While watching the Jackie Robinson Day ceremony at Yankee Stadium April 15, our friend Joe commented about the current players,”These guys have no idea what black players went through back then,” as the Rangers and Yankees each donned the number 42 for the night (as did all MLB players) in commemoration of the man who changed baseball.
Joe’s comment inspired me to ask my husband, Ken Singleton, on the ride back to the hotel after the game: What was it like as an African-American to play baseball in the 1960’s?
“I’m not comparing what I experienced to what African-Americans and Hispanic players went through before me — because they did all the heavy lifting,” said Ken, “but it wasn’t great sometimes. It was obvious in some of these cities that people weren’t happy that black and Latino players were there — in their manner of speaking or the way they looked at us. They weren’t nice. It didn’t happen everywhere, but it did in certain places.”
Ken played in the New York Mets’ Minor League system 1967-1970 before rising up to the big leagues and never looking back: Winter Haven Florida (A); Raleigh Durham North Carolina (A); Vasalia California (A); Memphis Tennessee (AA) and Jacksonville Florida (AAA)).
Although he was never the only black player on a team 20 years after Robinson paved the color warpath, Ken was one of just a few. Growing up in integrated New York City schools prepared him to “learn how to get along with everyone,” he said, as a student of Graham Junior High School and Mt. Vernon High School. “I had all different kinds of friends: Italian, Jewish, Black, Hispanic.”
As an Expo, Ken had the good fortune once to meet Jackie Robinson in Jarry Park in Montreal (where the NY Dodgers had first sent Robinson to Triple A).
“I was taking batting practice and he came onto the field,” said Ken. “I was tongue-tied. This guy was a legend! I was so nervous I was shaking. This was Jackie Robinson!”
As a right fielder, Ken recalls many a mean taunt from opposing fans jeering from the stands. “Fans yell stuff about your parents or your playing ability,” he said, “They call out, ‘You stink! You suck!’ Not everyone at the ballpark is rooting for you.”
Those incidents were mild compared to what Jackie Robinson went through as the only black player in the entire league. “I don’t know how he was able to do it,” said Ken.
Pitchers threw at Robinson (called up in 1947), opponents tried to spike him, fans insulted him, and Robinson received death threats; i.e, he would be killed if he showed up at a ballpark. He was unable to lodge at the same hotel as his teammates. Robinson took all the heavy barbs for black players of the future.
“He had to hold his tongue — he must have been a very strong man,” said Ken. “He was told he couldn’t fight back — that he would have to take it. He was aware of the situation and where his success could lead to — not only personally — but for all black players. Jackie Robinson was a social experiment for the whole country, and it paid off in baseball. If Robinson had failed, it would have set the country back many years. Who knows how long it would have taken to give another black player a chance?”
All of baseball owes this guy a debt of gratitude since baseball today is international, housing Hispanics, Europeans, Asians, Americans — to name a few — and certainly, scores of African-Americans.
Ken is convinced, as are many others in baseball, that “Robinson made the game better.”
There exists a plethora of Derek Jeter fans and they all want an autographed baseball. One young Baltimore boy didn’t have much time left to get one … he was dying from leukemia.
Two weeks ago, when president Chris Federico of the Cool Kids Campaign called Joe Gorman’s dad, Gregg, to ask how young Joe was faring, the bad report told of a relapse – the chemo wasn’t taking. Then the six words were uttered that no one wants to hear about a person they love, let alone a kid, “There’s nothing more they can do.”
“It was hard for Gregg to hold it in,” said Chris, who asked him if the Cool Kids Campaign could do anything.
“Well, I know Joe would really like a Ferrari,” Gregg joked, even with a broken heart. “Or anything signed by Derek Jeter – or a chance to meet him. But Joe doesn’t have much time left.”
“I can help with that,” said Federico, who had grown to love the kid. “I’ll call Ken Singleton.”
Ken serves on the board of this organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for pediatric oncology patients – and their families – experiencing the trauma of a cancer diagnosis and treatments.
When Ken learned of the situation, he said, “I’ll take care of it,” knowing he could ask Derek to sign a ball when next he saw him at Steinbrenner Field. Somewhere around the batting cages, Ken approached Derek with a practice ball and explained the request from young Joe.
“Sure, I’ll sign it,” said Jeter, “but go get a brand new one from the equipment manager in the clubhouse.” Derek didn’t want to send a dirty ball to Joe.
