Abused by the NY Yankees: book excerpt #1

My name is Paul Priore. I live in Flushing, a neighborhood in the borough of Queens in New York City, where I've spent most of my life. I share an apartment with my adopted father, Nick Priore, formerly the clubhouse manager for the New York Yankees. He's been retired and miserable for several years, he was much happier when he worked at the stadium.

I remember when he used to take me to work with him, starting when I was four. I'm glad he did, because it would be the only way I would get to see him. Baseball is his life, and he only came home to check the mail, if he came home at all. Usually he worked very late and when there was a game the next day he'd often sleep-over in the clubhouse on a couch, he didn't seem to mind.

When he was at home he watched a lot of sports on TV, and I tried to get interested in them too but he didn't bother explaining them to me. I guess he thought I was just a kid, maybe he felt that I wouldn't understand sports, or maybe he just couldn't be bothered doing it. I didn't know the real reason. I didn't ask, he never told me.

But sometimes I'd ask him to take me to the stadium so I could be with him. So when the Yankees played home games he'd take me with him. I'm talking about the old Yankee Stadium of course, in the Bronx at East 161St Street and River Avenue. A few years ago it was demolished and a new one with the same name was built across the road.

In the old days some of the Yankee ballplayers took their kids to work, too, especially when school was out in summer, so the youngsters could have fun watching their dads working out with the team, warming up prior to games.

I remember Gene Michael's son Matthew, Jim "Catfish" Hunter's son Todd, sometimes Lou Piniella and Bucky Dent and a few others would bring their kids. We had kid-size balls and bats and gloves and we'd play on part of the outfield. Sometimes we'd go to the batting cage and practice when the players weren't using it. I didn't know much about baseball, but it seemed like fun.

When I was a bit older, sometimes a few of us would get into the electric golf cart used by the security people at the stadium. We'd drive it to see how fast it would go. If we spotted one of the stray cats or dogs that used to hang around the stadium, we'd chase it or try to run it over. Yeah, most people don't know that cats and dogs found their way into the old stadium and the grounds crew fed them scraps, so they kept coming back to be fed.

One time it was my turn to drive the cart, I was racing it up and down the ramps when I lost control and it flipped over on its side, dumping us out. We got yelled at for it, the security guys warned us not to drive it again. We were kids fooling around in that big playground.

I learned about baseball by observing, and I somehow intuitively knew when I saw talent. Sometimes us kids would get in a big circle in the outfield and throw the ball around to each other, sometimes softly, other times harder. Ken Griffey, Jr. was in the group, he was around my age, I remember thinking he would make a good ballplayer because he had real determination. He was good at hitting and throwing the ball, not so good at catching it - back then.

Cecil Fielder used to bring his son Prince to the stadium, and from the way the two of them threw the ball to each other and the way Prince conducted himself on the field, I knew this kid was going to be a star, because I could see certain things in the way he handled a baseball. I even told him he'd be a good ballplayer one day if he put his mind to it, he said: Nah, I don't think so, I'm not really into baseball, I'd rather be a football player.But Prince sure turned out to be good at baseball.

When a new season began there were always new players bringing their kids to the stadium. Since it was 'legendary' Yankee Stadium it was a big deal for these new kids, and even for their fathers who were big-time Yankees. So it was a changing group of kids playing around, some trying to stay out of trouble, others trying tofind trouble.

And as young as I was, I somehow knew I wouldn't get the kind of attention that the kids of the players had, throwing the ball around the field with their fathers. My father was working inside the clubhouse so he didn't come outside much. And he was an employee not a player. So I kind of envied the kids of the players, being able to spend that much time with their dads. 

My father would usually take me with him down to Florida for spring training, in those days the Yankees had their ballpark in Fort Lauderdale. Sometimes we'd drive down with other clubhouse guys who were working there, sometimes we'd fly, it depended on the circumstances. When we got there we stayed at a hotel or sometimes at Whitey Ford's place, he was a pitcher.

I recall one time going down there with my dad when I was nine years old, I was sitting in the ballpark office and the secretary went to the washroom, so I was alone. The phone started ringing and it just kept ringing, there were no answering machines in those days. I hate phones that just keep ringing so I answered it: Hello?

A gruff male voice barked: Who is this? I replied: Who is this? And we both repeated it, and he was getting louder and nastier. And I said: If you don't know how to talk to people properly, I don't have to talk to you. And I hung up on him. The phone rang again and it was the same guy, and he sounded even nastier and I told him he should be polite. I said: If you don't know how to talk to people, I don't want to speak to you. And I hung up on him again.

The phone rang again, same guy, and I told him the same thing, and as I was hanging up the phone again, sitting at the reception desk, my father walked into the office and asked me where the secretary was, and I said she went to the washroom so I answered the phone. He asked who was calling and I said: Some grumpy man who doesn't know how to talk on the phone so I hung up on him. My father thought I was joking.

