Gomez rubbed elbows with stars, but ruled on the diamond

The last time I saw Edi Gomez was 2008. We were sitting in his living room. We were either talking about baseball or talking about singing and playing the bongos, for these were Edi’s passions.

I remember there being a bunch of furniture, extra furniture, in his living room. He said this had been his mother’s stuff. It must have been there a while because a lot of it still had that clear vinyl protective covering.

There was a picture of Roberto Clemente on the wall. And another of Tito Puente, the musician and bandleader. They, too, were from Puerto Rico. You could tell they were Edi’s heroes because these pictures were huge, and had nice frames.

Edi Gomez, who used to run around with the Rat Pack in Las Vegas before he ruled the local American Legion baseball program with two iron fists, died at home on Friday. He was 92.

Edi’s son Mike, who coached Durango High to a state baseball title some years back and nearly won a couple of others, said there wouldn’t be a funeral service. Mike Gomez said there probably will be a night after the holidays at the Tap House on West Charleston — unofficial American Legion baseball headquarters for all those years — for his dad’s pals to get together.

So yes, there will come an evening to tell stories about Edi and Izzy Marion, the longtime American Legion coach and “Hairdresser to the Stars” — and Connie Francis’ second husband — who died in 2010.

They’ll probably have to open the banquet room in back.

Mike Gomez said his father had suffered a heart attack in June, and that doctors had pretty much written him off. “But in typical Edi Gomez fashion, he rallied,” Mike said, until his old man took a turn for the worse last week.

So Edi Gomez lived 54 years longer than his hero Roberto Clemente. And unlike the great Clemente, the baseball gods (or whomever) smiled on Edi Gomez, and Edi smiled back, and then he said something in broken English that made you laugh, either because it was funny or because it was in broken English.

Chatting with Edi was sort of like chatting with an amalgamation of Ozzie Guillen and Desi Arnaz, except those guys did not appear in the original “Ocean’s Eleven.” “The best one of all,” as Edi said the last time we spoke.

Edi was the guy in the white dinner jacket who counted down the seconds until midnight, before the Strip went dark and Frank and Dean and Sammy — and Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop — went to work.

Edi’s hair was dark then. Man, he sure was handsome. And he sure could sing the bossa nova.

There was this blond cocktail waitress at the El Rancho named Raven who thought so. Raven was Edi’s wife. They were married for 57 years. Raven painted pictures, and Edi would put them in frames and nail them to the wall in the living room, next to Roberto Clemente and Tito Puente.

Later, after he agreed to run the Legion program, the affable Edi with an “I,” which is how we in the sports department always referred to him when he called in the scores, became an SOB. His letters, not mine.

He agreed to preside over all things Legion — dragging the infield, selling programs, calling in scores and settling them when the need arose — under one condition: He would make the rules. And there would be no board of directors to overturn them.

This is why the only thing that Tyler Houston put between his cheek and his gum on the way up was a wad of bubblegum.

Tyler Houston was the second overall pick of the 1989 major league draft. He liked to dip tobacco before his American Legion games. Edi Gomez did not think that was appropriate for young sluggers. So Edi put in a rule that said Tyler Houston (and also those who could not hit a baseball a country mile) could not dip tobacco on or near the playing field. Which, if you ask me, took some pretty big bongos.

A variation of that rule subsequently was adopted and put into writing in the official American Legion Baseball Rules.

The last time we chatted, Edi pulled out a pocket-sized copy of the national handbook from some drawer in a spare bedroom. The handbook was light blue and a little dog-eared. And he showed me that rule, which then was called Rule 6.

Edi was darn proud of that rule.

It’s a regulation that might even have saved a life or two. At very least, it made the area in and around the dugouts much less repugnant during the second game of a doubleheader.

I think I might have even said that to Edi Gomez, a gentleman and a gentle man who loved baseball and loved life and counted down the seconds until midnight in the original “Ocean’s Eleven,” the best one of all.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski

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