Why I Like Baseball

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Archive for the ‘Interviews’

So Long Lefty, So Very Long

January 05, 2010 By: Cecilia Tan Category: Interviews

In honor of Randy Johnson retiring today, I’m re-posting this interview I did with him during Spring Training 2006. He sat in a chair while I stood on my feet and he was still almost as tall as I was. He was one of the figures in that clubhouse you rarely saw the Yankees beat writers talking to. They only approached him if there was something they absolutely had to know for a story. However, when I finally got up the nerve to approach him, he was perfectly gentlemanly to me. He’s the only ballplayer I can recall actually being able to smell the chewing tobacco on his breath while he talked. (Mentholated.)

Cecilia Tan: Has your perspective changed on your career now versus when you were younger?

Randy Johnson: My career is almost over. I’m not in the middle, I’m not in the beginning, I’m more towards the end. So, you know, I don’t really know how to answer that question other than to state the obvious, yeah.

CT: Was the decision to come to New York part of that knowing you are coming to the end?

RJ: I think it was more the decision to continue to be challenged toward the end of my career. (more…)

May 12 2009: Goodnight Professor

May 12, 2009 By: Cecilia Tan Category: Interviews

Given that Boston has just laid to rest one of its icons in Dominic DiMaggio, I thought I’d share with everyone some excerpts from an interview I did with him back in 2003, back when the Sox story was always one of heartbreak.

We talked about a lot of heartbreakers in the interview, by necessity. So many of the great games at the “Little Professor” played in were the tough ones. There was of course the big Game Seven in the 1946 World Series, the game where Enos Slaughter dashed home. But also the one game playoff against Cleveland in 1948. And in 1949, going into Yankee Stadium needing to win only one of the final two games of the season to clinch the pennant, and losing both. That same year, little Dom had a 34 game hitting streak going (still a Red Sox record), snapped at–guess where?–Yankee Stadium, on a line drive that almost took the pitcher’s head off but was caught by–who else?–big brother Joe.

CT: What was Fenway Park like in those days?

DD: Oh, I enjoyed Fenway Park. I enjoyed it very much. (more…)

October 17, 2008: Goodnight, Tom Tresh

October 17, 2008 By: Cecilia Tan Category: Interviews

I was listening to the Red Sox broadcast last night of the Sox/Rays showdown. While wallowing in misery when it was 7-0 in favor of the Rays, Joe Castiglione, that most bipolar of broadcasters, mentioned that former Yankee Tom Tresh had passed away at age 71.

I was sad to hear that. Tresh was one of the good guys, a smart, articulate, funny man who was gracious with his time when I was working on the book “The 50 Greatest Yankee Games.” He, like so many retired ballplayers (and others…) lived in Florida, just a few hours from my parents. I got his address through a contact at the Yankees and I wrote him out of the blue asking if he’d be willing to get together for an interview. We set one up, and one sunny morning I drove south from Tampa to a Cracker Barrel intending to meet him for lunch.

When I arrived, there was no sign of him. I didn’t know what he looked like now, and so spent quite a while going in and out trying to see if there was anyone browsing the shop or sitting in the rocking chairs outside who might be my quarry. It was quite busy—there was not a parking space to be had, either. Eventually I determined he wasn’t there, and called his house.

His wife answered to say she thought he was playing golf. He’d left about an hour before. My heart sank. Nine holes of golf takes like three hours. Eighteen holes takes all day. And I had to be back in Tampa that night for the game. She said she’d call his cell phone though, and try to see what he was up to. A little while later he called. I could hear he was outdoors, but he said he was just finishing up and would be right over. He was very apologetic. Friends from out of town had dropped in for a few days and got his schedule all out of whack.

Now I felt guilty, because I was sure I was pulling him away from a day of golf with good friends. When he arrived he told me not to worry, he had only had a golf lesson that morning, and so he really was finished when he came to meet me, and he was incredibly apologetic for forgetting.

