December 19, 2014

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Dan Coughlin column: Missing Sheridan, Stadium

Billy Sheridan, who died the other day at the age of 75, was only 16 when he knew how he wanted to spend the rest of his life.
Actually, that’s not unusual. Many people know what they want to do at an early age. Pilot, doctor, ballerina, pro basketball player. That’s why they call it a dream.
But Billy Sheridan did it.
In 1948 he won an essay contest to be the Indians’ batboy and, except for a four-year hitch in the Navy, he never left the Stadium. He was in sports the rest of his life.
Billy was a famous kid. You’ll find him, front and center, in the 1948 Indians’ team picture, their last world championship team.
He also was a very likeable kid.  When the Indians hit a slump in August, manager Lou Boudreau had Billy sign the lineup card in hopes it might change their luck. Billy traveled on the train with the Indians to Boston for the World Series. He was smack dab in the middle of the victory celebration. Back home he rode in the parade down Euclid Avenue.
That’s not a bad highlight and he was only 16.
After high school it was the Navy for four years and then it was back to the old Stadium where Billy firmly planted his feet on the ground — on the grounds crew. Emil Bossard, the Stadium’s legendary groundskeeper, handed him a rake and Billy’s life was set.
He spent years on the grounds crew and eventually moved inside to visiting clubhouse manager — duties that included laundry, caterer and bartender.
The old Houston Oilers’ coach Jerry Glanville complained about the visitors’ locker room at the old Stadium. He moaned that the coach’s office did not even have a hook. He had to hang his clothes on a nail. All of his complaints were legitimate. The lockerrom was pathetically small for a football team. Players had to double up in tiny wooden cubicles. After games there was no room to walk. You had to pick your way over and between discarded muddy uniforms, shoulder pads and other equipment  that littered the floor wall to wall.
For a baseball team, however, it was almost satisfactory. There were fewer players.  There was room to move around. It was much like the visiting locker rooms at other old ballparks, such as Fenway Park, Comiskey Park and Tiger Stadium.
In the middle of Billy Sheridan’s locker room, however, was a keg of beer and a table stacked high with cold cuts, bread and all the fixings for giant Dagwood sandwiches.
Here in Cleveland in the 1970s and ’80s, there were only two places for ballplayers to eat after night games. There was Pat Joyce’s Tavern and the Theatrical Restaurant,  but with the sorry state of Cleveland nightlife, the kitchens usually closed before the players got there.
So, players would usually sit around Billy’s locker room in their underwear, drinking beer out of paper cups and eating monster sandwiches of balogna and ham, American cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, onions and mayonnaise on white bread. (The Boston Red Sox had their own pewter mugs.)
Late at night after my story was written I had to pass Billy’s locker room to leave the Stadium through the security exit, and there was a standing invitation to stop in for a beer while Billy, wearing shorts and his trademark white T-shirt,  was washing the socks, jocks and uniforms.
When the Indians moved to Jacobs Field in 1994, Billy did not make the move. He joined his son, Bill, who was the equipment manager of  the Tennessee Titans, and when the the Browns returned to the league in 1999, Billy joined them as a clubhouse worker.
There will be tributes to Billy at his memorial service Wednesday night at Misencik Funeral Home in Lakewood — 6 p.m. visitation, 8 p.m. service — but let’s not overlook his wife, Elsie.
Billy never drove a car. He took the bus everywhere. If the bus didn’t come, he would sometimes walk the 7 miles from western Lakewood to the Stadium. But at 1 o’clock in the morning Elsie would pick him up after every night game.   
“She never complained,” said their daughter, Kim, one of three Sheridan children. “She was a saint. That was her life. It was our life. All us kids worked for Dad at the Stadium. We would help him unload equipment at 3 in the morning. We always left with as much Cotton Club cream soda as we wanted. That was the highlight of our summer.”
I don’t care what anyone says. Life was good at the old Stadium. My only complaint is that Billy saw everything that happened inside those walls, but he never shared his stories.
Dan Coughlin is a sports writer
for The Chronicle-Telegram and
a sportscaster for TV-8.
Contact him at 329-7135
or ctsports@chroniclet.com.