Yankee Old-Timers Festivities


This was a very interesting trip for my wife, Nancy, and me. It all started about three years ago when I kept reading in the “Yankee Newsletter” about various players being invited to the annual old-timers game and festivities. The Yankees are the only team that still have “Old-timer Games”. I wondered why I had never been invited since I had a very good record pitching for the Yankees from midseason in 1968 through the 1973 season. So I wrote them a letter expressing my desire for an invite. They immediately wrote me back and said it had been an oversight and that I would receive an invitation either that summer (2006) or the next for sure. Well, I waited until February this year and still no invitation. So I wrote another letter, carefully laying out all of my stats with the Yankees and enclosed a copy of the letter they had sent to me three years earlier. Lo and behold a month later I had received my invitation!! I’m kind of glad they waited because this one was special, being the inaugural year of the new stadium.

I was privileged last year when my daughter, Susie, and I were invited to the 50th Anniversary of the Giants moving from New York to San Francisco, California, and that was super nice, but this year the Yankees topped that by quite a lot. Among those attending this year were Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra, Reggie Jackson, Don Larsen, Bobby Brown, Ken Griffey, Sr., Ron Guidry, Gene Michael, Graig Nettles, Bobby Richardson, Bill “Moose” Skowron, Bob Turley, Rich “Goose” Gossage, Don Zimmer, Mel Stottlemyre and many others – about 50 in total. Nine of these players were my teammates with the Yankees and others I had played against. Nancy and I were joined in New York by my oldest son, Dale, grandson, Blake, Nancy’s brother, Guy and his wife Judy, and our good friends from Memphis, Phil and Sandy Ford. Phil is a tremendous Yankee fan with a very large memorabilia collection.

Nancy and I arrived at the New York Sheraton (which is only a few blocks from Times Square) at about 2:30 p.m. after a non-stop flight from Dallas/FW to LaGuardia. Dr. Bobby Brown and wife Sarah sat directly behind us on the plane. Arriving at the hotel, after an exciting cab ride, we went up to the 44th Floor to check in and get a large packet of information and tickets for all of the events to come. They also gave me a bunch of breakfast vouchers for eating at the hotel. Without these vouchers, breakfast would have cost $35.00 each. We had a little more than two hours to unpack and rest before going out to eat. Our was a very nice, with king size bed, and a good view. These rooms normally rent for $450 per day, but the Yankee’s paid for our expenses. Actually the entire “Old-timers” was sponsored by Zales. Outside the hotel were many autograph seekers, and sometimes they would get inside the lobby, although the security worked hard to keep them away. Nancy and I were hungry (they don’t feed you on the plane) and wanted to eat a bit to tide us over until we ate at about 7:30. We called Phil and Sandy’s room and they were about to go out themselves. So the four of us went to “Applebee’s” which was about 2 blocks away. When we sat down I told the waiter that we wanted “Texas” prices, and he just laughed. Phil picked up the tab.

At 6:00 we met the Browns in the lobby and walked over to Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse which was only a block away. This was reserved for players and one guest. Many of the players and wives (or guests) were already there, so we were able to socialize some before dinner was served. There I introduced Nancy to a number of players and wives including Bobby Richardson and wife, Betsy, Roy White, Ron Bloomburg, Horace Clarke, Louis Arroyo, Mickey Rivers, etc. They made us feel very welcome. We went downstairs to eat at 7:30. At our table were the Browns and the Richardsons and none of whom were drinkers of alcohol. The food was fabulous with a three inch thick steak and special cooked veggies. I have never had better steak. Nancy chose to eat salmon. Later I introduced Nancy to Kay Murcer who was attending with her sister Cindy. My friend, Bobby Murcer, had died last year from cancer. Bobby was my presenter when I was inducted into the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame in 2002. We headed back to the hotel at about 9:30. Some went on to the “club” on the 44th floor, but we chose to turn in for the night. We knew that there will be a lot “tall tales” and drinking.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

At 8:00 a.m. the next morning we caught the bus for Staten. This trip was reserved for the players and three additional guests. Our guests were Phil and Sandy Ford. The trip took about 40 minutes and was a beautiful drive along the water front and through a tunnel. The city of Staten was a very clean, quaint little town located on an island. The baseball park was beautiful seating about 7,000, overlooking the bay, the New York skyline and Statue of Liberty. The city of Staten sponsors this event every year. Here we received a full Yankee Uniform (ours to keep) including shoes, belt, pants, stockings and a check for coming. Everyone was fed a continental breakfast. After suiting up, we signed a whole lot of autographs for the fans who were very friendly and polite. I told them that they were as polite as the St. Louis Cardinal fans! I am not sure how well that went over with this Yankee crowd. Ha,ha. Many had brought my baseball cards and books containing my photos. I would ask the autograph seekers if they knew which was the oldest sport. I told them it was baseball, of course, for “in the big inning God created the heavens and the earth.”

