New York Yankees
NEW YORK YANKEES
The New York Yankees began in 1903 as the Highlanders. Cy Young threw a no-hitter against them in 1908. They became the Yankees in 1913. "Yankees" was an Indian word for the English in early America. When the Indians tried to say "English," it came out, "Yankees."
Yankee Stadium opened in the Bronx in 1923. It was a wonder of the modern world. The short porch in right field was designed for Babe Ruth and the team's left-handed batters. Ruth homered in the first game played at the Stadium. The mythical Curse of the Bambino began when Boston Red Sox owner Harry Frazee sold Ruth to Jacob Ruppert's Yankees before the 1920 season. Boston went 86 years before winning another World Series. The Curse ended in 2004.
The New York Yankees dominated baseball for 40 years. Yankee history can be divided into 5 eras, those of (1) Babe Ruth & Lou Gehrig, (2) Joe DiMaggio, (3) Mickey Mantle, (4) George Steinbrenner & Joe Torre and the new Stadium.
Babe Ruth was a god. He won 96 games as a pitcher with a 2.28 Earned Run Average before moving to the outfield. He hit more home runs in a season than other teams. Ruth did not look like an athlete. He loved to party. His 60 home runs in 1927 and 714 total were records that stood through baseball's golden age. Ruth's home runs to at bats ratio still stands.
Lou Gehrig, for all his greatness, played in the shadow of Ruth. Gehrig fell short of the 500 home run club with 493. He finished with 1,995 RBIs. Had he not become ill, his numbers would have been greater. Gehrig played in 2,130 consecutive games, a record which stood until Cal Ripken. Gehrig demonstrated his courage when he called himself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.
The Yankees won the World Series five years in a row, 1949-53, under manager Casey Stengel. I have no memory of it. It was my father's era. My father named Lou Gehrig as his favorite player but spoke more of Joe DiMaggio. DiMaggio hit safely in 56 straight games in 1941, the same year Ted Williams batted .406. Williams missed three years of his prime because of World War II, then served in Korea. He was the third greatest hitter of all time after Ruth and Gehrig. Guys like Ted Williams, Yogi Berra and Hank Bauer, who was at Okinawa, saved the world.
Chester Colyer was my father. He became a Yankee fan when he picked them in the 1936 World Series. His brother, Leo, picked the New York Giants. The Yankees won the Series 4 games to 2, and my father followed them the rest of his life.
The first World Series I remember was 1954. It was the Cleveland Indians and the Giants. My father was for the Indians because they were in the American League. For no apparent reason, I was for the Giants. They swept the Series.
By 1956, I was firmly with the Yankees. It was the year of Mickey Mantle. Mantle was born in Spavinaw, Oklahoma, October 20, 1931. His father taught him to switch hit and groomed him for a major league career. Mickey grew up working in the mines. He was gifted with exceptional speed and athletic prowess. He was injured playing football, then stepped on a drain in center field in the 1951 World Series. Injuries plagued him his whole career. Mantle replaced the beloved DiMaggio in center field, no easy task. He was booed incessantly through the 1950s, even in Yankee Stadium. It made no sense. The boos were indicative of the coming generation gap of the 1960s. Mantle was the hero of baby boomers. The boos came from fans who remembered Gehrig and DiMaggio and resented Mantle's advance publicity and humble beginnings. They insisted he hit a home run every time at bat.
Mickey Mantle broke out in 1956. He won the Triple Crown, leading the American League with 52 home runs, 130 runs batted in and a batting average of .353. His home runs were Gargantuan. It seemed like everyday, the sports page showed his latest tape-measure shot. I was collecting baseball cards, and my prize was the 1956 Mickey Mantle, the only one I ever saw. When my black sheep cousin stole it from my room, I cried inconsolably. Mantle hit .365 in 1957.
