Nestled deep within Union, New Jersey, lives one of baseball’s most significant figures and one of its best stories.
Some of the top authorities on baseball history may know who Ed Lucas is, though most don’t. But whether you are a sports fan or not, his story will resonate.
Lucas knew baseball legends such as Willie Mays, Jackie Robinson and Yankee great Phil Rizzuto better than almost anybody. But for most of his life, he couldn’t see them.
When he was just 12 years old, Lucas, a lifelong baseball fan, was blinded when he was struck by a baseball while playing a pick-up game with his friends.
“I started seeing all sorts of colors,” said Lucas, now 75. “I didn’t want to say anything to my parents, but they could tell something was wrong. I had detached retinas.”
But Lucas didn’t want to let his blindness control his life. He went on to become one of the first blind people in the country to graduate from college with a communications degree when he graduated from Seton Hall University.
After that, he became a reporter covering New York baseball teams for more than 50 years.
Ed’s long and successful journalism career began with his mother. Seeing how depressed Lucas was shortly after the accident, she managed to get Rizzuto’s attention when he was in New Jersey for an event. At the time, he played shortstop for the Yankees.
“He gave me his phone number … he would call me up once in a while, take me for a ride, take me out to dinner,” Lucas said. “He was a real close friend.”
Rizzuto and Lucas’ mother also connected Lucas with Leo Durocher, manager of the New York Giants at the time, who invited Lucas to the stadium to talk to players — an experience that kickstarted Lucas’ career as a journalist..
Though he mostly covered the Yankees, Lucas also had experiences with Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh Pirates.
“I knew Barry Bonds because his father, Bobby, was a dear friend,” Lucas said. “Ralph Kiner and I would sit and we would talk. He was a gentleman and a great storyteller. I loved listening to him talk about the great old-time ballplayers.”
But while Lucas began to build a reputation as a premier journalist, his peers at the time did not hold him in the same regard.
“The biggest challenge was reporters giving me ‘the business,’” Lucas said. “They didn’t want me there. Standing there, I could hear some of them saying, ‘How the hell can this blind guy cover this game? He’s taking up space, talking to players when we can’t talk to them.’”
He overcame the inherent difficulty of reporting on a game he couldn’t see with baseball savvy and a deep knowledge of the game. Over time, Lucas could determine how an at-bat went based off of the reaction of the crowd and the sound the ball made when it hit the bat. He typically listened to radio broadcasts of games in the press box and then interviewed players after games.
Lucas was the first person — blind or otherwise — to be married at home plate of Yankee Stadium when he married his wife Allison in 2006.
“[Yankees owner at the time George Steinbrenner] said he’s picking up the entire tab,” Lucas said. “He had the field looking like it was opening day with the lines drawn, and the scoreboard said ‘Congratulations Ed and Allison on your special day.’”
His sons from his first marriage, Edward and Chris, stood as best men when he married Allison.
“The stadium was our babysitter,” said Chris in a New York Times interview. “It’s Babe Ruth’s house, but my brother and I, it’s our house as well.”
In addition to being married at home plate, Lucas also made history in 1980 when he became the first person in the country with a disability to win full custody over a spouse without a disability after his first wife tried to get custody of their sons.
Lucas said he knows the difficulties he faced as a young blind person, and he wanted to help people cope how he did. He started the Ed Lucas Foundation, which has hosted an annual celebrity golf outing to raise money for itself. This year’s outing saw former Yankees manager Willie Randolph and Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman attend.
According to its website, the foundation “offers direct support to individuals who are blind/visually impaired, as well as those with disabilities that are determined to be of financial need.”
Lucas also follows the rest of the league in addition to New York teams, and pays special attention to the Pirates ever since their recent resurgence.
“The manager in Pittsburgh, Clint Hurdle, is a great guy,” he said. “He’s always been an outstanding gentleman … And Barry [Bonds] was always nice to me when a lot of people knocked the hell out of him.”
Lucas was also inducted into the New Jersey Sports Writers Association Hall of Fame in 1995 and the Irish American Baseball Hall of Fame in 2009.
“For the Irish American Hall of Fame, I was inducted in the second class. That was a big honor,” Lucas said. “That’s recognized by the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. It’s not just something this guy has in his bar.”
Utilizing his background and life story, Lucas has also given numerous motivational speeches in businesses and universities around the region. He said the most important thing is to “try to do what you want to do, and don’t give up.”
“A lot of people discouraged me all the time, but I didn’t give up,” he said. “If you want to do something, you’re going to do it. It might take time, but you’re going to do it.”