On Monday – the day before Joe’s birthday – Ken and Chris drove to John’s Hopkin’s Children’s Center in downtown Baltimore to deliver the much desired autograph. Joe was unconscious.
His dad tried to wake him up, “Hey, guess what? Your wish came true. Derek signed a ball!”
But it was too late. The ball placed in the young man’s hands stayed for a few minutes, then rolled out.
“I didn’t get a chance to talk to him,” said Ken when he arrived home. “He wasn’t coherent.”
He and Chris had a good visit with Joe’s parents and an uncle, “Nice people, who were extremely appreciative that Derek and I took the time to get the ball for their son,” said Ken. “They were obviously in pain but were upbeat. They knew the situation that Joe wasn’t going to be around much longer.”
One day after his 15th birthday, Joe Gorman died.
Rest in sweet peace, Joe Gorman
March 8, 1996 – March 9, 2011
9711 Monroe Street
Cockeysville, MD 21030
The Cool Kids Campaign is embarking on a groundbreaking venture, The Cool Kids Learning Center, a blend of tutoring facility and activity center – a place to keep kids with cancer up-to-date on their school curriculum. Until now, there hasn’t existed a place for kids to go where they can stay germ-free, meet other families, and have a place to hang out where they are just like everyone else.
New York City. The Plaza Hotel. Across from the northwest
corner of Central Park. Black tie attire. Two New York personalities tie the knot.
Room full of baseball celebrities and pros. Yankees and YES bosses. Former
mayor of New York officiates. Beautiful people in gowns and tuxedos.
Were we on a movie set???
Of all the swanky details to impress a person at the lavish
Michael Kay and Jodi Applegate wedding February 12, the one that pinned this
Italian girl to her seat was eyeing THE Johnny Cammarerie – a character in my all-time
favorite-seen-it-a-hundred-times movie, Moonstruck
(1987). Only if Cher had walked into The Plaza would I have been more keyed up.
I’ve been acquainted with Michael Kay since my husband Ken
began announcing Yankees games on the YES Network, yet I never knew
that actor Danny Aiello was his uncle … Johnny! Johnny Cammarerie! (And
apparently Michael never knew Moonstruck
was my favorite movie or he may have shared that little tidbit.)
For all of you aficionados of the movie, you get it …
? “Johnny –
? “You got a
hat? Wear a hat.”
? “Do you
love him, Loretta?”
? “Oh Ma, I
love him awful”
? “Yes, Mrs.
Castorini, I would love some oatmeal.”
The movie is timeless. In
Baltimore, where I am director of the Promotion Center for Little Italy, Moonstruck
is the first film – every year – in our Open Air Film Fest summer lineup.
I wonder how many times I’ve
watched it? Two weeks ago actually – with a friend who had never seen it. (Can
you imagine?) I finally traded in my old VHS version for a DVD. (Although no
one much enjoys watching it with me because I quote all the lines – that can be
just plain annoying. Can’t help myself.) We have a Moonstruck movie poster hanging in our theater room, too, to egg me
Please excuse me … here I am gushing over Moonstruck and Johnny as if I were watching the movie. The Kay wedding was
impressive itself – absolutely superb – a Hollywood-type-picture-perfect
ceremony and reception.
Besides our daughter-in-law, Tricia – who we thought was the
most gorgeous bride on earth – Jodi was stunning in her strapless white gown
(which she did not change three
times, contrary to the dumb reports in The
New York Post and other online Kay wedding tales). Michael was very
handsome sweating in his tuxedo. Ken and I are thrilled for the newlyweds –
what a great fit.
Michael and Jodi know a lot of people. The Grand Ballroom
had not a spare inch in which to shake our booties to the tunes of a fabulous
14-member band. The Kays also have a cute sense of humor. Who would have
expected such a posh venue to serve pizza, hotdogs, wings and sliders during
cocktail hour? (There was also a sushi bar and other lavish appetizer fare.)
Moving into the Grand Ballroom, we were served a fabulous
white-gloved sit down dinner – a choice of filet mignon or branzini. Upon
exiting the wedding well after midnight, clear jars boasted a variety of candy
bars there for the taking. Fun!
Yes, Saturday night was indeed one magnificent wedding with distinctive details … like “Johnny Cammarerie” singing to the bride and groom on the dance floor.
We could have been on a movie set after all.
