One of the first memories I have is of sitting in my grandmother’s
living room in the Bronx watching the great Sandy Koufax striking
out one Yankee after another to win Game 4 of the 1963 World Series
for the Dodgers, thus completing a sweep of the mighty New York
Yankees after the Yankees had won two consecutive World Series
titles in ’61 and ’62.
My parents, aunts and uncles and my grandmother bowed their
heads in sorrow and disbelief. It was as though a sacrilegious,
blasphemous ritual, one that could be punished only by eternal
damnation, had just been witnessed and verified by the Vatican.
The strangest thing about that memory is that I was not yet born.
I felt like a character in a Frank Sinatra song: down and out. Life was
full of laughter and tears, sadness and hope, but through it all I kept
my head held high.
Of course, life could have been a lot worse, but at that moment it
felt like Old Blue Eyes was speaking directly to me through my car
radio. You see, I had just quit the job I had for the last twenty-five
years ... the job that I had dreamed of having since I was a little boy
growing up in the Bronx. Actually, that’s a lie. The job I really wanted
was playing center field for the New York Yankees, but after a brief,
less-than-illustrious career in the majors, playing for a team other
than the Yankees, I hung up my glove and switched over to the suit-
and-tie end of the business.
It was a natural fit, and since I was one of the few major leaguers
with a college degree, it wasn’t such a difficult transition. I didn’t even
have to move; the team that let me go hired me back as a junior
executive, and that was that. We were in a rotten market, sandwiched
between two established teams with a loyal fan base that went back
ten generations. We were lucky to draw a million fans a year at our
ballpark, which was a paltry number compared to the three million
fans in attendance these two teams pulled in per year at their
stadiums. Our TV and cable contracts were a third the size of most
major league team contracts, and our salaries were the pits. What the
New York Yankees paid for two superstars a year was our entire
team’s annual budget.
Even so, I had a pretty good career. In two years, I went from
junior executive to General Manager of Baseball Operations. In the
first year alone, our overall win total jumped an amazing twenty-five
games. After three years, we were consistently making the playoffs,
and over my entire twenty-three years as GM, we made it to the
World Series five times and won the title three times. All of this
without ever once having more than a seventy-million-dollar budget
to work with. To put that in perspective, the Yankees, Red Sox,
Dodgers and Cubs have yearly budgets of more than two hundred
I don’t know if it was me, divine intervention or our great
scouting and farm systems, but in those twenty-three years we put
together some terrific teams. We’d start with a bunch of so-called
rejects — players let go by other teams — and put them on a field with
a bunch of talented newbies, then wait for the magic to happen. More
often than not, it did. Everyone just seemed to blend together and give
us a winning combination. We had some wonderful managers who
really knew how to get the most out of our players. They were able to
relate to the players and make them play as a unit.
I was on the cover of Sports Illustrated more times than most
superstars in all the major sports. It was embarrassing. No matter how
many times I told the press that I was a small piece of the puzzle, they
JOSEPH SCIUTO 3
insisted I was a genius. A “baseball wizard,” they called me. They
wrote books about me and even made a movie, which was a total flop.
I guess my appeal didn’t cross over to the big screen.
For a long time, it was like living a dream. Then one day I woke
up and realized that my success, and even my luck, had come at a
huge cost. Take my parents, for instance. They were thrilled at my
success, but it meant we hardly ever saw each other, and in the end, I
wasn’t even there to say good-bye to them when they died. Both
times, when the players were on winter vacations, I was down in
Central America scouting Latino prospects. By the time I got the
news, both my parents were on the way to the funeral home where a
few friends paid their respects. Then they were on their way to the
cemetery. I made it to their gravesides just before their bodies were
lowered into the ground. My final farewell to the two people who
sacrificed everything for me came as their caskets disappeared into
the cold, unforgiving earth.
Friends tried to console me by reminding me how much I did for
my parents when they were alive. True, I made sure they never had to
worry about money, and I begged them to come live with me in
California, but even that was just selfishness on my part. All their
friends and the few relatives we had left were all in the Bronx. Having
me home for Christmas or their birthdays or their fortieth wedding
anniversary would have meant the world to them. They would never
admit it, but I could sense it when talking to them over the phone.
