By Daniel Jackovino and Joe Ragazzino
GLEN RIDGE, NJ — The Glen Ridge Public Library hosted a talk with Bloomfield resident and former New York Yankee batboy Anthony Florio on Monday evening, July 30.
Florio, 71, worked for the pennant-winning Yankees as a ball boy in 1962 and as a batboy in 1963 and 1964. These were the last days of the glory years for a team with a winning tradition that began in 1921. After 1964, the team would not win another pennant until 1976. But the Yankees that Florio knew still resonate with baseball fans — Hall of Famers Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, and Whitey Ford.
Florio made his visit to the GRPL because he has written a book about his baseball experiences and growing up in Manhattan’s Little Italy. That book is, “Yankee Batboy: The Luckiest Kid in New York.” He recently spoke about the book in a Bloomfield diner.
“Men in their 90s come to me and say, ‘I’d give an arm to do what you did for one day,’” he said. “And it was quite an experience growing up in Little Italy, too. One day I could be singing doo wop on the corner and the next night handing out bats to Mickey Mantle.”
Florio attended James Monroe High School, in the Bronx, illegally.
“My father coached sandlot baseball and he got the address of someone in the Bronx,” he said, explaining that his father wanted him to go to a better school. And Florio said he was a pretty good baseball player and made the varsity team as a freshman. But playing high school ball was not his fate.
“There was a baseball scout for the Chicago White Sox at the school,” he said. “His name was Steve Ray. He was the director of the health education department and he asked me if I could go to Yankee Stadium to be a ball boy. In 1962, I was the ball boy on the first-base line. Some of my friends talked or not talked about my job.”
Work would start 30 minutes before the game and end 30 minutes after the game. He was paid $1.25 and hour.
“The ball boy was an actual job,” he said. “You were in the visitor’s clubhouse, never the Yankee clubhouse.”
He said the ball boy helped maintain the visitor’s clubhouse.
“When you’re a batboy, you didn’t do any of that stuff,” he said. “They had men do that. Sometimes you made $6.”
He also worked the World Series, traveling to Los Angeles in 1963 and St. Louis in 1964. He received $500 for working the series.
Florio worked every home game. At that time, the team played 162 games; half were at home. To leave school early to work a day game, his schedule was rearranged; he had no lunch break, study period or gym.
“I didn’t miss anything,” he said. “I was having lunch and gym at Yankee Stadium.”
Florio became a batboy in 1963. He said it was great going into the Yankee clubhouse and seeing Mantle, Berra, and Ford. And he was on a first-name basis with the players. One chapter is titled “Me and the Mick.”
“Mantle would break your chops,” he said. “One time I called him ‘Mick’ and he looked at me and said, ‘Mick? Mick? You call me Mick?’”
There are other recollections of Mantle.
Florio said that most people did not know it, but Mantle was a great knuckleball pitcher. What was well-known was that he often played hurt.
“He used to get taped up from his ankle to his thigh,” Florio said, “and still play better than most of the people on the field. He was faster than anybody else running from home to first. Batting left-handed he got from home to first in 3.1 seconds, with the bad legs.”
Florio began writing his book in 2009 and finished in 2015. A mutual friend introduced him to John Siclare, who would become his co-writer.
“I would have written the book sooner, but the publishers wanted dirt,” he said. “You don’t throw people under the bus. What happens in Little Italy stays in Little Italy. And the players did things I didn’t write about. But I humanized major league ball players. They’re people like everyone else.”
To write the book he used a tape recorder and tried remembering everything in chronological order.
“I just started talking for five days,” he said. “I had about seven hours of recording, put it on a disc and sent it to Siclare. We went over the errors.”
He thought of giving up many times, Florio said, and in his acknowledgements he thanks the people who encouraged him to continue.
“Everything in that book is by memory,” he said. “I’d be asleep, remember something, get up and write it down.”
Florio said he knows he will never sell a million copies of “Yankee Batboy,” but there are other fulfillments.
“After doing this and holding it in your hands, it’s like holding a baby,” he said. “It’s my writing baby. The sense of accomplishment is wonderful.”
Florio is scheduled to speak at the Bloomfield Public Library on Monday, Aug. 20, at 6 p.m. He can be reached at: AnthonyRFlorio@gmail.com.