Essays | Arlene Schulman
After the last out was announced by the smooth baritone of Bob Sheppard, the crowd wearing team jerseys and hats moved slowly down creaky escalators and steep ramps in the old Yankee Stadium where Babe Ruth walloped home runs and Yogi Berra wondered when it would all be over. They flooded out onto River Avenue with hands gripping baseballs, programs, pens, photographs, and pieces of paper and pushed towards the players’ exit gate. Most players stopped to add their signatures, while their more harried and hurried teammates pushed through the eager older men and kids to jump into their cars to home to Manhattan apartments or New Jersey homes. One by one, sleek black Mercedes and classy sports cars pulled out of the parking lot fenced in by chain link automobiles polished so sharply that clusters of folks in Yankee jerseys covered their eyes and squinted like they were standing at a Cape Canaveral launch. A security guard pushed the gate open. The crowd surged forward. Police officers pushed them back. Cops and crowd all sought a glimpse of the occupant at the wheel. Someone would call out in amazement, “Dave Winfield waved at me!” as a shadowy figure behind tinted windows drove slowly away. As each car pulled out of the lot, the same dance from the crowd began, a lurch forward, a step back, a surge ahead, a couple of waves, and then a stop and repeat.
When the parking lot was finally emptied and the last millionaire gone, the sidewalk around Yankee Stadium was finally silent, except for the sounds of trash swirling in the wind and the roar of the Four train as it rumbled into or out of the 161st Street station, heading further into the Bronx or into Manhattan. Vendors, scalpers, fans, security guards and police officers returned to their bases. Frank Sinatra ended the final refrain of New York, New York, with a flourish and organist Eddie Layton returned to his apartment in Forest Hills, Queens, in Mets territory. Even the ghost of Babe Ruth had gone home.
Cleaning crews swept paper cups, napkins, and other garbage from the stands. And when no one was looking, three people walked wearily out of the stadium before the final light was switched off, the oldest shuffling slightly in baggy pants and looking a bit grim, the second a big-bellied red-raced cop in his late fifties who moved as if he were still walking the beat, and the third, a young woman with red hair, jeans and hand-painted Keds sneakers who could be a daughter or granddaughter clutching a bulging black Marimekko bag filled with a laptop, notebooks, and pens. Even the security guard in the parking lot was gone as the trio crept up to a lone Ford with a few dents and a blurry windshield, unlocking the side door first for the young woman, and then the two men sat in the front seat, the cop driving, the other man sinking into the passenger seat, looking out the side window and then back again.
As they rode across the 155th Street Bridge into Manhattan, the old man always remarked, “I used to go with a girl on Nagle Avenue.”
And the young woman, always trying not to be a district attorney, asked each time, “Do you remember who that was?”
But each time the answer was the same: “I don’t remember her name.”
“Here ya go,” the driver said, as they approached my dimly lit apartment building or if there was enough daylight, Broadway next to the George Washington Bridge in Washington Heights where I continued my trip uptown by subway or bus.
“Ya coming tomorrah?” the cop would ask, not waiting for an answer. “Any time ya need a ride ya let us know.”
The older man never said goodbye.
“Hurry back soon, ya hear,” he called out, waving until the lobby door closed behind me.
Only a handful of people, I suppose, know the name of Pete Sheehy. He was a man no one knew well and he liked it that way. Baseball players from Babe Ruth to Catfish Hunter to Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, and Don Mattingly and anyone who passed through the Yankee clubhouse from 1927 to 1985—he never gave away any of their secrets, rarely granted interviews, and worked silently around the clubhouse.
There was Pete, clubhouse manager, picking up dirty uniforms and tossing them into a shopping cart, straightening shoes and chairs and bats, hanging clean uniforms on metal hooks, putting fresh soap in the showers, and not smiling—at all. We met in the early 1980s when I was on assignment to photograph him for the New York Yankees official fan magazine. I waited until the clubhouse emptied out of players and entered this hallowed ground to photograph Pete for two weeks straight. Reverence isn’t the right word when you’re picking up dirty socks, so to Pete there was no magic or allure. There wasn’t to me, either. Pete gallantly went about his work, not saying much, and then posed for a photo sitting at one of the picnic tables in the empty locker room.
The New York Yankees of the 1980s were almost, but not quite, past the Sturm und Drang of manager Billy Martin and owner George Steinbrenner, who was attempting to groom his oldest son, Hank, as his successor. Hank rarely granted interviews, either.
The following season, I returned to the Yankees, this time as a reporter/photographer for El Diario-La Prensa; I didn’t speak Spanish but my work was translated, the same as then Mayor Ed Koch’s so we were in good company.
