[Photo Credit: Baseball Fever]
Head on over to Victory Journal and dig into Brin-Jonathan Butler’s story on our man El Duque (lavishly illustrated by Mickey Duzjj).
Sometimes, the best trades or free agent signings are the ones a team doesn’t make. Many Yankee fans seem to feel that way about the team’s decision to let Robinson Cano head west to Seattle. Is that wishful thinking? Perhaps, but considering the team’s eager willingness to trade him earlier in his career, such an outcome would be par for the course.
What about the flip side? When it comes to transactions not made, is relief really more common than regret? Or, are opportunities lost just as impactful as serendipitous gains? Since the advent of free agency in 1976, no team has been more active on the open market than the Yankees, so there are plenty of case studies to consider. Listed below are some of the higher profile transactions that the team seriously considered, but never made, accompanied by alternatives that were implemented, when applicable, and an evaluation of how the net result influenced the course of franchise history.
1976: Yankees pursue free agent Bobby Grich, but settle on Reggie Jackson as a consolation.
Background: Baseball’s first free agents were subject to a very different system than today. Instead of simply hitting the open market, players filing for free agency would enter what was known as a re-entry draft. Teams would then select players in a pre-determined order, much like the amateur draft, but instead of acquiring exclusivity, they would simply be granted the right to negotiate. Because only 12 teams could select any one potential free agent, the draft process effectively cut the player’s market in half. In addition, individual teams could only sign two net new free agents (i.e., if a team lost a free agent, it could sign three). These limitations were intended to limit competition for players, but they wound up constraining supply more than limiting demand. Exponentially higher salaries were the result.
Fresh off a World Series sweep at the hands of the Reds, the Yankees entered the winter seeking a player who could put them over the top. As it turned out, Reggie Jackson fit the bill perfectly, but he wasn’t the Yankees’ first choice. When it came time to make their first selection in the re-entry draft, the Bronx Bombers went with Orioles’ gold glove 2B Bobby Grich (Jackson was selected sixth, but that was partly due to the relative lack of interest from teams who knew they would not be able to sign him). The only problem for the Yankees was Grich was intent of playing close to his home in Long Beach. So, when Grich reached an accord with the California Angels, the Yankees shifted their focus to Jackson and signed him shortly thereafter.
Outcome: In five years with the Yankees, Jackson was the straw the stirred the drink. From 1977 to 1981, the right fielder posted an OPS+ of 148 and was a key contributor to two World Championships, including being named MVP of the Fall Classic in 1977.
Over the span, Bobby Grich was equally impressive with the Angels, compiling an OPS+ of 128 and playing strong defense at second base. In 1979, Grich also helped the Angels win their first division title.
Verdict: Although the Yankees very well might have enjoyed similar success with Grich, it’s hard to imagine the second baseman (who would have played short stop for the Yankees) providing more value than Jackson. Also, when you consider the contributions of Willie Randolph and Bucky Dent during the five years in question, it seems clear that the Yankees’ plan B in 1976 turned out to be the best course of action.
1982: Sign Floyd Bannister, trade Ron Guidry to Texas for Buddy Bell, or Ron Guidry or Dave Righetti to Kansas City for George Brett, and deal Graig Nettles to San Diego for a minor leaguer (the quality of which would depend on how much of Nettles’ $500,000 salary the Yankees were willing to eat)
Background: After a disappointing fifth place finish in 1982, the Yankees were looking to shake things up in the offseason, with Floyd Bannister being the linchpin to a series of dramatic moves. The Mariners’ 27-year old lefty was coming off a season in which he led the league in strikeouts, making him one of the most coveted players in the re-entry draft. If the Bronx Bombers were able to sign Bannister, news reports suggested they would then flip Guidry or Righetti for either Bell or Brett and jettison Nettles for a minor leaguer.
Considering all of the moving pieces involved, it’s hard to know whether the Yankees could have executed the plan, but it was all made moot when Bannister signed with the White Sox. So, instead of the exciting chain of events that might otherwise have unfolded, the Yankees’ winter shopping consisted of signing Don Baylor and Steve Kemp.
Outcome: Over the term of his five year deal with the White Sox, Bannister proved to be a solid contributor, (200 innings in all but one season; ERA+ of 107), but hardly the cornerstone of a rebuilding process. Both Guidry and Righetti proved to be more valuable pitchers over the span, albeit not by much.
It’s hard to believe Brett was really available. However, if the Yankees failed to do everything in their power to obtain him, it was a big mistake as the third baseman posted an OPS+ of 148 from 1983 to 1987 and remained one of the best players in the game throughout the rest of the decade. Although a more modest performer with an OPS+ of 108, Bell would have also represented a big upgrade for the Yankees, who wound up losing Nettles via free agency after the following season. It would take nearly a decade for the Yankees to acquire another third baseman of similar stature.
Verdict: In just about any iteration, the Yankees would have benefitted greatly from this deal. The acquisition of Bell would have more than offset the downgrade from Guidry to Bannister, while the idea of Brett in pinstripes seems as cataclysmic now as it must have then. Was such a deal really on the table? If so, the Yankees’ failure to consummate it qualifies as one of the team’s worst non-moves.
