Annals of Boyhood … Bach on Broadway

Annals of Boyhood

What happened on that fateful day in Central Park?

Seymour Hersh, the writer who eviscerated retired Army general Barry McCaffrey in The New Yorker ‘s May 22 issue, has made a career of unearthing the secret dealings of powerful men. But during the late 1970’s, it was Mr. Hersh who was involved in a controversial series of events that have long eluded scrutiny. Until now.

At the time, Mr. Hersh was the weekend coach of the New York Yets, a team of Greenwich Village children. The events in question concern the temporary disappearance of one Philip Schmidt.

One day, following a game in Central Park, Mr. Schmidt, who was then around 10 years old, asked Mr. Hersh for permission to purchase a hot dog from a nearby vendor. Soon afterward, Mr. Schmidt disappeared. Two hours later, the boy turned up on a street corner in Spanish Harlem.

Now the question must be asked: Did Mr. Hersh deliberately abandon Mr. Schmidt?

Mr. Schmidt, a middling ballplayer who was once appointed team photographer, was well aware he was not a favorite of the highly competitive coach.

“I always thought he looked at me as the slow, fat kid,” recalled Mr. Schmidt, who is now a software architect in Rochester, N.Y. “He always said, ‘Hustle! Hustle! Hustle!'”

To the children on the team Mr. Hersh was a complicated man. On the one hand, he clearly loved spending Sunday mornings with the boys and often took them to Baskin Robbins. On the other, he grew irritable when they daydreamed in the outfield or tripped over third base.

“If a kid didn’t make a good play, he’d yell at him,” recalled Robert Sargent, who frequently co-coached the team with Mr. Hersh. “He would get livid. But he never hit the kids or anything.” (Full disclosure: I was on the team, and Robert Sargent is my father.)

Eric Faber, an ex-Yet who is now a theatrical talent manager in Noho, recalled a day when the team was playing on a field in Central Park that had a flagpole standing just behind the pitcher’s mound. Mr. Hersh was on crutches and his leg was in a cast. Despite his injury, Mr. Hersh wanted to pitch. But when one of the players drove a ground ball off his cast, Mr. Hersh exploded.

“It hit him on his foot!” Mr. Faber said. “He took his crutch and smacked the pole. He went completely, absolutely wacko!”

Mr. Faber had his own brush with Mr. Hersh. “I remember one time, I was pitching. He walked up to me and said, ‘You got nothing on that ball. You can’t throw for shit. Next!’ I was, like, 11.”

But the darkest episode of Mr. Hersh’s tenure remains Mr. Schmidt’s mysterious disappearance. According to Mr. Schmidt, he became separated from the team when Mr. Hersh led the team away before he had returned.

“I asked him if I could go and buy a hot dog,” Mr. Schmidt recalled. “He said, ‘Yeah, but hurry up.’ That was the last I saw of him.”

Mr. Schmidt hurried back toward the field, hot dog in hand. But the team was no longer there.

“I saw Sy and the team across the field moving away,” he said. “I was yelling, chasing after them. I couldn’t catch up. [The team] disappeared into the tree line on the other side.”

After that, Mr. Schmidt wandered around Central Park for two hours, drifting north.

“Finally, I found a dime uptown in Spanish Harlem, next to a dead rat,” he recalled. “Or maybe it wasn’t next to a rat, but I saw one. I called 911. At that point, my mom was in a patrol car, going around the park looking for me. They radioed to the patrol car. They told me what corner to wait on and they came and picked me up.”

Is Mr. Hersh to blame? He declined to comment, and none of the people interviewed for this article could say if Mr. Hersh had deliberately abandoned Mr. Schmidt. Even Mr. Schmidt’s parents, while confirming parts of their son’s story, vehemently defended Mr. Hersh’s handling of the affair.

“He was extremely conscientious,” recalled Bob Schmidt, Philip’s father, adding that Mr. Hersh frantically alerted him to his son’s disappearance. “He called us every 15 or 20 minutes to find out if we had found him. He stayed in the park for over an hour. Finally, he asked me if it was all right with me if he took the other kids home now. And I said, ‘Yes, of course.'”

