"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice
Category: 2000s

Fly, Flied, Flew

In Game 5 of the 2000 World Series, Mike Piazza represented the tying run with two out in the bottom of the ninth. Mariano Rivera was on the hill for the Yankees protecting the 4-2 lead and attempting to shepherd home another World Championship. Rivera uncorked an 0-1 cutter and Piazza appeared to make solid contact and drove the ball to center field.


The ball took off and spun Bernie Williams around as he raced back in pursuit. But Shea Stadium isn’t a band box and the last second cut of Mariano’s signature pitch guided the ball past Piazza’s sweet spot and down towards the end of the bat. Bernie caught up to the ball easily before the warning track and the Yankees were champions again.


Mike Piazza flied / flew out to center field.

Steven Pinker, author of The Language Instinct and expert linguist (among other things), says, “In  baseball, one says that a slugger has flied out; no mere mortal has ever “flown out” to center field.”

Before you trust him implicitly, be careful, dude’s a Red Sox fan.

Let us know your preference in the comments.

Observations From Cooperstown: Posada, Pineda, and Pena

Jorge Posada still hasn’t made his decision official, but it’s become common knowledge that he has decided to retire rather than continue his career as a backup catcher in Tampa Bay, Baltimore, or Philadelphia. While I would never begrudge a player who wanted to prolong his career as much as possible, there is some artistic symmetry in Posada beginning and ending his playing days in the same place.

Posada represents the latest in a long line of great Yankee catchers, a succession that began with Bill Dickey before continuing with Yogi Berra, Elston Howard, and Thurman Munson. Dickey and Berra are members of the Hall of Fame, Howard and Munson are not, and Posada will become the focal point of what should be an interesting five-year debate over his worthiness for the Hall of Fame.

The comparison of Posada and Munson has long fascinated me. Based strictly on OPS (.848 to .756), one would conclude that Posada was the superior of the two. Posada certainly had more career value, thanks to luck and longevity. But using an eyeball approach–assuming you’re old enough to have seen both players–Munson was the better player, especially when you factor in the areas of fielding and baserunning.

As much as I like Munson, he just didn’t have the career longevity that is needed for a Hall of Fame player. I would also vote “no” on Posada’s entrance into Cooperstown, though I’m open to change my mind. The relatively late start to his career, along with his defensive deficiencies and baserunning misadventures, render him just short of my personal Hall of Fame line. But that should not be interpreted as some kind of insult. Any player who is even considered for the Hall of Fame is a player of achievement, a player of longevity, a player who is worthy of praise and appreciation. Posada’s offensive excellence—encompassing his ability to hit with power, draw walks, and do damage from both sides of the plate–made him a modern day version of Ted Simmons.

And let’s not forget that early in his career, Posada was a respectable receiver who generally developed good rapport with his pitchers. For every A.J. Burnett, there have been dozens of pitchers who came to trust and rely on Posada’s enthusiasm, passion, and leadership abilities. By all accounts, Posada has been a good and well-liked teammate who has blended well with the vast array of personalities the Yankees have had over the last 15 years.

Posada’s career path is rather remarkable given its origins. It’s worth noting that he was not a highly touted player when first signed by the Yankees. He was a 24th round selection in 1990. He started his professional career as a second baseman with the Oneonta Yankees, a short-season Class-A franchise in the NY-Penn League, before someone in the organization had the foresight to convert him to catcher. When the Yankees first brought him to the major leagues, they often used him as a pinch-runner. It’s almost as if the Posada of the 1990s was someone else, some alien life form who possessed the powers of self-transformation. I guess his makeover is proof that players are adaptable, than they can evolve, and that a longshot can become a success in the game of major league baseball.

Farewell, Jorge. Next stop, Old-Timers Day. I think you’ll be pretty popular that day.


