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Friday, 13 June 2014 18:35

Forget the Uniform – See the Man

A Father’s Day Story

Happy Father’s Day to those who are in a position to make lasting memories — here’s one of mine. 


Dad took me to my first Yankee game, in 1962. Yeah, a long time ago… ouch! But I remember every detail… 


I went out with the ‘grownups’... me, Dad, Poppy and Uncle Nathan... still in my mid-single digits, age wise. I must have been a handful… but that view of when we turned the corner and I see THE Stadium will say with me forever…


Luckily, Dad and crew caught a break and after 4 1/2 innings, they called it on account of showers — but not before I got to eat something from every food vendor + see BACK-2-BACK Maris and Mickey blasts into the seats! Each one punctuated with Dad shaking me and saying: ‘Wow! Look at that!’ That tends to hook a young boy for life, you know…


And so, no matter where I roam in life — I'm a member of that Evil Empire – the Yankee’s Universe – for life. 


A few years later, in 1964, I got an even more important lesson— about class and sportsmanship. 


We went to the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals – games 3 and 4...yeah, just like that. 


Me + Dad — the way things always are— a young boy thinks…


Which is why you treasure today.


In game 3, my hero Mickey atoned for an early error with a 2-run game-winning homer off Barney Schultz. But it’s game 4 that we are talking about friends. 


On that day, Dad threw me a curveball. I had just swaggered into my seat— a vet of two Yankee games by this point. We settled into the left field boxes: which were low down and pitcher high. No posts blocking our view. 


(This was the Original Yankee Stadium folks, where actual posts were a consideration… the Stadium of numbers 3, 4 and 5… if you don’t know who they are, why are you reading this?)


Anyway, the curveball.


Watch the pitcher — he told me.


Watch how he conducts himself and what happens when he gets up to bat. 


Yes, in those days pitcher's batted – no choice. Most, as expected, were pathetic. 


Bob Gibson batted 4 times that day. 


Each time; he did not reach within A STEP of the batter's box without the entire mass of Yankee Stadium - attendance: a mere 65,633 btw- standing - saluting - and politely clapping. 


The opposing pitcher! 


I was perplexed… so I asked my Dad why they were cheering a Cardinal.


My Dad said the words that meant everything that day – and everything to this day: 


“Forget the uniform – see the man.”  


Bob Gibson – number 45, was always a superior batter and of course, a hall-of-fame pitcher… also, the poster for the word ‘proud’ – and any time he had a chance to scowl he relished it. 


Perhaps the Yankee crowd thought if they could acknowledge him, they could somehow pacify him. 


No chance. 


He smashed a single in the 3rd to get the party started. Running the bases, he got batted home in front of Curt Flood via hits by Lou Brock and Bill White. 2-0 Cards.


Then he took the mound as few have taken the mound and mowed the Yanks down. Repeatedly and emphatically. The box score tells it all.


Till the ninth. When young pheenom Tom Tresh, who had already been intentionally walked twice by Gibson in this game – blasted a shot into the stands with Mickey aboard. Tie ballgame, 2-2!  All was right with the world again. For the moment.


But in the tenth, Tim McCarver blasted a 3-run job into the right field bleachers—legit and emphatic and with Gibson out to close in the tenth (in those days— you were your own closer) – done.


My first Yankee loss. 


And a portent of things to come. It was not until 1977, with the Thurman/Reggie/Willie/Billy crew re-establishing excellence (and me now a college junior!) that all was made right again with the Yankee Universe. 


But I became a true Yankee on that day in 1964; a Yankee of numbers 3, 4, 5 and soon, 7 and later, others… Sportsmen — who applaud excellence, giving credit when due on those occasions when they best you.


When you’re a true Yankee, you don't have to win every time... you just have to compete. And so, that's what I do. I compete, to this very day.


True Yankee fans are thought to be arrogant, but a true Yankee salutes his/her opponents for a job well done. 


Thank you, Dad for that most important lesson. Thanks to you, I always see the man, not the uniform. In fact, today I can say I see the person, not the uniform.


But let’s face it — we both agree that every person looks better in pinstripes. 

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