“Almost Yankees” recalls the team's season in the spotlight.

On the Columbus Clippers’ opening night in 1981, 11-year-old J. David Herman was sitting beside the radio in his boyhood home in Columbus. He wasn’t a full-fledged fan of the city’s minor league baseball team, but that changed upon hearing the voice of broadcaster Rick Rizzs.

“There was a sense of urgency and fun, and I just was hooked,” says Herman, an editor at Microsoft News in Seattle and author of a new book about the team’s ’81 season, “Almost Yankees.”

It was a serendipitous time to tune in. Two years earlier, the Clippers had begun their 28-year affiliation with the New York Yankees, whose owner, George Steinbrenner, stocked the club with talent. The Clippers won consecutive International League titles, taking the Governors’ Cup in 1979 and 1980. Then, from mid-June through late July 1981, the major leaguers went on strike, pushing the Clippers into the limelight. To fill the void created by the stoppage, New York reporters were dispatched to Columbus to cover the team’s stars, including power-hitter Steve Balboni and pitcher Dave Righetti. ESPN aired the games.

But Herman didn’t get to see how the season played out: His family relocated to California that August. Years later, he read that the ’81 Clippers took the Governors’ Cup for the third straight year, but it wasn’t until 2013 that he began to explore the fates of his boyhood heroes. That year, he started working on “Almost Yankees” and ultimately interviewed 28 players.

Herman, now a San Francisco Giants and Seattle Mariners fan, still counts that ’81 team as his favorite. “It’s hard to top when you bond with something at that age.”


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