I think I’ve been as big a booster of Jesus Montero as anyone who writes for The Banter, so you might expect that I’d be unhappy with the trade that sent him and Hector Noesi to the Mariners for Michael Pineda and Jose Campos. Granted, I’m a little disappointed that I won’t have the opportunity to see Montero play every day in pinstripes, primarily because I think he is going to be a star hitter, the kind of player who will hit .300, slug .500, and carry a team’s offense for days at a time.

As much as I like Montero, I love the trade. Scouts praise Pineda the way I rave about Montero. At six-feet, seven inches and 260 pounds, he’s been described as a “monster,” even as a “leviathan,” which may be the first time I’ve heard that word used to refer to a ballplayer. (He looks like a bigger version of Lee Smith, if such a thing is possible.) With his 95 to 98 mile-an-hour fastball and bone snapping slider, Pineda makes mitts pops and heads turn.

If Pineda duplicates the way he pitched for the Mariners, particularly over the first half of the season, the Yankees have a perfectly formidable No. 2 starter. If he adds a third pitch to his repertoire and pitches to a reachable higher level, he becomes a full-fledged No. 1 starter, someone who can eventually wrestle with CC Sabathia for the mythical top spot of the Yankee rotation.

As a bonus, the trade with the Mariners also netted Campos, whom some scouts project to be better than Pineda. With his smooth delivery and live fastball, the 19-year

-old right-hander will start the season at Single-A ball, but could move up to Double-A by midsummer.

While the Yankees often deal prospects for established veterans, they don’t often make trades where they deal young talent for young talent. In fact, I can’t remember Cashman making this sort of transaction in the past. This deal reminds me of the 1978 trade in which the Yankees traded Mike Heath, a highly touted young catcher, to the Rangers for a power-throwing left-hander named Dave Righetti. (The deal also included a longtime veteran in Sparky Lyle, but Heath and the three other prospects going to Texas were really the keys to the trade.) Righetti became a serviceable starter before Yogi Berra made the controversial and still-debated decision to move “Rags” to the bullpen, where he had some level of success but never became a dominant closer.

I think Pineda will turn out to be a better pitcher than Righetti. He’ll need to stay healthy, and have some luck along the way, but I think his chances of success are pretty good. With Pineda and the bonus addition of free agent Hiroki Kuroda, the Yankees now have their deepest rotation since the days of Clemens, Pettitte, Mussina and Wells…


As with any trade, the Pineda deal leads to the inevitable question: what is the next move? The subtraction of Montero leaves the Yankees without a DH. Joe Girardi has said he wants to rotate some of his resting veterans into the DH slot, but that’s not a fulltime proposition that can be sustained through 162 games. There will be plenty of days when the Yankees will want–make that, need–a proper DH who can put up some raw numbers. Two free agent candidates appear to be at the top of the list. They are Johnny Damon and Carlos Pena.

I’d be fine with either one on a reasonable one-year contract, but my preference would be Pena. At 33, he’s five years younger than Damon, outslugged him by 44 points in 2011, and has a history of launching long balls at Yankee Stadium. With 28 home runs and 101 walks for the Cubs in 2011, Pena fits the Yankee offensive blueprint to a tee.

Pena can no longer hit for much of an average, and he must be platooned, because he’s become like Oscar Gamble against left-handed pitching. The Yankees have a solution for that in the re-signed Andruw Jones, whose prowess against left-handed pitching has been well documented. A Jones/Pena platoon would be an ideal fit for the seventh position in the Yankee batting order.

On the other hand, Damon still has something to offer. He can hit the long ball (16 home runs) and can still steal a base (19 stolen bases in 2011). He would bring more of a contract presence to the lineup, an ingredient that was sometimes missing in 2011. And we know that Damon would have no trouble fitting into the clubhouse dynamic or dealing with the New York City press.

Damon or Pena, which is your choice?

[Photo Credit: Seattle Mariners Musings]

Bruce Markusen writes “Cooperstown Confidential” for The Hardball Times and can be found from time to time on Facebook.