A little while later a tall bulky man wearing a suit and sunglasses walked into the office like he owned it. There were a few people sitting or standing around. My father had just come in from the clubhouse. This new guy announced: I'm George Steinbrenner, the new owner of the Yankees. Who kept hanging-up the phone on me? I told him it was me. He seemed amused. He leaned over and pointed his finger at me and said: You know what? You're the only person who ever hung up on me and got away with it.

I said: You know what? You really are a fat m-----rf----r.

I had a dirty mouth in those days. And he started to laugh, and everybody else laughed, then he realized he was the butt of a joke and he yelled: The next person who laughs is fired! Everybody get back to work!

Suddenly it got quiet and everyone cleared out except Steinbrenner and the secretary. Word got around the ballpark complex about that little incident, and people heard about Steinbrenner's grand entrance into the New York Yankees as a bully who threatened to fire people who laughed with him and at him. Was he joking? Maybe, but when he ordered everyone back to work, they jumped.

But people around there thought it was funny that a kid like me had the guts to stand up to 'the old man,' as some people called him, and put him in his place, right off the bat. That story was told for years.

At the time my father was worried that he was going to lose his job because of me. That was the first time he'd have that feeling and it would become more familiar to him throughout the years (although not because of me) as it would to others. The fear of losing one's job, regardless of one's status in the organization, would become normal when working for George Steinbrenner.

It was the beginning of the old man's reign of terror, the moment when the comfort level of the management and employees of the Yankees under CBS' ownership suddenly changed and people became fearful of the new owner. Of everyone who worked for the organization, only the players were happier because they were his stars. But they were his stars, he reminded them again and again. Because he was paying their exorbitant salaries, he kept reminding them.

Steinbrenner expected them to produce championships. He made it very clear that he demanded the bestfrom them, or they would be traded. And he expected his employees to behave like servants to his valuable players and take care of them - he spelled it right out for everyone. And servants were always expendable, they should be grateful for the opportunity to work for the Yankees, he told his employees. I heard people all around the complex talking about this new owner, they knew it was going to be very different in the Yankees organization from then on.

In those days Steinbrenner often wore button-down-collar shirts with ties, sometimes he didn't wear a tie. And the navy-blue blazer was his trademark. I've noticed that when heavy people get older sometimes their skin gets a bit looser and they get a wattle in their neck, the skin that hangs down in front. Steinbrenner had three of them - the wattle hanging down in the middle and the ones on each side, together they looked like a turkey's giant wattle that shook when the old man was angry, yelling at somebody.

A few weeks after I'd met him, I ran into him in the office again when he came to ask the secretary for his phone messages. I said to him: You know, that thing you've got on your neck looks like a turkey's wattle, you really should get some surgery on that, or cover it up. He looked at me a bit shocked - not angry, but self-conscious.

He stared at me and didn't say anything. I was just a kid. After that I noticed that he started wearing turtleneck sweaters with his blazer, with high collars that covered his neck. He was suddenly sensitive to the fact that he had a wattle on his neck that would flap when he walked or moved his head or spoke. So thanks to telling him my observation, he got all self-conscious about it.

Ol' Turkeyneck and I would tangle several times over the years, not often under amusing circumstances like those first encounters. He would discover that much like those early situations, I was different from the other people who worked for him. I wasn't afraid of him and I always told the truth.

 


Abused by the NY Yankees: book excerpt #2

I want to tell you about my mother now and a bit more about myself. I want people to know something about what I've been through so they can understand who I am as a person. I was born in 1964 to an alcoholic mother who I loved because she was my mother. Her name was Dolores and she tried her best to look after me. But she didn't have a great childhood herself.

One day when I asked her to tell me about what it was like when she was younger, she reluctantly told me that when she was 15, her father Walter died of a heart attack at 40. I saw in photos that I resembled him. She may have started drinking because his death hit her hard, they'd been close.

Walter had been a generous loving father and husband. If he was able to, he gave Dolores and her mother Edith whatever they wanted, then suddenly one day he was gone. Edith and Dolores had some issues with each other, so they went up and down and back and forth with each other, and to me that defined their relationship.

Sometime after that a man named Henry moved in with Edith, he had two daughters from his previous marriage. Dolores and the new guy didn't get along, they had constant arguments. It came to a yelling, screaming end when Edith chose Henry over Dolores and threw her own teenage daughter out onto the streets of New York City to fend for herself.

By the way, this is information that took years for my mother to tell me, it took her a while to open up to me because she didn't like talking about her past. I had to pick my moments to ask. It was only because I kept at her, again and again, that I found anything out. I was just curious about my family.

Anyway, Dolores had a rebellious attitude so she learned how to fend for herself in order to survive on the streets, and she drank a lot. Anybody in her situation could have ended up in trouble with the law, or under the control of some pimp who exploited her and fed her drugs. But she seemed to stay clear of that, at least she never mentioned anything like that.

