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Archive for the ‘Tales & Legends’ Category

“He wasn’t larger than life. He was life.”

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Here’s a clip from April of 1987, when George Steinbrenner and Billy Martin appeared on Letterman. Billy shares a story about a time he went hunting with Mickey down in Texas.

If you’d like to see the full interview, fast forward to the 15:15 mark on this video.

 

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Marty Appel, former PR Director of the New York Yankees, was kind enough to answer a few questions for me about our beloved team and his role with the ball club.

Photo Courtesy of Marty Appel

Bill Dickey – Marty Appel – Mel Allen

Q&A with Marty Appel

1) Q: You started out answering Mickey Mantle’s fan mail. You later went on to become the head of public relations of the New York Yankees. You really started from the bottom and climbed your way through the organization. Did you always envision yourself working for the Yankees?
  • A: I was always a huge fan, but the idea of writing to the Yankees for a summer job came to me after a year as sports editor of my college newspaper.  It was just a bolt out of the blue; no grand scheme. And I never even thought I’d get an answer. Also, answering the fan mail wasn’t the bottom of the food chain. I’ll reserve that for the post-game cleanup crew, who used to augment their low wages by drinking the leftover beer left under the seats. I was a few rungs above that.
2) Q: When your mentor, Bob Fishel left the Yankees after the 1973 season, you were promoted to PR director of the ball club. You were just 24 years-old. What was that like?
  • A: George Steinbrenner called me in and asked if I felt ready for this assignment. No one my age had ever been a team PR Director, let alone in New York. But because I had been trained by Bob Fishel for six years, I absolutely felt ready. It was like learning democracy from Jefferson or Madison. I learned from the best and I was ready.
3) Q: Upon meeting George Steinbrenner for the very first time, what was your impression of him?
  • A: Very dynamic guy, and he said all the right things about winning. We were hungry for that sort of direction after all the disappointing finishes in the CBS years. One thing you don’t appreciate at first is the huge celebrity he would become. He was unknown on that January day in 1973 and we didn’t see what was to come. He went out and redefined what owners did, and he made the Yankees a bigger brand than they had ever been.
4) Q: Take us through a day as a PR director of the New York Yankees in the 1970’s.
  • A: Well it changed a lot after 1974 with the Catfish Hunter signing, and a year later with free agency. It really made the job a 365-day task. Prior to that, the winters were slower and people used to ask “what do you do in the off-season.” Of course it was spent preparing yearbooks, media guides, scorecards; doing a winter media caravan, preparing for spring training, attending dinners, announcing the schedule and promotion dates, making news when you can. Today the newspapers are told they must have a Yankee (and Mets) story every day. Then it was more of a struggle.
  • A: In season, I made all the road trips, prepared the daily press notes, fielded questions from the media, contacted the next team to exchange ‘probable pitchers,’ and established good friendships with press and the players, many of who were my age. And oh yes, in the days before ‘modern communication,’ I would often be on a pay phone in the press box, giving Mr. Steinbrenner the pitch-by-pitch account of a game if he was in Florida and couldn’t listen. And I’d fill in between pitches with plugs for the new Yankee Yearbook, which he didn’t always find amusing if we were losing.
5) Q: My father was in the upper deck of Yankee Stadium with his brother when Chris Chambliss won the pennant for the Yankees in 1976. That was “his moment.” Thirty-three years later, I would be in the grandstands with my father watching the Yankees win the pennant in 2009. That was “my moment.” In all the years you’ve watched the Yankees play, what was your favorite memory you saw in-person and why?
