That was one of the true spine-tingling moments of the 2008 All-Star Week, and there have been a lot of them. Just seeing the winningest World Series pitcher riding up Sixth Avenue in the flatbed of a red Chevy truck next to his catcher who played in more World Series games than anyone and being showered with love by a crowd estimated to be larger than a million spectators, the whole story of baseball seemed like it was being told on a perfect summer afternoon in Midtown Manhattan.
"It's great," Yogi said as he boarded the truck that got it all started at Bryant Park, leading a dazzling procession of 113 past and present baseball greats, including all of the players, managers and coaches (and families) from the 79th All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium. "We never had a parade when I played."
Well, that's a borderline Yogi-ism, because who could possibly have been thrown more baseball parades than him? The Bronx Bombers' parades were always much later in the year. He was referring to this fourth annual Red Carpet Parade, which began modestly on the perimeter of Detroit's Comerica Park in 2005 and just went over the top in Big Apple style by including most of the living Hall of Famers.
"That was pretty good," Tommy Lasorda said as he watched Ford and Berra roll off ahead while waiting to board his own truck. "They're two great players, but more importantly, they're two great guys."
"I was walking down through there at the start, seeing some of the names on the tops of the trucks. They've got serious Hall of Famers," Cliff Lee, the evening's starting American League pitcher from Cleveland, said while waiting for his ride along with his wife and children. "It's neat because it gives fans a chance to see Hall of Famers and All-Stars up close. Just think, Whitey and Yogi. Serious Hall of Famers."
The Red Carpet Parade started at 40th Street and Sixth Avenue, and it went uptown and ended at 58th Street and Sixth, just before Central Park. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg participated in the parade with a group of local baseball players from the Kips Bay Boys & Girls Club in the Bronx. The parade ended at 3 p.m., and buses then took the parade subjects to The House That Ruth Built for a game that would help celebrate a stadium's legend.
"We always talk about creating an 'All-Star moment' for any city, and we can create a million and a half in a moment this time," said Tim Brosnan, executive vice president of business for Major League Baseball. "It's to get people closer to the players they love. How much closer can you get than four feet away? I'd say it's kind of a combination of red carpet and Mardi Gras. [It is] fun for everyone involved."
When asked what went into the decision to put Ford and Berra in the lead truck, Brosnan simply replied: "Come on." Indeed. No other reasoning needed.
There are always some precious moments in the staging area, as the greats of the game gather with their families, and this time was even better, because of the mix of past and present. Harmon Killebrew was waiting for his truck at Bryant Park along with current Twins catcher Joe Mauer and newly minted State Farm Home Run Derby champion Justin Morneau. "Killer" said to Mauer, the night's starting AL catcher: "Do us proud tonight." At one point, Lasorda was waiting for someone to fill the truck ahead of him so it could start, and he yelled, "Hey, Robin [Yount]! Your truck is waiting! You're holding up the parade!"
|"I was walking down through there at the start, seeing some of the names on the tops of the trucks. They've got serious Hall of Famers. It's neat because it gives fans a chance to see Hall of Famers and All-Stars up close. Just think, Whitey and Yogi. Serious Hall of Famers."|
|-- AL starter Cliff Lee, on seeing Whitey Ford and Yogi Berra among the legends prior to the Red Carpet Parade|
You could close your eyes and almost picture the two stars playing with each other that way in a halcyon time when the Orioles came of age.
"This is great for the fans," Brooks said before the parade, looking like "The Human Vacuum" again in the eyes of the fans. "All the players, they're excited about it. Some of the Hall of Famers thought it was going to be two hours. The actual ride is about 16 minutes. The total parade was supposed to be two hours.
"Back when I played, we just showed up. You'd get there a couple hours before the All-Star Game. At the start of the 1960s, we played two All-Star Games then. It was in Kansas City for the first game I played, then New York. That was Ted Williams' last year [in the Majors], he was on the team.
"The fact they're tearing down Yankee Stadium overshadows the fact that this is an All-Star Game, to me. You just think of the players and the events here. Babe Ruth, the greatest ever. I think of Red Rolfe. 'Jumping Joe' Dugan. The '58 sudden-death overtime game between the Giants and Colts. I think of 1960, when we really became a legit team, and we were close to the Yankees heading into Labor Day before they ran off 12 or 13 [wins] in a row. That's what I remember about Yankee Stadium. The fact that this is it for that ballpark means more to me than the All-Star Game. It's going to hit people after it's gone. The Yankees need to win -- what a great sendoff that would be."
Perhaps the most revealing thing that happened at the Red Carpet Parade was that Reggie Jackson actually said, "I was nervous going up there."
He was referring to throwing out the first pitch before the Home Run Derby the night before, while just chatting with fellow greats like Lou Brock, George Brett and Rod Carew, and their mates. You tend to find in these Red Carpet Parades a little different side of the people you once knew. It's hard to imagine Reggie being "nervous" about anything related to baseball. How many times was Reggie hugged by arriving greats on this day? Too many to count. He seemed as big a superstar as ever, even though he was out of uniform.
Tony Gwynn rode in the parade, and he was so relaxed he practically melted into the flatbed. At this time last year, when he was interviewed by MLB.com at the staging area in San Francisco, Gwynn was fretting 24/7 about his upcoming Hall of Fame induction speech.
"I was a lot more nervous at this time last year," he said, smiling. "You get a year under your belt and you can laugh now. It will be a lot more fun [at the Induction Weekend this month]. Bruce Sutter told me to bring my cigar, and we'll sit by the lake up there.
"I've got my cigar right here," he added, patting his left chest pocket over his suit jacket.
As part of All-Star Summer, MLB conducted the greenest event in its history by partnering with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) to take a series of measures to limit the event's carbon emissions and be more environmentally friendly. For the All-Star Game Red Carpet Parade presented by Chevy, the players traveled on a red carpet made from 100 percent recycled fiber and produced by 100 percent renewable wind and solar electricity. Chevy provided FlexFuel Chevy Silverado vehicles for the players and their families.
Additionally, an all-star team of fashion and beauty experts signed on to dress a group of players' wives exclusively for the Red Carpet Parade. Fashion house Nicole Miller and the Worth Collection provided dresses and parade attire, and celebrity makeup artist Bobbi Brown was on-site prior to the parade for beauty treatment and application.
"We're in the greatest city in the world, so you would expect nothing less," Ozzie Smith said of the whole Red Carpet Parade. The event will come to his town, St. Louis, next season. "In my day, it was always arriving at the All-Star Game on the bus. You don't forget the bus rides."
A lot of people yelled "Let's go Yankees!" when Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Mariano Rivera went by. A lot of people yelled "Let's go Mets!" when David Wright's truck rambled on. That was expected. The real treat for them was the blend of past and present, a parade unlike anything anyone had seen before.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.