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A Conversation With:

Broadcaster, Sportswriter Ed Lucas

By Kathi Wolfe

Many of us would be thrilled to be in the bleachers at a World Series game, let alone to hang out with Billy Joel or shake the president’s hand at the stadium. But this is nothing extraordinary for Ed Lucas, 76, an Emmy-winning sports reporter and broadcaster who’s been working since 1954.

Lucas, who is blind, set a record earlier this year when he, as a member of the press, attended his 60th opening home game at Yankee Stadium. Lucas’ column, “As I See It,” appears in newspapers, and his coverage of the New York Yankees has run regularly on the YES Network and other television and radio outlets.

Lucas, who was born with impaired vision, became completely blind when he was 12. On Oct. 3, 1951, at his home in Jersey City, N.J., he watched the historic third and deciding playoff game between the Brooklyn Dodgers and his favorite team, the New York Giants. The Giants’ Bobby Thomson, in the ninth inning, hit the winning home run, known as “The Shot Heard ’Round the World.” After the game, Lucas played baseball with his friends and lost his vision when a line drive hit him between his eyes.

He went to high school at the New York Institute for the Blind. In 1962, Lucas earned a degree in communications from Seton Hall University. His first radio show, “Around the Bases with Ed Lucas,” aired on Seton Hall’s radio station, WSOU.

He has two sons, Edward and Christopher, from his first marriage. Lucas’ first wife, whom he married in 1965, left him and their sons in 1972. Seven years later, she sued for custody of their children. After a tough struggle, Lucas was awarded custody of his boys in 1980. He and his second wife, Allison, live in central New Jersey.

He was inducted into the New Jersey Sports Writers Association Hall of Fame. His book, “Seeing Home: The Ed Lucas Story,” co-written by Lucas and his son Christopher, is just out from Gallery Books. (The company is the publishing imprint of Derek Jeter, the former Yankees shortstop.) A movie based on Lucas’ memoir is reportedly in the works.

Recently, Lucas chatted with Independence Today about topics ranging from what it was like to overcome prejudice to getting married at Yankee Stadium. Excerpts are as follows:

'Seeing Home' book cover /google images Q: It’s great to talk with you! When did you start reporting on baseball?

A: My mother wrote to people (in baseball). We went to (the late) Phil Rizzuto (the Yankees announcer at the time and a former shortstop for the club). He took me under his wing. My mother wrote to Leo Durocher, then manager of the New York Giants. I visited him (in) the clubhouse, and he brought all the players into his office for me to meet. When I went on to high school, I started a club called the Diamond Dusters because I found out that other blind people were interested in baseball, too. That’s how I got started.

Q: I’m in awe that you did interviews in the 1950s. Things were so hard for blind people then.

A: I got to know some of the Yankees: Phil Rizzuto. Mickey Mantle. I wrote to Jackie Robinson, who retired at the end of the 1956 season because he was traded to the New York Giants. He was vice president of Chock full o’Nuts. I wrote and asked if he’d visit the school and said I had a club called the Diamond Dusters. I had my own radio show at Seton Hall. After I graduated, they allowed me to continue it because I couldn’t get a job right away. “How could a blind person follow baseball?” That was what I was told by people. But I was determined. I studied insurance and went on from there.

Q: What do you say to people who insist that blind people can’t follow baseball?

A: I have guides take me to the games. I’d listen to the radio and get the play-by-play. Then I’d interview the players, either talking about something that happened in the game, or I’d learn something about them personally. Finally, I had a job in a couple of radio stations and some newspapers. I was told, “We don’t want this blind guy around here!” by some famous players I won’t name.

Collage of personalities Ed Lucas has met throughout the years (bottom)./Google ImagesQ: Did some reporters said nasty things to you?

A: Yes they did. They’d say, “What’s this guy doing here, taking up space in this press box when a sighted guy should be doing this?” I got upset and went to Phil Rizzuto. I said to him, “I don’t know if I can put up with the way they’re treating me!” He said to me, “Don’t listen to those naysayers! I was told I was too small to play baseball. I didn’t give up. And you don’t give up.”

Q: Why do so many people who are blind love baseball?

A: Baseball is an easier game to follow than football or hockey. Hockey is difficult for me to follow. But baseball I grew up with. I could visualize what’s going on. I think most blind people who are interested in sports can learn to follow baseball pretty easily.

Q: Do you think Jackie Robinson felt some empathy with you because of some of the racial discrimination that he encountered?

A: I saw Robinson play his first (professional) game ever -- in Jersey City! He played with the Montreal team. They came in and played the Jersey City Giants, and he hit a home run! (Years later,) I asked him if he’d be my guest at the Diamond Dusters at the New York Institute for the Blind. He came up and was great! He spent over an hour and a half answering questions and talking about the problems that he had growing up in baseball.

Q: Would you talk about your custody battle? You were one of the first parents with a disability to be granted custody of his or her children.

A: Yes. I was the first. My (ex) wife left me for about seven years. All of a sudden, I received a letter that my sister read to me saying that she was suing for custody. When we went into the courts, the judge said to me, “Either give your wife your two boys to have and raise, or I will take them and separate them in foster homes.” I didn’t want my boys to go into foster homes. I said I’d give them to my ex-wife.

The lawyer that I had -- he didn’t do a good job. I fired him. My friends helped me find a lawyer who was a custody specialist. He took the case. It went to the highest court in New Jersey, and I won custody of my boys! I won them back!

Q: That’s an incredible story. I loved it in the book -- the part where you wrote that you were worried about the legal bills, but that your co-workers and friends paid all of the legal fees!

A: Oh, yes! To this day, I don’t know who they all were! My lawyer said: “Don’t worry about it! All your friends -- from the Lions Club, the Yankees, all over -- took care of the bill.”

Q: Through your hard work, talent – and maybe because you’re blind --you’ve been able to meet a lot of famous people from Billy Joel to U.S. presidents. What’s that been like?

A: I was fortunate to meet great people! I always say that baseball took my sight and gave me my life. I got to meet celebrities and four presidents ... (Richard) Nixon loved baseball!

Q: What was it like when you and Allison, who is visually impaired, got married in 2006 at home plate at Yankee Stadium?

A: The Yankees and (the late) Mr. (George) Steinbrenner (the principal owner of the Yankees) have been wonderful to us! I made the request that we could get married at home plate of Yankee Stadium, and he granted it. The field looked as if it was opening day with the (foul) lines put down ... and the big scoreboard that said, “Congratulations, Allison and Ed, on your special day!” We went upstairs for a press conference where many of the historic Yankees, like Mickey Mantle, had held press conferences. That was touching! There were more press than there were guests -- 125 people!

Q: They’re working on a movie of your life. Who would you like to see play you?

A: I have no idea!

Q: You would just be happy if there’s a movie?

A: Right!

Q: You’re still reporting? A: Yes. I cover maybe a hundred games a year, between the Yankees and the Mets. I’m going to the All-Star Game in Cincinnati in July.

Q: Thanks so much for talking with me.

A: Thank you so much.

For information on the Edward Lucas Foundation, go to: www.edlucasfoundation.org


Kathi Wolfe, a writer and poet, is a frequent contributor to Independence Today. Her most recent poetry collection is “The Uppity Blind Girl Poems.”

 

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