April 2012

Interview with a Living Legend

April 18, 2012 – Don Shula won more games than any coach in NFL history. He also guided the 1972 Miami Dolphins to the NFL’s only undefeated season, compiling a 17-0 record.

Those are just a few of the two-time Super Bowl winning coach’s many accomplishments, and as a life-long fan of the Miami Dolphins, I have always held Shula in the highest regard.

As a kid, I relished the fact that the coach of my favorite team was regarded as one of the all-time greats, and I enjoyed watching his movements on the sidelines almost as much as I took pleasure in the action on the field. As I got older, I admired Shula for his core beliefs. He always did things the right way. He won within the rules, and he was as dedicated to his family as he was to winning football games — qualities that have become more rare in professional sports through the years.

On April 2, I conducted what I consider to be the interview of a lifetime. I, along with Yankees team photographer James Petrozzello, spent more than an hour with Shula at his house in Indian Creek, Florida.

I interviewed Shula in his home office, which was nearly as awe-inspiring as the man himself. Shula and I sat in two captain’s chairs in front of his oak desk. A collection of game balls are on display on mahogany shelves that stretch from the floor to the ceiling behind the desk. Shula’s two Super Bowl trophies (from 1972 and 1973) and the coach’s Hall of Fame bust are also located behind the desk.

In the early part of the interview, which will be published in the July Issue of Yankees Magazine, Shula and I discussed his 1972 Dolphins, who defeated the New York Football Giants at the old Yankee Stadium to improve their record to 13-0.

“Our players were awed by playing at Yankee Stadium,” Shula said. “I felt the same way.

“I knew it was going to be a tough day for us because the fans were so close to the field and because the field conditions were muddy,” Shula continued. “We relied heavily on the speed of Mercury Morris and Paul Warfield, so I preferred a fast track. We had to go in there and beat the Giants on a day that was anything but ideal for us. That made it all the more special. Going undefeated is something that had never been done before, and it hasn’t been done since 1972. One of the biggest thrills from that season was going into Yankee Stadium.”

I also asked Shula to discuss Joe DiMaggio and George Steinbrenner, both of whom the coach had friendships with.

“When I first got to Miami in 1970, I joined the country club that Joe was a member at,” Shula said. “My locker was right next to Joe’s, and that was pretty neat. “He was a true gentleman, and I admired him for the 56-game hitting streak and for all of his other accomplishments with the Yankees. The thing I really loved about Joe was the way he played centerfield. He wasn’t the fastest guy around, but he seemed to glide to where the ball was. He had a great arm, and he threw out a lot of guys who were trying to get extra bases.”

When I asked Shula if he would have liked to coach DiMaggio, his ear-to-ear smile spoke louder than his words.

“Yes,” Shula said emphatically. “He would have fit right into my way of doing things. He was a winner in every sense of the word.”

Shula then shared his favorite memory of Steinbrenner.

“I invited George to have dinner with me on the opening night of Shula’s Steak House in New York City,” the coach said. “He took me up on the offer, and we had a great time together. I will always remember that evening, because he couldn’t have been nicer. As an owner, George upheld the highest standards of baseball.”

The last question of the interview was one that I had always wanted to ask Shula. I asked the man who was a role model to me to speak to the importance playing within the rules, being a dedicated parent and doing things the right way — the core beliefs that I had long admired him for.

“I was taught that if you were willing to put a lot into something, you would get a lot in return,” Shula said. “When I got the opportunity to be a head coach at the age of 33, I had to gain the respect of the players I was coaching, so working hard and setting the right example was essential to making that happen.”

“Coaching is a very demanding profession,” Shula continued. “You work morning, noon and night, and you’re up half the night thinking about what happened the day before. But you have to remember how important family is. It’s important for your family to be on your side, and you have to be aware of all of the sacrifices they have to make when you’re an NFL coach. Being aware of that makes you’re family more united. I lot of good things have happened in my life, but my family is at the top of the list.”

A few seconds after the interview ended, Shula extended his hand and gave me a compliment I will never forget — and one that is rarely given to an interviewer by the subject of the interview.