Ken is in “commute” mode this weekend, able to zip down I-83 to Camden Yards from our home in Baltimore County, instead of hopping a plane or train to meet up with the Yankees and the YES Network crew. Since he wore an Orioles uniform for 10 seasons (1975-1984), yet announces games for the pinstripes, fans generally think he must be “torn” between his allegiances. Mrs. Singy sat down with hubby to get the real score.
Mrs. Singy: What’s it like for you to announce a Yankees/Orioles game?
Ken Singleton: Much like all of the others, that’s the way I look at it. I approach it the same way. I think other people may look at it differently because I used to play for the Orioles and I’ve been with the Yankees so long. Maybe they think, “He must be torn.” I’m not really. I just do the games. And my job is easier when the Yankees win. I’ve been fortunate to see them win quite a bit.
Mrs. Singy: Would you prefer to announce a Yankees/Orioles game in Baltimore or New York?
Ken Singleton: Well I like doing Yankees games in Baltimore because I don’t have to travel far. I’ve lived here for about 35 years. But I really love the new Yankee Stadium. I don’t think there is a more exciting stadium in the Major Leagues in terms of the crowd, how they get into the team, and their knowledge of the game. Plus, New York is where I grew up [Mount Vernon]. I’ll always love New York.
Mrs. Singy: The Orioles network MASN usually show you on TV during an Orioles game in the YES Network booth – what do you think of that?
Ken Singleton: They do, so I heard, but I’m not aware of it during the game. Someone usually tells me that I was on. Hopefully, the guys are saying nice things about me.
Mrs. Singy: How do you think fans react to that at home – you working for the Yankees?
Ken Singleton: When I was announcing games for the Montreal Expos, fans in Baltimore didn’t seem to mind. Now that I do games for New York, at first they would ask, “How can you do that?” [Mrs. Singy hears this constantly!]. But I think now they understand better … I hope. The Yankees are good. They are a good team to work for.
Mrs. Singy: Does it bring back memories as a player when you announce in Baltimore, or not as much since you didn’t play at Camden Yards?
Ken Singleton: Not so much; only when I’m reminded by people who I might see around the stadium whom I’ve known over the years, like Jim Palmer, Mike Flanagan, and some of the ushers who have carried over from Memorial Stadium to Camden Yards. But that was a long time ago. Times change. Camden Yards has a different atmosphere than Memorial Stadium. A lot of that has to do with the fact that the Orioles were big winners in those days.
Mrs. Singy: What do you say when fans consistently ask why you don’t announce for your “home” team?
Ken Singleton: I consider myself a Yankees broadcaster; I work in New York. I’m very happy where I am. Who wouldn’t be happy working for a team that I have witnessed win the World Series four times? I’ve seen them in the playoffs 13 times in 14 years.
Mrs. Singy: What did you think of the NY Yankees when you were an Oriole?
Ken Singleton: Good question. I had a lot of respect for the Yankees. They were the team that we always tried to beat. As Orioles, we went to the World Series twice and I can recall in 10 years in Baltimore, we finished second, six times – some of those to the Yankees. They had great players: Thurman Munson, Reggie Jackson, Willie Randolph, Ron Guidry, Catfish Hunter and Lou Piniella. George Steinbrenner was still the boss back then. I had a lot of respect for their organization.
Mrs. Singy: What are some of your standard responses to fans when they allude to the same questions like: “Do you still have orange and black running through your blood?” … “We need you back here” … “Why don’t you live in NY?” … “Do you miss playing?”
Ken Singleton: When they comment that they need me back, I say, “There was a time.” But those days are over. It’s very nice for people to remember, but the game goes on and the players change. About living in New York … that’s easy. All I have to do is get on a train and I’m there – it’s a simple commute. My kids grew up here in Baltimore, you [Mrs. Singy] are from here. I don’t miss playing, no. Like I said, those days are over. When you start as a player, you know you can’t play forever. I was blessed to have played for 15 years – 12 on winning teams. Fifteen years in the Majors is a good run. I earned a good living – still earn a good living. I’ve been in the Majors for over 40 years now.
Mrs. Singy: What do you think about the Orioles now?
Ken Singleton: I would like to see them play better, but not against the Yankees. They are showing signs of improvement with new manager Buck Showalter and it will make the division even more competitive next year.
Strangers’ grins peer out from a collection of photos scattered around Ken’s office: some buried under paper piles, some stuck in drawers, others graduated to frames, sitting on a crowded credenza among baseball memorabilia.
