Freddy “Freddy Sez” Schulman, my favorite octogenarian Yankee fan, is in the NY Times today, which is great timing considering I went to the Yankee game last week and talked all about Freddy to my co-worker Tony, who was not familiar with him. To me, seeing Freddy is a rite of Spring. When I hear the “tap tap tap” of metal on metal when someone bangs a spoon on his pot either when I’m at the Stadium, I’m listening to the game over the radio or watching it on TV, I know that Freddy is not only at the game but that all is right with the world.
As my first game was in 1986 and his was 1988, I feel like he has always been there. My favorite Freddy story is how after the Yanks won the Subway Series in 2000, they brought the trophy to his hospital bed since he was too ill to attend the victory parade. Freddy’s down home charm allows the Yankees to remain a hometown team, even with a payroll that seems to be higher than a small nation’s GDP.
I sincerely hope that he lives forever, though at the age of 80, I know that he may not carrying his pot around the stadium for that much longer but one can hope for another 20 – 30 years, right? After the jump, feel free to read all about him. I found it very interesting, especially since I believe some of the urban legends about him which I now know aren’t true. The next time you hear a “tap tap tap” while watching a NYY game, you’ll know what I’m talking about…
Stirring Enthusiasm, With Élan and a Pan
By MANNY FERNANDEZ
Freddy Schuman has attended about 1,300 New York Yankees games. But he has seen very little of them. He spends most of his time at Yankee Stadium with his back to the diamond, his attention focused on the crowd. He approaches a fan, offers a spoon, holds up a frying pan and waits for the noise.
The banging creates music only a Yankee fan could love: an off-key, metal-to-metal clanging that sounds less like a rallying cry and more like a boxing-ring bell with a crack in it.
Some fans do not love the sound at all, and they plug their ears with their fingers when Mr. Schuman walks by. Others leave their seats in the middle of the game to ask Mr. Schuman, 80, for the spoon, which he bought for a quarter at a Salvation Army thrift shop.
These fans bang Mr. Schuman’s pan because their fathers banged Mr. Schuman’s pan, because they believe that a couple of smacks to a piece of kitchenware with a green four-leaf clover painted on it will bring the Yankees a win, or because they have had too much to drink and want to hit something.
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has whacked the pan. So has the Yankees’ principal owner, George Steinbrenner. Yogi Berra hit it, and Hideki Matsui did, too. Bruce Egloff, 57, a doorman in Manhattan who greeted Mr. Schuman at a recent Yankee game, has struck it, as has Joe Cohen, 31, a police officer in New Jersey who has been going to games since he was 5. “You come to Yankee Stadium and there’s certain staples that you expect,” Mr. Cohen said. “Great hot dogs and Freddy. Where else is he going to go where 50,000 people know his name?”
Mr. Schuman, his spoon and his pan have become a quirky, treasured Yankee tradition, which he started 18 years ago when the team was in a slump and he wanted to inspire the fans.
He is a real-life mascot with one eye, one tooth and a raspy voice, the unpolished and unlikely cheerleader of a baseball empire with a nearly $200 million payroll.
He lost his teeth because he used to own a candy shop. He lost his right eye in a stickball game at East 178th Street and Clinton Avenue in the Bronx, where he was raised. He was 9, and sitting too close to the batter. He lost the candy shop, and a bicycle store, and a trucking business, and the nine-unit apartment building he used to own in the Bronx. He was even homeless for a time.
He had an uncle who used to celebrate the Fourth of July by riding a horse through Accord, N.Y., hollering and holding a broomstick he set on fire. Mr. Schuman feels that what his uncle did in Accord and what he does at Yankee Stadium are not so different.
He believes in miracles: A young man ran off with his pan one September day in 1996, when the Yankees were playing the Milwaukee Brewers, but a week later someone mailed it to The Daily News with no note and a fictitious return address. That pan is now at the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center at Montclair State University in Little Falls, N.J.
Mr. Schuman and his pan — he has about eight of them — have been regulars at Yankee Stadium since 1988. He estimated that he has missed no more than 15 of the 81 home games each season, and some years as few as 2. Sometimes he missed a game because he was sick. Sometimes he was just tired.
“This is what keeps me going,” he said of the games. “This is why I’m doing it. Probably if I stopped, I’d probably be buried already.”