1985: Trade Don Baylor for Carlton Fisk
Background: In 1985, Carlton Fisk posted career highs in home runs and RBIs, but the White Sox were not eager to sign their 37-year old catcher to a long-term deal. Instead, they worked out a sign and trade with the Yankees, whereby Chicago would ink Fisk to a new deal and then flip him to the Bronx Bombers for disgruntled DH Don Baylor. However, Baylor had a no-trade clause, and he wouldn’t waive it unless Chicago sweetened the deal. Team co-owner Eddie Einhorn angrily balked at the request, proclaiming, “Let him stay with the Yankees”.
Baylor did stay with the Yankees, but only for another month, at which time he was dealt to the Red Sox for Mike Easler. Fisk’s staying power was much greater. Not only did the catcher sign a new two-year deal that offseason, but he remained with the White Sox for the final eight years of his career.
Outcome: Baylor had a solid year for the Red Sox in 1986 and provided above average offense over the next two, but the Yankees made out better with Easler. However, over the longer term, Fisk would have proven to be a better replacement. Despite having the worst season of his career in 1986, Fisk posted an OPS+ of 112 over the next five campaigns, which easily dwarfed the Yankees’ output from their catchers over that span.
Verdict: Assuming the Yankees had kept Fisk for more than two years, they would have easily come out the victor if Baylor had agreed to waive his no trade clause. Would Fisk’s production and leadership have made a difference on Yankee teams that came up short from 1986 to 1988? We’ll never know, but the value he provided at a very weak position for the Yankees would have made the team even more competitive during those years.
1986: Sign any or all of the following free agents: Tim Raines, Jack Morris and Andre Dawson
Background: During the winter of 1985, many of the best players in the game filed for free agency, but strangely, they attracted little interest around the league. Nearly every free agent that off season not only ended up re-signing with their current team, but they did so at terms well below recent norms. The same situation arose in 1986, but this time players were even more desperate to drum up a market. Jack Morris, then regarded as one of the best pitchers in the game, was so exasperated by the process that he offered his services to a list of five teams headed by the Yankees. Every single one turned him down without even discussing the terms. Morris was eventually forced to accept the Tigers’ offer of arbitration.
Tim Raines and Andre Dawson ran into the same difficulties as Morris, but the Expos’ outfielders didn’t relent as easily. Each outfielder refused to accept arbitration or re-sign with Montreal by the January 7 deadline, making them ineligible to return to the team until May 1. Faced with the prospect of not playing for a month, Dawson practically gave the Cubs a blank contract with his signature on it. Meanwhile, Raines waited patiently for another team to show interest. None ever did, and the outfielder was back in Montreal when the calendar turned to May.
Outcome: Raines, Dawson and Morris all had stellar seasons in 1987, and the two outfielders remained very productive for several years thereafter. However, it wouldn’t have taken a long-term deal to sign either or all three. By simply offering fair market value, the Yankees could have added as many as three All Stars to a team that won 90 games in 1986.
Verdict: By colluding with other teams to depress player salaries, the Yankees forfeited a chance to improve their team and prolonged a postseason drought that would last another eight years. The organization’s short sightedness also exposed the league to a costly lawsuit settlement and years of labor acrimony. Considering all the downside to saving a few extra dollars, the winter of collusion is the most glaring example of the worst moves being the ones you don’t make.
1992: Sign Barry Bonds and Greg Maddux
Background: The previous four seasons had been among the worst in Yankees’ history. After the suspension of owner George Steinbrenner, the team had retrenched and embarked upon a rebuilding process that was just starting to yield dividends. So, with the Boss on his way back from exile, and the Yankees’ farm system stocked with the talent, the team planned a master stroke. That winter, the free agent market was headlined by one of the best pitchers and hitters in the game…players who seemed destined to rank among the all-time greats.
The Yankees aggressively courted Barry Bonds and Greg Maddux, but GM Gene Michael couldn’t reel in either. Bonds’ contract demands, particularly his insistence on more than five years, proved too rich for the Yankees, while Maddux took less money to play in Atlanta. As a result, the team was forced to explore other options, which turned out to be Wade Boggs and Jimmy Key.
Outcome: Boggs and Key proved to be valuable consolation prizes, and were important contributors when the Yankees won the World Series in 1996, but Bonds and Maddux each continued on their paths toward immortality and, in the case of the former, infamy.
Verdict: If the Yankees had been able to sign either or both, it stands to reason that their ascendency toward the top of the baseball world would have been expedited. Having said that, it’s hard to imagine the team being more successful from that point forward, so, even though the franchise would have been given a boost in the early part of the decade, most Yankee fans probably wouldn’t want to change how the rest of it unfolded.
1998: Sign Albert Belle; let Bernie Williams go
Background: The Yankees had just completed one of the greatest seasons in baseball history, and Bernie Williams was at the forefront. That year, Williams won the batting title, gold glove, and posted the league’s second highest OPS+ at 160. It was the perfect time to be a free agent.
The Yankees initial offer to Williams was for five years and $37.5 million (eventually raised to $60 million), but the center fielder wanted something closer to seven years and $90 million. The gap was so wide, the team prepared to move on by courting Albert Belle, the only player in the A.L. with an OPS+ higher than Williams in 1998. Then, the Red Sox stepped into the fray, offering Williams the terms he wanted. Around the same time, the Orioles trumped the Yankees’ offer for Belle, so now even their backup plan was on shaky grounds. For whom would the team up the ante?