Each player was introduced to the crowd and we played a local team made up of city officials and members of the press. I left Nancy in charge of the cameras, but she got a bit excited on certain plays and forgot that the camcorder was running. She got so involved with what was going on that she missed recording my introduction both here and later in Yankee stadium. It’s really tough to get good help now-a-days!! Ha, Ha. She kept zooming in on me instead of getting more of the overall view, and you know how hard it is to keep the camera steady on close-ups. Oops, I hope she doesn’t read this. She might say, “Next time buster, get your own camera man!!” She also forgot that the camera picked up sound! I just love it!! It was priceless!

As to the ballgame, we played 5 innings. Don Zimmer, Mel Stottlemyre and Gene Michael got their heads together and came up with a line-up, selected pitchers for the game, etc. At least we had a few young arms and legs among us and so we older guys weren’t under quite as much pressure. Some of the older players didn’t play at all, but they rooted the team on, or coached on the baselines. And of course the fans were glad to see one and all, even if they didn’t play, and they got big ovations when they were introduced.

You might be surprised as to the logistics and details involved in bringing in old-timers from all over the country and actually playing in a game. It is a bit overwhelming to think of the transportation, lodging, meals, scheduling for the various events, security, tickets, etc. For example, we discovered that there were no towels in the clubhouse and no bats in the dugout. So we borrowed bats from the other team. Many players did not bring their own gloves and so my glove got used over and over. Does that qualify this glove for the Hall of Fame? Those in charge quickly came up with towels, bats and even lineup cards. We had real in full gear umpires for the game.

Once the game started, it became very comical but surely entertaining to the crowd. You could see flashes of the old talent (the stance, the swing, the pitching delivery, the yelling at the umpire, etc.), but the body had a hard time responding to what the brain was telling it to do. “The mind is willing but the body is weak” type of thing. The yelling at the umpire was a put on show for the fans! Here are some of the funny things that happened: Two of our guys fell down as they rounded third base trying for home. One batter lost his shoe after he made contact with the ball and immediately fell across home plate as he tried to run to first. One batter hit the ball in the gap between center and right field with the ball rolling all the way to the wall, and he just barely made it to first. The first baseman fell down as he stretched to catch a ball from the third baseman and he had to crawl to first base beating the runner. One batter hit the ball to the infield but was so slow that the infielders played catch for a while before throwing to first for the out. A lot of very high fly balls ended up as hits because of the slow outfielders. One batter hit the ball to the infield and immediately walked to the dugout although the infielder threw the ball over the first baseman. Everyone urged him to run, but he decided that it wasn’t worth it! There was also a strange double play where the second baseman fell down upon receiving the ball from the shortstop and while laying flat on his back reached back and tagged second. The rule, “Get one for sure!” No double play this time, although I think they forgot to check on the runner going to first!

I was scheduled to start the fourth inning. Gene Michael helped warm me up and could barely lift his arm. I warmed up in front of the dugout. Some of the younger players still had good live arms, and were throwing the ball well, so I was a little nervous about walking to the mound. The game was Yankees 1 and locals 0. I haven’t pitched off a mound in years, but had been playing catch for about 2 months. I walked over and told the ump to be very liberal with the strike zone and no bunting allowed. Taking one look at me, he naturally agreed! He said, “Why certainly!” Home plate looked a long way off. So I just wound up and threw hoping somehow the ball would find the strike zone. At this point the adrenaline took over and the competitive urge kicked in so I was throwing much harder than normal. Fortunately my ball had some movement to it and I was throwing strikes. I struck out the first hitter and the second batter hit a weak pop-up and to my surprise I somehow caught it for the second out. The announcer then told the audience that I held a record for 225 consecutive errorless games in the National League and that I hadn’t lost my touch! Yeah, and I could sell you the Brooklyn Bridge! The next hitter got a base hit followed by another hit ball booted by the second baseman, and I was looking toward the bench for help. I thought to myself, “Oh, no, they are going to tie this game and we’ll be here all day!” A young player took my place and the batter hit a long fly to centerfield which Mickey Rivers misjudged and finally caught falling flat on his back with his feet going straight up in the air! That had to be the highlight of the game! We were all breathlessly rooting for him to catch the ball, for we certainly didn’t want a tied game that might go on forever. We won the game 1 to 0. It was a very quick five innings. All the players seemed a bit amazed that I could still throw the ball as well as I did. As for me, I was just glad to get out of there without getting hurt or being overly embarrassed. The announcer did a great job and dramatized every play as if it were the World Series! The people sure got their money’s worth. We signed a lot of baseballs and bats in the clubhouse later to be auctioned off with all of the profits being given to charity. This park is the home of the “Staten Island Yankees” a single “A” team affiliated with the Yankees, and the people here love their baseball. After we showered, everyone was fed at the ballpark in a special suite. We got back to the hotel at 3:30, much earlier than expected. This gave us a little time to rest.

