Lucas inspires with 'Seeing Home' book tour
Blind New York scribe has covered baseball for more than half a century
Mickey Mantle was one of the most idolized figures in baseball history.
However, his favorite hero was someone who couldn't even see the game.
On Old-Timers' Day 1978, at his father's urging, 9-year-old Chris Lucas went up to Mantle to say how much he admired the Yankees slugger. The Hall of Famer asked how that was possible for a kid who wasn't even born when Mantle was homering his way into baseball's history books.
"It's because my daddy told me all about you," Chris Lucas told Mantle, quickly adding that his father was Ed Lucas.
"The Mick," a baseball immortal, stopped in his tracks, leaned down to the young boy's level and said: "Kid, I hear people telling me that I'm their hero every single day. I want to tell you something. Your dad is my hero. You are very, very lucky."
Thirty-seven years later, that point was driven home again Wednesday, by a complete stranger, during Chris and Ed Lucas' visit to Cooperstown, where they presented the new book they've co-authored, "Seeing Home," at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.
"A man from Boston University who works with disabled people made a special trip just to meet my father," Chris said. "I've really been blown away by the response. Last month, when we were in Mississippi, a man drove through the night all the way from Texas to meet dad in person."
Ed's legend, already well-established in New York baseball circles, has grown by leaps and bounds since "Seeing Home" came out this spring. It is one the first books produced by Derek Jeter's new firm, Jeter Publishing, a division of Simon & Schuster.
With each appearance, Ed reminds people that nothing is impossible. At 12, already suffering from severe vision problems, his world went dark on Oct. 3, 1951, when he was struck in the face by a ball while recreating New York Giant Bobby Thomson's famed "Shot Heard 'Round the World" with playmates on a New Jersey sandlot.
Yankees Hall of Famer Phil Rizzuto, a fellow New Jersey resident, took a special interest in Ed.
"[Rizzuto would] pick me up from school [Lucas attended schools for the blind in Jersey City and The Bronx] and take me out to dinner," said Lucas, 76, of Union, N.J. "Phil told me stories about how Babe Ruth was picked on because of his weight and funny looking nose. Joe DiMaggio was discriminated against because he was considered [an] Italian foreigner. Jackie Robinson, Larry Doby and Elston Howard faced strong opposition as they broke several color barriers in baseball. I understood Phil's message. If they didn't quit, I had no right to, either."
On April 6, Lucas covered his 60th consecutive Yankees home opener. From 1962-2012, he also went to every Mets opener, a streak that was snapped two years ago, when the Mets and Yanks both began the season at home on the same day.
From Maris to Matsui and Munson to McCann, Lucas has not only witnessed, but has been a large part of Yankee Stadium history for parts of seven decades. On March 10, 2006, he and his wife, Allison, were the first and only couple ever married at Yankee Stadium's home plate, an event made possible by the late Yankees owner George Steinbrenner.
At first, his life seemed over, as he plunged into a deep depression. But slowly, the game that had seemingly robbed him of sight also gave him a new outlook on life.
Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson was the Yankees' media relations director in the 1980s. On Wednesday, he was one of the first people to greet Ed and Chris before their book presentation at the Hall's Bullpen Theater.
"Ed is a great example of perseverance and dedication," Idelson said. "He has never let his vision impairment stop him from doing what he loves, which is covering baseball and doing so with humor and class."
Funny stories are a Lucas trademark.
Ed compensates for his lack of sight with an acute sensing of hearing. He amazes friends at ballgames by telling if hits are popups, long flies or grounders just by the sound of the bat. One time, during a pregame batting practice, Lucas demonstrated the skill to his good friend, the late Bobby Bonds, who was then a Cleveland Indians coach.
Duly impressed, Bonds finally turned to Ed and said, "OK, let's see how good you really are. Is the next batter black, white or Hispanic?"
In addition to Cooperstown, N.Y., the "Seeing Home" book tour has taken Ed and Chris to Mississippi, where Ed tossed out the first pitch before a game between Ole Miss and Texas A&M.
"I heard the ball hit the glove, so I knew I reached the plate," Ed said.
Afterward, he renewed ties with 1960s Yankee catcher and former Ole Miss coach Jake Gibbs.
After a trip to the 2015 All-Star Game in Cincinnati, the Lucas father and son team are headed to Montclair State University in Little Falls, N.J., on July 27 for an appearance at the Yogi Berra Museum.
People have been rolling out the red carpet for them wherever they go. Their recent trip to the Deep South included stops at Helen Keller's birthplace in Alabama and Elvis Presley's home, Graceland, in Memphis, Tenn., where officials at both places let Ed visit rooms and hold objects normally off limits to guests, including "The King of Rock 'n Roll's" guitar.
Thirty years ago, on Aug. 4, 1985, Ed was the keynote speaker for Phil Rizzuto Day ceremonies at Yankee Stadium, when "The Scooter" was knocked over by a real "Holy Cow" near home plate. Today, wherever Ed goes, he reminds people about Rizzuto's influence on his life.
"Phil always encouraged me," Ed said. "He would tell me, 'Don't listen to the naysayers. You have an education. You know the game. You can do it.' That's what I tell other people: 'If I can do it, you can too.' Nobody should feel they can't do something."
Chris said his father's true impact is particularly evident at non-baseball settings, such as talks before civic and church groups.
"People from all walks of life are picking up on the message," said Chris. "I heard one lady say, 'I don't even like baseball, but I love your book.' "
It took Ed and Chris just 12 weeks to complete the 259-page manuscript after signing their contract with Simon & Schuster.
"Dad told me the stories, and I took notes," Chris said. "I've been writing it in my head for 40 years, so it didn't take that long to put down on paper. I wanted a book that people feel compelled to read, one they pick up at 10 p.m. expecting to read a few pages, but finding at 2 a.m. they couldn't put it down. From people we've talked to, I think that's what we've done."
Last year, Ed was nominated for the Buck O'Neil Lifetime Achievement Award, a Hall of Fame honor bestowed every three years to someone who "enhances baseball's positive image, broadens the game's appeal, and whose integrity and dignity are comparable to the namesake of the award."
O'Neil was the first recipient (2008), followed by longtime baseball executive Roland Hemond ('11) and former big league catcher and popular broadcaster Joe Garagiola in '14.
Aside from being an inspirational role model, Ed uses his lack of sight as a platform to help others with disabilities. He organized and chaired the former Phil Rizzuto Celebrity Golf Tournament, which raised more than $1 million for charity, and for several years a huge likeness of Lucas was put on the large Yankee Stadium video board to promote "Strikeouts for Scholarship" that raised money for the Ed Lucas Scholarship Fund.
Ed and former Yankees skipper and general manager Gene Michael still organize a large golf tourney each August to benefit the fund, which gives scholarships to disabled students attending Seton Hall University, Ed's alma mater.
"So many things have happened to me in my life that I feel it's my duty to give back, to comfort others and to help them realize their dreams," Lucas said. "I encourage you to do the same. We are all on a journey home; it's how you treat others along the path that makes the difference."