Babe Ruth's 119th birthday was marked indirectly Feb. 6 at Circle in the Square with a celebratory do called Bronx Bombers, a bit of manly sentimentality deifying his old home team. It was held at Carmen and Yogi Berra's place in Jersey, and the guest list was a Wheaties wet-dream: Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Derek Jeter, Elston Howard, Mickey Mantle and, arriving grandly late and loud, the birthday boy himself.
In your dreams, Yogi! And, actually, it is: The second act that Eric Simonson has concocted and directed for Bronx Bombers finds Yogi, fearing George Steinbrenner will upgrade him from coach to manager of the then-fractious New York Yankees, dreaming up this ultimate Old Timers Game — a cross-generational pinstripe parade congregating under the same celestial/suburban roof where these immortals mostly sit around, pitch the ball about and discuss what it means to be a Yankee. They come with old baseball scores to settle and lots of individual baggage for the show 'n' tell.
What brought on Yogi's ultimate dream-team dream was more of a foul ball than a spicy meatball. It's the summer of '77, and he's had a bad day at work trying to reconcile volatile manager Billy Martin, with the star right-fielder he threw out of the game for "malingering," Reggie Jackson. Team captain Thurman Munson joins the fray to try to bring them to a semblance of good sportsmanship and team spirit.
The opening inning is a fast game of hardball in which Yogi, with a full load of his known non-sequesters and malaprops, plays improbable peacemaker for Martin and Jackson, assisted not too sincerely by Munson, paroling the make-nice talks like a pit-bull. Act Two begins with a layer of fog on the stage, setting the tone for a fantasy feed in which Yankee immortals from different eras come to break bread.
What does the thoughtful hostess serve this gathering of greats? Carmen Berra offers them a full liquor cabinet and everything you can do to a potato: Baked potatoes, scalloped potatoes, mashed potatoes, potato soup — it seems Yogi misspoke to a North Dakota farmer, insisting that Iowa is the potato state and there weren't enough potatoes in North Dakota to fill his front lawn. Hence, the 23 tons of potatoes filling his front lawn.
The advantage of having players from different periods converse tickles the brain of the baseball buff. Gehrig, who checked out in June of '41, requires a lot of updating ("What's a TV?" "World War II?"). And when the conversation turns to money, the old guys who've been crowning about their hundreds or their thousands do a collective double-take when Derek Jeter mentions millions. Another jock joke: Every one of the players has a nickname, and Derek Jeter's nickname is DerekJeter.
We're in a "Field of Dreams" here, and Simonson has built an affectionate fantasy out of Yankee lore, just to see who will come. Many may. Bronx Bombers marks the first Broadway partnership of the New York Yankees and Major League Baseball. Splashing the Yankee logo and trademark around The Great White Way assures, if nothing else, that the facts and pinstripes will be straight and authentic.
The power of the pinstripes is not to be underestimated. The closing tableau of the Yankee legends line up in a row — 1, 2, 3, the discontinued 4, 5, 8, 32, 44 — is a heart-sweller, even for grown men. In showbiz parlance, this is going for the pow finish.
The actors who don the uniforms don't get off — or take it — lightly or easily.
"There is just something about those pinstripes," insisted Derek Jeter — er, Christopher Jackson. "That's the best suit in the entire city, let me tell ya!"
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