Courtesy of Jim, last night I was able to partake in a Q&A with Brian Leetch and Don Mattingly at the Gotham Comedy Club in Manhattan. When Jim came to me (and Joe, who was unable to make it due to the weather), I jumped at the opportunity to cover this event for the Banter. Meeting my childhood idol (and Donnie Baseball) was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.
The session was longer than I expected it to be, about an hour and a half, and consisted of a few members of the blog-o-sphere, and some fans who were provided tickets. As far as I know, I was the only Rangers blogger there, and was seated next to Mike Miller of Bronx Goblin. I arrived around 6pm, and enjoyed free hors d’oeuvres and drinks until Brian and Donnie came to the stage at 6:45. While we waited, Russ Salzberg (Channel 9) and Matt Yallof (MLB Network) came to each table and spoke to us.
Brian came to the stage first, and got a nice ovation from the few dozen people in attendance (it was a small event). Donnie joined him a bit later, because he had arrived late due to the weather. After a brief introduction, in which Russ mentioned Brian came in from Boston (met with a ton of boos) and a few questions from Russ, the Ranger and Yankee icons took questions from the audience. If you follow me on Twitter, I tweeted as much as I could, but I missed a few things. After the jump, has all of the questions directed towards Leetch. I bolded the questions I asked.
Q: How did you wind up in Boston after you retired?
Leetch: The Rangers traded me (he and the audience laughed).
Q: What do you miss most about playing the game?
Leetch: The team aspect, and being with the guys through the good and the bad.
Q: What did you do with the Cup after 1994?
Leetch: As a team, we took it to Yankee Stadium, and to the Yankees locker room. We were able to watch the Kangaroo Court while we were there. For the first few weeks, we also took the Cup out wherever we went…(pause)…the Cup is the only trophy you can drink from.
Q: What was your take on the Messier guarantee?
Leetch: I was driving with him to the morning skate. I took out the paper and read the back page, put it down, looked at Mess and said ‘h boy’. Mess looked at me and said ‘Yea, look what I got us in to”.
Q: Who was the fiercest competitor you ever played against?
Leetch: Scott Stevens.
Me: Why no playoff beard ever?
Leetch: It itched the heck out of me. And Mess said that all we needed to do was win, so I was thrilled I didn’t have to grow it. Only a few of us actually had one in 94.
Q: How did you feel about being traded to Toronto? (This was inevitably going to be asked)
Leetch: I was devastated about the trade, I thought I was going to be a Ranger for life. I got the call on my birthday (lots of boos there), flew to Boston to get my stuff, and then flew to Toronto. I wish I knew that I was going to be traded, and that the organization’s mindset about having me there for life had changed. The pain hasn’t gone away.
Q: After the lockout, were you invited back? Are there any harsh feelings towards the organization?
Leetch: The Rangers weren’t interested in bringing me back the season after the lockout. There are no hard feelings there, it’s a part of the game. For the 06-07 season, Tom Renney called me up and said that there would be a place for me on the roster, to help teach the kids. I wasn’t sure if it was the right move at that point in my career.
Q: What was your best moment with Mike Keenan?
Leetch: This is funny because it just happened. It was this year at Wayne Gretzky’s youth fantasy camp. Mike was there and I spoke to him as a friend. It was really weird seeing that side of him, and I was shocked at the personality difference.
Q: What’s your take on steroids? (This was a question towards Donnie, but Leetch answered as well)
Leetch: I’m glad I was never put in a position to be offered steroids. I don’t know what I would have done if any of the guys I looked up to offered me steroids. Luckily, they were never involved either.
Me: You have a reputation of being one of the most respected and clean defensemen in the NHL. If you could spear one person, who would it have been? (This one got a ton of laughs from everyone, including Leetch)
Leetch: I can say this now because I’m friends with him…Claude Lemieux. I owe him a couple.
Q: What was it like when the Rangers traded Mike Gartner?
Leetch: The trade was shocking, but all we could do was welcome in the new guys. Keenan wanted Noonan, and Messier was the main guy helping the locker room stick together.
Q: What away arena was the most fun you had playing at?
Leetch: I loved playing in Chicago, Boston, and Buffalo because at that time, the rinks were smaller. The teams were trained to play dump and chase and get in on you right away. The fans are right on you. It’s a great atmosphere. Chicago fans are nuts (in a good way), they are so passionate.
Q: What were some pranks the team would play?
Leetch: We used to fly commercial in the early days, so the young kids would have to sit in the middle seats. Sometimes I would wake up, and my tie would be cut, and there would be shaving cream on my head. The best though was when someone took Chris Nilan’s loafer and gave it to a young kid to hide. He got mad and walked off the plane with one shoe on. When word got out it was John Vanbiesbrouck, Nilan went to a fish market, and bought a whole fish. He cut it open, and put it in Beezer’s seat in his car. He cut a hole in his seat, and stuffed the fish there. After two days, his car reeked, and no one knew why. Beezer kept getting his car detailed, and the smell wouldn’t go away. After two weeks, Nilan walked out to Beezer’s car, took the fish out, and said ‘Don’t you ever *** with my stuff ever again”.
Q: Which current Rangers player best exemplifies your game? What do you think of the current Rangers defense?
Leetch: I love watching Michael Del Zotto. He had a great year last year. He is going through a rough patch this season, but he will eventually get his game back. He is going to be a star. I think Ken Gernander, who played for the Rangers for a while, has been doing a great job with the young kids in Hartford, getting them ready to play in the NHL.
After that, the Q&A session ended, and we all lined up to take pictures (by table) with Brian and Donnie. Luckily for me, I was at a table with a Yankee blogger, so I stood next to Brian, while Mike stood next to Donnie. I thanked both of them, shook their hands. Leetch seemed to recognize my voice and said it was nice talking with you, nice questions. We each then received an autographed bat, signed by Donnie, and an autographed copy of 100 Ranger Greats, signed by Brian. It was a great night. Again, thanks Jim for the opportunity.
Side note: I was next in line to ask a question, and I was going to ask Donnie who was easier to play for, Mr. Steinbrenner or Mr. Burns. Kudos to anyone who gets the reference.