Ricky Ledee (above) is on the New York Yankees' roster only because Darryl Strawberry is not. Ledee doesn't forget that. He's 24 years old, and he's had 79 at bats in the majors. He started the first two games of the World Series in leftfield and batted ninth, a sweet-swinging lefthanded hitter facing a pair of righties. With Chuck Knoblauch in the on-deck circle, Ledee saw hittable pitches, so he hit them, often and late in the count, like a seasoned big leaguer. In the two games at Yankee Stadium, he reached base seven times in eight plate appearances, going 4 for 6 and driving in three runs.
During the American League Championship Series against the Cleveland Indians, a foursome of New York leftfielders—Chad Curtis, Shane Spencer, Tim Raines and Ledee—went I for 23. Joe Torre played Ledee in the World Series opener for, the manager said, his glove. Torre should know better than to admit such things.
"Before my first at bat in Game I, I said to myself, This is the kind of situation where any manager would like to have Strawberry up," Ledee says. "He's not able to have the chance, so...." The kid's too humble to finish the sentence, but you know where he's headed:...so I'm going to grab the chance for myself.
Ledee dislikes attention, and because spending money is an excellent way to attract attention, he doesn't. Riding to work the other day on the subway, the ballplayer looked like just any other commuter: brown Florsheim shoes, off-the-rack suit (greenish, made in China). He read the ads in Spanish that line the city's subway cars. The Bronx, especially in the vicinity of the stadium, is teeming with Puerto Ricans, but they haven't realized yet that the earnest young man who occasionally bounds down 161st Street with his head down is a rising hero on their native island.
In his hometown, Salinas, Ledee is well known for being a ballplayer, but a couple of other guys, Roberto and Sandy Alomar Jr., are far better known. Their father, Sandy Sr., started showing Ledee the fine points of the game when the kid was nine. He learned fast.
Three years later Ledee's father fell asleep at the wheel while driving one night. He was killed, and 12-year-old Ricky was suddenly the man of the house. He had a younger brother and a pregnant mother. Money was scarce, but the family found solace in the church. At 16 Ricky signed with the Yankees, and he's been supporting his family as a professional baseball player ever since. He makes the sign of the cross with his bat every time he steps to the plate.
"My father told me, 'I'd like you to play in the big leagues someday,' " Ledee said after Sunday's game. "He never said the World Series." Ledee paused to think about something. Who knows what. "I have to control my emotions," he said.
The Boss made his way through his clubhouse, hustling his players out to the bus and to the airport for the flight to San Diego. "There's George," the rookie with the .667 World Series batting average said. He was practically whispering. "I have to go." As if he hadn't already arrived.