  • A: I would say Mickey Mantle Day in 1969 just edges the Chambliss home run. I had a lot to do with the planning of Mantle Day, which worked flawlessly and hit just the right emotional notes.  It was one of the better “Days” I’ve ever seen.  We had a great front office team in the planning then – Bill Guilfoile, Howard Berk, Bob Fishel and myself, fortunate enough to be there.
Photo Courtesy of Marty Appel
6) Q: In the ESPN TV miniseries, “The Bronx is Burning”, there was an intriguing Kangaroo Court scene. The perpetrator was Mickey Rivers. He was charged with a so-called “lunch meat violation”, where he was reaching for a cupcake and his private parts touched a ham. I’m aware you were a consultant on the show. Is this a true story? Were you ever present for these locker room gatherings? Were they always this silly?
  • A: The clubhouses were fun and crazy things could happen there – like Fritz Peterson’s hockey games, during which Rich McKinney got injured and it helped end his Yankee days. Mickey Rivers was always funny. Dock Ellis too – he was a special character in the clubhouse.  And Sparky Lyle. Oh, I could go on. Great collection of personalities.
7) Q: Can you please share an odd story from your time with the Yankees? Something the average fan might not know.
  • A: Mickey Mantle would always give me his gift certificates from doing pre-game radio interviews. I couldn’t imagine he would use “$10 off” at Thom McAn shoe store in Yonkers, so he’d give it to me. And eventually he’d save them up from road trips and bring them back to me. I couldn’t use “free dessert” in Minnesota, but it was a fun ritual. I should have had him sign the certificates and saved them instead of using them. Nice memory. He was great to me.
8) Q: How would you compare the Yankees of today to the ball club’s you worked under in the 70’s? How has the role of the PR Director changed over the years in baseball?
  • A: The role dramatically changed in the mid-’70s when, led by Murray Chass and Moss Klein, the media decided that they would decide what was news and go after it themselves, rather than using our daily press notes. So the PR department became reactive and not proactive. And it has been the same ever since, although the media gets far less access to the players today. Everything is much more controlled. Writers don’t even travel with the team anymore.
9) Q: Whether you like to believe it or not, you are a part of Yankees history. When I think of the Bronx Bombers, I think of Ruth, Steinbrenner, Jeter, Cashman, Sheehy, Torre, Michael, Appel, etc. As you grow older, you start to realize that there’s a lot more to a ball club than the players on the field. How does it feel to be part of such an iconic franchises’ history?
  • A: The Yankees are such a strong brand, that even after you’ve left the club, your time with the team sort of defines you. And I’m happy about that – it’s a great association. I’m honored to still be connected, doing video for Yankees on Demand, or writing for their publications. I love when someone in the front office calls to clarify some piece of history. I’m actually the last man standing (and still active in the field) who worked in the original stadium, worked when Mantle played, worked when CBS owned the team. Very proud of that. And proud to have been able to write Pinstripe Empire and get a lot of those memories on record.
10) Q: If someone wanted to be the Director of Media Relations of the New York Yankees today, what advice would you give them?
  • A: Well, it’s hard to always give time to social media, but ultimately, they are read and they are helping to form opinions among fans. I’d lobby to add someone in the department assigned to be the contact person for that category of “media” (bloggers, online columnists, large groups on Facebook, etc., so that the team is reaching its fan base through them. I’d also suggest having a strong sense of the business of baseball so that you better understand decisions made by other departments.  It’s not just knowing how many MVP awards Yogi Berra won.  It’s understanding the dynamics between the players, management, media, fans, the city, and even the nation.  The Yankees matter to a huge number of constituencies, and you have to be aware of all of them.
I can’t thank Marty enough for taking the time to be part of this Q&A interview. If you haven’t already, go out and pick up Marty’s book, “Pinstripe Empire: The New York Yankees from Before the Babe to After the Boss.”

