My Life In Yankee Stadium
Feature by Willard Manus

"Take me out to the ballgame
Buy me some peanuts and Crackerjacks..."

Tens of millions of fans have sung those lines from baseball's national anthem, but I daresay few of them have ever paid much attention to the purveyors of those traditional ballpark snacks.

That has changed now with the publication of MY LIFE IN YANKEE STADIUM--40 YEARS AS A VENDOR AND OTHER TALES OF GROWING UP SOMEWHAT SANE IN THE BRONX by Stewart J. Zully.

Zully, as the subtitle indicates, spent a big chunk of his life hawking not just peanuts and Crackerjacks but programs, ice cream, cotton candy, soda, beer and souvenirs at the old Yankee Stadium. Starting as a teenager, he went on to vend at more than 2500 events, working his way up his union's seniority ladder and becoming something of a fixture at the iconic ballpark.

"I liked the job. I really liked it," he writes. "I liked the passion of the crowds. I liked the bullshitting with the guys, the Spanish rice and chicken dinners after the game on 161st Street, the countless numbers of big, sold-out series against the Red Sox, the old-timer's games, the records being broken, the bases stolen, the new hot-shot pitcher from some also-ran team coming in to New York to face the big, bad Yankees. And, of course, the excitement of a pennant race's final days, the playoffs, and World Series games...all of it."
Zully also liked the freedom of the job. It was essentially part-time work, but lucrative enough to earn him a living--and leave him with enough time to pursue a second career in show business.

What makes MY LIFE such a unique book is the author's split personality. One side of him, the vendor side, is street-wise, tough and pugnacious. The flip side, though, the side that makes him want to be an actor and director, is sensitive, artistic and imaginative.
"We all seem to strive for balance in our lives," he confides. "How can we fulfill our needs, be they financial, creative, or both, and still maintain stability?"

Pulling off this balancing act--vending at Yankee Stadium and chasing stage and TV work--wasn't easy. "Fortunately for me, most weekday games took place at night. I would tend to have an audition during the day, so I rarely had any conflicts, especially since audition times are often flexible, leaving a large window of time for the meeting...It's when I got a callback, the second round of auditions when the acting job is closer to reality, that there was virtually no wiggle room for my appointment time, and I often had to sacrifice a game when my agent told me I had a callback for Toyota at 4.40 pm. I had better be there at 4.40 or I would have no chance of booking the job."

Over the years, Zully has managed to work regularly in theater, film and television. Among his movie credits are "Vice," "Wolf," "Malcolm X" and "The Bonfire of Vanities." He has also guest-starred on "The Sopranos" and "Columbo," and was a regular on many of the "Law and Order" shows. In 2003 his Citibank identity-theft commercial won an Emmy.

What also makes MY LIFE such an engaging book is the way the author writes about his personal life: growing up in the Bronx (not too far from Yankee Stadium) with two working parents and three older sisters. A sports lover, he became obsessed with baseball statistics...and a game called Dice Baseball, played with a pair of dice, a pencil and a piece of paper to keep score.

New York in general shaped his character. "I tell people New York city is a place you either love--or you're dead. To me, having grown up in New York, the rest of the country is just a train set."

Zully's first job was working in a stationery store near the Empire State Building. He then found other work: handing out fliers for a massage parlor, driving around the Bronx selling uniform jackets to barbers and beauticians. He also worked as a waiter at various borscht-belt hotels. But he found his true calling at fifteen when he started vending at Yankee Stadium, working there for six months a year, sometimes in 100-degree heat (he put ice cubes in his wrist-bands and socks to keep cool), struggling to sell peanuts in a half-empty ballpark, ducking the water bottles that fans occasionally threw at him...and generally learning the tricks of his unique trade.

When selling beer, for example, instead of uttering the usual cry of, "Hey, beer here!" he realized he could sell more by shouting, "Hey, get your carbohydrates here!" And, late in a game, it made sense to ask, "Who needs a beer besides me?" If the Yankees had just given up a home run, he'd cry out, "Fuggetabout it, have a beer!"

As the price of beer went up over the years, hitting a peak of ten bucks, Zully has had to cope with a variety of cranky remarks:

"Hey, buddy, I didn't ask for the whole case."

"What did I do, break a window?"

"Do I get a lap dance with that?"

One of the perks of the job came when he was able to serve celebrities like Dustin Hoffman and Jack Nicholson, and an unnamed blonde starlet who had been his fantasy girl as a kid, his generation's equivalent of Marilyn Monroe.

"She was sitting with a few people and when I saw she was there, I went down to offer her a beer. She looked a little worse for wear, to say the least. It had been over twenty years since I'd last seen her dancing and singing in her prime on television, so I shouldn't have been surprised.

"Before I had a chance to speak to her, she blurted out in extremely slurred speech, "Ya got any martinis, honey?"

MY LIFE is spiced with tasty stories like that--and also with cogent observations on baseball's new era and new stadiums, "with their high-priced luxury boxes, elite service and exclusive bars and restaurants for the Fortune 500 companies to be able to pamper their clients...

"Baseball used to be a sport, but now, of course, it's a business--a huge business. Players take steroids to have better statistics, get an enormous multi-year contract, and then, years later, admit it to it with little, if any, penalties for their transgressions. The age of innocence, which perhaps was simply in my mind, is over. Players used to love the game. Now they love the money."

When asked what was the important takeaway from his forty years as a vendor, Zully replied: "It can be difficult to come up with a finite answer for that question, but I know the stadium taught me that the fans, whether in the bleachers or behind home plate, were no better than I was. A high-salaried doctor, politician, or celebrity actor may be a big shot in their personal life, but when there's no vendor in sight he or she still must wait on line like everyone else for a hot dog and a beer.

"Mel Allen, who was the Yankee broadcaster when I was growing up and who was there through good times and bad, had this to say about Yankee Stadium. 'This was the place. The number one place. The Empire State Building or the Grand Canyon of baseball. And every time I stepped inside of it I had to pinch myself.'"

Zully added, "From the age of fifteen until I was fifty-five, except for home and school, I spent more time at Yankee Stadium than anywhere else. And I am forever grateful."

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