Some players were veterans, some journeymen, others rookies, young men just past their teens called up from the minor leagues, from small towns and places far away from New York City. The clubhouse was filled with outfielders Dave Winfield and Rickey Henderson; shortstop Willie Randolph; pitchers Ed Whitson, Phil Niekro, Ron Guidry, Tim Stoddard, and Cecilio Guante; first baseman Don Mattingly, manager Lou Piniella—and the gaggle of sportswriters who covered them.
Bill Madden of the New York Daily News always had the inside scoop, Michael Kay was starting out at the New York Post, Jerry Izenberg of the Newark Star-Ledger had his own personal take on the sport he loved, the courtly Dave Anderson of the New York Times always wore a jacket and tie and Ed Lucas, a radio sportscaster who is blind and who could hear how soundly a baseball is hit better than those who could see. The press box was hierarchical with the men from the New York Times considered the most intellectual and seasoned and with New York Times reporter Murray Chass who knew the game better than most general managers.
In the press box, I was young enough to be a granddaughter or a daughter or a sister. In the clubhouse, I was the same age as rookies, a granddaughter of old timers who passed through, a daughter to the veterans, a young professional woman starting out in the working world. I didn’t know where I would end up, but knew I was going somewhere, very much like the rookies just up from the minor leagues.
My adventures began a few years after Sports Illustrated writer Melissa Ludtke won a landmark lawsuit permitting equal access to women in the locker room. This meant I could enter the locker room while players were dressing and undressing. My stance was decidedly unfeminist, if you want to call it that. Out of respect for privacy and for those who may have never been interviewed by a woman who reported on sports, I most often than not waited until players were dressed or had someone tap them on the shoulder, or waited outside until they arrived in street clothes to arrange to interview or photograph them. A few of the sportswriters, too, felt uncomfortable chatting with someone wrapped in a towel and sometimes not even that. Others went about their work, interviewing and ambushing without a second thought. I was as green as the rookies coming up from AAA or AA ball, but manners and timing got me pretty far.
At the old Yankee Stadium, the press box rose high up above home plate and over to the left side and consisted of a few rows of countertops, outlets and chairs, with broadcast booths, and a smaller press box where I sat with the men of the Black and Hispanic press and TV and radio reporters. The Yankees official box sat off to the left, and Eddie Layton’s Hammond organ called out Charge! from the far right. This was the generation of technology that followed the electric typewriter and before cell phones, email, texting and the Internet. The state-of-the-art computer at the time was a heavy black Radio Shack laptop with a tiny screen of four or five lines. One older sportswriter still used a typewriter, and the clickety-clack of the keys made me think of the movie, The Front Page.
Most of the older men—and almost everyone was older then me—wore plaid short-sleeved shirts under tweed sport jackets, even during the warmer weather. They reminded me of Oscar Madison. At least these men had style. I wore whatever came out of my closet, including vintage mohair sweaters from the Antique Boutique in SoHo and white Keds that I proudly painted myself in purple and blue acrylic. Come to think about it, I still have them.
I was 22 and 23, starting out my career as a writer and photographer. It was unusual back then, to do both and to do them well, and well ahead of journalists who do both or are forced to. I carried hernia-inducing baggage, including the now vintage Radio Shack laptop, a reporter’s notebook, a Canon camera and various lenses, including a large telephoto lens that was about half my height so I could peer into the outfield. Some of the male counterparts were wary of the new kid on the block who happened to be a woman, including one who could barely contain his contempt and looked like he was about to spit on me. A few were friendly, a few not sure what to make of this new addition to the press corps. One reporter, much older than me, who reported for one of the New York dailies, didn’t even look at me. The older man, bristling with resentment, I discovered, asked my colleagues who I was and what I was doing there. Word got back to me by way of a TV producer who took me aside and suggested that I talk to him.
“But what would I say?” I asked, wondering how I could take on this much importance when there were so many stories to cover.
Two older black men, one a photographer and the other a writer and editor from Big Red, a local black newspaper, had seen it all before and they, too, were banished to the sidelines.
“Go head and speak to him,” they urged. “It can’t do you any harm. Go!”
I considered approaching him in the Press Room, where everyone gathered to eat. Mary, who looked like Flo, served hot meals and would be a witness but I ruled this confrontation out because I didn’t want an audience. A few days later, my colleague walked towards me, glaring without blinking,. And then he would pass me on the right, his usual move, sometimes bumping me. This time I was ready.
“Mr. X? “ I asked, squaring my shoulders and looking him in the eye without blinking and raising my eyebrows. I am from Brooklyn and we get right to the point.
