In a moment of weakness last week, I wrote the piece below that I liked this new version of the Yankees.
The ownership/management Ghost of Boss George reared its twitchy head and fired Manager Joe Girardi after the Yankees didn't win it all, again.
I thought Girardi did a good job, ushered in a new era, was patient with Judge and Sanchez, and got them to the league series. Anybody seen Houston? Better young players. Not Girardi's fault.
That's all I have to say. The rest of this post is the same as before. I've been watching runners and relief pitchers scamper across the screen late at night.
Your updated reaction to the World Series is appreciated.
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Much to my chagrin, I really don’t mind that these Yankees are deep into the post-season.
This runs against my entire upbringing but I kind of like Aaron Judge and Todd Frazier and the rest.
I think it is a form of Stockholm Syndrome, but the other day I found myself identifying with Yankee tradition and not the petulant yelping of the social media and the hang-him-high posse mentality of arriviste playoff fans.
When Joe Girardi botched the potential challenge against Cleveland – probably costing the Yankees a game – the web mob was bellowing for Girardi’s scalp. I harrumphed: “He’s done a good job for a long time. Everybody has a bad game.”
I checked with my Yankee guru, Big Al, Esq., from Jersey, who's been busting me for years for being a Brooklyn/Met type. On this one, we totally agreed: Girardi should stay. Now look at them.
The bulk of my life experience has taught me to fear the Yankees – autumns as a Brooklyn Dodger fan, watching an endless parade of Joe Page, Tommy Henrich, Billy Martin, Mickey Mantle, Bob Kuzava, for goodness’ sakes, and Don Larsen in 1956.
And every fall, that golem that Big Al, Esq., calls Yogalah. A childhood of ineradicable pain, Doctor.
Covering the aging Yankees of the early ‘60s did not alter my impression of entitled and mostly grumpy champions. I finally got to like the Yankees, briefly, when they were terrible and they had good guys like Bill Robinson, Steve Hamilton, Gene Michael, Dick Howser and Ruben Amaro.
Then, I was off covering the Real World for a decade and when I came back there were new reasons to feel skin-crawly about the Yankees – George and Billy and their tempestuous co-dependency.
Then the Boss was forced to keep the young talent in the system – five admirable guys named Bernie, Derek, Jorge, Andy and Mariano. And I remember a catcher named Girardi, smart and positive, whom I once pegged as a future manager, maybe even in the Bronx. You could see it.
We were all getting older. On the night in 1998 when the Yankees swept the Padres in San Diego, the Boss came into the locker room and got his ritual Champagne dowsing from the new leader, Jeter, and then George M. Steinbrenner, III, while talking to reporters, began to bawl. (The Boss was a crier.)
What else was a 50-something columnist to do? I hugged him and congratulated him. Yikes. But I did it. Maybe this was a breakthrough, Doctor?
Now the Boss is gone. My old friend Bob Sheppard is gone. Jeter and Mo, impeccable old-line Yankees, are retired. There is not one player on this squad with the starchiness of an old Yankee.
Judge has the sweet, open facial expressions of a junior-high-school kid. He says all the right things. And he can play. Frazier runs around and leads cheers like a role player from some less-august franchise. And what ball fan would not love that bullpen?
I have never, ever, said this before: The Yankees are fun to watch.
Note: I ran this theory past a Red Sox fan whom I will not identify any further than as my agent. She sneered. (Over the phone, I can recognize a sneer.) She wouldn’t mind if the Yankee bus had a flat tire and they had to forfeit a game. I recognize the emotion. I never once expressed it in print because that would be unprofessional. But I used to feel like that.
However: what happens if the Yanks meet the Dodgers in the World Series? The Dodgers wear the colors of my childhood plus they have the admirable Curtis Granderson, whom I am calling The Last Living Met. Will I have flashbacks, Doctor?
All right, so the United States has one male soccer player with moves – Christian Pulisic – but it is not going to the World Cup next year.
If I may look at the big picture, this proves that the World Cup as constituted still has some credibility, when a huge nation can fall short (as has the Netherlands and other traditional soccer powers in other years.)
But stick around until 2026, when the new leaders of FIFA are committed to expand the final tournament from 32 to 48.
This democracy-in-action will be too late for this ragged lot from the U.S. which lost 2-1, at Trinidad & Tobago Tuesday night and was eliminated even from the last-chance-saloon of a November playoff.
The looming gimmick in 2026 was designed by FIFA to help the U.S., with all its TV money and affluent fans, to qualify.
I keep trying to tell these FIFA people that the agonizing regional tournaments are a vital part of the World Cup process. Glorious things happen for the occasional Panama; hideous embarrassments happen to the occasional France or Spain or Netherlands or, dare I say it, the U.S. of A. -- Goliath stumbles on a banana peel, or some such shame.
