07/13/08 8:01 PM ET
Legends, stars highlight softball game
Greats of diamond, entertainment relish playing at Cathedral
By Alyson Footer / MLB.com
This year, however, is anything but typical. Yankee Stadium, perhaps the most hallowed and revered of all baseball facilities, is the site of this year's Midsummer Classic on Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET. Yankee Stadium brings out the stars, and that was never more evident than late afternoon on Sunday, when some of the biggest names from both Hollywood and baseball poured onto the field for the annual light-hearted softball event.
On the celebrity side was the most famous of all Yankees diehards, actor and comedian Billy Crystal, along with Oscar Award winners Whoopi Goldberg and Marlee Matlin. They joined Chris Rock and George Lopez; celebrity chef Bobby Flay; director Spike Lee; defensive end Justin Tuck from the Super Bowl champion New York Giants; celebrity softball game veteran James Denton of "Desperate Housewives;" TV correspondents Maria Menounos and AJ Calloway; and actors William Baldwin and Kyle Massey.
Major League legends included Hall of Famers Ozzie Smith; Rich "Goose" Gossage; Tony Perez; Dave Winfield; George Brett; Ernie Banks; Gary Carter; Rollie Fingers; Wade Boggs and Paul Molitor; plus seven-time All-Star Tim Raines and Yankees fan favorites Tino Martinez and Paul O'Neill.
Asked to compare this experience with the one at-bat he received after signing a one-day contract with the Yankees during Spring Training, Crystal was diplomatic as he weighed the pros of both.
"This is softball," Crystal said. "That [Spring Training game] was leading off for the Yankees with Derek Jeter in the on-deck circle. Come on. Pretty amazing."
But that game was played in Tampa, Fla., at the Yankees' Spring Training facility. Although Sunday's event was exhibition softball, it was played right on the real field, the same one Crystal's heroes of yesteryear -- especially the great Mickey Mantle -- roamed decades earlier.
"Just to get a chance to play on this field, in front of all of these people, it's a great thrill," Crystal said.
Goldberg, currently the moderator of the popular morning talk show "The View," grew up in New York and considers herself a loyal Yankees supporter. Gazing at the monuments, plaques and retired numbers that comprise Monument Park beyond left field, she said, "This is my youth."
When she received a letter from Major League Baseball asking her to participate in a game during All-Star week, she thought it was a joke.
"I was like, 'Why are they asking me?'" Goldberg said. "Then I saw the word 'celebrity,' and I thought, 'I can't be worse than anyone else.' So I said, 'I'll do it.'"
Goldberg, never at a loss for words, admitted meeting the Hall of Famers for the first time on Sunday left her speechless.
"I get to the place where I can't even talk," Goldberg said. "My head goes down, I feel nervous."
Pressed for names, she answered: "All of them. I couldn't talk to anybody. I just grinned like a fool."
Being rendered speechless was not an issue for Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic, the popular hosts of Mike and Mike in the Morning on ESPN Radio. They served as emcees for the event and were also slated to take a few hacks in the batter's box. Instead, they raced around the bases at the end of the game.
For those keeping score at home, Greenberg beat Golic by four one-hundredths of a second.
Before the game, the two playfully bickered as they discussed what they would talk about the next morning on their show.
"I'll be talking about just what an embarrassment he was at doing anything," Golic said of his radio partner. "How he's not athletic at all. But for me, I'm not worried about embarrassing myself. I'm worried about hurting myself. There's no doubt a hamstring or knee is going to go."
Softball looks easy enough, but with more than 40,000 fans watching from the stands, there is some pressure to perform. Rock found this out the hard way, whiffing early in the game to end an inning.
Clearly, though, it would have been worse if one of the Hall of Famers could not make contact. Fortunately, there were no long walks back to the dugout for the former on-field stars.
"Not for one moment are you feeling sorry for them," Greenberg said. "They're the greatest players in the history of this game. I am a skinny, worthless little geek. The chances of them embarrassing themselves versus the chances of me embarrassing myself -- I'll put my money on me."
Baldwin, a cast member of the ABC show "Dirty Sexy Money," is a lifelong Yankees fan who cut his vacation to Rome short to attend the celebrity softball game.
"I was scheduled to be at the game, or I would have extended it a little bit," Baldwin said. "But I was like, 'No, I've got to go to the game. I'm going to be playing on the field.' I wouldn't miss that for the world."
How big of a fan is Baldwin? He named his dog Thurman, after late Yankees catcher Thurman Munson.
On the baseball legends' side, a few highlights stood out above the rest. When O'Neill was introduced, the packed house brought back the chant -- "Paul-O-Neill! Paul-O-Neill!" -- that highlighted the Yankee favorite's final home game of his career during the 2001 World Series.
O'Neill homered during the celebrity softball game and raised his arms high above his head as he rounded the bases. Boggs did the same when he homered an inning later.
"Just like old times," Boggs said. "Where's the horse?"
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.