You won’t believe these six encounters I’ve had with major league baseball players

One of them calls me 'baby'
A record player
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‘Ya gotta believe!’ was Tug McGraw’s mantra for the 1969 ‘Miracle Mets.’ He was a World Series hero for the 1980 Philadelphia Phillies.

Bob Stanley is barely a half-year removed from his ignominious role in the 1986 World Series for the Boston Red Sox.

He was on the mound when the New York Mets scored the tying and winning runs in Game 6. The Mets won Game 7 and Red Sox fans licked their wounds once again. Sixty-eight years and counting without a championship.

I’ve tried to forgive Stanley. I’ve even written as much in a journal for a college class. He’s a human being who didn’t want to fail at that moment, I tell myself. (It’s my inner Natalie Wood from “Miracle on 34th Street”: “I believe, I believe. It’s silly but I believe.”)

So it’s the 1987 season. I’m spending the summer with my sister, Lisa, in Reading, Mass., and I’ve taken the train into Boston. I’m walking around Fenway Park prior to a game that I won’t be attending. It’s happenstance that I’m there when Red Sox players arrive.

Through a screened chain-link fence that surrounds the players’ parking lot, I see ace pitcher Roger Clemens, in slacks and cowboy boots. Stanley is nearer to me. It’s getaway day, meaning that the Red Sox will play the Cleveland Indians before heading out on a road trip. Players are removing suitcases from their cars.

“Bob,” I say, “can I get your autograph?”

Surely this is the contrite Bob Stanley, who knows he let down his teammates and, more so, all of Red Sox Nation on that fateful night in Queens. He needs the fans more than ever.

“Sorry, pal,” he says to me. “I’ve got my hands full.”

The next night in Chicago, Steamer will give up three home runs and eight earned runs in an 8-6 loss to the White Sox. His record will fall to 2-7.

Karma is a bitch, Bob.

Beer spilled on my pants

I love baseball. As for baseball players, I’ve learned to admire their skills but not expect much from them as people. (See Leach, Rick, in this post.)

Stephen King, a long-time Red Sox season-ticket holder, wrote an opinion column for the Boston Globe this spring about the addition of extended netting to protect Fenway fans.

He noted that his dugout seats are close to home plate, “where you can actually talk to Sox batters in the on-deck circle (although few rarely respond, in their Olympian disregard of we lowly fans and their deep concentration on the game) … .”

In a fate fit for one of King’s stories, Stanley in 1988 fell down the stairs at home while taking out the garbage, severing tendons in his pitching hand.

Stanley isn’t the only baseball player with whom I have interacted, to both bad and good effect.

Tug McGraw: A lefty relief pitcher, McGraw was a World Series hero for the 1969 “Miracle Mets,” for whom he coined the phrase, “Ya gotta believe!,” and recorded the final out in 1980 when the Philadelphia Phillies won their first World Series championship.

In 2002, I coordinated McGraw’s personal appearance at a Harrisburg Senators baseball game. He signed baseballs, chatted with fans, and spilled a beer on my pants. He didn’t apologize.

But he was a pleasant guy. He told Rick Leiner of CBS21 News something to the effect, “If there’s a baseball game, the Tugger wants to be there.” My client wanted McGraw to sign more baseballs than he had the time or inclination to do that night, so he tossed me his keys, and I put the box in his Jeep.

Bidding his leave, he saluted and turned on his heels. McGraw died in 2004.

Tommy John: Also in the ballpark the night of McGraw’s appearance was Tommy John. The man who gave us the elbow surgery that bears his name spent one season as the Senators’ pitching coach.

He was fiddling with a net or other apparatus before the game, along the first-base line. As I walked past him from the grandstand, I said, “Welcome to Harrisburg, Tommy.”

He looked up at me: “I’m thinking of running for mayor,” he said.

Mike Bordick: Not many major leaguers come from Maine, where youth baseball season often arrives late. Bordick starred at the University of Maine, then had a nice career mainly with the Oakland Athletics and Baltimore Orioles.


Mike Bordick played shortstop for the Baltimore Orioles.

He was at an Orioles fan fest maybe 15 years ago when I got in line for his autograph, mainly because I thought I had an “in” with him. One of my cousins, a funny, fun-loving guy, has known him for years. So when it was my turn, I approached Bordick.

“I’m ‘Ernie’ Gagne’s cousin,” I told him.

“You admit that?” Bordick said with a smile. He signed a picture and handed it to me without further comment.

Lou Piniella: The Chicago Cubs were in Pittsburgh for a series against the Pirates. One afternoon, my son, Jack, and I were walking across the Roberto Clemente Bridge when we came upon Cubs manager Piniella coming toward us, carrying a big, brown paper bag.

“Hey, it’s Lou Piniella,” I said to Jack, but, unwittingly, loud enough for Piniella to hear.

Piniella simply nodded. He betrayed no annoyance, but I would equate his response to that of the fictional “Whammer” in “The Natural” saying unconvincingly, “It’s always nice to meet a member of the general public.”

Ron Washington: We were outside Rogers Centre in Toronto in 2012 when we passed Washington, the manager of the visiting Texas Rangers.

“Hi, Ron!” I exulted, as I am wont to do around big league skippers.

By this time, Washington had twice taken the Rangers to the World Series and been immortalized in the book and movie, “Moneyball.”

But Ron didn’t big-league me.

Turning in my direction, he said, “Hey, how you doin’, baby?”

Bob Stanley isn’t in Ron’s league.

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