By Gordy Jones
In 2015, Torii Hunter was ending his playing career in Minnesota. He ignited a little spark under a bored and sagging Twins team and reminded them to have fun while playing the game. The team began winning, laughing, and dancing after each victory. I firmly believe it was the influence of Torii’s personality, and his infectious smile, that helped the team have a winning season. They ended their season 83-79, after losing more than 90 games each of the previous three years.
It was that summer, on a warm July evening, right before batting practice, when Torii approached me, and said he had a friend on the field for batting practice, and he asked if I’d hang out with him for a spell. He introduced me to his friend, who, like Torii, seemed quite upbeat, and who also wore a big infectious smile. His name was Tony Todd, and Torii asked that I show Tony around and introduce him to some of the many people that I know at Target Field. The only problem was: Nearly everyone I introduced him to, he already knew. He was definitely a fun and popular pregame guest on the field.
I kept thinking that I had met Tony before, but I couldn’t remember where. I asked him what his profession was, and he smiled, and simply said, “Acting.” Suddenly, it all came back to me. In 1993, I worked as an extra in a movie being filmed in Minnesota called “Little Big League.” It was about a baseball-savvy boy inheriting the Minnesota Twins and eventually managing the team. The production employed many Twins fans and front-office people as extras — and also John Gordon as an announcer, Steve Winfield as a coach, and many Hollywood actors who came into town for the filming. Among them was Tony Todd, who played a Twins speedster named Mickey Scales. I remember meeting him, because when there would be a break on the set, the actors would go to their little luxury oasis, while the extras had a humbler place to rest and dine. Tony Todd had an “All-Access” pass, but many times he hung out with the extras – he was all over the place enjoying life. He talked to everyone; that’s the kind of guy Tony is.
Back to the evening in July of 2015: It was fun walking around Target Field with Tony. But soon it was getting close to game time, and I had to go to work. I was about to photograph the game that night. Before I departed, Tony asked me about my book, “The Baseball Guy.” He said that Torii had mentioned it and Tony asked how he could get a couple of copies. I said I could ship them to L.A., and I asked for an address. As he gave it to me, he said that I should sign one to him, and the other to Charlie. I asked if Charlie was his son. He laughed and said, “No. It’s for Charlie Sheen. He’s my best friend. He loves baseball. I grew up with him. We played ball together ever since Little League.”
The following day, I dropped the books into the mail, and on Charlie’s book I wrote the inscription: “I only hope you enjoy my book just a fraction of how much I enjoyed your performance in Major League,” which was Charlie’s big baseball picture.
About four days later I missed a few calls from an L.A. area code. The following day, I got another call from that same number, but this time I was able to answer it. Much to my surprise, it was Charlie Sheen calling to thank me for my book. He told that the inscription I wrote had brought a tear to his eye, and he loved the concept of the story. We talked for 20 minutes and discovered that we have mutual friends, and we talked about baseball, and traveling. He gave me a standing invitation to his house in Malibu for one of his periodic pool parties. Since then we have talked a couple of times, but have never met face-to-face.
Last week that all changed. Charlie and Tony were in Minneapolis for Wizard World, which brings a variety of actors together for autograph sessions, photos, and panel discussions. Tony and Charlie are best friends, and they are both true gentlemen. They are very accommodating to their fans – in fact, Charlie went out into the parking lot to autograph some guys Mustang convertible. Other times, security would be whisking them through the crowd, and Charlie would stop to joke and make small talk with his fans. He would listen to their stories, and you could tell he made them feel special. It reminded me of the way a few ball player I have known treated their fans. Namely: Kirby Puckett, Joe Mauer, Brian Dozier, Torii Hunter, and Dave Winfield. They look the person in the eye and listen. They show that they are interested in the person’s story, no matter how insignificant it might sound to others. It is a people skill that few celebrities have.
Tony and I talked about his role in “Little Big League” as Mickey Scales, and I asked how much of the character was scripted. “Some of the scenes I ad-libbed,” he explained. “If you remember a scene when I was in the dugout wearing a wig and dancing around, that was all ad-libbed. That wasn’t in the script. I’m a high-energy guy, and I like to have fun and make the people around me happy.”
We talked about Torii Hunter for a while, and agreed that he is even a greater person than ballplayer. I mentioned how I thought Charlie Sheen was a great guy, too. Tony chuckled and said, “Not everyone knows that, because that side of Charlie doesn’t sell papers. They have to find mistakes and trash him to make money. People don’t know how generous and nice Charlie is. He gets up every morning at 6 a.m. and takes his kids to school and does so many nice things. That’s the kind of stuff that people don’t know.”
Tony has gotten most of his acting jobs on his own, but his role in “Anger Management” was offered to him from his pal Charlie. He told me how Charlie was ecstatic about the success he had achieved on his own. And when Charlie offered Tony a role on “Anger Management,” it was that of a prisoner. Tony, who has never drunk booze, used drugs, or even swears, refused the job. He’s a good guy in real life, and didn’t want to be portrayed as a bad guy on TV. Charlie then made a counter-offer, and Tony became a prison guard on the show. Tony’s dream now is to someday throw out the Twin’s first pitch.
Charlie loves baseball. When I met him, I was impressed that he was wearing a Minnesota Twins TC shirt while visiting Minneapolis, and I told him so. He said to me, “Gordy, this is not a Twins shirt. This is a Team Charlie shirt.”
He was a fine pitcher as a young man, and was a spectator at the Dome in both ’87 and ’91 to watch the World Series. He told me he saw Puckett’s great catch, and his walk-off homerun in game 6 in 1991. “It was 147 decibels in the Dome. The loudest stadium ever! And then I was back the following night for game 7, and the Jack Morris masterpiece. It was incredible! And if you remember, the game was saved by a decoy – a fake-out from Chuck Knoblauch…the forgotten hero. He pretended that he had already caught the ball, but he didn’t. The runner thought he did and was afraid to run home. That’s why the game went into extra innings.”
At the end of the day, as we were saying our goodbyes, Charlie joked that he must have signed a thousand autographs that weekend, but no one signed one for him. I knew that the tablecloth was about to be trashed, so I grabbed a red Sharpie and signed, “To Charlie, Gordy Jones.” He not only laughed, he pulled out a knife and cut that portion out of the tablecloth. He then smiled and said he’d be taking my signature to his home in L.A., and keeping it in his copy of my book, “The Baseball Guy.” I was honored. And I’m looking forward to his pool party!