“Great job,” the coach said.

As Shula walked to the other side of the desk to pose for a portrait that Petrozzello would be taking, the coach asked to see my World Series ring. I was honored that he was interested in seeing my ring up close, but I was even more anxious for the chance to hold his 1972 Super Bowl ring.

Shula wrestled the ’72 ring off his finger and handed it to me so that I could pose for the photo below, in which I am wearing his Super Bowl ring and my World Series ring.

Just as I won’t ever forget the lessons I learned from watching Shula do things the right way all those years, the memories of my time with the coach will also be permanently etched into my brain.

–Alfred Santasiere III

2012 New York Yankees Official Yearbook – ON SALE NOW

April 18, 2012 – The 2012 New York Yankees Official Yearbook is on sale now.

The cover of this commemorative publication features 22 artifacts from the New York Yankees Museum (located at Yankee Stadium).

Brian Richards, who is the curator of the New York Yankees Museum, was invaluable in allowing us access to every one of the rare artifacts that he is charge of.

Team photographer James Petrozzello arranged the artifacts and took what I believe is the most elegant photo ever displayed on the cover of a New York Yankees Yearbook.

And, senior editor Nathan Maciborski came up with the idea for this concept, which led to the compelling cover.

The artifacts in the beautifully lit photo stand out from afar, but it’s the significance of each piece of memorabilia that makes the cover as special as it is.

There are two jerseys in the photo. Babe Ruth wore one of the jerseys in 1932, Derek Jeter wore the other one during the game in which he collected his 3,000th career hit.

The cap that Mickey Mantle wore during the 1961 season is also in the photo, as is a signed baseball from Don Larsen’s Perfect Game in the 1956 World Series. The mitt that Yogi Berra caught Larsen’s Perfect Game is not on our cover, but Berra’s glove from the 1952 and 1953 seasons is.

Additionally, a ticket stub from Game 6 of the 2009 World Series and one from the first game at the current Yankee Stadium grace the yearbook cover along with the bat Ruth used to hit the first home run at the old Yankee Stadium, a bat used by Lou Gehrig in 1923 and the bat Mantle used to hit his record setting 16th career World Series home run.

Finally, this ultimate display of Yankees greatness through the years would not be complete without an artifact from the life and career of the late George Steinbrenner.

Well, we’ve included eight pieces that represent the Boss. The wooden name plate from Steinbrenner’s office at the old Yankee Stadium along with each of his seven World Series rings are in the middle of the photo.

In addition to this one-of-a-kind cover, the many stories within the Yearbook make it a valuable keepsake. From a feature about Jorge Posada’s legendary career to an inside look at Michael Pineda to a section dedication to the history of the Yankees pinstripes, the 2012 New York Yankees Official Yearbook is as comprehensive as any baseball publication you will find.

You can order your copy by calling (800) GO-YANKS or through www.yankees.com/publications. The Yearbook will also be on sale at Yankee Stadium throughout the 2012 season, and the on-line version is also available through www.yankees.com/publications.

–Alfred Santasiere III

April Issue of Yankees Magazine – ON-SALE NOW

April 18, 2012 – The April issue of Yankees Magazine is on sale now, and simply put, it’s one of the best editions we’ve ever produced.

Jorge Posada, who etched his name into Yankees lore during his 17-year career, is on the cover of our April Issue. Yankees team photographer James Petrozzello took the cover image on the day of Posada’s retirement press conference.

We chose Yankee Stadium’s Great Hall as the location for the Posada photo shoot because the background features banners of fellow Yankees legends.  In my opinion, the symbolism that the Great Hall provides along with the headline “Among the Greats,” is a fitting tribute to a guy who was the heart and soul of the Yankees for nearly two decades.

Yankees Magazine contributor Bob Klapisch, who is also a long-time columnist for the Bergen Record, wrote the cover story. Klapisch’s feature is brilliant, and for any Yankees fan, it’s truly a must-read.

In the fourth paragraph of the story, Klapisch wrote, “He [Posada] had a one-of-a-kind temperament that was defined by pure, unabashed emotion, which only reinforced his integrity.”

