Out Of Leftfield

October 26, 1998

Ricky Ledee (above) is on the New York Yankees' roster only
because Darryl Strawberry is not. Ledee doesn't forget that.
He's 24 years old, and he's had 79 at bats in the majors. He
started the first two games of the World Series in leftfield and
batted ninth, a sweet-swinging lefthanded hitter facing a pair
of righties. With Chuck Knoblauch in the on-deck circle, Ledee
saw hittable pitches, so he hit them, often and late in the
count, like a seasoned big leaguer. In the two games at Yankee
Stadium, he reached base seven times in eight plate appearances,
going 4 for 6 and driving in three runs.

During the American League Championship Series against the
Cleveland Indians, a foursome of New York leftfielders--Chad
Curtis, Shane Spencer, Tim Raines and Ledee--went 1 for 23. Joe
Torre played Ledee in the World Series opener for, the manager
said, his glove. Torre should know better than to admit such
things.

"Before my first at bat in Game 1, I said to myself, This is the
kind of situation where any manager would like to have
Strawberry up," Ledee says. "He's not able to have the chance,
so...." The kid's too humble to finish the sentence, but you
know where he's headed: ...so I'm going to grab the chance for
myself.

Ledee dislikes attention, and because spending money is an
excellent way to attract attention, he doesn't. Riding to work
the other day on the subway, the ballplayer looked like just any
other commuter: brown Florsheim shoes, off-the-rack suit
(greenish, made in China). He read the ads in Spanish that line
the city's subway cars. The Bronx, especially in the vicinity of
the stadium, is teeming with Puerto Ricans, but they haven't
realized yet that the earnest young man who occasionally bounds
down 161st Street with his head down is a rising hero on their
native island.

In his hometown, Salinas, Ledee is well known for being a
ballplayer, but a couple of other guys, Roberto and Sandy Alomar
Jr., are far better known. Their father, Sandy Sr., started
showing Ledee the fine points of the game when the kid was nine.
He learned fast.

Three years later Ledee's father fell asleep at the wheel while
driving one night. He was killed, and 12-year-old Ricky was
suddenly the man of the house. He had a younger brother and a
pregnant mother. Money was scarce, but the family found solace
in the church. At 16 Ricky signed with the Yankees, and he's
been supporting his family as a professional baseball player
ever since. He makes the sign of the cross with his bat every
time he steps to the plate.

"My father told me, 'I'd like you to play in the big leagues
someday,'" Ledee said after Sunday's game. "He never said the
World Series." Ledee paused to think about something. Who knows
what. "I have to control my emotions," he said.

The Boss made his way through his clubhouse, hustling his
players out to the bus and to the airport for the flight to San
Diego. "There's George," the rookie with the .667 World Series
batting average said. He was practically whispering. "I have to
go." As if he hadn't already arrived.

--Michael Bamberger

COLOR PHOTO: WALTER IOOSS JR [Ricky Ledee sliding headfirst to base]

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)