For bat boys: scant glory but a fine perch in the dugout

If it wasn't for Eddie Bennett, Bage Ruth might not have hit 60 home runs one season. Who was Eddie Bennett, you ask? A New York Yankee bat boy during the 1920s. He was considered a good-luck charm by Ruth and many of his Yankee teammates, according to Cliff Kachline, historian at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Despite all of the folklore and mythology about baseball, little trivia is known about bat boys -- those youngsters who usually arrive at the stadium three or four hours before the players, and often are still there two or three hours after the game.

Some well-known players started off in the clubhouse, retrieving bats and preparing uniforms, including the Cardinals' All-Star third baseman, Ken Reitz, who "bat-boyed" for the San Francisco Giants in the early 1960s.

Johnny Pesky, star shortstop for the Red Sox in the 1940s, and currently one of their coaches, was a bat boy for the Portland Beavers of the Pacific Coast League before is rise to the major leagues.

In 1969, a bat boy fooled a Topps baseball card photographer and posed as California Angel third baseman Aurelio Rodriguez. The youngster wasn't caught, and he, not Rodriguez, appeared on the card.

It was a 12-year old black bat boy inserted into the lineup in a Georgia State League game in the early 1950s who broke the league's color line. The bat boy, Joe Redford, played center field for two innings after his team had run up a 13-0 lead and the fans began cheering uncontrollably: "Put in the bat boy." He made a brilliant catch in the outfield, but grounded out in his only at-bat.

Redford's participation cost the umpire his job and the manager a five-day suspension. A few days after the incident, Redford was dismissed.

Bat boys today work strictly off the field. "It is definitely a full-time job," says Steve D'Angelo, a 19-year-old bat boy for the New York Yankees, who works part time in a clothing store when the team is on the road. He is one of three bat boys who work home games for the Bronx Bombers.

Despite a demanding schedule, it is definitely the best summer job D'Angelo has ever had.

"The players call you by your first name, which is an incredible compliment, and they teach you a lot about the game," according to D'Angelo."Every game is a great memory, but I'd have to say that meeting Joe DiMaggio and working the Old Timers' Game was definitely the highlight of the summer so far. I hope the Yankees get to the World Series, because I think it would be incredible to bat-boy then."

Steve Graff, a bat boy for the World Champion Pittsburgh Pirates, confirms D'Angelo's hunch.

"Being a bat boy in the World Series last year was amazing," says Graff. "When Willie [Stargell] hit his home run in the seventh game, I was standing on the dugout steps along with the rest of the players and slapped his hand when he came back. I really felt like I was part of the team."

Graff, 15, got his job because his father works in the Piv rates' front office. Not all bat boys have connections. Most apply and are randomly selected from their applications.

Joe D'Ambrosio, now involved in promotional work for the Yankees, began his career as a bat boy, and remembers "sitting in a room with 300 other applicants and waiting for an interview with the stadium director."

The job of a bat boy has traditionally been held by males, though Charlie Finley, the controversial owner of the Oakland Athletics, did hire some ball girls in the early 1970s. According to most clubhouse veterans, the rough language and locker room banter dissuade women from "bat-girling." The Baltimore Orioles, however, have young women on their foul lines collecting balls that go out of play.

Bat boys range in age from 13 to 19 or 20. Some clubs have age minimums because of laws that require minors to be of a certain age when working in a place where alcohol is served.

Pay varies, as well, but most bat boys make from $15 to $20 a game. Bat boys traditionally get a small share of play-off and World Series money, too, as well as occasional tips. But it is not the money that attracts these aspiring players. It is the opportunity to watch from the dugout instead of the grandstand.

Almost all bat boys want to go on to become major leaguers, but most fall short of their goal. Mike Murphy, clubhouse manager for the Giants since 1962, has seen many of his bat boys go on to fields as diverse as law and teaching. Murphy remembers Reitz as a "cocky kid who always told me he'd make it to the major leagues.I never believed him, but look where he is today."

A bat boy's day begins before most players arrive. After putting on his uniform, he carries the bats from the locker room to the dugout, along with batting helmets and the catcher's equipment. During batting practice, he sometimes gets to catch flies. After the game begins, the bat boy makes sure each player has his own bat and that the umpire is supplied with enough baseballs. When the game is over, the bat boy reshines shoes and helps prepare player uniforms, among other duties.

Usually a little overwhelmed by the star players, they are quiet but competent, these "bat boys of summer." Without their efficiency, the phrase "Batter up" wouldn't sound half as sweet.

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