Thursday, October 26, 2017

'The Banner' gets signed by ‘The Chosen One’

Nearly 30 years ago, my friends and I gave Don Mattingly our own special nickname. 
And over the years, we came to realize he was well aware of it.  


If you were a fan of the New York Yankees in the 1980s, your favorite player was probably Don Mattingly. He won an American League batting title, an American League MVP award, he played first base better than few ever had, and even though he was surrounded by All-Stars such as Dave Winfield and Rickey Henderson, he was the heart and soul of the Yankees.

He was The Captain.

At the time, Mattingly hadn't yet received the nickname for which he is best known, " Donnie Baseball." That title, given to him by the great Kirby Puckett, really didn't come until a few years later. My friends and I, however, already had our own nickname for Don Mattingly.

We called him "The Chosen One."

In 1986, a movie starring Eddie Murphy was released called "The Golden Child." And the slogan for the film - seen on all of its promotional materials - was "Eddie Murphy is The Chosen One." I thought it was pretty cool, as did my friends, most of whom were also huge Yankees fans. One friend started referring to Mattingly as "The Chosen One," and it immediately stuck. We all started calling him that. We even had a Mattingly poster hanging up in my parents' basement, where we always hung out, and I decided to cut "The Chosen One" words off of a movie poster for "The Golden Child" and put them right on the Mattingly poster.

We loved it.

 The original "modified" Don Mattingly poster which hung in my parents' basement. 

Sometimes, we simply referred to Mattingly as "Chosen." If we were watching a game, and Mattingly got a big hit, one of us would yell "Chosen!" And towards the end of the '80s, when the quality of the Yankee team declined and players like Winfield and Henderson were traded away, the nickname seemed even more fitting. Donnie was our guy. For about five years, from 1989-1992, he was the only great Yankee left. And though a bad back had depleted some of his skills, he was still, to us, "The Chosen One."

We used to go to Yankee games all the time during those years. We loved the Yanks, we loved being at Yankee Stadium, and even though the team was lousy, there was always Donnie. At one point, I recall thinking how it might be pretty cool if Mattingly could somehow know about our nickname for him. I thought, if nothing else, he'd get a kick out of it, and Lord knows he probably could have used a little bit of levity with a Yankee team that was certainly not going to the playoffs. And so, I had an idea: "Let's make a huge 'Don Mattingly Is The Chosen One' banner and take it to a game."

One of our friends who was a talented artist agreed make the banner, and he did a great job. It looked good, and as planned, we started taking it to Yankee games. And that's when this story gets amusing …

The very first time we took it, we hung it from one of the high upper decks at the Stadium, and I'll never forget seeing a couple of guys on the Yankees pointing up to it during batting practice and chuckling. They made sure Donnie saw it, too, and that alone was worth the effort. At that moment, we knew that Don Mattingly was aware that there were at least a couple of fans out there who had their own nickname for him, and it appeared he'd gotten a kick out of it.

My friends and I hang "The Chosen One" banner at Yankee Stadium

But the saga of what we now call "The Banner" was just beginning.

At one game to which we took the banner, Mattingly homered, and as he was rounding the bases, they put the banner up on the huge video screen in centerfield. Everybody in the stadium saw it, and we later heard that it was also on TV.

'The Banner' appears on the centerfield scoreboard as Don Mattingly rounds the bases

In 1997, the year Mattingly officially announced his retirement, my friend called and, in and excited tone, said he needed to see me right away. When I later caught up with him, he smiled and handed me a copy of the 1997 New York Yankees Official Yearbook. Inside, there was a special tribute section to Mattingly. And ... a picture of the banner.

We couldn't believe it.

'The Banner' as it appears in the 1997 New York Yankees Yearbook

Years later, the YES Network, which is owned and operated by the Yankees, began producing hour-long documentaries on great Yankees players. Each is called a "Yankeeography," and of course, they did one on Mattingly. And in his "Yankeeography," there was a segment on how beloved he was by the fans. And there it was ... a shot of the banner.

"The Banner" also appeared in Don Mattingly's' Yankeeography  

 As you'd imagine, my friends and I always got a kick out of these things. I always kept the banner, and after seeing it on the huge video screen at Yankee Stadium, seeing it in the Yankees Yearbook and on a "Yankeeography," we thought we'd seen it all. Until a few years ago, when I was reading a new book  titled "Donnie Baseball: The Definitive Biography of Don Mattingly."  And on page 125, Mattingly himself actually talks about the banner, and how he did indeed find it very amusing. 