Color By Numbers: October Men

In the franchise’s 111-year history, the Yankees have made the post season in 50 seasons, including 27 championships, 40 pennants, and 46 division titles. The Bronx Bombers have also punched their ticket to the playoffs in 16 of the past 17 seasons. No wonder so many Yankees’ fans consider October baseball to be a birthright. However, surviving the 162-game marathon isn’t easy. Just ask the Boston Red Sox. So, in honor of the team’s prolific post season record, a breakdown of all 254 October games is provided below.

Yankees All-Time Post Season Record, by Opponent

W L T W% Series W Series  L Longest WStrk Longest LStrk
Chicago Cubs 8 0 1.000 2 0 8 0
San Diego Padres 4 0 1.000 1 0 4 0
Texas Rangers 11 5 0.688 3 1 10 3
Minnesota Twins 12 2 0.857 4 0 9 1
Atlanta Braves 8 2 0.800 2 0 8 2
Baltimore Orioles 4 1 0.800 1 0 3 1
New York Mets 4 1 0.800 1 0 2 1
Philadelphia Phillies 8 2 0.800 2 0 4 1
Oakland Athletics 9 4 0.692 3 0 3 2
Pittsburgh Pirates 7 4 0.636 1 1 4 2
Seattle Mariners 10 6 0.625 2 1 3 4
Cincinnati Reds 8 5 0.615 2 1 5 4
Brooklyn Dodgers 27 17 0.614 6 1 5 3
Milwaukee Brewers 3 2 0.600 1 0 2 2
Boston Red Sox 11 8 0.579 2 1 4 4
San Francisco Giants 4 3 0.571 1 0 1 1
New York Giants 19 16 1 0.543 4 2 4 8
St. Louis Cardinals 15 13 0.536 2 3 5 4
Kansas City Royals 9 8 0.529 3 1 3 3
Milwaukee Braves 7 7 0.500 1 1 3 3
Anaheim Angels 7 8 0.467 1 2 2 3
Cleveland Indians 7 8 0.467 1 2 3 2
Los Angeles Dodgers 10 12 0.455 2 2 6 4
Arizona D’backs 3 4 0.429 0 1 3 2
Florida Marlins 2 4 0.333 0 1 2 3
Detroit Tigers 1 3 0.250 0 1 1 3

Source: Baseball-reference.com

Yankees All-Time Post Season Record, by Series

W L T W% Game WStrk Game LStrk Series W Series   L Series WStrk Series LStrk
ALDS 39 27 0 0.591 6 (2x) 4 (2x) 10 6 4 3
ALCS 45 28 0 0.616 5 4 11 3 7 1
WS 134 90 1 0.596 14 8 27 13 8 2 (2x)
Total 218 145 1 0.599 12 (2x) 8 48 22 11 4

Source: Baseball-reference.com

World Series Record, By Game

W L T Pct
Game 1 24 16 0.600
Game 2 23 16 1 0.575
Game 3 26 14 0.650
Game 4 24 16 0.600
Game 5 18 12 0.600
Game 6 14 8 0.636
Game 7 5 7 0.417
Game 8 0 1 0.000

Source: Baseball-reference.com

American League Playoff Record, By Game

W L Pct W L Pct
Game 1 10 4 0.714 Game 1 10 6 0.625
Game 2 8 6 0.571 Game 2 10 6 0.625
Game 3 7 7 0.500 Game 3 11 5 0.688
Game 4 8 4 0.667 Game 4 5 7 0.417
Game 5 8 3 0.727 Game 5 3 3 0.500
Game 6 3 3 0.500
Game 7 1 1 0.500

Source: Baseball-reference.com

Total Post Season Record, By Game

W L T Pct
Game 1 44 26 0.629
Game 2 41 28 1 0.586
Game 3 44 26 0.629
Game 4 37 27 0.578
Game 5 29 18 0.617
Game 6 17 11 0.607
Game 7 6 8 0.429
Game 8 0 1 0.000

