The scene today was Fairfield, New Jersey, the Crowne Plaza Hotel on Route 46 East. I arrived with my pre-1974 Yankee Stadium seat to add some autographs and to promote Right Off the Bat. The Crowne Plaza was hosting a Hot Stove League weekend extravaganza to celebrate 35 years from the time that the New York Yankees won their first World Series since 1962. (In Yankeesland, fifteen years between championships is an eternity.) The ’77 Series was punctuated by Reggie Jackson’s three straight home runs against the Los Angeles Dodgers on consecutive at-bats, on consecutive pitches.
(Cricket fans, listen up. Reggie comes to bat and hits a home run. He circles the bases and sits down to bedlam at Yankee Stadium. His next turn at bat, he sees one pitch and hits a rocket into the right-field stands. He circles the bases. The Stadium goes even crazier. He sits on the bench. At his final turn at bat, Reggie’s bespectacled eyes open like saucers at the sight of the very first pitch. He hits a titanic home-run into what was is known as “the black” at the old Yankee Stadium, too distant for anyone to sit; only a handful of home runs have ever gone this distance. The fans ignite [mixed metaphor?] an earthquake. Reggie circles the bases straight into Cooperstown. The Reggie Feat is probably unprecedented anywhere on the professional level.)
Yet, I have no interest in 1977. I need to collect autographs on my old, wooden seat and to plug the book.
As I walk into the crowded hotel, ten feet away from me is Darryl Strawberry. He began his career long after 1977, was seemingly a New York Met for life (till he wasn’t), but, for various reasons discussed in our book, was with the Yankees in 1996: the first championship for the franchise since 1978—another eternity in Yankeeland. Who else did I get close and personal to and with? Al Kaline (National Baseball Hall of Fame as a member of the Detroit Tigers), Whitey Ford (needless to say, Hall of Fame), Jim Leyritz, John Wettland, Hector Lopez, Rocky Colavito, Ralph Terry, Bob Turley, and Ken Griffey Sr. Billy Dee Williams was giving autographs for reasons unknown.
But I was mainly there to shake hands with Luis Arroyo, the prototype for Mariano Rivera; Jim Bouton, the iconoclast; and the pride of Polish-Americans, Tony Kubek, .297 rookie season, all-around hero who took a bad hop to the throat in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series (cricket fans: maybe the greatest series ever, with the Pittsburgh Pirates upending the Casey Stengel-led Bronx Bombers, ending Stengel’s incredible Yankees’s career, on their last swing of the bat by Bill Mazeroski off the aforementeioned Ralph Terry), and former Game of the Week broadcaster.
Pleasant conversations and signed books from yours truly to Messrs Bouton and Kubek revealed each to have a keen interest in and knowledge of cricket. This I never expected. In fact, Bouton asked (befawr I tawked) if I were English—which I take as a supreme compliment! I then collected my seat with all the signatures: With wand’ring step and slow, / Thro Eden I took my solitary way.
Thank you all, gentlemen!
If I had only known. Fairfield is just a few minutes from me home in Jersey.