Old-Timers' Day (or Old-Timers' Game) generally refers to a tradition in Major League Baseball of a team, especially the New York Yankees, devoting the early afternoon preceding a weekend late afternoon game to celebrate the baseball-related accomplishments of its former players who have since retired. The pattern has been copied intermittently by other sports but, due to the lack of day games (and total games, overall), it is not a regular feature of the season as it is in baseball. Furthermore, though other baseball teams may from time to time make use of this tradition in some form or another, it is generally accepted, especially when specifically referred to as "Old-Timers' Day," that this is a tradition of the New York Yankees.
The New York Yankees started this tradition in the late 1930s, when they held individual days to celebrate the lives of Lou Gehrig (when he was forced to retire because of ALS), and Babe Ruth. Quite possibly the most well-known of the early Old-Timers' Days is Lou Gehrig Day, held on July 4, 1939. After hearing tearful speeches from friends and former teammates who had seen his career cut short by the illness, ALS, which would come to bear his name, Gehrig delivered a short speech referred to by many as the Gettysburg Address of baseball. Gehrig's declaration that he was the luckiest man on the face of the earth is thought by many to be the most famous line ever uttered by a baseball player.
Current Old-Timers' Day format
Every year, the team invites around 50 (sometimes more) former Yankees to be introduced to the crowd in the hours leading up to the scheduled game. The team invites players, coaches and managers, trainers, and even broadcasters to take part in the festivities. For this reason, the regular game played on Old-Timers' Day is often scheduled for 2:00 pm, and the festivities of the day begin around 10:30 am. The Old-Timers' Day ceremony involves each of the invitees being introduced, wearing a Yankees uniform with their number on the back, as their name, position, and a short synopsis of their triumphs as a Yankee are read to the crowd, which includes a video tribute shown to the crowd at the stadium. Since the 1990s, this ceremony has been conducted jointly by John Sterling, the Yankees radio play-by-play announcer, and Michael Kay, one of the team's television play-by-play announcers and Sterling's former radio partner. The game is announced by Michael Kay and whichever other announcers are scheduled to work that day's regular game. By way of being introduced in a certain order, the old-timers are split into two teams, often called the Clippers and the Bombers (the first being a nickname for Joe DiMaggio and the second being a common nickname of the Yankees), although other names have been used in the past. Hall of Famers or specific honorees are traditionally introduced last.
As tradition, Joe DiMaggio would always be introduced last as "baseball's greatest living player". In 1978, when Billy Martin was introduced after DiMaggio as part of a stunt where it was announced that he had signed to return as manager in 1980, DiMaggio complained and said if anyone was introduced after him, without his permission, then he would not return in the future. It never happened again. He made his final appearance in 1998, missing only the 1988 game due to a scheduling conflict. Since his final appearance, Whitey Ford and Yogi Berra have traditionally been the last players introduced.
After the old-timers have been split into teams, they gather (often greeted by a standing ovation from the crowd) for a group picture. They then head into their respective dugouts to begin a two or three inning game (assuming time and the weather permit it may be longer). This "Old-Timers' Day Game" is a defining feature of the Yankees' Old-Timers' Days. Because of the age of many of the players, and the game's relative lack of meaning, the game is not for true competition as much as it is a spectacle for fans nostalgic to see their favorite players from earlier decades (the game is also great for players yearning for one more inning on a Major League field).
Old Timers' Day has many traditions that make the day special. Following the introduction of the players, a moment of silence is held as members of the Yankees fraternity who died in the previous year have their names read to the crowd. Another long-standing tradition is the introduction of the widows of great Yankees who have died, a tradition that started with Claire Ruth and Eleanor Gehrig who attended into the 1970s and 1980s and continues today with Diana Munson, Helen Hunter, Jill Martin, Arlene Howard, Kay Murcer, and Maggie Coleman, all escorted by current Yankees players. Ruth's daughter and granddaughter have also been introduced in recent years. Members of the Mantle and Maris families have also been introduced in the past. A more modern tradition, started in the past 20 years, involves a few "Old Timers" wearing a wireless microphone during the game, starting with Bobby Murcer and continuing with Paul O'Neill, David Cone and John Flaherty. 2013 and 2014 featured three players wired for sound. The players mic'd up are almost always current Yankees broadcasters.
Mel Allen was the original master of ceremonies, followed by Frank Messer, and then John Sterling and Michael Kay handling the duties as a team. People like Keith Olbermann and Bob Wolff have also contributed.
Since this is the only game played for most, if not all players, all year, the games are generally low-scoring affairs and are usually only three innings or so in length. However, there have been some famous occurrences.
In 1985, Phil Rizzuto was hit in the nose with a ground ball, leaving him a bloody mess. After that, "The Scooter" stopped playing in Old Timers' Games and became one of two, along with Joe DiMaggio to wear a suit and not put on the uniform. More recently, in 2014 Whitey Ford and Yogi Berra wore suits instead of uniforms and rode onto the field in a golf cart because of their health.
In 1991, Reggie Jackson made his first appearance at Yankee Stadium since retiring as a player. In the game, he got a hit, and made a shoestring catch in right field, belying his image as a great hitter but a poor fielder.
In 1998, the Yankees celebrated the 20th anniversary of the 1977, 1978 and 1981 World Series that they played against the Los Angeles Dodgers, and invited some members of those Dodger teams. The game was won on a home run by Willie Randolph against Tommy John, who played in all three of those World Series, for the Dodgers in 1977 and 1978 and for the Yankees in 1981, on the losing side each time.
In 2010, the Yankees celebrated the 60th anniversary of the 1950 World Series championship team. They invited Hank Workman, Whitey Ford, Jerry Coleman, Don Johnson, Duane Pillette, and Charlie Silvera to represent the team. However, Yogi Berra missed the day due to a fall.
Legacy of Old Timers' Day
Other Old-Timers' Games
From 1982 to 1985, an Old-Timers' Classic sponsored by Cracker Jack was played at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C, each July. The inaugural Cracker Jack game, played on the evening of July 19, 1982, was particularly memorable; then-75-year-old Luke Appling connected off Warren Spahn for a 250-foot home run to left field.
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