Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Donald Babcock

I was getting ready to write up an interview I conducted with Everyday Scott Proctor in the Yankees’ Tampa weight room, when a particular line of questioning raised a few serious issues that needed further investigation. An offhand remark about an item found on the floor next to Carl Pavano’s duffle bag had me thinking, and a roller coaster ride of intrigue ensued. Is Carl Pavano really Carl Pavano?

As we sat on the weight benches amidst sweat soaked towels and Yankee-logoed athletic gear, Scott Proctor and I discussed a number of things related to the upcoming season. He worked a rather large hand grip device to the point that his tendons and hand muscles looked positively Hulkish. It was in the middle of the interview that he looked down at the neighboring bench and picked up what looked like a credit card or driver’s license from the floor just next to Carl Pavano’s bag. Upon closer examination it was a membership to a German nightclub called “Blitz” in the name of Dietmar Falsch. Proctor just put it back on the bench, and raised an eyebrow. He mentioned something about asking the clubhouse attendants later, but we quickly got back into the conversation about tearing phone books in the offseason, and truck pulls. I only got to thinking a few days later, as I transcribed the recording of our conversation, about the odd nightclub card next to Glass Carl’s bag.

I decided to do some checking. I “Googled” the nightclub “Blitz” and found that the popular nightspot was a downtown Munich establishment, famous for its seedy clientele. The name “Dietmar Falsch” didn’t turn up much, and I almost let it go but there was this sinking feeling that something wasn’t quite kosher in Tampa. I decided to make a return trip to poke around a bit and see if my instincts were onto something. No one around the Yankees organization knew anything about Falsch, and Carl Pavano was away getting treatment on his injured foot. I would have to wait to ask him directly about the odd card by his belongings. I sat in the stands, taking in the sun and the action on the field, and found myself repeating the name Dietmar Falsch aloud to myself as I daydreamed. An old man sitting next to me, asked what I had said, and I obliged with the name.

The man in the neighboring seat was a retired German teacher from Cincinnati, Ohio. He introduced himself as Schmidt, and sat crooked and grey in his Legend’s Field seat. He squinted in the sun and mentioned that he’d been coming to Yankees camp for 24 years, since retiring to Florida. He shook his head and glared at Johnny Damon. “None of these guys could hold Dimaggio’s jock”, he remarked, “Except that Jeter, kid. Maybe.”

I nodded politely, and he continued, “What was that name you said? Falsch?”

I confirmed that I’d been thinking about a German name and that I must have said it aloud. I apologized for interrupting his enjoyment of the practice, but he pressed. “Falsch? Falsch? That’s no name, son. That’s German for “false”. Sounds like somebody’s been pullin’ your leg.” He cackled and continued on about Yogi Berra and the Mick. I couldn’t stop thinking about the name. Why would anyone carry around a nightclub card to a suspicious Munich drinking hole with a patently obvious alias like “false”? Something was up.

The next day, I was waiting by the clubhouse entrance to confront Carl Pavano and ask a few questions about the card I’d seen. A few players filed in and said, “Good morning”. Miguel Cairo, Jason Giambi, Josh Phelps, Jeff Karstens, Jorge Posada. The next thing I knew, Pavano was approaching in a “Hard Rock CafĂ©: Munich” t-shirt and Ray Bans. My brain was on fire. The t-shirt and the ID card were too much of a coincidence, and my chance was about to present itself to dig deeper. As soon as he was close enough to hear me, I said, “Morning Carl. Who’s Dietmar Falsch?”

The look on his face was unmistakable. His eyes were wide as saucers, even behind the Ray Bans. He veered to the left and then the right, before speeding past me into the clubhouse. There was fear in Carl Pavano’s heart, but I still was no closer to finding out the truth. My quest became even more difficult five minutes later as the Tampa security patrol came by to escort me off the premises. It seems that Mr. Falsch had made up a story about physical contact and profanity that had me on the outs with the people at Legends Field. There was work to do though. I knew I was onto something and I wasn’t going to let some minor setbacks at the stadium get in my way.

I made a phone call to Club Blitz in Munich to ask about their famous guest. Fortunately, the voice on the other end of the phone was able to speak English and sounded surprisingly pleasant. The woman confirmed that I’d reached Blitz, but was guarded when I began to ask questions about the place. The type of clientele that come through don’t take kindly to outside attention and it’s the business of the management to keep private the goings on inside. Quickly the tone of the conversation turned from cordial and professional to guarded and almost hostile. I had the feeling that my line of questioning was about to be received with a fast hangup, when I decided to blurt out, “Tell me anything about Dietmar Falsch.” There was silence. I repeated my request. More silence. Suddenly, the reply came. “You’ve made a mistake.” And with that she hung up.

Dead end. I suppose I shouldn’t have expected much out of the phone call, but I did learn that I was again onto something. This seemed bigger than I had at first guessed. Pavano was into something very secret and very dangerous, perhaps. I needed a good night’s rest to put this puzzle together, and with that I went to bed.

It was 4am when my phone rang. I was deep in the middle of a dream about being stranded on a desert island with Halle Berry and a lasagna when my slumber was broken. Damn. I love that dream. I picked up and said hello in a raspy, early morning voice. The other end was silent. I again said, “Hello.”

“Find Donald Babcock. The only reason I’m telling you this is he broke my heart.”

The phone went dead, but I knew exactly who had been on the other end of the phone. It was the woman from Blitz. That was no longer important though. I had my lead. Where to begin? There had to be a million Donald Babcocks in the world. How would I find the right one, and what would I ask him when I did manage to get in contact with him?