We talked for hours. We got a table—by the the crowds had begun to abate—and talked all through the meal and then sat for a long time afterward. I ran out of tape; I think that’s the only reason we ended when we did.

What follows is an edited transcript of the interview. When I say Tresh was articulate, it’s quite evident in the long paragraphs that I include in his own words.

So who was Tom Tresh? He was the Derek Jeter of his generation of home-grown Yankees. In his rookie season, 1962, he won the shortstop starting job out of spring training as Tony Kubek had to leave for a stint in the military. That year Tresh won Rookie of the Year honors, and in the World Series led the team in hitting. When I spoke to him in the spring of 2004, Tresh had a lot to say on what it meant to be a Yankee.

Cecilia Tan: You had a cup of coffee at the end of the ’61 season, just in time to catch the end of the Maris/Mantle home run race, right?

Tom Tresh: I came up the last month of the season. You know when you dream of being a New York Yankee for many years….? My idol was Mickey Mantle, even though he was about 7 years older than I was. I was playing in Richmond, VA in Triple A ball and they increased the roster the first of September and I was the only minor league player they called up. They were in a race at that time and they had a one game lead over the Tigers. So I met them on the first of September. I got to the stadium before anybody else did. You’d met most of the guys, it wasn’t like I hadn’t yet, because being in the organization for three and half years at that time, you’d met Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris and Bob Richardson and Tony–spring training and so on–but you don’t know them well. You’re still kind of a minor leaguer at that time, they’re a major leaguer, but they know who you are and you know who they are, so it’s a little different than being traded and meeting everybody at once.

CT: What happened on September first?

Tom Tresh: So I got there that morning, earlier than anybody else would be there. And I went in and Pete Sheehy–the clubhouse man who was there forever, a great man–met him and he took me over to my locker and they had my locker right next to Mantle’s, and my locker number was 15 which was my dad’s number. My dad played in the major leagues for 12 years and wore number 15 with the White Sox, so you know everything was just a thrill. And I did the thing that everybody does, you know, I walked out through the dugout and I walked out to home plate and stood there in my dress clothes with the sun shining and nobody is in the stadium yet, and you look out there and you see the center field area where the monuments are… it was a tremendous feeling to know that Babe Ruth stood there, and DiMaggio, and Gehrig, and Mantle and all these great players throughout the history of the Yankees. That was it and you were there.

CT: Do you remember anything else from that time?

And then games started and it seems to me, and I might be wrong, but it seemed to me that we won every game that homestand. You can check that but it just seemed to me we never lost while we were home. Maybe that’s just my memory of it. [Ed: Tresh's memory is quite good. Starting September 1, 1961, they swept three home series in a row, 12 games against Detroit, Washington, and Cleveland. Then they had a 13 game road trip where they went 6-7, and came home to play the final 5 games of the season, going 4-1. So they did win every game that homestand, and only lost one while he was there that year at home.]

Mickey and of course Roger were in the midst of a home run derby, and my locker being next to Mickey’s meant that right after the game was over–and there was a lot of papers in New York then and they were getting a lot of coverage from Japan and foreign countries, and my locker was on the end and Mantle’s was right here (holds up hands)–the press would come right in. You had screens between your lockers and they would move right into my locker [to be able to see and hear Mickey]. So as quick as I got in I would get right out, it wouldn’t matter if I sat there or not because they’re going to be hanging over here trying to get to ask Mickey questions and whatever. And right across from me on the other side of the locker room was Maris with HIS crowd, so it was this constant crowd, this back and forth from one locker to the other.

CT: How did you deal with it?

I quickly learned that the thing to do was to go in and take off my uniform real quickly and head for the training room, and grab a beer or a pop or something and go into the training room until it was all over, and then go out and get dressed. It was a tremendous thrill to be a part of that. I was in the game where Roger hit his 61st home run. It’s kind of a dream come true, the excitement of it. In those years, the Yankees were the number one sports team in the world. There wasn’t anything comparable, so being a part of the New York Yankees at that time was a tremendous feeling. You’re part of a limited roster of players that have that opportunity. In those days there wasn’t a whole lot of movement of team players. You kind of got there and stayed there–or didn’t. It was a big thrill.