What I did for my parents was what was expected of any decent son,
but when it came to the really important things, I was missing in
action. The excuse was always work, and it was a shameful excuse,
considering the position I held.
There were other costs too — like never having time to start a
family of my own. The few serious relationships I had with women
always ended poorly. Work always interfered. When the baseball
season ended, my workload only increased ... I’d get hung up in
negotiations with greedy agents, winter meetings, and the never-
ending demands of scouting young talent around the world that we
could purchase for cheap. It was one of the only ways we could
compete with teams like the Yankees and Cubs.
I pulled into the parking lot of the Starlight bar and parked. Despite
its bright and shiny name, the Starlight was a bit of a dump, inside
and out. But it felt like home, in that it reminded me of a bar right in
the Bronx. During the day, it had its regular customers whose average
age was “ancient.” At night the place transformed into a hip gathering
spot for the twenty-something set, with hot girls prancing around and
guys playing pool at a lone, beer-stained table. At night, the jukebox
blasted loud unnerving music by bands who I’d been reliably told
belonged to the Seattle grunge scene, whereas the daytime crowd
preferred Nat King Cole.
At fifty years old, I preferred the daytime atmosphere ... just like
I did at forty and thirty-five. The barmaid was a Californian beauty
named Lauren. She had been the daytime bartender for nearly
fourteen years. Now, at thirty-five, she was still gorgeous, if you could
look past the bruises that occasionally bloomed around her face,
courtesy of an abusive husband who she refused to leave. Of course,
I’d never learned to ignore them.
There was a time I had a serious crush on her, but after an
extended trip out of town, I came back to a jubilant barmaid with
a ring on her finger and three months pregnant. She was an
aspiring actress and met her future husband in an acting class.
Naturally, he never landed a role and had an aversion to any type
of work that didn’t involve the film industry. He did specialize in
one thing, and that was beating the shit out of his lovely wife and
occasionally landing a punch or two on the faces of their two
Johnny was a real gem and Lauren simply could not leave him.
Behind the bar, she was a tough, no-nonsense chick who could
exchange barbs with the best of them, but in the grips of her supposed
JOSEPH SCIUTO 5
soul mate she was pure mush, despite repeated promises that she had
had enough and was going to take the children and leave.
Almost as soon as I sat down at the bar, Lauren plunked an ice-
cold Budweiser in front of me. This was before I could comment on
the latest bruises on her face, which were so bad that blue-and-red
patches shone through what looked like three extra layers of makeup.
Catching me staring at her, she raised one finger to her mouth and
looked at me as if to say, “Please, don’t go there.”
When she turned and walked away, I was left admiring the view.
What a wonderful view it was. I was pretty sure it was also covered
with bruises, but unlike her face, she was able to hide any damage
behind a tight-fitting pair of blue jeans.
I had offered to help her many times, but she’d always use the
same comeback. Unless I was willing to pay for a divorce, put a ring
on her finger and adopt a six- and seven-year-old, she didn’t have any
real good options. Strange, I saw it from a totally different perspective,
but then I wasn’t the one married to him.
In the world I grew up in there was nothing more cowardly than
a man hitting a woman. My father wouldn’t raise a hand to my
mother if she were sticking a knife in him.
Even so, domestic violence was nothing new to me, and I did
what I could to stop it from creeping onto our teams. Every contract
I signed included a clause that plainly stated that if any player of ours
was guilty of rape or of hitting a wife, girlfriend or any of their
children, their contract would be immediately terminated. I didn’t
give a shit if they were hitting .350 with 120 RBIs and thirty home
runs. They were gone.
I watched Lauren move around the bar. After touching base with
some of the regulars and refilling and replacing empty glasses and
bottles, she plunked herself onto a stool behind the bar, next to me.
She bumped her shoulder into mine like an old pal, then grabbed a
peanut from a bowl and started to crush it with her lacquered
“So what brings you in so early?”
“You, of course. What other reason would I have to come into
“Surely, you’re not that desperate. You know, they just opened a
new place not far from where you live, where all the bartenders are
hot, barely clad young women. With your resumé, you should have
no problem scoring.”
“If nothing else, I’m loyal. You should know that about me.”
“What, the little guy not working anymore? You know, they have
pills for that type of dysfunction.”
“Cute! Very cute! Besides, I quit my job today.”
