This photo was taken by Tom Small, age 7, with a Brownie camera in 1951. A young Yankee outfielder was gracious enough to pose. Joel Johnson forwarded it to me and Tom Small gave his permission for the photo to be used only on this site.
I recently did a riff in the Times about missing the Boss and his high-spending demands that the Yankees dominate. This was formed by childhood traumas like Billy Martin catching Jackie Robinson’s pop fly, forever.
In case you missed it:http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/13/sports/baseball/where-are-the-yankees-i-loved-to-hate.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
However, mea culpa, I forgot to add that it has been an honor to be around the past generation -- Joe Torre and the core five, Jeter, Rivera, Williams, Pettitte and Posada. They were all gentlemen and came through at the highest level.
It is not easy to watch Rivera gear up for his last season (and the last season for No. 42.)
And it is downright painful to see Jeter trying to come back
from a broken ankle. I take the doctors’ word that this is normal stiffness, but players break down at much younger ages.
One of these days Jeter will not be there, making a shovel pass to home to catch some opponent too lazy to slide. Remember that? http://www.nytimes.com/2001/10/26/sports/sports-of-the-times-slide-jeremy-slide-slide.html
(This just in: my man in Salvador found the clip with a photo of Posada tagging Giambi.)http://www.nydailynewspix.com/sales/largeview.php?name=6pm07l52.jpg&id=59870&lbx=4_389452&return_page=searchResults.php&page=9
There is a human side to the Yankees, including the son-and-heir Hal, who found a place he could avoid his dad, by piloting a plane. That great piece by David Waldstein
has brightened this spring.
This past generation of Yankees only existed because Gene Michael held the Yankees’ farm system together while the Boss was suspended for nefarious activities. That needed to be said, too.
One more season of Rivera and Jeter? That’s not too much for an old Brooklyn Dodger fan to ask, is it?
Ever since last Sunday night, I have been thinking how cool it was that Barbra Streisand sang “The Way We Were”
in tribute to Marvin Hamlisch. She had not sung at the Oscars in 36 years but showed up with immense energy for her friend.
* * *
Having covered one conclave and a few papal trips, I’d like to express my admiration for the way Pope Benedict XVI resigned. I am sure he was giving an intentional signal that the human part of his organization is not working so well. He showed the world that six centuries of tradition did not have to continue – a good reminder in our lives, public and private. .
* * *
I never thought I’d see the day when the Yankees would not spend money to improve their team. With Curtis Granderson out for a few months, The Boss would be trying to buy an all-star level outfielder, no matter the cost. He was insatiable. I’m not a Yankee fan, but I got used to his zeal for perfection. His sons want to cut the payroll. They must not be making money in their theme park in the Bronx.
As a huge fan of The New Yorker, I was interested when a saw a long piece by the estimable Ryan Lizza
with a photo of Rep. Eric Cantor, but the current article is mostly about the mechanics of ominous politics and economics. I wanted to find out how somebody so low in personality could possibly get elected to public office, but the article gave no clue. What produced this sour and inarticulate human being? The only thing I learned was that he gets along with his mother-in-law, apparently a liberal Democrat. That’s nice, but in his public appearances, lurking behind the shoulder blades of John Boehner, there is no trace of a mensch.
Photo by the Groundhog
A few days early, the groundhog emerges,
Temperatures heading toward the 50’s.
The local ball field looks inviting
Maybe it is time for opening day.
How is A-Rod recuperating?
The Yankees, he is told, are looking into new allegations,
Trying to bust his contract, be done with him.
Is that nice R.A. Dickey ready to win another 20?
The Mets let him go, and dissed him on his way out the door.
Never mind, the groundhog says. I’m going back down.
Let me know when it's safe to come up.
I’ll miss the baseball season – the regular season, I mean.
Of course, the impending post-season is what gives the electricity to these desparate hours, like the Yankees' and Orioles' 162nd games.
I’m not crazy about the one-game format looming for two wild-card teams. This means a team could win over 90 games, be in division contention all year, and have to throw a weary or marginal starter in a one-game shootout.
As Ken Singleton was saying on the Yankee broadcast Tuesday night, an entire season could depend on circumstance – a ball lost in the sun, something like that
What’s your opinion?
Then again, seasons end abruptly anyway. On Tuesday I was with a group of Red Sox fans called the Blohards, who hold occasional meetings in New York to celebrate or mourn. Funny how the names Dent and Boone keep coming up.
I told them, hey, my team went away. And my childhood was spent watching Richie Ashburn throwing Cal Abrams out at home and Bobby Thomson hitting that home run, exactly 61 years ago on Wednesday, but who’s keeping track?
Yes, I can remember exactly where I was. Where were you for Thomson or Dent or Boone or some other autumnal event?
