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News Every Day |

A Baseball Lifer

Bill Wilson’s hot shit. He owns an office supply company, Atlantic Business Supply, on the eastern shoreline of Connecticut and his knowledge of products and salesmanship are only surpassed by his total recall of baseball events and statistics. Bill’s a smart, funny individual who’s immediately your friend, always has a joke or a fabulous baseball trivia question. He grew up in Dennis, Massachusetts on Cape Cod and was a pitcher on his high school and college teams. I’m an amateur baseball historian but Bill’s knowledge is vast and he keeps up with ancient and contemporary baseball lore in a way that puts me to shame. Bill makes a point of calling me on my birthday every year and I know what to expect every time. Here comes a $50 baseball question from Bill and it’s always one that makes you think.

Many years ago when Mary and I bought a house in Clinton, Connecticut we moved to a suburban cul-de-sac with other couples all in our age group, early-30s with kids. After a few neighborhood get togethers I discovered a baseball aficionado in Bill Wilson. I was impressed that I couldn’t stump Bill on baseball, plus he always had a great question and often he stumped me. Bill’s a lifetime Red Sox fan and this century a triumphant celebrant. As I’m a Yankees fan we’ve had many great discussions on the history of those two franchises. Bill has three sons and he and I coached together one year when my son was 11 and his youngest was 12. My daughter and Bill’s oldest were in the same class from kindergarten through high school. Bill moved away from that street 20 plus years ago and Mary and I left Connecticut 14 years ago but Bill still calls me on my birthday every year and we always wind up talking baseball for an hour or more.

I know it’s coming when I see Bill’s name on my caller ID. “I want you to tell me…” is how Bill starts the conversation, immediately challenging me. Bill always has a great question that a baseball lifer will love—if he can solve it.  Answers at the end of this article.

—Only two players have ever won the league MVP and Rookie of the Year.
—The only time in history that a Major League had two Co-MVPs.
—Name the future Hall of Fame pitcher who threw a World Series shutout against Sandy Koufax in Sandy’s final game.
—Name the first ever World Series night game.
—Name the last ever World Series day game in an outdoor stadium.
—Name the only player in MLB history to win a batting title in three different decades.

A group of guys who I worked and played softball with when I worked in Stamford used to take a bus ride to Fenway every year to see a Yankees-Red Sox game. Although I moved to the other side of the state I still went on the trip every year as the bus stopped in New Haven. I asked Bill if he’d like to go and he jumped at it. It was Saturday, September 8, 1984. I introduced Bill to the group and we were off. Back in those days bus rides to baseball games were common and there was a cooler of beer and baseball discussions aplenty. Bill impressed the guys with his baseball knowledge and stories. It was a crisp, sunny afternoon and the Yanks won the game. There was spirited back-and-forth between fans of both teams but everybody had fun.

We were in the stands down the left field line and as we were leaving Bill told me to wait up. The next thing I knew he was standing on the Yankees dugout and a few security guys waved him away. Bill ran over and told me to follow him. The guy who organized the bus trip. Bruce had brought along his younger brother Phil, a big enough Yankees fan that he named his son Thurman. Phil was sitting with us and he followed Bill with me to the bottom floor. I saw a men’s room and made a beeline to it. When I came out I heard Bill yelling for me to come over to a door. I walked in and Bill, Phil and I were standing in the Yankees’ locker room. While Bill was roaming the clubhouse I was doing my best to act “natural” when I noticed that Phil was standing agape. I calmed him down and took a post next to the buffet table. Suddenly, there was Yogi Berra about to grab a bite. I said “Hey Yogi.” He slapped me on the shoulder and said, “Hey kid.” Rick Cerone was hit by a pitch and was getting a rubdown when I wandered into the trainer’s room. A laughing Cerone looks at me: “How did you get in here?”

Bill: “We made our way down to under the third base stands and hit our destination, the visiting team’s (Yankees) locker room. I remember Phil asking,  “Where are we going?” My response was, just follow our lead. We came across the security guard at the door outside the locker room. When he asked, ‘Can I help you?’ my response was ‘We’re sportswriters with the Hartford Courant here for post-game interviews.’ When he asked for our credentials I said ‘Not only are we late, but we left our press passes back at the office. Our chief editor is in there waiting for us and we’d greatly appreciate entry into the clubhouse. Just then the locker room door opened and I yelled inside to a fake editor ‘Jim, we will be right there!’ The visiting clubhouse manager at Fenway was the legendary Don Fitzpatrick. To add validity to our story with the security guard, upon approaching Don, I said ‘Hi there Fitzy.’ He muttered, ‘Hi.’ And we were in. The first thing we noticed were folding tables topped with delicious looking food. We were attempting to play it cool because we were supposed to act like sportswriters. First up was outfielder Omar Moreno, who five years earlier played for the World Champion Pittsburgh Pirates. Next, it was the new kid on the block, Bobby Meacham. I’ll always remember Bobby and his friendly and respectful demeanor. Then came the best: my interview with MLB infield journeyman Tim Foli. Tim didn’t seem in the best of moods that day. I asked, ‘So Tim, what are your thoughts about the look of this Yankee team next spring?’ His response was point direct: ‘I have no idea nor do I care, I am outta here at the end of this season, and you can print that.’ We heard it first. Shortly thereafter, security figured out we weren’t sportswriters. As we were heading toward the exit of the locker room, the great Don Baylor saw our act and laughed.”