Don Mattingly talks about 'The Banner' is a biography about his life in baseball. 

I don't know if you could imagine what it felt like to be reading a book about your favorite baseball player of all-time and to come across such a passage. It was unreal. Almost 25 years after we first took it to Yankee Stadium, Don Mattingly still remembered our banner, and was obviously aware that in addition to "Donnie Baseball" he still had another nickname, at least among a small group of fans.

Flash ahead to last week. Don Mattingly is scheduled to make an appearance in my hometown of Wilkes-Barre, PA, at Mohegan Sun Pocono. I host a weekly radio show at the same facility and I know some people there, so I arrange an invite for my girlfriend, Sandra, and I to attend this special meet-and-greet with the Yankee legend. When Sandra and I first met, she told me that she had also grown up in a Yankee house and that her favorite player was Mattingly, and she was just as excited about meeting him as I was. She also knew the story of “The Banner,” and it was she who insisted that I bring it for him to sign. Initially, I thought the banner, even when folded up, was too big to bring, and thus I thought I might just bring a photo of the banner for Donnie to sign, or a baseball, but Sandra said, “Alan, we ARE taking the banner.”

So you're the guy?" - Don Mattingly looks at
 a photo of "The Banner"
"No, really," I said. "I'll just bring a photo of it."

"Alan," she said, "this is not recognized. We are bringing the the banner. If you don't bring it, I'll go to your house and get it myself. I know where you keep it ...

"We ARE bringing the banner."

How excited was Sandra about meeting “The Chosen One?” Well, we live about two hours away from one other, but she still drove in from New Jersey, on a day that we initially did not have plans to get together, just to meet him. And when she hit some heavy traffic on the turnpike due to an accident and it really looked like she might miss it, she plowed onward. I was already at Mohegan Sun when she called in a panic to say she was hung up on the turnpike, and not knowing if she was going to make it on time or not, I took the opportunity to meet my baseball hero. I told him I was at Game 2 of the 1995 American League Divisional Series, which was his last game at Yankee Stadium. Mattingly famously homered in the game, which actually shook the building, and I told him it was the coolest thing I’d ever seen.

“Oh man,” he said. “That was fun.”

Sandra and Donnie
Then, I showed him a photo “The Banner” and told him that I was the guy that used to bring it to Yankee Stadium with my friends. (I had the actual banner with me, folded up in a bag, but he didn't know that yet.) Looking at the photo, he recognized it, smiled, and told me how much he loved it.

“So you’re the guy?” he said.

“I’m the guy,” I said.

So cool.

We chatted a bit more and I told him that my girlfriend was also big fan and that she was on her way, but that she’d hit an accident on the turnpike and was hung up in traffic near Philly. I added that she’d be there for when he was scheduled to do a second meet-and-greet with some other fans a short time later. Soon, Sandra arrived, and she did indeed make it in time to meet Donnie. When she met him, she asked him to sign one item for her and one for a friend, and she told him that she would have been there sooner, but she got hung up on the turnpike due to an accident.

“Oh, that was you?” asked Donnie, recalling my chat with him from almost two hours earlier. Just the fact that Donnie was basically expecting Sandra, or to quote her - "was aware of my existence" - totally made her day.

“Yes,” she said, pointing to me standing off to the side. “I’m with ‘The Chosen One.’ “

Mattingly had only been signing one item per person, but hearing her story, he made an exception.

“Oh, you’re with ‘The Chosen One,” he said with a smile. “Well, in that case, I have to sign both for you.”

This was unbelievable. My friends and I come up with a nickname for Don Mattingly almost 30 years ago. We make a banner and start taking it to Yankee Stadium, simply hoping he might see it. Not only does he see it, but he homers, and they put it on the huge centerfield screen as he’s rounding the bases. Then it ends up in the Yankees Yearbook. Then it ends up in his “Yankeeography.” Then he mentions it in a book. And then, all of these years later, we meet him, talk to him about it, and he’s actually joking with us about it. And then …

He signed it.
Donnie's autograph on "The Banner" 

Sandra had said, “We ARE taking the banner.” And now, it had come full circle. Don Mattingly had actually autographed it. I was “the guy.” Sandra helped make it happen. And Donnie, perhaps more than ever, was “The Chosen One.”

Thank you, Donnie Baseball. Thank you for being such a special Yankee. And thank you for giving us such a special night.


'The Banner' gets signed by ‘The Chosen One’ Nearly 30 years ago, my friends and I gave Don Mattingly our own special nic...