Before agreeing to the Red Sox offer, Williams made a last ditch effort to keep his pinstripes by calling George Steinbrenner directly. By the end of the call, the Yankees essentially matched the Red Sox offer, keeping Williams in the Bronx for seven more years.
Outcome: Williams was an elite performer for the first four years of his new deal, and over the full term provided value commensurate with his salary. The center fielder was also a key part of two more World Series victories and ended his career as one of the most prolific post season performers in baseball history. Meanwhile, Belle, who signed with the Orioles for five years and $65 million, had a very strong 1999 campaign, but only played two more years because of a debilitating hip injury.
Verdict: It’s a good thing the Yankees didn’t put plan B into action. The loss of Williams’ consistent excellence over the next four years, and the likelihood of Belle’s chronic hip flaring up in the Bronx, would have removed a pillar from the Yankees’ dynasty and, perhaps, caused it to fall much sooner.
This example most closely resembles the Yankees’ recent decision to effectively replace Robinson Cano with Jacoby Ellsbury (or Carlos Beltran). Interestingly, if the Yankees had increased their last offer to Cano in line with the bump given to Williams (approximately 40% in years and total value), the terms would have matched Seattle’s. However, this time, no phone call was made, and, considering the Yankees’ posture, it probably wouldn’t have been well received anyway. Now, the Yankees have to hope they can replace Cano’s remarkable consistency, which was also a hallmark of Williams.
2003: Claim Manny Ramirez from irrevocable waivers
Background: Manny Ramirez was an extremely productive member of the Red Sox’ lineup, but his mercurial behavior often left the team exasperated. So, after a crushing loss to the Yankees in the 2003 ALCS, the Red Sox determined it was time to go in another direction, which meant shedding the remaining four years of Ramirez’ contract. To bring that about, Boston placed Ramirez on irrevocable waivers, essentially making him available to any team who was willing to pay the slugger $20 million per year.
Outcome: No one claimed Ramirez, who posted an OPS+ of 149 over the next four seasons and played a vital role in two World Series victories for the long suffering Boston franchise. Although the Red Sox relationship with Ramirez ended acrimoniously, they didn’t part company until 2008, when the Red Sox extended his contract by picking up one of the two team options attached to the original deal.
Verdict: The Yankees’ failure to claim Ramirez was mitigated by the signing of Gary Sheffield, who essentially matched the Red Sox slugger at half the cost in 2004 and 2005. However, Ramirez had greater staying power, and, by plucking him from Boston, the Yankees would have benefited from removing one of their chief tormenters from a bitter rival. On the whole, the Yankees would have been a better team with Ramirez during the four years that remained on his deal, and their relative supremacy over the Red Sox would have likely been extended.
2004: Sign Carlos Beltran instead of trading for Randy Johnson
Background: The Yankees were hoping to wash away the bitter taste of their collapse in the ALCS with a big acquisition in the off season, and two long coveted players just so happened to be available that winter. However, the team decided that it could only afford to add one, so the Bronx Bombers passed on Carlos Beltran, who offered the team a discount, in favor of trading for Randy Johnson.
Outcome: In 2005, Randy Johnson was the anchor of an otherwise shaky rotation, and his 5-0 record against the Red Sox turned out to be a crucial reason why the Yankees bested their rival for the division title. After that season, however, the Big Unit petered out in pinstripes and was traded back to the Diamondbacks one year later. In contrast, Beltran posted an OPS+ of 130 over the seven years of the deal he signed with the Mets, although two seasons were cut short by injury.
Verdict: Although Beltran provided much more value than Johnson, in 2005, the Big Unit helped the Yankees rebound from their ALCS collapse. Also, Johnny Damon, whom the Yankees likely would not have signed with Beltran in the fold, helped make up some of the void left in centerfield. On the whole, however, it’s hard to argue that the Yankees wouldn’t have been better off with Beltran. Brian Cashman is undoubtedly hoping that the same is true this time around, making the Yankees recent acquisition of the switch hitter a case of better late than never.
2007: Trade for Johan Santana
Background: It had been seven years since the Yankees last won the World Series, and the team’s lackluster starting pitching was the main culprit. So, with the Twins dangling Johan Santana, it seemed a certainty that the Yankees would backup the truck for the talented left hander. Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy, Melky Cabrera, Robinson Cano, and Austin Jackson were all coveted by the Twins, and it was reported that the Yankees would have to part with at least three to make a deal. That price proved to be too steep, especially considering some of the concerns the team had about Santana’s durability. So, instead of trading for the ace they so desperately needed, the Yankees allowed the Mets to swoop in and claim that winter’s biggest prize.
Outcome: After the 2008 season, it looked as if the Yankees had blundered badly. Santana finished third in the NL Cy Young race, while the Bronx Bombers missed the playoffs for the first time since 1993. However, Santana began to regress and never again threw 200 innings in a season. In addition, all of the players on the Twins wish list contributed in varying degrees (either in pinstripes or as a trade chip) to the Yankees’ future success.