“My name is Arlene Schulman and I work for El Diario-La Prensa. If you have any questions, please let me know and I’m happy to answer them.”
If I were a man, I would have held out my hand. But mine were full of equipment and I’m not certain he would have understood the gesture. He stared at me, and I didn’t move or allow him to walk around me.
He made a noise that sounded like the words you see in old novels.
“Ha-rumph,” he grunted and brushed past me.
I made my point but he continued to ignore me, bristling with anger, as he surrounded himself with the older men in his clique.
But he had to have a parting shot. In the Mets Press Room when the corps of sportswriters moved across town from the Bronx to Queens, he walked passed me and spat out, “You women were freaks. You’ll never be accepted.”
I rolled my eyes. And I printed that in a small column run by The Village Voice. The sports editor there, as furious as I was.
“What an idiot,” he said.
I felt sorry for the older man. But it taught me a great lesson, not about men but also of people who hold on to their values and positions and who fend off newcomers and new ideas when they attempt to cross the moat.
I was already across and ready to hold my own.
The players were more welcoming. One memorable encounter was not with a Yankees player but with the Toronto Blue Jays outfielder George Bell, notorious for hating sportswriters but particularly for being contemptuous of women.
But he hadn’t turned me down for an interview. I waited outside of the visiting clubhouse for him to exit, figuring that he might find an audience of peers there while humiliating me. Another tactic might work.
I intercepted him in the hallway.
“Excuse me,” I stood in front of him so he could not pass.
“My name is Arlene Schulman and I work for El Diario-Prensa and would you have a few minutes?”
He, too, looked like he was going to spit at me.
But I didn’t move.
“Don’t you know I don’t give interviews?! Why are you bothering me?”
He started to walk off and cursed at me in Spanish, including puta, which means bitch. I knew these weren’t terms of endearment.
“Oh, really?” I replied, tersely, not missing a beat and playing it like a chess match, a game that I’m not good at. “How would I like it if I called you a maricón? You wouldn’t like it and I don’t like what you called me.”
He looked like I had slapped him in the face. These were fighting words and I knew it. The former welterweight boxing champion, Emile Griffith, once killed a man in the ring over it.
“Do you know what that means?” Bell asked.
“I most certainly do,” I retorted. “Don’t go there with me.”
He thought about it for a moment.
“Meet me in the dugout in 15 minutes.”
I sat, waiting in the Visitors Dugout, figuring that he would not show up. Well, he did. As we sat there chatting, his teammates stopped, surprised that he was having a conversation with a reporter, let alone a female one.
My request: I would be covering winter league baseball in the Dominican Republic, including in his hometown of San Pedro de Macoris, and would like to visit him at his home. This was more than just sitting for an interview. He agreed and gave me his telephone number.
When I arrived in the Dominican Republic several months later, he was home at our appointed time and agreed to be interviewed and photographed, along with his wife and two children. He was pleasant and open about his baseball career and growing up in San Pedro de Macoris. And when my contact lens ripped—out of vanity my eyeglasses were sitting at home on my dresser—I called him and he drove me to his ophthalmologist. When I returned to his hometown for interviews and photographs with ballplayers on the latter part of the trip, his wife welcomed me back into their home to use their restroom and to wash up. Sometimes, not everyone is as tough as they look.
When I returned to New York City, I returned to the Yankees for another season. Back in the clubhouse, when the Yankees won, the players were talkative and lively, and most of them were more forthcoming and engaging.
“Hey, Schulman!” pitcher Tommy John called out as he adjusted a brace for his back. “What are you working on?”
Willie Randolph would call out, “Hello, young lady.”
We were from adjoining neighborhoods in Brooklyn, he from Brownsville and I from East New York, and this brought a certain level of familiarity.
Dave Winfield was one of the most cooperative ballplayers there, although this was stretched a bit when he wore an unflattering green suit that was the color of money and I had the audacity to tell him so. He gave me a look I’d seen before from my father, eyes squinting and lips pressed together.
Outfielder Dan Pasqua and I pushed through the same revolving door at Macy’s one afternoon.
“What are you doing here?” I asked when we spun out of the door onto the street.
“Arlene,” he said sternly. “I go shopping, too.”
The look was the same as Dave Winfield’s and my father’s.
I sent outfielder Omar Moreno to meet his fellow Panamanian, featherweight champion Eusebio Pedroza, who was training at Gleason’s Gym on 30th Street in Manhattan.
Pitcher Ron Guidry played the drums in a back room, and pitcher Tim Stoddard kept photos of his kids’ drawings in his locker/cubicle.