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Still wondering why Sergio Mitre is on the team? We may have found an answer.

From New York Magazine Sports:

The Wall Street Journal today published a survey of eighteen Yankees, in which they asked the players questions like “Who would score the best on Jeopardy?” (Mark Teixeira got the most votes), and “Who would be the toughest to beat in arm wrestling?” (Bartolo Colon won that one). But perhaps the biggest surprise was this: When asked “Who would you most want on your side in a brawl?” the players overwhelmingly picked reliever Sergio Mitre, whom the Yankees traded to Milwaukee during Spring Training and then reaquired last month after the Brewers designated him for assignment. Apparently, Mitre is well trained, should shit go down: “Long story short, I grew up fighting,” he told the paper of his childhood in Tijuana. “My dad got tired of me coming home, shirt ripped, always bloody. So he put me into martial arts — Chinese Kempo, boxing, wrestling. I have a full, well-rounded education.” That said, Mitre hasn’t been in a fight since high school and has never gotten to run in from the bullpen during a brawl. (Mitre actually started the game against Toronto in 2009 in which the Yanks and Jays fought, but he’d been lifted from the game innings earlier.)

As we just saw this man serve up a run to the Toronto Blue Jays in the 8th inning (making the score 7-1),  he has made everyone aware that “The Experience” is still in effect. We might be waiting for a fight that may never happen, and for all we know..he could have beaten up some whimpy kid in his high school days.

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In the book, “Roger Maris: Baseball’s Reluctant Hero” by Tom Clavin and Danny Peary, chapter one opens up with a story about how Bob Dylan became a fan of Maris during his 1961 home run chase.

Here’s an excerpt from the book:

“Among those rooting for Roger Maris as he closed in on Babe Ruth’s record in September of 1961 was a folksinger whose nascent career took off that month in New York City thanks to a rave in the Times and his first studio work. Although he wasn’t much of a sports fan, Bob Dylan felt pride when he learned that the ballplayer making national headlines also hailed from Hibbing, Minnesota.”

“Dylan was born in Duluth and didn’t arrive in Hibbing until he was seven and had nothing good to say or sing about it after he left and didn’t look back. So it’s ironic that he became the town’s favorite son, while Maris, who was born in Hibbing, was consigned to outsider status. The reason is that Dylan at least acknowledged he was from there. “It still burns me up that Roger claimed he was born in Fargo, North Dakota,” says Bill Starcevic, his childhood playmate in Minnesota. Roger didn’t care if the record books or trading cards got his birthplace wrong or if no one knew he’d changed his name to Maris from Aras in 1954, infuriating the many Marases of Hibbing. IF he thought something was trivial–or personal–he was surprised when others made a big deal of it.”

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     In 1985, Yogi Berra woke up on Thanksgiving day to see 23 tons of North Dakota potatoes being unloaded from a truck onto his front lawn. According to ‘Duk, the potatoes were than loaded back onto a truck to New York, where they were distributed to needy people. This could only happen to Mr. Berra.

From the Associated Press (November 26, 1985):

The delivery continued a joke launched by Berra when he visited the state last year and local officials told him North Dakota was among the nation’s largest growers of potatoes.

Berra, a self-proclaimed potato lover, reportedly said, “You don’t have enough potatoes to fill my front lawn.”

“I don’t know if I ever said that,” Berra said. “What the heck, it’s fun. I know one thing, I’ll get enough potatoes for the rest of the year.”

(more…)

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     In 1985, Yogi Berra was brought back to manage the Yankees after an 87-win 1987 campaign. Steinbrenner wasn’t very happy with Berra’s laid back managing style. George wanted him in his players faces, but Berra would do nothing of the sort. After 16 games into the season, the club owned a 6-10 record and that was enough for George to let Yogi go. Billy returned, thinking that George would get off his back.

Billy made a pact with Steinbrenner. The terms of the deal were that George could not enter the clubhouse or deliver speeches to the team, while Billy would have to fine players on a whim. And that’s exactly what Billy did. Peter Golenbock says: “He fined Phil Niekro for giving up a grand slam home run. He fined Rich Bordi for not trimming his mustache, and he fined Bobby Meachem one time for swinging at the first pitch.” He goes onto say: “It got so bad that Niekro described Billy as “The Maddest of the Game’s Madmen.” By mid-season, Steinbrenner would be down his throat once again, causing Billy to continue drinking himself to death. (more…)

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With pitchers and catchers celebrating our love of all things baseball by reporting to Spring Training on Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d share some reminiscences about Spring Trainings gone past.

First of all, this may come as a surprise to many of the Yankees younger fans, but the team didn’t always train in Tampa. Since the team’s founding as the New York Highlanders, they have trained in 19 locales. They spent a season in the Cactus League (1951). They trained in Atlantic City (1944 & 45). That was due to travel restrictions during World War II, but I can’t imagine the weather was much better in AC than it would have been in the Bronx. They even spent a season in Bermuda (1913).