“So the Yankees finally called. Please, please, take me to New
York with you.”
“If I knew that is all it would take to get you away from that piece-
of-shit-husband of yours, I would put you and the kids up at the Plaza.
And no, the Yankees did not call.”
“So you finally went to a team that will pay you the ten million a
year you deserve?”
“No, but I am quite sure there are a few offers on my phone. What
team would you like to see me go to?”
“One of the two other teams in this town. Surely, you don’t think
I want to lose the best tipper to come into this bar, even if it is only a
few times a month.”
“Ah,” I said, poking her in the arm. “So it’s all about the money?
I knew it all along.”
I was expecting her to swat at me and laugh, but she went quiet,
and when our eyes met, I was sure she was about to cry. She swiveled
away and popped off the stool, then stood there, looking down at the
half-crushed peanut between her fingers.
“Hey,” I said, swiveling to face her. “What’d I say?”
“Nothing,” she said, still looking down. Then she tossed the peanut
back on the bar, used one finger to poke at my knee and walked away.
“Huh,” I said to myself.
As she pushed through the swinging door to get back behind the
bar, I could swear I saw tears rolling down her face. But by then she
JOSEPH SCIUTO 7
had already picked up a cloth and was wiping off the necks of a row
of bottles of Scotch, with her back turned to me. I was trying to enjoy
the view again, but she wasn’t making it easy. Something was wrong,
and her silence was giving off sparks.
I moved down three stools to where she was now scrubbing away
at a spot on the mirror behind the bar. I stared at her reflection until
she finally saw me. Her hand hung there in mid-mirror. She was
caught. Those were tears, all right.
“Lauren,” I said. “Get over here.”
She dropped her head and her hand, put the cloth next to a bottle
of whiskey and wiped her fingers under both eyes before turning to
look at me.
I looked up at her and gestured to her battered face.
“That’s a pretty good makeup job, but it’s not perfect,” I said.
She started to turn away again, but I gently caught hold of her
The pain and hurt in her eyes were terrifying, yet I did not let go
and she did not offer any resistance. “It’s not too late, Lauren.”
Tears rolled down her cheeks and I reached up to wipe them
away. She grasped my hands and clasped them inside hers. “You
should have let me know.”
“I didn’t think it was fair to you.”
She thought about this quietly for a minute, then walked over to
the fridge and came back with another ice-cold Budweiser.
“I’m going away for a long time, and no, it is not to meet with
owners from other teams.”
“You’re always going away, Joe.” She looked at the TV and at an
ESPN reporter. The reporter was talking about my resignation.
“They already have you going to ten different teams. It must be
nice to be so highly regarded and respected.”
I reached into my pocket and took out a faded business card with
a private phone number written across it. “You can always reach me
at this number. The only other people to have that number were my
parents.” She took the card and placed it inside her pants pocket.
Over the next few hours I had about ten more beers. I had a few
minor conversations with some of the other regulars, but mostly I
kept my eye on Lauren as she moved around the place, taking care of
everyone. At the end of the night, we met at the bar again, and I took
out my money clip, which had about two thousand dollars in it, and
handed it to her.
“There’s enough there for a couple of weeks at a hotel. If you ever
need help, and I mean ever, I want you to call that number.” She
looked down at the money and back up at me, her mouth hanging
open and her eyes misting up again.
“I don’t know what to say.”
“Then don’t say anything,” I said. Then I kissed her on the cheek
and whispered, “I love you, Lauren.” She looked at me like she’d just
been hit, but her expression softened, and she let me go.
I walked out of the bar just as the younger crowd started arriving.
It was already dark outside. I decided to walk home and pick up the
car in the morning. Suddenly, I heard Lauren’s voice calling after me.
I turned and looked back at her figure standing in the shadows of the
bar. From a distance, she looked no different than the gorgeous young
woman I’d met years earlier. She ran toward me and threw her arms
around my neck, almost throwing me off balance.
“Please, please, don’t go away for very long,” she whispered into
my ear. She was still holding on to me.
I held her and whispered back, “Just don’t lose that phone
number and I will never be far away.”
When she finally let go, I reached across and ran my hands
through her soft blonde hair, then tucked one of her long front locks
behind one ear. Then I turned and started to walk home.