With his cane resting beside him as he sat at a podium, Mel Stottlemyre spoke about what really gives him comfort and support. It is the pinstriped outfit he has been wearing on and off for 51 years.
"I can honestly say," he said with a catch in his voice, "that every time I put this uniform on -- even though we weren't -- I felt unbeatable."
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Just the thought of getting to Old-Timers' Day Saturday, being with former teammates, colleagues and pupils and putting on the interlocking NY and his familiar No. 30 made him determined. No matter what his doctor said about his latest battle with cancer, he was not going to miss flying from his home near Seattle.
And now nothing will ever take him away.
Stottlemyre, 73, now is part of Monument Park at Yankee Stadium after an announcement that stunned and moved him. " 'Thrill' isn't a word to use. It's beyond that," he said at a news conference that he never expected to have. "I'm just tickled pink to be here, No. 1, and then to have an honor like that is really something special."
His wife, Jean, knew about it ahead of time. So did other family members, along with Joe Torre, his former boss, and Willie Randolph, who also wore 30 and had a scheduled enshrinement. But Stottlemyre, who played with Mickey Mantle and coached Mariano Rivera, had no idea what was happening until the final moment of the Old-Timers' introductions.
"I was sitting there by myself and I actually thought they forgot me," he said.
Before he knew it, he was telling the crowd, "I've been battling this dreaded disease for quite some time" -- a disease that he thought he had defeated years ago. In an instant, the other old-timers were swarming him as if he had won a World Series game (as he did as a rookie against Bob Gibson in 1964). There he was, posing with his plaque as the speakers poured out the Yankees' theme song.
"This is such a shock to me because the era that I played in was an era, for the most part, the Yankees have tried over the years to try to forget a little bit,'' Stottlemyre said. "We went to being in the World Series in 1964 to being sixth in 1965 to being dead last in 1966."
No, he never has been and never will be forgotten for having been a mainstay during lean years and a visionary coach during the latest reign. Randolph said that going into Monument Park with Stottlemyre "was like icing on the cake for me."
Sure, Stottlemyre was pitching coach for the 1986 world champion Mets and also worked for the Astros and Mariners. But his heart insists he is and always will be a Yankee.
"The pinstripes to me, they mean everything. It's my ballclub. This is my second home. My wife feels the same way," he said.
He never had a chance to prepare remarks, so you knew whatever he said to the crowd came directly from the heart, such as: "If I never get to come to another Old-Timers' game, I will take these memories that I have today and I will start a new baseball club, coaching, up there, whenever they need me."
Despite knowing the severity of his prognosis, Stottlemyre still is determined to defeat cancer. On Saturday especially, with his pinstripes on, he felt unbeatable.