These are the standard four-golfer poses … a typical souvenir from the bazillion golf tournaments in which Ken has been invited to play by charitable organizations trying to raise a buck.
The other three golfers in each pose took home an identical photo. I would wager to say they would be able to name Ken in the picture for a long while. But if Ken had to name them, most likely he could not. With no offense to anyone (I can guarantee my husband most certainly enjoyed each tournament), Ken has greeted thousands upon thousands of fans over two baseball careers. If he still remembered each of their names, we would change his name to Einstein.
Hopefully, their memory of a day on the links with a baseball celebrity is a great one. Maybe they bragged to their golf buddies that Ken Singleton played in their foursome. Maybe they proudly showed the souvenir photo to a spouse or displayed it on a desk.
And just because Ken may not remember names and faces of the myriad of golfers with whom he shared 18 holes, doesn’t mean he wasn’t congenial and polite while interacting with them. Ken is a very friendly guy.
If the one thing he prefers fans “take away” from him, is that he looked them in the eye, gave them his time, and tried his best to provide a pleasant experience. Many fans approach or e-mail me – or share on this blog – with wonderful comments about the “great guy” I’m married to. He has been described as personable, genuine, hospitable, and gracious. And it’s true. I have never seen my husband act none other than gracious to baseball fans. When we are out and about with friends, some have commented about this, as they observe him in “celebrity mode.”
Lesson here for all of us is that we cannot control another person’s experience, memory, or judgment about another human being. Yet if we are involved in the interaction, what we can control is ourselves. We can do our best to ensure that another person takes away the best pieces of ourselves that we have to offer.
People are funny without realizing it – and just a little transparent.
If you were married to a doctor, would you be expected to answer medical questions? If you lived with a singer, would people expect you to break out in song?
I don’t think so.
So why do people expect me to talk baseball? I’m a writer, not a baseball analyst. Sure, I can write about fluffy baseball topics, like spitting or a 101-year-old Yankee fans named Frank, but the stats, strategy and who’s returning to the lineup from the disabled list? That’s Ken’s department.
When he’s on the road and I’m home in Baltimore, say like at the supermarket or church, people see “Suzanne” but I know they’re thinking “Ken” because the baseball ramblin’ begins.
It’s Ken they really want when an Orioles fan approaches me with a comment that they want Ken back as a player. It’s Ken they want when they ask me if I think he will some day broadcast for his “home” team. It’s Ken they want when they ask what he thinks of a current hot baseball topic or if the Yankees will win the pennant (again); and it’s Ken they want when someone e-mails to say she has been thinking about me, yet her next sentence includes the word baseball. (Guess she didn’t want to admit she was thinking about my husband all along.)
Do I look like I’m 6-foot-4 with short black hair and a YES Network microphone in my hand?
It’s Ken they really want when I walk into a friend’s house for a cookout and her husband is looking behind me with the immediate question on his beer-stained lips – “Where’s Ken?” – like I’m hiding him in my handbag or something. (Takes me a minute to get the cities straight on any given day, but eventually I utter the Yankees’ locale.)
Now around the end of summer every baseball season, I get a little cranky. (Jeepers, can you tell?) Don’t get me wrong – I want the Yankees to keep winning and see the inside of their dugout in October, but I also want my husband to come home. I become weary of kissing him bye-bye as he boards a plane or hops a train. I grow tired of checking his schedule every time I need a date for a cookout or to see if he’s available for back-to-school night.
Yet mostly, I’m feeling a tad drained with people talking baseball – to me – when it’s Ken they really want.
Yes, people are funny. They can’t quite get the hang of baseball schedules either. In December someone will ask if Ken is on the road. My cousin has asked if he returns home on weekends. On a summer holiday they seem astonished that he isn’t around. “Oh, Ken didn’t get off for Labor Day?”
My standard answer is “Baseball knows no holiday or weekend.” (Or kids’ birthdays, friend’s wedding or move-in day for our kid’s college.)
Sometimes a kind baseball soul will ask if I’m ready for the season to be over. Thank you and yes I am.
But in general, I don’t wanna talk baseball. Especially in September. It makes me cranky.
Fans may be surprised to learn that a baseball broadcaster doesn’t show up 15 minutes before a game to go on-air. “That’s not the way it works,” said my husband Ken Singleton, who devotes hours to his “homework” before picking up a YES Network microphone.