CT: So then in 1962, you got your shot at a starting job, because Kubek went to the army, and you and Phil Linz competed for the job.

Yeah, Phil and I were the two better middle infielders coming up at the time. I had started a little bit before him, so I had the jump on him. He was playing one level lower than me. In 1961, to begin the season, we were both at Richmond, and I think they had him working out at third, and they decided to send him back to double A in Amarillo. So I got called up at the end of the season and he didn’t, so I still had that kind of a lead on him so to speak. And when Tony went in the army, also Joe DeMaestri retired. So not only was Tony gone, but the utility shortstop was gone. So they really had two positions in spring training open. So Phil and I just approached it where there were two positions, and we could tell real quick that the press wanted to try to get something competitive going on, and we just weren’t going to let them do it. When they talked to me about Phil I would just tell them good things about Phil and I thought he was a heck of a player and then he’d do the same thing for me. We never bad-mouthed each other in the press, and we’ve been very very close friends and are today. But we probably did both know that we both would make the ball club. I think we ended up leading the Yankees in hitting that spring training, he was first and I was second. [Ed: Again Tresh's memory is good.] So we both had a real good spring. But he was in an unfortunate situation because I had the lead, and you’re both doing the same, but you can’t catch the other person because the other person isn’t falling down. He could have easily been a starting shortstop with any other team in the league. But at that time, they could protect players, and they weren’t about to get rid of Phil Linz and give him to somebody else. Then when Tony got back, they moved me to the outfield, and that put Phil in the utility job still, didn’t change his status, so he was just second to Tony.

CT: They basically had to find you a position because you were hitting too well to be taken out of the lineup.

They couldn’t do that. When Tony came back, they couldn’t move me from the lineup, and left field just worked out well because it was a platoon. They were playing Hector out there, and Johnny Blanchard out there, Yogi, Elston, that was in ’61 when the Yankees catchers hit over 60 home runs–they didn’t do it as catchers, some of them did it while they were playing the outfield and the other one was catching, so a couple of them were in the game at the same time. I’d be interested to see how many home runs did they hit where there were one in each game, because if both guys are playing in the same game, that shouldn’t count. Although if somebody hits two, you can count one… you’d have to look and see which one the one was catching hit, not the outfielder.

CT: So you moved to LF when Kubek came back, yet you still won rookie of the year in ’62…

Yep. There’s a lot of advantages being a rookie playing on a team as good as the New York Yankees are, on the one hand. On the other hand there’s a lot more pressure to play well on the Yankee team. One of the biggest thrills I ever had was hitting in the third hole in the World Series. Generally that’s reserved for their best hitters. But we had so many ‘best hitters’ you couldn’t designate which hole the best one should be in. I always think that was a thrill, when I look through the lineup and the guys around me — that showed they had a lot of confidence in me.

CT: There are two themes in that 1962 series, rain and the redemption of Ralph Terry. Did the guys ever talk about what had happened in 1960?

The Pittsburgh game? No, they never did talk about it that much. They really outplayed Pittsburgh by a ton, and yet they lost, and that’s the only thing they talked about. They really felt that they won that series, they should have won that series. Big time statistically, Bobby Richardson, I don’t know if he still holds the record but he used to hold the record for 13 RBI in a World Series, in Pittsburgh in the losing effort. You have to give the credit to Pittsburgh, because they won.

CT: What kind of guy was Ralph Terry?

He was the ultimate professional pitcher. He didn’t have an overpowering fastball, or an overpowering curve ball, but he knew how to pitch. He knew how to get people out. That was the name of the game. You have your pitchers and your throwers. He was a very competitive individual, quiet-spoken, but a real nice individual. I don’t know if there’s any one thing to say about him. Just picture a real quiet easy going southerner–even though he’s from out in Kansas or somewhere. That’s the way he was. Didn’t seem like anything bothered him.

