When they hired Cy Buynak as their clubhouse manager at old Municipal Stadium in 1965, the Indians had little reason to believe the little man would have a long tenure. After all, Buynak's two predecessors had each lasted just two years. "Charlie Morris was the traveling secretary," Buynak recalls. "When he hired me, he said, 'How long are you gonna last?'"
The answer? Forty-five years. No, Buynak didn't spend that entire time as the Tribe's clubhouse manager. He was an assistant from 1961-64, and he moved from the home clubhouse to the visitor's clubhouse when the Indians relocated to Jacobs Field in 1994. But no matter his role with the club over the last 45 years, Buynak -- all 4-foot-10, 190 pounds of him -- has been as recognizable a figure of Cleveland baseball as anyone. And now, his tenure is drawing to a close. At 70 years old, Buynak has decided to make the 2006 season his last in the visitor's clubhouse. He has vacations to embark on, other ballparks to visit and a patient wife, Mary, waiting at home. "Now that I'm retiring, a lot of people can't believe it," Buynak says. "I guess they thought I'd be here until I die. But I don't want to die in my boots." Buynak has donned his "boots" since he was 24 years old. Laid off from his job in quality control at TRW, he was looking for work when he attended the Indians' home opener in '61. "One of the ushers knew I was laid off and asked me if I wanted a part-time job," Buynak recalls. "I thought he wanted me to sell hamburgers and hot dogs." Rather, the casual fan was admitted into the underground. "I didn't know what I was getting into," Buynak says. Or how to act. Buynak remembers reporting to work for the first time. It was the day of a doubleheader, and Gary Bell was pitching the second game. Buynak knew enough about clubhouse etiquette not to bother a pitcher who was starting that day, but Bell must have noticed the kid was nervous. "He called me back into the training room and said, 'Talk to me,'" Buynak says. "He settled me down. He was asking me all kinds of questions about myself. He eased me into it." Once eased in, Buynak's career took off. Bell might have been the first Indians figure Buynak developed a relationship with, but he certainly wasn't the last. While working in the home clubhouse, Buynak saw 17 managers, six general managers and eight owners come and go. He laid out the champagne that greeted Len Barker after the big right-hander tossed a perfect game in 1981, and he even babysat Tito Francona's son, Terry, in the early '60s. "He remembers it well," Buynak says of the younger Francona, who has crossed paths with Buynak many times as manager of the Red Sox. "I guess I took care of him pretty good." But in 1993, with a move to Jacobs Field approaching and Buynak set to undergo two knee replacement surgeries in the fall, the Indians told Buynak of their plans to move him to the visiting side the following season. With 29 years of service in the home clubhouse role under his belt, Buynak was upset. "They figured I should enjoy my last 10 years in baseball," Buynak says. "I was against it at first. I really didn't want to go." Moving to the visiting side, which doesn't include the grind of travel, has, however, allowed Buynak to elongate his career. Instead of spending 10 seasons catering to the needs of the Tribe's opponents, he has lasted 13. "It's been a blessing in disguise," Buynak says. "I think it's neat meeting all the different players, not just the Indians."
The job is not an easy one, because Major League ballplayers can be a needy bunch.
"They've gotten high maintenance," Buynak says. "You can have seven different flavors of pop, and they'll want something you ain't got. They walk in the lunchroom, and we've got cold cuts, a George Foreman Grill for hamburgers and a hot dog machine -- and they'll still want something from the outside. So you've got to please them. That's where the game has really changed. Today's players are a lot bigger, and they eat a lot."
Buynak estimates that he spends more than $70,000 a year on food and drinks for visiting teams. That money is reimbursed by the player dues of $35 per game.
Feeding the players is just one aspect of Buynak's job. He and his crew of five helpers must straighten up the lockers, clean gear after batting practice and wash uniforms and scrub cleats after the game. For a standard 7:05 p.m. ET game, his day typically begins around 11 a.m. and doesn't end until about three hours after the final pitch.
The only real downtime is during the game itself.
"People ask me who I root for during the game," he says. "I root for time. Once you clean up after batting practice, all you're waiting for is the end of the game. That is the hard part. You're there waiting for the game to end so you can go back to work."
In Buynak's younger days, the grind didn't bother him much. But lately it's been catching up with him.
"My body's telling me it's time [to retire]," he says. "You're here 12 or 15 hours a day. Even though I have great help, you're up on your feet a lot. I get home at night, and I'm tired. I've never been this tired. I'm not a young man anymore."
Two close friends of Buynak have passed away in recent years. One of them was just 56 years old. It got Buynak thinking about all those hours spent in the bowels of the ballpark and all the places he'd still like to see.
"I haven't done everything I want to do," he says.
And so, in February, Buynak gave general manager Mark Shapiro a call to tell him this season would be his last. Shapiro assured Buynak that he can keep his job as long as he likes, but Buynak had already made up his mind.
As visiting teams have filtered into Jacobs Field this season and learned of Buynak's decision, players, managers and coaches have wished him the best. Buynak has had some of his favorites from over the years sign a giant card that sports a caricature of him smoking a big cigar -- one of his trademarks.
When the Yankees were in town in July, Alex Rodriguez made it a point to pull Buynak aside.
"He said, 'I want to talk to you seriously," Buynak remembers. "'I don't want you to just sit around and die. A lot of people retire and, a few years later, they're gone.' I told him that if I'm gone, it's not going to be from sitting around."
Buynak and his wife are planning a trip to Czechoslovakia, where his parents were born. He also hopes to travel around the U.S. and get a look at some other ballparks.
"Mary likes baseball, and she knows I want to see some new parks," Buynak says. "We're going to go up to Seattle and San Francisco and Kansas City, where I have some relatives. I'm just going to try to keep busy."
Why not keep busy? That's what Buynak's done in 45 years of service to the Indians.
"I guess I broke the two-year jinx," he says with a laugh. "I outlasted everybody."
: : : This Edition: Aug. 23, 2006 : : :
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.