Like the average American, a workday for him is 8-hours-plus, except his is not 9-to-5 but the “second shift” — he leaves for the ballpark at 3 p.m. and returns to the hotel around 11:30 (barring extra innings or rain delays).
Let’s peek into Ken’s 15-pound briefcase (actually he uses a small black suitcase on wheels) to examine the tools that help him prepare for each game:
1. Laptop – Ken visits specific websites daily to check game scores around the leagues and to find out who did what. He learns of players’ injuries, special streaks and to see what’s happening beyond Yankee Stadium. His preferred sites include:
2. Press Guides – Ken carries specific ones needed for a particular road trip and keeps a press guide in his home office for every American and National League team. He researches historical notes and a plethora of stats. “Press guides tell me everything I want to know about a particular player or team,” he said, “even a player’s birthday.” (Certainly, Ken always carries the Yankees press guide.)
3. Scorebook – Designed by his former Montreal Expos broadcast partner, Dave Van Horne (42-year veteran broadcaster and current lead play-by-play radio announcer for the Florida Marlins), Ken’s scorebook includes room to write notes and track pitchers, game times, team records and next-game pitchers. Ken orders these specially designed scorebooks from a local printer, made thick enough to record an entire season of games.
4. Elias Notes – Produced each game by Elias Sports Bureau Inc., a major informational source for all sports, these notes are waiting in the YES booth — a copy for each broadcaster and one for the statistician. “These are very important,” says Ken. “They give good information about that particular game.”
Things he looks for: players on hitting streaks and reaching special milestones; injured players and who’s back in the lineup after an injury; what currently makes a team good; why a club is playing better now than at the beginning of the season (or vice versa). “I look for interesting items I think fans may want to know,” said Ken. “What would someone at home ask about this player or team?”
5. Calculator to figure batting averages
6. Legal pads to take notes
7. Hall’s honey lemon cough drops for after L-O-N-G games
The first day of a series, or rejoining the Yankees after he’s been off a week, will include the most preparation for Ken. Not every note he collects is used in one game. In a three-game series, for example, he may use some the following day.
“It’s better to be over-prepared,” said Ken, “because you never know when a game is going to go for 15 innings.”
Also, for every game he prepares a Scouting Report on the starting pitchers — one for each team. “I write three interesting notes about each pitcher and email it to a graphics guy at YES.”
For instance, as I questioned Ken for this story, he had made a note for tonight’s Sept. 7 game about CC Sabathia going for his 20th game win.
After Ken pours over all the information he has collected, “I’m basically ready to do the game,” he says.
After settling into the press box, he visits the clubhouse to obtain the starting lineup and chat with players on both teams. Sometimes he peeks into Joe Girardi’s press conference before the game (held near the clubhouse in a conference room) or if he doesn’t have time, he listens to it in the booth. For additional homework, Ken speaks with the visiting team broadcasters, many his friends.
“They see the teams every day,” said Ken. “I don’t. Although I think I know a lot about a team, they have a better insight to help me with my game.”
And if he didn’t spend time preparing?
“I would run out of things to talk about! I’d be reacting to the game itself but wouldn’t be able to fill in the blanks. There’s a lot of time in between pitchers and hitters. I have to fill it with interesting information for the fans.”
Spit grosses me out. Thankfully, I am not a spitter — not now nor as a softball player. I didn’t like it when the Catholic schoolboys made spitballs nor do I like it in public when someone “hocks a loogie.” (I am gagging while envisioning this spitting image.)
So the age-old question from us spit-haters is why? Why do baseball players have to spit?
Basketball players don’t spit. Football players might spit some, but they have to lie on the turf after they’re tackled, so they might be more careful about where they put their saliva. Ice hockey players don’t spit (they might but it freezes) and I don’t notice pro golfers spitting on the links.
Camels and alpacas spit. So do cobras. Babies spit up. But baseball players are none of those (well, some might argue …)
“Spit” is an appropriate word for a vulgar action and an absolute nasty habit. Maybe we could start an acronym for SPIT … Saliva Put In Turf.
Socially, spitting is one of the rudest and most disrespectful things you can do to another human and is considered a taboo in many parts of the world.
Ken says it’s out of nervous energy that baseball players spit. Some are spitting not saliva, but tobacco juice and sunflower seeds. Although he says he does, I have never seen Ken spit, though he must have plenty as a ballplayer.