The elder Schmidt believed his son’s recollections had been tainted by the terror of being lost. “If you’re a 10-year-old child lost in the park, you may feel abandoned,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean that you were.”

– Greg Sargent

Bach on Broadway

The other day, Sebastian Bach was at Scafati, a men’s clothier on West 42nd Street, being fitted for the costumes he’ll wear as the new lead in the Broadway musical Jekyll & Hyde . Mr. Bach is best known as the big-haired blond ex-frontman for the late-80’s heavy metal band Skid Row. He will take over for former Melrose Place baddie Jack Wagner on June 13.

Mr. Bach, 32, stood patiently with his arms straight out. Three wardrobe people scurried around him pinning up a pair of gray wool pants, a black vest and a long black frock coat. At 6-foot-4 and 185 pounds, he was still a beanpole rocker with big blond hair.

As they turned him into Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Bach recited some lines from the show’s show-stopper, “This Is the Moment”: “So it comes to this/One great golden chance–that only I can take/When everything I fought for is at stake/To make the mark that only I can make!” Everyone at Scafati clapped. “I mean, who couldn’t relate to that ?”

Back in 1989, Skid Row was huge. The band sold 22 million records on the strength of metal anthems “Youth Gone Wild,” “18 and Life” and the power prom favorite, “I Remember You.” But Mr. Bach got himself in trouble when he was photographed wearing a T-shirt that said, “AIDS Kills Fags Dead”–a sentiment that does not play too well on Broadway. He’s still apologizing for it. “There’s no defense for it,” he said. “But it’s been 12 years. Twelve. Years.”

Since then, Mr. Bach has been touring in various combinations, most recently as Sebastian Bach & Friends. Then came the call for Jekyll & Hyde .

“The producers loved my singing voice, but they were concerned about my en-un-ci-a-tion ,” he explained. “They had to make sure I could pronounce ‘fourteenth Bishop of Basingstoke.’ I couldn’t go in there and go, ‘Hey dude, right on! Let me hear ya, Detroit!'”

Mr. Bach slapped one of the wardrobe assistants a high-five.

He was so excited to get the part that he began to memorize the script immediately while out on the road, often reading lines by the pool with Matt, his 300-pound bodyguard, who would stand in for Dr. Jekyll’s doomed love interest, Lucy. Mr. Bach’s only previous acting experience was as a drug dealer in two small films, and as a rock star who gets his blood sucked by Jello Biafra in a direct-to-video space alien movie, Skullheadface . But this was different. “I thought the dialogue was going to be a lot harder to learn, but I believe the stuff this guy’s saying,” Mr. Bach said. “It rolls off the tongue naturally.” Mr. Bach has not read the 1886 Robert Louis Stevenson novella. “I’ve been busy with the script ,” he said.

“I get to slit seven hookers’ throats, beat a priest to death with my walking stick. Basically, it’s about what I did last night.” He laughed. “You gotta see it, man. Blood, smoke, fire. I get to shoot drugs right in my arm, tie it off, blood spurts everywhere!”

Mr. Bach’s appearance in the show has come as a shock to some of Jekyll & Hyde ‘s devoted fans–known as Jekkies–a few of whom have seen the show more than 70 times. When it was announced that Mr. Bach was taking over, they began posting their feelings on the show’s Web site: “Performing on a stage in front of throngs of shrieking, scantily-clad fans is NOT the same as doing J/H,” sniffed one Jekky.

“Personally,” wrote another, “I think letting Bach perform the roll [sic] of Jekyll and Hyde is the most embarrassing thing that could have happened. He could possibly be the downfall of this musical. Let me tell you guys, we are in for trouble.”

“I scream,” Mr. Bach admitted. “I can scream. I love screaming. There’s nothing wrong with screaming. But singing is fun, too. I was the lead soprano in my choir. I actually toured churches in upstate New York when I was 9 with my whole choir from Canada. When I hear Whitney Houston sing “I Will Always Love You,” I have to sit the fuck down .”

–Tracey Pepper