CT: Was he still laid back after winning that game?

I don’t know. Things can get pretty chaotic there.

CT: The game ended with McCovey hitting that line drive into Richardson’s glove. Could you even see that from left field?

It happened so quick. I mean, you’re a nervous wreck. You know a mistake can mean the ball game. Some of these guys, you know, Cepeda, and Mays, and McCovey, just to name a few, these are great players, coming up all the time. It’s hard to get through a ball game like that and win it one-nothing. You look back and the one run that we got came on a double play ball. That’s exactly the move that you make early in the ball game, you give up a run to get the two outs. Very seldom would that one run ever win you a ball game. It was a great ball game. Most nervous I’ve ever been in a ball game.

CT: So how did you know it was over?

Well, you know how many outs there are, and you know what has to happen, it just happened so fast that you’re kind of shocked. The ball was hit-caught. It’s one thing if it’s a long-running catch or something, but this was boom-boom. I’m glad he hit it to Bobby. I’m glad he didn’t hit it to me. I’d had enough that day and I didn’t need another one. That was a great game.

CT: So then what did you do, go running in?

Oh yeah. That’s part of it, right? That’s what you’re in training for, so you can get in there and get on the pile! The hardest thing is that being in the outfield, it takes you a lot longer to get to the pile. The good news is that you don’t get spiked because you’re on the top. It was a great thrill. To be young and to be with those guys.

CT: So I have that you led the team in hits that series.

I think I led in hitting too, with .315. [Ed: He did lead in hitting. with .321.]

CT: And you were the youngest player on the team. How did that feel?

Yeah, I was. I guess I was deserving to hit in third whole then, huh?

You know, I grew up with my dad being a major league ball player and because everything was there in front of me all the time, I never paid a whole lot of attention to it, to stats and all that. But I tell you there are a lot of people out there today who do. Playing in these fantasy camps and so on you really run into people who know everything. They know everything about you. Those have really been fun, for the players as well as the people who come. I’ve been doing them for over 20 years now but some of my best friends are people I’ve met through fantasy camps. It’s like every year you have a week’s vacation with your friends. So it’s fantastic. As close friends as I’ve ever had. I’ve got friends of my own background that I might have known longer that I don’t see a week a year. But the thing that makes it all work is that everybody has a love of the game, they have that one thread of common thing, and it doesn’t matter if you’re a fireman from New York or you’re an attorney from Tampa, there are so many different variations of jobs and careers and so on that are all mixed together, and nobody wears that hat during that week, everybody wears a Yankee hat. It just really works well. I really enjoy it.

September 21, 2008: This Time Last Year

September 21, 2008 By: Cecilia Tan Category: Baseball Musings, Interviews

Following last week’s post about September 22, 2007, in which I had arrived at the press box at 9am, following a 14 inning night game the night before, and then didn’t leave until nearly 9pm because of rain delays and another extra inning affair, what follows is the account of what I did during the delay, which was chat with Bob Rosen from the Elias Sports Bureau.

I’ve had some of my most memorable times at ballparks during rain delays. In Columbus, OH one time I spent the evening listening to the stories of Joe Santry, the historian for the Columbus Clippers, then a Yankees farm club for most of my life. Today that day dawn foggy and gray, but the sun was trying to break through the mist all morning. Batting practice had been cancelled because of last night’s extra-innings marathon, so when the writers met with Joe Torre in the dugout all was quiet in the ballpark. The sun looked as though it would burn off the mist fairly soon, and just before noon everyone trooped inside as usual to have lunch and get ready for the game.

Going up in the elevator from the clubhouse to the press box, though, some fans on their way to the luxury suites looked particularly wet.

“Is it raining?” I asked one particularly bedraggled looking young woman.

“Yes, and it sucks,” she replied.