I started playing baseball in 1957. I played second base and wore Mantle's number 7. My father and his brother, Roy, sponsored a team made up of Colyer cousins. Our team was called C&R Colyer after the trucking business my father and uncle owned. Cousin Larry was on first. I was on second. Jerry played third. Bobby caught. We played behind Middletown Elementary school east of Louisville. We won, and the league resented us. We were champions in 1958 and 1959. I was small and liked to bunt. Being on a family team, I played to win.
I took the New York Yankees' loss to Pittsburgh in the 1960 World Series hard. I was in the 9th grade, in health class. I laid my head on the desk to hide the tears. I would rather lose with them than win with anyone else. Once you root for the Yankees, you can never root for another team. Billy Martin said it, "I am a Yankee!" It is not the city. It is the tradition of the one team in all of sports which matters.
The Yankees came back with a vengeance. The 1961 Yankees rank with 1927's Murderer's Row and the 1998 team as the three greatest. The 1961 team beat the Cincinnati Reds in the World Series four games to one. Bill Skowron was at first, Bobby Richardson at second and Tony Kubek at shortstop. Yogi Berra had moved to left field. Whitey Ford went 25-4 with an ERA of 3.21 and got the Cy Young Award. Ford had a great curve ball and was one of the coolest pitchers to ever play the game.
All pitchers are measured against Cy Young. He won 511 games between 1890 and 1911. In those years, a team had two or three starting pitchers, and they were expected to complete games. Relief pitching is a modern specialty.
1961 featured the home run race between Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris and their attempt to break Babe Ruth's record of 60. By now, Mantle was accepted in New York. Maris was the outsider. Mantle was in the hospital as the season drew to a close. He finished with 54 homers. Maris kept hitting them. The commissioner of baseball issued a statement that if Maris broke Ruth's record after 154 games, the new record would have an asterisk beside it. It was the year of expansion, and 8 games had been added to the schedule. As it happened, Maris finished 154 games with 59 homers, one shy of the Babe. He hit numbers 60 and 61 in the extra games. His record was tarnished by the asterisk. He grew sullen. Maris was an introvert who hated being harassed by the press. His record of 61 home runs stood until Mark McGuire hit 70 in 1998.
Baseball records are subject to scrutiny, certainly home run records. Over the decades, fences have been moved in, balls have gotten livelier and pitchers mounds have been lowered. Baseball does what it has to do to keep the game interesting. After Barry Bonds hit 73, it came out that he was using steroids, a performance-enhancing drug. The criticism was, "The balls are juiced, the bats are juiced and the players are juiced." Congress finally cracked down on baseball's use of steroids.
Mickey Mantle's abilities eroded in the mid-1960s. He played in pain, taping his legs before every game. He retired after 1968 at age 36. With Mantle, it will always be what might have been. He played in 12 World Series and won three MVPs Most Valuable Player Awards. He hit 536 home runs but without the injuries might have hit 700. 500 home runs is the standard for power hitters as 3,000 hits is the goal of players who hit for average. Longevity is a must. Mantle had a drinking problem later in life and died after a failed liver transplant. He was courageous to the end. He maintained that being a good teammate was the most important thing. He and Ford went into the Hall of Fame together.
George Steinbrenner, a ship-builder from Cleveland, bought the Yankees in 1973 and set out to rebuild them. The Steinbrenner era was turbulent. He spoke his mind and attracted players who did the same. He made 22 managerial changes. He hired and fired Billy Martin five times. Money was not an issue when it came to the Boss. Free agency let players go on the market when their contracts expired, and Steinbrenner's money allowed him to sign the best free agents. Modern players play for themselves, money and their teams in that order.
Cajun Ron Guidry was the Yankee pitcher of his generation. in 1978, he went 25-3 with an ERA of 1.74. He was known for his slider.
Goose Gossage came to the Yankees as their closer. He intimidated with his Fu Manchu and blazing fastball. He was eventually inducted into baseball's Hall of Fame.
Graig Nettles made breath-taking plays at third base. He was known for his wit as much as his glove. He coined the phrase, "Bronx Zoo." Cy Young winner Sparky Lyle used it as the title of his book. When Lyle was traded, Nettles said it was "Cy Young and Sayonara."
