Right Side Up. Again.
I don’t know when it started. People ask me all the time, and I’m embarrassed that I don’t have a good answer. What made me start rooting for the Yankees. I guess it was the run they made in the late 70′s. I was so little, and I don’t really remember any of the games, but there is one clear recollection that I have. My father worked in downtown Manhattan, and on the day that the City held the tickertape parade for the Yankees back in ’78, he brought me back a souvenir. It was a button, one of those old-style big buttons that you would pin on yourself, like they used to use for political campaigns. It was one of those things that you have long after you realize that they don’t really make them anymore. The button was interesting because of its message. Across the top it said “New York Yankees – 1978 World Champions.” And along the bottom it threw this down – “We Will Do It Again.” Talk about scratching a baseball fan right where he itches. It was beautiful. Was that where it all started? Tough to say… I just know that it started, and it’s been a wonderful ride…
So here’s a question. Have I stayed away from the blog this year to avoid jinxing the season? What do you think? I started writing this thing (with a little help from my friends) because my boy Sean asked me to back in early 2005. He worked for mlb.com at the time, and they had started a new blog forum called mlblogs. They needed bloggers, he asked me to do it, so I did it. I’m a pretty lazy cat most of the time, as I’ve made pretty clear over the years. But I found it somewhat therapeutic, as I realized that it was a good way to get stuff off my chest about a particular game without waking my wife up and explaining to her why Jorge Posada needed to take a pitch in his at-bat in the seventh, and why Torre shouldn’t have pinch run for Giambi a run down in the sixth. It also made me realize what a jack*ss fan I really was. But hey, like Sammy Davis Jr. once said, I gotta be me. So in 2005, the Yankees lost in the first round of the playoffs. 2006, first round again. 2007, another first round exit. And then they finished third in 2008. Third. So yes, this year I wasn’t taking any chances. For the good of the team and Yankeedom everywhere, I was keeping the keyboard covered. So here I am.
A couple of notes about this playoff run:
Is there anybody out there who didn’t feel even the slightest bit good for Alex Rodriguez? I’m sure there are, of course, but man, what a monkey that guy had on his back. After all the meltdowns, the demotion to 8th in the order, the boos… After all that, have you ever seen anything so clutch in your life? Considering there are only 11 wins in a successful postseason, the fact that the guy tied two games when the Yankees were losing in the ninth or later with bombs is ridiculous. And he tied another in the seventh. That’s three games out of 11 that he pulled out of the fire with clutch bombs. And then he got a two-out, ninth-inning double to put the Yankees ahead in what was probably the key game of the WS, game four. I don’t ever remember anyone having that kind of a clutch post-season. If there had been a playoff MVP, rather than just an LCS and WS MVP, you’d pull your hair out trying to decide between Al and Mo, but my vote goes to Al. It truly was vindication for a guy who had earned a month like that. The big fly lit up again, just when we needed it most.
Jimmy Rollins. Poor Jimmy Rollins. Jimmy, shooting your mouth off is fine in the National League. You can talk smack to the Rockies, and the Dodgers, and the Brewers, and whatever other silly teams you had to go through the past two years, but now you’re way out of your league, dude. You may have slapped around the Mets, but now you’ve got to deal with Big Brother. And you got what was coming. Go play the Pirates next time, dude… Save yourself the embarrassment….
I had been saying since ’96 that I didn’t like Jeter leading off. To me, he was such a classic two-hole hitter. I always felt the Yankees were at their best when Jeter hit behind a classic lead-off guy like Knoblauch or even Damon. Soriano wasn’t really a classic leadoff guy, but you get the idea. But Torre would often throw Jeter in the leadoff spot in big games, especially in the post-season. So now, after 14 seasons, I finally get it. What better guy to send up there to set the tone for a game, what better guy for your team to watch stepping in to the batter’s box, especially when they might be up against the wall, or have butterflies… What better guy to stare all that in the face than Derek Jeter? I finally get it. When Derek Jeter hit the bomb to tie the first game of the playoffs against the Twins, Big Angelo and I both commented that he’s hit a disproportionate amount of bombs in the post-season. Not to mention clutch hits, clutch plays, and everything in between. So yes, I finally get it. Derek Jeter leading off. Genius.
Speaking of Jeter, I was introduced to a new term this post-season. Apparently Jeter, Mo, Pettitte, and Posada are now the “Core Four.” Okay. Michael Kay used to call them the “Lords of the Rings.” A bit too dramatic for popular consumption, perhaps. Whatever you want to call them, you can see why they’ve had so much success. Cool under fire. All of them. Jeter and Posada collected clutch hits all October (and beyond, thanks Mr. Selig…), and Mo and Pettitte battled like pros, always keeping themselves and their team in the game. It’s funny as you watch guys who have big numbers, and even some past post-season success – Lidge, Hamels, Nathan, Fuentes, etc, melt down like something out of “The Real World Las Vegas.” But not those guys. The core four. Five Yankee rings each. Five. Remarkable.
