Ex Big Leaguer Dahlgren Composes Yule Song, ‘You taught me to pray’
An experience last Christmas in his home town of Arcadia, Ca, led Babe Dahlgren to compose the words and music to a Christmas song titled “You Taught Me to Pray,” Dahlgren relates in a letter to Publisher J.G. Taylor Spink of the Sporting News.
“Last year we found a post card in our mail box shortly before Christmas. All of our neighbors received them. We were told to contact the chairman of a local group if we wished Santa Claus to visit our homes on Christmas Eve. Mrs. Dahlgren liked the idea, even though our boys were 9 and 7 years old respectively. When we told the boys that Santa Claus was coming, they looked at each other with wise little grins. There was no doubt in their minds as to whom Santa Claus would be if he did come to our house.
“Christmas Eve we were in the living room testing the lights on the tree when with happy shouting and jingle bells the boys ran to the front door. As they opened the door, in came Santa Claus. As he called them by name, they looked at me with open mouths. Santa gave them each a gift, told them to go to bed early because he would be back later with more gifts. Then he ran down the driveway shouting ‘Merry Christmas,’ crossing the street, down another driveway and into the house of a neighbor. We could see him swinging the little girl around the room and hear him shouting, ‘Merry Christmas.’
“We settled down finally and came back into the house to sit around the tree, but not for long because we heard voices signing. Opening the door again, there in front of our home stood carolers, faces lit by candles they held, singing for us and then following Santa’s tracks to each home. It was a wonderful Christmas – even without snow on the ground. I felt deeply indebted to ‘Santa’ (a local postman) and the carolers for making our Christmas such a happy one.
“The thought that they were spending their Christmas Eve walking from house to house to make others happy was a sober one indeed. But they were having a good Christmas, too. “I hated to see them go. I wanted Christmas to stay, believe me. Hearing the Christmas carols, hymns and melodies gave me the desire to write one.
“It was six months before I found the melody and it took me three months to find the words I wanted to use.
“Recently, on a Sunday, I gave my boys a copy to take to Sunday School. Later I stopped to visit the director of the church. I wanted to know what he thought of my song – the melody – the words.
“Don Ruud, the director, looked at me and said, ‘Babe, I like your song. I haven’t heard it with any musical accompaniment as yet but my wife studies voice and she sang it beautifully. The melody, though not like our church songs because it is written with ‘popular music’ appeal, still makes good listening and has something soothing about it. It has a definite message, Babe, and I got it. The thing that I like most about it, Babe, is it was written by a ball player. When I think of how the kids in America idolize ball players and think what it would mean to the churches of America if the kids knew a ball player wrote such a song, I only wish every kid in America could hear it.
“Well, Taylor, that’s it. I guess I’ll always be known as a ball player. I hadn’t thought of it that way. It seems that if I do write something good, it will reflect on all ball players.”
In 1939, after returning from the Mayo Clinic with dire news, Lou Gehrig entered the clubhouse to greet his teammates. His locker was full of mail, most of it from fans that associated his illness with theirs, some even suggesting remedies. Gehrig put on his uniform and walked down to the Yankees dugout. Babe Dahlgren saw Lou and walked over to say hello. It was hours before the game, and the fans were not yet in the ballpark. Just then, a photographer spotted the two talking when he approached them with a request. “What kind of picture?” Gehrig asked.
“I want Dahlgren posed at first base reaching for a ball and you standing close, cheering,” said the photographer.
The two obliged, but when Babe took his position at first base, he suddenly heard resistance from Gehrig behind him. “Nothing doing,” Gehrig snapped. “I’m not cheering at first base. I haven’t given up my job yet.” An innocent photo opportunity quickly turned into an awkward moment. Babe couldn’t believe what he was hearing. After all, he’d been cheering for Lou all his life it seemed. Babe stood there long enough to get the shot but did so without Lou, who retreated back to the Yankees dugout, where he agreed to have his picture taken. After the photo session, Babe started thinking about what had just happened and he came to the conclusion that that was precisely why Gehrig was so great – he wouldn’t quit on himself. Even after being told by the best doctors in the country that he would never play again, he didn’t believe it himself.
I can remember one night, my older brother and I were sitting in our grandpa’s family room watching him set up his projector and portable screen. We’d been asking him for some time if he’d show us his films. I must have been around 8 years old, my brother 10. He had an office just removed from the family room. It was a dark room with no television. Just a typewriter on a cluttered desk with stacks of assorted papers, some old bats, scrapbooks with black and white photos from his playing days and shelves filled with film canisters in various sizes – hundreds of them. The room had a distinct smell – like leather combined with years of hard work and passion – and every now and then, when I’m least expecting it, I’m greeted by its familiarity that takes me right back. I wish I could somehow bottle it. Instead, I hope for its return.
We watched old home movies that night of our dad and his brother when they were kids. I even seem to recall color footage of my grandpa and grandma carving their names in a tree on Catalina Island in 1942 during spring training when he was with the Cubs.
But then there were the films we didn’t see, one in particular. We never got the chance. Like the name of the film itself, it was gone in a Half a Second.
□ □ □
There was something about Joe DiMaggio’s swing that caught Babe’s eye as early as 1933; an intrigue that would lead him across the country almost 30 years later to capture it on film. DiMaggio, the young hometown star of the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League, was in the middle of a hitting streak that would ultimately end at 61 games. Babe, a hometown star himself, was the first baseman for the San Francisco Mission Reds. One day that summer while holding Joe on first base, Babe asked DiMaggio what he thought about at the plate. What made him such a great hitter? Joe’s response was honest and short, “I don’t know. I guess I’m just a natural.”
The two met up again, this time as teammates with the New York Yankees from 1937-1940. It was around this time that Babe bought his first movie camera, a 16mm Bell & Howell. It was always with him, secured inside a hard black leather case. He’d film his teammates on and off the field and various attractions in the big cities they’d visit. He even took some incredible footage from the World’s Fair of 1939-1940.
By now, Joe DiMaggio had established himself as the premier star of Major League Baseball. Once again, my grandfather found himself fascinated by his perfect swing. He would study Joe during his at bats by holding his cap up to his face and peering through one of the eyelets; lining him up inside the small circle, thus blocking out everything else – like a camera man looking through a view finder.
Right before spring training in 1941, Babe was sold to the Braves where he played in 44 games before being sold to the Chicago Cubs. He got off to a hot start with Chicago hitting 4 home runs in his first week with the club. But then he cooled off, prompting Cubs manager Jimmie Wilson to call him into his office to talk “hitting.” During those 10 minutes, Babe learned more about hitting than he’d learned in his previous 10 years in professional baseball. Wilson, a former big league catcher was the only man he’d ever met in professional baseball that “had an idea” of what hitting was all about. After their talk, Babe began printing tips and pitchers tendencies on 3×5 cards, keeping them in a small steel box. It was a practice he continued throughout the rest of his career. The file grew and so did his home run output in 1941. He finished with 23, the most by any right handed hitter in the National League.
The last five years of Babe’s big league career were spent bouncing back and forth from club to club due to a nefarious falsehood which I chronicle in my book, Rumor In Town. His days as a professional ballplayer ended in 1948, when he returned from where it all began, the Pacific Coast League as a member of the Sacramento Solons.
Known for his brilliant fielding during his career, my grandfather’s obsession after it would turn to hitting.
□ □ □
My grandparents settled in Arcadia, California. Over the course of several years, Babe built two homes from the ground up. He sold insurance for a period of time but never enjoyed doing it. The majority of his time was spent with his two boys, honing their skills as young ball players. In 1953, he started Little League baseball in Arcadia.
Hank Peters, the Kansas City Athletics farm director hired Babe as a scout on the West Coast in 1957. One of his jobs was to watch Major League clubs during spring training. At the end of that season, Babe asked for more money and his contract wasn’t renewed. Jim McLaughlin, the Baltimore Orioles farm director, hired Babe in 1958 to cover the West Coast. It was during that summer that he realized his mind was on something else. The 3×5 cards that he once collected going back to 1941 had turned into over 200 pages of detailed notes that took on the size and scope of a book. The years spent throwing batting practice to his boys gave him a whole different perspective on hitting. He felt more than ever he could identify not only what made a good swing, but what made a bad one, and how to correct it. However, conveying this to the amateur and even the professional wasn’t that easy. To accomplish this feat, he decided to film the action, and learn how to use cameras and sound; how to splice the film and put the story of hitting together, step by step. He went all-in, spending over $6,000 with money he’d saved from his playing days. He bought a new 16mm Bolex camera with a Berthiot lens, a Schiansky tripod and top of the line sound equipment.
□ □ □
Lew Fonseca spent 13 years in the big leagues as a player and manager from 1921-1934. Soon after, he began a second career in baseball using film to promote the game. His first sound production came in 1935 with instructional tips and highlights from the season and World Series. The film was a success and he continued to make them which led to his new title as director of promotions for both leagues. He produced various baseball films from 1943-1969.
Babe wrote to Fonseca before the 1958 World Series asking him for a field pass. He wanted to get film of the Yankees and Braves during batting practice. He loaded his car with his camera equipment with a newfound purpose and headed for Milwaukee. But when he called home from Tulsa, Oklahoma a couple of days later he was told there was a message from Fonseca’s office. No pass! He continued on, stopping in Chicago to visit Fonseca in person at his office. His secretary informed Babe that Lew wasn’t there. When Babe explained who he was and the purpose of his visit, it apparently hit a nerve with her – she wasn’t about to accommodate his request. It was clear to him that Fonseca didn’t want anyone else with a baseball background doing camera work on a Major League field.
When Babe arrived in Milwaukee, he ran into longtime baseball man, Clarence “Pants” Rowland who was then working for the Cubs in their front office. He explained his situation, and Rowland got him the credentials he was looking for. It didn’t take long before Fonseca noticed Babe on the field with all of his equipment filming batting practice. He ran out towards him, reminding Babe that he said “no” to his request and to “get off the field.” Things got testy. Babe reminded Lew about an incident in 1935 when he was filming Mickey Cochrane and needed a player in a different uniform to slide into home plate so Cochrane could put a block on him. He asked Babe, who was a rookie with the Red Sox if he’d do it. Joe Cronin, who was the manager of the Red Sox, saw what was going on and he ripped into Fonseca and sent Babe to the clubhouse. The last thing Cronin needed was for his young first baseman to get hurt sliding into Cochrane for Fonseca’s film. “You didn’t mind me being on the field then, did you?” Babe reminded him. The confrontation ended and Babe got the footage he came for.
In February of 1961, Babe read that Joe DiMaggio (who hadn’t been in uniform for 10 years) was going to be an instructor for the Yankees during spring training. He’d taken footage of Ted Williams the previous spring in Arizona, but this was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up. He packed up his Lincoln Continental once again, and headed towards Florida in search of an old friend, and that swing he first saw in 1933.
While driving to Florida, somewhere in the middle of Texas, a report came across the radio that Marilyn Monroe had just been released from a New York hospital for depression due to her failed marriage to playwright, Arthur Miller. The report indicated that she was heading to Florida to meet up with Joe DiMaggio. It had been rumored that the two were working on getting back together. This wasn’t good news for Babe, who feared Joe’s spare time would be spent with Marilyn; not wanting to waste time filming.
After several days of driving, Babe pulled into the Yankees facility in St. Petersburg. He made his way to the clubhouse where he found DiMaggio. After their hellos, he explained why he’d traveled so far to see him; how he wanted to interview him on the subject of hitting and film him in the batting cage from all different angles. Joe agreed, and without wasting any time, Babe left the clubhouse to set-up his gear.
DiMaggio appeared in uniform and began to take some swings out on the field. The man inside the uniform was older, but that familiar swing hadn’t changed one bit. The camera was rolling when suddenly it jammed. Babe did his best to fix it, but realized he wasn’t equipped to do the job. He’d come so far, and now this? He packed his camera and left the facility to try and find a camera repair shop. Fortunately, he did, and he returned to the complex almost an hour later. The clubhouse security guard informed Babe that after waiting, Joe had returned and was inside taking a shower. Babe sent a message to the clubhouse telling Joe that he was back, ready to shoot. Then he waited. DiMaggio appeared a few minutes later, back in his uniform. “I wouldn’t to this for anybody but you,” Joe said.