From the vantage point of someone who has known Posada for almost 10 years, I can say that Klapisch’s description of the catcher was spot on, as is the rest of the story.

There is a feature story about another all-time great catcher in the April Issue, as well. Petrozzello and senior editor Nathan Maciborski spent a morning with Yogi Berra at the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center in New Jersey, and they certainly made the most of their time there. I was fortunate enough have joined them on the mid-winter day and to spend some time with Berra.

Maciborski’s first-person account of the day provides unique insight on one of the most charming and gracious people in American pop-culture.  In the story, Maciborski chronicles his conversation with Berra, which includes the catcher’s take on the museum that bares his name as well as on Joe DiMaggio, Bill Dickey and the many changes the game has seen in the last 50 years.

The story could not have been written better, and the portrait that Petrozzello took of Berra wearing his 10 World Series rings inimitable.

This issue also includes my feature story on Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino’s visit to Yankee Stadium in January. As I wrote on this blog after Marino’s trip to the Bronx, spending an afternoon with my childhood hero was an unimaginable thrill. Marino’s kindness and easy-going demeanor made the experience even better, and I am proud to have my name on the first-person feature you will see in the April Issue of Yankees Magazine.

There are several other interesting stories in the April Issue of Yankees Magazine, and because the season has just begun, this is the perfect time to subscribe to the Yankees flagship publication. You can order a print or digital subscription to Yankees Magazine through www.yankees.com/publications. Print subscriptions are also available through (800) GO-YANKS, and single copies of Yankees Magazine are available at Yankee Stadium.

Enjoy this magnificent issue!

–Alfred Santasiere III

Fitting Tribute to a Yankees Legend

April 18, 2012 – Opening Day at Yankee Stadium is always a memorable afternoon because of the pomp and circumstance that goes beyond the in-game action.

The Yankees 2012 home opener followed suit in a long-standing tradition.

The moment that I will remember long after I’ve forgotten the outcome of the game took place when Jorge Posada threw the ceremonial first pitch.

What made the moment even more special was that the entire Yankees starting lineup stood behind Posada while Posada’s young son also watched from a few feet away.

Posada, who played in more than 1,800 games with the Yankees during his 17-year career, threw the pitch to his father.

Following the pitch, Posada, who played in five All-Star Games and was an essential part of five World Series championships, hugged each of the players along with his family members.

The opportunity for Posada to share the moment with his immediate family and his former teammates was well-deserved and appropriate for a guy who left it all on the field while playing for the same team his entire career.

Enjoy the photos below. These images and several others from Opening Day will grace the pages of the May Issue of Yankees Magazine.

–Alfred Santasiere III

5 Minutes with Magic Johnson

April 18, 2012 – In addition to the 5 Minutes with Jalen Rose feature (which I wrote about on this blog a few weeks ago), there will also be a 5 Minutes with Magic Johnson interview in the May Issue of Yankees Magazine.

I interviewed Johnson at the Longacre Theatre on Broadway, where the show Magic/Bird is currently running.

The play details how the once contentious rivalry between Johnson and Larry Bird ultimately turned into a life-long bond.

In the interview, Johnson told me that he believes the scene that depicts his visit to Indiana to film a Converse commercial with Bird is the most compelling part of the show.

“Larry’s mother greeted me with a hug and told me how much she admired me,” Johnson said. “That was a wonderful moment in my life, and the way it’s portrayed in the play is very special.

“When we broke for lunch from shooting the commercial, I started walking from Larry’s outdoor basketball court to the trailer,” Johnson continued. “I assumed I would be eating with the crew in the trailer, but Larry invited me to eat lunch with him at his house. That showed me that I was welcome in his home, and when I met his mother, I learned that they had great family values and a lot of love for each other. It really gave me the opportunity to learn about Larry Bird the man, not just Larry Bird the basketball player. Larry also got a chance to learn about Earvin Johnson the man, not just Magic Johnson the basketball player. Before long, we were laughing like two little boys, and that’s what turned a contentious rivalry into a friendship.”