There’s been a lot of talk about the umpiring. As many of you know, I’ve always been a proponent of making the whole thing automated. Everything from balls and strikes to calls in the field. One ump for weird outlier calls that need a decision. The qualifier would be that you would need the technology to make the calls without having to review every play with replay. It has to be automated. We’re not there yet, I know. Particularly with calls in the field. Balls and strikes can already be called electronically with 99% accuracy. And you can see on TV how erratic the umpires are with their strike zones. Eliminate the subjectivity, I say. I understand I’m pretty much alone in that, but that’s cool. One man’s opinion. Speaking of the umpiring, one thing jumped out at me this post-season. In game two of the ALCS, which I attended with Big Joe and the missus, Erick Aybar didn’t touch second while turning a double play, and the runner was called safe by virtue of the “neighborhood play.” Everyone – the announcers, the Angels, the media – was up in arms. Tim McCarver almost had a stroke. “You NEVER see that play called!!” he crowed. “Now you’re going to call it? In the playoffs??” Mike Scoscia was beside himself out on the field, arguing his fat face off. So, a word to the irresponsible mainstream media. Never see it called? How about game five of the Division Series in 2005? Ringing a bell, Mike Scoscia? Robbie Cano was called for the exact same neighborhood play, contributing to the Yankees losing to Mike Scoscia’s very same Angels in the deciding game of that series in Anaheim. What goes around comes around. Do your homework, guys. Somebody.
Speaking of the late 70′s, I’ve heard a few talking heads saying that this Yankee team more closely resembled the Yanks of the late 70′s than the late 90′s. Sounds about right to me. The late 70′s bunch was a bit shaggier, had all of the payroll allegations, had a blend of home-grown and imported talent. They were also a bit less buttoned-up-corporate. The mustaches and the afros were a bit more pronounced. They strike me as a bit more likely to smash pies into each other’s faces…
There are a couple of guys you feel good for in a year like this, because they seem extra psyched to have stepped into a championship. Guys like Nick Swisher and Jerry Hairston. Especially Hairston. Here was a guy who was toiling in Cincinnati for most of the year, a journeyman in every sense of the word. He was probably just hoping to hang on for a few more years of usefulness somewhere. Anywhere. Then his agent tells him he’s going to the best team in baseball. And then he makes a solid contribution, scoring the winning run in game 2 of the LCS, starting game 2 of the WS and coming up with some key hits, and finally, standing in left field when Tex squeezed the last out to win the World Series. His story and his game reminded me a lot of Jose Vizcaino in 2000. Good for you, Jerry Hairston. I’m glad you’re getting that World Series ring. You earned it.
This is why we got Johnny Damon. It took a few years and some heartbreak, and I’m sure he felt weird watching some of his old teammates celebrating in ’07, but when his time came, he came through in spades. Two words. Game four.
I sent a text message to Tony Sherry the day after the Yanks won the World Series. It said this, “I don’t know if I’ve ever felt happier for anybody than I feel right now for the Ferocious Lion, Hideki Matsui.” There was a great article in the Wall Street Journal a few days afterwards, with an even better headline – “Japanese Baseball’s Best Day Ever.” Man that made me feel good. Good for MLB. They got this one right. They could have given the MVP to Mo. They’ve done it before, and he’s deserved it. And you could make a real case for him again. But the Ferocious Lion was just as deserving, and MLB recognized that they had a golden opportunity to set off a blinding crush of energy for the sport of baseball on the Asian continent. Amazing, considering that Japan has now won two consecutive World Baseball Classic trophies and Ichiro Suzuki has won an AL MVP on his journey to the Hall of Fame. Amazing that everyone agreed that this was Japanese Baseball’s Best Day Ever. The only guy as excited as the Japanese mobbing the streets of Tokyo at lunchtime on that Thursday afternoon? The Lion’s biggest fan, of course. Tony Sherry….
Speaking of the Ferocious Lion, everyone seems to think he’s not coming back to the Yanks. Here’s why I say he is. Take a look at the ads on the right field wall at Yankee Stadium. Sony. Komatsu. Something else written entirely in Japanese. I have no idea what that’s for. Point is, Matsui pays for himself. The Wall Street Journal estimated that the Yankees bring in $20 million a year from Japanese advertising, merchandising, and broadcast rights. The Yankees will argue that’s because they have a big Japanese fan base and not necessarily all because of Matsui. Right. And now that he’s the reigning World Series MVP, imagine the payday looming for the Yankees. I don’t care what kind of roster flexibility you’re looking for. I need somebody to explain to me why you wouldn’t want a guy who gives you that kind of production, against lefties, righties, whatever, even if he’s only a DH, who pays for himself and then some…
This is apropos of nothing, but I’ll say it because I haven’t heard anybody else say it. The amount of tickertape this year at the parade was p*ss-poor. I understand that these days the windows are often sealed shut in favor of year-round climate control, but this isn’t that hard. I understand the City gave recycled paper to all of the buildings, but they didn’t give enough. You didn’t see the usual shots of the blizzard of paper raining down on the paraders this year. No good. More tickertape.
