(In Photo: Lou Gehrig playing baseball with kids)
Back when I was a kid, it was a big deal to get an autograph, but nearly impossible because around that time, the 1980’s, something was starting to happen between the players and the fans, a separation. Now, in this day and age, there is a significant divide, almost like we’re looking at players through cages longing for a moment or signature with them. Only a few get it and the ones that do today sell them on eBay. None of this makes sense to me, what the hell happened?
Suzie Pinstripe wrote a brilliant piece titled CONNECTION ISN'T WHAT IT USED TO BE and it opened my eyes and many others to something I’ve started to notice over the years. Sure, we’re still fans and sure, we still root for our guys like crazy, but if you truly want a piece of signed memorabilia and you’d like to personally witness the event happen, you need to go to a card signing and stand in line for hours and hope you meet the player before being whisked away by his “people” so they can keep the line moving. I’ve been there, I get it, but there are too many cooks in the kitchen these days. There are too many layers and much less interaction with the players. I long for the "old days."
I love watching the video of the Yankee championships when we’d lock up a World Series of playoff series and the fans would dart onto the field. Sure it was dangerous as hell, but it was real. Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s home run record and I specifically remember seeing a guy run out on the field to pat Hank on the back. Remember, that was at the height of Aaron getting threatened because he was black and about to break a white man’s record.
In the end, he was embraced by that white fan who patted him on the back. I always found that moment to be ironic. Again, that was real.
It changed though and fans can’t run on the field anymore. Fans can't walk on the field of Yankee stadium out to the monuments to exit the park after the game. All that is gone. But what about when Babe Ruth used to just sit with kids and chat it up? Sure, it was as photo op, but it was still real. What about my friend Bonnie who used to babysit for Mickey Mantle’s kids when he lived in the suburbs of New Jersey. And what about when you could just sit there and wait for players to sign a card for you before a game, and the players stuck around and did it... maybe even interacted with you. Remember that? I told you once before in WHAT YANKEE BASEBALL MEANS TO ME, about when I was a kid and Gary Ward, a new Yankee in 1987 walked up and signed a baseball card for me.
I became an instant fan, not because he was the next Mickey Mantle, but because he took a moment to interact with the fans. Gary Ward of all people, and I still cherish that baseball card all these years later.
Times have changed haven’t they? Everyone’s getting a piece, except for the fan. Am I faulting anyone? No. It’s big business now, bigger than ever and these are big athletes, but so were Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle. Hey, you know what I’d like to see happen and maybe even start a trend? I’d like players to just “show up.” Let's get back to these players being real again. We just saw it with CC Sabathia and his wife Amber were in Hoboken to help rebuild for people who lost everything in Hurricane Sandy.
You may have heard of the story of Brandon Phillips just showing up at a little league game because one of the players asked him to on Twitter, read HERE. It’s real… and our kids will never see this unless the players break away from the structure and big business and just do it because they want to thank the fans.
So I say, I hope more of these players follow in those footsteps and give it a shot!
Look, we're going to keep banging this drum. It’s important to the fans and it’s something that’s important to us here at Bleeding Yankee Blue. Maybe we can open the eyes of some of these players, for the better of the game, after all, it could be fun...it could be real again.