Source: Baseball-reference.com

  • The Diamondbacks, Marlins and Tigers are the only teams against whom the Yankees have not won a post season series.
  • The Cardinals are the only team to have won more World Series than they lost against the Yankees.
  • The Yankees are 11-3 in “Subway Series”.
  • The Yankees have never faced the Rays, Blue Jays, White Sox, Nationals/Expos, Astros and Rockies in the post season.
  • The Yankees longest post season losing streak was eight games, suffered at the hands of the New York Giants from game 6 of the 1921 World Series until Game 1 of the 1923 World Series.
  • The Yankees longest winning streak in the World Series is 14 games, beginning in game 3 of the 1996 World Series and last until game 3 of the 2000 World Series.
  • The Yankees record for most consecutive post season wins is 12 games, which was accomplished twice:1927, 28 and 36 World Series as well as Game 4 of the 1998 ALCS through Game 2 of the 1999 ALCS.
  • The Yankees won a record 11 post season series, beginning with the 1998 ALDS and ending with the 2001 World Series. From 1927 to 1941, the Yankees won all eight of the World Series in which they played. The record for most World Series victories in consecutive years is five, established by the 1949-1953 Yankees.
  • The only Yankee to ever win two post season MVP awards is Mariano Rivera, who earned the hardware in the 1999 World Series and 2003 ALCS.
  • The Yankees post season winning percentage of .599 is better than the team’s regular season winning percentage of .568, as of the end of the 2011 season.

Color by Numbers: How Do You Spell Relief?

Milestones are usually defining moments in a player’s career. In many cases, the achievement and performer become synonymous. Pete Rose and hits, Barry Bonds and home runs, and Nolan Ryan and strikeouts are examples of players being permanently linked to the records they hold. However, when Mariano Rivera passes Trevor Hoffman on the all-time saves list, it will be nothing more than footnote because, in this instance, the man is so much bigger than the milestone.

Breakdown of Mariano Rivera’s 600 Saves

Source: Baseball-reference.com

Six hundred saves is not an insignificant accomplishment. The longevity and consistency required to reach the plateau are attributes that not many relievers possess, but in the case of Rivera, such traits are woefully inadequate when it comes to defining his greatness. After all, the Yankees’ closer has done more than just compile saves over a long career. He has dominated at every step along the way.

Pitchers Who Most Benefited from Rivera’s Save Total

Winning Pitcher #
Andy Pettitte 68
Mike Mussina 49
Roger Clemens 35
Orlando Hernandez 32
David Wells 25
Chien-Ming Wang 24
Ramiro Mendoza 23
David Cone 20
Mike Stanton 17
CC Sabathia 16

Source: Baseball-reference.com

So, if not saves, what is the best way to measure Mariano Rivera’s success as a reliever? If you are a pitcher like Andy Pettitte or Mike Mussina, a handful of extra wins would be a good place to start. Opponents could probably start with the sinking feeling that comes when Enter Sandman begins to play, but for those who prefer a more tangible metric, the forest full of broken bats created by Rivera’s cutter would suffice. For the Yankees’ organization, an extra championship or two seems like an appropriate yard stick, especially when you consider his 0.71 ERA in 140 post season innings. Finally, many Yankees’ fans can probably translate Rivera’s success into lower blood pressure readings and better overall mental health. Forget the sweaty palms, pounding hearts, and upset stomachs. In 552 of his 600 saves, Rivera pitched a scoreless frame, and in 341, he didn’t even surrender a single hit. Ball game over.

Rivera’s Overall Performance in Saves

600 636 2/3 358 47 0.66 95 578 14.2 69%

Source: Baseball-reference.com

Although some closers have approached Rivera’s level for a year or two, none have remained on that plateau for a prolonged period of time. Even Trevor Hoffman, whose record Rivera will soon break, shrinks under the scrutiny of a side-by-side analysis. In many ways, comparing Rivera to his peers only serves to illustrate the degree to which he stands alone. As Sparky Anderson might say, “you don’t ever compare anybody to Mariano Rivera. Don’t never embarrass nobody by comparing them to Mariano Rivera”.

