Ed Lucas

Ed Lucas

Metscellaneous: Blind Journalist Ed Lucas Still Going Strong

August 17, 2019 - 5:35 pm
Categories: 

By Joey Wahler

When Ron Swoboda joined the Mets in 1965, the outfielder took a liking to blind journalist, Ed Lucas, who covered the team, starting their kinship that endures to this day.

“He said, ‘Has anybody ever described this ballpark to you?’” recalled Lucas, now 80. “I said, ‘Only from what I hear on the radio.”

Swoboda walked Lucas around Shea’s field, describing the seats and other surroundings, letting him touch the outfield wall.

“We became mutual friends immediately,” Lucas said.

Ed Lucas
Ed Lucas

Things have come full circle, around the horn if you will, for Lucas, now helping those in need as others once aided him. Many around Yankee Stadium and Citifield know Lucas’ familiar face, work and inspirational story. The long-time baseball writer for the Jersey Journal has also covered the sport for various radio stations.

After his beloved New York "Giants win the pennant!" beating the Brooklyn Dodgers on Oct. 1, 1951, pitching in his own game later that day Lucas was struck by a liner between the eyes, blinding him at age 12.

Understandably depressed, Lucas was taken to American Shops of Newark, a clothing store that, believe it or not, employed several Yankees with offseason jobs to make ends meet in those days. That's how Lucas met Phil Rizzuto, whose advice became the credo by which the Jersey City native has since lived.

"Keep on keeping the spirits up," The Scooter urged.

Ed Lucas
Ed Lucas

Rizzuto brought young Lucas to Yankee Stadium, introducing him to Joe DiMaggio and other pinstripe legends. Exchanging phone numbers, Lucas became close friends with Rizzuto until The Scooter’s death. Indeed, Lucas has realized his dream of covering baseball despite being sightless. He has attended every Yankee home opener since 1964 and each Met opener since their first year in '62, except once when the teams both opened at home the same day.

At his peak, Lucas covered about 110 games annually between the Yankees and Mets. Despite his long-time association with Rizzuto and the Yanks, Lucas' Mets roots also run deep. Darryl Strawberry always made time for Lucas’ interviews, giving him auction items for his foundation. When Lucas was slowed last year before eventually having open heart surgery, he was suddenly helped walking up steps by another old pal, Doc Gooden.

David Wright also made sure Lucas got time with him amongst the media hordes, until spinal stenosis prematurely ended the Mets captain's career. Lucas' wife, Allison, is legally blind and suffers from the debilitating same back condition. Lucas underwent quadruple bypass surgery last Aug. 13, ironically the date Rizzuto died in 2007.

The health issues affecting Lucas and Allison now limit him to attending a few games weekly, but he remains a fixture in the Bronx and Flushing, dating back to Willie Mays’ and Bobby Bonds’ Giants days. While Bonds’ son, Barry, was smashing homerun records and shunning the media to avoid steroids questions, he'd still happily greet Lucas when San Francisco visited the Mets. Their relationship goes back to Bonds' youth when he traveled with his father, the Giants outfielder, who Lucas also knew.

“Barry would always talk to me,” Lucas said.

During one Shea appearance, the younger Bonds surprised Lucas.

“Suddenly I felt somebody put their hands under my arm and lift me up,” Lucas remembered, laughing. “And he went, ‘Boo! You know who it is?’ I said, ‘It only can be one guy, Barry.’ And he started to laugh. He saw a guy with a camera, he said, ‘Hey, how about taking a picture with us?’”

Bonds has grinned in photos with Lucas, who has joked to him, “You don’t take too many pictures smiling.”

At Masahiro Tanaka’s introductory press conference in 2014, Lucas astutely asked the pitcher if he’d be affected by baseballs used in America being smaller than those in Japan. He knew Richard Nixon after he was President, and Donald Trump before he took office, also meeting each ex-President George Bush and former President Bill Clinton.

In 2006, Lucas and Allison were the only couple ever married by home plate at Yankee Stadium, approved by the late team owner.

Ed Lucas
Ed Lucas

“Thanks to George Steinbrenner,” Lucas said. “He picked up the entire bill.”

2015 brought Lucas’ book, Seeing Home: The Ed Lucas Story. The Ed Lucas Foundation was launched in 1991, benefitting New Jersey's blind and visually impaired and disabled. Some proceeds go to such students at Lucas’ alma mater, Seton Hall University. That includes an annual fundraiser named for Rizzuto until his death, and then for Gene “Stick” Michael, who died in 2017.

The event became the David Cone Celebrity Charity Golf Classic two years ago, and happens this Mon. Aug. 19 at Brooklake Country Club in Florham Park, N.J.

"He was thrilled and honored that we would think of him and then want him,” Lucas said of Cone. Filling Scooter and Stick’s shoes, Cone told Lucas, “I hope I can do what they did.”

Ed Lucas
Ed Lucas

Players making first time appearances at this year’s foundation outing include Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez and Mike Pagliarullo. Information is at edlucasfoundation.org. Golf packages are sold out, but tickets are available for the evening’s cocktail party, auctions, awards, and entertainment by Bernie Williams and his band.

About a year after Lucas’ heart operation, Swoboda is now recovering following his own bypass procedure, the latest link between the pair. Covering the Mets during the 1986 World Series in Boston, Lucas was greeted by Swoboda, then working for a New Orleans TV station. Swoboda asked if anyone had ever described Fenway Park to him.

“No,” Lucas said, just as he’d answered Swoboda years earlier at Shea. Swoboda detailed it all, from left field’s Green Monster to the Pesky Pole in right.

So how long will Lucas continue his unlikely baseball journey?

“Till the day I die,” Lucas said. “It’s the thing that keeps me going. And I love it.”