I went back to my first step and “Googled” Donald Babcock. The first listing was at IMDB, for a one time writer of the Fox sitcom Herman’s Head. I knew that had to be wrong, but I had nothing to go by. It struck me that a good place to start would be in the news. I clicked “News” at Google, but nothing popped up. Only on pure intuition, I decided to go into the New York Times archives to search for Babcock around the time the Yankees signed Pavano. Maybe there was a connection that could explain the mysterious set of circumstances unfolding around me. Bingo.

Donald Babcock’s name appeared in a New York Times obituary on June 29th, 2005. That’s two days after Carl Pavano’s last start for the Yankees. It was a longshot, but it seemed like a good place to start. I went to the Times offices and talked with an anonymous source there. The person owed me a few favors and I managed to get an address for the person who submitted the obit for Babcock. It was one Dorothy Babcock of Newark, New Jersey. I was on my way to Brick City to have a conversation with Dot.

I arrived at the address provided by my source. It was a faded green row home with a front porch that had seen better days. The gates on the doors and windows seemed rusty and I began to feel as though I might be putting myself unnecessarily in harms way for this story. As I walked up the steps to the house a little old lady opened the door and squinted angrily at me. “Get the Hell out of here or I’ll call the cops”, she warned.

I stopped walking and simply said, “I’m sorry to bother you ma’am, but I wonder if you could tell me about Donald. I was a friend of his.”

The old woman softened and looked quite sad. I began to regret my little ruse, and thought briefly about coming clean with her. That would have been a mistake, for what I learned at her home that afternoon brought the whole story together. Dorothy Babcock was a very sweet and generous woman. She offered me tea and asked me to sit on her couch. I took her up on her offer and enjoyed a nice hot cup of chamomile, seated on her plastic covered Davenport. She told a few stories about Donald Babcock, and the passing of his parents at a tragically young age. She talked of raising the boy on her own, and putting him through college. He was a little used long reliever at Mt. Hardy Junior College in Suffolk. I nodded and graciously accepted a second cup of tea as she told me the gruesome details of his fatal car accident. It seems that Donald had gone off a bridge one night into the river, and his car had been dredged up a week later. His body was never recovered. This was suspicious in and of itself, and I nearly leapt out of my seat when she showed me the picture of Donald, taken just days before his own untimely death.

As you can see, there was no mistaking what had happened. Somehow, Donald Babcock had acquired the identity of Carl Pavano and replaced him on the Yankees. It explained a lot about the lack of interest in pitching at the Major League level. If he could only hold out over the course of his contract with the Yankees, he could cash in the big bucks and live the fast life for a while. All he had to do was find a way to avoid exposing himself as a fraud. That’s why he was perpetually injured and slow to rehab. If only I could prove this theory conclusively.

As Dotty Babcock wrapped up her story about poor Donald, I asked her for a photo of the deceased to treasure his memory. She was kind enough to provide me with the portrait that had blown open the situation in the first place, and I raced back to Tampa to confront the imposter in pinstripes. Security had long since forgotten about my little run in with “Carl” and I managed to get access to the post-practice clubhouse for some interviews. I started slowly, by blending in with the crowd. I listened to Peter Abraham talk to Mike Mussina about working in the curveball more as he warmed up. I listened to a few questions for Kei Igawa about hot dogs and American animation. Johnny Damon played the air guitar and fell into a bewildered Chien Min Wang’s locker. Then, it was Pavano’s turn. After some routine questions about his condition and the progress on his foot rehab, I dove in.

“Carl, can you explain this photo?” I asked, holding out the striking image of Donald Babcock.

Pavano became enraged and threw a water bottle at me. He jumped from his stool and began to throw punches, but the press corps was in his way. A number of his teammates came over to the fracas to see what was happening, and the security staff flew in to break up the commotion. I shouted over the din, “I talked with Dorothy. I talked with your grandmother. You broke her heart Donald. Tell the truth!!!”

Pavano broke from his rage and said, “Granny? Leave Granny alone. She’s suffered enough.” The other writers were stunned. No one knew what was going on, and cameras flashed pictures of the now despondent face of Donald Babcock, aka Carl Pavano. The broken man slumped to the clubhouse floor and began to weep. I’m not sure when this story will appear in the tabloids, and I don’t know where they will eventually find the real Carl Pavano, but it will come out. I only hope that the real Carl Pavano will be able to contribute to the team in 2007. If he comes back, we could be tough. Certainly, tougher than we would have been with an imposter like Donald Babcock on the 40 man roster. Stay tuned.

5 comments:

singlessss said...

err... ah... very interesting story Mike. I do however, need a few qualifyers.

1) Have you been experiencing any 'flashbacks' from former drug usage?
2) Was the last Sushi you ate a little greenish?
3) Have you gotten any sleep at all since the baby was born?
4) Has Yankee news been THAT slow the last 2 months (I think so)?

LathamJoe said...

That storyh is total bullsh_t, Mike.
Everyone from New Jersey knows that the REAL Donald Babcock was never prone to injuries of the hip, elbow, shoulder, buttocks and feet!
This guy is the authentic Glass Carl...The Rejah of Rehab..The Ayatollah of Injury!

Mike Plugh said...

I'll be back to the real stuff soon. My parents have been in Japan to see their grandson for 10 days and I've had little time to dive into the mix of ST. They leave today....baseball begins now!

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