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CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives JOCKBEAT 2021 THE FRONT ARCHIVES Uncategorized

Under President Biden, Will the Yankees Return to Their Winning Ways?

The Biden administration bodes well for Bombers fans. Over the past several years, the Yankees have had an abundance of talent — Judge, Stanton, LeMahieu, Hicks, Andújar, Cole, Chapman, Torres, to name a few — but also a surfeit of injuries. Will Joe Biden heal both the rift in the body politic and those ailing hamstrings out on the field?

History says he just might, because the Yankees have shown a partisan slant to their pinstripes going back to their earliest years. Let’s roll the tape on the Roaring Twenties, when the GOP’s Calvin “The business of America is business” Coolidge was in the White House. In 1923, the Yanks won their first World Series, led by slugger Babe Ruth’s three homers in six games. Four years later, the Yanks had assembled their fearsome “Murderers’ Row” lineup, but had only two homers over that whole 1927 Series, both from Ruth — which was still two more than the Pittsburg Pirates managed while losing in four straight. In 1928, Lou Gehrig hit four homers for the Yanks during the Series, but Ruth still outshone his teammates by hitting three dingers in Game 4, doing his part to sweep the St. Louis Cardinals.

The Yanks didn’t make it to the Series for the next three years, and the country was having its troubles, too. In 1932 you could support Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidential campaign by buying a “Republican Depression Coin.” The token lambasted then president Herbert Hoover’s moribund leadership since the stock market crash three years earlier. That same year, Ruth was holding out for an $80,000 a year salary. When a reporter pointed out to the Bambino that even Hoover was only making $75,000 a year, the Sultan of Swat retorted, “What the hell has Hoover got to do with this? Anyway, I had a better year than he did.” Indeed, in 1931 Ruth had led the league with 46 home runs, accompanied by a gaudy .373 batting average.

But it was 1932 that would mark milestones for both Ruth and the Yanks. In that year’s Series, the Bambino supposedly “called his shot,” gesturing with an arm toward center field to taunt the Cubs players and inform fans that he was going to hit the next pitch out of the park. The legend endures, because Ruth homered to deep center and the Yanks won that Game 3, finishing their sweep of the Cubs the next day, October 2. A month later, Roosevelt defeated Hoover in a landslide — Ruth was still doing a hell of a lot better than the POTUS — and the ’32 World Series would be the Yanks last championship under a Republican president for two — count ’em! — two decades.

When FDR took office, on March 4, 1933, the country was still in the trough of the Depression — unemployment was near 25%. The Yanks entered a slump too, not even making it to the Fall Classic in ’33, ’34, or ’35. But by 1936, FDR’s New Deal agenda had driven unemployment down to 17% and the Yanks were back on top, racking up four straight World Series wins from 1936 through 1939 under manager Joe McCarthy (the former minor-league second baseman, not the future Red-baiting U.S. senator from Wisconsin).

The Yanks won again in 1941 — the same year Time magazine founder Henry Luce called on all Americans “to create the first great American Century.” The Bombers beat “Dem Bums” — as the Brooklyn Dodgers were affectionately razzed by their fans — in this first of seven meetings between the crosstown rivals. The Yanks next triumphed in 1943, beating the St. Louis Cardinals, but without help from future Hall of Famer Joe DiMaggio or stalwart Tommy “The Clutch” Henrich, who were both in the military as World War II raged. More Yankee stars traded their pinstripes for service uniforms over the next few years, and FDR — after pulling the country out of the Depression and marshaling America and its allies in the struggle against fascism — died in 1945, just months before the war came to a close. The Yanks returned to their winning ways under his successor, Harry Truman, in 1947. The next year, while Truman was giving a speech excoriating the GOP, a supporter yelled out, “Give ’em Hell, Harry.” Truman shot back, “I don’t give them Hell. I just tell the truth about them, and they think it’s Hell.” The Yanks, however, must have felt the Truman era was heaven, winning every year from 1949 through 1951.

Then, on October 7, 1952, in the 7th inning of Game 7, with two outs, the bases loaded, and the Yanks ahead 4–2, Dodger Jackie Robinson hit a short pop-up that second baseman Billy Martin, positioned almost on the outfield grass, snagged with a lunging catch, saving at least two runs. The Yanks held off Dem Bums to win their fourth World Series in a row. Exactly four weeks later, Republican Dwight Eisenhower, riding his reputation as the Supreme Allied Commander who defeated the fascists in Europe, crushed Democrat Adlai Stevenson by an 11-point margin.

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The nation liked Ike, and so did the Yankees, winning three times during his two terms, in 1953, ’56 (the last time they faced Brooklyn, for a 6–1 overall record), and ’58. Perhaps at some point the Bombers had heard this wry remembrance from the last Republican POTUS they ever won a Series under: “When I was a boy growing up in Kansas, a friend of mine and I went fishing and as we sat there in the warmth of a summer afternoon we talked about what we wanted to do when we grew up. I told him I wanted to be a real major league baseball player, a genuine professional like Honus Wagner. My friend said that he’d like to be president of the United States. Neither of us got our wish.”

In 1960, ready for a generational changing of the guard, the nation elected John F. Kennedy. The Yanks, like much of the nation, seemed inspired by the young president’s vision and vigor, renewing their winning ways in 1961 and ’62. Although he was eight years younger than the 43-year-old Kennedy, Yankee catcher and outfielder Yogi Berra was getting old for his profession. Still, he hit for a .318 average in the ’61 Series and, despite having only four plate appearances in ’62, earned his tenth World Series ring, a record that, like Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak, looks safe for the ages. Berra can perhaps be seen as having both blue and red pinstripes, with five rings under Truman, three while Ike reigned, and two to usher in JFK’s “New Frontier.”

The country entered a malaise when Kennedy was assassinated, in 1963, and it was doubly so for the Yanks. Neither Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, nor Gerald Ford got to throw out a pitch at a Yankees World Series game. During the city’s fiscal crisis, however, a hyperbolic headline in the October 29, 1975, Daily News became a bit of a fall classic itself — FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD. The Yanks went on to lose to the Reds in the Bicentennial year, the last of Ford’s term, but things brightened in 1977, when Jimmy Carter was in the White House. Although Howard Cosell is often credited with the phrase “Ladies and gentlemen, the Bronx is burning,” he never actually said it during the telecast from Yankee Stadium on October 12, 1977, when an ABC camera captured scenes of a blazing apartment building nearby. Instead, the always history-minded sportscaster noted, “That’s the very area where President Carter trod just a few days ago,” referencing a trip the former Georgian peanut farmer had recently made to the South Bronx to get a firsthand look at urban blight.

But if the borough was enduring hard times, the Bombers themselves were riding high that October, and the fans in the stadium for Game 6 — pent up after a decade-and-half drought and the Yankees up three games to two — were ready to explode. Then they did. After free-agent slugger Reggie Jackson hit three home runs off three successive first pitches, the Yankee faithful were in a howling frenzy. In the top of the ninth, the Yanks up by four, Reggie was in his usual spot in right field, basking in the cheers of “Reg-gie! Reg-gie!” after tying Babe Ruth’s record for three homers in a single World Series game. But he also found himself dodging firecrackers thrown from the stands, a display of hooligan passion that sent Jackson in for a helmet as Cosell intoned to a national audience, “We’ve talked about this before. We don’t want to belabor the point. Behavior like this is intolerable, unthinkable, disgraceful — not worthy of this great city.” Then pitcher Mike Torrez snagged a bunted pop-up for the final out, and the fans stormed the field. Jackson, running full tilt with his shoulder lowered like a halfback, leveled more than one delirious celebrant in his dash for the clubhouse.

In 1978, with plenty of high-priced free-agent egos in the clubhouse, Yankee drama had reached a fever pitch. A quote from Jackson (now known as Mr. October) typified the era: “In the building I live in on Park Avenue there are ten people who could buy the Yankees, but none of them could hit the ball out of Yankee Stadium.” His teammate, third baseman Graig Nettles, summed up the team some wags were calling the “Bronx Zoo”: “When I was a kid I wanted to be either a ballplayer or work in a circus. Now I get to do both!” Fiery manager Billy Martin continued a long-simmering feud with Jackson and also jousted with owner George Steinbrenner, who the scrappy former second baseman felt wasn’t giving him enough support in disciplining his high-priced players. Martin, always known for his temper (and the occasional bar brawl), apparently decided he’d had enough of both Jackson and the Boss, telling a reporter, “One’s a born liar, the other’s convicted.” Jackson may or may not have lied about missing a bunt signal from Martin during a game, but there is no doubt the Boss was found guilty in 1974 of making illegal contributions to Richard Nixon’s 1972 presidential re-election campaign. So Martin was fired, but the Yanks went on to win that year — only to start their longest winless streak in franchise history.

In 1980, Republican Ronald Reagan made Jimmy Carter a one-term president — and the Great Communicator didn’t help the Yanks much either (unless issuing a pardon to cleanse Steinbrenner of his campaign-donation foibles in the Nixon years counts.)

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George H.W. Bush presided over no Yankee victory visits to the White House.

But the Clinton years saw a resurgent Yankee squad, which, with the help of what later became known as the “Core Four” — closer Mariano Rivera, shortstop Derek Jeter, pitcher Andy Pettitte, and catcher Jorge Posada — went on to snag rings in 1996, ’98, ’99, and 2000.

Then bupkis during George H. Bush’s two terms.

But with Barack Obama’s victory in 2008, the Bombers didn’t wait long, taking on the Philadelphia Phillies in the 2009 Series. First Lady Michelle Obama, along with Second Lady Jill Biden and World War II vet Yogi Berra, watched from the infield as Tony Odierno, an Iraq War vet, tossed the ceremonial first pitch. The Yanks lost that game, but behind the MVP hitting of Hideki Matsui they took the Series in six.

For those who have been keeping score — that’s Dems 20, GOP 7 — what can we divine for 2021? Under manager Aaron Boone, the Yanks have made the playoffs the past three years, but never advanced to the Fall Classic. In 2019, Boone famously called his own players “fucking savages,” because their discipline in not swinging at balls out of the strike zone was brutal on opposing pitchers. In retrospect, we didn’t know just how much fucking savagery was yet in store for the nation, as Donald Trump lied about the deadliness of Covid-19 and later encouraged his followers to ever-escalating acts of violence. In the last year of the Republican president’s wannabe autocracy, watching or listening to a ballgame was a surreal endeavor. With the foam-core crowds and canned cheers and boos, fans at home might as well have been watching that episode of Star Trek where Roman gladiators fought inside a pasteboard arena and a disembodied hand turned the dials for “applause,” “hisses,” and “catcalls.”

But 2021 holds new hope for the nation — and for the Yanks. Two Bronx natives shone at Biden’s inauguration: Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor swore in Veep Kamala Harris and Jennifer Lopez serenaded the crowd. J.Lo was accompanied by her fiancé, former Bomber third basemen Alex Rodríguez.