Thurman Munson dubbed Reggie Jackson, "Mr. October," after Jackson hit 3 home runs against the Dodgers in game 6 of the 1977 World Series. Broadcaster Howard Cosell dubbed Munson, "Old Scrapiron." Munson was the most reliable catcher since Berra. He died when his private plane crashed in 1979. The Yankees were not the same after his death.
Bucky Dent fueled the Yankees/Red Sox rivalry with his 1978 home run putting the Bronx Bombers in their second consecutive Series with the Dodgers.
The Dodgers have been the Yankees' great National League rival. They have met in the World Series 11 times. The Yankees are 8-3.
Baseball is not as simple as it was in the 1950s. There were 16 teams, 8 in each league. After 154 games, the team with the best record in the American League played the team with the best record in the National League in the World Series.
Today, there are 30 teams, one winner and 29 losers. It is harder to win a World Series. There are the American League Division Series (ALDS) and the American League Championship Series (ALCS). There are the NLDS and the NLCS. The playoffs turned the World Series into a tournament. Theoretically, a team could go 162-0 and not go to the Series while a team playing under .500 could win it.
All 30 teams are affected. It is harder for everyone. Wild Cards give lesser teams a chance. Over time, many teams will be helped and hurt by the Wild Card. Baseball is complicated and no longer called the "national pasttime." Salaries are out of reason! Alex Rodriguez signed a $275 million contract. People are working for minimum wage and struggling to feed their families. A game is a game.
I noticed a change while in Las Vegas in 1993. The Yankees were again rising from the ashes. I watched them on the big screens in the hotels. They had Wade Boggs who would spend five years at third base, and someone told me they got Jimmy Key. I had never heard of him, but he was a good pitcher. Paul O'Neill and Bernie Williams became the backbone of the new dynasty. O'Neill won the batting title in the strike-shortened season of 1994. He loved to win and hated to lose, the kind of guy you want on your team. He played with an intensity that bordered on rage. Williams became the Yankees' best center fielder since Mantle.
Don Mattingly was replaced at first base by Tino Martinez. Ironically, Mattingly never appeared in a World Series, coming in 1982 and leaving after 1995.
Derek Jeter came in 1995. He is the best shortstop in Yankee history, a fan favorite and headed for the Hall of Fame. He will become the first Yankee to have 3,000 hits.
Steinbrenner hired Joe Torre as his manager for 1996. Torre was born to manage the Yankees. He was a native New Yorker with the patience of Job. He understood baseball and its players. He talked to the press, explaining things in a calm manner. Under Torre, the Yankees had their first stable era since Casey Stengel.
In 1996, the Yankees went to their first World Series in 15 years. They went up against the Atlanta Braves, the self-proclaimed "team of the 90s." David Cone, now a Yankee, came on television and made the statement, "We're not afraid of the Atlanta Braves!" That is what I wanted to hear! I hated the Braves although not as much as the Cubs. Both Braves and Cubs were overexposed by cable TV in the 80s. The "tomahawk chop" by Braves fans was annoying, and I wanted the Yankees to kick their butts. They did!
The Yankees had a catcher named Jim Leyritz. He had an odd stance and a cocky attitude. He was used sparingly, but when he was on the field, there was an aura. Leyritz's home run in game 4 against Atlanta in the 96 Series not only turned the Series around but started the Yankees on the road to 4 Championships in 5 years.
I became a connoisseur of pitching in middle age. They say good pitching beats good hitting, and it is certainly difficult to win with a weak starting rotation. Pitching staffs have 5-man rotations. In the days of Whitey Ford, it was 4-man rotations. Mel Stottlemeyer excelled as the Yankee's pitching coach. Through the late 90s and into the new century, Joe Torre, Stottlemeyer and Don Zimmer (bench coach) sat next to one another in the dugout like peas in a pod. Zimmer will be remembered for his run-in with Boston pitcher Pedro Martinez. The 70-something Zimmer charged Pedro after he threatened a bean ball.
Andy Pettitte is a true Yankee. He came to the team in 1995 and has been their "stopper," especially effective in October. Pettitte is a left-hander with a great pick-off move to first base. At 6'5", he is an imposing figure glaring over the top of his gove. He has 229 regular season wins with a .629 winning %.
Roger Clemens pitched with the Yankees six years and earned two World Series rings. Clemens, like Wade Boggs, spent his young days with the Boston Red Sox. He built a reputation as a fierce competitor, emotional and willing to throw inside. The beaning of Mike Piazza caused bad blood between the Yankees and New York Mets. The situation was made worse when Clemens later threw half of Piazza's broken bat at him. It was in 2001 that Clemens endeared himself to Yankee fans. He went 20-3 and got the Cy Young Award. Clemens won his 300th game as a Yankee and got his 4,000th strikeout in the same game. He retired after 2003 only to sign with the Astros when Pettitte went to Houston. Amazingly, he won his 7th Cy Young at age 42. Clemens finished his career with 354 wins and 4,672 strikeouts.
David Wells brought excitement to the staff. A hulk of a man, Wells was outspoken and a throwback to the "Bronx Zoo." His teammates called him Boomer. He pitched a perfect game on May 17, 1998. I caught the tail end of it at a taco place in Nashville. It was the first perfect game by a Yankee since Don Larsen in 1956. Wells and Larsen went to the same high school in San Diego, albeit years apart. The 1998 Yankees were a magical team. They won 125 games while losing only 50. There were no superstars, but there were no weak spots.
The following year, David Cone pitched a perfect game. From that game, his career went into a tailspin.
Mariano Rivera has 526 saves and will enter the Hall of Fame as the greatest closer of all time. The bullpen is specialized nowdays.
Complete games are rare, but an ace still pitches 200 innings a year. It is about pitching and defense, getting 27 outs.
Catcher Jorge Posada is in the tradition of Berra and Munson. He is a clutch hitter and a tough guy.
The Yankees beat the Atlanta Braves 4 games to 2 in the 1996 World Series. They swept the San Diego Padres in the 1998 Series and swept the Braves in 1999. 2000 saw a Subway Series between the Yankees and Mets. The Yankees bested the Mets 4 games to 1.
Third baseman Scott Brosius resembled my sister's husband. As my father and I watched Yankee games on TV, I would say, "There's Steve!" whenever Brosius came to the plate. My father passed away, September 6, 2002, in Louisville. He and my mother had watched the Yankees the night he had a stroke. I was watching the game in Nashville.
After blowing the 2001 Series, the Yankees wilted in postseason. What good is it to win 100 games and lose the World Series? The pinstripers went to the playoffs 12 straight years under Joe Torre.
Torre has been nominated for the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee. His four World Series titles have earned him a spot. Every manager with three or more has been inducted.
Torre's was the longest run by a Yankee manager since Casey Stengel held the job 1949-60. Torre was the team's 31st manager.
Under Torre, the Yankees were 1,173-767 (.605). Only Joe McCarthy had more wins.
1 Joe McCarthy 1,460.... 1931-1946
2 Joe Torre 1,173....... 1996-2007
3 Casey Stengel 1,149... 1949-1960
4 Miller Huggins 1,067...1918-1929
Getting into the Hall of Fame is difficult. There are 292 members, 1% of all who have played Major League Baseball. Players are eligible five years after retirement. They must receive 75% of the votes. Votes are cast by the Baseball Writers Association. Players' names may remain on the ballot up to 15 years. There are players in the Hall whose names are unfamiliar, and there are players who deserve to be in who are not. The Hall sets its own guidelines. Wade Boggs was chosen on the first ballot. Boggs achieved baseball immortality when he rode around Yankee Stadium on a horse behind a mounted policeman at the end of the 96 World Series. He kissed home plate when he became the only player to hit a home run for his 3000th hit. The Baseball Hall Of Fame is located in Cooperstown, New York, the town where the game was invented by Abner Doubleday in 1839.
