Las Vegas is a town that has never been known for the lack of self promotion on the part of its performers, well, by even more than the performers. In fact, it’s a rare one indeed that fails to take advantage of an opportunity for such.
That’s not a knock, just the lead into a story about Vegas humility; a somewhat rare commodity in the Entertainment, Sports, Gaming and Restaurant Capital of the World. Oh, and the Promotion Capital of the World.
This story is about a Las Vegas performer that could’ve gotten himself a lot of attention from his relationship with a world-renowned athlete this year. Instead, he chose to quietly enjoy and respect their brief but memorable friendship.
Three years ago, as most sports fans know, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa rocked the sports world when they went on a chase to break former New York Yankee Roger Maris’s single-season home run mark. McGwire eventually broke baseball’s most coveted record, though it’s since been topped by Barry Bonds.
Last year, Billy Crystal produced an HBO movie, titled “ *61,” based on the chase that took place back in 1961 between Mickey Mantle and Maris to break Babe Ruth’s record of 60 home runs in a season. (A lot of what was contained in Crystal’s movie, and more, can be found in a documentary made in the mid-80s called “Pinstripe Power.”)
This year, just prior to the film’s release, TV, radio, newspapers and magazines were chock full of stories previewing Crystal’s “ *61.” Stories relating to Maris and Mantle were everywhere. The media was scrambling for Maris and/or Mantle anecdotes as the movie’s showing came and went. Since both were deceased, confirmable stories were hard to come by. The hoopla continued as the film went into video rental release at the end of the summer.
Well, right here at home there was such an anecdote.
One of the many celebrity lookalike, soundalike tribute artists that performs in and around town in shows like the Imperial Palace’s “Legends in Concert” and Stratosphere’s “American Superstars” was the spokesperson for several years for Boomtown before it became the Silverton. The guy is named John Wain, so guess who he impersonates!
What folks don’t know is that about 44 years ago, John (he won’t tell us his “maiden” name) Wain was in the Cleveland Indians professional baseball club’s farm system as an infielder.
He never made it to the big leagues and by 1961 was a security guard in his hometown for the Boston Red Sox.
Often, when the Yankees would come to town, John would meet and greet, often have dinner with and even serve as the body guard for one of the Yankees; the one that needed the heaviest security in 1961.
That Yankee was John’s former roommate in the Cleveland ballclub’s minor league farm system back in 1956-57.
Neither could have guessed that John would end up being a celebrity impersonator or his roommate would end up breaking Babe Ruth’s home run record and that the record would stand for 37 years.
When John first told me that story, I was skeptical.
John pulled out a crumpled old picture that he has kept in his wallet for over 40 years of himself in the room he shared with the young rightfielder. Towards the lower right hand corner of the photo, written in longhand, and almost obliterated by time and wear, were the words, “To John, Best of luck going up, signed Roger.”
I guess back then, like most ballplayers, John’s roommate, Roger Maris, didn’t give much thought to whether or not his full signature would ever be worth much.