Mr. Schuman has given up more than his time for the Yankees. He has lost much of his hearing, he said. For holding onto a pan as dozens of fans before, during and after a game have struck it hard with a spoon two, three or four times, he has earned a pair of hearing aids, but he never wears them. He has no regrets. “It was a good cause,” he said.
Not given to idle boasting, he calls himself the Yankees’ No. 1 fan, but only because he feels that he has proof: A letter dated Nov. 4, 1993, from Richard M. Kraft Jr., then the team’s vice president for community relations, in which Mr. Kraft called him exactly that, ending the sentence with three exclamation points.
Over the years, Mr. Schuman has become an unofficial Yankee ambassador, taking his pan to New Year’s Eve celebrations at Times Square, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, the Puerto Rican Day Parade and, in February 2005, the bar mitzvah of Josh Housman, whose father, Mark, a longtime Yankee fan, hired him to provide entertainment.
Many fans do not know Mr. Schuman’s last name. They know him simply as Freddy “Sez.” During a game, he walks to every corner of the stadium holding a two-sided sign at the top of which he has scrawled: “Freddy ‘Sez,’ ” followed by what he has to say for that particular game. Written in a curt, often-puzzling manner, like a Bronx haiku, the theme can be boiled down to two words: Go Yankees. One read: “Freddy ‘Sez’: Yanks quit? Hell no!!! Fight on!!!” The posterboard signs are stapled to the top of a piece of scrap wood, and below the signs he has bolted one of his welted, handleless pans, the bottom facing out.
Mr. Schuman, who lives with his fiancée and companion of 32 years, an accountant named Suzie Zakoian, on the Upper West Side, also gives away a newsletter to fans. Issues have featured his poetry (“I’m a believer, I got fever, pennant fever”), game analysis (“Can’t we bunt? Are home runs the only way Yankees know how to play?”), public service notices (“If you’re cooking, don’t wear loose clothing near open flames or you may be cooking yourself!”) and Ms. Zakoian’s recipe for leg of lamb stew (“Add one can beef broth, chop up some parsley, sprinkle over meat”). Last year, he published a book, a collection of five years’ worth of newsletters, that he sells for $25.
Mr. Schuman has taken his place in the history of New York’s madcap baseball fans. The Brooklyn Dodgers had Hilda Chester and her cowbell in the stands at Ebbets Field from the late 1930’s to the 1950’s. They also had Louis Soriano and his Sym-Phony band of out-of-tune musicians serenading the fans, players and umpires, to whom they dedicated “Three Blind Mice.” Ms. Chester was so revered that her cowbell is at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y. One of Mr. Schuman’s frying pans is there, too.
To many, Mr. Schuman has attained an almost mythic status. Some swear he has been going to games since the days of Joe DiMaggio. Others mistakenly believe he has never missed a home game. Some think he is Irish, because of the clover on his pans. (He is Jewish.) People bring him over to meet their grandchildren. They pose for photos with him, hand him dollar bills, call out his name in the stadium hallways. He never needs a ticket to see a game: he is let in free.
Chuck Frantz, the president of the Lehigh Valley Yankee Fan Club, in Pennsylvania, gave a party for Mr. Schuman’s 80th birthday, paid for the printing of Freddy “Sez” baseball cards and donated a copy of Mr. Schuman’s book to his local library (“The First Five Years,” NF 796.357, Northampton Area Public Library, Northampton, Pa.).
“He’s an embodiment of the die-hard Yankee fan,” said former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani. “If Freddy isn’t there with his pan, it doesn’t feel right. It feels like there’s something missing.”
Mr. Giuliani said he believes, as many Yankee faithful do, that Mr. Schuman brings the team good luck. Mr. Schuman did not quite comprehend the extent of this belief, until the morning of Nov. 4, 2001, when he was asked to rush out of his apartment and board a plane bound for Phoenix also carrying, among others, Mayor Giuliani and Mitchell Modell, the chief executive of Modell’s Sporting Goods.
Mr. Schuman was urgently needed at Game 7 of the World Series. The Yankees were playing the Arizona Diamondbacks, and they had lost Game 6. “We all felt we needed to bring our lucky charm,” Mr. Modell said.
Mr. Schuman banged his pan in Phoenix, but the Yankees ultimately lost, 3-2. “Mayor Giuliani took it good, but not me,” he said.
He added, “I did my best.”