They began shooting again. First, on the diamond and then down in the batting cages. While this was happening, a magazine reporter was interviewing Marilyn Monroe who was at the complex. There was also a photographer taking various shots of her. While Joe was hitting, he was becoming increasingly more aware of their requests. Babe could see the consternation in Joe’s eyes through his viewfinder. Concerned for Marilyn’s well-being, Joe finally told the guys that she’d had enough.
Babe got what he was looking for, and thanked Joe from the bottom of his heart before they said goodbye. He visited a couple more camps to take some film before heading back home. It proved to be a valuable trip.
□ □ □
In 1963, Babe decided it was time to put all of his ideas and years of interviews and films together into one instructional movie on hitting. He and his two sons rehearsed each scene and knew just where everyone needed to be. There were illustrations, cue cards with dialogue; he even invented a batting tee with 3 tees to represent various levels of pitches. Introducing all of these facts and facets on hitting would take a tremendous amount of time running the film forward and backward, splicing and editing to illustrate in detail all of the happenings that transpire in that half of second it takes from the time the ball leaves the pitchers hand until it crosses the plate.
With the format planned down to every detail, all he needed was a baseball field. Harold Musselman, athletic director at Caltech University in Pasadena agreed to let Babe use their facility. The finished product included about an hour and half of instructional film with Babe and his boys and another two hours of interviews and action shots from outstanding players from both leagues, confirming Babe’s theories on hitting from years of playing and researching.
□ □ □
Babe had gone four years without pay and borrowed against his homes to finance his travels for his filming projects. Now that the film was completed, there was one thing left for him to do – take it to the Winter Meeting’s in Los Angeles in hopes to get back into Major League Baseball. He wrote to club owners pitching his idea – the use of film as an instructional tool. Some listened; others showed no interest at all. But there was one owner who he felt just might get it. Charlie Finley.
Babe entered the Statler Hotel on Wilshire Boulevard and immediately recognized former players all looking for jobs. He found Pat Friday, Kansas City’s general manager and introduced himself. He told Friday he was looking for Charlie Finley. Friday pointed towards Finley who was waiting for an elevator. Babe approached Finley and introduced himself and mentioned his movie on hitting. Charlie apologized, but said he had a plane to catch. Babe stepped on the elevator and told Charlie that he couldn’t afford to trade away talent; that he had to know what to look for in a hitter, and that that’s what his film was all about. The elevator stopped on Finley’s floor and the two stepped off. Finley asked Babe where the film was and how long would it take to get it.
“Fifteen minutes,” Babe replied.
Finley told Babe to get the film and that he’d order up lunch.
When Babe returned to the room, Pat Friday was there to see the movie as well. They had a nice lunch while Babe set up his projector. After watching the first of three reels, Finley canceled his flight and wanted to see more. They watched the second reel, then the third. After spending almost 6 hours together, Finley asked Babe what he wanted from him.
Babe told Finley that he wanted to be his batting coach; that he felt he could help the organization. Finley explained that he had just hired Luke Appling to be the batting coach. Then he thought for a minute. He looked at Pat Friday and instructed him to give Babe a coaching contract. He wanted Babe to show the film to the big league club and minor league clubs. He wanted him in uniform before the games and then in the stands during the games to film each players at bats.
Spring training got underway with Babe showing his movie. Ironically, one of the players who had a front row seat was none other than Charley Lau, who’d later go on to be a renowned batting coach. He worked with several players that spring including Dave Duncan, Doc Edwards, Ken “Hawk” Harrelson and Jim Gentile to name a few.
“Babe’s job this season will be to turn the analytical eye of the cameras on the A’s. He will zoom in on them when they are hitting well and when they are slumping. Dahlgren’s noble experiment is the first to be conducted in baseball on a full-time basis. A few clubs dabbled with similar projects, dropped them because of money, fading interest and the absence of a “believer” with Dahlgren’s sincere enthusiasm in what can be accomplished.” Lyall Smith, Detroit Free Press.
“This season, the Athletics plan a rather elaborate experiment in the use of films. They have hired Babe as a coach and his principal duties will be to handle the film program and to instruct hitters.” Joe McGuff, Kansas City Star.
