

Hart Brachen blogs about the Red Sox at The Soxaholix.com.

Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory #50

By Josh Wilker

Driving Past

I.

A few months ago I saw Yankee Stadium for the last time. I was driving on the Major Deegan, headed north after a short trip back to the city where I’d lived throughout my twenties. My first impulse was to give Yankee Stadium the finger.

But then I remembered what happened the last time I gave Yankee Stadium the finger, years ago. My brother and I and another friend, call him Butch, were heading upstate for a court date. On another earlier trip of ours upstate Butch had gotten arrested for being the point man in our self-consciously absurd drunken heist scheme to steal a poster from a movie theater lobby. The poster featured an ape wearing glasses and playing chess. We were all pushing thirty by then. We had not figured anything out. Butch was apprehended by blond and tan teenagers in national movie theater chain golf shirts. They held him until the cops arrived, chewing their bubble gum.

Anyway, a few weeks later we headed back upstate on the Major Deegan and passed Yankee Stadium on the way. This was during the era when the Yankees won the World Series every single year. Every single lonely stupid meaningless drunken suffering New York year. My brother and I were Red Sox fans, and Butch was a Mets fan. We all felt conquered. We all felt like there was no place for misfits like us. We all held our middle fingers high.

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Goodnight Sweetheart

[Editor's Note: The Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory series will continue tomorrow.  But first, enjoy this special treat...]

 

By Ed Alstrom

Ed Alstrom playing the organ on the final day of Yankee Stadium behind a framed picture of Eddie Layton

Ed Alstrom playing the organ on the final day of Yankee Stadium behind a framed picture of Eddie Layton

 

There’s always something about the ‘last time’ you do something, especially when you know for sure it’s going to be the last time. Preparing for the last game at the existing Yankee Stadium was was a little easier than it might have been, because by that time we all knew it would be the last time. I was able to walk around and soak it all in with a sense of closure, and smile and say my silent farewells to this and that (jeez, it even extended to the bathroom and the elevator), without any nagging doubts that maybe we’d be back yet again.

I arrived early, as I customarily do, at noon, about an hour before the gates opened. There is always a sense of calm at that time at the Grand Dame, but especially so on this day. The place looked stunning, as it always does. The red-white-and-blue bunting always comes out for the special occasions, and the place seemed to have an extra halo around it just for the day.

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Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory #49

Humility & Hubris

By Greg W. Prince

“I still don’t know why they asked me to do this commercial.”
—Marv Throneberry for Miller Lite

 

Alex Belth, apparently dizzy from inhaling Impetuous paint fumes, asked me to contribute a “classic-hater” perspective to this marvelous series of Lasting Yankee Stadium Memories. Nevertheless, despite my assigned role as the skunk that wanders into the wake — even an Irish wake — I don’t wish to speak ill of the dead. I, like many of you, know what it’s like to have the plug pulled on my ballpark against the wishes of its survivors.

I did, in fact, experience a very happy day at Yankee Stadium, my first game of five at Yankee Stadium. It was the only one the Yankees lost.

On Memorial Day 1986, I got a call from my friend Larry who used to be a Yankees fan before withdrawing from baseball altogether; he wasn’t really much of a sports fan in the first place, but the trade of Sparky Lyle to Texas drove him away for good. Anyway, he had been talking to another friend of ours, Adam, a genuine Yankees fan. There was nothing going on for either of them that day and they thought it might be fun to drive up to the Bronx from where we all lived on Long Island and see a game. They wanted to know if I wanted to go.

What a strange idea, I thought. I’d always held to a principled stand of never setting foot inside Yankee Stadium or anywhere the Yankees were playing. I refused to go on a day camp field trip in 1975 to Shea Stadium because it was for a Yankees game. At twelve years old, I was highly principled.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver