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 "English." 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 hitters. Ruth homered in the first game played at the Stadium. The mythical Curse of the Bambino began when the Boston Red Sox sold Ruth to the Yankees before the 1920 season. Boston went 86 years before winning another World Series.
The New York Yankees dominated baseball for 40 years. Yankee history can be divided into 5 eras: (1) Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, (2) Joe DiMaggio, (3) Mickey Mantle, (4) George Steinbrenner and Joe Torre & (5) 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 2130 consecutive games, a record that 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 5 years in a row, 1949-53, under manager Casey Stengel. I have no memory of it. It was my dad's era. My dad 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 3 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 & Hank Bauer, who was at Okinawa, saved the world.
Chester Colyer was my dad. 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 dad followed them the rest of his life.
The first World Series I remember was 1954. It was the Giants and the Cleveland Indians. Chester 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. Mantle 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 entire career. Mantle replaced the beloved DiMaggio in center field, no easy task, and was booed incessantly through the 1950s, even at Yankee Stadium. Mantle was the hero of baby boomers! The boos were from fans who remembered DiMaggio and resented Mantle's early publicity.
Mickey Mantle broke out in 1956. He won the Triple Crown, leading the American League with 52 home runs, 130 runs batted in & a batting average of .353. His home runs were gargantuan! It seemed like every day the sports page showed his latest tape measure shot. I was collecting baseball cards, and my prize was my 1956 Mickey Mantle, the only one I ever saw. When my no good cousin stole it, I cried.
I started playing baseball in 1957. I played second base and wore Mantle's number 7. My dad and his brother Buck sponsored a team made up of Colyer cousins. Our team was called C&R Colyer after the trucking business my dad and uncle owned. Cousin Larry was on first. I was on second. Jerry was on third. Bobby caught. We played behind Middletown 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 and in health class. I laid my head on the desk to hide the tears. I would rather lose with the Yankees than win with another team. Once you pull for the Yankees, you can never pull for anyone else. Billy Martin said it: "I am a Yankee!" It is not the city. It is the tradition of the only team in sports that matters.
The Yankees came back with a vengeance! The 1961 Yankees rank with 1927's Murderer's Row and the 1998 team as the 3 greatest. The 1961 team beat the Cincinnati Reds in the World Series 4 games to 1. Bill Skowron was on first, Bobby Richardson on second. Whitey Ford went 25-4 with a 3.21 ERA and got the Cy Young Award. Ford had a great curve ball and was among the coolest pitchers to ever play the game.
All pitchers are measured against Cy Young, who won 511 games between 1890 and 1911. In those years, a team had 2 or 3 starting pitchers, and they completed 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, while Maris kept on! 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 extra games. His record was tarnished by the asterisk, and 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 & pitchers mounds have been lowered. Baseball does what it has to do to keep the game interesting. After 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 & the players are juiced."
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 3 MVPs Most Valuable Player Awards. He hit 536 home runs but without injuries would have hit 700. 500 home runs is the standard for power hitters as 3000 hits is the goal for players who hit for average. Longevity is a must! Mantle became an alcoholic and died after a failed liver transplant. He was courageous to the end, maintaining that being a good teammate was the most important thing. He and Whitey Ford went into baseball's Hall of Fame together.
Jane Leavy wrote a definitive Mantle biography. She grew up near Yankee Stadium and idolized The Mick. She earned the last word. Leavy documented his tape measure home runs and chronicled in detail every injury Mantle suffered in his 18 years as a Yankee. She left no doubt that he was better than Mays, that with good health he would have been the greatest player of all time! Leavy recounted her interview with Mantle and how his hand was making its way up her thigh when he passed out. Mantle had extramarital affairs. He lived with his business manager, Greer Johnson, the last years of his life, although he and Merlyn never divorced. Mantle died on August 13, 1995, and according to Leavy, was buried in pinstripes.
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 5 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. Modern players play for money and their teams in that order.
Cajun Ron Guidry was the Yankee pitcher of his generation. He went 25-3 in 1978 with an ERA of 1.74. He was known for his slider.
Goose Gossage came to the Yankees as their closer. I remember my dad telling me. Gossage intimidated with his Fu Manchu and blazing fastball. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Graig Nettles made breath-taking plays at third base. He was known for both his glove and his wit. 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."
Bucky Dent fueled the Yankees/Red Sox rivalry with a home run that sent the Bronx Bombers to a 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.
Broadcaster Howard Cosell dubbed Thurman Munson, "Old Scrapiron." Munson was the most reliable catcher since Yogi Berra. He died when his private plane crashed in 1979. The Yankees were not the same.
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 the World Series. Each league has a Division Series and a Championship Series. The World Series is a tournament. Theoretically, a team could go 162-0 and not go to the World Series while a team playing below .500 could win it.
All 30 teams are affected. It is harder for everyone. Wild cards give lesser teams a chance. Over time, teams will be helped and hurt by wild cards. Baseball is complicated and no longer called the "national pastime." Salaries are out of proportion! People are struggling to feed their families. A game is a game!
I noticed a change while in Las Vegas in 1993. The Yankees were rising from the ashes! I watched them on the big screens in the hotels. They had Wade Boggs, who would spend 5 years at third base, and someone said they got Jimmy Key. Paul O'Neill became the backbone of this 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. His intensity bordered on rage!
Tino Martinez replaced Don Mattingly at first base. Ironically, Mattingly never played in a World Series, coming in 1982 and leaving after 1995.
Derek Jeter came in 1995. He became the best shortstop in the team's history, getting 3465 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 most stable era since 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 disliked the Braves, although not as much as the Cubs. Both Braves and Cubs were overexposed by cable TV. 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. They say good pitching beats good hitting, and it is certainly easier to win with a good starting rotation. Pitching staffs have 5-man rotations. In the days of Whitey Ford, they had 4-man rotations. Mel Stottlemeyer served as the Yankees' pitching coach through the late 90s and into the new century. It was Joe Torre, Stottlemeyer & Don Zimmer (bench coach) sitting next to each other in the dugout. Zimmer is remembered for his fight with Boston pitcher Pedro Martinez! 72-year-old Zimmer charged Pedro after he threatened to throw a bean ball.
Andy Pettitte was a true Yankee! He came to the team in 1995 and was their "stopper," especially effective in October. Pettitte was a left-hander with a great pick-off move to first base. At 6'5", he was an imposing figure glaring over the top of his glove. He had 256 regular season wins with a .626 winning percentage.
Roger Clemens pitched 6 years with the Yankees and earned 2 World Series rings. Clemens, like Wade Boggs, spent his salad days with the Red Sox. He had a reputation as a fierce competitor, emotional and willing to pitch inside. His beaning of Mike Piazza caused bad blood between the Yankees and New York Mets. The situation was made worse when Clemens tossed 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 4000th strikeout in the same game. He finished with 354 wins.
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 magical! They won 125 games while losing only 50. There were no superstars, but there were no weak spots.
Brian Cashman became the Yankees' General Manager in 1998. The GM's job is to sign players and negotiate contracts.
In 1999, David Cone pitched a perfect game. Inexplicably, his career went into a tailspin after that game.
Baseball is about pitching and defense, getting 27 outs. Complete games are rare, but an ace still pitches 200 innings a year.
Mariano Rivera finished with 652 saves while becoming baseball's greatest closer. Bullpens are specialized.
The Yankees beat the Atlanta Braves 4 games to 2 in the 1996 World Series, swept the San Diego Padres in the 98 Series and swept the Braves in 99. 2000 saw a Subway Series between the Yankees and the Mets. The Yankees beat them 4 games to 1.
Third baseman Scott Brosius resembled my sister's husband. As my dad and I watched the Yankees on TV, I would say, "There's Steve!" whenever Brosius came to bat. Chester passed, September 6, 2002, near Louisville. He and my mother had watched the Yankees the night of the stroke.
After blowing the 2001 Series, the Yankees wilted in postseason. What good is it to win 100 games only to lose in the playoffs? The Pinstripers went to the playoffs 12 straight years under Joe Torre. Torre's was the longest run by a Yankee manager since Casey Stengel.
Under Joe Torre, the Yankees were 1173-767 (.605). Only Joe McCarthy had more wins.
1 Joe McCarthy 1460.... 1931-1946
2 Joe Torre 1173....... 1996-2007
3 Casey Stengel 1149... 1949-1960
4 Miller Huggins 1067...1918-1929
Joe Torre was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee. His 4 World Series titles earned him a spot. Every manager with 3 or more has been inducted.
Getting into the Hall of Fame is difficult. There are 333 members, 1% of all who have played Major League Baseball. Players are eligible 5 years after retirement and must receive 75% of the votes. Votes are cast by the Baseball Writers Association. Players may remain on the ballot 10 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, achieving baseball immortality by riding around Yankee Stadium on a horse after the 1996 Series. He kissed home plate when he 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 in 1839 by Abner Doubleday.
Joe Girardi began managing the Yankees in 2008. Having caught for them in the late 90s, he knew what it meant to be a Yankee. He wore number 27 on his jersey in anticipation of a 27th World Championship.
The New Stadium opened in 2009. It was in the Bronx and had the same field dimensions as the old one. I wondered how long baseball would go on. Would it be around another hundred years? Would the Yankees still be the greatest team? What would salaries be like 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. It was a good experience and my only time at the old Stadium. I waited for my son!
Michael and I returned to New York, September 24-26, 2009, and once more took the subway to 161st Street, this time to the new Yankee Stadium. It was Steinbrenner's legacy! We saw the Yankees and the Red Sox, the greatest rivalry in sports, and the Yankees won 9-5. The Stadium was the star, and we walked around it, viewing the game from different angles. There were posters of Yankee greats from the past: Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio & Mantle. Being among Yankee fans, I felt we were among friends.
The 2009 Yankees had a strong bullpen, and I thought of how relief pitchers are regarded as weaklings. The impression is that if they pitch more than 1 or 2 innings, they will be tired. These are men in their prime!
The Yankees and the Philadelphia Phillies met in the 2009 World Series, and Michael and I agreed to watch the first and last games. The Bombers had the home field advantage and split the first 2 games. Veteran Andy Pettitte took the ball in Philadelphia, going on to win 2 games while establishing postseason records.
Pettitte made 44 postseason starts, pitching 276 innings. He was 19-11, becoming the greatest postseason pitcher!
The Yankees beat the Phillies 4 games to 2 with attention given to the "core 4." These were the guys who were there in the 1990s: Andy Pettitte, Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada & Mariano Rivera.
There was the traditional parade through the Canyon of Heroes in lower Manhattan. A million people showed up, and Hal Steinbrenner spoke at City Hall.
The New York Yankees have won 40 pennants. They have won the World Series 27 times. The St. Louis Cardinals are second with 11. The Red Sox are third with 9.
Sharing Yankee baseball with my son was what mattered, and I posted this entry on my website:
THE NEW YORK YANKEES WON THEIR 27TH WORLD SERIES: Nov 4, 2009 - Michael and I watched the final game in his apartment. The Yankees beat the Philadelphia Phillies 7-3. The Yankees took 4 games to the Phillies' 2. The Yankees' 27th World Championship was made sweeter by the fact that it came in their first year at the new Stadium. The Yankees had won the Series in 1923, their first year at the old Stadium. Watching the Yankees win with my son was special. It brought back memories of watching them win with my dad in 1996. As the team celebrated on the field, I hugged Michael! I felt like we were part of the greatest baseball team in history! As Michael walked me to my truck, I told him I love him and was lucky to have him for a son.
Who are the New York Yankees? Who makes up a baseball club, or a franchise, as it is called? It is the organization, the owners. Players come and go. Dynasties come and go. Even owners come and go over time. Since 1973, the Steinbrenner family has owned the Yankees!
My dad 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 they were part of my youth. To see the Yankees win and shove it down the throats of Yankee-haters brings me pleasure. I would forgo all sports and focus on the necessities of life if everyone else would. The money, energy & time spent on sports is crazy. Our most able-bodied men devote their productive years to playing games. Athletes squander everyone's money.
Michael and I saw the Yankees a fifth time when they beat the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. That made them 3-2 in the games we have seen.
I made observations about baseball:
1 I do not believe in the sacrifice bunt. You only get 3 outs per inning, and the sacrifice bunt gives one away. It kills a rally.
2 You cannot leave men on base, especially runners in scoring position. If you get a man to third with less than 2 outs, you have to score. Nor can a team hit into 2 and 3 double plays in a game and expect to win.
3 In the old days, players were taught to catch fly balls with 2 hands. If they failed to do so, they were scolded. With better gloves, it became common to catch the ball with one hand. The great thing about baseball is that it has changed so little in 100 years.
4 I feel that managers do not take pitchers out soon enough. They wait until the game is lost before bringing in relievers. Managers go too much by the book.
5 Baseball may not be called the national pastime anymore, but when 50,000 people show up at Yankee Stadium, you have to wonder. Baseball goes on! It is not boring as some people suggest. It is more intricate than football. It is as much America's sport today as it was during the time of Babe Ruth!
6 Yogi Berra's statement, "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 3 outs in the bottom of the 9th. What Yogi forgot to say was, "When it's over, it's over!"
