Old-Timers' Day

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The logo used for the 2014 television broadcast

Old-Timers' Day (or Old-Timers' Game) generally refers to a tradition in Major League Baseball of a team, especially the New York Yankees, devoting the early afternoon preceding a weekend late afternoon game to celebrate the baseball-related accomplishments of its former players who have since retired. The pattern has been copied intermittently by other sports but has failed to catch on.

Yankees Old-Timers' Day[edit]

Precursor events[edit]

The New York Yankees held famous ballpark celebrations to recognize the careers of two of their all-time greats, first for Lou Gehrig on July 4, 1939 (several weeks after he was forced to retire young because of ALS),[1] and Babe Ruth in April 1948.[2] Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day was held on July 4, 1939, and remains baseball's most famous such gathering. After hearing tearful speeches from friends and former teammates who had seen his career cut short by the illness which would come to bear his name, Gehrig delivered a short poignant speech, immortalized by his declaration that in spite of his fate he still considered himself the "luckiest man on the face of the earth."[3]

Current format[edit]

Members of the 1950 New York Yankees being honored at the 2010 Old Timers' Day

The first Old-Timers' Day held under this name took place on the final day of the 1947 season.[4]

Today, the Yankees invite several dozen former ballplayers, including many greats and fan favorites, to be introduced to the crowd. Former coaches and managers, trainers, and broadcasters also participate in the festivities. Hall of Famers and special honorees cap the celebration, with those of the highest standing introduced last. Then participating old-timers are split into two teams, often called the Clippers (after the legendary Joe DiMaggio, the "Yankee Clipper") and the Bombers (homage to the team's legacy as the "Bronx Bombers"), to face one-another in a short exhibition contest.[5] The most guests to attend in one year was 72, in 2008.[6]

During the years he attended, DiMaggio would always be introduced last as "baseball's greatest living player". In 1978, when Billy Martin was introduced after him as part of a stunt announcing he would return as manager in 1980, DiMaggio complained and said if anyone was introduced after him without his permission he would no longer return; it never happened again. He made his final appearance in 1998, missing only the 1988 game due to a scheduling conflict.[7] Since his final appearance, Whitey Ford and Yogi Berra have traditionally been the last players introduced. Berra made his final appearance in 2014.

Other elements of the day's ceremonies include a moment of silence for members of the Yankee family who died in the previous year, and introduction of the widows of great Yankees, a tradition that started with Claire Ruth and Eleanor Gehrig attending into the 1970s and 1980s and continues today with Diana Munson, Helen Hunter, Jill Martin, Arlene Howard, Kay Murcer, all escorted by current Yankees players. Ruth's daughter and granddaughter have also been introduced in recent years.[8] Members of the Mantle and Maris families have also been introduced in the past, as well as those who have been recently widowed, such as Jerry Coleman's wife Maggie Coleman, who attended in 2014 after her husband's death.

Mel Allen was the original master of ceremonies, followed by Frank Messer, and then John Sterling and Michael Kay handling the duties as a team. People like Keith Olbermann and Bob Wolff have also contributed.

A modern addition, started in the past 20 years, involves a few "Old Timers", typically current Yankee broadcasters, being wired for sound to provide running commentary during the game, starting with Bobby Murcer and continuing with Paul O'Neill, David Cone and John Flaherty.

Notable moments[edit]

Since this is the only game played for most, if not all players, all year, the games are generally low-scoring affairs and are usually only three innings or so in length. However, there have been some famous occurrences.