But the period I remember from my youth is when the team trained in Ft. Lauderdale, from 1962 through 1995. In the early and mid-1970’s, I was lucky enough to make annual pilgrimages to south Florida. Ostensibly, my folks were sending me down to spend time with my grandparents. But I would invariably end up spending more time with my uncle at Ft. Lauderdale Stadium, watching my boyhood idols. Oh, and nabbing a few autographs; they were easier to get back then – I suppose because nobody had thought up the idea of holding events where people would pay $500 and up for one.

I remember in 1975 watching a tall, skinny kid routinely striking out some of the game’s better hitters. I didn’t know it then, but that was my first glimpse of the Gator. Then there was the time Bobby Bonds hit a ball that landed near the pitchers mound on one of the auxillary fields. I still think that’s the longest homer I’ve ever seen in person, and it brought everyone in attendance to their feet. In 1976, the Yankees debuted Mickey Rivers as their new center fielder – and his speed completely floored me.

There were other moments of baseball greatness that dazzled my preteen brain during those years, but they were my preteen years, after all. I wasn’t always as transfixed on the game as the happenings around me. One of the great things about those years was that not only did the Yankees invite back some of the former greats as guest coaches (a tradition they still follow today, thankfully), but you would often find others watching the games from the stands. Once we sat a row behind Moose Skowron, who was pretty much like any other fan. On another occassion, the guy next to me spilled his beer on me. My uncle was about to give him what-for – until he realized the guy he was getting ready to blast was none other than Tom Tresh. Mr. Tresh was a real gentleman about it. He got me a #15  jersey. At the time, I didn’t know it was his old number – I thought he got me a Thurman Munson jersey, who was (and still is) my favorite Yankee. As you might imagine, I was completely dumbfounded – and hoping to get more beer spilled on me by other former Yankees.

The memories from the halcyon days of my youth are a big reason why I’m such a huge fan today. It is why baseball, for me (and I suspect many of you) goes far beyond statistics, contracts and all of the other stuff we spend so much time talking about. It’s about great and not-so-great players, human beings not unlike us except for an incredible talent to play the game. In “Field of Dreams“, James Earl Jones‘ character Terrance Mann gives one of the best monologues about baseball ever written:

“The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and that could be again”

So, with that…let’s play ball! Mission 28 is officially underway!

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After watching the sports documentary, The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg (an Aviva Kempner film), I found an interesting connection between the Yankees organization and the legendary slugger.

In 1947,  Detroit Tigers owner Walter Briggs became infuriated with his star slugger, Hank Greenberg because he was asking for more money than he wanted to pay. Hank was at the tail end of his career, but he just came off a tremendous 1946 season, where he hit 44 home runs and knocked in 127 RBI’s. Briggs also saw a picture of Greenberg in the Sporting News paper, which displayed a picture of Hank sitting in a clubhouse with a Yankees uniform on his lap. The general idea was that Hank wanted to go to the Bronx (where he grew up) and finish his career as a New York Yankee.

Soon after this photo was released in the newspaper, Hank learned that he had been traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates over the radio airwaves. He didn’t believe it until a telegram was delivered to him. It read: “Your contract has been assigned to the Pittsburgh Baseball Club of the National League. We wish you good luck.” The photo really infuriated Briggs and he let him go without investigation. They would later find out that the picture was taken years ago during Hank’s service in WWII. Hank took part in an All-Star benefit game while in the service and they didn’t have a uniform that would fit him, so they gave him a Yankees uniform to wear.

Briggs made sure that nobody in the American League would pick up Greenberg through waivers, so he couldn’t come back and haunt them. At the time, baseball owners had complete control over their players and they could send players to other teams on a whim. You couldn’t get away with such a thing today.

It came as a shock to Greenberg and the Detroit fans. Hank was so upset over the situation, he was ready to retire. The Pirates contacted him, making him an offer he couldn’t refuse. They were set to make him the highest paid player in baseball. Greenberg wound up being the first player to ever break the $80,000 barrier (Ruth’s 1930-31 Salary). Pittsburgh gave Hank $115,000 to play for them in 1947. It was the last season he would ever play.