Verdict: Passing on Santana proved to be the right decision, regardless of the package sent to Minnesota, although including Cano in the deal would have been catastrophic. By keeping all of their prospects and signing a healthier ace the following season, the Yankees quickly rebounded in 2009, winning their 27th World Championship with Sabathia, Cabrera, Cano, Hughes, and Chamberlain all playing a key role.
2010: Sign Cliff Lee
Background: The Yankees tried to acquire Cliff Lee at the 2010 trading deadline, but the deal fell through when David Adams’ medical report revealed a red flag. The Yankees weren’t willing to amend the deal, so the Mariners traded Lee to Texas instead. After watching Lee dominate them in that year’s ALCS, the Yankees were determined to sign the lefty during the off season. However, Lee was more interested in beating the pinstripes than wearing them, so he took less money to join the Phillies.
Outcome: In the three years since signing the deal, Lee has remained one of the best pitchers in baseball, posting an ERA+ of 139 in over 660 innings. Not only would he have made the Yankees a better team during that period, but the left hander would also fill the void in the team’s starting rotation that remains today.
Verdict: Because Lee turned down the Yankees, the team can’t be blamed for inaction. However, had the club been willing to sweeten its offer to the Mariners during the 2010 season, he may have been more amenable to remaining in the Bronx that off season. As a result, that initial reticence has become a source of regret for Yankee fans, and, perhaps, Brian Cashman as well.
Nice piece by Daniel Barbarisi in the Wall Street Journal about a bat boy and the pine-tar incident.
Unrelated, I found this photograph at Royals Then, Now & Forever. See the way Nettles is sliding his right foot? He did that before every pitch. When I played as a kid, up through high school, I copied that move too. If I stood on an infield today, without thinking, I’m sure I’d do it again.
I got an e-mail from my pal John Ed Bradley the other day with an attached image of this painting:
I bought the picture at auction in Florida last week. It’s by an artist I collect named Reeves Brace. She died in 1932 at age 34. Her name at birth was Virginia Reeves. She used her last name as her first name when she became an artist and married Ernest Brace–an eccentric but nice touch. Most people just called her “Reeves.” Her husband was a fine writer named Ernest Brace; his brother helped start the publishing firm Harcourt Brace.
Reeves was a member of the art colony up in Woodstock, and she often worked in NYC. She might’ve painted this scene as a magazine illustration. I’ve been collecting her work for years although it is difficult to find and rarely comes up for sale. Her obscurity is largely a result of her early demise. Distraught as a result of a failed marriage and the stress of surviving as an artist during the Depression, she hanged herself by her silk stockings from the bathroom door of a hotel room in New York City.
She was quite the beauty, too. She still had a steady hand when she painted this canvas. I find her fascinating and have long hoped to dig deeper into her life and write about her. For now, I content myself with her oil paintings that hang in my writing studio.
The auction house didn’t identify the location but I think this is Yankee Stadium circa 1930. I think some of the artist’s details tell the story and might help us determine the year it was painted. The ads along the outfield wall (Mrs. Wagner’s Pies, Singing Shaves), the buildings in the background…all should provide clues.
Did deep outfield really have a hump like that where warning track now would be? The artist also gives us the depth of the fence in right and shows how the lime stripe tracked up what looks like a board pole.
I love how the figures with their backs turned to us are dressed. Everyone has his or head covered. The men in fedoras, one with a flower or a card or something in the band. They appear to be wearing jackets.
I asked Glenn Stout–winner of the 2012 Seymour Medal for “Fenway 1912″– when the picture could have been painted and he pegged it somewhere between 1932-34. The “Mrs. Wagner’s Pies” sign was up from ’32-’35, he told me. “Google tells me that a sign that read ‘Ever Ready Blades for Singing Shades’ graced the fence in 1932 (see listing at bottom of page).”
It was either the spring or the fall because the fans were dressed for the cold weather but since there is no bunting it wasn’t a World Series game. And:
There is no warning track, but there always was at Yankee Stadium – an actual running track, and the feature was later adopted elsewhere one they realized it was useful. There was , actually, a short, mild rise in CF and Right Center – past the warning track and the stands – the track didn’t skirt the edge of the stands precisely , but was an oval, so it was in front of the stands in CF and fight center, to stay even. So the painting is not accurate, but merely representative.
Of course, I was able to identify the batter.
What a find by John Ed. I thank him for sharing it with us.
Speaking of the Stadium, here’s a good take on the new place by Mathew O’Connor over at Lo-Hud.
Here’s his take on the new Yankee Stadium:
As a guy who spent considerable time in George Steinbrenner’s presence back when both he and I were cogent and unreasonable men (me the barbed newspaper scribe, he the pompous asshole who once called Hideki Irabu a “fat, pus-y toad”), I never expected the Yankees to look anywhere but backward with the new park. After all, this is a family that, in lockstep to George’s scarily tin-eared, tone-deaf take on himself, now runs its corporation by the family’s uncurious, unimaginative philosophy of “I haven’t a clue about vision … but can I buy the guy who everyone else thinks is good?”
