Suffolk County Sheriff Errol D. Toulon Jr. has worn many uniforms over his storied career in law enforcement, first with the New York City Department of Correction and since Jan. 1, 2018, as the first African American elected to a nonjudicial countywide office.
But Toulon, who turns 59 next week, said much of what he learned about how to run an organization is from two years he spent in pinstripes.
New York Yankees pinstripes.
The South Bronx native was a Yankees bat boy in 1979 and 1980, working home games at Yankee Stadium, in the clubhouse and on the field. He recalled his experience as he prepares to throw out the first pitch Friday before a Long Island Ducks game in Central Islip.
"Of course, it was a little intimidating," Toulon said of the first time in the locker room with the Yankees star players: Thurman Munson, Catfish Hunter, Graig Nettles, Willie Randolph, Bobby Murcer, Reggie Jackson.
"But the players really made you feel like you were part of the team. The way they talked to you, the way they treated you. It was like you weren’t just the bat boy … My experience with the New York Yankees taught me about professionalism, how to treat people. That stayed with me."
Toulon grew up blocks from Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. His father was a warden on Rikers Island, his mother a secretary at PS 1, and together with his brother, Anthony, also later a Yankees bat boy, they’d often go to games. Toulon played outfield at Cardinal Hayes High School in the Bronx — "I was a very good fielder and a lightweight hitter," he said. "Singles, doubles. You weren’t going to get a home run out of me" — and dreamed of becoming a bat boy after seeing a Yankees bat boy interviewed by TV sportscaster Sal Marchiano.
He wrote a letter to the Yankees and got a polite form letter back. He thought that was that. Then, by coincidence, a family friend employed by the Yankees got him in the door. Pay was $17 a game, $23 for a doubleheader.
Toulon got to wear a Yankees uniform, and the job not only included helping legendary clubhouse man Pete Sheehy — who’d been there for Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra — set up the locker room prior to games, but also shagging fly balls during pregame batting practice, collecting foul balls and bats during games and playing catch with the rightfielder between innings. Most of the time that was Jackson.
Toulon said his fondest memories included road trips to Baltimore and Boston, paid for by Jackson and Randolph, and Kansas City, Missouri, for the 1980 playoffs — though the Yankees lost to the Royals. Hunter, the Hall of Fame pitcher, told Toulon he wasn’t "Mr. Hunter," he was Catfish. Toulon recalled roughhousing with a kid who’d wandered into the clubhouse, only to find out it was the son of owner George Steinbrenner.
Hal Steinbrenner invited him to a game once Toulon was elected sheriff.
The saddest moment Toulon said he experienced was the death of Munson, the Yankees catcher and captain, who died in a plane crash Aug. 2, 1979, in Ohio, at the age 32. Toulon was 17 at the time.
That June, Toulon said, "Me and Thurman happened to be sitting in the dugout and I said to Thurman, ‘Do you think you’re going to catch the [Baltimore] Orioles?’ He said, ‘Hey, kid. You bet we will.’ Had Thurman lived I bet they would have."
- Suffolk County Sheriff Errol D. Toulon Jr. will throw out the first pitch Friday at an Atlantic League game in Central Islip between the Long Island Ducks and York Revolution. Game time: 6:35 p.m. “I don’t throw as well as I used to as a 17-, 18-year-old kid,” Toulon said. “But, I believe I’ll reach home plate, no problem.”
- He gave up baseball after college but became an avid ice hockey player — and plays to this day. He’s a winger.
- Toulon was in the Yankees locker room for the infamous 1979 shower “scuffle” between reliever Rich Gossage and first baseman Cliff Johnson. “It was an ‘Oh my God’ experience,” said Toulon, who was 16 and in his first month as a bat boy.