Last of the Legends

The 2013 Joe DiMaggio Legends Game at the Old Fort Lauderdale Stadium. It’s the 25th annual event at the park where the New York Yankees reported for Spring Training between 1962 and 1995. Joe DiMaggio retired from Baseball in 1951. That was the only year when the New York Yankees ventured west to Phoenix, Arizona. Besides that, Joe DiMaggio reported to Spring Training in St. Petersburg for most of his career. But, the “Yankee Clipper” is a pillar of what it means to be a Yankee. His name represents a huge legacy, on and of any field in America. The event was one of the designated meetings places for “SABR DAY,” a national event held annually by Society of American Baseball Researchers (SABR). There were more legends and the day was not long enough to find them all. The actual list of invitees were inaccurate, only tentative. Here were some of the Legends on hand.

  • Andre Dawson
  • Bill “Spaceman” Lee
  • Bert Campineras
  • Jay Johnstone
  • Art Shamsky
  • Cookie Rojas
  • Ed Kranepool
  • Jackie Hernandez
  • Tommy Davis
  • Warren Cromartie
  • Orlando Cepeda
  • Rico Carty
  • Jose Cardenal
  • Willie Horton
  • Orestes Destrade
  • Wayne Garrett
  • Fred Cambria
  • Alex Arias
  • Bruce Aven
  • Rich Nye
  • Anthony Telford
  • Dennis Rasmussan
  • Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd
  • Ron Swoboda
  • Tony Taylor
  • Jeff Conine
  • Ricky Bones

The game was held on Saturday January 26, 2013; a surreal day. Being in the midst of so many legends from the past, they were players that I grew up watching on “NBC Game of the Week.” It was and honor to spend time with them, to listen to their stories, to laugh at their jokes, and to confirm that they weren’t just fictional characters next to my comic books. They carried on at a slower pace, but I still saw them in all their glory; free standing titans. Aside from the players, Ron Harper (Chicago Bulls legend and Michael Jordan teammate) was in uniform and played along with other local celebrities. Even the grand daughter of Joe DiMaggio was on hand to watch the game.

The Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital Foundation supports Memorial Healthcare Systems serving residents in south Florida, the most diverse group of board-certified pediatric specialists in the region. Today, the new Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital has 226 beds. This game has been a part of the fund raising effort to benefit a wide scope of healthcare services and programs for children. Just the night before, Frank Sacco, CEO of the Memorial Healthcare System, announced that this annual game would be played for the last time, to the surprise of 500 attendees. Apparently, they let out a collective sigh in the room, the same sigh that was heard in the ball park when the news came through the intercom. No particular reason was made. It appeared to be an executive decision.

On a possible related story, a small row of half dozen seats collapsed when the rivets gave way while people were sitting on them. This was literally within 20 feet of where i was sitting. Fortunately, the row of seats only dropped a foot from where it was fastened. Needless to say, it created a bit of a distraction when police officers came to the scene to make sure everyone was fine; workers quickly removed the now lose furniture piece to an undisclosed area, before I had a chance to volunteer and take them home. Just kidding, concern for liability was in the air and there was no chance they would donate the evidence. In general, the park looked weathered and in dire need for improvement. Maybe that played a factor to the surprising news. The annual dinner, which can generate $350,000 a year for the Joe DiMaggio Children’s Memorial Hospital, has continued without the game.