Your Average (Yankee) Joe
By Gary Sussman
Retired and revered.
Adored and adulated.
Monuments and memories.
And as I watched yet another Yankee number taken off the board, I started thinking about careers (Jonathan Lee Iverson had a great career-he was the last ringmaster of the now defunct Ringling Brothers circus…I wonder if there is an executive search that specializes in circus…but I digress). The Jeets had a HOF run at shortstop in the Bronx…but that’s certainly not the norm. According to results.com (and you didn’t think I did any research), the average career in MLB is 5.6 years, the NFL 3.5, the NBA 4.8 and the NHL 5.5 seasons. Which brings me to my Joe.
Joe Ausanio had a 10-year run in professional baseball, with two of those, 1994-95, pitching at the Stadium. The first stint was cut short by the players strike, but we’ll get to that later. The career stat line reads 4-1, 52 strikeouts, 5.57 earned run average. His number (54) will not be going up on the wall (even though Goose Gossage wore 54, and he is in the HOF). But when #2 was basking in the glow two weeks ago, thanking the fans, telling one and all that he has lived his dream, I thought about Joe. Referred to in the media as a career minor leaguer. Who also realized his dream.
“I loved the competition in the major leagues, “ said Ausanio. “ I knew that at any point my job could be over in a heartbeat, and I think I continued to push myself to work harder and better. The best month of my life was the first one in the Bronx pitching for the Yankees.”
Joe went to high school in Kingston, NY in the Hudson Valley, pitched at Jacksonville and toiled in the minors until he got his shot. And the mindset was a little different than the Boy from Kalamazoo.
“ Every night I went out there, I said to myself I was playing for every other major league team. You never would know if there was another scout in the stands. If I was to take a pitch off, there were 120 guys in the minors who wanted my job.”
And so the guy who felt little job security, who threw every pitch as if there may not be another outing, was faced with a players strike in 1994, one that would implode the best month of his life. Bitter? Far from it.
Joe had experienced some family medical issues while playing minor league ball. And he never saw a bill, as MLB covered the entire cost. And as he told the New York Times, there were larger issues at stake.
“There are a lot of other Joe Ausanios, guys in 1981 who were in the same position I was in, not making nearly the money I’m making now. And they went on strike. I’m doing this for the next Joe Ausanios, for guys who have to go through similar situations I’ve gone through. How could I regret anything. It was a dream come true.”
Overused expression. ‘He’s the type of guy you’d love to have a drink and talk sports.’ Except in this case, it’s true. I met Joe at Marist, where he just completed his ninth year as the women’s softball coach. You can check his record. He’s good. And I had asked Joe to talk to my class, but he said he had to check his playoff schedule. So I thought rec basketball, volleyball, dodgeball. No. Joe had to check the playoff schedule for his darts league. Now that’s a man at the bar talking sports.
Joe has kept his ties to baseball as a longtime executive with the Hudson Valley Renegades, who are a Tampa Bay affiliate. And he has also wrestled professionally (we love YouTube!) But even though there were no thunderous chants, no plaques, no gifts, no video tributes, there was one simple baseball connection between the Boy from Kalamazoo and your average Joe.
So we now have The Judge’s Chamber in the right field stands… get Bronx native and Supreme Court justice Sonia Sotomayor to done a robe behind The Judge sometime this summer and I’m good.
If there’s an acting Comeback Player of the Year…I’m going with ‘Bernie’ De Niro…’The Wizard’ sure to replace ‘The Intern’ on the HBO movie loop.
If you didn’t realize how good Kyrie Irving is…just refer to Tuesday night…he may have the best left hand in Cleveland since Sam McDowell.
photos: nypost.com (Ausanio/Marist); ebay.com (Ausanio/trading card)