Ed. Note: During the current stoppage in baseball, Yankees Magazine is periodically putting some of its archival material online for the first time. This story first appeared in the June 2009 edition. Get more articles like this delivered to your doorstep by purchasing a subscription to Yankees Magazine at yankees.com/publications.
The D train screeches to a halt, and he gazes up knowingly. The sound awakens him from his baseball banter of the previous 20 minutes. He begins a slow walk toward the sunlight peeking through the station’s opening. His frail legs don’t move as swiftly as they did in his prime, but his pace quickens with each step up the stairs, his craggy hands grasping the banister securely as he leans to his right for balance. He looks around with a smile of satisfaction. 161st Street and River Avenue. Yankee Stadium.
He is in his element. He is at ease. Freddy “Sez” Schuman is home.
For the past 22 seasons, Freddy has patrolled the concourses and aisles of Yankee Stadium with his frying pan, spoon and double-sided posters. His attendance at games and the sound of his pan clanking have developed into Yankee Stadium traditions.
“When I was a kid, I heard the sound in the background on the TV,” said Jay Bourgeois, a Yankees fan from Newton, Massachusetts. “You always hear this metal sound. Eventually, I got to a game. I saw the guy walking around with a skillet, and I realized that’s the sound.”
When Freddy walks out of his apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, he is immediately swarmed by fans. He is more recognizable in New York City than some of the actual Yankees ballplayers.
“When I get on the elevator, some of the people will scream ‘Hey, we’ve got a celebrity on the elevator,’” Freddy said. “I eat up the adulation that I get from the fans. I love what they do, and it makes me feel good. If not for the fans, especially the children, I wouldn’t be Freddy ‘Sez.’”
Freddy was born in Newark, New Jersey, on May 23, 1925, to an Austrian-born father and New Jersey-born mother. The family moved to the Bronx when Freddy was young, and they first lived on Clinton Avenue in the East Tremont section of the borough. Freddy’s father worked as a shop chairman of a ladies’ suit and cloak business.
Freddy’s family, which included his two sisters and his brother, vacationed in Long Branch, New Jersey, when he was young and then switched to the Catskills during his late teen years. In the town of Accord, New York, Freddy learned to dance the polka and had some of the best times of his young life.
At 9 years old, Freddy was playing stickball on East 178th Street when his life changed.
With his best friend up at-bat, Freddy moved to the on-deck circle. As his friend swung and released the stick, it went flying right at Freddy -- poking out his right eye.
Some people might be unable to overcome such a traumatic experience, but today Freddy is able to recognize the positives of the incident.
“In spite of the fact that an accident happened, I didn’t have to go to World War II because I was classified as 4-F,” Freddy said. “Some of my friends and fellow students didn’t come back. I have to be thankful in a sense that I was spared the horrors of war.”
Though he did not fight in the war, Freddy made sure to assist the nation. He served as an air-raid warden and also went from house to house collecting ladies’ nylon stockings for parachutes and the fat from butter for munitions.
Freddy graduated from Theodore Roosevelt High School on East Fordham Road, which is located across from Fordham University. He wasn’t the best student, but chemistry was his forte. Following graduation, Freddy’s lifelong search for a prosperous vocation began.
Freddy returned to the Catskills and found work as a waiter and salad man at a local restaurant that specialized in Jewish cuisine. Through the years, he dabbled in freelance photography, worked as an electroplater for a jewelry company, and worked at a bowling alley.
“I was trained at Brunswick [Bowling] to be a pinsetter mechanic at Boston Road Lanes in the Bronx,” Freddy said. “The job was good. I did it for a year, and I was doing very well. At the time, I made $125 a week, which was good money. The only problem was that the place burnt down. If the place [hadn’t] burnt down, I would have been set.”
Motivated by Napoleon Hill’s book The Law Of Success, Freddy decided he would attempt to open his own businesses. All of his pursuits were unsuccessful, but with each attempt came a unique story and a renewed outlook on life.
“I was willing to try, but I didn’t have enough background,” Freddy said. “I was trying to follow what the book was teaching me. It said, ‘Go ahead, don’t be afraid.’ So, I wasn’t afraid. That book was an incentive, and it opened up my mind.”
Freddy opened a homemade chocolate store called The Candy Tray in the Bronx. He bought the chocolate from a company in Brooklyn and made special wrappers.
“It cost me $5,000 to buy the business, and it was a beautiful store,” Freddy said. “It was nice in the neighborhood, but the neighborhood wasn’t really ready for homemade chocolates.”
So, he moved on to the world of bicycles.
“When the candy business failed, I went into the bicycle business. For the name of the bicycle store, I took the ‘c’ off of ‘candy,’ and that made Andy, and I took the ‘t’ off of ‘tray,’ and that made Ray. So, the store was Andy Ray Bicycle. I used to rent bicycles, but I didn’t know how to repair bicycles. Everything went wrong.”
