Old-Timers’ Day never gets old

Funny thing about the Yankees’ Old-Timers’ Day is that the event itself never gets old.

Other organizations that followed the Yankees’ lead over the years in staging reunions of their old players discontinued the practice except for special occasions.

With the Yankees, however, the exercise remains an annual event, and each year it seems something new is added. This year’s 68th annual gathering marked a return for the first time of favorites such as Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon, key stars of the franchise’s last World Series championship of 2009. Another new returning alumni was John “The Count” Montefusco, a former National League Rookie of the Year with the Giants who became part of the Yankees’ rotation in the 1980s.

“I have been waiting to come to this almost as much as I waited to get to the majors when I was in the minors,” Montefusco said. “I just wanted my grandson [Nicholas] to see what his grandpa did for a living and some of the great guys he played with.”

One of the great things about new blood joining the exercise is that new old timers like Matsui and Damon are still agile enough to play in the three-inning game. Matsui hit a home run this year in the Hall of Fame Classic last month and after watching him swat a few into the stands during batting practice I thought he might pop one during the game but no such luck.

Matsui even pitched to one batter, a Hall of Famer no less, and gave up a single to Reggie Jackson. Meanwhile, there were pitchers all over the field. David Cone played some third base. So did “El Duque,” Orlando Hernandez. David Wells made a sparking scoop of a short-hopper at first base. Coney had a tough day on the mound. He gave up a home run to Jesse Barfield and a hit to his old running mate, Wells.

Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson told me during batting practice that he has been bothered by a sore toe. He said he went to the doctor thinking it was broken, but that x-rays were negative.

“Turns out I have arthritis from all the pounding I took,” said the all-time stolen base leader. “I guess I’m officially old.”

I told him, “No, that just means you’ll steal only two bases instead of five.”

Actually, stolen bases are frowned upon in the Old-Timers’ game. In the first inning, Henderson drove a liner to left-center and sore toe and all legged out a double.

A special treat in this year’s event Sunday was the dedication of a plaque in Monument Park for Hall of Fame relief pitcher Rich “Goose” Gossage, the day after first baseman Tino Martinez was installed.

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The inscription reads:

RICHARD MICHAEL GOSSAGE
“GOOSE”

NEW YORK YANKEES
1978-1983, 1989

ONE OF THE MOST INTIMIDATING PITCHERS
EVER TO DON PINSTRIPES, GOSSAGE HAD AN EXPLOSIVE FASTBALL AND FEARLESS DEMEANOR, FREQUENTLY PITCHING MULTIPLE INNINGS PER APPEARANCE.

IN SEVEN SEASONS WITH THE YANKEES, COMPILED A 42-28 RECORD WITH 151 SAVES AND A 2.14 ERA. WAS A FOUR-TIME ALL-STAR WITH THE CLUB AND 1978 A.L. RELIEF MAN OF THE YEAR.

INDUCTED INTO THE BASEBALL HALL OF FAME IN 2008.

DEDICATED BY THE NEW YORK YANKEES
JUNE 22, 2014

“To receive this today in front of all those guys and all you fans is overwhelming,” Goose said. “I can’t think of another word for it.”

Gossage reminisced that Old-Timers’ Day was always his favorite day of the year. He grew up in Colorado Springs with a father who was a huge Yankees fan. Goose followed the career of Mickey Mantle closely and got to see his hero at the first Old-Timers’ Day he attended while a visiting player. When he came to the Yankees in 1978, he made sure to circle that day on the calendar.

So it was fitting that Old-Timers’ Day was the venue for Goose’s entrance into Yankees immortality.

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