Meaningful Memories at Yankee Stadium - By Howard Goldin

Bronx, NY---Yankees players of the last eight decades were on the field at Yankee Stadium on Sunday celebrating their experiences while wearing the pinstripes. A large crowd of 46,054, the third largest of 2013, was in the stands to cheer their favorites of years gone by. The festive day was the 67th annual celebration of the glorious history of the baseball franchise in the Bronx.

As annually takes place on this special day, a wide array of former stars representing each of the decades was invited back to the Bronx by New York Yankees Vice President of Marketing Debbie Tymon. The extremely capable and caring Yankees executive and her staff spend months of thought and effort to create an unforgettable day for the former Yankees and the fans who look forward to attending the every year.

As many fans do return regularly, there is always an attempt to invite former players who have never previously appeared at an Old Timers’ Day. This year’s first timers included Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez, Brian Dorsett, John Flaherty, Todd Greene, Scott Kamieniecki and Andy Phillips. Of the six, the biggest reception was given to Hernandez. When “El Duque” went to the mound during the Old Timers’ game, he looked comfortable and threw with ease. Some in the crowd wondered whether he could be more effective than several on the current Yankees roster. 

As the Steinbrenner family regularly exhibits its support for those who serve in the U.S. armed forces, five of the elderly Yankee heroes were also honored for their service in the military as well as their performances on the playing field. The octogenarians who circled the field in motorized golf carts were: Don Larsen, Dr. Bobby Brown, Jerry Coleman, Yogi Berra and Whitey Ford.

Larsen, the only pitcher who hurled a perfect game in the World Series, served in the Korean War. Brown and Berra began their major league careers in the same game on September 22, 1946. Each was also present at Yankee Stadium on September 28, 1947, when Babe Ruth was honored, the day recognized as the first official Old Timers’ Day. 

Berra’s illustrious career in baseball is familiar to fans of all ages. Berra, 69 years ago, was in a U.S. rocket boat as a participant in the D-Day invasion of Nazi occupied territory in Europe.

The events of Brown’s life are as interesting as those of any returning Yankee. During his years with the Yankees, he was attending medical school during the winters. After graduation, he had an eminent career as a cardiologist. Later in life, he returned to baseball as President of the American League for a decade.

A schoolmate of Brown’s in California and the elder statesman of the returning Yankees, Jerry Coleman, is the only major leaguer to have served in active combat during World War II and Korea. Coleman, elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame as a broadcaster in 2005, still works games on radio for the Padres. Whitey Ford, after going 9-1 in his first year as a Yankee in 1950, was drafted into the service. Upon his return, he continued his HOF career as one of the greatest left-handers in history.

The biggest hands were reserved for the younger players who played on Joe Torre’s championship clubs, Bernie Williams and Paul O’Neill. Williams commented, “It’s great to be remembered. I definitely don’t take it for granted.”

Roy White, whose 15 years (1965-79) in the majors were with the Yankees, had a perspective that was representative of many who returned on Sunday. He remembered his first day in the majors, “It was very special to walk into the Yankees clubhouse and see Mickey Mantle there. I never thought I would play with a guy I watched when I was in Little League. 

White had very high expectations for the team when he was a rookie, “I thought we would be in the World Series every year, but we didn’t get there until 1976.” The former Yankee explained that playing for the Yankees was not stress free, “You’re measured by higher standards because of who they’ve [fans] seen in the past.” As a player, White was happy on Old Timers’ Day, “I like baseball history. I always looked forward to see Joe DiMaggio and to see Tommy Henrich and “King Kong” Keller by my locker and being able to talk to them.”

The fabulous history of the Yankees is, obviously, one in which the organization and its fans can be proud. The annual recognition and respect for the players of he past is very well deserved and should serve as an example for other sport’s franchise to emulate.