NEWBURGH – Jim Leyritz, a former New York Yankee and a two-time World Series champion (1996 and 1999), discussed his story of success and redemption on Monday, November 13 at Mount Saint Mary College.
His talk, based on his book Catching Heat, delved into the former ballplayer’s professional and personal highs and lows: life on the road, in the locker room, and ultimately the defendant’s seat in a courtroom.
Leyritz became a baseball sensation after hitting the three-run homer that kept the Yankees alive in Game 4 of the 1996 World Series, which they would go on to win. He once again hit an important run for the Yankees in the 1999 World Series, also in Game 4.
However, Leyritz would face his biggest challenge not on the ballfield, but in the courtroom. In 2007, Leyritz was involved in an accident that took the life of a woman and threatened to put the former ballplayer behind bars.
Faith in God is what Leyritz says made him reject a plea deal and go to trial.
“What I was guilty of that night was drinking and driving,” Leyritz said, “and a DUI is what I deserved. But everything else I didn’t.” He added, “The only thing I could think of at that time was I was told by a bigger authority [God] to see it to the end.”
The 2010 trial, he said, “was the hardest time in my life.”
One of his main concerns during the trial was the welfare of his family, Leyritz explained. His mother and his wife (his girlfriend at the time) dutifully attended the proceedings, while Leyritz’s father was forced to take a step back – the tension was beginning to cause him heart problems.
The reading of the verdict, guilty of the lesser charge of DUI, “was probably the most humbling moment of my life,” said Leyritz.
Not many people get an opportunity for a second chance, he said, and he planned to make a difference with his freedom.
“I told the judge, ‘When I walk out of this courtroom today, your honor…I’m going to make sure that people don’t make the same mistakes that I made, drinking and driving.’”
Leyritz had some simple but powerful advice for everyone in attendance: “If you’re going to drink and drive, just take an Uber instead. I should have made that decision back then.”
A book signing followed the talk and gave fans a chance to speak with Leyritz, who currently works with children’s charities and organizations benefitting patients with Lou Gehrig’s disease. He also enjoys a career in radio.