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.