Joe Girardi began managing the Yankees in 2008. He caught for them 1996-1999. He knows what it means to be a Yankee and wore number 27 on his jersey in anticipation of the 27th World Championship.
In an effort to erase the humiliation of the previous 8 years, the Yankees beefed up their starting rotation. It came down to C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte. Some think the Yankees need to build teams rather than trying to buy them.
General Manager Brian Cashman went out and got Sabathia, Burnett and Mark Teixeira. The GM's job is to find players and offer contracts.
The new Stadium opened in 2009. It is in the Bronx and has the same field dimensions as the old one. I wondered how long baseball will go on. Will baseball be around another hundred years? Will the Yankees still be the greatest team? What will a superstar's salary be in the 22nd century?
Michael and I saw a game at the old Stadium, August 10, 2005. It was a day game with the Chicago White Sox, and we were in the third tier down the third base line. The Yankees lost 2-1 in 10 innings, but it was a good experience. It was my first and only time at the old Stadium. It was like I had to wait for my son.
Michael and I returned to New York, September 24-26, 2009. We again took the subway to the Bronx and 161st Street, this time to the new Yankee Stadium. It is Steinbrenner's legacy. It cost 1.4 billion and sits beside the old one. We saw the Yankees and the Boston Red Sox, the greatest rivalry in sports. The Yankees won 9-5. This is four times we have seen them and the second time they have won. The Stadium is the star, and we walked all around it, viewing the game from different angles. There are huge pictures on the walls of great players from the past: Ruth, Gehrig and Mantle. I nearly choked up entering the new Cathedral. Being among Yankee supporters, I felt like we were among friends. Michael spotted 9/11 mayor Giuliani in the crowd.
Mark Teixeira/Alex Rodriguez as the third and fourth hitters recalled Ruth/Gehrig and Mantle/Maris. Anytime there are power hitters of that caliber batting third and fourth, it makes for a strong line-up.
The 2009 Yankees set a franchise record with 244 home runs. The Seattle Mariners hold the MLB record with 264.
The 2009 Yankees had a strong bullpen. Phil Hughes found his niche as set-up man for Mariano Rivera. It bothers me that relief pitchers are often treated as weaklings. The impression is that if they pitch more than one or two innings, they will be so tired. These are young men in the prime of life!
At some point in the summer, the Yankees started winning and kept on. There were several winning streaks. They finished 8 games ahead of Boston in the East.
The Yankees swept the Minnesota Twins in the ALDS. On October 17, Michael and I watched them beat the Los Angeles Angels in the second game of the ALCS. The game went 13 innings and lasted 5 hours and 10 minutes. The score was 4-3.
The Yankees met the defending Philadelphia Phillies in the 2009 World Series. Michael and I agreed to watch the first and last games together. The Bombers had the home field advantage and split the first two games. When not with Michael, I was watching the games at Dave & Buster's at Opry Mills. Veteran Andy Pettitte took the ball in Philadelphia. He was his old self. He went on to win two games and establish postseason records.
Pettitte has made 40 postseason starts, pitching 249 innings. He is 18-9, having the most postseason wins all time. He is first with 6 series clinching wins.
Andy Pettitte is now a candidate for the Baseball Hall of Fame. He will surely be on the ballot. He is the greatest postseason pitcher in history. He is Mr. Postseason.
The Yankees beat the Phillies 4 games out of 6 with much attention was given to the "core 4." These were the guys who had been there in the late 90s: Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada.
The New York Yankees have won 40 pennants. They have won the World Series 27 times. The St. Louis Cardinals are second with 10 titles.
There was the traditional ticker-tape parade through the Canyon of Heroes in lower Manhattan. One million people showed up. Hal Steinbrenner, Giardi and Jeter spoke at City Hall.
