An Old Man Fell Down the Stairs in the Bleachers

It all started because an old guy fell down the stairs. Thankfully, he wasn’t hurt. If he was, I would be keeping it to myself.

So how does this fit into the story of me, the bleachers and how I ended up documenting 600 games worth of nonsense from Section 39 in the right-field bleachers of Yankee Stadium through the 90s and vaunted championship run (most of which was totally unrelated to the actual game on the field)? And how does it bring me here?

It was April of 1993. I was young, wild and possibly in hiding at the time. New to the city and trying to figure out how someone who hadn’t yet charmed or bought anyone off yet to be his friend could go somewhere without standing out and being “that guy.” Ah, how about the Yankee game?

In random trips to the Stadium before my solo ventures, I would sit in the uppers – the old “top eight rows of the Stadium have the cheapest seat” gag. I’d be behind home plate, in another stratosphere, closer to planes up above than Matt Nokes on the field. Well, on my own accord, in 1993 I bought a bleacher seat (probably because all my scant cash was going towards single guy staples like macaroni and cheese and tuna fish) not knowing anything of what wonders went on within.

So there I sat with my scorecard in the bleachers. People sure seemed to know and, for the most part, like one another out there. I immediately felt left out of the loop. I saw Tina, the Queen of the bleachers who has since become a lifelong friend, holding court. (Trust me, if you have been in the bleachers, you know her.) These were the general admission days, and if you weren’t in, you weren’t in. A few wayward souls were steered clear to seats on the periphery, as outsiders weren’t welcome.

I watched this dance with mild amusement, and sort of wondered what exactly made these people boss. I had my scorecard and I was sitting there, keeping to myself for possibly the last time ever, when I heard the unmistakable sound of … song. What the hell? These people were singing. I knew all about drunken bursts of song since I grew up in a volunteer fire department family, and spent many nights hearing the “Horse’s Ass” ditty on the bus home from a parade, but here I was in the seats at the venerated Yankee Stadium, hearing people singing my beloved “Horse’s Ass” song.  I knew the words, so I joined in with gusto. Then, out of the blue a portly sort got up and screamed, “Box seats suck, jerkoff!” I was enamored. They had me at “Box Seats Suck!”

And then the old man fell down the stairs.

Before this night my scorecards were kept neat and tidy with succinct game-scoring action, and trivial facts like “sunny but chilly” or “Cap Night here at the Stadium!” How timid and staid I was. Well, it all changed on this first night in the bleachers when this old man fell down the stairs. He was up as soon as he went down, steered to a seat and fawned upon with such fervor by a couple of young women that I started mulling over the idea of falling down the steps myself. Anyway, I felt a need to document this. So I wrote, “old man falls down the stairs.” I then checked my work, liked what I saw, and decided to fill in the columns of my scorecards with such factoids going forward.

That same night I saw fit to mention we were told in no uncertain terms to “STAY OFF THE SEATS!” by security when we stood up to do some such thing. Considering what was to come over the years on the seats not involving sitting on them (from Creatures making speeches or doing stripteases to me dancing in wild gyrations or reading children’s books to a rapt audience to people doing tumblesaults or using them as a diving board to seats below), this is now amusing to me on so many levels. I’m sure I had a grin as I documented that Brian McRae was serenaded with chants of “Daddy’s Little Girl!” I pointed out “a big fat guy” in the box seats, and I didn’t even bother cracking a joke, which was beyond lazy of me. I just documented he was there for posterity. Ruminating on this now, I wonder how many guys scoring in the box seats look over now and see me out in the bleachers of today and write out “big fat guy in the bleachers” – you know, the student becoming the master sort of thing.

When the Daddy’s Boy himself made a snag on a Pat Kelly liner, I gave out a “star” on the play, which I had always done on my scorecards, but my new unabashed self, freed by the carefree atmosphere of the bleachers added a descriptive, “an unbelievable leave-his-feet catch.” My scorecard, before my very eyes, was transforming itself from a neat archive of a relaxing night in the park to a random spate of verse, jokes and remarks with snark. And what a game to start my run with.

That night I learned, along with joy, a sense of community, and a chance to sharpen my rapier wit … rage! The freakin’ Yankees had a chunky 4-0 lead going into the ninth behind eight shutout innings by Jimmy Key, and Steve Howe and Steve Farr COUGHED THE DAMN THING UP! This was the metamorphosis for a snide that would used in the future of “Oh, here comes the bullpen … HOWE FARR will they hit it?”

So yeah, Howe comes in to start the ninth, gives up a single to Wally Joyner, a double to Hubie Brooks of all people, and a bases-clearing double by Felix Jose to make it 4-2. That is when Steve Farr came ambling in. Everything from trepidation to menace hung in the air. And sure enough, in no time at all, we are tied, as Mike McFarlane hoisted a homer. I sat in a sea of boos and groans, stewing in rage. After some more assorted lunacy and two outs that gave us hope we may get through this turmoil, Brian McRae got the last laugh on us with a dinky infield single that somehow plated a run, and the Royals were up.

I inexplicably had one of those doofy souvenir bats that soon went the way of the dodo when people figured out they made nifty weapons, and I not so inexplicably slammed it on the empty seat next to me (there were lots of those about as only 14,091 fans were listed as attendees that night, quite possibly the smallest crowd I was ever a part of) and broke the damn thing. As Farr left the field to a cascade of boos and I surveyed my splintered wood, someone shouted with aplomb, “Joey Gasoline! Fireman of the year!” That too made the card.

And I’ve never looked back. Over the next few games I moved closer and closer to this inner circle that I had watched with a wary eye. I was soon recognized, and from what people recall, respectful. I started adding my own quips to the sea of sarcasm, joining in the songs, chastising the meek as they shuffled up the steps, trying to figure out where their “general admission seat” was located. I’d point out the furtive Boston fan peeking over the upper deck rail, sparking off a booming chant for him to jump, which would then win me backslaps and handshakes for pointing out this chance for us to all be merry. I began chatting with the likes of Animal, Captain Bob, “Big Nose” George (The Little Drummer Boy), Tina, the legendary cowbell man Ali Ramirez, Fat Daddy Chico and it went on and on. Soon I was sitting right in there, helping Tina hold the seats for the established regulars, looking forward to the day that was surely coming where I too would have a seat held for me while I glugged a couple of last brews outside.

Many times over the years I would hear the question, “How the hell did you sit through 600 baseball games?” This question would be asked with that tinge of derision one would get as if the question were “Why would you pick up garbage on the side of the road if you weren’t forced to?” The thing is not only did I love baseball, which bought me to the bleachers of Yankee Stadium in the first place and has me watching Kansas City-Seattle games on the MLB package to this day, watching a game in the bleachers was akin to going to a bar where you knew your best friends, and other characters out and about would surely be there. There would be lies and laughs, jokes and songs, fights and flirts, but the thing was there was a baseball game going on right in front of us. What a selling point!

Night after night security was busy admonishing the rowdy, escorting the drunken pugilists to the gate under a canopy of hoots and hollers. Outfielders would sneak a peek over their shoulders, only to be buried in a barrage of insults and just plain old-fashioned boos. Fathers with your young kids would go from covering their children’s ears to the naughty ditties to patting us on the back for a particularly funny line. It was a wonderland. Throw in the beers, and in those early-days cigars, and we were the proverbial pig in a poke. Tickets were cheaper then (Hell, I’m thinking they were six bucks when I started going) and the beers were cheaper too! If I could afford them back then, anyone could!

I learned the wonders of going in for batting practice (remember beer was sold in the bleachers at one time, but once beer was banned for a stint that lasted a few years it was the end of me and a bunch of cronies making it in before first pitch) and hooting and hollering with players from the road. In times I will recant tales of “Dancin’” Tony Phillips, Bo Jackson, Ben McDonald, the late John Marzano, the foul-tempered (and fouler mouthed) Bobby Ayala and the likes of Todd Jones and Phil Nevin, who attempted to draw a few Creatures into actual fisticuffs before a game. What a place! I saw the phenomena of “holding seats for friends” (in a world where Tina ruled with an iron fist) and there was even a game where someone commandeered some yellow police tape to rope off our section within a section to make sure the friends could sit together.

In time I will discuss what really killed the rowdiness of the bleachers (and yes, the bleachers as I knew them are dead). While the banning of beer in the late 90s was a big part of killing the spirit, it was the doing away with the general admission seating that blew the whole thing up. Back then you sat in your gaggle of goons, where you could share a private joke without making it public by shouting it four rows and five seats to the back and left. I have never laughed louder in my life than the nights I’d be there in a row with Big Tone Capone, Grover, Gang Bang Steve, Angry Teddy and Donahuge, all in a line like the Little Rascals on a curb, but firing them off one after another. And, lucky you, the results of these ended up in what are now five binders of scorecards on a shelf in my closet, preserved forevermore. I could (and I have) randomly pulled these books out in times of dismay to sneak a guffaw.