(more…)

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The prevailing logic holds that the Yankees, even should they win tonight to force a game 7, will almost certainly have no chance against Cliff Lee in a Game 7 – especially one played at the Ballpark in Arlington.

Logic is wonderful thing. Without it, many of the things we take for granted would never have been created. But, as any Yankee fan knows, you just can’t predict baseball. Besides, there is a historical precedent that is eerily similar to the Yankees – Rangers series.

In 1985, the Toronto Blue Jays won game 4 of that year’s ALCS. It was the first year of the 7 game format in the LCS and under the old rules, would have meant Toronto would have won their first pennant. Instead, they grabbed what still seemed a commanding 3 games to 1 lead in the series. Even if they failed to win game 5 in Kansas City (yes, Kansas City once had really good teams), they would have games 6 & 7 at home. Lined up for a game 7 start was Toronto’s ace, Dave Steib. How good had Steib been up to that point? In his first two starts of that postseason, he had allowed 1 run on five hits – in 14 2/3 innings. KC was looking at what seemed to be an impossible hole to crawl out of.

But then KC won game 5. Toronto was forced to ship their gear – and the champagne they ordered – back to Toronto. Toronto was still confident and playing with the looseness of a team that expected they still had the series in control.

Then KC won game 6. Doubt began to trickle into the city of Toronto. After all, most of the prognosticators prior to the series had picked the Royals. They had the postseason experience. They had the best player in the game, in George Brett – even if he was starting to age some. But, Toronto had that equalizer in Steib.

Game 7 commenced much the way Royals fans expected. Steib showed a few signs of the stress of the situation, allowing two runs. But the game was tied going into the 6th. That’s when IT happened.

Steib got the first batter of the inning to hit a weak flyball to center; 1 out. Then he walked Brett and followed that up by hitting  the next batter. A ground out and walk to Steve “Bye-Bye” Balboni loaded the bases with two outs. Despite struggling with his normally impeccable command, Steib was only 1 pitch from getting out of the jam. Unfortunately for him, Jim Sundberg ripped that next pitch into the right field gap for a bases clearing triple. Steib left the game and Toronto never recovered, ultimately losing the game 6-2. And the series, 4-3. As for the champagne, KC purchased it for $1 per bottle – $1 Canadian, that is.

Like Toronto that year, Texas is in their first ever ALCS. Like Toronto that year, Texas has a seemingly unhittable pitcher lined up for game 7. Like Toronto that year, Texas lost game 5 on the road and has to rely on their fourth best pitcher for game 6.

In the end, the better team (the one with the best player of his generation) won that 1985 series (and went on to win the World Series). I suspect the same thing will happen again.

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“I want to get the fans into the action. I don’t look for the glory for myself.” -Freddy ‘Sez’ Schuman

As most of you have heard by now, Freddy ‘Sez’ Schuman passed away at Lenox Hill Hospital yesterday after suffering from a heart attack on Friday night. He was 85.

In the same year, the Yankee family also lost George M. Steinbrenner III, Bob Sheppard and Ralph Houk. He was a “Super Fan”, a Yankee Stadium fixture and was said to be one of the most genial people you could ever meet. With frying pan and spoon in hand, he would walk up and down the stairs of the great cathedral, stirring up the crowd. He would interact with the fans, pose for pictures, and sign autographs. He couldn’t believe that others wanted his autograph, considering he was only a fan of the team. Just last week, people were banging on his shamrock frying pan and shaking his hand, so this caught people by surprise. He was even in a recent Nike commercial (at the 52 second mark). It seemed like he would always be there. I think I can speak for all Yankees fans, in saying that he will be deeply missed. He was as passionate as they get.

Will the Yankees organization have a moment of silence tonight to honor one of their most dedicated fans? According to a bleacher creature, they did it for original Cowbell King Ali Ramirez back in 1996.