By the way, Ken prefers the word expectorate.
Call it what you will sweetie – spittle, saliva, spit – I have to agree with John Payne from Simsbury, Connecticut, who wrote Ken a four-page letter about spitting. Yes, FOUR pages – on pretty blue stationary. His opinion was quite entertaining.
“There is too much spitting by all the players on all the teams,” wrote Mr. Payne. (He was quite serious about the topic, too; he typed the letter in ALL CAPS.)
“I wonder if these players spit on the floor at home or in restaurants,” wrote Mr. Payne. “Do they do all this spitting when they go out with their wives or girlfriends?”
He thinks the Yankees superstars are the ones who spit the most. So I ran into the TV room to see for myself and to get Ken’s spit input as he watched the Yankees/A’s game. He suggested I count the number of times the players spit in an inning. Three spits later, I was out of there.
I couldn’t watch it any more than Mr. Payne, who said he is so offended by the ongoing spitting that he makes sure to eat dinner before he watches a baseball game on TV. It is hard for him to finish his meal while observing “this nasty, unsightly, unsanitary and unhealthy practice.”
He would like Ken and the other announcers to discuss this spitting problem with the camera people so they don’t show any spitting on air.
Ken said that’s a bit tricky. How are they supposed to know when someone is ready to spit? True.
There’s only one other solution then, according to Mr. Payne. He would like to request of the baseball commissioner, Bud Selig, to make a ruling against spitting during games. “Make an agreement … to help solve this disgusting practice.”
I’m with you on that one, Mr. Payne. Maybe this is the reason it’s so challenging for me to sit through nine innings. Can I blame it on the spitting?
Mr. Payne wrote that he has seen “players spit on their hands, rub the baseball, rub dirt on their hands, then put their hand back in their mouth. This cannot be very sanitary or healthy. My relatives, my friends and I … would love to be able to eat and enjoy our meal while we watch the Yankees on YES.”
I’m guessing Mr. Payne would be very upset if spitballs were still legal.
Ken is still in disbelief that years back his “Ma” tossed his collection of baseball cards from their home in Mt Vernon, N.Y.
“I had a lot of cards,” he said, remembering a few stuffed shoeboxes worth. “I used to trade them with my friends.”
In my mother-in-law’s defense, she doesn’t remember this. She said, “They were probably all bent up and old. I would not throw away anything good.”
Surrounded by baseball cards – and other sports memorabilia at the four-day 31st National Sports Collectors Convention – reminded my husband of his favored hobby as a kid.
The convention used 350,000-plus square feet of floor space inside the Baltimore Convention Center and attracted upward of 35,000 people. Over 1,000 dealers and exhibitors sold everything from 10-cent baseball cards to a $15,000 Babe Ruth-signed baseball.
“I don’t know what cards cost now,” Ken said when he returned from his appearance, “but when I was young, we used to buy them for a nickel a pack. They came with bubble gum and five cards. It was really big if you got a Mickey Mantle or a Willie Mays … but I think purposefully those weren’t included in many packs.”
For the typical fan, Ken says collecting autographs isn’t always about the value of the signed item – that’s secondary. The thrill is about having the autograph –
especially for kids.
“It’s also about the 20 seconds a fan spends with an athlete,” Ken said. “They remember that. It’s their personal experience.”
City to city Ken has spotted some of the same die-hard baseball fans waiting in line outside of hotels and ballparks hoping to score a few pros’ autographs.
How many times has my husband signed his name in a span of two baseball careers? Like grains of sand on the beach – impossible to count. “I have no clue,” he answered, but yes, thousands upon thousands upon more thousands. (It would be an interesting stat to know!)
Does an athlete’s hand get tired signing autographs? You bet. Just think of that Catholic school nun forcing you to write: “I shall not throw spitballs.” Three hours is about tops for Ken’s left-handed autographing stamina. He was a switch-hitter, yes, but not with a pen.
When players make appearances, it’s common that they sign extra balls for whichever organization contracted them for the autograph session. For instance, at the abovementioned collectors’ show, Ken signed six-dozen baseballs in the back room before he even faced an autograph seeker on the Convention Center floor. That was 72 additional “Ken Singleton”‘s to sign in his slim, slanty handwriting on top of the throng of people he signed for standing in his line between 2:30 and 5:30 … swamped the entire session.
