If readers are wondering if I have fallen off the edge of the universe they can be forgiven; I have been on the road for much of the past two weeks and for me that means I haven’t been able to keep up my blog. I fully realize that there are millions of people clever and computer literate enough to travel across multiple time zones, keep their blogs up to date, change the litter box and complete the wash and ironing, but I am not one of those people. I don’t even get Christmas cards from those people.
Anyway, I was on a wonderful but exhausting road trip that sent me to the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Conn., for Dick Gordon’s June 1-3 reunion of the 1967 Boston Red Sox, then on to New York City for the Sotheby’s with SCP auction that turned out to be the doozy you would expect. Then it was back to the wilds of Wisconsin for a couple of days and down to Chicago Friday night (June 8) for our annual SportsFest show, this time relocated to the Renaissance Schaumburg Hotel about 10 miles west of the former location in Rosemont, Ill.
First things first: the casino, touted as the largest in the world, is easily one of the most spectacular I’ve ever seen. It’s actually two casinos at opposite ends, with all the shops, restaurants and theatres you’d ever want sandwiched in between 6,000 slot machines and all the usual other games of chance, and some not so usual.
As might have been expected, Yaz was the star of the show, but he also turned out to be intent on putting the focus of the weekend on the team as a whole, rather then himself as the guy who had an absolutely unbelievable 10 days and the end of an equally unbelievable month, capping a year that was quite fairly dubbed “The Impossible Dream.”
I hope I didn’t repeat this to Yaz, who, no doubt has heard the same refrain a couple of zillion times, but I never saw any ballplayer have a stretch even remotely close to what he did at the close of the 1967 season. Coming at what was nearly the apex of a pitching-dominant era, his numbers in that Triple Crown season were stunning, but what he did that September defied simply being distilled and defined by mere numbers.
This was a time when you followed baseball in the newspaper; this was long before cable TV and ESPN, and there was one “national” game on network television every Saturday afternoon. Fans listened on radio and read gaudy, hyperbolic accounts in the newspaper, meaning the listener or reader supplied much of the imagination needed to fill out the picture. To me, a 17-year-old kid still mourning the premature retirement of Sandy Koufax at the end of 1966, it seemed like Yaz got a hit almost every time he stepped to the plate in that final stretch. At the very least, he seemed to come through every time the game hung in the balance.
Now, four decades (and several reunions) later, Yaz sits behind a table and dutifully signs for a dedicated legion of admirers, occasionally taking a drag on a politically incorrect Marboro Red that he would rest at the edge of the tablecloth between signatures. As an ex-smoker, I closely scrutinize actors in the movies as they fake their way through inhaling; it rarely looks real, though I can hardly criticize an actor for wanting to protect a set of lungs. For Yastrzemski, the act of smoking seemed as natural as that magnificent swing of his, and besides, Yaz is New England royalty, and even if smoking was verboten in those conference rooms, who is going to call him on it?
Gordon, who orchestrated the reunion and the attendant activities along with another well-known East Coast show promoter, Mike Riccio, came up with a marvelous location for his event. I suspect the show area, with about 50 dealers and an area to the side for the player signings, was almost certainly one of the most elegant locations for a card show in a hobby/industry that traces its roots to your Uncle Ned’s garage or maybe a tiny room at a suburban Holiday Inn.
On the Saturday night of the show, Gordon and Riccio teamed up with the casino to run a unique reception cocktail party and dinner after the close of the show. The casino invited about 200 high rollers to the party and then treated them almost as well as they treated the ballplayers: in one of the upper-level ballrooms, the players posed for pictures and signed stuff for nearly two hours, while all invited nibbled on high-end hors doeuvres like itty-bitty lamb chops and various and sundry things wrapped in bacon and such.
It was really interesting to watch such a monied lineup wade around in the world of sports memorabilia and autographs, but despite their collective unfamiliarity with it all, they adjusted pretty quickly and efficiently. Though they had all gotten e-mail invitations to the event, they still found themselves improvising when it came to finding things for the famous Soxers to sign.
The casino had arranged for a camerman to take pictures of the high rollers with the various players and then promptly develop the photos so they could get them signed by the players on the spot. The most innovative effort came when the assembled snagged every home plate that was part of the centerpieces on the tables, getting every player .... starting with, who else, Yaz ... to sign the piece.
In the frenzy (dignified but, uh, energetic), one lady with a raspy voice who sounded as if she might have been cheering too enthusiastically from the bleachers thrust a souvenir program in front of my nose. “Are you a Red Sox player from way back?” she asked a bit frantically, not wanting to waste a lot of time and effort if it turned out I was a mere mortal. For a nanosecond I thought about telling her I was Pumpsie Green, but realized the gag might have missed its mark, so I politely explained that I was a lowly fourth estater. I wasn’t necessarily upset that she had lumped me into a group generally 10-plus years older than I am; I get the same treatment at the local grocery store here in Iola, with the teenagers according me the 10 percent senior citizens discount, even though I am still a couple of years away from the official status.
The use of the home plates gave me a chuckle because I found out from one of the waitresses (I love grilling the staff) that they were leftovers from a roast of Don Zimmer a couple of weeks earlier at the casino.
That same night, Rich Little was performing in the theatre at the casino, with Chicago not far behind. I just mention that to show that our hobby doesn’t exactly have a monopoly on the nostalgia thing.
More on Sotheby's and SportsFest to follow.