The Yanks have been on the verge throughout the Trump years. Maybe all it took to make the Bombers great again was to vote the Queens native out of office.

Thank you, America. See you in October.

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The New Yankees: A Town and a Team Reborn

The New Yankees: A Town and a Team Reborn
October 29, 1996

Court Street in Brooklyn. A day of dazzling October sunshine. The lunch hour. I dodge a flying column of Court Street lawyers, their presence staining the air with felonies, their gray faces crumpled into fists by the freshness of the day. I hear the name Derek Jeter and my heart thumps: has the young Yankee shortstop been indicted? Clusters of young women are pouring out of office buildings, lighting cigarettes, hurrying off to coffee shops. More names vibrate through the air: Joe Torre. Darryl. Jimmy Key. A man with a West Indian accent helps a young woman to hurry along with her cart, which is heavy with hand-wrapped packages of candies and nuts. She is wearing a Yankee button. A Pakistani in a Yankee hat peddles children’s books, and another man sells books and pamphlets about negritude. Merengue music blares from one store. Luis Miguel sings from another. Three Hasidim hurry by, gesturing excitedly, and I hear one name in the rush of talk: Bernie Williams. Rap music drowns the verbs. And I’m looking at lacquered wooden plaques bearing maps of various Caribbean islands, destined for the walls of Brooklyn, when a guy across the street bellows: “T-shirts, get ya Yankee T-shirts here, Yankee T-shirts.”

On this day in Brooklyn, the ghosts of the past are no longer present. Few wanderers in the great Court Street bazaar even know the New York Yankees were once the most loathed assembly of athletes in the city. They weren’t here. The immigrants live with their own ancient grudges and their own nostalgias; none are crippled by New York nostalgia. The immigrants and the young live in the city as it is, not as it was. At the same time, they are forging the city that will be.

“Of course, Yankees will win!” says a smiling man named Ahmed Hassan, a Palestinian taxi driver, on his way to lunch on Atlantic Avenue. “Our team! Yankees in six!”

“Five!” says Wilfredo Chacon, of Puerto Plata, in the Dominican Republic, and of Red Hook, Brooklyn. “We’re back, man.”

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True. But this is more than a sports story. The return of the Yankees to the World Series parallels the astonishing changes in the city in the past few years. One thing is very clear: this is a very good time to be in New York. It’s as if the siege has ended and the survivors have come blinking into the sunlight. The murder rate has been cut in half, and there have been steep declines in almost all other crimes. At midnight now, in many neighborhoods, people are out on the streets again, walking home from movies or restaurants, free of a once invincible sense of menace. The subways are cleaner and a lot safer. And when crime goes down, optimism increases. The city can’t flourish without that most elusive emotion. Neither can baseball teams.

Nobody knows with any precision why there has been such an enormous change. Cer­tainly, Mayor Giuliani deserves some of the cred­it. He had the good sense to hire police profes­sionals who came up with a revolutionary strategy: make the cops work an eight-hour day. They were correct to make the quality of life a police responsibility. In the subways, they did su­perb work intercepting the bad guys at the point of entry; felonious kids who used to go robbing did not bother paying the fare. They made po­lice commanders responsible for failures in their precincts and boroughs. The police brass are hardly perfect; they still tolerate too many cops who are semi-psychos. But they have done a sol­id job. They have made optimism possible.

But all over the city, there is evidence of other forces at work. They have little to do with the inhabitants of City Hall. The crack fad seems to have ebbed, which means fewer murders over sneakers or control of street corners. Heroin is making a comeback, but the poor smackheads don’t spend much time shooting children with machines guns. Heroin has always been known as the cop’s best friend: it destroyed the fighting street gangs of the New York past; it is more easily centralized by the suppliers. The crack wars were an example of uncontrolled capitalism; for hoodlums and addicts, that experiment now seems over.

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Much more important is the solidifying of New York’s most recent immigrant wave. I can’t prove this, but it seems obvious that the immi­grants are adding social cement to this city. They have a work ethic. They have families. The oth­er night I was talking to a Catholic priest who told me that he recently had to save some young thief from sure death at the hands of two enraged Korean shopkeepers. “He’d stolen an av­ocado off the stand,” the priest said, “and they chased him three blocks. Then they wanted to beat him to death.” The priest was amazed that nobody who has watched Koreans working 14-hour days would be surprised.

From the new Chinatown in Brooklyn to the great ethnic enclaves of Queens, the immi­grants are doing what immigrants have always done: work at the lousiest jobs until they can get better ones; show their children by example that work must be honored; envision a better future. Like the Irish, the Jews, and the Italians before them, they are subjected to stereotyping and prej­udice from those who are already here. Many of the new immigrants are being exploited: a few fall into drug addiction or crime; others give up and go home. But most of them know one big thing: this is better than what they left behind. This rude and unruly city. This New York.