Indeed, I got upstairs to find the tarp on the field and steady water pouring down. I had set up my computer and such in the third tier of the press box–the top row in seats means the bottom rung in terms of writer seniority–and sat down to make some notes.

A gentleman with no computer had sat in the chair next to mine and was busily filling in a crossword puzzle, but when he looked up from that I introduced myself.

Turns out he was Bob Rosen, a life-long Dodgers fan who after the team left in 1957 swore he would never pay to attend another baseball game. He loved the game itself, though, and by 1962 had gotten a job with the Elias Sports Bureau, which has had him attending major league games for free (in fact, for pay) every since.

We proceeded to regale each other for the next hour of rain delay with tales and stories of our lives as baseball fans who are also baseball professionals.

There is no cheering in the press box, that’s true. But no one signs up for a job covering or working in baseball who does not love it. It wouldn’t be worth it otherwise.

Among the topics we covered: the wild card, expansion, difficulty keeping up with all the teams, will A-rod stay or will he go, stadiums around the country, fans around the country, our first ballgames when we were young, and so on.

Bob went to his first game when he was already 12 years old. His father “wasn’t a baseball fan. he was a Brooklyn fan. He was a fan of Dixie Walker and Duke Newcombe. He didn’t know anything about other teams.” Bob was bitten hard by the bug, though, and soon was not just a Dodger fan but a baseball fan, playing dice-based baseball games and keeping stats. “That was what I liked, stats.” How perfect, then, that he found a home with the Elias Sports Bureau.

“I was working my way up the corporate ladder and hating it,” he explained. “But my wife, who was truly wonderful and still is the most perfect wife to me, told me if you don’t give this a try, you’ll always wonder.” So he took the job with Elias 45 years ago and never looked back. The boy who loved baseball stats made it his livelihood.

“Did you ever join SABR?” I asked.

“Nah. That seemed like overkill. You?”

“Yeah, I joined because I thought it would be a good chance to meet people who love baseball as I do.”

“And did you?”

“Yes. Yes, definitely.”

“The people I meet in this business are incredible,” he said. “Bob Sheppard and I are like this,”–here he held up his crossed fingers–”and I’ve made so many good friends.”

Well, Bob, it was lovely to meet you, which means, I couldn’t agree more.

And best wishes to the other Bob, Sheppard, who as of tonight it appeared would not be well enough to do the announcing at tomorrow’s curtain call for the Stadium.

December 23, 2007: Goodbye, Lefty

December 23, 2007 By: Cecilia Tan Category: Baseball Musings, Interviews

I just heard the news that Tommy “The Wild Man” Byrne passed away. I visited him in March of 2003 and spent a couple of hours at his home talking baseball and in particular recapping that hreatbreaking Game Seven he pitched against Johnny Podres in the World Series. Since Phil Rizzuto died, I’ve been thinking Tommy might go next. Thank goodness Yogi is still going strong.

Since I’m just now re-launching Why I Like baseball under a new URL, I figured I’d remember Tommy by reprinting here the recap of the day we met. He’ll be missed.

Reprinted from: March 6, 2003

2002-2003 OffseasonWhen I arrived at Boston’s Logan airport this morning, the roads were crackling with fresh ice and the forecast was for snow. When I stepped onto the tarmac three hours later at Raleigh-Durham International Airport, the air was moist with balmy rain. Folks here tell me it’s unusually cold for this time of year, but you won’t hear me complaining. Suddenly, my brain is thawed and I can think about baseball again. I am here in North Carolina to begin a drive through the the south in search of baseball landmarks.

Ostensibly I am here as research for a novel I am writing, one where the characters will be trekking south in search of a way to reverse the Curse of the Bambino. But as I inhale the humid, lazy breeze I realize that maybe what I am really in search of heart’s ease. Not to go into gory detail on my personal life or state of mind, but this winter has been cold and long.

This has nothing to do with baseball, or does it? I flew to Carolina in the smallest plane I have ever been in. It seated thirty people and the plane was full of men, businessmen mostly, mover and shaker types, from their mid-thirties to their mid-sixties. Them, and me. In that way it was not unlike being in a major league press box. Story of my life, I guess, to be one of the only women in a man’s world. No one seems to mind.