So there was one thing that came out of this World Championship run that I didn’t expect. The retribution. During the run in the late 90′s, the Yankees won every World Series they were in. They weren’t avenging anything. When this post-season started, the Yankees last 8 years had gone like this: Heartbreak in the ninth inning of the World Series against Arizona, out in the first round against Anaheim, losing a World Series they should have swept to a Marlins team that was far inferior, ’04 (nuff said), then the three first round exits I detailed earlier. I wasn’t expecting that, with this run, all of that would somehow be okay. I wouldn’t trade this championship to get any of those back. Even with all of those sour moments of the last eight years, you couldn’t be in a better spot than you’re in right now. World Champions.
Speaking of which, I was at game six with Big Ange and Acc’s dad. Yup, Bert Acc… Had a great time, too. They were good company. The texts came pouring in all game. I had sent Mikey D a text in game 2 (which he attended), telling him to bring one home for us. He sent me one before game 6, telling me the same. “I’m giving it everything I got,” I texted him back around the fourth inning… An hour after the game ended, I was still standing there, in the Stadium that had started me off so sour this season (I’m still not happy about the Pepsi…), singing along with Ol’ Blue Eyes, all by myself. Big Joe called. “I’m still standing here,” I told him. “You’re still at the Stadium?” he asked incredulously, laughing out loud. “Yup. Still here…” Where was I going to go? What a night…
Speaking of the last few years, I’ve gotten better at understanding that you need to enjoy the journey. I understand you can’t win every year. There will always be some heartbreaking moments. It only makes it sweeter when they win. I can go through my laundry list of great baseball memories. Where I was, who I was with. Going to games when I was a kid, watching the ’81 World Series in my parents’ room with my sister, going bananas when Butch Wynegar hit a two-out bomb to keep the Yankees season alive in ’85, Donnie Baseball tying the record for home runs in consecutive games, being at the Jim Leyritz walk-off game against Seattle in ’95. Chanting with 15 guys at Acc and Mike Sherry’s house in Long Beach in ’95 and ’96 when the Yanks were just getting warmed up. Being on the Upper East Side after the clincher in ’96 (which was pandemonium, by the way) when all of the Yankees showed up at Cronies to celebrate. Watching game 1 against the Mets at the Stadium with Ruddy, watching with Sean in the bleachers when Scott Brosius pulled off Miracle, Part II in 2001. Singing with Mikey Dantone when Aaron Boone catapulted us into the World Series. Taking my baby boy to the old Stadium last year, just so he could say he was there. Christening the new Stadium with a World Championship last week. I remember them all. That’s why I’m a fan. That’s why I show up. I understand it seems silly, investing so much in something I have so little control over. It is silly. But you can’t put that much emotion into your memories just BS-ing with your boys at a bar. Sometimes moments like these make perfect bookmarks on the story of your life.
And then there was perhaps my best baseball memory. The day after Thanksgiving, 1996, far from the grand baseball stadiums of New York and long after baseball had boarded itself up tight for the winter. There had been, in the weeks following the World Series, all kinds of souvenirs and knick-knacks that popped up on the carts of the street vendors in the city. Anything to commemorate what was at the time the 23rd Championship for the Yankees. One thing had caught my eye, and I had it with me that day as I trudged through a late November wind across grass that had just suffered its first frost way out on the east end of Long Island.
My dad didn’t make it to see the Yankees fulfill the promise of that button that he had given me some 18 years before. He wasn’t a big baseball fan, or a big sports fan. He liked the Mets, as he had grown up a Manhattan kid rooting for the New York baseball Giants. He didn’t root against the Yankees, as he always said he was a New York fan first. And he knew that his boy liked the Yanks, so he always made time for them. So that day back in late November ’96, amongst the many flowers, American flags, and the occasional early Christmas wreath, I placed something that must have seemed curious to the caretakers at Calverton National Cemetery. A small button (by this time they were primarily made to pin on knapsacks and the like) that said – “New York Yankees – World Champions.” What was not printed but understood, as far as I was concerned, was “Again.”
It may have taken 18 years that time, and it may have taken 9 years this time, but the Yankees delivered on their promise. The world has turned right side up again. The Yankees are Champions of the World.
And now, like then, it was worth the wait.