Old-Timers Day a day of humor, recollection, respect
NEW YORK -- Even nostalgia isn't what it used to be, old-timers say. And on this Old-Timers Day, it may have been true. Too many of the Yankees' foremost icons were missing on Sunday afternoon, and they have been missing for years -- even decades. But Yogi and Whitey still attend, and they make mandatory the attendance of anyone who spent summer afternoons across the street in the 1950s.
Louie Arroyo comes, too, but sadly, he now moves as though he's the one who needs relief. But the Mick and Joe D. now are residents of Monument Park only. Scooter and McDougald are gone, as are Reynolds and Raschi, Catfish and Clete. Even the widows of Lou and the Babe, so warmly received at Old-Timers Day celebrations in the 1950s and 1960s, are gone. Now, Moose and Turley are gone, and Thurman never had the chance to hobble to the first-base line to take his bow.
And on this Old-Timers Day, the 67th, neither Tino nor Torre was in the House that George financed, no Sparky or Puff. Donnie was at a ballgame elsewhere, and Reggie, who was there, excused himself from playing in the five-inning preliminary game.
But like the championship teams that Casey, Houk, Billy and Torre managed in the Bronx, the Yankees had depth, a level that allows them to put on a come-as-you-were extravaganza that no franchise -- not even the Giants, Cardinals, Red Sox, Dodgers, Orioles or Reds -- can match.
It was a sweet program, worth every bead of sweat produced as the Bombers and the Clippers played make-believe in uniforms that were, for the most part, snugger than they would care to admit. Willie Randolph said nothing about the cramped quarters of Jesse Barfield's uniform top, but noted instead, "He's still got the tight pants."
"That's because he saw [Lee] Mazzilli's pants," someone suggested.
Randolph, back in his No. 30 -- 12 never looked right on him -- noted that Barfield still had the best arm in the place. He and Barfield threw some BP.
Another Yankees second baseman, Jerry Coleman, came back as well. Coleman was No. 42 long before Mo threw his first cutter, and he spoke with pride about his time with Stengel, Mick, Whitey and Yogi. And he recalled being escorted to the clubhouse the day before the first game of the 1998 World Series, against the Padres.
Then the Padres' play-by-play man, Coleman walked toward the locker that had been assigned to Catfish and Mattingly before Tino Martinez moved in. He slowed, moved to his right and spoke with great reverence. "This is where DiMaggio's locker was." Then he went silent for a few moments.
"What a pleasure and honor it was for me to play on the same team," Coleman said. "You know, I was from San Francisco. I saw Joe play at Seals Stadium. He never made a mistake on or off the field."
Coleman was alarmed and astonished when told that DiMaggio had been charged with four errors in a doubleheader in 1941. It happened in Fenway, two weeks into his 56-game hitting streak.
"That can't be," he said. "I didn't see it. But those were errors. He never threw to the wrong base and always knew how many outs there were. ... Those were the kinds of mistakes I'm talking about. ... Four errors, I can't believe it."
Coleman's introduction on Sunday came fairly late in the program. The Yankees were recognizing players who had served the country, and he had been a Marine aviator in World War II and during the Korean conflict. His service is not as recognized as that of Ted Williams, but then again, Coleman never batted .406.
As Coleman spoke on Sunday, Joe Pepitone, a Yankee of a different time and disposition, walked toward the batting cage. He, too, is a link to the Mantle and Ford days. It is another claim to fame for the man who famously brought a hair dryer into a big league clubhouse.
Pepitone spoke with Berra and Ford inside the Old-Timers Day clubhouse, and though he said, "Now it's my time to make fun of them," his respect for Yankees of that generation is unmistakable.
"How great they were as players. I saw Mickey at the end, mostly. He had so much talent, and he still was so strong."
Pepitone, 72, lost everything in Hurricane Sandy -- cars, the home in Queens he was renting, his memorabilia and all his clothing save for the sweatpants and T-shirt he was wearing. He didn't lose a hair dryer, though.
"No, what I lost were three hair pieces," he said. "We had 4 1/2 feet of water. They floated past me. I thought three guys had drowned."
Gene Michael, who had more jobs with the Yankees than Pepitone had wigs, attended, too, of course. He managed both teams in the undercard game, as he has done in recent years.
"There's no way I can be the loser that way," Stick said.
He had Reggie in the original lineup, but Mr. October checked the calendar and decided against taking swings.
Stick looked at the vacancy on the card -- No. 4 -- and wondered aloud: "Should I put myself in that spot?" he said. But he decided against it. "I've reached the stage when it doesn't matter if I take batting practice or not. ... Actually, I reached that stage when I was playing."
Self-deprecating humor often is part of an Old-Timers Day. Ron Blomberg, the first designated hitter ever and a DH at heart -- he debuted the position 40 years ago -- was assigned to play left field.
He adjusted his cap. "It's the worst sun field, isn't it?" Blomberg said.
That was the old place in October, midafternoon. That's where Yogi concluded, "It gets late early here."
Blomberg hadn't known the circumstances that prompted that Yogi-ism.
"OK," he said. "Hey, don't go messing up my excuse when I muff one."
Mazzilli, who once played third base in one of these abridged games, was back in center field on Sunday, with Blomberg on his right flank. Maz acknowledged that he might have to share every hit to left-center.
And finally there was Pat Kelly, whose time with the Yankees touched the Torre years. A marginal player, Kelly understood why he had been invited to the ceremonies. He acknowledged his pedestrian career, but noted that, at age 45, he still can move around.
"I can play," Kelly said.
Moreover, there were rewards for attendance. Kelly grabbed the top set from a stack of new batting gloves.
"I'll get Mariano to sign one," he said. "And it's a Christmas present for someone."
And so Old-Timers Day went. Hot on the field, warm in the hearts of the men who reassembled to be recalled and respected, and to respect one another again. Most touching was Rickey Henderson, who spent more than a few moments with an older gentleman supported by a cane.
Now, Henderson was renowned for not remembering the names of teammates, opponents and, especially, general managers, but he instantly recalled the older man who had worked the door at the Yankees' clubhouse in the old Stadium during his 4 1/2 seasons with the team. Almost everyone else was uncertain, but Rickey knew.
"It's Charlie," he said.
"You know, Charlie. He's an Old-Timer now. Charlie 'On the Door.'"