Sharing Yankee baseball with my son is what I liked, and I made this entry into the News at my site:
NEW YORK YANKEES WIN THEIR 27TH WORLD SERIES: Nov 4, 2009
"Michael and I watched the final game of the 2009 World Series in his apartment. The New York Yankees beat the Philadelphia Phillies 7-3. The Yankees took 4 games to the Phillies 2. Their 27th World Championship was made sweeter by the fact that it came in their first year at the new Yankee Stadium. The Yankees had won the Series in 1923, their first year at the old Stadium. Andy Pettitte got his 18th postseason win in 40 starts. He is the winningest pitcher in postseason history, and I have started to think he is a candidate for the Hall of Fame. His career winning percentage is .629. Watching the Yankees win with my son was special. It brought back memories of watching them win with my father in 1996. As A-Rod, Derek Jeter and the rest of the guys were hugging and celebrating on the field, I hugged Michael. We won! I felt like we were part of the greatest baseball team in history! When Michael took me to my truck, I told him I love him (something I should say more often) and that I am lucky to have him as my son."
Who are the Yankees? Who comprises a baseball club, or francise, as they are called? It is the organization--the owners. Players come and go. Dynasties come and go. Even owners come and go over the long haul. Since 1973, the Steinbrenner family has been the Yankees.
Economics cannot be ignored. A-Rod returned with his 10-year deal worth $275 million. Jorge Posada has his four-year, $52.4 million contract, and I thought the Yankees very generous in giving Rivera a three-year, $45 million deal. First baseman Teixeira signed for 8 years at $180 million.
My father was a Yankee fan before me, and I have followed them since Mickey Mantle. Now my son is in the tradition. I follow the Yankees because it was built into me during my youth. I hate football and basketball. Nashville is football, and Louisville is basketball. To see the Yankees win and to be able to shove it down the throats of Yankee-haters everywhere brings me great pleasure. I would forgo all sports to focus on the necessities of life and making our country a better place if everyone else would. It will not happen. The money, time and energy spent on sports is out of proportion. Our most able-bodied men devote their most productive years to them. Athletes are paid big money to waste their own and everyone else's.
I made some observations about baseball in general:
1 I am not a believer in the sacrifice bunt. You only get 3 outs per inning, and the sacrifice bunt gives one away. It will kill a rally.
2 You cannot leave men on base, especially runners in scoring position. If you get a man to third with less than two outs, you must score. Nor can a team hit into 3 and 4 double plays and expect to win.
3 In the old days, players were taught to catch fly balls with two hands. If they failed to, they were scolded. With better gloves, it has long since become common to catch the ball with one hand. But the great thing about baseball is that it has changed so little in 100 years.
4 Sometimes I feel that managers do not take pitchers out soon enough. They wait til the game is lost before bringing in a reliever. They play too much by the book.
5 Baseball may not be called the "national pasttime" anymore, but when you see 50,000 people showing up at Yankee Stadium, you have to wonder. Baseball goes on. It is not boring as some like to suggest. It is more intricate and demanding than either football or basketball. It is as much America's sport today as it was during the time of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.
6 Yogi Berra's statement that "It's not over til it's over" is true. You can lead the home team 20-0 and still have to execute pitching and defense to get get 3 outs in the bottom of the 9th. They will not give up. What Yogi forgot to say is "When it's over, it's over!
7 There are 6 umpires in a baseball game: home plate, all three bases, left and right field.
The Day I Gave My Baseball Cards Away -
My baseball card collection spanned three years, 1956-58. I treasured my 1956 Mickey Mantle. It was the year he won the Triple Crown, and the card has a book value of $1,500. My evil cousin stole it when my mother called me into the kitchen to eat. I was 12 and inconsolable. By 1972, I had long since outgrown baseball cards. I wanted to let them go but was unsure how. I put shoe boxes full in the backseat of my car and was driving them around. I stopped at a gas station. As I was pumping gas, a conversation began with the man next to me. He glanced into my back seat and spotted the cards. He asked what I was going to do with them. I said I did not know. He said that he had a young son and asked if he could have them. I consented. That was the day I gave my baseball cards away.
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