New York legends greet fans at Delta Dugout

New York legends greet fans at Delta Dugout

New York legends greet fans at Delta Dugout
NEW YORK -- They were right in the middle of noisy Grand Central Station and right in the middle of the noisy Subway Series. Maybe a million Mets and Yankees fans were passing through on Saturday afternoon, and some of the lucky ones were grabbing autographs from legends Goose Gossage, Dwight Gooden, David Cone, John Franco and Bucky Dent.

It was Day 3 of the four-day Delta Dugout event in Vanderbilt Hall, where fans have been able to watch the big games live on television, enjoy interactivities and share some New York baseball stories with guys like these. You might as well start with Doc, because he won World Series rings with both local clubs. For his favorite Subway Series memory, go back to July 8, 2000, with 54,165 screaming fans at Shea Stadium, loyalties divided.

"For me personally, probably the one in 2000," Gooden said between autographs. "I got to pitch against the Mets at Shea Stadium. It was the first game of a day-night doubleheader, taking them out at Shea Stadium for the first time since 1994. Coming in out of the dugout was very nerve-racking -- and not knowing what to expect from the fans -- but it was a lot of fun. I ended up going five innings and getting the win, so that was my favorite memory of the Subway Series.

"To hang out with these guys, share some stories, take pictures, reminisce with the fans is what it's all about. . . . Having been able to play with both great organizations, and win a World Series with both teams, it's definitely overwhelming. I enjoyed it. ... This is fun for the city."

Interleague Play began in 1997, after Gossage and Dent had finished their careers. Both legends paused during the signing session to remember George M. Steinbrenner, the man to whom a simple Grapefruit League game between the Yankees and Mets was a happening.

"It's exciting," Gossage said. "They didn't have the Subway Series when I played, so I think it's exciting for the fans to have that. We had the Mayor's Trophy game or something like that. We only played one ballgame. My God, George thought that was the World Series, that Trophy game."

"We just played the exhibition games, and those were all-out chaos," Dent recalled. "It was like playing the World Series when we played the Mets. George didn't like losing to the Mets. It was like chaos, you know? It was kind of like having a day off, but it was a big deal to him."

Gossage will miss his first Hall of Fame Induction ceremony next month since his 2008 enshrinement, but said he called former Reds shortstop Barry Larkin and congratulated him on his upcoming entrance into Cooperstown.

"I gave him my regards and welcomed him into the Hall of Fame," Gossage said. "He's just a great player and I'm happy for him."

Speaking of the Hall of Fame, Gossage put in an unsolicited voice of support for a fellow New York closer who was sitting two seats away in the autograph session.

"He was a great closer," Gossage said of Franco, also a former Larkin teammate who saved 424 games in a 21-year Major League career. "I don't know how they're going to keep him out of the Hall of Fame myself. He's put up some great numbers. ... His career spanned the time when he pitched more than one inning. He was a workhorse, he had a great career, and I'd love to see him in the Hall of Fame."

Franco last pitched in 2005. In balloting for the 2011 class, he failed to get the minimum five percent of the ballot required to roll over to the next year's ballot, meaning it is out of the writers' hands.

"It would mean everything to me," Franco said when told of Gossage's lobbying efforts. "That's what you play the game for -- World Series ring and getting into the Hall of Fame. Hopefully one day I'll get on the Veterans' Committee and they'll vote me in."

Franco and the four legends stayed for two hours as the world passed by, literally.

"It's great being here amongst a couple of my former teammates and a couple of guys I watched growing up," Franco said. "It's great for the city. Once the Yankees and Mets play together in the Subway Series, the whole city gets involved, and there's a lot of cheering and booing for each team, but it's great for the city."

One memory of the Subway Series? He and Cone each could have pointed to the 2000 Fall Classic, but instead they think mostly about that first Interleague series back in 1997.

"I think the first one, the inaugural one, was the most intriguing for me," Franco said. "That will always stay on my mind."

"The old Yankee Stadium had 50 percent Mets fans there," Cone remembered. "There was so much excitement that first time. It's really been great since then, but you'll always remember the first time. I'll never forget that."

Flash back to June 18, 1997. Cone started at home for the Bronx Bombers and went eight innings, allowing only two hits. He finished with a no-decision as the Yankees won, 3-2. Tino Martinez provided the walk-off single to score Paul O'Neill.

Who gave up that walk-off? It was the guy seated next to Cone. Franco had just come in for Greg McMichael with one out and Yankees at the corners.

"It was remarkable, because I don't think anybody had ever seen anything other than Yankee fans at the old Yankee Stadium," Cone said. "Maybe an occasional opposing team fan here and there, but nothing like the numbers there were in 1997. Even today, I think you get a good mix on both sides, Queens and the Bronx. But back then, that was a first.

"Today, I think the Mets are a great story. It's so good for baseball overall, especially here in New York, where the Mets are doing well. They deserve it. They have some good young players, the organization deserves some breaks, they went through some hard times off the field. I'm certainly a Mets fan, I have a soft spot in my heart for the Mets and I always will."

Mike Cleaver was there especially to get Cone's autograph. Cleaver brought a bat that said "David Cone Perfect Game" -- dated July 18, 1999.

"I ordered it the day he pitched his perfect game," Cleaver said. "I've had it with me for a while, just kind of came with me from apartment to apartment, I figured I'd see him eventually, living here in Manhattan."

Fans are invited to watch the Saturday night game at Grand Central, and the Delta Dugout will continue from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. ET on Sunday.

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of Read and join other baseball fans on his community blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.