Ted! Red! And a Few Other Stars!

Lucky Lloyd JohnsonContributor IMarch 26, 2009

BOSTON - CIRCA 1955:  (UNDATED FILE PHOTO) Baseball legend Ted Williams (1918 - 2002) of the Boston Red Sox  swings a bat in this portrait circa 1955. The 83-year-old Williams, who was the last major league player to bat .400 when he hit .406 in 1941, died July 5, 2002 at Citrus County Memorial Hospital in Florida. He died of an apparent heart attack.  (Photo by Getty Images)

He was standing in the corner. Leaning on the wall. Wearing that familiar green raincoat. The room was very crowded. It was graduation day, at the University of Maine. It would soon be a day I will never forget. The day I met Ted Williams.

My son was the first to recognize him. He rushed over to me. "Isn't that Ted Willams" he asked?  "Why would he be here?" I replied.  But sure enough, it was the Splendid Splinter! And he was all alone over in that corner.

With great trepidation we approached the man I considered to be the greatest hitter the game had ever known. My youngest son, then about 12 years old, was first to approach Ted.

In a split second, Ted had his arm on his shoulders, and that picture remains on our wall to this day. Then came several more pictures, and a few autographs, one that is framed and on my office wall.

Ted couldn't have been more gracious, but by now other folks in the room began to notice, and were fast approaching. I will never forget Ted's words, " I'm sorry, but this is the kids graduation Day, I don't want to take attention away from them." And with that, this great man quickly exited through the nearest door, and was gone.

Years before that, I had the occasion to cross paths with Red Auerbach of the Boston Celtics. He was appearing for an autograph signing at Scarborough Downs in Maine. In my capacity as General Manager, I went upstairs, to the corner lounge, to say hello and welcome him.

As I neared the area, I could hear that familiar voice. I must admit I was rather disturbed by what I was hearing. Red was berating a young, local newspaper writer, telling him that was asking stupid questions, then asked him to please leave, as he was bothering him.

This created a lasting memory of Red Auerbach, and unfortunately the Celtics, and it wasn't a good one. By the way, that young, inexperienced writer was Jerry Crasnick, who I believe now writes for a national sports outlet.

Dennis Eckersley was a signer one Saturday night. He arrived right on time. Very clean, and well-dressed. Surely, he looked like a star. The staff escorted him to his table and chair, and within minutes, there was a long line, stretching right across the grandstand.

Eck was now comfortable, and ordered up his favorite beverage. About 20 minutes later, I arrive as the official greeter for the track. I see Eckersley, now on his fifth drink, and ready to order another. I look at the long line, and see mostly young children.

Sorry, but I just didn't think that looked quite right. I walked up behind Dennis, bent down, and suggested that his behavior was not quite right in front of the children. He stood up, with all his bravado, and I still recall his words, " If you don't like it, maybe I will just leave."

My reply, with no hesitation, " Why don't you do that. I haven't paid you yet."  He quickly sat down, and continued to sign autographs.

Sadly, another bad experience that I haven't forgotten. Years later they discovered that Eckersley had problems, that still does not excuse his behavior, in my opinion.

Around that same time frame, the Red Sox are in an extra inning game at Fenway. It is Saturday, and we have the Sox Star slugger, Jim Rice, scheduled to sign that evening. We have the company plane waiting at Logan airport for Rice.

I forget the innning, but somewhere around the 12th or 13th inning, Rice hits one out, and the Sox win. It's a promotor's dream come true.

Back at the track, it's getting late, we got kids lined up, and that line's getting longer after the outcome of that game. Within an hour and a half, Jim Rice arrives. We all knew his history, this guy was supposed to be sour, uncooperative, and hard to get along with.

To this day, I will never understand where Rice got those raps. He was a perfect gentleman. He handled the children perfectly, and I'm sure created many lifelong fans for the Red Sox. And thanks to Jim, and that Home Run, we had a huge night at the track.

On an amusing note, Mike Torres was a surprise guest one saturday night. We had been tipped off ahead of time that Mike liked to play a race or two at the track. He liked the ponies as the story went.

With this knowledge in hand, we broke the usual rules regarding payment of appearance Fees. Mike received his $1,000 in cash upon arrival. After finishing his signing duties, Mike spent the remainder of the evening at the owners table, and blew the entire $1,000 on the races. Our informant, a member of the Red Sox, was correct.

Doctor J was one of the very first guests we had. A fantastic salesman for his sport, even though we had never forgiven him for his altercation with Larry Bird. He laughed when we mentioned that.

John Hannah represented the Patriots, long before they became a power house organization. He was eveything you didn't expect from a football player. Articulate, well spoken, truly a professional in every way

The biggest crowd we ever attracted had little to do with sports. It was a guy named Lou Ferigno, perhaps much better known as "The Hulk." An overflow crowd was on hand that Sunday afternoon.

It was Post Time, and there was no "Hulk" in sight?  An all points bulletin was sent out, and yes, Lou was found, he was doing his running exercises around the local mall.

A half hour later, The Hulk was in the house, and doing his thing for the local fans. We had one very upset owner, seems that Joe thought the guy would show up in green?

We had hockey players, many, over that two year period. Jean Ratelle, Rick Middleton, Peter McNabb, Serge Savard, Terry O'Reilly, Johnny Bucyk, Greg Shepherd. The ones that seem to stand out seem to be Don Cherry and Gerry Cheevers. Colorful, very colorful.

Louis Tiant stopped by, M.L. Carr was there. Bob Stanley, a local native, was there. Franco Harris did his best to win over a few of those Patriots fans.  Franco was very popular with the local folks.

Ray Hamilton, Butch Hobson, Dave Cowens, the list goes on and on.  So many great sports stars. so many great memories.

I'll try to dredge up a few more memories for future editions. I hope you enjoyed this.