Familiar faces grace Old-Timers' Day
Mussina a first-time participant, while Zimmer makes return
NEW YORK -- There was a time not so long ago that Mike Mussina might have crowed from behind the mound if a fielder couldn't make an easy play, costing the right-hander an earned run on his ledger.
The rules are a little different at this level of competition, Mussina has had to learn. The recently retired right-hander was among the numerous first-time participants in Sunday's 63rd annual Old-Timers' Day, the first held at the new Yankee Stadium.
"I enjoyed it, to be able to come out here again and be on the field and put the uniform on," Mussina said. "I had fun. I'm not too young for it. It was nice to be invited back and get out there with the guys and just play a little baseball."
Mussina started for the "home" Bombers squad against the Clippers team and was serenaded by the crowd with one more round of "Moose" calls -- just 10 months after he became the oldest first-time 20-game winner in Major League history.
Teaming with batterymate Joe Girardi, Mussina faced four Old-Timers and allowed all to reach base -- none on a particularly hard-hit ball. Homer Bush legged out a grounder, Lee Mazzilli plopped a single into shallow left field, Ron Blomberg trickled a run-scoring hit up the middle and Mike Easler "chased" Mussina with a 100-foot fister into left field.
Suffice it to say, Mussina wasn't exactly left second-guessing his decision to walk away from the big leagues after logging his 20th victory last Sept. 28 at Fenway Park.
"I enjoyed playing all those years and it was great, but I don't need a grand finale tour," Mussina said. "I just wanted to go out and play one more year and enjoy it. I didn't know I'd win 20 games or anything, but it ended up being a great summer, personally. There's not a better way to step aside and let somebody else do it. I appreciate all the ovations and cheers and Moose calls, and all that stuff."
Yet some of the loudest reactions in pregame introductions were for Don Zimmer, the 78-year-old baseball lifer who was permitting pinstripes to drape his body for the first time since the 2003 World Series.
Greeted with a kiss on the cheek from Andy Pettitte and a bear hug from Tony Pena, Zimmer had vowed never to return to Yankee Stadium after a spat with principal owner George M. Steinbrenner. Time has healed those wounds. He spent time around the batting cage chatting with Tigers manager Jim Leyland, one of his best friends in the game.
"I thought it'd be a good time to come back and see the guys, the Old-Timers," Zimmer said. "I didn't hesitate when they asked me. I didn't even know the young kids who asked me. I just said, 'Yes.'"
Now an advisor with the Rays, Zimmer said that he moved on immediately after that night in autumn 2003, but said that he feels badly about Steinbrenner's declining health and said he had no words to say to him at this time. Yet Zimmer remains richly appreciative of his time serving as Joe Torre's trusted bench lieutenant.
"Nobody will ever know how special it was," Zimmer said, his eyes welling with tears.
The afternoon was filled with snapshots of the intersection of Yankees decades, beginning as the players greeted a cluster of fans who assembled at the Gate 4 entrance seeking autographs.
After ducking inside for a quick change of clothes, Jesse Barfield spotted the emerald green grass and yelled, "Someone get me some batting gloves!" and soon taking larger-than-life batting practice cuts on the center-field video screen. Chad Curtis played catch with his son across the outfield, and countless players hugged to exchange the usual questions about wives, kids, real estate ventures and golf games.
"Baseball players are so spread out when we retire that we don't have a chance to see each other that much," David Cone said. "A day like this makes it all possible again."
At one end of the dugout, Mussina and Pettitte held a spirited conversation, while Bob Turley collected autographs of Yankees players on a Red Sox flag defaced with the 26 World Series titles. Blomberg marveled at the plethora of dining options at the new Yankee Stadium and glad-handed everyone in sight.
"These guys are my guys," Blomberg said. "Just to be a part of it is great. You grew up to hopefully be a Major Leaguer, and these guys are my brothers. The camaraderie is incredible."
Near the bat rack, A.J. Burnett almost shifted nervously as he waited for a much-larger Dwight Gooden to approach. Burnett had brought the April 18, 1985, issue of Sports Illustrated with him, depicting Gooden as a 20-year-old fireballer behind the headline, "Doctor K."
"It's Doc, man -- I always watched him growing up," Burnett said. "He was one of my favorites. I just told him it was nice to meet him, and I always wanted to. I told him I had something here from the old days for him to sign, and he liked it."
|"Baseball players are so spread out when we retire that we don't have a chance to see each other that much. A day like this makes it all possible again."|
|-- David Cone, on Old-Timers' Day|
"I was kidding the clubhouse kids, saying, 'I need a bigger shirt now,'" Gooden said. "I have gained a little bit of weight. My shirt needs some adjustments, but it's just good to be out here today."
Four Hall of Famers were among the Old-Timers, with Whitey Ford, Reggie Jackson and Rich "Goose" Gossage all drawing passionate ovations. But as always, the greatest reception -- both from the fans and the former Bombers -- was reserved for Lawrence Peter "Yogi" Berra, who reflected on his playing career for anyone who would listen.
"We had some good guys," Berra said. "We were all leaders on those clubs. We were good friends, like Bobby Brown and Bobby Richardson. They were all great. Casey [Stengel] wasn't bad either. He came in '49 and won 10 of them. That's not bad. He was a good manager -- Casey was good."
The pregame ceremonies included a tribute to Thurman Munson, the Yankees captain who perished when the plane he was piloting crashed short of a Canton, Ohio, runway in August 1979.
Diana Munson was escorted to the mound by Jerry Narron, who filled in as the Yankees catcher for the remainder of 1979, and Kay Murcer -- widow of Bobby Murcer -- was led by Munson's full-time 1980 replacement, Rick Cerone, for a special first pitch. It has been 30 years since the Yankees lost Munson, and it still hurts.
"Every year comes and goes, and you know when it is," Ron Guidry said. "You remember him because of the friend he was. He was my catcher. The time span hits you when you say 30 years. It's hard to actually say, because it's not only 30 years that he's gone, but it's 30 years that you've aged. You remember, but you remember in a good sense.
"I just take all the memories that I had with him every year and I remember all the fun -- the games when he'd chew me out if I'd miss one pitch or didn't get him what he wanted, or some idiotic thing that he thought was instrumental that I thought was trivial. That's how he was. He brought out the best in you."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.