Then Freddy tried his luck in the trucking business. He bought a trucking company, but struggled to collect payments. The major positive that came from his two years in trucking was that he met Suzie Zakoian on the job.
Freddy and Zakoian, an accountant at Weill Cornell Medical College, have been together for 34 years. She favors ballet to baseball and has only been to one baseball game. She can’t stand the noise of Freddy’s pan, but she was a major force in the birth of Freddy “Sez.”
Freddy’s last business effort was as a landlord in a nine-unit apartment building. Zakoian helped provide Freddy with the money needed to buy the building, but once again, Freddy’s enterprising mission failed. His tenants didn’t pay their bills, and then the building’s pipes burst.
Time and time again, Freddy Schuman’s business ventures didn’t quite pan out. Yet, he maintained a positive outlook through it all.
“I’m never discouraged,” Freddy said. “I blame myself that I didn’t have enough knowledge, except for the bowling alley. It’s very important to have a sense of humor. No matter how tough life can be, you can smile.”
Finally in 1988, Freddy became Freddy “Sez.” At last, he found a gig that worked; an activity that has brought smiles to millions of Yankees fans, including himself.
“I am a jack-of-all-trades, and I’m a master of nothing,” Freddy said. “The only thing that I can say that I am really successful in is what I do right now. I mean what kind of brains do you have to have to hit a frying pan? I qualify.”
He sure does.
Freddy’s signs, which are made on white poster board and designed using markers and paint, take more than an hour to create. Each sign is one-of-a-kind and available for purchase. The pan, on which Freddy draws a green four-leaf clover for good luck and uniqueness, is standard kitchenware minus the handle. The clover must be redone frequently because of all the banging it endures. All of Freddy’s artistry is conducted on a cluttered desk in his apartment.
The use of posters is commonplace among fervent fans seeking television airtime, but the clanging of a pan?
“When we were children at East 178th Street, Mama gave us pots and pans to go into the hallways,” Freddy said. “It was a great time for kids, and that’s where I got the idea from -- that New Year’s style.”
Freddy’s signs and pans have become such an ingrained part of Yankees tradition that they have made their way to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.
“He’s a part of Yankees history,” said “Bald” Vinny Milano, a Bleacher Creature mainstay. “The Yankees have such a storied history, and the fans are just as much a part of that as any of the players. Freddy has been here since I was a kid. He’s always been a fixture at Yankee Stadium. There are not many sports fans that get to be famous.”
Famous is an understatement. Freddy is a legend in his high-rise apartment building. Walking through the streets of Manhattan, Freddy is stopped constantly. He brings his newsletter -- which he has produced seven times a year for the past 14 years -- with him on walks to lunch because fans hound him. The enthusiasm only increases as he boards the D train to Yankee Stadium.
From the time he arrives at Yankee Stadium to the moment he leaves, no more than a few seconds pass without fans asking for a photo or smacking his pan. Fans yell his name as they pass on the concourses.
A few years back, Freddy even made a guest appearance at a fan’s bar mitzvah.
“There was a guy who wanted me to come to his son’s bar mitzvah, and he said, ‘I’ll give you $350, and I’ll pick you up in New York City to come to the bar mitzvah in New Jersey,’” Freddy said. “I had a great night, a really good time. I went from table to table and let the people hit my frying pan. After it was all over, the limousine came by and took me home. And, I got paid!”
The opportunities that Freddy has been granted would make most Yankees fans jealous. Not only is he a special guest of the Yankees during home games, he also went to the World Series parades in 1996, 1998 and 1999. In 2000, Freddy was in the hospital during the parade, but -- thanks to former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani -- he was still a part of the action.
“Mayor Giuliani took the trophy and brought it to the hospital,” Freddy said. “They had the whole thing at City Hall, and the mayor mentioned about my being ill. It was amazing. Even though he’s a Republican and I’m a Democrat, I gave him my vote. I love the man.”
Giuliani’s kindness to Freddy didn’t end there.
“He flew me out to Arizona for the World Series in 2001,” Freddy said. “I got a call from the mayor’s office saying that the mayor wanted me at the airport to go to Arizona. Well, you don’t turn the mayor down.”
Freddy is still waiting on parade No. 4. Regardless, he maintains his typical positive attitude. A baseball team’s losses are nothing compared to the difficulties he has experienced during his life. His signs and pan banging -- even during slumps -- exemplifies Freddy’s unique ability to remain positive.
“Whatever is happening, I definitely make a positive sign,” Freddy said. “If the Yankees are doing bad, I’m not going to tear into them. Win or lose, the Yankees are my team. If you’re a Yankees fan, then you have faith in your team.”
And in life.