Tale of the Tape: Hoffman vs. Rivera

Source: Baseball-reference.com and fangraphs.com

There is no one way to measure Mariano Rivera’s greatness. Even his failures speak of success. So throw out the numbers and just sit back and enjoy. For over 1,000 games, the great Yankees’ closer has been second to none, and, for all we know, the best may still be yet to come.

Color by Numbers: See You in September

For minor leaguers, September 1 is like the day after high school tryouts when you check the list on the gymnasium wall to see if you made the team. After being confined to only 25 men, the active rosters expand to 40 once the calendar turns from August, allowing for reinforcements from the minors. Dating back as far as the beginning of the last century (the concept was based upon a delicate business arrangement with what was then the independent minor leagues), this tradition of promoting serviceable journeymen and/or promising young prospects marks not only a rite of passage for the players finally getting a crack at the big leagues, but also heralds the final month of the pennant race.

This year, the Yankees announced that their lone September call-up will be Jesus Montero, a 22 year-old catcher who ranks among the best prospects in the game. Although many September promotions are regarded more as a chance to give a young player a taste of the major leagues, Montero is expected to play a significant role for the Yankees as they head down the stretch. There has even been some speculation that Montero will take over as the Yankees’ DH against left handers.

Whatever role he plays, the promotion of Montero is a bit of a departure for the Yankees, who have not had a position player make a September debut since 2008. In addition, the team has not had a raw rookie compile more than 25 plate appearances in the final month since Gerald Williams came to bat 27 times in 1992. So, if Montero does in fact see regular playing time, he will distinguish himself in that regard.

Yankees’ September Call-Ups, Since 1919

Note: Only those players making their major league debut in September are considered. Years without call-ups are omitted.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

Of the 84 position players that the Yankees have promoted for the first time in September, only 17 have had more than 25 plate appearances. With a few notable exceptions like Roy White, Bobby Murcer, and Hank Bauer, not many from the list went on to make a lasting impression. In fact, only a handful made much of a first one. Included in the latter group is the aforementioned Williams, who posted an OPS of 1.000. Meanwhile, on the other end of the spectrum, is Charlie Spikes, who managed an OPS of .348 in his September call-up. However, Spikes made up for his lackluster debut during the off season when he was traded as part of package that helped the Yankees acquire Graig Nettles from the Indians.

What makes Montero’s promotion different from most in the above list is the Yankees’ place in the standings. Aside from Hank Bauer in 1948 (1.5 games behind) and Fenton Mole in 1949 (three games ahead), all of the prior September call-ups were given their shot when the team was playing out the string (i.e., seven or more games out of a playoff spot).

Yankees’ September Call-Ups with At Least 25 PAs, since 1919
Source: Baseball-reference.com

Just because the Yankees haven’t had much of a meaningful impact from their position player call-ups is no reason to despair. After all, the team has promoted several impact players who were only given a September cup of coffee. Included on that list is Yogi Berra, Don Mattingly, and Jorge Posada, so if Montero falls in line, the Yankees should be more than happy.

Notable by their exclusion from the call-up list this year are Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances, the two most heralded pitching prospects in the Yankees’ farm system. Once again, that’s mostly par for the course in the Bronx as only seven Yankees’ pitchers have made their major league debut in September since 1992. However, that doesn’t mean the team hasn’t had rookies make an impact on the pennant race. Mel Stottlemyre and Joba Chamberlain are two examples to the contrary, but each was promoted before the final month. When confined to September, there haven’t been many notable additions.

