The (Yankees) Ties That Bind
By Rich Bauer
I met my good friend Jerry Welshoff in the early 1970’s and we bonded over the music of Joe Walsh & The James Gang, hoops games at the legendary 202 courts in Garnerville, New York, and the New York Yankees. Now that is a triple header; we could hang together for hours.
Our Yanks back then were led by fiery manager Billy Martin, coaches Elston Howard, Yogi Berra and Dick Howser. Their All-Stars included Thurman Munson (Jerry’s favorite player), Reggie Jackson, Ron “Gator” Guidry and Catfish Hunter. Big contributors were Roy White, Willie Randolph, Graig Nettles, Chris Chambliss, Lou Piniella, Bucky Dent, Mickey Rivers, the ultimate prankster out of the bullpen, Sparky Lyle, and Goose Gossage.
The Bombers won American League East Division titles in 1976, 1977 and 1978, were American League pennant winners in 1977 and 1978 and were World Champions in 1977 and 1978. Good times were back again the Bronx considering they had not been in postseason play since 1962.
There were only so many establishments in New York that would welcome back Jerry, myself and our crew so it was time to move on and into the 1980’s. Those were good years as well as the Yanks won division titles in 1980 and 1981 and the the AL pennant in 1981.
Jerry had a great business opportunity to move to Franklin, Massachusetts, only 45 miles from Boston and Fenway Park. Wait a minute, Jerry in Red Sox land, enemy territory, could it be for real? It was hard to comprehend, a Yankee die hard considering such a move. A guy who idolized Mickey Mantle like so many of us, who was in the stands when the Mick hit his 500th home run, sat with his Dad and brother Doc watching and listening to the Scooter, Phil Rizzuto announce as many games on TV and radio as possible and never had a kind word for any Red Sox player.
Yes, he did make the move and till this day he says it was extremely hard but, thank God, he met his lovely wife, Laura, and made some good money so it was it was worth it. But it was not easy as he missed his Yankees. There was no internet which meant no streaming of games, no MLB.com, no social media (can you imagine a world without MoreSportsNow) and cable TV was very limited as compared to what we have today.
When he first started dating Laura she invited him to her parents’ house. Jerry showed up wearing a Yankees sweatshirt and when he knocked on the door her brother slammed the door in his face. He was reminded where he lived each week as he was out mowing his lawn in his Yankee hat and his neighbors would drive by and yell “Yankees suck” or flip him the bird.
The Lord blessed the couple with twin boys and Jerry went right to work making sure they loved sports and the Yankees. When they reached competitive Little League age Jerry, who played high school, college and military baseball for the Air Force, wanted to support his boys and give back to the game he loved. So why not coach?
At the first coaches’ meeting he finds out the name Yankees was barred the previous year from being used for any team at any level. And to make matter worse, two years later he found himself coaching the Red Sox! Begrudgingly he wore the “B” hat but only when he was between the lines on game day.
Brendan and Billy, like their father and grandfather, became huge Yankee fans. They loved Derek Jeter; they went to Fenway twice a year to watch the Yanks; they were chastised by friends and adults for wearing their Yankee t-shirts and were called losers by people they did not even know. But Jerry and his boys did not care. They even named their dog Jeter. They were loud and proud to be Yankee fans and when pressed by irate Sox fans who persisted with insults, they would always respond with the three killer B’s…Bucky, Buckner and Boone.
The Reverse of the Curse became a reality in 2004 when Red Sox nation enjoyed their first World Championship since 1918. New ownership took over the Red Sox and mirrored what the Yankees had been doing for years in order to win. They signed big-name free agents, Pedro Martinez, Curt Shilling, Johnny Damon, Manny Ramirez and that damn David Ortiz and blended them in with their homegrown talent. Jerry struggled when Boston added additional titles in 2007 and 2013 but his faith in the Yankees never wavered. He might have had to take a step back a bit and not be as vocal and aggressive in his love for the Evil Empire, a nickname given to the Yanks in 2002 by then Boston president Larry Lucchino, who was frustrated over losing out to the Yankees on the field and in the bidding for free agents.
We still talk, more during baseball season than the rest of the year. We see each other a few times a year and our small talk is about goings on with the families and our health, but the conversation always turns to Yankees matters. We spoke this week and I heard that confidence in his voice again. As we have been saying, the 2017 Yankees have brought back excitement and promise to all of their fans and their detractors are nervous and worried.
I know two things, Jerry and his boys are walking around Franklin these days with big grins and they will be at home in the stands when they visit the Bronx early in June when the Yanks and Sox do battle.
Once a Yankees fan, always a Yankees fan, and Jerry is living proof that it doesn’t matter where you live.
Photos: Jerry Welshoff family