DEC: THE BASEBALL GURU ARTICLE FROM
MY FRIEND JIMMY
It was quiet in the press room. Joel Sherman was typing out a story in the far corner, the early morning light flooding over his face and reaching down to the coffee table set aside for the reporters. Next to him were newly arrived (from AA) Dave Eiland, Andy Hawkins, and Dave Righetti playing a hand of poker. I was busy adding to my article for One More Inning. At a table by my side were Bob Geren, Steve Sax, Dave Winfield, and Bye Bye Balboni.
Sipping coffee and sitting by himself was the new rookie who had just come up to the Yankees. I had seen him play a bit and there was a quality about him that I liked.
Hi Jimmy, Im Herb Rogoff and I publish a baseball magazine called One More Inning. Do you mind if I interview you?
He looked up and said, Sure, would love it. Grab a seat give me a second, I was just going to get another cup of coffee. He came back bringing coffee for the both of us and for the next hour and a half I had one of the best interviews Ive ever had of all the hundreds Ive done over the years. We talked about his coming up in Cincinnati as a very promising rookie and getting to meet his idol Pete Rose in spring training and how Pete has helped him all through the Minors. We disagreed on whether Rose should be in the Hall of Fame. We talked about the history of the game. He really was quite knowledgeable about the roots of baseball and said when he was a kid he read everything about it and still does. He asked me how I got started with the magazine and whether I was any good at the game (I wasnt) and what some of my other interests were. I told him about my various collections including toys, Big Little Books, of course baseball items, and comic books.
The Comic Books is what got to him. When I mentioned what I had he really was impressed and asked if I would sell any of them. I said no. We then talked about Spider Man, and the Hulk. I told him that I had done some limited animation for Marvel Comics for their Saturday morning TV show. He called out to the other players in the room and I became an instant celebrity. At that point the players were asked out to sign autographs and I was left alone in the press room at the Jacob Javits Center. This was my second time covering the Yankee Fan Festival and as it turned out it became memorable.
Later on, by early afternoon, while I was interviewing a very shy Bernie Williams, Leyritz came over and asked if I would like to join him, Bernie and some others for lunch. By the time we got to the Javits cafeteria we were joined by Steve Sax, Dave Eiland, and Mel Allen. I spent most of the time answering questions about Marvel Comics (Jimmy had told them about me) and comics in general.
The Yankee Fan Festival went on for another two days. I had lunch with Jimmy and others for both those days. When it was over Jimmy asked me to send him some copies of One More Inning (which I did) and for the rest of the year we corresponded. He mentioned that his wife was going to have a baby and that he was getting involved with charity work in Cincinnati. For the next three years we would meet at the Yankee Fan Festival, have lunch together, talk baseball, and about life in general. We kept in touch in the off season but after awhile it stopped.
Going ahead a few years after that, my son and I were at the Stadium for game two of the American League Division Series. It had been raining for awhile, the score was tied at 5 apiece, I wanted to go home, my son wouldnt budge, and then at 2:00 in the morning, with a man on base, my friend Jimmy Leyritz hit a two run homerun to send us all home with a win.
He seemed to have a penchant for hitting dramatic homeruns. In game four of the 1996 World Series he hit a three run homer against the Braves that proved to change the momentum in the series, When he was with San Diego he hit one in the second game of the National League Division Series.
He is also known for hitting the last homerun of the 1990s.
Just before his career ended he started using Amphetamines and began to drink. He divorced his wife in a very bitter and costly trial but did retain custody rights to his children.
In the last few years he did manage to catch on as an announcer and sports analyst for ESPN.
The last time I saw him was at the CBS Fan Festival in 2008. We spent some time together and promised to write to each other again.
And then came the accident
On Dec. 28, 2007 he was arrested in Broward County. He was driving drunk and his car collided with another car and the woman in it died shortly afterward. She had been driving drunk as well. The trial will be coming up shortly. It also came out that his license was suspended in New York. He faces the possibility of imprisonment for a very long time for both charges.
I keep thinking of the few years I knew him, his kindness to me during those fan festivals, and I wish him well.