In 1973 to celebrate the final Old Timers' Day in the original Yankee Stadium, Whitey Ford pitched to Mickey Mantle allowing Mantle to hit a home run, the final of his lifetime.[9]

In 1975 the Yankees held Old Timers' Day at Shea Stadium and prior to the game it was announced that Billy Martin had been hired as Yankees' manager for the first time. In 1978 Martin was re-hired on Old Timers' Day.[10]

In 1985, Phil Rizzuto was hit in the nose with a ground ball, leaving him a bloody mess. After that, "The Scooter" stopped playing in Old Timers' Games and became one of two, along with Joe DiMaggio to wear a suit and not put on the uniform. More recently, in 2014 Whitey Ford and Yogi Berra wore suits instead of uniforms and rode onto the field in a golf cart because of their age and health.[11]

In 1991, Reggie Jackson made his first appearance at Yankee Stadium since retiring as a player. In the game, he got a hit, and made a shoestring catch in right field, belying his image as a great hitter but a poor fielder.[citation needed]

In 1998, the Yankees celebrated the 20th anniversary of the 1977, 1978 and 1981 World Series that they played against the Los Angeles Dodgers, and invited some members of those Dodger teams. The game was won on a home run by Willie Randolph against Tommy John, who played in all three of those World Series, for the Dodgers in 1977 and 1978 and for the Yankees in 1981, on the losing side each time.[12]

In 2004, Luis Sojo hit the game-winning home run off of Ron Guidry.[13]

In 2010, the Yankees celebrated the 60th anniversary of the 1950 World Series championship team. They invited Hank Workman, Whitey Ford, Jerry Coleman, Don Johnson, Duane Pillette, and Charlie Silvera to represent the team. However, Yogi Berra missed the day due to a fall.[14] In 2011, Tino Martinez hit a two-run home run off of former teammate David Cone.[15] In 2016, Hideki Matsui hit a home run off David Cone into the upper deck.

In 2017 the Yankees celebrated the 40th anniversary of the 1977 team.[16]

Legacy[edit]

Some players who have been considered 'staples' at Old Timers' Day include Hall of Famers Yogi Berra and Whitey Ford; Dr. Bobby Brown; and Reggie Jackson. Joe DiMaggio returned in 1952 for his first time, and returned every year until his death with the exception of 1988, a span of 46 years, the second-longest tenure of any Yankee Old Timer, (Hector Lopez surpassed him when he attended his 47th in 2013).

Don Larsen, David Wells, and David Cone have all attended in recent years, allowing the Yankees to have all three of their pitchers who have thrown a perfect game in the stadium at the same time.

Hector Lopez has appeared at every Old Timers' Day since 1966, a span of 52 years as of 2018.[17]

Other old-timers' games[edit]

An old-timer's game was played at Comiskey Park in Chicago on July 5, 1983, during All-Star Game festivities, celebrating the 50th midsummer classic; the 1933 All-Star Game had also been held at Comiskey Park. Notable participants included Ernie Banks, Bobby Doerr, Joe DiMaggio, Burleigh Grimes, Harmon Killebrew, Willie Mays, Frank Robinson, and Hoyt Wilhelm.[18]

In 2013, the Los Angeles Dodgers revived their old-timer's game after 18 years of absence.[19]

Cracker Jack Old-Timers Classic[edit]

Each July from 1982 to 1985, an Old-Timers Classic, sponsored by Cracker Jack, was played at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C.

The inaugural game, played on the evening of July 19, 1982, was particularly memorable; then-75-year-old Luke Appling connected off Warren Spahn for a 250-foot home run to left field.[20] Other participants included Hank Aaron, Lou Brock, Bert Campaneris, Joe DiMaggio, Bob Feller, Ralph Kiner, Johnny Mize, Stan Musial, Don Newcombe, Enos Slaughter, and Early Wynn.[21] The game was won by the American League, 7–2.[22]

The second game, held on July 18, 1983, was won by the National League, 5–3, and included Richie Ashburn, Al Kaline, Bill Mazeroski, Tim McCarver, Brooks Robinson, Mickey Vernon, and Billy Williams.[23]

In 1984, the third game was held on July 2, with the National League winning 9–4, powered by home runs from Hank Aaron, Johnny Bench, Tom Haller, and Billy Williams.[24]

The final game was played on July 1, 1985, as the National League again had four home runs—by Hank Aaron, Bill Mazeroski, Joe Torre, and Tommy Davis—en route to a 7–3 win.[25]

Equitable Old-Timers Series[edit]