The buses for the Yacht Cruise left at 6:00. Nancy and I were joined by Dale, Blake, Guy, Judy, Phil & Sandy. We all had special passes worn around our necks. The Yacht had three decks and we could go wherever we wanted. Food and drinks were served on every level. This was also a good time to get some autographs. Dale had two baseballs, Nancy and I had two baseballs, Guy and Judy had one baseball, and Phil brought several. I think that Dale and Blake got the best autographs as I introduced them to Whitey Ford and Yogi Berra and a number of others very famous players. It is a hard thing to ask for autographs, for we know that some of these players are pestered all the time. Of the two Nancy and I personally had signed, we gave to my daughters, Susie and Kathi who were not able to come to these events. I personally do not mind signing autographs, but it was obvious that some do not like this aspect of baseball. You can imagine being so famous that it is impossible to go out in the public without being mobbed by the crowd. I never had that problem except sometimes in New York. On the boat, they had live music and most of it was the good old-fashioned kind, but toward the end of the evening, it got pretty lively with a lot of dancing going on. It was still light enough to see well and we sat at the dock for a while before the boat left. We went up and down the east river and had great views of the skyline of New York and also of the New Jersey shore-line. We circled the Statue of Liberty several times and as the sun went down the lights on the shore grew brighter. Just before we docked, there was a raffle based upon our ticket number and I won a one year supply of vitamin water consisting of 12 cases of the stuff, so I should really be full of energy in dealing with the grandchildren! Nancy’s brother won a large box of special cigars. We returned to the dock at 11:00 p.m. We got back to the hotel very tired but happy.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The next morning we had a devotional at 8:15 in Phil and Sandy’s room attended by my entire group. I talked a little bit about what is really important in life and the joy of being a Christian. Phil said a few words, read some scripture, and led us in prayer. Afterward I caught the players bus for Yankee Stadium at 9:00 and the family bus left the hotel at 10:00. I sat in the back of the bus where things became very raunchy going from bad to worse. Some men always remain boys and never grow up. Then I remembered why I never sat in the back of the bus while I was an active player. What I say here is not to taint every ballplayer with a broad brush. Some are very nice and moral.

At Yankee Stadium there was very tight security and we all had to wear a special identification tag. It didn’t matter if we were Babe Ruth, we couldn’t get in without that tag. We were taken to a special clubhouse somewhere in the deep recesses of the stadium where we found full uniforms, including stockings, belts, pants, and jerseys with our old Yankee numbers. All of this we were able to keep. After we got suited up, we were taken to a “large black wall” where we all signed our names with white ink. We were the first ones to sign, and I used my Sunday best signature just about eye level. That wall is to be signed by every living Yankee. While going to the wall, we passed by the huge modern Yankee Clubhouse and was it super nice. Nothing like that when I was a player. But in the old Yankee clubhouse we played hockey with wadded up tape for a puck. I bet that is not allowed in the new one. I wonder if the modern players ever see each other until they take the field.

After the Old-timers dressed (our clubhouse was so small we had to dress in shifts) we were escorted to the dugout and field where we had batting practice, signed autographs, were interviewed by the press, etc. Can you believe, the dugout was air-conditioned!! At the right time, we came out of the dugout in proper order and were introduced to the crowd individually. The announcer did a great job and our picture and stats were shown on the giant electronic scoreboard. We ended up standing along the 1st and 3rd base foul lines for the singing of the national anthem. The widows, Kay Murcer and Diane Munson threw out the first pitches. Then we actually played a three inning game before the fans. We had to play against ourselves, so it was hard to get enough players on the field at the same time. We had to push some of them out of the dugout. But we all pitched in and did what we could. My arm was too sore to throw, so I coached third base. The game ended up 5 to 3, and I am not sure who was playing who. I think it was the “Bombers” against the “Yankees.” It really didn’t matter. It was void of most of the comedy that characterized the game in Staten. The game ended with no one getting hurt, so being finished with our civic duty, we were all very relieved. After our game ended, the New York Yankees played the Detroit Tigers. The families were all taken to “The Luxury Suite” just beyond the right field flag pole. It would seat over 300 people with food and drinks supplied and a perfect view of the game. It was also air-conditioned, thank you very much! I wonder what these seats go for? They could see the whole field and our guests waited there until the players had showered and were escorted up. This was a good time for the old-timers and guests to relax and visit. We stayed at the park until about 5:00 p.m. when the bus took us back to the Hotel. All buses and cars of players are in a secured area behind metal gates and doors with no access to fans allowed. This is the modern way players come and go from the ballpark. A lot of changes since I was a player. We had more access to the fans.