Yankees’ September Call-Ups with At Least 3 GS/15 IP, since 1919

Source: Baseball-reference.com

Once again, with the exception of Walter Beall in 1924 (one game behind) and Ian Kennedy in 2007 (five games behind), if a Yankees’ pitcher was given a significant look in September, it was done at a time when the team wasn’t competing for the post season. Among those with at least three games started or 15 innings pitched in their September debut, the most notable call-ups were Vic Rashi, Al Leiter, Dave Righetti, and Kennedy. It’s also worth noting that both Righetti and Stan Bahnsen won the rookie of the year award two years after their initial September call-up.

Montero’s ascension to the major leagues has been long awaited by Yankees’ fans, so expectations are bound to exceed reason. Nonetheless, the young catcher has a chance to make a rare September contribution for a Yankees’ team in pursuit of a championship. More importantly, however, the Yankees hope their wunderkind will do much more than help out this year. After all, making it the majors is often said to be the easy part for the most talented players. Remaining there is another story. A look at the Yankees’ past September call-ups illustrates that often repeated adage. That’s why what Montero does in his first month will be nowhere near as important as the impact the Yankees hope he will have over the rest of his career.

Color By Numbers: Who Wants Pie?

Entering this week’s series against the Athletics, the Yankees had a dominating 26-5 record against Oakland since 2008. Perhaps that’s why it seemed inevitable that the Bronx Bombers would rally to win each of the first two games. At least that’s how it must have felt to the Athletics. However, in both games, the comeback fell short, which gave Oakland consecutive wins against the Yankees for the first time since July 1, 2007.

The Yankees’ lack of late game heroics against the Athletics echoes a season long trend. Despite having the American League’s second best record and compiling statistics that rank among franchise highs in several categories, one area in which the Yankees have come up short (in some cases, as on Tuesday night, literally by inches) is in games played close and late. Under those conditions, the team’s current OPS+ of 107 would rank near the bottom since 1996, and lag, in some cases significantly, every championship season during that time period.

Yankees’ OPS+ in Close & Late vs. Winning Percentage When Tied or Trailing in the 7th Inning or Later

Source: baseball-reference.com

Because of the small samples involved, it’s hard to draw a meaningful conclusion about the future from this one split. However, looking back, we can probably conclude that the Yankees failure to produce late in games has cost them a few comeback victories. In fact, the team’s current winning percentage of .204 when tied or trailing entering the seventh inning is one of the lowest since 1996. When you consider that the Yankees’ bullpen leads the league in ERA and WAR (and important factor because offense alone demonstrates only a slight correlation to winning percentage in this split), the onus seems to fall squarely on the relative lack of late-game offensive production.

Yankees’ Walk-off Victories, Since 1950

Source: baseball-reference.com

Regardless of the implications of the Yankees’ muted offensive levels in close and late situations, whether looking forward or back, the team’s inability to finish off comebacks has robbed the season of one important element: the fun and excitement of the walk-off victory. To this point, the Yankees have left the opposition on the field in only three games, which pales in comparison to the 15 walk-offs recorded just two years ago. Although dramatic victories are not a pre-requisite for winning championships, they do provide enjoyable highlights over a long 162-game schedule. After all, anything that has Yankees’ fans clamoring to see A.J. Burnett must be pretty special.

Since 1950, the Yankees have had 441 walk-off victories prompted by outcomes ranging from home runs to reaching base on an error (the following pie chart, and what better way to display walk-off data, provides a break down). Just over half have come in the bottom of the ninth, with the rest occurring in extra innings, including one walk-off as late as the 20th frame: Horace Clark’s game winning single against the Red Sox’ Jose Santiago on August 29, 1967. Speaking of the Red Sox, the Yankees have left their rival on the field 57 times, more than any other opponent.

Yankees’ Walk-offs Since 1950, by Event and Opponent (click to enlarge)

Source: baseball-reference.com

Although the terminology wasn’t around at the time, no Yankee has authored more walk-offs than Mickey Mantle, who had 16 game-ending events. Among the current crop of Bronx Bombers, Jorge Posada, Derek Jeter, and Alex Rodriguez also rank in the top-10.

Tippy Martinez remains the Yankees’ most frequent walk-off victim, having surrendered five game-ending hits to the Bronx Bombers, including, most notably, Bobby Murcer’s two run double that cinched victory in the Thurman Munson tribute game. Of particular interest to current Yankees’ fans, Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon ranks among the large group of pitchers who have surrendered three Yankees’ walk-offs. Provided he remains in the American League for most of his career, Papelbon could eventually claim the victim’s mantle from Martinez.

Yankees Most Common Walk-off Heroes and Victims, Since 1950

Source: baseball-reference.com

Complaining about the lack of walk-offs from a team with a .600 winning percentage probably won’t sit too well with other teams’ fans, but those who follow the Yankees have grown accustomed to having their pie and eating it too. Besides, even though winning is fun in its own right, doing so in dramatic fashion makes it that much more memorable.

I can still vividly recall Don Mattingly’s game winning home run against Ron Davis on May 13, 1985 as if it happened yesterday. And, I am sure fans of every team can do the same. How about you?

Observations From Cooperstown: Old Timers' Day

Bar none, it’s my favorite promotion on the Yankee calendar. It is “Old-Timers’ Day” and it arrived early this year. For the 65th time in their history, the Yankees officially celebrated their past glory. It is somewhat hard to believe, but Joe Torre and Bernie Williams participated in their first Old-Timers Day, several years after completing iconic careers in the Bronx. Their presence alone made the day special, but I was just as interested in seeing old schoolers like Moose Skowron and Hector Lopez, characters like Oscar Gamble and Joe Pepitone, and even those Yankees who made only cameos in the Bronx, including Cecil Fielder, Lee Mazzilli, and Aaron Small.

More so than any other sport, baseball revels in its ability to celebrate its past. Some would call it nostalgia; I’m more tempted to call it history. No franchise has had more cause to recall its own accomplishments than the Yankees, given the team’s longstanding on-field success, which began with the arrival of Babe Ruth in 1921. So it’s no surprise that the Yankees became the first team to introduce the concept of an Old-Timers’ Day to its promotional calendar.

The Yankees initiated the promotion in the 1930s, though they didn’t actually refer to the event as Old-Timers’ Day. Rather, the tradition began more informally as solitary tributes to retired stars like Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. The salute to Gehrig became the best known of the early Old-Timers affairs. On July 4, 1939, the Yankees staged “Lou Gehrig Day” at Yankee Stadium as a way of paying homage to a legendary player whose career had been cut short by the onset of ALS.

After several former and current Yankees delivered emotional speeches lauding Gehrig as both a player and teammate, the retired first baseman stepped to the microphone. In an eloquently stirring address, Gehrig referred to himself as “the luckiest man on the face of the earth,” full knowing that he had only a short time to live because of the ravages of the disease. (Gehrig would succumb to ALS only two years later, at the age of 37.) At the conclusion of his speech, the capacity crowd responded with deafening applause, signifying its appreciation for an “old-timer” who had met with the unkindest of fates.

Seven years later, the Yankees introduced their first official Old-Timers’ Day to the franchise’s promotional slate. Rather than concentrate the honors on one retired player, the event became a celebration of teamwide accomplishments that had taken place over past years. Inviting a number of the team’s former stars to the Stadium, the Yankees introduced each one over the public address system, with each player acknowledging the applause from the 70,000-plus fans in attendance.

Ever since the 1946 event, the Yankees have held Old-Timers’ Day on an annual basis, always on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, and usually sometime from mid-July to mid-August. (Other teams followed suit in the 1960s and seventies, particularly older franchises with sufficient history to draw from. Even an expansion franchise like the Mets participated in the tradition by celebrating the New York roots of the Giants and Dodgers.) In the earlier years of the event, the Old-Timers’ Game pitted former Yankees against retired stars from the rest of baseball, with the non-Yankees wearing the opposition uniforms of their most prominent teams. In more recent times, the Yankees have invited only former Yankees to the party, largely because they have so many retired stars from which to choose, some as far back as the 1940s. The retired stars now play a kind of celebrated intra-squad game, pitting the “Bombers” against the “Pinstripes.”

