The former baseball Commissioner, Fay Vincent, began his presentation with a tribute to Yogi Berra. He stated that Yogi was not the bumbling character that he was commonly portrayed as, but an extremely gifted athlete. He was a World War II Navy veteran that had participated in the D Day battles and then went on to play baseball and was voted into the All-Star game 18 times. He also managed to play on 10 World Champion teams and was acknowledged by his peers as one of the greatest catchers of all time.
Commissioner Vincent regaled the Y’s men with stories about some of baseballs past greats such as Warren Spahn, Ted Williams, and Joe DiMaggio among others.
His first stories dealt with Warren Spahn who the Commissioner regards as one of the smartest men to ever play the game. Spahn came to baseball after fighting in World War II where he received a battlefield commission. Notwithstanding this later start, Spahn managed to win 363 games. When asked who had taught him how to pitch, Spahn replied that it was hitters who had provided the instruction and that he learned by observing each hitter and getting to know what he could hit and what he couldn’t. But Spahn had to acknowledge a story told by Ted Williams where Ted had convinced Spahn that left handed batters couldn’t hit a particular pitch and then hit a home run off that pitch in an All-Star game. The story followed a declaration by Williams that pitchers were some of God’s dumbest creatures.
Commissioner Vincent recalled that Joe DiMaggio was not one to tell many stories, but recalled one that he got from Joe. Joe, early in his career, was rooming in the same hotel as Lefty Gomez the famed pitcher. Gomez used to give the young and poor DiMaggio a ride to the ball park. On one such ride DiMaggio stated that he would become the most famous center fielder supplanting the reputation of the man who then had that reputation. During a subsequent game, when Gomez was pitching, DiMaggio was playing a very short center field in the style of the man he was trying to supplant. Despite Gomez’s admonitions to move back, DiMaggio stayed close to the second baseman. A ball was hit over his head for a triple that cost his team and Gomez the game. On the ride back to their hotel, DiMaggio felt he had to say something. Gomez pulled the car over and said, “I know you want the fans to forget their favorite center fielder, but you keep playing like that and they will forget Gomez.”
Commissioner Vincent stated that Ted Williams had a well-earned reputation as surly and difficult to get along with. Williams backed this up with a story about his going to Florida to fish under an assumed name so as not to call attention to himself. But a young boy did recognize him and asked if he was Ted Williams. Williams denied it and started to walk away when the boy stated that he couldn’t be Williams because Williams was a son-of-a-bitch and he seemed to be a nice guy. Commissioner Vincent also mentioned that Williams didn’t even respond to a letter from the first President Bush when the President wanted to give him the Medal of Freedom because he didn’t want to have to appear in a tux or even want to wear a tie. The Commissioner convinced him to go, promising that he could dress as he liked. Williams did go and actually wore a blazer and tie because of the persuasion of a fellow former Marine Captain.
Commissioner Vincent feels that a great debt is owed to the old Negro baseball League that kept interest up for the game and managed to produce some amazing talent. The Commissioner managed to obtain health benefits for these players as well as pension benefits. And he looks upon this as one of his great accomplishments. Because of his efforts the Commissioner was able to befriend several of the former Negro League players such as Slick Surratt and Double-Duty Radcliffe and told stories on how each got his nickname. He also became acquainted with Larry Doby who was the first black player in the American League.
Q. Do you have any stories about Satchel Paige?
A. Whitey Herzog asked Satchel if he could throw a ball through a hole in the fence the same distance away as a pitcher’s mound is from the batter’s box. Satchel said he could 2 out of 3 times if bet $100. They bet. Satchel threw the first ball against the wall and asked if the bet could be doubled for the next two balls. Whitey said he wasn’t that dumb and then watched as Satchel put the next two balls right through the hole.
Q. Can you comment about Pete Rose?
A. He was not reinstated and will never be reinstated because the person to do so would be responsible for Pete’s future actions and nobody wants that responsibility. Universal authorized betting would have a tremendous negative impact on sports, but it will probably happen someday.
Q. Is the difference between Koufax and Spahn, one of longevity?
A. I would say yes.