Before we left the ballpark the players were given a Yankee duffle bag with lots of stuff – “T” shirts, caps, etc. As a surprise, we were all given a large golden Yankee ring, and a good size check for coming. The Yankees certainly go first class in their treatment of the old-timers. They are the only club in baseball that keeps the old-timers game and tradition. Since New York is the media capital of the world, we got lots of press, special interviews and write-ups.

Unfortunately after breakfast, Sandy Ford got sick and had to be taken to the hospital. She was not released until about 4:30, so she and Phil missed the whole Yankee Stadium event. It was just one of those unforeseen things. She is doing well now. As to the new Yankee Stadium, it was super nice. We had a wonderful view from our suite. The huge electronic screens are fabulous. Even the dugout was air-conditioned!! The new stadium seats about 48,000 compared to 66,000 in old Yankee Stadium and the seats are very costly. Phil had gone to the last game in the old Yankee Stadium and the first game in the new park. So at least he had seen the stadium. Phil and Sandy had gone to the Yankee game on Friday evening, but they had to play $95.00 per seat for all of the cheaper seats were gone. Baseball has to do something so that the average fan is not priced out. There was much discussion among the old-timers about this. Many of the old-timers live on a small baseball pension, and recently those pensions have been cut 22.3% while the Major League Baseball Pension Fund is worth more than 2 Billion Dollars! This has not gotten much press, but I along with others, intend to make it into a real issue. One old-timer I talked to was receiving only $300.00 per month. Many of the modern players receive salaries worth many millions and will receive pensions worth millions more. What about the old-timers who are just getting by?

On Monday, Nancy and I checked out of our room, ate breakfast with Dale and Blake, and caught a cab for the airport at 8:00. After we arrived at the airport, we found out that the flight had been cancelled. We were rerouted to Boston where we had a 7 hour delay for our flight. As we waited at the airport in Boston, I wore my Yankee cap, which was a rather brave (or stupid) thing to do. But the food was good and we killed time by reading or talking to people. After a quick three hour flight, we arrived in Dallas/FW airport at 9:00 p.m. I had called from Boston and instructed my grandson, Andrew, to meet us at the airport in Dallas at 9:15. We got our bag and walked out to the street at exactly 9:15 and Andrew was just pulling up with the pickup. We got home at about 11:30, very tired but carrying with us lots of memories. There were a lot more things I could write about, but this is sufficient.

Highlights

The highlights for me was seeing my old teammates again and seeing the enjoyment experienced by Nancy and my guests. The game in Yankee Stadium was the first major league game seen by Nancy. The Yankees won the game and went on a 4 or 5 game winning streak. Actually I enjoyed the whole thing, and especially getting to pitch in the game on Staten Island and doing well. Rich “Goose” Gossage, who was a relief pitcher inducted last year into the Baseball Hall of Fame, came up to me and expressed his appreciation for people like me being the real pioneers of relief pitching and making it possible for others to have success. He said that I did not get the credit that I deserved. That was a very nice thing for him to say. Hoyt Wilhelm, Elroy Face and myself were some of the first ones to specialize in relief pitching, and now a good bull pen is an absolute necessity in winning.

--Lindy McDaniel -- July 26, 2009





P.S. Photos in beginning is of Nancy and me on the Yacht & signing autographs.

5 comments:

Ferrell Jenkins said...
on

Thanks for the report, Lindy.

Tim Archer said...
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Lindy,

My great-granddad was A.C. Huff; that makes us cousins of some sort, I think. I was quite a fan of yours as a kid and was thrilled to meet your dad once at a Huff family reunion.

I'm in charge of the Spanish ministries of Herald of Truth, out of Abilene. I was pleased to find your website and your blog.

Grace and peace,
Tim Archer

Elaine Chaney said...
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I just read a current Christian Chronicle article about you and boy did it bring back memories. One of the highlights of the summer in San Francisco in the 1960's was when the Cardinal's were in town. We always looked forward to having our favorite Cardinal in town to worship with us. First at 17th Street in San Francisco and then in the new building on Brotherhood Way (Lake Merced. The team of Roy Osborne and Lindy McDaniel was always a good summertime memory.

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