Other than the game itself, the format of Old-Timers’ Day at Yankee Stadium—with an on-field announcer introducing each retired player, who then jogs (or walks) from the dugout to a spot along the foul line—has remained relatively unaltered. Yet, the voices have changed. For years, famed Yankee broadcaster Mel Allen handled the emcee duties exclusively. Standing at a podium behind home plate, Allen introduced each retired player with his stately Southern drawl. Eventually felled by declining health, Allen gave way to the less acclaimed but highly professional Frank Messer, the team’s longtime play-by-play voice who was best known for his on-air partnership with Phil Rizzuto and Bill White. In recent years, radio voice John Sterling and television play-by-play man Michael Kay have shared the announcing chores—a far cry from Allen’s dignified presence at the microphone.

Over the years, Old-Timers’ Day has occasionally managed to overshadow the events of the “real” game played later in the day by the existing version of the Yankees. This has especially been the case during the franchise’s lean years. In 1973, the Yankees staged one of their most elaborate Old-Timers events as part of a 50th anniversary celebration of Yankee Stadium. The front office invited every living member from the 1923 team, the first to play at the Stadium after the relocation from the nearby Polo Grounds. With Gehrig and Ruth long since deceased, the Yankees invited their widows to participate in the ceremony from box seats located along the first base dugout. Mrs. Claire Ruth and Mrs. Eleanor Gehrig, both outfitted in oversized Easter hats, helped bid farewell to the “old” Yankee Stadium, which was slated for massive renovation after the 1973 season. The day became even memorable because of a development in the Old-Timers’ Game that followed; the fabled Mickey Mantle, retired five years earlier, blasted a home run into the left-field stands. The Mick still had some power in his game.

One of the most indelible Old-Timers’ moments occurred only five years later. After the usual introductions of retired players, the Yankees stunningly declared that Billy Martin would return as Yankee manager. Martin had been fired only five days earlier, done in by his damning declaration that “one’s a born liar, and the other’s convicted,” a reference to the duo of Reggie Jackson and George Steinbrenner.

In spite of the omnipresent New York media, the Yankees somehow succeeded in keeping news of Martin’s return a complete secret. There were no whispers, no rumors, no hints in the local newspapers. Having managed to keep the agreement with Martin in tow throughout the morning and early afternoon, the Yankees arranged to have all of their old timers introduced as usual by Allen, clearing out a final announcement for their deposed manager. Explaining that Yankee Stadium public address announcer Bob Sheppard would now deliver a special announcement, Allen turned over the microphone to his announcing counterpart. Maintaining his dignified delivery throughout, Sheppard revealed that Martin would return to the Yankee dugout two years later, in 1980, with recently hired manager Bob Lemon moving up to the front office as general manager. As a gleeful Martin trotted onto the field at a sun-splashed Yankee Stadium, a capacity crowd greeted him with a prolonged standing ovation that was motivated as much by shock as it was by joy.

In terms of dramatic theater, it was as timely and well orchestrated as any announcement I’ve seen during my lifetime as a fan. It showcased Old-Timers’ Day at its best, combining the predictable and orderly splendor of a ceremonial day with an unexpected and newsworthy development that bordered on spontaneity.

We didn’t see that kind of news making event yesterday, but that didn’t make the day any less significant. Seeing former Yankees in uniform, sometimes for the first time in years, is something that will always prompt the goose bumps. If you like and appreciate the history of this franchise, then Old-Timers’ Day remains the one day that cannot be missed.

[Photo Credit: Ron Antoneli, N.Y. Daily News]

Bruce Markusen writes “Cooperstown Confidential” for The Hardball Times.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver