catching up

Catching Up With David Wells

New York Yankee pitcher David Wells pumps his fist in game one of the American League Championship Series against the Cleveland Indians 06 October at Yankee Stadium in New York.
David Wells, in 1998.

Tomorrow marks 25 years since David Wells made his big-league debut as a member of the Toronto Blue Jays. (A bit of trivia: The result of that game — a Yankees victory in which Ron Guidry turned in a vintage performance — led the first-ever WFAN news update the following day.) Wells had two stints with the Yankees — he pitched here in 1997 and 1998, then again in 2002 and 2003 — and his most memorable individual achievement in pinstripes occurred when he threw a perfect game against the Minnesota Twins on May 17, 1998. Wells, who is promoting special New Era caps that will be worn by Yankees alumni at Old-Timers’ Day this Sunday, spoke with The Sports Section about missing the festivities this year, his favorite piece of memorabilia, and whether or not he really rides motorcycles with David Cone.

So Old-Timers’ Day is Sunday, but you’ll be working the All-Star selection show for TBS that day. Is that a bummer that the schedule works out like that?
Yeah, it’s always a bummer. I love Old-Timers’ Day. They meant a lot to me when I played because, you know, I’m a historian of the game. I love the throwbacks, the old stories from the guys. I remember sitting in between Moose Scowron and the boys, and Whitey Ford, and just listening to their stories and cutting up. It’s no different than what we did, but their stories are a little bit cooler. Hank Bauer, he was one of my favorites. He would be going back and forth and doing this and that. To me it was a blast. To miss it is a bummer.

Were there other players you looked forward to seeing when you were still with the Yankees?
Yeah, just playing on all the teams that I’ve played on, and you see an Old-Timers’ game going on … I remember in Minnesota, I got to meet — I don’t know why he was there, but — Warren Spahn. He was in the dugout and I went over and got a couple autographs from him and stuff like that. You see Boog Powell and all those other ones. No matter where an Old-Timers’ game was … it didn’t have to be Yankees. It was just really cool to see these guys come out and partake. I remember with the Yankees, Joe DiMaggio would come out. That was cool. To me, that’s what it’s all about.

Do the old-timers just go around getting each other’s signatures in the clubhouse before the game?
Well a lot of guys do it for certain charities, stuff like that. So that’s why now there’s so many charitable events and a lot of people have their own foundations and stuff like that. So you know, I think that they’re doing it both ways now. Some organizations, they don’t like it. They don’t want autographs exchanged and stuff like that. I think that’s petty stuff right there. Let the guys do what they want for the two hours that they’re hanging out. Let them play their game and move on.

Did that ever stop you? The fact that teams might not like guys getting autographs?
I don’t care. I love giving the autographs out. It doesn’t bother me one bit, and I like getting them. So if I want one I’m gonna ask. I will go against the grain. If they say don’t do it, I’m going to anyway. We’re not a bunch of little kids here. We’re grown-ups. Worst thing they can say is no. If they say no, you call them an asshole and move on. [Laughs.]

Do you have a favorite thing that you got signed either as a player or when you went back as an old-timer yourself?
I’ve got so many things that I’ve gotten signed and all that, but my favorite piece was just a little clipping in 1987 when I towed the mound in Exhibition Stadium against my idol Ron Guidry. And it was just a little piece of paper. I look at it and just smile from ear to ear because it’s like my favorite piece of memorabilia, to be honest with you.

Speaking of memorabilia, you famously wore a Babe Ruth hat during a game. You sold the hat recently, but did you keep wearing it after taking the mound that day or did you sort of put it away?
I wore it. I put it on from time to time just to put it on. I remember putting on that hat and it was really big, and then fifteen years later it fit perfect. I must have grown a little bit or the hat shrunk. I don’t know. The hat shrunk to be honest with you.

Is it strange, as someone who’s thrown a perfect game, to see so many perfect games in such a short period of time the past couple of years?
It’s weird how these things happen. You don’t know why it is or what it is. It’s just something that — I guess the even playing field now has given the pitchers a little bit more of an advantage, but who knows? It’s just tough to tell. I couldn’t put my finger on it. There’s no way.

So I was talking to David Cone about motorcycles last year, and he told me that he had gone out to visit you in California, and you two had gone out riding. I would love to hear some stories about that.
His ass ain’t getting on no bike. I’ll tell you that right now. We went golfing a lot but I don’t think Dave is motorcycle-worthy. I’ll try to get him. We’ll give him a couple crash courses and get him out there.

So he’s never even ridden on your bike with you?
No. I mean, he went out there. He sat on my bike. And you know, it’s a powerful bike. I told him, if you’re worthy, go ahead and do it, because I know he can pay for it if he crashes it. [Laughs.]

Catching Up With David Wells