Tagged: Mickey Mantle

The pinstriped bonds that bind

joba_karter_225_061909.jpgBy Jon Lane
This was first published during Father’s Day weekend two years ago. Two months later my son was born and it’s since had a deeper meaning. Happy Father’s Day to all who have been blessed to enjoy it.


“I’ve tried all the major religions … and most of the minor ones … and the only church that truly feeds the soul —

day in and day out — is the Church of Baseball.”
— Annie Savoy, “Bull Durham”

You frequently read and hear about the impact of our national pastime and how it makes a difference in people’s lives. Some

look at NFL Sundays as their religious day. Once a week they vent a week’s worth of professional frustration by screaming and

yelling at a television set or blending in with 70,000 people doing the same thing. Others prefer the daily laid-back routine

of baseball, which I think has a stronger awareness of its history.

Such history is passed on by generations, from father to child.

Whether it’s the tangible ballpark atmosphere, or how a game is suddenly and dramatically altered with one swing, many credit

baseball for welding a relationship created at childbirth, and tethered by each game of catch and every family outing

consuming nine innings lasting between two and four hours: That of Dad and his kid.

Baseball fed the soul of Susan Sarandon’s character in “Bull Durham,” and it’s fostered the unique bond of many fathers with

their daughters and sons, including my own.

My dad’s mission statement was to teach me to do what’s right and if I wanted something, I had to earn it. But that didn’t

mean I wasn’t allowed to be a kid, and part of being a kid were those games of catch and the times when I’d rejoice after

each Yankees victory, or complain after every defeat.

Believe it or not, as much as the Yankees win now, there were once plenty of defeats. Growing up in the late 1980s and early

’90s, the Yankees’ record declined each season until bottoming out at 67-95 in 1990. Yet my dad and I persevered through all

the taunts, and were rewarded when, together, we watched a handful of historic events as the team made its way back on top:

Jim Abbott’s no-hitter (1993), Dwight Gooden’s no-no (1996) and David Wells’ perfect game (1998).

Many consider it taboo to mention the words “no-hitter” or “perfect game” while potential history is unfolding, but

television announcers say it so fans can stay tuned and spread the word so more can watch. My father was helping my cousin

tend a garden on May 17, 1998, when I informed them what Wells was doing. Dad dropped everything and came in. My cousin, a

Mets fan, stayed loyal to his tomatoes.

It actually wasn’t until I had reached my adolescent years when he finally took me to the holiest of baseball holies —

Yankee Stadium. We’d attend about once a year, and it was always for Old Timer’s Day, a chance to continue my baseball

education, and prove how much smarter I was each passing season.

There have been many father-son combinations in in Major League history, some even at the same positions. Here’s a list of several prominent duos.
1B Cecil Fielder Prince Fielder
2B Sandy Alomar Roberto Alomar
SS Dick Schofield Dick Schofield
3B Buddy Bell David Bell
LF Bobby Bonds Barry Bonds
CF Ken Griffey, Sr. Ken Griffey, Jr.
RF Felipe Alou Moises Alou
C Randy Hundley Todd Hundley
P Mel Stottlemyre Todd Stottlemyre
P Floyd Bannister Brian Bannister
P Clyde Wright Jaret Wright
Mgr George Sisler Dick Sisler
Umpire Harry Wendelstedt Hunter Wendelstedt
Umpire Ed Runge Paul Runge

Once I became a regular at the Stadium, a pregame tradition was born: “The Walk,” which took us past the line of souvenir

shops and sports bars that hugged River Ave., Babe Ruth Plaza and the central meeting place known as “The Bat Pole.” During

that time, both my legs and baseball acumen received rigorous workouts.

My dad admitted playing the occasional game of hooky as a kid, forgoing a boring day of math and Spanish — especially

Spanish — to watch his favorite, Mickey Mantle, hit home runs, some launched hard enough to land in the old Polo Grounds on

the other side of the Harlem River. One of our more memorable walks was on Aug. 12, 1995, the day before Mantle died. My

father, knowing Mantle was taking his final cuts, shared his favorite stories, most known by any casual fan, but extra

poignant hearing it from someone who saw him in person.

Old Timer’s Day for us was when dad and son were joined by mother and either younger brother, random family member or good

friend. We’d do “The Walk” and enter the Stadium in time to watch Yankees legends prove they can still whack a baseball

during batting practice. That would segue into the highlight of the day, something more meaningful that seeing Reggie Jackson

go yard or Ron Guidry’s slider still take the twists and turns of a Wet ‘N Wild Attraction.

Our favorite part of Old Timer’s Day was listening to Frank Messer (and these days Michael Kay) introduce the greats of the

distant and recent past. Neither of us are marketing geniuses, so we titled it “The Guess Who Game.” As the emcee began to

read off a player’s career highlights, the first one to guess the correct player prior to his introduction would earn a

point. For example, “On Sept. 1, 1963, he became only the ninth player to homer from each side of the plate in a single game

… ladies and gentlemen please welcome back, Tooommmmm Tresh!”

Guys like Tresh and obscure names (to me) like Stan Bahnsen, were introduced first, which would give my dad an early lead.

But then details like “slick, pesky outfielder who played those games at Shea Stadium” would click and I would say “Elliott

Maddox,” Once Mickey Rivers walked on the field, I’d start my comeback, as more stars from the teams of the 1970s and ’80s

were introduced.

By the time the ceremonies concluded with Reggie, Don Mattingly, Phil Rizzuto, Whitey Ford — and many years ago, Mantle and

Joe DiMaggio — we’d be about even. There were never any bets to be cashed in, for it was never over money or a hot lunch,

but about enjoying a common experience.

A few years after one of our early excursions, I arranged for tickets to a Yankees-Mets game at Shea Stadium. Dad and I

walked to the gate when I unveiled a Father’s Day surprise: “Dad, the seats are on me.” They were box seats. It could have

been the Bob Uecker special, but it didn’t matter. My dad’s reaction said it all: “Thanks, kid.”

No, Dad, thank you.

Happy Father’s Day.

How pictures tell the story

By Jon Lane
The good people at Sports Illustrated passed along this release about a new book that presents a pictorial look back at some of the great moments in sports.

Walter Iooss, Neil Leifer, and Heinz Kluetmeier have been on the front lines of sports events for decades. The new book from Sports Illustrated, SLIDE SHOW, features their photographs, in their original slide form, complete with behind the moment notes and anecdotes that guided the pictures from the field to the pages of the magazine. They have never before been seen in this format.

mickcover.jpgThese are three cover shots taken of Yankees legend Mickey Mantle. The one in the center is personally significant. It was the issue that covered Mantle’s death, which hit my father hard. My dad’s favorite player – past, present and future – is the Mick. A copy of this issue is framed and part of his personal museum.

maris.jpgLeifer’s photo of Roger Maris was taken in 1960, one year before he became an unwilling cult hero with his chasing and breaking of Babe Ruth’s all-time home run record. Of course, having Mantle bat behind you meant Maris saw his collection of juicy pitches. If not for an abscessed hip, Mantle and Maris may have both shattered Ruth’s revered mark.

There are other cool images in the book, many subtle but poignant, including the American flag’s position at the 1980 Winter Olympics Hockey semifinals moments before the U.S. Team’s victory over the Soviet Union.

SLIDE SHOW is available to purchase. You can check it out

Report: Bob Sheppard retiring

sheppard_320_040109.jpgBy Jon Lane
The new Yankee Stadium will never sound like the venerable original building. In fact, Yankees games period will never sound the same again.