I also remember Red Barber talking Dodger fans off the ledge a year earlier, in 1950, after Dick Sisler’s home run put us into deep misery. His words were like those of a speaker at a funeral service, finding hope. We cannot always win; things come to an end, The Old Redhead said in his eulogy. I think of him every time a season ends the way the Mets’ season is ending.
I told the Blohards: remember what Brooklyn fans said: Wait til next year. But they seem to suspect next year has come and gone for a while.
I will miss the regularity of baseball, the prosaic daily quality.
Whenever I got frustrated with the yakkers and the commercials on television, I could flick to the ball game and find good old Derek Jeter, inside-outing a double to right, or good old David Wright, paddling against the tide.
On Tuesday night, there was a late-season cameo, the appearance of Adam Greenberg, who was hit in the head by a pitch seven years ago and got to swing for Miami – against R.A. Dickey. The scene of the Marlins pummeling him in the dugout after his three-pitch strikeout made me choke up. My guess is that every one of those guys understood the fragility of a career.
How did you react to the gesture by the Marlins?
I hate the idea of a season going away, even another wretched Met season. It is foggy in New York Wednesday morning. The regular season is going away, to be replaced by the post-season, plus the short debate season that signals the end of the American silly season, the long and expensive march to elections.
I’m looking forward to the result, to moving on, but I could do without a lot of the foolishness. The regular baseball season – the Orioles and the Reds, Trout and Dickey – is much better than the campaign season.
It is always instructive to get a glimpse of the inner core of Yankee fans.
The other day I was walking down a pleasant street in the Berkshires with my wife and four friends.
Puffy clouds played in the clear New England sunshine above the soft green hills.
Most of us were fixated on lunch, some on art or window displays. My new friend Joe from Queens was otherwise preoccupied. Great career, family man, terrific shape, funny. And a Yankee fan.
“Ha!” he gloated. “Look at this! Not a Red Sox cap in sight. For years that’s all you saw in this town. Red Sox caps. Red Sox banners. Red Sox t-shirts. Red Sox bumper stickers. Red Sox tattoos. Red Sox flags. Red Sox schedules in the windows. Red Sox art. Red Sox names for sandwiches. Guess they’re not so cocky now. How’s that Bobby V thing going for them? How are Beckett and Lester doing? Where is Papelbon? What ever happened to Red Sox Nation? Ha!”
That is how I remember his spontaneous monologue.
(I told my new pal I might try to reconstruct his diatribe, and he said, not to worry, that no matter how I remembered it, he probably said worse. Or would have, if he had thought of it. Joe from Queens was thoroughly delighted at the downswing of Ye Olde Towne Team.)
I did not see any Yankee regalia in the Berkshire streets. The only ball cap I saw was from the University of California. Go figure. The entire Red Sox nation had vanished as the Sox plummeted downward in the Eastern Division.
That night my new pal excused himself after dinner and disappeared to his room. Yankee radio and Yankee television were apparently jammed in that corner of New England, but he was following the Yankees on the computer.
The next day he supplied details of derring-do by Kuroda and Swisher, Jeter and Chavez, or some such combination. Yankee heroics, Red Sox disaster. The mixture made him downright giddy
Five Season, Five Rings
The Yankees were in a terrible slump a few months ago.
That is to say, they were not in first place.
My prototypical Yankee fan friend was fretting and saying they would have to bring in some new talent.
I sent a two-word reply: Johnny Hopp.
My pal was mystified, in that Hopp is not the classic insurance acquisition the Yankees have made over the decades. He was a fading first baseman
they picked up on Sept. 5, 1950 – too late to be eligible for the annual World Series, but he made his modest contributions until early 1952, when his services were no longer required. My point was, the Yankees usually get what they want and what they need.
Other names come to mind ahead of Hopp: Cecil Fielder
in 1996, David Justice
in 2000, and Johnny Mize
in 1949. The Yankees always have the money to bring in somebody during a pennant race. They paid $40,000 for Mize, an aging first baseman, on Aug. 22, 1949, and he helped win five consecutive World Series. I can still see Duke Snider and Carl Furillo staring at his three blasts in the 1952 Series.
As a young sportswriter, my personal favorite among late-season Yankees was Pistol Pete Ramos
, who came over from Cleveland on Sept. 5, 1964 – ineligible for the World Series, to be sure, but he made sure the Yankees got there, pitching 13 times and saved eight victories. Not only that, he jollied up his old friend Mickey Mantle by daring him to stage their long-delayed challenge sprint. By that time, the Mick could hardly walk.
Just guessing that Ichiro Suzuki will not propose an old-guy race with Derek Jeter or compare arms with Yankee outfielders, although the word is that he can trash-talk in English with the best of them. He will be a presence.
