Monday, October 01, 2007
Ed Lucas-A Baseball Fan Forever
Deep in the bowels of old Yankee Stadium, far from the cheers and groans and applause of the Yankee faithful, there is a room for media and friends to enjoy a snack before game time.
During our recent trip to the Big Apple, I found the place and scoured the room for some old baseball person to talk about Phil Rizzuto. There was a couple of guys at a table nearby, and I approached the one who was busy getting dessert for both of them. His name was Ron Mardenly, and he and his companion told me they were in their late sixties.
His companion’s name was Ed Lucas. This is Ed’s story. It is a baseball story, a human interest story, a story of courage and love. And Ed would ad it is a story of a very stubborn man.
Ed grew up in the Lafayette Gardens housing project in Jersey City. He attended PS 22. On October 3, 1951, he bounded into his living room to find his father nervously fingering rosary beads while watching his beloved Giants on their tiny black and white television. They were in a playoff game against the dreaded Dodgers, from nearby Brooklyn.
The Giants Bobby Thompson completed the comeback season for the Giants by hitting the “shot that was heard around the world”, as it is still known in baseball circles.
Lucas went out to celebrate by playing a little playground ball with his friends. Poorly sighted from birth, he decided to remove his glasses before pitching to one of his friends. A line drive caught him square on the forehead. “It hit me right between the eyes,” he told me. Both of his retinas were destroyed. Lucas was devastated.
To cheer him up, his mother wrote a letter to Leo “The Lip” Durocher. Durocher invited him to the Polo Grounds in 1952. He met Monte Irvin, Bobby Thompson, and Alvin Dark. It also kindled the baseball spirit in Lucas that he carries to this day.
Later that year, he went to an “American Shops” clothing store in Newark, New Jersey. It served Americans of all walks of life, but with an emphasis on budget clothing for veterans returning from the Korean War. At the store he met Phil Rizzuto. Rizzuto was employed there in the off season as a greeter. Yogi Berra from the Yankees, and Ralph Branca and Gene Hermanski from the Dodgers also met potential buyers at the door.
Lucas became steadfast friends with Rizzuto, a friendship that lasted 55 years.
Ed attended St. Joseph’s School for the Blind to complete his elementary school education. He went on to finish high school in the Bronx.
While in High School, he established a club called “The Diamond Dusters”. The purpose of the club was to promote baseball. Lucas was able to snag special guests to his meetings. “We had Hank Aaron, Jackie Robinson, Gil McDougall, and Phil Rizzuto to our meetings, to name a few. Rizzuto was the one who really encouraged me to stay with baseball”.
He later graduated from Seton Hall University with a degree in communications.
He sold life insurance, married and had two sons, and worked 25 years as the information director for Meadowview Hospital in Secaucus, New Jersey.
In the meantime, he kept his hand in baseball. He worked as a stringer for several radio stations and magazines. He would listen to the play-by-play radio announcer, then use those descriptions to interview players after the games.
When his marriage failed, Lucas had a court appointment regarding custody of his sons, then four and two years old. “Rizzuto testified in court for me,” he continued. “And he also set me up with my new bride years later.”
“On March 10th, 2006, I married Allison Pheifle at home plate in Yankee Stadium.
I am the only person ever to be married in the Stadium.” Both of his boys were there, his best men. He also added, with a smile: “Mr. Steinbrenner picked up the tab!”
Lucas has been instrumental in raising funds for St. Joseph’s School for many years, along with Rizzuto’s help. With Celebrity Auctions and the annual golf tournament, they have raised almost two and one half million dollars for the school. A major building project this year took place at the school. Lucas works there, as he has since 1994.
Ed’s friend Ron commented upon Rizzuto’s nature with a few words of his own. “If Phil heard someone was ill, or in the hospital, he would go and visit them. I remember that in 1953, a friend of my father was ill in Jersey. Phil drove up in his new car- a real beauty. It was a pink and white ’53 Ford with a glass roof. After his visit, he quietly asked if he could take some of the delicious Italian food home to his wife Cora.”
During Rizzuto’s illness this past year, he was visited weekly by his best buddy, Yogi Berra. Rizzuto also left instructions that donations to the St. Joseph’s School were to be made in lieu of flowers, when he passed away.
Ed Lucas will miss Rizzuto as much as anyone. But he still has his beloved Yankees to cheer for, as they begin their World Series quest against the Indians in Cleveland on Thursday.
When I pressed him for his prediction, Ed lowered his head and replied, very quietly: “I think it’s the year for the Cubs”.
After all, we were in Yankee Stadium.
Read more about Ed Lucas at: http://www.edlucasonline.com/
October 1, 2007