Second Chance: Former NY Yankee Jim Leyritz on his road to redemption

Each of us knows someone who seems to live in a cloud of serendipity. No matter what the situation, that person is always in the right place at the right time.

On November 13, former New York Yankee Jim Leyritz visited St. Joseph’s College to speak to students, faculty and community members about his life. “Humble Beginnings: From the Minor Leagues to World Series Champion” dealt with the personal triumphs and struggles of a man who would be remembered for the serendipitous moments during his storied career, and for a devastating event that occurred afterward.

When it came to professional baseball, Jim Leyritz gained the reputation as a clutch player with his postseason homeruns, significantly changing the momentum of critical games throughout his career.

Unfortunately, that serendipity that he’d been so accustomed to was completely shattered the night of his birthday in 2007 when he was involved in a drunk driving accident.

Leyritz played for the Yankees from 1990-1996, and for a returning year in ’99. During those years, he was known for several momentous at-bats. His personal favorite play was his walk off homerun that clinched a win for the Yankees in Game 2 of the 1995 World Series against the Mariners. He is best known, however, for his three-run homerun in Game 4 of the 1996 World Series against the Atlanta Braves. The homerun tied the game, giving the Yankees the momentum to make a comeback, win the game, and subsequently, the World Series. That hit has been said to have sparked the momentum for the Yankees’ World Series successes over the next decade.

The King (a nickname he acquired over the course of his career) retired from baseball in 2003, leaving behind a legacy that will go down not only in Yankee history, but in the history of Major League Baseball as well.

Throughout his life Leyrtitz been the right man, at the right time, at the right place, but on that fateful night in 2007, he became the wrong man, at the wrong time, at the wrong place. The accident, in which both parties involved had blood alcohol levels over the legal limit, resulted in the death of the driver of the other car, while Leyritz remained (relatively) physically unscathed.

Leyritz was acquitted of all manslaughter charges after three years of fighting for his reputation in court. Although he was convicted with a DUI, he wasn’t sentenced to any jail time, but rather a fine and community service hours. The judge’s ultimate decision against jail time was based on the fact that Leyritz had sole custody over his three children, the fact that he had already settled a civil suit with the victim’s husband, his extensive philanthropic resume, and his heartfelt apology and vows to do everything he could to make a difference in the world.

One might think that Leyritz is just another athlete who escaped punishment because of his fame and money. It’s exhausting to hear about celebrities who get special treatment when it comes to drugs and alcohol. This is why, when I was offered the chance to interview Leyritz, I struggled with how I wanted to proceed with questions. Do I keep it light and ask about the Yankee franchise or do I get down to the nitty gritty and ask about the accident?

Although my bleeding Yankee heart couldn’t shy away from asking about some of his favorite moments on the team, I decided that his messages about life were most important. He wasn’t there to bask in his glory days or to lecture about the ills of driving under the influence. His entire message was based on how to live with purpose and what that purpose should be focused on.

This concept is embodied and best explained by the following anecdote he told during his presentation: For most of the night following his momentous 1996 World Series homerun, Leyritz was consumed with taking calls from reporters intent on getting quotes. Among the mayhem, however, there was one call that stood out among the rest — but it wasn’t about the home run at all. Instead, he was being notified that two young orphaned boys that he sponsored had just been adopted into families. In that instant, he realized that moments like those are the ones to live for. He’d done something to change those boys’ lives and it wasn’t going to fade into old highlights reels on the MLB Network.

After listening to Leyritz’s presentation and speaking with him, I realized that we, as a society, essentially define Leyritz’s reputation by a series of moments. Although they were more positive than the accident, his homeruns are instances that he won’t be able to escape either. That being said, Leyritz doesn’t believe that it should be that way.

Leyritz said that the “legacy that I leave my children is the most important thing. The accident and that homerun, those are moments, they don’t define you; they fade away.”

Forget all the pre-conceived notions you might have about him. Forget his baseball legacy as The King. Forget that, in the most simple and superficial terms, he killed a mother of two after night out partying. The idea that our moments shouldn’t define us is somewhat groundbreaking.

It’s unfortunate that society is so judgmental of split-second decisions without really knowing the whole story. Instead, people should be seen for how they act in the wake of those decisions. Jim Leyritz could have been bitter. He could’ve seen how is reputation changed and pouted over it. Instead, Leyritz says that he “lives every day with a purpose. It’s not for me, it’s what can I do for other people. The guy I was, was the guy who retired from the game of baseball to take care of his kids. A lot of people didn’t know that.”

Having Jim Leyritz come to St. Joseph’s College to talk to students about his triumphs and tragedies proved to be a great opportunity for everyone to reexamine their approach to life. We shouldn’t look to make our life worthwhile solely through our successes, nor give our failures more weight than they deserve. We can’t always help being thrown into situations that change our lives; all we can do is find purpose in our lives through helping others.

Heed his advice: “Life changes on a dime, but it doesn’t have to end.” What this means to me is that, although life will throw you a few curveballs, never let the outcome of your swing define you as a person. It’s how you act after the jog around the bases or the walk back to the dugout that will truly determine who you are.

By: Madelyn Vetrano




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