In February 1986, Commissioner of Baseball Peter Ueberroth announced that the Cracker Jack games would be replaced by a series of old-timers games, to be played at each of the then-26 MLB ballparks, sponsored by the Equitable Life Assurance company.[26]

The series started at Fenway Park in Boston on May 17, 1986,[27] and concluded at Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati on September 20.[28][29] Equitable donated $10,000 per game to a fund for former major leaguers in need.[27] A traveling group of Major League All-Stars served as the visiting team and played an alumni team at each home ballpark location.[27] The series was held again in 1987, starting in St. Louis on May 17 and ending in Detroit on August 30.[30] In 1988, the series started in Boston on May 14 and ended in Detroit on September 18.[31] In 1989, the series again started in Boston, on May 6, and ended in Montreal on September 17.[32] The 1990 series started in Houston on April 9 and again ended in Montreal, on August 26.[33]

Heroes of Baseball Series[edit]

In February 1991, it was announced that the Equitable Old-Timers Series would have a new name and new sponsor; the Heroes of Baseball Series would be sponsored by the Upper Deck Company, with a 24-game series starting on April 14 in Minnesota and ending on September 1 in Montreal.[34] Upper Deck donated $10,000 per game to the Baseball Assistance Team.[34] In 1992, the series was played at each of the then-26 MLB ballparks plus Mile High Stadium, the first home of the expansion Colorado Rockies when they joined MLB the following season.[35] The series was also played during the 1993 season,[36] and at some ballparks during the 1994 season.[37] The final game appears to have been played in June 1995 at Dodger Stadium.[38]

Boston Red Sox[edit]

On May 1, 1982, the Boston Red Sox held their first old-timers game at Fenway Park,[39] marking 50-years of ownership by the Yawkey family.[40] It was notable for the participation of 63-year-old Red Sox legend Ted Williams, who made a shoestring catch while playing the outfield.[41][42]

Starting in 1986, five games were held as part of the annual Equitable Old-Timers Series. The game of May 17, 1986, was themed to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the pennant-winning 1946 Red Sox, and Fenway welcomed back 19 alumni of the team including Williams and Dom DiMaggio. The game also included non-Red Sox alumni, featuring appearances by Dom's brothers, Joe DiMaggio and Vince DiMaggio.[43] The game of May 23, 1987, was themed to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Fenway Park and included the participation of Cleveland Indians pitching great Bob Feller, winning pitcher for the visiting (non-Red Sox) team.[44] The game of May 14, 1988, marked the 40th anniversary of the 1948 Red Sox team, which had lost a one-game playoff to the Cleveland Indians.[45] The game of May 6, 1989, included Carl Yastrzemski, shortly after his election to the Hall of Fame.[46] In the game of May 19, 1990, Boston pitchers Bill Lee, Bill Monbouquette, and Dick Radatz allowed just one hit in the four-inning game.[47]

Starting in 1991, three games were held as part of the annual Heroes of Baseball Series. The game of May 11, 1991, included non-playing appearances by Ted Williams (then 72) and Joe DiMaggio (then 76), in recognition of the 50th anniversary of the 1941 MLB season, when Williams batted .406 and DiMaggio had a 56-game hitting streak.[48] The game of May 16, 1992, marked the 25th anniversary of the 1967 Boston Red Sox season, known as "The Impossible Dream"; participants from the 1967 team included Mike Andrews, Jim Lonborg, Rico Petrocelli, and Carl Yastrzemski.[49] The game of May 29, 1993, honored Negro League legends,[50][51] and was the final such game held at Fenway until 2018.

The Red Sox held an alumni game at Fenway Park on May 27, 2018, before a regular season game against the Atlanta Braves; it was the Red Sox' first old-timers' game since 1993.[52] Dwight Evans and Luis Tiant acted as managers; the four-inning exhibition was won by Tiant's team, as Julio Lugo hit a two-run homer off of Pedro Martínez for the only runs in the game.[53] Other Red Sox alumni participating included Wade Boggs, Oil Can Boyd, Mike Greenwell, Bill Lee, Derek Lowe, Mike Lowell, and Troy O'Leary.[53][54]

References[edit]

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Further reading[edit]