In the process, they are becoming New Yorkers. And one of the crucial routes to citi­zenship remains baseball. My father passed from immigrant to citizen through Ebbets Field, not Ellis Island; he learned more about America from Dick Young than from de Toc­queville. Now we have Mexicans and Dominicans and Panamanians among us, people who have carried baseball with them in their luggage. Now they can see players from their own coun­tries in las ligas grandes. So can the others. The Koreans can cheer for Chan Ho Park when the Dodgers come to town, and the Japanese among us arrive to cheer Hideo Nomo. Their faces will be blank if you mention Jackie Robinson, or Reese or Campy or Skoonj. That was all long ago, before they were born, before they packed those suitcases and came to America. But look around a stadium on a Sunday afternoon. You know that this is their game too. Many of the rest of us have been soured by baseball. The strikes broke too many old habits, fatally interrupting a narrative that stretched all the way back to childhood. Too many players were spoiled, oafish jerks; too many owners were swine. The players and their agents moved from town to town, perpetual freelancers, never stay­ing long enough to establish local identities; be­fore we could get to know them, they were gone. Basketball grabbed us. The Knicks stayed together longer and played a swifter, more ele­gant game. For many of us, these past few years, baseball has been a corpse. And it wasn’t just a case of cynical New Yorkers. At night this sum­mer, I’d turn on ESPN’s SportsCenter and watch outfielders in a dozen different towns chasing fly balls before backdrops of empty seats. In Prospect Park, I often saw softball games among 50-year-olds. But the kids were off in the neigh­borhoods playing basketball.

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Even when the Yankees were leading the division by 12 games, it was difficult to sustain interest. There were cheers, and apprehension, when Dwight Gooden pitched his no-hitter. But there was no sense of the dailiness of the game, the accretions and unfolding dramas of the long season. Until August. Until the Yankees began to lose. Until it seemed possible that they could blow it. Anyone can be a front-run­ner, and the Yankee machines of the past always seemed to be out front. But sports teams, like prizefighters, or cities, can’t ever be truly judged until you see what they do when they are hurt.

And the Yankees, like the great wounded city that houses them, got to one knee. They paused. Then they got up. And here they are, in the World Series. Here they are, for the first time in 15 years, in the great October roar of Yankee Stadium. And who could not root for them? What old fan of the Dodgers could not see that these are no longer the tormentors of the past but a whole new group, as fresh as immigrants. In the age of the sports oaf, Bernie Williams has grace. In the age of the spoiled fool, Derek Jeter plays with style and speaks with modesty. And there is David Cone, the toughest white man since Tony Zale. And there is Jimmy Key, using guile and craft and intelli­gence to make a game resemble art. And there, dark and brooding and infinitely patient, is Joe Torre. Out of the immigrant stream. Out of the old tight notion of family. Out of the culture of work. Out of Brooklyn. With a face like an old shoe. How could anybody root against him?

So I was sad when the Yankees got wasted 12–1 in the first game with the Braves. But I wasn’t ruined. After all, like Joe Torre, I’m from Brooklyn. When we were young, we learned about losing. Lessons that were usually taught by the goddamned Yankees. But a loss, a defeat, a disappointment are nothing if you have some belief in tomorrow. The young know that. The immigrants know it. They’re living their tomor­rows. And when they take their turns at bat you have to pray that the wind is blowing out.

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From The Archives JOCKBEAT ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES

Those Bicoastal Dodgers: Losing to the Yanks, Winning Hearts — And Breaking Them, Too

[We have to cop to a bit of Yankees bias here at Archives Central, and so admit that the Fall Classic starting tonight is a case of poxes on both houses. That said, we find ourselves hating the Dodgers a shade less than the Sox and have taken a look into the green volumes of bound newsprint to see how Voice writers of yore approached the bicoastal Boys of Summer. We found a few gems, including a piece from the “only Dodger fan in Yonkers” and another about a novel seeking to redress the perfidy of the Brooklyn team’s move to Los Angeles in 1957.

But let’s start with a great year for the Yanks — because why not? It’s the October 30, 1978, issue of the Voice, and writer Clayton Riley zooms in on L.A. Dodgers captain Davey Lopes stepping up to the plate: “Maybe this exceptional sorrow is always in his eyes. Tonight, however, he’s made it clear he wants to live higher and stronger for the friend and mentor he affectionately called the Devil… Jim Gilliam, who replaced immortal Jackie Robinson at second base in old Ebbets Field.”

Much baseball history crosses in those two sentences. Gilliam had replaced Robinson at second base in 1953, when the All-Star veteran moved to playing third and the outfield. Robinson had famously broken through baseball’s color line in 1947, when the Dodgers were still Brooklyn’s beloved bums. Gilliam, also black, was a teammate who, unlike Robinson, made the move from Flatbush to the City of Angels, leaving behind a trail of broken Brooklyn hearts. After his playing days, Gilliam was the Los Angeles Dodgers first-base coach, and he had passed away two days before the 1978 Series opened. Riley’s chronicle of that championship battle reminds the few who might have forgotten just how stellar Yankee third basemen Graig Nettles’s was during the Series: “Nettles clearly established that he had taken away a vital portion of the field for the right-handed pull hitter, which was to say most of the Los Angeles team.” In Yankee centerfielder Mickey Rivers, Riley found “a man who certifies the premise: There are answers in the universe we simply shouldn’t question.”

This was the second straight Series between the Dodgers and Yanks, and L.A., anxious to avenge their ’77 loss, went up 2-0. But the Yanks took three in the Bronx and finished the deal back at Chavez Ravine. Riley writes, “Pitcher Don Sutton of the Dodgers, who would lose the final, devastating ballgame at Los Angeles, brought a measure of reflection to the work when he told a reporter that he felt no exceptional pressure on him as he went out to face the Yankees.

