During black history month, I always think about Luis Tiant, the greatest pitcher ever to come out of Cuba. I also think about Sandy Alomar sr. The Puerto Rican infielder who during my first years as a Yankee batboy was the second baseman.
During my second season (1974) as a batboy.
I always liked going to the visitor’s locker room to meet the visiting players.
I had always been told that you should never meet your heroes because you may not like what you see. Every once in a while that was true but when it came to Luis Tiant that was not the case at all.
I remember just staring at Luis because he was like a comic book superhero character. I remember one of the RedSox players going up to him and messing around with him and Luis would yell out, Kiss my black ass boy… I found it hilarious how Luis would be standing by his locker completely naked except for his dress shoes on and a giant cigar.
I also found it incredible how loved he was by all the players on that team, especially the white players. Even though he had an extremely heavy Spanish accent he was definitely a leader on that team. I saw how the team catcher Carlton Fisk would talk to Luis and live on every word that came out of Tiant’s mouth.
When Fisk walked away Tiant looked at me and said, What you looking at boy… get your black ass over here then he would laugh out loud at his own words.
He asked me, what you doing in here wearing a Yankee uniform. Then he screamed out to Carlton Fisk, hey Thurman Munson sent a spy over here and everyone in that Red Sox club house started laughing. I was so embarrassed that I left. I was still learning the clubhouse culture of jokes and pranks.
As I was leaving Tiant screamed out you better get your black ass out of here before I kick it and tell Munson Uncle T said hi, the laughter only got louder.
When I got back to the Yankee locker room Sandy Alomar was by Thurman’s locker. I told him exactly what happened. Sandy and Thurman started laughing hysterically. I asked them what was so funny. Thurman said that it was like an initiation. I asked them why did Tiant keep talking about my black ass. Thurman laughed softly and said, I think Sandy will explain that to you. Sandy laughed and said let’s talk after the game.
That year the Yanks were playing at Shea Stadium because Yankee Stadium was being renovated. After the game, Sandy took me to a sports bar owned by former Met, Tommy Agee. While there he educated me on the fact that the Latin race was a mixed-race with Indian ancestors, black ancestors also ancestors from Spain, etc. He told me that most Nuyoricans (Puerto Ricans born in New York) aren’t really educated on their roots.
For me, that was really an awakening. I was grateful to Alomar for sharing this with me. It meant a lot.
Several years later, Luis Tiant would sign as a free agent with the Yankees. I would see how extremely close Tiant and Munson were. I would become very close to Tiant and would always call him Uncle T.
Tiant was actually a very intelligent person and I got to understand how and why Thurman cared so much about him.
I owe Tiant a lot because he would become a true mentor to me. When Thurman Munson died, Tiant would hold me up with Mr. Steinbrenner. The whole time crying like a child. We still cry to this day when we talk about Thurman.
Just recently my daughter Toni got me a D. N. A. Ancestry test. She also got one for herself. When she got her results it said that she was 48% black. I said that was impossible. She argued with me and insisted that I take my test. I took my test mailed it in and my results surprised me. I am 49 % black. My daughter Toni asked me how I felt about that and I said that I was extremely happy and proud. I love being a little bit of everything. I love the fact that me and my children have no reason in the world to ever be prejudice in any way.
I am forever grateful to Sandy Alomar, Luis Tiant, and the Yankee Universe for always being such an educator to me.
The only question that I have about my D. N. A. Test is that it said that I have 1% Chinese. How did that happen?