NEW YORK. The mood in the New York Yankees’ clubhouse was solemn after an 8-7 loss to the Orioles Sunday. “They’re making cuts today,” pitcher Domingo German told a reporter. “People are very nervous.”
“Let’s practice the glove-throwing play.”
When a player was summoned to the manager’s office, he knew the news wasn’t likely to be good. And so when veteran Billy Crystal heard hitting coach Marcus Thames call out ”Hey, Mr. Funny Man! Skip wants to see you,” his teammates said nothing and avoided eye contact as Crystal made the long walk to manager Aaron Boone’s office.
Crystal, a 70-year old comedian, movie star and Oscar host, had been hoping to extend his illustrious career by switching to designated hitter, a position where veterans whose fielding skills and timing have diminished can hope to hang on for a few more years until they lose their batting eye. “Henny Youngman did it,” Crystal had said to reporters in front of his locker just the day before. “At the end his delivery had slowed down, but he could still bang out a laugh in a clutch situation.”
“Billy, have a seat,” Boone said to the aging comic. “How’s the family?” he asked, making small talk. “Fine,” Crystal said, although his face bore an expression of concern that belied his word. “Well, Bill, let me cut to the chase,” Boone said after some more palaver. “We appreciate all you did for us in your single celebrity at bat, but the club has decided to move in a different direction.”
Scouting report: “Like someone trying to swat a fly with a meat cleaver.”
Crystal’s face registered a look of dismay, then resignation. “So it’s over?” he said.
“We could re-assign you to the Columbus Clippers, but if we give you an outright release, you might catch on with–I don’t know–Tampa Bay or Kansas City.”
Murphy: “He’s got the bling, he’s got the swing.”
“Thanks,” Crystal said, hurt but appreciative. “Just out of curiosity,” the star of hit movies such as “When Harry Met Sally” asked, “who’re you going with at veteran designated comedian?”
“We just picked up Eddie Murphy from Los Angeles.”
“Eddie Murphy? A ex-Saturday Night Live hack who’s making kiddie movies now?” Crystal had famously turned down an offer to join the regular cast of the late-night comedy program early in his career, and it paid off when he made the move to Hollywood sooner than expected.
“He’s got the bling, he’s got the swing,” Boone said as he picked up a pile of scouting reports. “We’re looking for a more explosive sense of humor–one that will put runners in scoring position.”
“What’s wrong with my schtick?” Crystal said, lapsing into Borscht Belt yiddish for a comic’s material.
“Bill, it’s fine–but times have changed,” Boone said. “Yours is a more situational, observational humor. Did you know the Yankees were last in the AL East last year in stolen bases to Jewish mother jokes?”
“I haven’t told one of those since . . .”
” . . . and that we failed to bring home fifteen runners in scoring position during Labor Day telethons by washed-up comedians? Those numbers aren’t good.”
“$81 million folks. That’ll buy a utility infielder, or a left-handed pinch hitter with some pop in his bat!”
Crystal was silent, and hung his head.
“How ’bout the Red Sox,” Crystal asked. “They have a history of hiring comedians, like Bill Lee . . .”
Bill “Spaceman” Lee
“I think they’re all set,” Boone said. “They just signed Jay Leno.”
“Leno!” Crystal screamed. “You’ve gotta be kidding me!”
“Nope. He’s local–from Andover, Mass.”
“But he’s got that big chin!”
“That’s a plus. When the chin music”–baseball slang for high, inside pitches–”start’s flying, he’ll be a valuable asset.”
“I don’t get it,” Crystal said.
“The way that thing sticks out, he has the highest hit-by-pitch to at-bat ratio of any major league comic.”
Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Yankees and Red Sox: Why Can’t We Be Enemies?”