One of the themes of my novel, and indeed one of the recurring motifs in baseball history, is that strange coincidences occur. Here’s the first one of the trip: the rental car they gave me has New York plates on it.

My first stop was Fayetteville, NC. In 1914, Babe Ruth was signed by the minor league Baltimore Orioles straight out of St. Mary’s Industrial School, from the arms of Brother Mathias to Jack Dunn. Dunn had a friend who owned a hotel in Fayetteville and who said he’d put the team up for free if Dunn wanted to bring them down for spring training. The young Ruth, entirely naive about the world, rode on a train for the first time and learned, to his delight, that he was allowed to eat as much as he wanted on Dunn’s dime. His first appearance as a professional player came in an intra-squad game and the home run he hit into the cornfields was of note not only because homers were so rare in those days, but because back then they still thought of the big kid as a pitcher, not a hitter.

Babe Ruth HR markerThe homer was hit at a field on government land, an old fairgrounds, which is now the site of some government buildings and the offices of the highway department. In 1951, just a few years after Ruth passed away, the son of the hotel owner lobbied to have a marker erected on the site. While driving through the historic section of Fayetteville you see quite a few of these historic markers, commemorating poets, soldiers, the sites of historic buildings, and so on. Ruth’s marker is located where it is easy to see from the road and seems to indicate that the actual spot being commemorated is “135 yards northwest”–beyond an impassable chain link fence as far as I could tell.

Now you might be asking, why did I have to drive all the way to Fayetteville, North Carolina to see this marker, to see this historic place, if the place itself isn’t even there anymore? I already know the story of the homer–I know quite a lot more than one can tell from looking at a plaque. So, why go to see it? Right now I’m not sure I can articulate the answer to that question. It may be that if you have to ask the question, you wouldn’t understand the answer, anyway. To me, the answer seems self-evident, but not that easy to explain. I suppose one answer is this: the same thing that drives me to go to visit sites like this, drives other people to put up brass plaques and markers in the first place. It’s important.

From Fayetteville I headed to Wake Forest to meet Tommy Byrne. I spent the afternoon at his house talking baseball with him. When I originally contacted him, I was hoping to put together a feature on him for Yankees Magazine. I had no idea that he had a connection to Babe Ruth, but he does. Byrne was a wild lefthander in the late Dimaggio and early Mantle eras who several times led the league in hit batsmen. He also lost a heartbreaker of a game in 1955, Game Seven of the World Series against the Dodgers. The connection to Ruth dates back further than that, though. Byrne met Babe Ruth when he was only four years old, when he was living in an orphanage in Baltimore. I asked him if he wanted to be a ballplayer. “Every lefthanded kid in Baltimore wanted to be Babe Ruth,” he told me. “And I figured if he could do it, I could do it.” Late in his life, Ruth used to come to Yankee Stadium for Old Timers festivities. “He would always borrow my glove,” Byrne reminisced. “A ‘pud,’ he always called it a ‘pud.’ He’d say to Pete Sheehy the clubhouse man, ‘where is the Baltimore kid’s locker?’ I’d have let him have everything in the locker if he wanted. He could have borrowed a glove from Lopat, we had lots of lefthanders around. But he always asked for me, the Baltimore kid.”

We talked plenty about Dimaggio, Mantle, Don Larsen’s perfect game in ’56, the 1949 pennant race, and the importance of a good change of speed. I also had a gander at some of his memorabilia, including Mickey Mantle’s custom Rolls Royce style pinstriped #7 golf cart. Yes, golf cart. The thing has a built in cooler and stereo sound system. Tommy got it for $6500 in a charity auction and is thinking of donating it to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, if they have room for it. A memorabilia guy in the neighborhood figures it could be worth as much as $56,000. Wow.

