His career as a ballplayer, consistently solid if not superstar level, was behind him.
He played sixteen seasons. He was on two World Championship-winning teams, earned a League’s Most Valuable Player Award, and swatted one of the most memorable home runs in World Series history.
He was known for his intense, get-your-uniform-dirty, style of play, his approach reflecting more a football than a baseball-like mentality.
He could easily have been nicknamed “Nails.”
He detested light-hearted tomfoolery, once famously excoriating his new teammates after being victimized by a “Welcome to the ball club” practical joke, proclaiming by his tirade that he was unequivocally there to play hard every day. And win.
(Once, at camp, I got upset with fellow committee members for not focusing on our task of creating team cheers for a camp-wide Olympiad. “Why does he take this so seriously?” a committee member asked a friend, concerning my prickly demeanor. “Because, for him, it is,” they replied. He would easily have understood.)
He could be justifiably proud of his contribution to the game. But now it was over. In the books. Done.
Then, recently, while serving as bench coach – adviser to the manager – he was promoted to manager, after the manager he was working under was fired.
Following his first game as skipper – a win – rather than regaling the assembled press corps with pre-packaged platitudes, he surprised everyone who knew him – or maybe just thought they knew him – exposing an illuminating glimpse of something underneath.
To the question, “How did it feel managing your first game?” the newly-appointed, fifty- three year-old exulted, “I feel like it was my first Major League game ever.”
How magnificently refreshing, an “inner child” response to a rejuvenating turn-of-events. He may have believed his once-in-a-lifetime “special moments” were behind him. And there he was, experiencing another one. Whatever happens later, that moment will be his forever.
“I don’t know how many people get to have that feeling,” he unashamedly went on. “It was, like, euphoria.”
There you have it. A touching insight into personal satisfaction, from a man not known for his intimate revelations.
It moved me.
And I thought I’d pass it along.