In New York City, the global Mecca for business, entertainment, art and fashion, a man became famous -- and beloved -- for banging a frying pan with a spoon. Freddy "Sez" Schuman was a welcome reminder that, at heart, the big city is just a small town. And in the wake of his passing on Sunday at age 85, a community mourns one of its own.
Of course, banging a frying pan with a spoon doesn't really describe Freddy's art. Freddy was, like many New Yorkers, a Yankees fan. It was the way he expressed his fandom that was unique. For more than two decades, Freddy would show up to damn near every Yankees home game, carrying a hand-lettered sign, done in colorful magic marker, a spoon, and a frying pan (yes, in the pre-9/11 days, you could bring a frying pan into Yankee Stadium). The sign was different each game, reflecting the Yanks' current status ("Freddy 'Sez' Confidence Will Make The Slump Go Away!!" "Freddy 'Sez' Yankees Are Hot, Like A Blast Furnace!"). On the frying pan was drawn a lucky four-leaf clover.
For more than twenty seasons, Freddy "Sez," always dressed in a Yankees jacket and baseball cap, would wander the aisles and corridors of Yankee Stadium, inviting anyone and everyone to bang on the frying pan with his spoon and bring the Yankees luck. And if the last 16 years or so are any indication, it worked.
"Clank! Clank! Clank-clank-clank!" The sound of spoon striking pan, several dozen times a game at minimum, became one of the old familiar sounds of the Stadium, along with the Bleacher Creatures chanting roll call at the beginning of each game ("A-Rod!" [clap-clap] A-Rod!" [clap-clap]) or Bob Sheppard, first live and then on tape, announcing "Numbah Two, Derek Jee-tuh" at bat. It became a rite of passage for Yankee fans to bang the pan and pay their respects to Freddy.
I'd waited years to bump into Freddy, and I finally got my shot during an otherwise unmemorable game about three or four years ago. I was on my way to get a hot dog when I turned a corner and there he was. The first thing I noticed was that he was pretty well blind -- I believe he only had one working eye to begin with, and it didn't work very well. I was amazed that he was able to get around the vertigo-inducing upper reaches of the old Stadium without taking a tumble or two.
Our meeting was not one for the ages. It went something like this:
Me: Freddy, it's a pleasure to finally meet you. I've been waiting years for this.
Freddy: Well, thank you. It's nice to meet you too.
Me: Can I... bang the pan?
Freddy: Of course, go ahead.
[Clank! Clank! Clank-clank-clank!]
Me: Wow, that was so cool! Thanks a lot.
Freddy: Here, take a newsletter.
Freddy published (well, Xeroxed and handed out) a newsletter several times a year, containing paeans to the Yankees, poems, philosophy, and even, if I remember correctly, a recipe or two. I still have a couple of them somewhere.
Freddy lived in my neighborhood on the Upper West Side, so every now and then I'd see him as a "civilian" during the off-season. It was always a little weird to see him without the sign and frying pan, but I suppose it would have been more disturbing if he carried them with him when he wasn't on his way to or from the Stadium.
He seemed pretty ancient even when he first attained a measure of celebrity in the early 1990s, and he never looked particularly healthy, but his loss still came as a shock. To die during the playoffs, with the Yankees about to face Texas ace Cliff Lee, no less? It's such an un-Freddy-like thing to do.
The Yankees may be the corporate colossus that bestrides the baseball world, but they're also still the hometown team. And before Game 3 of the ALCS, the organization had a moment of silence for Freddy "Sez" Schuman. His jacket, cap and frying pan lay in repose, as it were, inside Gate 4 of Yankee Stadium. It was a beautiful tribute. But I wish they could have scrounged up 50,000 four leaf clover-festooned frying pans on short notice instead. The din would have been loud enough for Freddy to hear, in the stadium in the sky where he was doubtlessly checking out the action.
Clank! Clank! Clank-clank-clank!
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