On my way out of Wake Forest I stopped at a nearby Appleby’s restaurant which had more of Tommy’s photos and memorabilia on display as tribute to their local hero. Tommy’s wife passed away just a few months ago and he isn’t feeling too good himself lately. “A lot of the old guys are running out of gas now,” he said, when we were talking about Ted Williams and Enos Slaughter (who also passed on recently.) “I’m going to run out of gas myself soon,” he said, “but I hate to give up my hobby.” What hobby? I asked. “Breathing,” he joked. One of the niftiest photos on the Appleby’s wall is an aerial view of Yankee Stadium, taken when Tommy was on the mound, if the caption is to be believed. The photo was taken over fifty years ago, and the Stadium has changed, but the Macombs Dam Bridge, the municipal ballfields, the elevated train line, are all the same as today. It makes it seem like maybe it wasn’t so long ago after all.

For dinner I made my way into Durham, to Bullock’s Barbecue, to meet local baseball writer/editor Chris Holaday for dinner. Bullock’s came onto my radar as a place that features photos of many famous celebrities on the walls, including photos of the game when the Yankees played the University of North Carolina in 1981 and the post-game party that the restaurant catered. Catfish Hunter, Yogi Berra, Bucky Dent, Tommy John, Graig Nettles, Reggie Jackson, and many more are in the photos. That alone would have made it worth the trip, but then there were the best hush puppies I have ever eaten. The pork barbecue, fried chicken, and Bismarck stew were also super-tasty, and a great way to cap off a very busy day.

End of reprint. The rest of the travels can be found at the Why I Like Baseball Archives, Here!

August 26, 2007: Family Feud

August 26, 2007 By: ctan Category: Baseball Musings, Interviews

I woke up this morning from a dream that Dominic DiMaggio had passed away. I’m certain this is my brain still working through the loss of The Scooter in recent weeks. As time marches on, we must necessarily lose the great players who are still living, but those who remain from the generation who played in the 1940s are starkly few in number.

I never had a chance to interview Phil Rizzuto, but I did interview Dom DiMaggio not that long ago. In preparation for yet another Red Sox-Yankees showdown which starts in a few days, I thought I’d share with you some words from a true veteran of The Rivalry and one of the last standard bearers of a great generation of baseball players.

Cecilia Tan: So, your brother Joe played in New York, and you played in Boston, putting you on opposite sides of the rivalry. What was it like playing in Boston?

Dominic DiMaggio: The people in New England are fabulous, just fantastic fans. The Red Sox are their team, and Red Sox nation exists all over the world, not just in the US. Red Sox Nation is everywhere. I suppose there are other teams that have such a following, but it’s nice to know we have so many people in distant places. I get mail from them, from everywhere, got one today from England.

CT: Is there a lot of interest in England? I have a friend in Scotland who follows a semi-pro league but that is all they have.

DD: Perhaps it’s all the inclement weather they have there. Though 56 degree weather is not too hard to take, in San Francisco it gets pretty cold, and we still played there. They probably wonder why we don’t play cricket.

CT: What was Fenway Park like when you played?

DD: Oh, I enjoyed Fenway Park. I enjoyed it very much. I bounced off the wall a number of times but I didn’t try to do anything I shouldn’t have done. They treated me very nicely, there. I lived right in Kenmore Square and it was very convenient to walk to the park. I was single–I didn’t get married until 1948–so I lived at the old Sheraton Hotel on Bay State Road, and then the Miles Standish, and then when I was married we lived out in Wellesley Hills. The area was very nice.

CT: I think both those buildings are university dormitories now. In 1948, that was the year the Yankees were out of it and it was the Indians who went into the one-game playoff against the Red Sox.

DD: We lost that playoff to Cleveland. We lost the game, but at least I was able to get married a little sooner!

CT: You got married right after the season?

DD: Yes, and the World Series would have made it a week or ten days later. Not that I wouldn’t have waited!

CT: I’m sure you would have been great in the World Series, too. In the 1946 World Series you batted third and went 7 for 27.