So I wasn’t surprised that the new stadium, with its faux-gold façade lettering, emerged with a distinctly Gilded Age/decline-of-the-Roman Empire vibe. The first (and only) time I sat in those thousand-dollar seats behind home plate, and a comely woman who looked like a young Cameron Diaz kept sidling up to ask if I needed anything, I was wise enough to ask for nothing more exotic than shrimp cocktail.
I’ll grant you that the new one’s not a bad place to watch baseball (although annual attendance is a half-million lower than the last year in the old one). But the real problem with wrapping the new place in a retro-traditional-revivalist costume is that once you’re inside there’s not even the slightest pretense about trying to duplicate the original sensorial experience of watching a game in the old stadium, when the borough of the Bronx was part of the fabric of the team’s success. This was when you could reach out from the upper deck and touch the Buy DiNoto’s Bread sign, two stories high, painted in red, green, and white on the back of the six-story, yellow-brick apartment house on 845 Gerard Avenue; when the Ayn-Randian blue-steel screech of the no. 4 train coming to a halt at the 161st Street station wafted the sweet, industrial fragrance of railroad brake linings through the upper rows of the right-center-field bleachers.
But who can complain when the new place is packed with such sophisticated lures as a private dining room where toqued chefs serve crab roll sushi, strip loin, locavore haricots vert, and chocolate mousse?
Lasting Derek Jeter Memories: Hit #2,722
“When he enters a room, there is always a recording of Bob Sheppard announcing his presence …”
“The Oxford English Dictionary apologized to him for neglecting to include the word ‘Jeterian’”
“He has brought such honor to his uniform number, when little kids have to go to the bathroom, their mothers say ‘do you have to do a number 3?’”
“He is . . . the most interesting shortstop the Yankees have had since Tony Fernandez.”
(CUT TO SHOT OF JETER SEATED AT TABLE SURROUNDED BY MINKA KELLY AND HER EQUALLY-ATTRACTIVE GAL PALS)
“I don’t often drink . . . but when I do, I never drive my new 2011 Ford Edge with the cool Panoramic Vista roof immediately afterwards.”
* * *
Once upon a time, in the days before free agency, “franchise players” were plentiful. Most of the upper echelon teams had at least one such player. Even some of the sad sack teams had their icon.
Here’s a list of the “2,000 or more games in career, all for one team” retired players club
Nowadays, the Braves’ Chipper Jones and the Yankees captain are two of the few active “iconic” players in baseball, easily identified by their career-long associations with their respective teams.
With career-long associations with one franchise comes the inevitable march up the team leaderboard for many counting stats, and hits is probably the “showcase” number. Here are the current franchise leaders for each team (excusing the Yankees for a moment):
|St. Louis||Stan Musial||3,630|
|San Francisco||Willie Mays||3,187|
|Baltimore||Cal Ripken Jr.||3,184|
|Kansas City||George Brett||3,154|
|San Diego||Tony Gwynn||3,141|
|Los Angeles (NL)||Zack Wheat||2,804|
|Chicago (AL)||Luke Appling||2,749|
|Chicago (NL)||Ernie Banks||2,583|
|Los Angeles (AL)||Garrett Anderson||2,368|
|Colorado||Todd Helton (active)||2,308|
|Texas||Michael Young (active)||1,949|
|Tampa Bay||Carl Crawford||1,480|
|New York (NL)||Ed Kranepool||1,418|
Given the Yankees history, its surprising to note that the Bombers have never had a 3,000 hit man. Though Joltin’ Joe, The Mick and the Iron Horse all eclipsed 2,000 hits in a Yankee uni, Joe DiMaggio lost three prime years to the service and Mickey Mantle and Lou Gehrig saw their productivity diminished due to injury and illness respectively.
So when Derek Sanderson Jeter came upon the scene in 1995, no one could have foreseen that this polite, photogenic and disciplined shortstop would stand upon the precipice of Yankee history on the night of September 11, 2009. Jeter’s inside-out, line drive to right-center machine of a swing had pumped out 2,721 hits to that point, knotting him with Gehrig.
Despite it being the eighth anniversary of the Taliban attacks that killed nearly 3,000 New Yorkers, and despite a rainshower that delayed the start of the game by nearly 90 minutes, there was electricity and anticipation in the new Stadium that night. A near-capacity crowd of 46,771 braved the elements to cheer on The Captain.
The Yanks faced Chris Tillman of the Orioles. Tillman was making only his ninth career start in the Majors. Leading off the bottom of the first, Jeter struck out swinging on a 1-2 pitch, but Alex Rodriguez hit a three-run homer later in the inning, and the Yanks still led 3-1 when Jeter stepped to the plate leading off the third.
He took the first two pitches for balls, then in truly “Jeterian” form, rapped a single between Orioles’ first baseman Luke Scott and the foul line, with Nick Markakis tracking the ball down as it made its way towards the right field corner. Jeter rounded first, clapped his hands and returned to the base. He shook first base coach Mick Kelleher’s hand, handed him his shin guard, and then, the Yankees filed out of the dugout amidst a thunderous two-minute standing ovation and chants of “Jeter! Jeter!” from the crowd. Jeter’s father could be seen high-fiving anyone and everyone he could up in one of the Yankee suites. In the opposing dugout, the Orioles clapped in appreciation of the achievement.
