Next up for you within Hideous Baseball Week–we have a story for you. And it goes a little something like this.
It was the summer of 2000. The end of June. I was down in Florida staying at my grandparents house for a week-long camp for upcoming college prospects at Stetson University working out with some really good baseball players. I would spend my days trying to impress Stetson’s head coach Pete Dunn. And my nights watching my grandparents snore to old episodes of Matlock and Murder She Wrote.
The only way to get scores back then was to watch for the bottom line on CNN. And you only got scores (someone tell me they remember!) there was no stats, just a quick score of the MLB games. ESPN didn’t even have a bottom line. The Reds were battling it out with the Cardinals in a four game series. They split and they had to have a sweep. It effectively ended the 2000 season. But something much bigger in the baseball world and in our lives would go down that week. June 30th, 2000 to be exact.
I was a year younger then many of the guys I grew up playing with. One of my closest teammates and friends was the guy who grew up next door to me, Justin. Justin loved David Justice from the time he was an Atlanta Brave. In the back yard, I was always Ken Griffey Jr. and he was always David Justice. When Justice was traded to the Indians it became like a magical conundrum for Justin. He had died and gone to baseball fan Heaven.
I enjoyed watching Manny Ramirez hit. And those late 90’s Indians teams were on every night in our neck of the woods. So Justin would come over and we would watch David Justice and Manny Ramirez fight crime back to back. This went on for several years. It seemed in fact, like we would be young forever and Manny and Justice would retire as Indians with several World Series trophies in their wake and the world would end up just perfect–us telling our kids that our modern day Mantle & DiMaggio worked so perfectly for their old dad’s.
So often in sports things don’t work out how we envision. In fact, as I get older I realize it’s very rarely. As you now know, this was one of those incidents.
Back to the point at hand. The older fellas were playing American Legion baseball. I was a year from reaching that point. And on June 30th, 2000; they were at a tournament somewhere far from where we grew up and I got a call on my cell phone that my buddy Justin was having a rough day. And it was about to turn into a rough night.
We were still young guys. And when we experimented with alcohol and involved it in our lives back in those days, shit happened. The games for the day had ended and it was around dinner time. They told me that my boy Justin was a wreck, and that’s how I found out that the Yankees had swifted the Indians for David Justice. In return the Indians got Ricardo Alberto Ledee.
I still don’t know what they saw in him. David Justice was a phenomenal player most of the time for the Cleveland Indians. And Ricky Ledee was younger, but really didn’t show a ton of promise. And back then we didn’t know who the Hell he was. So the solution was drinking, a lot of drinking. Especially for my buddy.
He grabbed the phone away from one of them and asked how my workout for Stetson was going. I wanted to know how he was holding up. He told me that they kept calling him ‘Ricky’ and it was pissing him off. He just couldn’t believe the rotten Yankees had taken away his guy to uncharted waters. To a team that he definitely couldn’t pull for. They had stripped him of his right to be a David Justice fan at all. Had Justice went to the Giants, the Dodgers, the Cardinals or even the Pirates; it would still be feasible. Justice was now a Yankee. And Justin knew that his time as a Dave Justice fan was now just reduced to memories.
And it was all for a guy who was hitting .241 at the time of the deal. Back then, Jake Westbrook was the throw-in. And Westbrook got a lot of hitters out for the Indians and is still a capable big league pitcher to this day. But that didn’t matter on that night.
As the story goes, the boys got into some bars that night somehow. At the bar there would be whiskey, and more taunting of my friend by calling him Ricky Ledee. He asked them to stop. They did not. The fun ribbing ended in my friend taking a pizza box back at the team hotel and throwing it at his teammates and crashing into a picture hanging on the wall and a lamp in the room, destroying both. After that, he apparently left the room crying and did not return until the sun came up.
To this day, Justin doesn’t know where he went. All he knows was that was the night that the Indians gave his hero Dave Justice away for this: