My one and only in-person Oldtimers’ Day was in 1964. My father smiled when The Yankee Clipper launched a loud, foul-ball home run. But Daddy, it was a foul ball!…It’s all right, Son. The 1964 game, which featured the likes of Dizzy Dean (then a broadcaster for the CBS “Game of the Week”: Dean fell down, tripping on first base) and Heinie Manush as “Yankees Opponents,” squaring off against Yankees Oldtimers, including the aforementioned Clipper, Phil Rizzuto, Joe Sewell, and other stars. Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, and Whitey Ford were very much of the regular team; and Yogi was their manager.
(I would need to return to my buried-in-the-closet scorecard to determine whether the game took place on a Saturday or a Sunday. I am guessing—and dim memory also takes me to—Saturday. Sundays were reserved for doubleheaders. I am fairly positive the game took place in August, perhaps on the sixteenth, which would have been the sixteenth anniversary of Ruth’s death [and exactly thirteen years preceding Elvis Presley’s].)
The recent Oldtimers’ Game was scheduled for June 22, a Saturday, and unusually early in the season. The weather was perfect. As always, Jesse Barfield came to play, pulling out all the stops but spiking his fellow-Timers. Sterling Hitchcock, who broke in with still-active Andy Pettitte, was one of the first-time participants. Pat Kelly, who now coaches in Australia (see below), was on the Oldtimers’ Day field, but I cannot say if this were his first. Joe Pepitone’s circumference now about equals his height. Joe still puts on a good show, though I can testify to his being a crank in real life. Much-less cranky are Steve Balboni, Ron Blomberg, Roy White, Willie Randolph, Bucky Dent (who can still throw from shortstop), and Bobby Richardson. Bernie Williams, yet to announce his retirement, received the most-sustained ovation. Many others were included, and likely an equal number were not invited or could not attend. Every player’s uniform fit like the proverbial kid glove, a testament to the Yankees organization.
Naturally, introductions of the superstars are for last. Most are inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame or its broadcasters’ wing, Don Larsen being one exception, having pitched perhaps the greatest game of all time, certainly among the most pressurized, Dr. Bobby Brown another. I got to see a weirdly subdued Reggie Jackson and an ego-inflated if not feathery Goose Gossage. War (II and Korea) experiences of Jerry Coleman, Berra (almost compared to Sergeant York, credited with storming the beach during D-day, a sprinkle of heroism formerly cast exclusively onto The Major, Ralph Houk), and even Whitey Ford were big parts of their respective intros.
Ford and Berra, the last introduced, did not leave their golf cart. I suspect Yogi does not want to be known or remembered for using a wheelchair, of which there is no shame; in fact, this poignant acknowledgment would help raise the spirits of millions. Ted Williams seemed to have no problem appearing at the special turn-of-the-century 1999 All-Star Game in one. Of course, the decision is a personal one.
Of additional interest to the Right Off the Bat project was the mound work of Graeme Lloyd. Aside from his left-handed relief-pitching heroics with the Yankees, Lloyd is also a former manager of the Perth Heat of the Australian Baseball League (current manager Steven Fish of the USA) and a baseball participant with Team Australia in the 2004 Olympics in Athens. Lloyd has done more than his share to popularize baseball in one of the Meccas of the cricket universe. Hats off to Messrs Lloyd and Kelly.
In other news, more or less from that part of the cricket and real worlds, Oldtimer Imran Khan (recently injuring his back in a bad spill), following his defeat by the retooled Nawaz Shariff—along with his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party—did well enough in the election to be running the ultra-wild region around Peshawar. (So A-Rod and Cash, you think you got problems?)
As we see, baseball, cricket, and realpolitik all do come together.