It was an odd sight, as the Yanks (and Orioles) were all wearing red caps for the memory of “9/11″, but the night belonged to Yankee navy blue and white. Jeter would end up two for four on the night, leaving the game after a second rain delay. The Yanks would end up losing the game 10-4, but with a nine game lead in the division heading into play and only 20 games remaining, the loss was rendered especially insignificant. Derek Jeter had broken the 72-year-old hits record of Lou Gehrig, and the “new” Yankee Stadium had its first truly memorable moment.
Reggie Jackson turned 65 yesterday. He was my baseball hero as a kid. He was also Jon DeRosa’s idol. To mark the occasion of Reggie becoming a senior citizen, figured this is as good a time as any to share Jon’s Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory (which appeared in the book but not on-line until now).
By Jon DeRosa
On January 22, 1982 Reggie Jackson signed with the California Angels. It was the latest in a series of difficult lessons for me—a six-year-old who otherwise had it pretty good. In rapid succession, Darth Vader revealed he was Luke Skywalker’s father, the Yankees crashed out of the only two baseball seasons I had ever followed, and my Grandmother passed days after my little brother was born on my 6th birthday. I was looking for a fight and George Steinbrenner and his Yankees were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I assigned Steinbrenner and Vader to the same category of evil: each had reached into my life and changed things forever. I actively rooted for the Yankees’ decline the way I rooted for the fall of the Empire. I removed my Yankee baseball cards from the binder, secured them with merciless rubber bands and tossed them in with obscure Seattle Mariners and Cleveland Indians and other total strangers. From that point on, I rooted for the Angels.
In 1982, for a kid in New York, that was difficult. You had to write a letter to the team, addressed to the stadium itself, requesting them to mail you an order form so that you might have the opportunity to buy something with a halo on it. My mother wrote such a letter and, by the grace of Gene Autry, was allowed to purchase a cap, a helmet, a jersey, and for some reason, Angels wristbands. I wore the whole ensemble to Yankee Stadium on Tuesday April 27th, 1982 for Reggie’s first game back in New York. My father and older brother were with me but I was scared stiff. What if he struck out? What if they booed? What if the Yankees were right?
We watched batting practice from right field in a light rain as a buzzing crowd filed in around us. Our seats were in the upper deck between first base and right field, where we munched on hot dogs. I felt grown-up whenever I was allowed to get two, but that night, my nervous stomach wasn’t accommodating. The rain made the bun on the second hot dog a little soggy.
When Reggie came to bat in the second inning, Bob Sheppard announced his name with such elegance that I imagined it was a personal statement, “I should be announcing this name every night.” This was the moment I dreaded. Would they boo? The crowd stood and chanted: REG-GIE, REG-GIE, REG-GIE. Buoyed by the warmth of the welcome, I got to my feet, but my jaw was frozen shut and I couldn’t move my lips. My dad put his arm around me as Ron Guidry poured in a heater. Reggie took his massive cut, but he got jammed and popped out. I was back in my seat the instant I saw Reggie’s reaction.
The game rolled along at a pace more akin to a 100-meter dash than a modern American League baseball game—they got through seven innings in 1 hour and 51 minutes before the game was called due to rain. When Reggie batted in the fifth, the crowd rose for him again. REG-GIE, REG-GIE, REG-GIE. He yanked a single to right field and was rewarded with brief applause. I was silent throughout this at bat, too, but the base hit calmed my nerves temporarily. The crowd asked; Reggie delivered. Contract complete, customers satisfied, right? Even a child should have known better. Yankee fans didn’t ask—they demanded. And they didn’t want a single; they wanted a home run.
When they greeted Reggie with his chant for the third time in the seventh, my stomach knotted, and I wished they would stop chanting. It wasn’t fanatical devotion; it was the begging of spoiled children. REG-GIE, REG-GIE, REG-GIE might as well be MORE, MORE, MORE. I knew it was not fair to ask for so much. In this world I was learning about, teams lose, people die; things just don’t usually work out…
I saw Reggie’s black bat whip through the hitting zone; the ball accelerated at an improbable speed and angle at impact and assumed a trajectory that could have sent it across the street if not for the upper deck façade. As the ball sped past my face it erased all my doubts and fears and I felt a lightness rise from my gut to my head. Pure relief. I couldn’t hear anything because my mind had not yet validated this moment as reality. Then the noise just materialized in my ears: REG-GIE, REG-GIE, REG-GIE, louder than the other three times combined. My brother and father jostled me from side to side as they chanted along.
I stayed quiet. How did this happen? Did I use the Force to will that ball out of the park? I couldn’t even comprehend that I just got exactly what I wanted. What were the ramifications of getting what you pray for? I should have been screaming my head off, but I just stared out at Reggie rounding the bases, making sure he touched every one and hoping he was as happy as I was.
The chanting didn’t end when Reggie reached the dugout. When he came out for his curtain call, as if they had rehearsed it prior to the game, the crowd turned toward Steinbrenner’s box and let him have it. Steinbrenner SUCKS, Steinbrenner SUCKS, Steinbrenner SUCKS! All of the emotion that had built up in my little body flowed through the crowd into the damp Stadium air. My brother and father were gleefully singing the song, rousing me to participate. But I felt bad for George and I kept silent.