“Try feeding six kids in America on a small paycheck,” said Sutton. “That’s pressure.” —R.C. Baker]

 

Next we turn to the January 28, 1980 issue where contributor Joel Oppenheimer opines on the superiority of the Dodgers’ Duke Snider over the Yankees’ Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays of the Giants when all three played center field here in New York in the 1950s. The article takes a more personal turn when Oppenheimer reminisces about pitcher Rex Barney’s odyssey in a Dodgers uniform—including the last time the right-hander wore one.

Finally, we take a look at a “lovely idea for a book, and I’m furious that David Ritz had it instead of me.” It’s the June 16, 1981 issue and Dodger fan Oppenheimer is lamenting that he did not conceive of The Man Who Brought the Dodgers Back to Brooklyn, a novel with a title that tells it’s tale. Oppenheimer worries, however, that “the rest of the world may not let it stay just a novel,” because a New York State Senator is agitating to rebuild Ebbets Field—but with Astroturf instead of grass. “The whole notion leads me to propose a corollary to my thesis that all things new are bad: all new versions of old things are even worse.”

 

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Giving It Up for Mr. May!

[It was 1988 — pretty much the middle of the New York Yankees’ longest drought between World Series wins (1979–1995), and seven years since they’d even made it to the Fall Classic. All the more reason to sit in the cheapest seats, drink too much beer, and unleash invective upon visiting players and fans. As correspondent Ivan Solotaroff wrote in the September 20, 1988, issue of the Voice, “Baseball-watching invites strange behavior and, two weeks into this Yankee homestand, I’ve actually begun to fear the Voodoo Man’s Evil Eye, and to respect his power.” Solotaroff was referring to one of the bleacher regulars, called “Bleacher Creatures,” in this case a man with a pencil mustache who would train his “magnetizing gaze” on opposing ballplayers.

The Voice reporter succinctly summed up these lean times for the Bronx Bombers: “The Yankees, 2-8 in their last 10, are coming into the fifth inning down by a familiar four-run count. [Bleacher Creatures] Frank and Bob are already ingesting their remedy for slumps like this: many Jumbo beers, a confirmed one-way ticket back to second grade.”

Solotaroff then consults with Cousin Brewski, the beer vendor. “‘How are you? How are you? How are you?’” he asks from ten rows away. “‘The Voice? Sure, I’ll tell you everything you wanna know. The Regulars? Best fans out here. Class. They know everything. Teena’s got the batting averages, Bob, the Captain, knows every word of the “Gang Bang Song,” the “Get the Fuck Out Song,” “Syphilis,” all the songs. Melle Mel’s a singer too. Big rap star. Famous, famous, famous. Sees everything — the others tend to drift a little.’”

Sports give us a tribal outlet that might otherwise turn into uglier fanaticism, and the bleachers have never been a place for the fainthearted. But, as always, the crowd in ’88 was a disparate mix, the fans glad to have anything to cheer about. Melle Mel — “taking time from cutting a new album to attend every Yankee home game” — commands his compatriots’ attention when he bellows, “Let me hear it, one time, for my man Mr. Da-a-ave Winfield.” Solotaroff drily notes that the huge crowd screamed, “Dave, Dave, Dave” as Winfield looked at a third strike.

Winfield had signed with the Yanks in 1980, for the highest-paying contract in baseball at the time. And in his first year he delivered — at least during the regular season. But he was flat in the 1981 World Series, which the Yanks lost to the Dodgers, and that was the last trip he made to the playoffs in a decade of wearing pinstripes. “I let Mr. October get away,” said Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, in 1985, referring to clutch hitter Reggie Jackson, “and I got Mr. May, Dave Winfield. He gets his numbers when it doesn’t count.”

Still, Winfield’s long-striding grace in the outfield and powerful strokes at the plate (he hit 465 career homers) made him a favorite with many fans, especially the Bleacher Creatures, who would yell encouragement at the right fielder from directly over his head. “Yeah, we know him,” bleacher denizen Bob told the Voice reporter. “Well, we don’t know him personally, but, he sees us on the street, he knows, yeah, the bleachers. We gave him a plaque last year, congratulating him for his sixth consecutive year hitting 100 RBIs. He didn’t do it, he ended up with 97, but we gave him the plaque anyway.”

This was back in the day when all that most of us could count on was that fabled fifteen minutes (or hours or seconds) of fame — that epoch before the social chum of Facebook and the careening notoriety of Twitter. Being a tried-and-true Bleacher Creature offered proximity to greatness. As one cheap seat regular said to another, referring to the Voice scribe: “Talk to the man, Frank. Get famous.” —R.C. Baker ]

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If the Yankees Keep Winning, Will They Give Trump ‘Thumbs Down’?

As the New York Yankees look to even things up today, there is a specter hanging over the House the Core Four built, and we’re not talking about their 1-2 deficit in the American League Championship Series against the Houston Astros.

But first, let’s take a trip to that Monument Park of the mind. Although it has been burnished by almost a quarter-century of highlight reels, all Yankee fans of a certain age remember the tale of manager Joe Torre talking down a nervous George Steinbrenner when the Bombers were behind 0-1 in the 1996 World Series against the Atlanta Braves. “We’re facing [Greg] Maddux,” Torre recalled telling The Boss in a 2016 Daily News interview. “We may even lose tonight.” Then the Hall of Famer added, “I got giddy, I guess. I said, ‘But don’t worry about it. We’re going to Atlanta, that’s my town. We’ll win three there and come back and win Saturday night.’ He looked at me cross-eyed. I was kidding, but I had a straight face. He didn’t believe me. I didn’t believe me.” Maddux did in fact beat the Yanks — then Torre was proven a prophet when his team swept the next four games.