The New York Times‘ Jack Curry is reporting that Bob Sheppard has decided to retire as the Yankees’ public address announcer, a position he held proudly and executed with dignity since 1951

A bronchial infection forced Sheppard to miss all of last season, including Yankee Stadium’s final game on September 21, and was to keep him home for the new Stadium’s Opener on April 16.

Former Yankees and New York Jets broadcaster Paul Olden will work the Yankees’ exhibition games against the Cubs Friday and Saturday.

“I think Bob just wants to take it easy and no longer have the pressure of, ‘Can he? Will he? Or won’t he?'” Paul Doherty, a friend of Sheppard, told Curry in an e-mail message. “And, at 98, who can blame him?”

I’ll be back later with some memories of Sheppard, often imitated but never duplicated, and a look back at his first game on April 17, 1951.


Where do I begin talking about Bob Sheppard? Well, Peter Abraham reports the Yankees said news of Sheppard’s retirement is news to them and not official, but it’s a safe bet that barring one of the Yankees’ dramatic and theatrical surprise appearances in the mold of Billy Martin and Roger Clemens, you won’t be hearing Sheppard’s voice in the new park. Thus, time to share a few anecdotes on who is forever a Yankees legend.

I could start with April 17, 1951, when he entered the limelight as the voice of Yankee Stadium, but I’ll wait. Instead, I start at Sheppard’s days as a speech professor at St. John’s University. My father-in-law worked at Suffolk County Federal Bank in Babylon, N.Y. The bank offered speech courses to better serve its customers. On the side, Sheppard taught those courses with my father-in-law as one of his students. Well before Sheppard became a Yankees institution, he was a man of class who once said that being a Professor of Speech is far more important than his work as an announcer.

That lineup on 4/17/51, Opening Day against the Red Sox, included future Hall of Famers Phil Rizzuto, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio and Yogi Berra. The Yankees defeated who years later would become their bitter rivals, 5-0, on the only day when DiMaggio and Mantle shared an Opening Day outfield.

I first met Sheppard in the Yankees dugout before Game 1 of the 1997 Division Series. I knew who he was (who didn’t?) but it was the first time I was able to place a face to Yankee Stadium’s booming, dignified and impeccable “Voice of God.” He greeted me as “young fella” and although he wasn’t as open to the media at that time — he politely declined an interview request about the playoff experience at Yankee Stadium — we spent about 10-15 minutes talking about the Yankees and their history. It was the first day he met me, yet were were talking like old chaps at the watering hole after a day’s work.

In subsequent years I ran into Sheppard either in the Stadium cafeteria – he’d be making a cup of Joe before heading up to his office — or more likely waiting for the elevator. On days I wasn’t on a tight deadline, I’d head for the clubhouse with less than two outs in the ninth inning and the game in hand to avoid the mass exodus from reporters and fans alike. Sheppard would be there too, except he’d be ready to bolt straight for the parking lot, into his car and on the highway back to Baldwin, N.Y. (the south shore of Long Island). Every hello was the same: with a warm, wide smile, quick thoughts on the game and pleasantries until next time.

Earlier I wrote Sheppard was one often imitated but never duplicated, which is one of fame’s highest honors. Still, a couple tried. One was Reggie Jackson, who after a game was making small talk with reporters until breaking into his best routine.

Another was Derek Jeter. The captain’s was not as good as Reggie’s but holds Sheppard in high enough regard that he had his ntroduction recorded on tape before his at-bats. For all of last season, every time Jeter walked to the batter’s box, you’d hear Sheppard’s voice ring, “Now batting for the Yankees, Number 2, De-rek Je-ter.”

It’ll be interesting to hear some of the Yankees’ takes on Sheppard’s retirement. Jeter, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, Alex Rodriguez and others all had their name called by Sheppard, like so many of the game’s greats, as well as those just passing through. Alas, with all due respect to Paul Olden or whomever is chosen to sit in Sheppard’s chair, Posada said it best in an interview last March.

“Yankee Stadium is Bob Sheppard.”

There will never be another.