If Pulisic can survive the drubbings he receives in regional play – he’ll only be 28 during the 2026 World Cup, presumably in North America -- he could avoid the list of Best Players to Never Reach the World Cup final tournament: Alfredo di Stefano, George Weah, George Best, Eric Cantona, Ryan Giggs. In its own morbid way, it’s an honor.
In the meantime, the U.S. is faced with a massive housecleaning. I really don’t blame Bruce Arena for the failure, except that’s what coaches are for -- to be blamed. He played whom he had.
I spent the first 15 minutes thinking, oh, geez, Omar Gonzalez is still a hapless lug in the middle – and then Gonzalez got burned on both goals, as did Tim Howard.
It seems clear that the admirable Howard, Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey are past it for this level of competition. And after Pulisic, there is…?
So the U.S. starts all over again, with talk about programs and development and finding better athletes. I feel like I’m back in 1985, watching the U.S. team get whacked by Costa Rica in California, and falling short of the next World Cup.
As Rick Davis, 26 and the mainstay of the American team, said in 1985: ''Tell the young kids to keep it up. Unfortunately, for somebody like myself, we missed the boat.''
I was there in 1985. I could run five miles in those days. Donald Trump was some local popinjay who apparently built stuff. Those were the days. Now it’s 2017 and the U.S. cannot beat the weakest team in the Hexagonal tournament.
To paraphrase my old Brooklyn Dodger roots: Wait Til Next Year. Or 2026.
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My colleague Ridge Mahoney says Arena was wrong to use same starting 11 as Friday. Ridge has a good point. They looked lethargic. Read a real pro:
My late doctor was a soccer player.
Former captain of Guatemala.
Played professionally in Mexico while in med school.
Dr. Kenneth Ewing used to tell me he drove east on the Long Island Expressway to watch weekend games in Latino neighborhoods.
“Those kids play better than our national players” the doctor said.
What he meant was that young players had moves they learned from their fathers and uncles and brothers, playing the game they knew and loved.
I used to argue with him, or rationalize. Not a good idea against an old defender.
I was thinking of the good doctor Friday night when I witnessed Christian Pulisic’s bag of tricks against Panama. The kid – 19 – has somehow shrugged off the volunteer coaches with an instructional book in one hand who urge the lads to cut all the fancy stuff and boot the ball upfield.
(“Stay back, you’re a midfielder!”)
Pulisic went to Dortmund at an early ago and German coaches fortified rather than nullified his instincts.
(What John Thompson, when he coached Georgetown basketball, used to scornfully call “The Boogaloo” – meaning that fancy stuff would immediately earn a seat on the bench.)
Christian Pulisic employed The Old Boogaloo against Panama on Friday night in a game the United States needed or face four years of shame. But the kid and his mates (and, yes, Coach Bruce Arena, with his go-for-it formation) staved off disgrace with a 4-0 victory that puts them in good position to play in Port of Spain Tuesday night and wrap up an eighth straight trip to the World Cup in 2018.
The best move was on the second goal. Pulisic had scored the first one. Now he took a luscious lead pass down the left side and busted downfield, with poorly-placed defenders trying to catch up.
One of them tried to square up against Pulisic and the kid performed a series of fakes and false starts, dragging his rear leg while actually accelerating. He turned the corner, lashed a lefty pass toward the goal where Jozy Altidore put it away.
First time I saw moves like that was, as a kid, watching the old New York Yankees of the All-American Football Conference in Yankee Stadium, late ‘40s, when a little chunk of a scatback named Buddy Young, out of Illinois, practitioner of The Boogaloo, would jitter around defenses. Lovely man, Buddy Young, passed too soon. Wouldn’t I like to tell him he has a spiritual grandson, out of Hershey, Pa., who somehow escaped the inhibitions of local American soccer coaching to help win an absolutely vital match.
Pulisic’s story is just beginning. Opponents in regional play hack him cynically; I hope officiating in the Bundesliga is tighter.
Bless all the lovely players who have taken the U.S. this far – Claudio Reyna, Tab Ramos, Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Eric Wynalda, Paul Caligiuri, Jozy Altidore, you name ‘em.
The U.S. has a kid who can stutter-step. I’d love to hear my doctor react to that.
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Best piece I’ve seen on Pulisic was written by Jacob Klinger 15 months ago:
We stopped for gas on Interstate 80 in Pennsylvania and spotted a food truck.
Or rather, we spotted the sign.
I was instantly sorry we had just eaten a great lunch and dessert after I gave a talk for adults and met with students at the bustling journalism center at vibrant Susquehanna University, in the pleasant river town of Selinsgrove, Pa.
After lunch in such good company, no way we could even sample a tamale.
But I pointed at the sign alongside Zapata’s Food Truck at Exit 256 and told the guys outside: "Próxima vez." Next time.
David Vecsey's sweet tale of distant love before the Web, now NYT Podcast, narrated by Griffin Dunne. Please see:
George Vecsey is Hofstra University's Alumnus of the Month! Read a Q&A with George here.