So here is where Scorecard Memories comes to play. Over the years, starting on a message board that became a ghost town, I documented the storied years of 1993-1995 in Section 39. In time I may revisit them here, and you will surely get the stories in a fireside chat style regardless. But I’m going to pick it up here in 1996 for a myriad of reasons, and of course, 1996 holds a special place in the heart of any Yankees fan. It’s a great place to start to share the bleacher journey with many of you for the first time. But even more so this is when true characters came creeping out of the woodwork as I had in 1993. The jokes were funnier and more biting. Security was as lax as ever and just about every single night an astounding array of lunacy prevailed. We had a World Series to see, a no-hitter and a tragic loss of one of our own out there in Section 39 when longtime cowbell man Ali Ramirez passed away that May. The emotion that came out of that, reached a crescendo on the night Gooden tossed his no-hitter on the same day Ali was laid to rest and it brought us together as a family and created a bond that has morphed into the most dysfunctional, and dare I say the BEST DAMN FAMILY out there.

At my wedding I had a series of family tables, a friends table, and a Bleacher Creature section. Since my run kicked off in the early 90s, folks have come and gone, but more have stayed. Couples have met and broken up. New relationships have flourished and some have married and there are now Bleacher Babies running around. I myself met my own wife out there, and have a Bleacher Baby of my own.

This month is the 10th Annual Ali Ramirez Bleacher Creature Softball Tournament held on the Heritage Field on the grounds of Yankee Stadium. Over the years, 90 different people with bleacher connections (as in “sat there and became a part of this” connections and not “I have connections out there” connections) have played in this game, and another couple of hundred or more have come out to see the games and join in the day, and the inevitable trips to the bar afterwards.

So what am I going to be doing here? I’m going to take you through a stint in the stands, recounting seasons and baseballian memories through the art of the drunken scorecard. I’m going to be regaling you with all kinds of madcap capers involving my Bleacher Creature friends, from road trips to vaunted destinations like Toronto and Baltimore, Staten Island and Coney Island (where I brandished my scorecards). Your average scorecard would contain anywhere from a half-dozen to half-a-hundred witty cracks, and allusions to fights, bottle throwing, drunkards passing out or falling down the stairs, ejections, folks in costumes, flashing women and some of the strangest characters ever seen in public. I will intersperse these accounts with abbreviated game recaps, to stir up memories of names gone by like Yankees stars Mike Gallego and Mark Hutton, to visiting wunderkinds like John Jaha and Troy O’Leary.

Why would anyone care about bleacher scorecards (even ones with jokes) from over 15 years ago? For one thing, funny jokes are funny at all times, and who doesn’t like baseball stories? They tell stories about the barnstorming Cincinnati Red Stockings! I may stir up some memories of childhood heroes and guys you used to laugh at. There will be snapshot style profiles of luminaries of the time. There will be tales of on-field brawls, triple plays and a whole ton of mystery outs (or as Phil Rizzuto used to score them, “ww” for “wasn’t watching”). You will simply be amazed at some of the arcane factoids I shall present between the oddballs who threw out first pitches or sang the anthem here and there (including Barry “Greg Brady” Williams and our own Suzyn Waldman, who belted it out in the mid-90s before we realized she was theater trained, and not just annoying) to absolutely doofy polls taken in the seats like “What would you rather smell like: pee or poo?” and “Who was your favorite character in Winnie the Pooh? (in which Christopher Robin inexplicably got three votes). The fun never stopped.

The Bleacher Creatures have had road trips to just about every city in the baseball world, though I pretty much only made it to Boston, Baltimore, Shea and Toronto, and you’ll hear those stories too. And oh, the get-togethers in the bars, pregame hangouts in the bodegas and the park and even trips to the clink. There will be fights and affairs and some names will be changed to protect the guilty. But you’re gonna hear it all along with how I morphed into the “Drunk Guy That Does the Tom Tom Dance on the Benches” while wearing a plastic toy Sheriff badge.

The next time you hear from me it will be April of 1996, and you will be in the bleachers. Enjoy the ride.