Al Downing played with and against some of the greatest baseball players of all time.
While with the Yankees in the 60s he played with Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra and the 1964 most valuable player Elston Howard. In 1969 he played with a chubby catcher who would go on to have a hall of fame type career. His name was Thurman Munson. Downing said that Munson was like no other Yankee that he had played with because even though he was a rookie, you would of thought that he had been there for ten years.
Al would then move on to the National League and play for the Dodgers. Al would go on to all star status after winning 20 games in 1972. In the National League Al played against players the likes of Roberto Clemente, Willie Mays , Willie Stargell and of course Hank Aaron.
In 1974 Aaron was chasing Babe Ruth’s Homerun record. Dodgers manager Walter Alston went up to Downing on a Friday night and told him that he needed him to pitch against the Braves that Monday because as a seasoned pro Al would be able to handle pitching to Aaron during a game of that magnitude rather than one of his younger pitchers. Al told Alston that it would not be a problem.
It seemed as if the whole world was watching and naturally the Atlanta Fulton County Stadium was packed. Someone told Al that Hank Aaron had said that he intended on passing Babe Ruth that night with his 715th Homer because he just wanted to get it over with. Al was asked how was he going to go after Aaron and Al said Mano a Mano. I’m going to go after him with my best and knowing Henry, he is going to come after me with his best.
The game started and Downing walked Aaron the first time up. The second time up Downing threw a fastball away for a ball then Al came back with another fastball and Henry Aaron with those incredible wrist of his jumped all over it, sending it to the Braves bullpen in left center field and into the glove of relief pitcher Tom House who when the celebration started would deliver the baseball to the new Homerun king Hank Aaron.
The next day Aaron and Downing got together and talked about the historic night. Al told Aaron that he gave it everything he had. They would tell each other that they were proud of the others accomplishments in the wonderful game of baseball. This week we lost Henry Louis Hank Aaron and I want to say that the times that I was around this fine gentleman, he showed nothing but class. At the same time I must add that Al Downing has truly been one of the finest gentlemen ever to wear a Yankee uniform or for that matter, any major league uniform.
Thank God for baseball because this great game opened the door for the world to get to know the likes of Babe Ruth Jackie Robinson Roberto Clemente Willie Mays and of course Al Downing and the incomparable Hank Aaron!
Today I got to talk with sportscaster and radio disc jockey legend Ricky Ricardo about his interview with Gio Urshela, who has been chosen to receive a humanitarian award during the Thurman Munson award ceremony.
Ricky was given the assignment of doing the virtual thing that all these award ceremonies are doing. It also gave me a chance to talk to him about growing up a true Yankee fan. “Naturally, my favorite player was Thurman Munson,” Ricky said “so getting this assignment is a thrill. To this day I remember sitting at my aunt’s house in New Jersey when the news came in that the Yankee captain had been killed in an airplane crash. To this day I still have not forgotten my emotions and just how much it hurt. My feelings were such that my uncle actually took me to Teterboro airport, which is the airport that Thurman used to fly out of, and tried to explain what happened.” I felt Ricky’s sadness as he tried to take me back to one of the Yankees darkest moments. I felt my eyes tear up and decided to talk about Gio.
Ricky at that moment lit up and said that after talking to Gio, that he truly understood why he was chosen to receive this award. Gio explained the importance of giving back. He also said that he truly enjoys sharing moments with young people so that he can try to steer them in the right direction. Gio has visited schools and hospitals and is currently involved in a program with a company called H2One, which is a hand sanitizer company. Through this company Gio has delivered thousands of bottles to schools and youth organizations in the Bronx and with his teammate, Gleyber Torres, has delivered a large number of H2One sanitizers to Venezuela and Columbia which is where Gio is from.
Gio suffered from Covid after the season, so he knows first hand the true dangers of this virus and he wants to do all he can. It’s no surprise that Gleyber has done this also. Last year Gleyber was a Thurman Munson award recipient , I guess it’s the Yankee way.
Ricky Ricardo said that after you speak to Gio Urshela, you know right away that Thurman Munson would’ve really loved this kid. Just like Munson, Urshela likes to do things in a very quiet and dignified way. Gio knows that he is blessed and and he loves to pass that blessing to thy fellow man. If Gio, like Gleyber, can’t get to an event for kids, than, like Ricky Ricardo, they do the virtual thing too.
Thanks Ricky for always representing our Latin athletes in such a wonderful and dignified way and my sincere congratulations to Gio Urshela for winning such a wonderful award…. The Thurman Munson Award… Ricky Ricardo is right… Thurman Munson would’ve loved you.
In the immortal words of the great Frank Sinatra… Here’s to the winners lift up your glasses… Here’s to the glory still to be! We as people must stand together to make 2021 a better year. A year to start our growth as a nation all over again and maintain who we are… The greatest country in the world!
We must ask the best of ourselves and give much more. Here’s to the heroes, those who move mountains, here’s to the miracles, they make us see… Here’s to all the brothers, here’s to all the people, here’s to the winners that in 2021 all of us must be!! Or else all the people that we loved and lost in 2020 would have died in vain! We are all winners because at the end of the day we are all good people… I honestly do believe that.
Happy New Year! PS we must try to surround ourselves around good people that are willing to sacrifice of themselves in order to make our world good again. You know who the good are and you know who the bad are. At the end of the day, in Gods eyes we need to do the right thing. Not always easy but it’s a must!