DD: I batted third that entire year! And that was the only time I batted third. I always wondered why I never batted third again, even though we won the pennant and almost won the World Series.

CT: Did you never ask anyone why?

DD: No, I never did. They felt my value was where they put me. We had some pretty solid hitters and for me to go up and say ‘I want to hit in this spot’ would be ungentlemanly and unsportsmanlike. But Bobby Doerr paid me the ultimate compliment by telling me that if I had been batting down in the lineup I would have driven in 100 runs annually. Being a leadoff man, that was the ultimate compliment.

CT: The Sox and Yankees faced each other pretty often in those days, but was there a particular time you remember? Like the Allie Reynolds no-hitter?

DD: He was a tough pitcher, a real real tough pitcher, tough to face, and a darn good pitcher. I remember when he pitched his no-hit game against us, I was batting, and Ted was the next batter. 2 outs in the ninth inning, and I got a base on balls, and Williams hits the ball straight up–and Berra dropped it! And the next one went right up in the air, too, and Reynolds went right over there to make sure he caught it!

CT: Any other games stand out for you?

DD: Forty-nine. The last two games in New York, we came in from Washington and we should have won the pennant in Washington. We did not, so we went into New York with one game in front and they beat us two in a row.

CT: There was a whole story they tell about how one of those games it was Joe DiMaggio day, your whole family was there on the field with him, including you, and Joe had the flu.

DD: I recall him leaning on my shoulder–he was pretty weak.

CT: Joe’s speech that day ended with the words “I’d like to thank the Good Lord for making me a Yankee.” He then went out and got two lucky hits that were the difference in the game.

DD: It’s been really nice talking to you, but it’s my cocktail hour so I had better go.


May 17 2006: Tall Cold One

May 17, 2006 By: ctan Category: Interviews

Randy Johnson has struggled of late, so I thought it would be worth revisiting a conversation that he and I had at the end of spring training. Given Johnson’s toughness as a competitor, the problem is more likely mechanical than mental.

Cecilia Tan: Has your perspective changed on your career now versus when you were younger?

Randy Johnson: My career is almost over. I’m not in the middle, I’m not in the beginning, I’m more towards the end. So, you know, I don’t really know how to answer that question other than to state the obvious, yeah.

CT: Was the decision to come to New York part of that knowing you are coming to the end?

RJ: I think it was more the decision to continue to be challenged toward the end of my career. The challenges were obviously there when I was young early in my career, the middle of my career, and I don’t think there is any bigger challenge toward the end to come here and have your reputation as a pitcher that can go out and do the things I do and still do them at the age I am doing them at. So that’s obviously the greatest challenge. If you are not into challenges, this obviously wouldn’t be the place to come late in your career.

CT: In fact, I’d say there are some guys who late in their careers left here to get away from those challenges.

RJ: Yeah, you’re right. I’ve always wanted to be challenged in my career and there is no greater place to be challenged than here. They expect to win, and that is what I’ve been expected to do everywhere I have gone.

CT: How does it feel to be part of that?

RJ: Good. It’s a good fit.

CT: The fans seem to respond to you, also.

RJ: They respond to anybody that wins, and fans are very appreciative of your effort when it’s there and obviously when you pitch poorly they will do whatever they do accordingly. That’s to be expected. That’s the way it is everywhere. If you get a bad steak or go to a bad movie, you send it back to get it cooked right or you walk out of the movie halfway. So, that comes with the territory.

CT: Are you looking forward to this year? Will it be different?

RJ: I think it will be. I think it’s a new year and I’m looking forward to doing this again.

CT: I think the AL East is going to be tough.

RJ: I think it’s the toughest division in all of baseball. There’s another challenge in hand. And if we want to continue talking about challenges, not only coming to the Yankees late in my career, but being in the toughest division, and then also playing in the American League, which is slightly tougher than the National League because you’re not facing the pitcher. There’s several challenge there. But I’m up for challenging all of them.

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