So if the worst thing that happened was her drinking problem, I still admired her for her strength and determination. She was 29 when I was born and apparently she had tried to make peace with her mother, because Edith was around to help care for me in my early years.

When I was probably three, my mother and grandmother and I lived together in an apartment somewhere in the Bronx, in a mostly-black neighborhood. One day some thugs came in by the fire escape and forced my grandmother into the bedroom, and my mother tried to stop them but they took her in too. And a while later the thugs came out of the bedroom and fled, and Edith and Dolores slowly came out, crying, looking like they'd been beat-up and, I'm guessing now, raped. I was young but I'll never forget that incident.

Shortly after that they moved to Flushing and Edith got a job as a clerk in Macy's, a famous big department store in New York, and she eventually got Dolores a job there too. Their shifts were slightly different, so for a few hours each day I was taken care of by a nice neighbor lady. But my mother was still drinking and I think that might have got her fired from her job. Dolores had a constant battle with the bottle, and after she was fired she would get either Edith or the neighbor to look after me and she'd spend most of her day at a bar.

I recall one day watching a TV show about a family with a mother and father and kids, and I suddenly realized I didn't know anything about my father. Later I asked my mother about it but she avoided the question. It must've been a few months later when she brought a man home with her and introduced him as Nick, they were going out on a date and leaving me with Edith.

And months after that, Dolores and Nick were married at city hall. It was 1968 and I was four years old. We moved to another apartment in Flushing where the four of us lived together.

One day I asked my mother how she met Nick. She told me she'd been sitting on a stool at one of her favorite bars and she went to the washroom, leaving her drink and her pocketbook on the bar for the bartender to keep his eye on. When she came back some guy was sitting on her stool so she said to him: That's my seat. He said: Really? It's mine now. She said: No it's not, you better get off my seat. And he refused. So she hauled off and slugged him, knocking him off the stool, and he was out cold on the floor.

Another guy was sitting at the bar by himself, having a drink, watching this happen. He'd been thinking about going over to help her, but saw that she didn't need it - when she drank my mother became fearless. He was impressed by her toughness and went over to tell her, and they got talking and ended up going on a few dates.

His name was Nick Priore, he was assistant manager of the Yankees clubhouse. Nick and Dolores were totally opposite in personality, so I guess it is true that opposites attract.

Edith moved out and got a place of her own a few blocks away. Nick would always be working at Yankee Stadium and sometimes he'd take me to work with him. When he didn't, Dolores would drop me off at Edith's, where she knew I'd be safe and cared for, and then she went to one of her favorite bars where she'd spend the rest of the day. Sometimes she didn't come home for a few days, maybe she was too drunk. Nick used to drink until he married my mother, and I think seeing her drink so much made him quit.

Near the apartment in Flushing was an old-fashioned diner that served good food at a reasonable price. One day when Nick and Dolores had been married for a short time, the three of us were sitting there having lunch when a man showed up at our table and said hi to Dolores.

I didn't know it at the time but it was my biological father, who'd called her and asked if he could meet me. Apparently Nick knew that this guy would be showing up and he wasn't crazy about the idea, but he went along with it. I didn't find that out until years later. The man didn't stay long. I recall him staring at me for a while and saying something to my mother. Then he left, I never saw him again.

Many years later when I bugged her to tell me about my biological father, she finally told me he was from a wealthy family but she wouldn't tell me his name. They'd met, he'd knocked her up, and when she found out she was pregnant, she'd told him and he'd refused responsibility for child support.

She said that he'd gotten his lawyers to try to dig up dirt on her past, but there was nothing to find, and maybe his conscience had gotten to him or something, because he'd supposedly offered her $25,000 to walk away from him for good, and she took it. I guess that's how she could afford to drink.

Anyway, sometime after that he'd called her and had wanted to see what I looked like, and she'd hesitated. By then she was married to Nick, and she didn't want to unnecessarily anger her husband. But this guy had said he'd only wanted to meet me for a minute, then he would go away for good. She told me she'd reluctantly agreed, since he'd paid her the money he'd promised.

I don't know who'd picked the day or the location or whether Nick was supposed to be there, but there we were that day, all together in the diner, and I still have a clear image in my mind of what my biological father had looked like.

And although my mother would never disclose any details about him, several years later one of my cousins gave me what she claimed was the guy's name. I found four listings in the New York phone directory and sent a letter to all of them but never got a reply.

My mother said that when the guy had found out I was a hyperactive kid, he wanted nothing to do with me. That sounds kind of mysterious, like maybe it was somewhere in his background. Or maybe he'd just wanted a kid with no defects. I have no way of knowing the truth in his case.

 

  ABUSED BY THE NEW YORK YANKEES
A book written and published by Paul Priore & Gary Toushek

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