The book: “Seeing Home: The Ed Lucas Story: A Blind Broadcaster’s Story of Overcoming Life’s Greatest Obstacles”
The author: By Ed Lucas, with his son, Christopher Lucas
The vital statistics: Simon & Shuster/Jeter Publishing, 288 pages, $26.
Find it: At Amazon.com, at Barnesandnoble.com, at Powells.com, at Vromans.com
The pitch: Don Mattingly saw Ed Lucas check his watch, and the Yankees first baseman couldn’t believe his eyes.
“Eddie, how the heck can you tell time with a wrist watch?” Mattingly yelled over to Lucas, who had been in the Yankees locker room doing an interview with Dave Winfield.
“It probably doesn’t even work,” Mattingly continued. “”C’mon, you probably just wear it for show.”
Lucas took the watch off and handed it to Mattingly. But Mattingly couldn’t figure it out.
“He could see the Braille on the inside of the glass,” Lucas writes on page 219 of his autobiography, “but didn’t realize there was a secret button to push to flip the glass up. He spent the next three minutes feeling the face on the watch again and again as several players looked on with curiosity.
“Finally, he gave up. Mattingly handed the watch back to me and said, ‘Eddie, I don’t know how you do it, pal. You can feel those bumps through the glass and I can’t. That’s amazing.’
“‘Well, Don,’ I replied with a grin, ‘some guys can hit curve balls, some can’t. Some guys can feel Braille through glass, come can’t. We’ve both got our talents.’”
As Lucas left the room with his escort, he turned to Mattingly and called out his name.
“As soon as I had his attention, I held my wrist up, pushed a button and revealed the secret of the watch (the trip that lifted the glass face open so that he could feel the watch’s bumps).
“Other players roared with laughter. I had to run out the door to avoid the barrage of towels the freshly pranked Mattingly good-naturedly tossed in my direction.”
Lucas’ story of not just surviving but actually making a mark as a sightless reporter working for newspapers and the Yankees’ YES Network has come to print in this book as he celebrated his 60th straight Opening Day at Yankee Stadium covering the team.
“It feels odd being one of the elder statesmen,” the 76-year-old Lucas writes, “but I’m always glad to give advice to any of the new reporters, broadcasters or bloggers who ask, though as a guy raised on typewriters and twenty-four hour lags between composing a story and having it appear in print, I’m still amazed by the speed at which blogs get posted.”
Lucas, whose media career took off with the guiding support of former Yankees player and broadcaster Phil Rizzuto, lost his eyesight at age 12 while playing in a sandlot baseball game on Oct. 3, 1951 – the day Bobby Thomson hit his “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” against the Dodgers.
He has some visual reference point, but it doesn’t mean all his other senses are “heightened” by his condition, as he later explains.
“The accident actually left me frozen in time,” he writes. “I was scared my life was over at 12, and baseball became an exciting escape route out of that crippling fear.”
He acquired a seeing eye-dog and entered the insurance business while trying to figure out how he could cover baseball with a communications degree he earned at Seton Hall.
He made it work. There’s the story. It’s not a baseball book, but one of movie scripts.
Even if some New York writers “treated me with respect,” there were several who didn’t, Lucas notes about trying to break in as a credible reporter.
He even relays a story from 1966, when he was 27. He found a moment in a media scrum to ask a question of a player in the visitors clubhouse “known to be a bully.”
The player stopped and blurted out: “Did the blind guy just ask me that? Why the hell are you here anyway? Who let you in? You can’t even see the game, yet you have the nerve to ask me about what I’m going to do this season? Here’s what I’m not going to do, talk to a cripple. Is this a clubhouse or a circus?”
Not one of the other reporters came to his aid.
“This was a complete shock,” he wrote. “What bothered me the most was that I could hear some of the senior press members laughing as all of this was happening.”
Rizzuto caught up with Lucas and was outraged by what happened. As Lucas doubted his future, Rizzuto reminded him that his own career started on shaky ground. He got cut from the team in 1956 without warning, and he “shrugged it off” and moved to the broadcasting booth. There, critics hammered his homespun style ad partisanship for the Yankees, but he kept his job for decades.
“You have to turn the other cheek,” Rizzuto told him. “They have their own fears and obstacles. You’re an easy target. Forgive them and move past it. Don’t listen to the naysayers, kid. Have faith. … The way you win in life, Lucas, is by getting back up whenever you get knocked down … I promise you, it will get better. Some day they will give you awards and put you in a Hall of Fame. It won’t be because you are blind, it will be for the person you are, the gifts you were blessed with, and how you treat others.”
Lucas listened. The rest is some kind of history, documented by his son, Christopher.
A lot of this is also faith-driven, the result of his Catholic upbringing. The other important element in getting the story told: Recently retired Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter started his own publishing company, and insisted Lucas’ story, that had been submitted to Simon & Shuster, be kept in tact despite editors who may have wanted to to just be a baseball biography.
“It was definitely serendipity (aligning with Jeter),” Chris Lucas told us. “We had been talking about a book for a long time. I’ve been living this book for 45 years, writing it in my head for the last 20, and putting pen to paper was about three months. We submitted it to Simon & Schuster and they came to us and said, ‘Well, there’s a guy who just retired from baseball, starting his own publishing label …’ We kind of said, ‘Well, all right, who is it?’ And when they said, ‘You might know him, he’s Derek Jeter,’ and that got our attention. He has surprised us by being so hands on. Some guys may buy a business, or in this case an imprint, and let their staff do it. Every step of the way he’s been involved. It’s been amazing.”
Should Ed Lucas’ life turn into a silver-screen production — there are rumors that Stanley Tucci and Bradley Cooper are interested — let’s use this book as something that pushes the project one step closer.
More to know:
== A Q-and-A with both Ed and Christopher Lucas from our Sunday, May 3 editions is at this link.
== Lucas writes recently about how former Giants owner Horace Stoneham deserves to be in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
== A recent New York Times story about Lucas’ life that compares him to Forest Gump.
== Ed Lucas’ website and information about his life as a motivational speaker.
== A 2006 story about Lucas by NBC’s “Today” show.
== In keeping with the media-related theme, we also endorse tracking down “Crack of the Bat: A History of Baseball on the Radio,” by James R. Walker (University of Nebraska Press, 305 pages, $28.95).
The names you’d expect to see get some run include Graham McNamee, Bob Prince, Mel Allen, Vin Scully, Red Barber, Ernie Harwell and Harry Caray, but otherwise Walker admits he leans heavily on the Dodgers’ Charley Steiner and the Cubs’ Pat Hughes for philosophical input, especially with the chapter on the “modern baseball announcer.”
The history here goes back to the medium’s invention, the game’s resistance to it, its adjustment to television and the advent of satellite radio. Charts of how teams grew and expanded their radio presence are of interest. The Dodgers and Yankees, for example, started in 1939 with Mutual Radio having just two and one station, respectively, at a time when the Boston Braves and Boston Red Sox had 14. By the year 2000, the Dodgers had 29, while the Angels had 11 affiliates.