Supply your own moral judgment. My Brooklyn heart was long ago broken by the Johnny Mizes – and the Johnny Hopps.
The best thing, maybe the only thing, to do about Mariano Rivera’s injury is to give thanks – not necessarily in the spiritual sense, as he is surely doing in his pain and shock, but in the humanistic sense for having seen the best relief pitcher in history in our lifetime.
What a joy, what a privilege, for all of us to watch him play, to know that nobody was ever this good, this long, this consistently, this overwhelmingly, at that task of saving games.
Numbers hardly count. He might be the highest example of sheer excellence in the American majors in our lifetime -- a phenomenon, one of a kind. Marilyn Monroe. Abraham Lincoln. Mo.
Seeing Mo, bounding out of the bullpen with that athlete’s stride, one did not have to be a Yankee fan to love it.
The legend was that Mo was the best athlete on the Yankees – a team with Jeter and Williams and Rodriguez. They all knew it, the way athletes know these things, the accepted pecking order.
They watched him dart unerringly to fly balls during the pre-game shagging. They marveled at the speed and agility. Mo could play center field, they said. In fact, there was talk of letting him play an inning out there, before his career ended. This respect came on a franchise that has seen Joe D and the Mick and Bernie glide through those meadows.
How weird that Mo went down while shagging flies, his ACL torn. He was giving hints about having made up his mind to retire after this season, so my first presumption was that he could use the familiar rituals of baseball injury – the surgery, the rehab, the pain, the stiffness, the guys in the clubhouse in the Bronx or Tampa, and then retire at the end of the year.
After all, he's done everything he could do. Let him regain that beautiful deer-like rhythm and lope home to Panama. Basta ya. Enough already.
But when he got to the clubhouse on Friday, Rivera defiantly said he'd be back, this year, next year, count on it. If Mo says he's coming back, I wish him luck. Meantime, we have the memories, more visual than statistical. The save totals and percentages and earned-run averages can be looked up. What remains is the impression.
The clang of Metallica playing "Enter Sandman" as the Yankee Stadium bullpen door opened – this from a highly religious man (a Christian who did not creep people out with repeated witnessing; he stated where he came from spiritually and then talked pitching.) Heavy metal as he bounded across the outfield grass. No chest-pounding, no gestures, no smoke coming out his ears. Just Mo.
He induced a respectful frustration from batters. They knew what was coming, a ball breaking down, close enough to the strike zone that they had to swing, had to beat the ball into the earth, producing what high-school players used to call a worm-killer, a grounder. And when he broke a record, the players in the opposing dugout applauded for the gentleman who transcended all rivalries, all frustrations, all wins and losses. Mo.
What a treat to be following baseball as player or fan or writer and see Mo excel from decade to decade, three different ones now. The Nineties. The Aughts. The Teens.
At some point, Yankee fans and non-Yankee fans coalesced on the realization that we were watching two greatest Yankees at their positions at the same time. Perhaps this happens on lesser franchises (that is to say, all other franchises are lesser.) But on this overwhelming franchise for nearly a century, their greatest shortstop and their greatest relief pitcher came along together from the minor leagues (with the Boss blessedly grounded for bad behavior, unable to blow it all up with his impatience.)
There was Cap’n Derek, hitting a double and clapping his hands in exhortation, and there was Mo, with his spare, lethal effectiveness.
Mo has been more than a presence on the field, on the tube. He has been a presence in the clubhouse, too. He doesn't gossip much with reporters but in the large clubhouse in spring training he would speak softly and joke around with his fellow pitchers who dressed around him. The wise ones listen.
A couple of springs ago, a new pitcher – Spanish-speaking, at that – dressed near Mo. The new man did not listen. Looked the other way. Was in his own world. A colleague of mine caught that tableau and said, “That knucklehead doesn’t get it.”
One other thing. We are not going to have to rescind our opinion of Mo in a year or three because of scandal. His body never changed from the whippet rookie to the agile senior citizen. He is not going to be disgraced somewhere down the line like Roger Clemens, currently glowering in a courtroom in Washington.
Clemens is going to get off the hook because of the double inadequacy of the prosecution and the weak-mindedness of Andy Pettitte. Little Andy dabbled in illegal substances when it suited him but ultimately could not make up his mind what Big Rog told him in their gym sessions. Having doubts on the witness stand is bad form. You either know something or you don’t. Pettitte looks foolish, Clemens will get off the hook, but everybody knows what was going down in Clemens’ life.
This will never happen with Mo. He needs to rehabilitate his ACL but not his image. He was and remains exactly what we thought – a clean flame burning in the ninth inning, eradicating trouble, one-two-three. We have been able to watch. That is worth a cosmic thank-you.