I learned about the moodiness inherent after victories and defeats, and I wondered who these men were, where they were going, how they got there, what their lives were like. I wonder where they are now.
Willie Randolph spoke with me about the terror of making too many errors; Lenn Sakata spoke somberly of making it to the big leagues but never being a superstar. Billy Martin looked past me, too many things on his mind. Ed Whitson, from a small town in Tennessee with one stoplight, fought with Martin, received death threats and wanted to leave New York. I never met George Steinbrenner. I did meet his son Hank during his first go-around and he gave me a rare interview back then. We were close to the same age, both thinner then, and he smoked a lot. He wasn’t sure what he was doing there or where he was going.
Pete Sheehy complained about my luggage and how heavy my bags were.
“Leave them here,” he said of the locker room. “Nothing will happen to them.”
He picked up my heavy camera lens and bag.
“You shouldn’t be carrying this,” he advised. “I’ll put them in my locker and come and get them tomorrow.”
Every locker was more like a cubicle, with hooks for hanging clothing, a shelf at the top, and a storage bin with a padded seat that lifted up to store equipment. When I would be returning to the Stadium the next day, into the locker went my Canon camera, lenses, and rolls of black and white film.
And each day when I arrived and with less back pain, well before any players came in. Pete quietly handed me my camera equipment.
“You shouldn’t be carrying this,” he said. “Too heavy.”
I sat out in the Yankee dugout, inhaling the perfume of a freshly cut lawn. It was just a desolate Yankee Stadium and me. Sometimes a player would sit silently next to me. I don’t remember thinking anything. Then the field would come alive with hitters and catchers and the reassuring sound of bats hitting baseballs.
During the hottest days, Pete would make a rare appearance in the dugout during batting practice, passing out ice pops to the players.
“You want one?” he offered.
Pete was the same whether the Yankees won or lost, quietly going about his business. When the team lost, the tone of the locker room was mournful and quiet, baseball players avoided the press, Tommy John didn’t say anything to me, and players and the press spoke in hushed tones as if they were standing next to the deceased at a wake.
And for the next game, we would start all over again.
One of the security guards became, in my way, my assistant. Almost 70, short and gregarious and from the Bronx, Charlie reminded me of Yankees shortstop and announcer Phil Rizzuto. After retrieving my belongings from my locker now shared with Pete, our routine would begin.
Charlie manned his post outside of the locker room with a critical eye, examining press cards and holding the door open for players, press, family members, and management coming and going.
“Who are you looking for today, Arlene?” he inquired.
I’d mention my latest subject, say Claudell Washington or Tommy John.
“I’ll be right back,” he said. “Wait right here.”
So I stood outside of the locker room and Charlie opened the door with the baseball player right behind or update me with “He’s not ready yet. Give him 10 minutes and he’ll come out and see you. How’s everything going otherwise?”
I opened the door one time and heard him call out to Rickey Henderson: “Hey, Arlene is waiting outside for an interview. You’d better get out there.” And he hustled.
At the end of every home game, Tommy Dunn, the police officer from the Bronx, drove Pete home and he found me placing my camera equipment in the locker.
“How you getting home?” he demanded.
I told him that I lived in Inwood in upper Manhattan, past the George Washington Bridge. “We’re going right over the bridge. Get in the car.”
Pete Sheehy died in 1985, on my birthday. Tommy, the cop, must have retired by now. I lost track of Charlie Zabransky. And the crusty old sportswriter is long gone. My only consolation is that I outlived him. I no longer cover baseball, having moved on to boxing, writing about police and crime, and working on short documentary films. The world has expanded and more and more women are covering sports on television, on cable, for website and blogs and what’s left of the newspaper business. I’ve moved on, too.
Billy Martin died in 1989. The old Yankee Stadium is gone. Baseball players retired, a few were elected to the Hall of Fame, some are coaching or managing in the major or minor leagues. It doesn’t seem that long ago that I was in the old Stadium, waving hello to Eddie Layton, Charlie greeting me at the door, Pete hanging up uniforms, Hank Steinbrenner learning the business of baseball from his father, trading commentary with Dave Winfield, Ed Whitson fighting with Billy Martin, listening to manager Lou Piniella discuss strategy with the press, observing the fastest man in baseball, Rickey Henderson, taking his time answering questions, sitting in the dugout before batting practice was about to begin, inhaling the freshly cut grass, taking in the history and the grandeur of Yankee Stadium and wondering where we would wind up at the end of the season. Some men return for Old Timers Day, to relive the games and tell the stories from those days. And sometimes stories are better after time has passed. It doesn’t seem that long ago. It never does.
The boys of summer have all grown up. And so have I.