Throughout the entire season, Babe filmed players during batting practice. He’d even throw batting practice and hit ground balls to the infielders. And after a quick shower, he’d get back in his street clothes before the game started where he had two box seats in every ball park: one for himself and one for his equipment. He had a small tripod with a customized mount that he made to carry two cameras: the Bolex, which held 100 feet for the pitchers and a Bell and Howell magazine load camera for the batters. He’d become quite an expert in removing film from the Bolex and inserting a new role from under a black cloth. It got so the fans around him would applaud when the changes were completed. Loading the Bell and Howell was simple – just a matter of opening the rear compartment and removing and inserting a new magazine. Before the game started, he placed magazines in the batting order which enabled him to quickly change the magazines with each batter.
Being a camera coach involved a lot of hours, dropping off the film after games to be developed and picking it up the next day before going to the ball park. He had to edit the film and place them on 400 foot reels for each player. As the season progressed, his camera trunks became increasingly heavier with multiple 400 foot reels for each player.
Unfortunately, all of that hard work didn’t reflect in the standings. The A’s finished dead last in the American League in 1964. While Charlie Finley was impressed with Babe’s work, he didn’t feel the results justified the cost and Babe wasn’t brought back.
After receiving his release from the A’s, he attended the Winter Meeting’s once again and spoke with Bob Howsam, general manager of the St. Louis Cardinals. Howsam instructed Babe to write him when the meetings concluded. Babe complied, and Howsam invited him back to St. Louis so he could view Babe’s work. Howsam liked what he saw and the Cardinals brought Babe on as the Director of Instructional films – a camera coach. The film he took of each game would be available to the coaches and players involved, to study at home at the ball park or on the road in Babe’s room.
Unlike with Kansas City the previous year, where Babe worked with the hitters, in St. Louis it was just film. He missed working with the hitters but that was the agreement Howsam made. Some of the guys approached Babe for suggestions, like Lou Brock and Bill White, but Babe had to tell them he wasn’t the batting coach. Howsam thought too many batting tips between coaches could cause confusion.
The 1965 season ended with the Cardinals finishing in seventh place, and once again, a major league club didn’t see the purpose in filming their players for instructional purposes and Babe was let go.
He spent the next several years at home in Arcadia, California, studying hitting while helping his sons with their professional baseball pursuits. He even placed an ad in The Sporting News for his movie in 1968 hoping that it might catch another major league clubs eye.
□ □ □
In 1970, Babe decided to open an indoor batting cage; one that could be used year around, where he could give lessons to youngsters and film their progress. A good batting coach could take a kid to the next level, and he considered himself to be the best and wanted to pass on his knowledge. He found an old rundown bowling alley in Arcadia, not far from the Santa Anita race track. It would become a hitters paradise.
In the middle of July, his phone rang. On the other end was Charlie Finley, now owner of the Oakland A’s. He was very disappointed with his club. They were in third place and couldn’t score any runs. Joe DiMaggio had vacated the job as batting coach after the previous season, and Charley Lau was coaching the hitters. Finley asked Babe if he could help. Babe assured Finley that he could and agreed to join the team when they returned from their East Coast road trip.
Once again, Babe’s role would be to work with the hitters during batting practice and then film them from the stands once the game started. Every player knew that Babe was collecting a library of all their at bats, but it was up to them to ask to see it. About a month after joining the club while in Detroit, Babe’s phone rang in his hotel room. It was Reggie Jackson. He wanted to talk. Jackson had been benched for three straight games and wasn’t happy. Babe invited him to his suite, and when Reggie entered he asked if he could see some of the film that Babe had of him. Babe threaded the projector and the two began to watch. Reggie was struck by how bad he looked. Babe ran the film back and forth and explained his problem. He told Reggie that he wasn’t ready and that he was lunging. The next afternoon, Reggie pinch hit for Rollie Fingers in the top of the 8th inning and hit a low line drive out towards center field off Tom Timmermann that carried well over 440 feet.
The A’s returned home and had just finished a day game when Babe got up to the clubhouse after getting his camera equipment packed up. When he entered the coaches room, all the coaches were gone except Charley Lau, who had waited for him.