Today, the catcher who played under Torre — the triple-hitting hero of the Game 6 clincher against the Braves, 21 years ago — Joe Girardi, is manager of the Yanks, and one wonders if he is as sanguine as his former skipper. His Yankees dropped two close games due to a surfeit of strikeouts at the plate and pinpoint defense from the Astros. However, Game 3 brought major pop to Yankee bats, while Carsten Charles Sabathia bamboozled José Altuve and company. Game 4 happens this afternoon, and the Bombers need to take three of the next four to go all the way to a world championship. But a dilemma potentially awaits this team made up of 32 percent foreign-born players, with six of those eight players — Jaime García, from Mexico; Ronald Torreyes, from Venezuela; Aroldis Chapman, from Cuba; and Gary Sánchez, Luis Severino, and Starlin Castro, all from the Dominican Republic — hailing from south of President Trump’s proposed border wall. And some of the swastika- and Confederate flag–brandishing “very fine people” and anti-globalists among Trump supporters might not care much for the Amsterdam-born Didi Gregorius’s African descent, or the fact that he speaks four languages; perhaps only Masahiro Tanaka, from Japan, could pass muster with our anti-immigrant, “America First” commander in chief.  

So here’s an admittedly premature question for Yankees fans: How will you feel if the ahead-of-schedule-rebuilding Yanks pull off an October miracle and go all the way, and then go even further and hop on a charter flight to Washington, D.C., sometime early in 2018?

If they choose not to go, they would not be the first pro champs to snub the Donald. That distinction goes to the NBA’s Golden State Warriors, who were disinvited by way of a Trump tweet after superstar Stephen Curry let it be known he would take a pass on the semi-tradition of winners visiting the POTUS. The Warriors have said they will instead “constructively use our trip to the nation’s capital in February to celebrate equality, diversity, and inclusion — the values that we embrace as an organization.”

Baseball’s protests have been more low-key over the century and a half since two amateur teams — the Brooklyn Atlantics and the Washington Nationals — were the first ball clubs feted by a sitting president, visiting President Andrew Johnson four months after the end of the Civil War. It is, after all, the sport that did not welcome African American players onto the field until Jackie Robinson donned a Brooklyn Dodgers uniform 82 years later, in 1947.

We do, though, have the poignant example of a ballplayer protesting blind patriotism in Blue Jays slugger Carlos Delgado’s refusal to stand for “God Bless America,” in 2004. The Puerto Rican native remained in the dugout throughout the song that had become de rigueur in post–9-11 America, protesting not only the debacle of the Iraq war but also the use of the Puerto Rican island of Vieques as a target dummy for the U.S. Navy over a sixty-year span. At the time, he told the New York Times he remembered older residents reminiscing about “how, in the middle the night, a bomb blew up. I never experienced it, but I can imagine it.” He went on to explain why Puerto Ricans continue to feel hostile about the Vieques situation — “It’s still in the environment, it’s still in the ground, it’s still in the water” — and then pointed out, “That’s why we’ve got the highest cancer rate of any place in Puerto Rico.”

Going by the grudging relief effort he has offered hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico, Trump seems to be no fan of that American territory. He is, however, known to be a sports fan, and even told Sports Illustrated in 2015 that he might like to own a team: “I guess I would say maybe the Yankees. George Steinbrenner was a great friend of mine, did a great job.”

At least one current Yankee, Sabathia, is on record as not wanting to be on any team owned by the real estate mogul, recently telling the Daily News, “I just don’t believe in anything that is Trump.”

Now, in the age of the most divisive president in living memory, Yankee fans can hope for seven more victories this year, and then that their team will join CC and do the right thing and find something else to do if and when the White House beckons. And c’mon — they have the perfect excuse: Trump is from friggin’ Queens!

For more baseball coverage from the Voice archives click here.

 

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Yankees and Mets Stadiums Cost Taxpayers $706 Million

When Mayor Michael Bloomberg killed Rudy Giuliani’s stadium plans for the Mets and Yankees in 2002, he deemed the $800 million taxpayer gift that Giuliani had proposed to be both irresponsible and unnecessary. Three years later, when Bloomberg revealed his own stadium plans for the city’s baseball teams, he said that taxpayers wouldn’t be on the hook for the stadiums at all.

“We don’t do subsidies,” said Bloomberg during the announcement. He also promised that the city would eventually make a profit on the deal.

Bloomberg was wrong. According to a new report from the Brookings Institution, the federal government got shafted.

Because the municipal bonds the city offered the teams for construction were labeled “tax free,” the federal government wasn’t able to collect a combined $706 million in taxes on the bonds, money that both the Yankees and Mets were able to keep and put toward the construction of their stadiums.

That’s all in addition to the millions of dollars in infrastructure that the city created for the two new stadiums, something the Brookings report makes clear hasn’t resulted in any substantive benefits to the city’s bottom line.

“There is little evidence that stadiums provide even local economic benefits,” the report says. “Decades of academic studies consistently find no discernible positive relationship between sports facilities and local economic development, income growth, or job creation. And local benefits aside, there is clearly no economic justification for federal subsidies for sports stadiums.”

Both Yankee Stadium and Citi Field sit atop city-owned land, and neither team pays rent or property taxes. The city takes home none of the profits the stadium makes, besides taxes on the corporate entities themselves.