Tomorrow night at 10:00 p.m. on the National Geographic Channel:
It is cold and dark and rainy in New York on Black Friday. Looking to shop?
Lasting Yankee Stadium Memories is out. Check, check it out.
Meanwhile, dig Richard Ben Cramer’s essay from the book. It’s priceless:
By Richard Ben Cramer
My grandfather took me to my first game at The Stadium. Not baseball: the Cleveland Browns against the New York Football Giants. I lived in Rochester and, as a consequence, I was a Browns fan. As to whether this was right and proper, I thought not at all. I knew nothing about sports marketing and could not have cared less if small-market Rochester had been gerrymandered into the Browns’ TV-turf as a sop to get the Modells’ vote for the television package. I was 14, and I loved Jim Brown.
By modern standards, I was still a casual fan. Football was more fun to play than to watch, and I lived in a neighborhood with wall-to-wall kids. There was a backyard game every Sunday, so I probably missed more Browns’ games than I saw. But even I knew that this would be a big game: December football; the Browns had to win it to get to the championship. It was also a revenge game: the Giants had beaten the Browns two-straight (the final game of the season and a special playoff) to get to the ‘58 championship, said to be the greatest ever played. I knew the Browns would have beaten the Colts, and, dutifully, I reviled the Giants.
I was stunned by the ballpark. My notion of a stadium was Red Wing Stadium, where the Rochester AAA ballteam played. But this was something else—vast and powerful, filled with sixty thousand fans, and the tangy scent of smoke mixed with alcohol (which I wouldn’t smell again till I could go into bars), and noise like I’d never heard in my life. I couldn’t even describe the noise—a wailing screech?—ebbing and then rising as loud as a jet plane. I fell silent. I felt tiny.
But the Browns gave me courage. As I remember, the game was tight, with the Browns clinging to a nervous lead by the half—at which point some kind of miracle transpired. Suddenly, the Browns could do no wrong, and for the Giants, nothing went right. Title was intercepted for a score. Jim Brown caught a pass and waltzed into the end zone. The Giants fumbled, the Browns scored…and again…and again…and I was whooping and cutting up just as loud as I could, just like the (suddenly silent) New York fans…or so I imagined—it only showed how little I understood.
When the Browns’ back-ups scored again, and their score climbed to more than 50 points, I asked my grandfather (rather too loudly) if that big Longines scoreboard could show three digits for the visiting team. A couple of New York fans turned around and gave me the look that was my real introduction to Yankee Stadium. I had known for about the last quarter that they probably wanted me to shut up. But their look now didn’t say, “shut up.” What it said was they wanted to kill me. What is said was this was the worst moment of their lives and if I didn’t shut up they might forget how unutterably sad they were, and have another drink, and kill me for sure.
I shut up. I feared them. But I also respected them. No one I knew felt that way about their team. And they taught me something important, which was the dire seriousness of New York sports—which is what the old Stadium was about.
I had a good time reading from Lasting Yankee Stadium Memories in Brooklyn last night. I went on first and by the time I was finished the Yanks held a 3-2 lead. When I got to the subway, it was 4-2 and that’s the last I knew from anything until I reached Dyckman Street in uptown Manhattan. I sat on the 1 train, clutching my phone, waiting for the train to exit the tunnel so I could get a signal. The anticipation…oh, the anticipation. When I saw the score, the game was final–Yanks 5, Twins 2. I raised my right arm and let out a “Yeah.” A woman sitting across from me looked up and knew. “What’s the score?” she said.
“Yanks won,” I said.
A few more people looked up and we were all smiling.
I waited for the bus on 231st street and called Jay Jaffe for a recap.
When the bus arrived, I said hello to the driver.
“How you doin?” he said.
“The Yanks won, I’m great.”
I found a seat in the back and then I heard the driver’s voice over the loudspeaker.
“What was the score?”
“5-2″ I yelled.
Bus full of sleepy but happy New Yorkers.
Lasting Yankee Stadium Memories is now in bookstores.
To celebrated its publication, dig this piece about Todd Drew from one of his dearest friends:
By Peter Zanardi
We never talked but then Todd Drew didn’t reveal a bit of himself. We never parted without making some kind of future plan. I’m totally convinced that would have continued if he lived to be 100.
The last time we met, Todd talked mostly about his own blog, Yankees For Justice, and his contributions to Bronx Banter. He also expressed his admiration for Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. An unabashed liberal, Todd called Sanders “my favorite Senator.” Because I have Vermont connections, and because Sanders (who is actually Brooklyn born) is so approachable, I made a mental note to see about getting a personalized item for Todd.
My wife Jane and I would give it to him when we returned to New York for a weekend that would definitely include Jazz at Lincoln Center.
Todd’s mind had many, many rooms, and I’ll be forever thankful that I got to visit a few of them. There was, of course, baseball in general and the Yankees in particular. In the last years of his all-too-short stay, that was the warmest, coziest, most comforting of the rooms. He kept the cleanest scorebook I’ve ever seen, and I’m guessing the room was equally tidy.There were also spaces for ballet, jazz, history, politics, and especially the written word. The love between Todd and his wife Marsha was in every room. You couldn’t escape it.
