Friday, October 31, 2014

Casey and Hef

I first met Hef in the 1970"s.

I was in my 80's, but looked 40 years younger. It was a Halloween bash at the Playboy Plaza on Miami Beach, when Hef was into hotels and all that.

He came over to me at the glamorous bar and pit out his hand. I see you are dressed up like Casey at the Bat.

Hef roared with laughter. He might have been squeezing the ass of his gal pal Barbi with his free hand.

I believe there was a cigar in the story as well.

I have to come see you play. Have you met the Pistol--he's a big baseball fan.

I had no idea who the Pistol was, but I would soon find out.

Pistol came out as if on cue and sat his six-foot four inch frame next to me at the bar.

Pete ordered a Michelob. He asked the bartender what kind of night it had been.

The barkeep shrugged. It's Miami and both man laughed.

Pete looked over to me and said: Are we going to get laid tonight?

He certainly wasn't Walt Whitman, who had encouraged me to keep playing when I once pondered retirement.

In minutes, Hef had commissioned a limo and we were off to Place for Steak on the Causeway.

I still didn't think Pete knew who I was, but hell, I was hungry and I loved steak.

Pete treated us all to steaks that night and then Hef stood up and announced that I would perform Casey at the Bat. I almost fell off my chair. I hadn't even memorized the fabled poem, which of course, had been written about me.

I started off all right, but then Pete asked me if Walt Whitman had written the poem. Since Pete was paying for the entire entourage, it seemed perfectly logical to stop and answer his question--so I did.

Funny that he mentioned Walt, because the poet had come to many of my games over the years and told me that he had a formula for my playing baseball for 100 years.

I was probably boring both Pete and Hef, but what followed was the most amazing story of how I became the first and only baseball player to have a 100 year plus career.

And it all started with Walt Whitman--even though he never wrote a word about me.

Before I discuss the fandom of Whitman, let me share this story of Mickey Mantle.

The Mick continues to be one of the most asked questions when I am on stage with Casey.

Did I know him? Was he a fan/ Did I admire him as a ballplayer.

I didn't meet Mick until I was approaching 100 and I must admit I was slowing down some, but more about that later.

Mick recharged me. Whitey Ford, that crafty Hall of Fame lefty had invited me to do Casey to a bunch of over paid capitalists, throwing around their money in a drunken frenzy one November weekend in Fort Lauderdale.

I was taking BP and lining the ball around the gaps, when Mick approached me, in a blurred stupor and took the bat out of my hand.

Normally, an act like that wouldn't sit well with me, but after all, this was Mickey Mantle and he apparently had no idea who I was.

Whitey took the mound, which was a given whenever Mick stepped into the box. He lobbed one and Mantle hit it 500 feet into the trees beyond the left field fence.

The surgeons and dentists wagged their tongues and broke out in frenzied applause.

That's how you do it.

I was face to face with the Yankees legend. He was barely able to stand erect. After a moment, he bellowed. Don't I know you?

He motioned for his mentor, Hank Bauer to come out of the dugout.

Hey, Hank. Look who we have here. It's Ty Cobb.

Later, after my performance, I asked if Mick had been in the audience.

Whitey laughed and waved away the question.

Are you kidding? He is in his room drinking. He still thinks you're Ty Cobb.

At least he picked a great ballplayer.

Later on, I did Casey for Mick when he was recovering.

He laughed like a maniac.

After the show, he came backstage and wouldn't you know it--he asked me.

Don't I know you?

Now, after 125 or so years, I don't think it is that impressive that I have known Hef, Mick, Whitey and Pistol Pete.

You can even throw in Jerry West, if we are counting.

But the man who changed my life(s), was someone, who at first glance, looked like some old fan who had stumbled his way into the ball park.

They told me his name was Walt Whitman.

I had never heard of him.

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