While the federal government was left with a hefty portion of the bill, Bloomberg thought the city could turn a tidy little profit from the stadiums by getting the teams to provide luxury boxes that the city could then rent out. That plan fell flat as Bloomberg left the teams in charge of renting out the suites — something neither was inclined to do if it couldn’t keep the profits. Bloomberg projected $1 million a year from the suites. Last year the teams barely managed to scare up $160,000.

Both stadiums have been decently profitable. The Yankees saw their valuation rise to $3.4 billion this year, and the Mets experienced a 22 percent increase in value following a World Series run that shook off the economic funk that almost sank the team following its involvement in the Madoff scandal. Even with all the transit improvements the city rolled out for the Yankees, the team is facing its worst year of attendance in over a decade, due to sky-high ticket prices and an underperforming (well, until very recently) squad. Now the Yankees are attempting to get the city to refinance their debt on the stadium that taxpayers helped build for them.

The city also doled out tax-exempt bonds when luring the Nets to the Barclays Center, to the tune of $161 million. That stadium has turned out to be a complete disaster. And of course, this all pales in comparison to the inane property tax exemption that the Knicks and Rangers have been handed for the past 34 years. Last year alone, the city could have collected $48.5 million from Madison Square Garden. It’s all one big scam, people!

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Who’s Saving the Yankees’ Season While All Their Old Men Are Out? An Old Man, Naturally

Nice quip from David Letterman last night: “Martha Stewart says she wants to meet a rich man between the age of 50 and 70. Why doesn’t she just date a New York Yankee?”

Indeed. And the subs that the Yankees have brought in to get them through a period of recovery from injuries are as old as the guys they’re replacing. Travis Hafner, for instance, who was acquired as a free agent on February , will turn 36 on June 3. A Cleveland Indian for 10 of his 11 major league seasons after playing a few games for the Texas Rangers in 2002, he’s a perfect example of how lucky the Yankees have been this season.

Going into tonight’s game with the Oakland Athletics at Yankee Stadium they are 17-10, trailing only the equally surprising Boston Red Sox in the AL East by 2 ½ games.

And it’s all about home runs. The Yankees, despite the loss of Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson to injury and Nick Swisher and Russell Martin to other teams, are leading the American League in home field home runs at 21. Hafner, who has been DH in 22 of the Yankees’ 27 games, has hit 4 of his 6 home runs, all 3 of his doubles, and his only triple at Yankee Stadium.

It’s likely the Yankees will dump most of their new-old replacements when the old-old players come back, but Hafner might be worth keeping. From 2004 to 2007, among hitters in both leagues, in more than 2000 plate appearances he was 4th with a .976 OBP (On Base plus Slugging Percentage). He averaged 32 homers, 100 RBIs and a .286 BA. In 2005 and 2006, hit 75 home runs and drove in 225 runs and was one of the best left-handed sluggers in the league. Then a list of injuries too long to go into overtook him; since 2007 he has played in more than 100 games only once, 118 in 2010), and hit only 56 of his career 207 homers. So far this year, though: no injuries.

If Pronk, as his teammates at Cleveland called him for the way the ball sounded when it connected with his bat, can keep from getting hurt, the Yankees’ season might continue to be as good as it’s been so far. And, who knows? Martha Stewart (who, after all, used to baby sit for Yogi and Carmen Barra) might be watching from the box seats. Note to Martha Stewart: Pronk is back.

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!@%&* Ichiro. And even more, &!&^%@ to texts from Sux fans.

This morning I woke up and brushed my teeth with soap instead of toothpaste. Not on purpose. And yet this still was more commonplace than last night’s turn of events. Well, by last night, I mean like mere hours ago. Dammit, Mariners. I HATE THE WEST COAST AND I HATE ALL OF YOU.

Before I get into the game, I’m gonna go ahead and lump another group of people in with Ichiro et al. I think it’s fair to say that people who resend text messages…AS IF I DIDN’T GET IT THE FIRST TIME…are right there in my “People to Kill List” for today.

I have a Red Sux “friend” (another one who thinks my fall rules of engagement are a joke and not something he needs to adhere to). And despite the fact that I patently ignore any texts/emails about baseball, he continues to send them. To both my phone and my email. Sometimes smoke signals. Run your own race. And more importantly, stop. poking. the bear.

Before the game, I expressed surprise that the best team in baseball was predicted to have only a 39% chance of winning, with one of their top 3 pitchers going. I almost felt bad for AJ.

It’s like when a chick comes up in softball and the pitcher makes a big production out of turning the outfield and yelling, “CHICK!! MOVE IN! NO, MORE!! KEEP COMING IN. ALL RIGHT, EVERYONE JUST GET IN THE INFIELD.”

But it’s pretty much etched in stone that if you wholly funnel all your concerns into one area, trouble will come from the complete opposite end of the spectrum. Trouble from the bottom, I call it. After a neighbor moved in below me…and brought her trampoline with her.

I liked living on the top floor because I couldn’t hear any footsteps over head. I didn’t bank on hearing head-to-ceiling bangs from underneath.

And I didn’t bank on last night’s game. one of the most painful games I’ve watched all year.

Some game notes:

AJ’s breaking ball and fastball were filthy tonight. 7 IP, 7H, 1 R, 6Ks, 3 BBs. And what the box score doesn’t say is that his command was even more impressive. I’m not kidding when I say that he was throwing low fastballs that grazed the corners so seamlessly, that at one point, I got chills like I get at the end of Scent of a Woman when Al Pacino finishes his speech.

I’d say there’s a good chance that was the first time AJ and Al have ever been compared.

