The dominoes moved swiftly — instantaneously, really — upon the shutdown’s execution.
“When Major League Baseball postponed the start of its season on Thursday, March 12, my phone rang like the ‘Sell!’ scene in the movie ‘Trading Places,’ ” Andrew Levy wrote in a text message, “with just about every client either postponing or canceling the player appearances that had been scheduled.”
Without games or group get-togethers, there sure as heck wasn’t a need for your favorite retired ballplayer to liven up an event. Hence this contingent of guys who make a living off their name long after their final appearance in uniform has, like so many others, taken a hit from the coronavirus.
“My living is baseball camps, clinics, appearances at the ballpark. Everything is baseball,” Dwight Gooden said. “Everything’s on hold. I’ve got seven kids, six grandkids and two ex-wives. They don’t want to hear that. They just want to know where their check is.”
Gooden, to be clear, laughed heartily as he said this.
“There’s no self-pity,” he declared, a sentiment echoed by everyone interviewed on this topic. Yet the ex-players’ wide-open calendars illustrate just how deep this pandemic drills into so many different walks of life.
“Do I enjoy my appearances? Absolutely. It keeps my head above water,” Hall of Famer Goose Gossage said. “Being with the fans and doing some things, it allows my baseball life to keep giving.”
Levy owns Wish You Were Here Productions, a sports marketing agency based in Manhattan that arranges personal appearances for athletes — some active, some retired like Gossage and Gooden — broadcasters and sports personalities like front-office executives. The company also offers a luxury suite at Yankee Stadium for Yankees games and other events, another sidelined revenue stream. To date, all booked appearances through June 1 for the people he represents have been either postponed or canceled, Levy said.
For retired baseball players, the majority of Levy’s group, the timing of this shutdown couldn’t have been much worse.
“October to March are the lean months to tighten the belt,” Levy wrote. “So when that annual routine is broken and that time frame is extended, it becomes very difficult to manage.”
Many retired players possess the earning power to pull down six figures annually, and only the imagination — and, now, the pandemic — can limit the range of activities. For instance, before the world changed, Gossage had committed to an appearance with Derek Jeter’s Turn 2 Foundation in Tampa, corporate executive breakfasts and golf outings in South Carolina and California, a 75th birthday party in New Jersey, a corporate dinner in Denver and an autograph show in Virginia.
“I’ve got a nice pension,” Gossage said. “I just think of the poor people that this is affecting day to day, like the restaurant people. … Whenever I start feeling sorry for myself, that doesn’t last very long.”
Gossage’s long-ago Yankees teammate Mickey Rivers, also represented by Levy, spoke more about his loss of social life than his loss of income. In good times, he goes out in Florida with former ballplayers like Lou Piniella, Mike Torrez, Joe Rudi and Rennie Stennett, or plays cards with them.
“Now, we’re just talking,” said Rivers, whose legendary talking makes him a popular guest at in-season parties.
In this new environment, Levy has booked a handful of virtual appearances for some folks. Yet he and those he represents largely find themselves on an unwanted break, waiting and hoping for the dominoes to be rearranged and stabilized.
“We control what we can control in baseball, just like life,” Gossage said. “… We control what we can in our lives, and we deal with the crap that comes at us like this coronavirus.”
“I’m confident when this ‘reset’ is over, individuals and companies will go back to incorporating a sports celebrity or suite into their marketing plans,” Levy said. “It will once again add a feel-good” element to their events, and when we get past this national crisis, everyone is going to need to feel good … more than ever before!”
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