While the opportunity to interview Magic Johnson was unforgettable in its own right, the setting made it even more memorable.

In 1920, Harry Frazee, who owned the Boston Red Sox for seven years, sold the rights to Babe Ruth to the Yankees for $100,000. A well-publicized myth in baseball lore states that Frazee made the sale in order to fund the play No, No Nanette, which was staged at the Longacre Theatre in 1925.

Whether the sale of Ruth was actually orchestrated so that Frazee could bring No, No Nanette to Broadway and whether that trade put an 86-year curse on the Yankees’ arch-rivals will continue to be debated for as long as baseball is played.

But regardless of whether those the sale of Ruth had anything to do with the funding of No, No Nanette, the two events will always be linked — making the Longacre Theatre a hidden baseball landmark.

–Alfred Santasiere III

Profound Respect from Cooperstown

April 2, 2012 — Over the last few months, I have been compiling quotes about Derek Jeter and about Mariano Rivera from members of the Baseball Hall of Fame for a spread in the 2012 New York Yankees Official Yearbook — which, by the way comes out on April 13.

The quote section will commemorate Jeter’s 3,000th hit and Rivera’s record-breaking 602nd save, milestones that were achieved in 2011.

Prior to today’s game, I spoke to Andre Dawson and Tony Perez, both of whom work for the Miami Marlins. The words of these Hall of Famers underscore the respect that the game’s greatest players have for Jeter and Rivera, and will be added to quotes from the likes of Reggie Jackson, Mike Schmidt, Goose Gossage, Pau Molitor and several others.

“I’m a huge fan of Derek,” Perez said. “He has the will to win every time he takes the field. He may not put up huge power numbers, but he has hit some big home runs over the years. Derek is a consistent hitter, a great fielder, and he drives in runs late in games. That is the sign of greatness.”

“Mariano has been a rock for the Yankees for almost two decades,” Dawson added. “His consistently over that period of time is really unheard of. It’s difficult to imagine that we will ever see someone pitch as consistently as Mariano has.”
–Alfred Santasiere III

Another Milestone for Derek Jeter

April 1, 2012 – While today’s game between the Miami Marlins and the New York Yankees is an exhibition contest, it is still the first contest between two major league teams at Marlins Park.

With one swing of the bat, Derek Jeter added another milestone to his legacy. Jeter’s latest hit will never be confused with any of his greatest moments, but at the same time, it can never be duplicated.

Jeter collected the first hit (by a big-league player) in the history of Marlins Park. The Yankees captain connected on the first pitch ever thrown in the Marlins new home and lined it to center field for a double.

The reaction to Jeter’s hit was positive. With a significant number of Yankees fans in the crowd, the cheers made it seem as if a Marlins player had actually collected the hit. Even the large contingent of Marlins supporters in the ballpark applauded the Yankees captain.

–Alfred Santasiere III

Historical Day in Miami

April 1, 2012 – My first memory of watching a live sporting event made a life-long impact on me. It was a magical day, which fueled my passion for sports more than any other single event I have witnessed in sports since.

That sporting event was a game between the Miami Dolphins and the Atlanta Falcons at the old Orange Bowl stadium in downtown Miami in 1986. I was seven years old, and even though my beloved Miami Dolphins came up short that afternoon, the experience of sitting next to my father and my grandfather and watching Dan Marino complete pass after pass through a rain storm with what seemed like an effortless release was unforgettable. Our seats were in the first row of the field level and on the 50-yard line — and in the old Orange Bowl, that location made it feel as if you were sitting on the bench with the Dolphins.

Today, I am watching the Yankees take on the Miami Marlins in the first major league game at Marlins Park, which is located where the Orange Bowl once stood.

Prior to the game, Alex Rodriguez, who grew up in Miami and is also a passionate Miami Dolphins fan, spoke about his memories of the Orange Bowl and about what today means to him.

“I grew up on these square blocks and took the bus to the Orange Bowl to watch the Miami Hurricanes and Dan Marino and the Dolphins,” Rodriguez said. “The Monday night game in which the Dolphins beat the undefeated Chicago Bears is my favorite childhood memory. The Orange Bowl was a magical place to watch football games, and having the chance to see Dan Marino play there was a big treat.