7 There are 6 umpires in a baseball game: home plate, 3 bases, left and right field.
8 Economics cannot be ignored. Million, even billions of dollars are paid to baseball players and athletes in general.
BASEBALL IS CRAZY NOW
With 4 wild cards, 2 in each league, the postseason became a tournament. The World Series and the 162 game season have been cheapened. A team may win 120 games and still not make it to the World Series. Baseball made more sense when there were 16 teams and the pennant winners from each league went to the Series.
It is unusual for a pitcher to complete a game. Managers take starting pitchers out after 6 or 7 innings in favor of relievers. Justin Verlander, a Cy Young winner in 2011, completed 4 games. Compare that with Jack Chesbro, who pitched 48 complete games for the New York Highlanders (Yankees) in 1904. Chesbro won 41 games and pitched 455 innings. It makes you wonder about modern day pitchers. Are they that weak? Mariano Rivera came in, pitched 1 inning, and they acted like he was Superman. Rivera is a Hall of Famer, although he pitched only 1283.2 innings and compiled a 49-43 win-loss record after 2000. Closers are overrated.
In 2006, Commissioner Bud Selig launched an investigation into the use of steroids by Barry Bonds and others. The probe resulted from a book called "Game of Shadows." It described Bonds' use of performance enhancing drugs and his dealings with those who supplied them.
THE DAY I GAVE MY BASEBALL CARDS AWAY
My baseball card collection spanned 3 years: 1956-58. I valued my 1956 Mickey Mantle. It was the year he won the Triple Crown, and his card has a high book value. My black sheep cousin stole it from my room when my mother called me to the kitchen to eat. I was 12 and inconsolable. By 1972, I had outgrown baseball cards and wanted to let them go, but was not sure how. I put shoe boxes full in the back seat of my car and drove around. I stopped at a gas station and as I was pumping gas, a conversation began with the guy next to me. He glanced in my car and saw the cards. He asked what I was going to do with them. He said he had a young son and asked if he could have them. I consented! That was the day I gave my baseball cards away!
THE YANKEE YEARS by Joe Torre & Tom Verducci
This book chronicles the 12 years Joe Torre managed the New York Yankees: 1996-2007.
Torre was George Steinbrenner's 4th choice as the Yankees manager for 1996. Torre had a losing record as a manager up to that point, but he was calm and had a way with the media.
The Yankees' starting rotation included David Cone, Jimmy Key & Andy Pettitte. Tino Martinez was on first. Wade Boggs was on third. Derek Jeter was at shortstop. Bernie Williams was in center. Paul O'Neill was in right.
When the Yankees faced the formidable Atlanta Braves in the World Series, catcher Jim Leyritz turned it around in game 4 with a 3-run homer. The Yankees became World Champions for the first time in 18 years.
Under Joe Torre, the New York Yankees won 4 out of 5 World Series. They went to the Series 6 times in 8 years. They went to the postseason 12 years in a row.
Verducci says the 1996-2000 success was based more on character than on talent. Winning was more important than individual statistics. They played as a team!
Verducci calls the 1998 Yankees the "pinnacle of the dynasty." He goes into detail about the players and what they meant to the team. He praises the leadership of Cone, the fierceness of O'Neill & the humility of Jeter. They won 125 games, more than any team in baseball history. They swept the San Diego Padres in the Series with Brosius as MVP.
1999 saw fan favorite David Wells traded for Roger Clemens. Clemens got off to a shaky start with the Yankees, but came on strong with the help of steroids. It is regrettable that Clemens' use of steroids tainted his legacy. It was the infamous steroids era, and players like Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds broke records that had stood for decades. Fans loved it, and baseball looked the other way. As the abusers morphed into grotesque giants, it became evident that their prowess was the result of performance-enhancing drugs.
The Yankees won the Fall Classic in 1999 and 2000. In 2000, they lost 15 of their last 18 games but hung on to win the American League East. Verducci milks the ongoing clash between Roger Clemens and Mets catcher Mike Piazza. His book reads like a novel.
Steinbrenner is portrayed as demanding and unforgiving. It adds drama even while there is some truth to it. Steinbrenner for some reason never fully appreciated Andy Pettitte, although Pettitte was a big game pitcher and a key part of the dynasty.
Verducci dwells on the 7th game of the 2001 Series. Mariano Rivera blew the save in the 9th inning. Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling posted 2 wins apiece for the Diamondbacks.
The last part of The Yankee Years shows Torre and Steinbrenner drifting apart. Steinbrenner was aging, and his sons Hank and Hal were taking responsibility for the team.
My Yankees are history! When the franchise called Kate Smith a racist and banned "God Bless America," they left me behind.
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