I often marveled at what this son of a Syracuse bartender had become. He was a damn good writer, as evidenced by his Yankees For Justice and Bronx Banter contributions. I loved his style of driving home points with short, jab-like sentences.
Writing this, I now marvel at what I became just knowing him.
Considering the company, Todd’s joy in being one of the contributors to this effort would have been immeasurable. He was more than aware of all the others. His bookshelves rivaled some small town libraries. He loved to discuss particular books, stories, and opinions.
He read. He read a lot because he was convinced that was the route to becoming a better writer. The passion was always there—a divine gift perhaps. His sense of right and wrong, received from his parents Richard and Linda, was evident very early. He recalled, with pride, walking a picket line at age five or six with his Dad, then a Carrier employee in Syracuse.
The writing skills were not so easy to come by.
Auto racing brought us together. He was working for NASCAR handling media for a northern series. He had gone south to work for Dale Earnhardt. Among the things he brought back north was Marsha. I was involved in racetrack publicity at the time and delighted in listening to Marsha’s drawl.
Soon we wound up at the same auto racing weekly outside of Boston. I was sort of a “Dutch Uncle” at first—not more talented but a generation older. I watched Todd labor over columns. He’d spend an hour finding the right three-or-four word phrase. He’d ask so many questions.
He read living writers and dead writers, and he would experiment. “Where did you get that?” I’d ask. “Furman Bisher, Red Smith, Joe Falls,” he would answer. He’d write in the first person, in the second, in the third. He’d play with quotes, change paragraphs around. Sometimes it would work, and sometimes it wouldn’t, but he battled on.
He moved to a magazine. He started winning some acclaim including an honorable mention in a Best American Sports Stories collection. Bones Bourcier, the award-winning auto-racing writer, and I would kind of talk behind his back about how badly he wanted to be a great writer.
Bones and I were both in Oklahoma when we heard of Todd’s passing. We talked of his desire again, wishing, praying even, that this time he heard us.
The auto-racing run ended. Todd took Marsha back to Syracuse where his folks ran Poor Richard’s Pub. Times were not always good, the truth is he struggled, but the love he had for his native city showed through. He loved its baseball team, its fairgrounds, its place in New York State history, and its people. He wrote for some small newspapers.
I recall sitting in a diner in Baldwinsville outside of Syracuse talking about the Erie Canal. We drove to Rochester to see a ball game because Syracuse was away. The next day we were at the famed Oswego Speedway.
Then I heard Todd and Marsha were moving to New York City. He was taking that passion and that sense of right and wrong to the American Civil Liberties Union. “How perfect is that?” my wife, Jane, asked.
Soon they were living on the Upper West Side, going to Yankee games, to the New York City Ballet, to Birdland and Lincoln Center. He was an active member of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR).
When we visited we took good shoes because we were going to walk. That, he said, was the way to appreciate his new home. He and Marsha would walk up to Harlem to jazz joints. When the subway workers went out, he walked the many blocks to work. He got to the Stadium as early as he could. He often left as late as possible.
Todd loved showing off his new home to his old friend. He taught Jane and me not to be afraid of the city, to enjoy its multitude of possibilities. His writing reflected the same love of New York’s people.
My wife was born in Brooklyn. She still had memories of the house her grandfather, an immigrant from Sweden, had built there. Her maternal grandfather, an English immigrant, was one of the founders of a church a few blocks away. Todd, Marsha, and I decided we would take Jane to those places that are in an area of Brooklyn now largely populated by minorities.
After a long subway ride, we walked many blocks before stopping in front of the house where Jane’s father was brought up. Then we walked on to the church. We couldn’t get in at first. A church elder, an immigrant himself, happened along and, hearing the story, invited us in.
Jane asked about the baptismal font that was dedicated in her grandfather’s memory some 50 years earlier. Sure enough, it was there, still being used. The plaque memorializing her grandfather was intact.
My wife’s eyes filled up. I’m almost sure Todd’s eyes did as well. He appreciated grandfathers and heritage. It was an incredible, very human moment. The fact that Todd Drew, who refused to dwell on differences—be they religion, color, income, education, whatever—was there made it more special.
I’ve was blessed to traveled a lot of miles with Todd Drew. I watched many races with him, went to Yankee Stadium and Shea Stadium with him. We talked and argued, always gently, about many things including the designated hitter (I dislike it) and modern versus traditional ballet. I truly not only loved Todd Drew, I loved being with him.
My lasting memory of Todd is that moment in that church in Brooklyn.
Todd and I went to the Stadium that night, Marsha graciously giving up her ticket. The next day, she took it back, and Jane and I enjoyed New York by ourselves.
“I believe in baseball and an equally free, open, just society for everyone,” Todd wrote. He hit that right on the nose.
Dig this interview with me over at Gelf. I’ll be part of the next Varsity Letters Reading Series, this Thursday at 7:30 in Brooklyn.
Lasting Yankee Stadium Memories hits the shelves next week. Dig this interview with me over at New York Magazine.
Also, for all you NYC heads, I’ll be at the Gelf Varsity Letters series in Brooklyn next Thursday, October 7th. If you are around and available, represent, represent!