The year was 1974. I would have been a young teenager at the time.
A friend and I were rabid Yankee fans. We were heavily outnumbered in school by Mets fans. That may be hard to fathom now, but remember, the Mets had been to the World Series in '69 and '73. They were the cool team.
We got the idea that we would go see the Yankees in New York, which was several hours' drive from Cortland. We got ahold of a Greyhound schedule and cooked up a plan to take an early morning bus to New York watch a doubleheader, then take another bus back that night.
Thinking back, I don't recall if the parents in our lives had checked off on the plan. The adults of today would be horrified to think that any parent would consider allowing two teenage boys to take a bus, alone, to New York city, but times were different back then. Kids going out on their own was not such a big deal.
Anyway, we had the Greyhound part of it figured out. The problem was how to get from the bus station in New York to the ballpark. We knew nothing about the subway system.
So we wrote a letter to Bill Virdon. He was the manager of the Yankees, after all, so he should know these thing (or ... maybe we just needed the excuse to write the letter, which, looking at this through the prism of time, is probably the more likely reason).
A week or two later a handwritten note came back from Virdon. He thanked us for writing and wished us luck, suggesting that we could get directions for the subway at the bus terminal. An autographed picture was included.
Well, who knows. It could have been a public relations assistant or a family member who wrote us back. But to us, that letter represented a personal connection with the manager of the Yankees.
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We didn't make that trip to New York ... I suspect money was the main reason, or maybe the idea of changing buses in Scranton was a little intimidating. Virdon was fired the next year and someone else was chosen to lead the Yankees to the promised land. I was disappointed, but life went on.
The autographed picture of Virdon has never left me. It's taped up on the computer modem on my desk.
From time to time over the years, Virdon's name will be in the news for one reason or another and I'll look through the Internet. I checked out his stats last night at baseball-reference.com, for no good reason.
There are plenty of numbers. Twelve season in the majors, a Gold Glove, a Rookie of the Year award, lots of triples, a World Series title in 1960. There are another 13 years as a manager with a .519 winning percentage, and more years as a coach and instructor.
When you look at the body of work, you might say the man deserves to be in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Some have made the case for it.
It's harder to make the case that either his playing or managing career, by itself, rises to the level of the Hall of Fame. You tend to go into halls of fame based on one or the other. It isn't fashionable to reward people based on the body of work these days.
It counts for something in my book, but maybe I'm just sentimental on the subject. That note, back in 1974, meant a lot to a young Yankees fan.