“I can imagine what it was like on Saturday,” Ken said, knowing some of the heavy hitters were in town like Frank “The Big Hurt” Thomas, Eddie Murray, Brooks Robinson, Wade Boggs, Mike Boddicker, the immortal Willie Mays and other Hall of Famers.
The show wasn’t only baseball-related. Autograph lines snaked around to end face-to-face with over 70 athletes and entertainment celebrities.
Our 18-year-old son tagged along with Dad that Thursday, then returned downtown two days later on his own to get more autographs and meet-and-greet professional wrestlers like Mick Foley, Kurt Angle and Rob Van Dam. Contrary to the world expecting him to follow in Daddy’s cleats as a baseball player, our son’s passion lies in WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) – he wants to wrestle.
His bedroom walls boast a small but impressive collection of sports autographs; over the years he’s nabbed a few cool ones. He frequently drives to wrestler appearances laden with paraphernalia he’d like autographed, then returns home “pumped” that he owns a few more scribbles in his WWE coffee-table book, “WWE Encyclopedia: The Definitive Guide to World Wrestling Entertainment (written, ironically, by my editor at YESNetwork.com, Kevin Sullivan).
“Being face-to-face with wrestlers is very exciting,” said our teen. “I feel like a little kid – I get giddy. I imagine myself being on the other side of the pen, signing an autograph for a happy fan. Although, I feel very small compared to them … fame-wise and muscle-wise.”
He smiles and adds, “Not so much in height though.” (He’s almost as tall as dad’s 6-foot-4-inches.)
Now in a few weeks this third kid of ours will be off to college where his dorm room walls will exhibit a few of his prized autographs. And maybe one day, who knows, his collection might end up in a forgotten top-shelf shoebox like Ken’s once-treasured baseball cards.
But I promised him I would never throw them away.
I can imagine how the phones are ringing off their hooks in the Yankees office after George Steinbrenner’s passing, because here in Baltimore our house phone and Ken’s cell haven’t stopped jingling yet.
Radio stations that typically call Ken during the baseball season for interviews about the game in general, double their calls when any big news breaks.
This week they want Ken’s reaction and thoughts on Mr. Steinbrenner.
I can tell my husband feels sad and melancholy. He happened to be golfing during the All-Star break when he heard the news. Because his cell phone sounded off repeatedly on the links, he stopped after nine holes to return home, handle the calls and silently process the news.
It didn’t feel proper to continue the golf round while the Steinbrenner family grieved, along with Yankees fans everywhere.
“Mr. Steinbrenner was always good to me,” said Ken. “This is not a good week for the Yankees and their fans. We had just learned about Bob Sheppard a few days before.”
Fourteen years ago, Mr. Steinbrenner had the final say whether to hire Ken. In Steinbrenner’s Tampa office before spring training at then Legends Field, Ken and two MSG executives met with the Yankees owner.
“I don’t think our fans are going to like you,” Ken recalled Mr. Steinbrenner’s comment.
“How come?” asked Ken.
“I can’t recall all the bad things you used to do to us,” said Mr. Steinbrenner about Ken as a Baltimore Orioles right-fielder and designated hitter.
“With all due respect, Mr. Steinbrenner,” Ken responded. “I was just doing my job.”
“Well, you did it very well.”
After Ken left Tampa, he was unsure he would be offered a seat in the booth to broadcast for the Yankees. Yet the next day he received an affirmative phone call.
“I appreciate the opportunity – and every single minute I’ve been there,” Ken said. “Mr. Steinbrenner said I could work for his team even though I never played for the Yankees … probably because I am from New York.”
Ken feels grateful that even after The YES Network was established nine years ago, Steinbrenner kept him around. Over the years he hasn’t encountered the boss often because Steinbrenner was usually in Tampa. (I have never met the man.)
“I guess he liked what he heard on TV,” said Ken. “If he had had a problem with our broadcasts, I’m sure we would have heard.”
About Mr. Steinbrenner as a team owner, he said, “I have a lot of respect for the way he built the Yankees into a championship franchise. When he bought the team in 1973 they weren’t very good.”
I would venture to guess that the eight All-Star Yankees played their hearts out during the All Star game in honor of an all-star owner. It was suitable that his team was so well represented by more players than any other and fitting that he chose All-Star game day to find his way to heaven.
Rest in peace
to watch Ken’s conversation with Michael Kay and Jack Curry.)