“This is a very special day,” Rodriguez continued. “I never imagined that there would be such a beautiful baseball stadium here. To be able to play in the first game in this ballpark is wonderful. My family will be at the game, and it will be emotional.”

It’s easy for me to relate to Rodriguez.

I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to cover the first major league game at Marlins Park because it’s a historical day in Miami. And, as I look out at downtown Miami from my seat in the press box, the memories of being at the Orange Bowl as a kid are flooding back.

–Alfred Santasiere III

A Fabulous Five Minutes with Jalen Rose

April 1, 2012 – On March 29, I took a scenic drive through Connecticut to meet up with former NBA star Jalen Rose for lunch, and to interview him for a “Five Minutes with…” feature that will be published in the May issue of Yankees Magazine.

I met Rose at Cava, an Italian restaurant nestled in the rural town of Southington, which is a few miles from the ESPN Plaza in Bristol. Rose, who is a basketball analyst for ESPN, spends about 10 days a month in Bristol.

Over lunch, Rose and I discussed Derek Jeter, who the former Indiana Pacer played against in an AAU basketball game while the two were in high school.

“I don’t want to be too braggadocios,” Rose said while drinking a cup of tea. “But we beat Derek’s team by about 60 points. We won an AAU National Championship that season, and we were the best team in the state of Michigan for several years. Howard Eisley, who played in the NBA for more than a decade, was also on that team.

“Derek was a good shooter and a very cerebral basketball player,” Rose continued. “He has always been a great athlete.”

Rose, who has gotten to know Jeter since the two became professional athletes, also discussed the esteemed career of the Yankees captain with me.

“When I talk to members of the media, fans and fellow professional athletes about Derek, they all say the same things about him: He embodies class and professionalism, and he is the ultimate champion on the grandest stage. I feel the same way about Derek.

“The New York Yankees are the most storied franchise in professional sports, and Derek has been the rock for that team for 16 years,” Rose continued. “He has won five championships, and he has more than 3,000 hits to his name. Who gets their 3,000th hit on a home run? Only a guy like Derek could do that.”

Rose also shed light on the level of pride that fellow Michigan residents take in the fact that Jeter’s formative years were spent in the Wolverine state.

“Derek is from Kalamazoo, which is a blue-collar town,” Rose said. “Michigan is an industrial state, and we take pride in our own. We take pride in rolling up our sleeves and working hard, and Derek embodies that. When he dove into the stands and got bloodied up in that game in 2004, that showed the kind of character he has. Michigan is nothing but proud of Derek Jeter.”

Of course, we also talked about the University of Michigan’s Fab Five team from the early ’90s, which Rose played a major role on and which became a cultural phenomenon.

“When we played on the road, it wasn’t uncommon for there to be as many fans rooting for us as for the team whose campus we were on,” Rose said about the group of five freshman who led the Wolverines to the 1992 NCAA championship game and who made it back to the championship game in the 1993 NCAA Tournament. “People asked us for autographs in hotels, and when we played in Europe, we got a standing ovation every time we took the court.”

Rose, who is as kind and gracious as any interview subject I’ve sat down with, also shared his thoughts on the legacy of the Fab Five.

“As interested as people were in our play on the court, there was even more intrigue in the cultural impact we had on the game,” Rose said. “When I watch sporting events today, I realize that athletes have become living billboards. That really started with us. When we took the court wearing black socks and baggy shorts, business people became aware that the apparel athletes wear is marketable.

“Additionally, so many athletes, including Allen Iverson and Kevin Garnett, have told me that we influenced them and inspired them,” Rose continued. “That is something I take a great deal of pride in, and that feeling will never die.”

In addition to his work with ESPN, Rose also served as the executive producer of the recently released documentary, titled Fab Five. If you have are a fan of sports, have an interest in popular culture or simply want to learn about a compelling group of young men, I strongly suggest this documentary. I’ve seen watched it three times, and I plan to take it in on several more occasions.

–Alfred Santasiere III