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
The first Old-Timers' Day was held on the final day of the 1947 season.
Every year, the Yankees invite up to 50 (sometimes more) former players to be introduced to the crowd in the hours leading up to the scheduled game. For this reason, the actual 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 players 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. For the decade up until 2010, 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. More recently the game has been announced by Michael Kay and other especially invited announcers. 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. Hall of Famers or specific honorees are traditionally introduced last.
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).
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 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, belieing 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 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.
Joe DiMaggio, as tradition, would always be introduced last and 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.
In 1973 to celebrate the final Old Timers' Day in the original Yankee Stadium, Whitey Ford pitched to Mickey Mantle allowing Mantle to hit a home run, his final of his lifetime.
In 1975 the Yankees held Old Timers' Day at Shea Stadium and prior to the game it was announced that Billy Martin had been hired as Yankees' manager for the first time.
Other Old Timers' Day traditions include a moment of silence as members of the MLB fraternity who died in the previous year had their name 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 Mrs Gehrig & Mrs Ruth who attended into the mid-1980s and continues today with Diana Munson, Helen Hunter, Jill Martin, Arlene Howard & Kay Murcer (members of the Mantle & Maris families have been introduced in the past). A more modern tradition started in the past 20 years, involves one "Old Timer" wearing a wireless microphone during the game, starting with Bobby Murcer and continuing with Paul O'Niell, David Cone and in 2013 John Flaherty. 2013 was unique as it was the 1st time that 3 players were wired for sound.
Mel Allen was the original master of ceremonies, followed by Frank Messer and then John Sterling & Michael Kay handling the duties as a team. People like Keith Olbermann and Bob Wolff have also contributed.
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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- Kaplan, Jim (1982-08-23). "Luke Appling, the Braves' 75-year-old minor league batting - 08.23.82 - SI Vault". CNN.com. Sports Illustrated. Retrieved 2011-11-25.