In 2005 Bill was at an afternoon game at Yankee Stadium with his wife Kimmy, a huge Yankees fan. A few hours before the game, Bill led Kimmy with him up to the press box. He asked the security guard for PA Announcer Bob Sheppard. “Who’s calling?” asked the guard. “Bill Wilson.” A moment later Sheppard pops his head out. “Do I know you?” he queries in that distinctive voice. “Oh, yeah, I’m Bill Wilson, we met up at the PR Room two years ago. You said I should stop by some time and check out the press box.” Sheppard was pleased and immediately swung open the door. “Why, come right in.” Bill hadn’t met Bob before but there they were inside chatting and Bill getting a picture of Kimmy and Bob together with the Yankee logo behind them. Now they really were old pals and naturally Bill had a million pointed questions for the great Bob Sheppard. Later, who walks in the press box but Jim Kaat. Bob: “Kitty, come over and meet my friends Bill and Kimmy.” Jim walked over and shook hands  “Any friend of Bob’s is a friend of mine.” After introductions and small talk, Bill brought up the second to the last game of the 1967 season when the Twins were battling the Red Sox for the pennant—no wild cards. If the Twins won they would’ve captured the pennant. Bill: “You were really on a roll until you had that elbow injury.” When Kaat was taken out, the floodgates opened, the Sox won and they clinched the pennant the next day. Bill was at both games. Of course Jim remembered and he wistfully said, “Yeah, I was rolling along.” The picture (above) of Bob, Kimmy and Bill was taken by Jim Kaat.

Saturday afternoon. A manager at Bill’s company calls Bill from Fenway Park. In Bill’s words: “I’d just finished mowing the lawn on a beautiful Saturday afternoon a few weeks prior to my 50th birthday. My phone rings. It’s one the managers, Josh Callahan, of WB Mason, my employer at the time, at Fenway Park in the Mason private suite. Josh says to me, ‘Billy somebody wants to say hello to you.’ A minute later this voice comes on the phone and says ‘Hi Bill, I want to wish you a happy upcoming 50the birthday, this is Fred Lynn. I said, ‘Sure and I’m Santa Claus.’ Freddy responds with ‘No, Really this is Fred Lynn.’  It did sound like him, but I said, ‘Okay, Freddy if this is you, answer this question about your career. In your rookie year of 1975, name me the specifics of your most productive offensive game.’ He immediately responds, ’You mean my 10 RBI game at Tiger Stadium with three home runs and almost a fourth.’ Right on the money. I’m almost sure this is Freddy Lynn. I say, ’You hit the first ever grand slam homer in an All-Star game. Name me the pitcher who served it up?’ Without hesitation Freddy responds, ‘That would be lefty Atlee Hammaker of the Giants in 1983. He threw a 2-2 count breaking ball down and away that I pulled into the right field seats’  I responded, “Freddy, it is you!’ I was always a huge Freddy Lynn fan since he came up with the Sox. I’ll always cherish that phone call.”

Bill occasionally has gone on baseball jaunts with a few of his buddies. One time they traveled to St. Louis to watch the Cardinals. As luck would have it, Rick Ankiel was playing his first game for the Cardinals as an outfielder. A few years earlier he was a promising pitcher who suddenly couldn’t throw strikes. After toiling in the minors for two years he remade himself as a position player—and had a fabulous outfield arm. The crowd and everyone in town were all rooting for his comeback to be a success. The first two times up Ankiel struck out but on the third he yanked a homer into the right field stands. The same stands where Bill and his pals were sitting. The ball hit hard on the stands, bounced up and Bill snagged it. Bill tells me he regrets changing out of his gold polo before the game because his Red Sox t-shirt blended in with a sea of Cardinals fans, also in red. The video is on YouTube.

Security came to get the ball and Bill immediately agreed to give it to Ankiel—as long as Bill could give it to him. In the clubhouse after the game Bill gave the ball to Rick, got an autographed ball and told Rick that when they make a movie about it, Bill wanted to play himself. Rick gave him a puzzled look.

—Fred Lynn and Ichiro Suzuki both captured Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player in their rookie years.
—Keith Hernandez and Willie Stargell were Co-MVPs in 1979.
—A 20-year-old Jim Palmer won a 6-0 game as part of a four-game sweep by the Orioles.
—Game 4 of the 1971 World Series on October 13 at 8:15 pm (ET) at 3 Rivers Stadium. Pittsburgh 4, Baltimore 3. Pittsburgh won the World Series in seven games.
—Game 5 of the 1984 World Series on October 14 at 4:45 pm (ET) at Tiger Stadium.
—George Brett won batting titles in 1976, 1980 and 1990.

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