Update: 5:00PM ET: According to Kim Jones, the Yankees will honor Freddy “Sez” Schuman with a moment of silence before tonight’s game.

An old friend of Freddy Schuman, Howard Goldstein, recently contacted me after he heard the news of his passing. This man used to take Freddy out for lunch in Manhattan (and then over to the stadium for the game). Howard wanted to share some memories of his friend, and I thought it would be a great idea. I would like to thank him for sharing these stories.

Fond recollections of my friend, the one and only Freddy Schuman  By: Howard Goldstein    

 

I met Freddy “Sez” in the early 1990s, around the time that my son David was born.  This was about the same time that I began to resume being a serious baseball fan, after having been only a casual one for the prior decade.  When I first saw Freddy do his frying pan thing at the old Yankee Stadium (the only real Yankee Stadium in my opinion), I immediately was reminded of the stories that my Dad (a lifelong Brooklynite) had told me about the uber-fan Hilda Chester of his beloved Dodgers.  Freddy appealed to my sense of baseball as a game which, above all else, was supposed to be about having fun. Freddy also appealed to my sense of passion since, when it came to the New York Yankees, I knew of nobody who had greater passion.
 
 Although I did not have much of a rooting interest in those days for either the Yankees (who were my childhood team), or the Phillies (for whom I rooted since moving there in 1978), I nonetheless for a number of years had been a collector/budding historian of all things related to Jews and baseball.  It was Freddy’s Jewish roots which made him of particular fascination to me. I remember approaching Freddy outside the Stadium one day and telling him about my interest in that subject.  As someone proud of his Jewish heritage, Freddy liked hearing me tell him oddball stories about the Jewish ballplayers and others whom I followed.
 
 Over the years my interest in baseball itself, both in the Yankees and the Phillies, grew exponentially to the point that I now have season tickets in both cities.  As a result, I probably came to the Bronx (on average) at least a dozen times per season.  During this period I had begun to email with Freddy and then went to his apartment where I marveled at the incredible number of signs that he had stored from prior years.  I remember buying a few of those from the 1996 World Series and thinking what wonderful works of folk art they were.
 
 It was at this visit that Freddy and I had our first lunch.  I greatly enjoyed talking to him because his passion for the Yankees poured out of every pore.  Freddy regaled me with wonderful stories that day and I hoped it would be only the beginning of many such get-togethers.  From then on, I continued to email with Freddy and also would try to meet him at least once a season for lunch and then drive him to the Stadium for the ballgame that day.  At one of these get-togethers, Freddy graciously agreed to give me one of his precious frying pans so that I could use it when I eventually mount a museum exhibit on Jews and Baseball.  Such an exhibit probably will occur within the next several years, and at that time I will joyfully display the pan (and one of his unique signs) in honor of my warmly remembered friend Freddy.
 
 There will be nobody to replace Freddy “Sez”, and for that the new Yankee Stadium will be the poorer.  The type of daily dedication and passion which Freddy exhibited towards his beloved Yankees is basically a relic of the past (though the real Bleacher Creatures are similar in certain respects.)  What a year this has been for the Yankees. what with the passing of Steinbrenner, Bob Sheppard, Ralph Houk and now Freddy “Sez”.  I just know that Freddy is in heaven arguing with George about the over-the-top size of his Monument Park statue.  If it were up to me, I would put one there of Freddy because the joy that he brought to innumerable Yankees fans over the years was priceless.

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Met Freddy 'Sez' Schuman for the very first time this season

From the NY Daily News:

Freddy “Sez”, a Yankee Stadium staple for the last 20 years, has died at age 82, according to friend Chuck Frantz.

At almost every Yankee game, Freddy could be seen outside Yankee Stadium with his daily message for the Yanks and a frying pan he banged like a drum. He also let other fans bang it as well.

He became such an institution that his lucky frying pan and spoon, thanks to Frantz, were put into the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Yogi Berra museum in 2004.

“He was a very close friend of mine,” said Frantz. “It took me by surprise.”

Freddy was also a big fan of the Manhattan and Fordham sports programs. 

Update: According to several other reports, Freddy was 85 years old…not 82.

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