The Last Word
Sports lllustrated baseball writer Jeff Pearlman reports on a true New York legend
Posted: Tuesday October 20, 1998 05:18 PM
An old Jewish man from Brooklyn waddled my way Monday afternoon, stuck out his hand and conceded, in mournful tones, that Bernie Williams may not play centerfield for the Yankees next season. Now, to be honest, when Jewish men from Brooklyn have waddled my way in the past, I've shooed them offbecause they're either my grandpa or my dad or my kooky Uncle Marty . But Arthur Richman ... he's a fella you listen to.
"I think there's a chance Bernie'll come back," said Richman, as convincing as a door-to-door salesman, as he stood next to me while the Yankees took BP at Qualcomm on Monday. "Bernie's a wonderful person. I asked him, 'What's the difference between $8 million and $10 million?' In New York, everyone knows you. If you go somewhere else, you're just another ballplayer."
Richman has served as a special assistant to George Steinbrenner for six seasons. He's a happy-go-lucky sort, always smiling, always patting people on the shoulder. Fondly, he recalls his 1979 wedding, when 10 people served as his best men. They were Willie Mays , Ernie Banks , Ralph Kiner , Dick Williams , Joe Torre , Ralph Branca , Ted Sizemore , Joe Pignatano , Lee Mazzilli and Doug Flynn . In 1986, one of the 24 seasons Richman worked for the Mets, Mookie Wilson handed him the famous Bill Buckner ball. "Keep it," said Mookie. "You deserve it." The night before Don Larsen threw his perfect game, he had dinner with Richman. The night after, they went out on the town together. To say he has lived the baseball life is an understatement. Richman is baseball.
"It really makes me sad, the way things are," he said. "The worst are the agents. They're looking out for themselves first, their players second. Bernie has been with us for a long timehe's loved in New York. How much money does a person need?
"These guys should've lived in the Depressionthen they'd appreciate the money. Baseball isn't like it used to be, not even close."
This, Richman knows. As a 14-year-old Brooklyn College junior, he was booted from school for spending too much time at the New York Daily Mirror, where he was working as a copy scrub. For the next 20 years, he was one of the newspaper's baseball writers, as well as a part-time traveling secretary for the St. Louis Browns. "Used to hate the Yanks," he says. "One year, they beat the Browns 21 of 22 times. It was miserable." Richman held odd advertising jobs until 1965, when he hooked on as a promotions director with the Mets. He saw the masses come through Shea Steve Henderson and Duffy Dyer , Ron Hodges and Cleon Jones , Danny Heep and Rafael Santana , Ron Gardenhire and Brian Giles . When Darryl Strawberry was under house arrest in Florida in 1995 for income tax evasion, Richman lived across the hall from him for two weeks. When Wilson gave him the ball, Richman sold it to Charlie Sheen for $85,000, then gave all the money to charity.
"I've seen it all," he said. Richman reconsiders this two seconds later, when he is asked to compare Williams to Don Mattingly , the last homegrown great to grace Yankee Stadium. Would Mattingly have ever left town?
"No," says Richman. "But today's player is today's player."
Richman knows. He doesn't understand, but he knows.
That's television: Following New York's thrilling Game 1 victory, a TV reporter asked Padres outfielder Greg Vaughn how, as just the 40th player to hit two home runs in a World Series game, it felt to make history.
A little soft? Yankees coach Don Zimmer refused to dog the Padres for their sudden rash of illnesses. Until he said this: "The flu is a tough thing. But do you think Cal Ripken ever had the flu when he played? Do you think Pete Rose ever had the flu when he played? I guess none of those guys ever had diarrhea or an ankle sprain or a bad temperature or a cold. Pee Wee Reese told me if he only played when he was 100%, he'd only play 40-50 games a year."
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