The entire game was so neatly packaged (for the first 99.9% of it, anyway) that you know somewhere Michael Kay was kicking himself for taking a day off, screaming at the TV, “Someone say it! Someone say to ‘put a bow on it!'” AJ eats up 7, Hughes come in in the 8th, Mo in the 9th. It was like the Pitching Paradigm. Dave Eiland smugly turning to the rest of the pen, “OK, watch how these guys do it. And take notes.”

Well, I’ll just spell it out for anyone who missed the game: Phil Hughes pitched a 1-2-3 8th inning. Mariano Rivera pitched a 1-2-3 9th inning.

Mariano Rivera was staked to a 2-run lead. What’s more, he had struck out the first 2 batters of the 9th. He was 1 out from wrapping it up. (Maybe I should thank small favors. Like at least he didn’t let up the ding on an 0-2 count or something…).

Back to back fastballs to Mark Sweeney (pinch-hit double) and Ichiro Suzuki (two-run tater). “AAH, MO’S OLD! HE’S DONE!!” Shut your pie holes, haters. Mo is awesome, and it was the first run he’s let up SINCE JUNE. You gotta crap out at the table at some point. Everyone is going to throw a 7 at some point. Don’t listen to them, Mo. You’re aces. And Ichiro’s a little bitch.

And if this sentiment wasn’t supported by his patent refusal to learn English, then it is confirmed by his insistence on being known as just “Ichiro” and hence gets that printed on his jersey. Somewhere Ichiro’s got his little steno pad, crossing things off his “Steps to Dominating U.S. Culture” to-do list: “Known as one name. Check. Tomorrow I adopt third world country baby and a British accent.”

Before I get any Asian culture lesson slung at me, I’ll say that I get that last names are really first names in Japan. But 1.) We’re playing baseball in America and 2.) You don’t see Matsui with a Hideki jersey.

So is that really how you want to play it, small fry? Cuz I’ll play it like that. I’ll play it like Lionel Richie, baby. All night long. Why don’t you talk to ARod about how much he likes Madonna jokes? Or get the number from Chad Johnson for the “Players Who Didn’t Turn Magical Despite Changing Their Names” support group.

Or actually, get it from Brian Bruney. Who apparently thinks he’s Rick Vaughn. He changed his number to 99. Wow. You really aren’t quite in the position to be “quirky” yet, Bruney. First work on not hemorrhaging bases runner in every hold opportunity you come across, then..baby steps. #99, huh. Yeah. That’s why you sucked. Because of the number. Of course.

So there that. In terms of our offense…well, King Felix is pretty good. But we mildly knocked him around. You don’t see it in the box score, but those 8 hits were mostly on the screws. Which was promising. His curveball is good, but you’re gonna need a bigger boat with this team. There are only 1 or 2 arms in baseball that can consistently stymie the Yanks (cough, Halladay, cough) and it’s because he has 12,723 different pitches that’s anyone’s guess where they’ll land in the strike zone.

Johnny Damon knocked in doubles at his first 3 ABs, going 3 for 4 on the night. The rest of the team looked about right. Lot of 1-for-4’s across the board. Only 3Ks. Good stuff.

However, I’m not particularly thrilled about the pitch count, and I don’t mean from AJ. Yankees saw 104 pitches. Which tells me they’re jumping on the ball. Settle. Down. (And I realize that the admonition to “settle down” from someone with “crazy” attached to the front of her name probably means about as much as marital advice from that Jon and Kate show.)

I guess that’s really the only bright side of tonight. We hit the King, AJ looked incredible. Now we move on. And to my Sux buddy who likes to cover all means of communication, thereby ensuring that my cell phone takes its own life to end its suffering: sure, go ahead and keep it up.

Joshing around with a sleeping grizzly bear never harmed anyone, right?

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Here Comes the Sunscreen

Don’t ever let it be said that the “powerful” journalism of the Post doesn’t get results.

Just about 24-hours after the paper ran an exclusive detailing a recent crackdown on sunscreen at Yankee Stadium, one which drew an especially angry backlash from fuming fans over the weekend, the Yanks have lifted the ban.

Stadium security confiscated garbage cans full of sunscreen in various tubes and bottles this past weekend. In an apparent desire to pad the routines of local stand-up comics and conform to the image of New York City parodied in Grand Theft Auto 4, the team cited terrorism as the reason for the clampdown.

Yesterday, team spokesman Jason Zillo announced that the Yanks would ease the current restrictions on some plastic containers, promising — in a play on words that would’ve made Henny Youngman proud — to “not be as stringent” when it comes to sunscreen and protective lotions.

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Dunedin of the North

I listened to most of the Yankees-Jays game on GameDay this afternoon; they played in Dunedin, which always sounds to me like a kingdom or race from Lord of the Rings. Wasn’t Aragorn from there or something?

Anyway, the Jeff Karstens bandwagon hit a pothole today, as he gave up 4 runs in 6 hits in four-plus innings. You can’t read too much into 4 innings… but Karstens may have had to be just about perfect to unseat Igawa or Pavano.Still, you can bet he’ll be the first guy called up if any of the Yankee starters is injured.

Do you like how I refrained from mentioning which starter, in particular, might be likely to be injured? I thought that showed a lot of restraint.

Poor Doug Mientkiewicz got his second hit of the spring — he’s now at .077, which is doing nothing to ease Yankee fans’ fears about his offensive prowess. I mean, he’s never going to be a great hitter, but he’s certainly not this bad. Hopefully he snaps out of it soon, because I didn’t memorize the spelling of that last name for nothing, god damn it.