June 23, 2013, was the date of the 67th Old-Timers Day for the New York Yankees franchise. This incredible franchise has been the best at winning of any sport in history. They have participated in a record 40 World Series’, while winning a record 27 World Championships. The Yankees are the only team that holds an annual Old-Timers Day. Fans look forward to this event and show up three hours early to enjoy seeing their heroes from the past. The record books will reveal that the first Yankees’ Old-Timers Day game was officially played on September 28, 1947, but unofficially you could point to July 4, 1939, as the very first Old-Timers Day game. On that day the entire 1927 Yankees’ World Championship team returned to Yankee Stadium to be with a dying Lou Gehrig as he said his farewell speech to the Yankee fans.
The recorded voice of the late Bob Sheppard started the festivities with his, “Good Morning Ladies and Gentlemen and welcome to Old-Timers Day.” John Sterling and Michael Kay handled the MC duties. Nearly 50 former Yankees players returned this year. The New York Yankees embrace all former Yankees regardless of how long they played in the pinstripes. The record for players returning for this event is 72, which happened in 2008. Historically, there are 48 Hall-of-Fame players connected to the Yankees in one way or another. Five of them attended this year. Those legendary names are as follows: “Mr. October” Reggie Jackson, Ricky Henderson, Rich “Goose” Gossage, “Whitey” Ford, and “Yogi” Berra. Jerry Coleman is also in the Hall of Fame, but as an announcer not a player. Because of their age and status among the greats, Ford, Berra, Coleman, and Don Larsen were treated to a limo ride, golf-cart style. The ovation rained down on these stars like a hurricane. There are several boys of summer from decades ago that also need to be recognized. Dr. Bobby Brown, Don Larsen (who pitched the first perfect World Series game on October 8, 1956), Stump Merrill, Gene “Stick” Michaels, Mel Stottlemyre, Bobby Richardson (the 1960 World Series MVP), Luis Arroyo, Joe Pepitone, and Ron “Louisiana Lightening” Guidry were also present.
The second tier of players on hand may be more familiar to you. “Sweet Lou” Piniella, “Burn Baby Burn” Bernie Williams, David Cone, Roy White, Al Downing, Lee Mazzilli, Mick “The Quick” Rivers, Steve “Bye Bye” Balboni, Ron Blomberg (the very first designated hitter), Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez, Homer Bush, “Bucky” Dent, Charlie Hayes, Willie Randolph, David “Boomer” Wells, and “The Warrior” Paul O’Neal all took their turn at-bat or in the field. Interesting, Derek Jeter is old enough to have played with 15 of these former players. Current Yankee skipper, Joe Girardi, was also on hand to enjoy the fun. Bernie Williams and David Wells were kidded by the others as they have never formally retired from the game.
Former Yankee, Todd Greene, was also present. Greene had the honor of catching the first pitch by President George W. Bush during the first game at Yankee Stadium after the tragic event of 911. Bush wore caviler from his neck to his ankles. He also warmed up by throwing in the hallway near the dressing room. The story goes that Derek Jeter walked by and saw Bush throwing and said to the President, “Don’t bounce it, they’ll boo you.”
Many of the players were asked questions about this event and the stories of yesteryear flew like crazy throughout the locker room. Ron Guidry said, “You still feel the goose bumps. You can’t help but be reminded of the ones who wore this uniform before you.” Gossage said, “It’s a great reunion.” John Flannery was asked if he struggled with the name, Old-Timer. “No not really,” he said. “My three goals are to not get booed, don’t pull anything, and hopefully get a hit.” “You have to play like you’re hungry,” said Homer Bush. “These pinstripes have become synonymous with greatness and championships,” said Reggie Jackson. When Bernie Williams was asked about how he felt in the batting cage? His response was, “Not good. Hopefully I will run into one.” Orlando Hernandez was asked if he practiced any before the event. He answered, “Yeah, I played a lot of golf.”
Yankees who were missing were many. Don Mattingly, Aaron Boone, Scott Brosius, Joe Torre, Dooley Womack, and Wade Boggs are a few of those players. Several wives of passed Yankee greats were also invited. Some of those introduced were Diana “Thurman” Munson, Kay “Bobby” Murcer, and Helen “Catfish” Hunter. The scoreboard honored the fallen Yankees from the past year. The names of Lee McPhail, Virgil trucks and Bob Turley were shown
The teams were divided into the Bombers and the Clippers. Paul O’Neil, David Cone, and John Flannery were miked-up for the game. They had to remind many of the old timers that they could be heard as their language is still very salty. The National Anthem was a recorded version by Robert Merrill. As the game started, there were lots verbal shots from one player to the other. No one ran very fast and catches in the outfield were few and far between. Several good plays were made in the infield. Paul O’Neil almost hit one out off David Cone as his ball hit the right field wall about halfway up, driving in a run for the Clippers. John Flannery drove in Steve Balboni and then Ricky Henderson did what he does best. He hit the first pitch he saw on a line to centerfield, scoring Flannery and giving the Bombers a 2-1 lead and the win. I watched the old become young again as smiles and chatter were traded like candy between players and fans. David Wells told Lou Piniella he was getting a fastball, but threw him a curve. Lou still hit it for a single. In fact, at one time there were two left fielders and no one knew why. It was all such great fun. I can’t wait until next year.
I would love to see the Dodgers, Cardinals, Braves, Red Sox, Pirates, and the Reds hold annual Old-Timers Day celebrations. Those franchises are old enough and well-enough established to field terrific teams of former players. Even the Tigers, Giants, and White Sox have been around long enough to field great teams. Leave it to the New York Yankees to take the lead. The day of legends belonged to every one.
Andy Purvis is a local author.His books, "In the Company of Greatness" and "Remebered Greatness" are on the shelves of the local Barnes and Noble,at Beamers Sports Grill, 5922 S. Staples,and online at sites like Amazon, bn.com,booksamillion, Google Books,etc. Also available in e-reader format. Contact him at www.purvisbooks.com, and or at email@example.com.