TAMPA, Fla. - Billy Crystal’s “mahvelous” time with the New York Yankees is over.
The team released the actor on his 60th birthday, one day after he struck out in his only at-bat against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The announcement came at the bottom of the second page in Friday’s game notes. Under transactions, it said “March 14 Released INF Billy Crystal.”
The team gave Crystal, a longtime Yankees’ fan, the opportunity to be the designated hitter and lead off in the first inning Thursday because of his ambassador-like role for baseball.
On Thursday, Crystal whacked himself in the helmet with his backswing, found his shoelaces and socks sabotaged and watched his team lose.
Oh, and the New York Yankees rookie struck out in his one and only at-bat as a big leaguer.
“It was the strangest, greatest moment of my life,” he said Thursday.
A day before his 60th birthday, the comedian, actor and Oscar host enjoyed every moment of the day he’d hoped for his entire life.
Talking ball with Yogi Berra and Reggie Jackson at the batting cage. Taking infield with Derek Jeter. Jogging in the outfield with Alex Rodriguez. Becoming a victim of clubhouse pranks. Getting a chance for the kind of hit he can’t find in Hollywood or on Broadway.
“I felt like a baseball player,” Crystal said. “I really hate to leave.”
Wearing No. 60 and cheered on by fellow funnyman Robin Williams, the lifelong Yankees fan was no joke at the plate against Pittsburgh.
Players on both teams perched on the top step of the dugout when Crystal came up. They almost saw something special as he took Jeter’s advice: “Swing early in the count.”
Batting leadoff as the Yankees’ designated hitter in the first inning, he took a late-but-solid cut at a fastball from Pirates lefty Paul Maholm. Crystal hit a chopper that got past first baseman Adam LaRoche, but came down 3 feet foul.
Crystal showed a patient, good eye and got ahead in the count 3-1. Maholm came back with a pair of cutters, and the right-handed Crystal swung over both 88 mph pitches.
“I was mad at myself for swinging at ’em,” he said.
Especially the last one.
“It was ball four,” said plate umpire Mark Carlson, who shook hands with Crystal before the at-bat.
Said Maholm: “I tried to lay it in there for him. I definitely didn’t try to blow it by him.”
The fans at Legends Field gave Crystal a standing ovation, and he raised his hand to acknowledge them. Rodriguez signaled Maholm, who tossed the ball toward the dugout for a souvenir.
Then it was time for a quick trip up to the suite level to talk to Yankees owner George Steinbrenner.
“I was worried he was going to trade me for Jerry Seinfeld,” Crystal said.
Hank Steinbrenner was pleased.
“As long as the fans enjoy it, it’s great. He has a real love for the Yankees. He’s going to help us in the opening of the new stadium and all that,” the general partner said.
Crystal’s debut — and finale — followed the likes of Garth Brooks and Tom Selleck, other celebrities who played in exhibition games.
Johnny Damon took over at DH after the first inning — he was poised to pinch run had Crystal gotten on base. When the game ended, a 5-3 Pirates win, Crystal said his career as a major leaguer was over.
“I can always say I led off for the New York Yankees. That’s an amazing feeling,” he said. “I don’t even know how to describe it. It was so intensely good.”
Surely better than getting a World Series ring as part-owner of the Arizona Diamondbacks when they beat his beloved Yankees in 2001.
Billy Crystal strikes out
March 14: The comedian, actor and Oscar presenter strikes out in his new career as a baseball player. NBC's Kristen Dahlgren reports.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
Taking a look at some of the greatest catchers off all time.