Lau told Babe that he didn’t agree with his theory on hitting. Babe looked at him for a moment, wondering what this was all about. In Babe’s mind, they weren’t theories. His movie, which Lau watched in 1964, proved certain time tested things that all good hitters did in order to be successful. He reminded Lau that he had all spring until the middle of July to work with the hitters and that Charlie Finley asked him back. Lau had no response and left the room.
The season ended with A’s finishing in second place, nine games behind the Twins. John McNamara and his entire coaching staff were let go.
Babe would never coach again. Charley Lau however would go on to Kansas City and become recognized as a premiere hitting coach in Major League Baseball, known for of all things, using video to help hitters.
□ □ □
After almost 10 years of operating his indoor batting cages in Arcadia, Babe shut down the “Dome” as he called it and moved his batting lessons to his home in Bradbury nestled in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains. With over two acres of land, he decided to build a couple of full length cages at home. I can remember hitting until my heart was content. It was an amazing place.
And then the fire came on that November night in 1980 that destroyed everything. The home, his memorabilia, and all of his film, including the movie he made in 1963 that was unlike anything else at the time.
He rebuilt the house, though the batting cages were gone forever. He continued to talk about hitting and collected articles and photographs of great hitters. We’d spend a lot of nights watching games on television together, and he would tell me the faults and strengths of the hitters in real time.
In June of 1985, SPORT Magazine published a piece on George Brett and how Charley Lau helped shape his swing. It mentioned how in 1971, under Lau’s tutelage, the Royals were the first club to use video for instructional purposes; how Lau would spend the next several years watching and slowing down swings until finally having a revelation of what made a good swing.
While the Royals may have been the first to “invest” in state of the art video equipment in 1971, the Kansas City A’s of 1964 invested in a coach who had his own equipment.
Babe photocopied the article, highlighted certain passages and kept it with his collection of notes in his binder. Between that article and Lau’s subsequent video on hitting titled, The Art of Hitting .300, Babe felt he was hearing himself talk. He remembered when Lau told him he didn’t agree with his theories on hitting. But a lot of what Lau espoused in his video were things Babe laid out in his instructional movie that Lau watched in 1964 and again in 1970.
It is not my intent to denigrate Charley Lau. He put in many years developing some great hitters in the game and he deserves a lot of credit for that.
But it is my intent to cast a light on my grandfather, who had the vision as early as 1958 to use film to help teach major league hitters; the foresight to make a full length movie on hitting and use it to get a job with a major league club in 1964. A move that sportswriters called an “experiment.”
I have no doubt that video would’ve made its way to Major League Baseball in time, with or without my grandfather. But the practice we see today in every professional clubhouse, that is, the use of video to point out the flaws of not only hitters but pitchers too, can be traced back to Babe Dahlgren’s vision through his viewfinder.
I’ve been a Yankees fan for as long as I can remember. Growing up in Orange County, California, whenever New York would travel to the West Coast to play the Angels, I’d go to at least one of the games. Some years we had season tickets, others I’d walk-up and buy tickets at the gate. Then there were the special occasions…the few times I’d go as a guest of Art Schuerman.
My dad met Art Schuerman in 1965. They worked for MacGregor Sporting Goods co. in a warehouse in Los Angeles where Art was in charge of the pro golf department. A couple of years later, my dad took a job with MacGregor in the Bay Area, where I was born. We returned to Orange County in 1972 where my dad took on more responsibilities with MacGregor.
Art was as nice as they come. He was short in stature and resembled Popeye the sailor. He became an Angels season ticket holder in the late ‘60’s and within a few years, settled into what were arguably the best seats in the house: Row A, seats 1-3 in Aisle 7. Translation: front row between the Angels on-deck circle and home plate. Art never got married and spent all of his free time at the ball park. He enjoyed inviting friends to join him, it made him happy. In over 30 years you could count on one hand how many home games Art missed. He loved it, and the Angels employees all loved him. He was a legend.
MacGregor eventually dissolved and Art retired. But it was baseball that called him out of retirement when he started scouting for the Milwaukee Brewers in the Orange County area in the late ‘80’s into the early ‘90’s. He scouted a lot of my games, too!
On May 23, 1995 the Yankees played the Angels at Anaheim Stadium. It was a Tuesday night, and Art left two tickets at will-call for me. He wrote “Dahlgren” on top of both tickets. I took my younger brother, Pete, and we were among the 14,952 fans who watched the Angels crush the Yankees, 10-0.
It was a treat to go to attend games with Art. He always had the inside scoop, not just with the Angels but the visiting clubs too. Players would come up to the backstop before the games to say hello. On this night, I remember home plate umpire, Tim Tschida walking over between innings to chat.
It was frustrating having such great seats that night and not being able to watch Don Mattingly (my favorite player), Wade Boggs and Paul O’Neill who all had the night off. Apparently Buck Showalter felt those three amazing hitters (all of whom were hitting over .300 at the time) would be overmatched by Chuck Finely. Oh, how I disagreed!
So, we focused on other players instead – like the young kid on the mound. We were so close to home plate that we could hear Mike Stanley’s glove pop from every fastball thrown with that effortless delivery we’d all grow so accustomed to seeing. I explained to my brother that the young pitcher starting for the Yankees was Mariano Rivera, and that he was making his major league debut. Unfortunately for Rivera, it wasn’t the most memorable night. He only lasted 3.1 innings and gave up 5 earned runs. Although the Yankees lost, we drove home happy. It was a great night.
The years passed, and the Yankees went on an incredible run. From 1996-2003 they appeared in 6 World Series winning 4 of them; in large part to that skinny kid we saw pitch on that forgotten May night. It was during that time, that my brother told me he thought he still had his ticket stub from that game. He was positive he kept it. Not because it was Mariano Rivera’s debut; never in a million years would he have known that would’ve meant something. He kept the ticket stub because the seats were so good. And sure enough, after a little searching he found it and kept it in a safe place.
In 2013, when Mariano Rivera announced that it would be his last season, we talked about that game, the ticket and how incredible it would be if we could get him to sign it. After all, how many people who were in Anaheim Stadium on May 23, 1995, kept their ticket stub? Odds were, not many. Having the ticket signed would surely make it a unique item – perhaps one of a kind.
In June of 2013, I e-mailed Jason Zillo, executive director of media for the Yankees. I explained the story behind the ticket and asked if it would be possible to have Rivera sign it when the Yankees traveled to Los Angeles in July to play the Dodgers. I suggested it might even make for a neat story in a future Yankees program: Grandsons to former Yankees champion, witness Rivera’s debut, only to meet 19 years later to have one of a kind ticket signed during his last season. He wrote back saying that it wasn’t something they’d be able to coordinate during the two days they’d be in Los Angeles. Given the media circus surrounding Rivera’s last year, I understood.
My dad thought he might have more luck being the son of a former Yankee. He called the Yankees front office and had a nice conversation with an assistant. By the end of the phone call, the instructions were to send her the ticket and she’d take care of the rest.
The ticket was overnighted to Yankee Stadium on September 5th. We got confirmation that it was received and sent down to the clubhouse on Friday, September 6th, the day a three game series with the Red Sox started. We also included an overnight return label to ship on Monday, September 9th, figuring Mariano would sign the ticket before the Yankees left on a ten game road trip. But upon checking the FedEx tracking on Monday, we noticed that the envelope hadn’t shipped. This caused concern. Knowing the ticket was going to be sitting in an empty clubhouse for 10 days, my dad called once again where he was reassured by the assistant that it was not signed yet, but that upon the Yankees return, she would see to it that it was taken care of. Needless to say, those 10 days were nerve-wracking. Would the envelope get lost in a sea of mail at the stadium? Or worse, mistakenly get thrown out? These were all things swirling through our minds. But our minds were put to ease on September 25th when we were notified that the ticket was signed and being sent back priority overnight.
On September 26, 2013, Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte emerged from the dugout in front of 48,675 people at Yankee Stadium to take the ball from Mariano Rivera in a non-save situation. It was an emotional and perfect ending to an amazing career. Earlier that day, a FedEx envelope arrived at my parents house in Southern California. Tucked inside was the ticket that granted me and my brother access to witness the beginning for a young starter; now signed by the greatest closer of all time – arriving on the day of his last major league appearance. How appropriate.