Wednesday, March 5, 2008

This BAD Day in Yankees History

INTRODUCTION: YOU CALL THIS A UNIVERSE?

Hank Steinbrenner, the latest overseer of the New York Yankees, said a mouthful during the last off-season when he declared, “This is a Yankee country. We’re going to put the Yankees back on top and restore the universe to order.”

So far, Hank’s mighty Yankees are hardly measuring up to the traditionally excessive expectations which are easy to associate with his father but actually go back more than one hundred years, to the foundation of the franchise. As I write this, it has taken a recent hot streak just to get the Yankees out of the cellar and into third place in their division. With serious pitching problems and many aging players, the Yankees have an uphill struggle to do more than contend in the wild-card race, much less make it to the World Series for the first time in five years.

This is not the only sign that the “Yankee universe” is very much off its axis. For the past year, the press has reported that George Steinbrenner, the dictator since 1973, has been sliding into dementia and is no longer running the team. “The Madness of King George” has struck the Bronx, and the colonies and lesser satellites of his domain are taking control of his once-great realm.

The fans of this team have always had a reputation for being arrogant, rude, self-centered, and aggressive, prepared to emulate the team ownership in running roughshod over any insignificant entity that might get in the way. But in May this tendency to “stop at nothing” reached a literal and tragic peak in Nashua, New Hampshire. A woman in a bar identified herself as a Yankees fan, and the ensuing debate ended up out in the parking lot, where Red Sox fans spotted the Yankees sticker on her car and chanted “Yankees Suck!” That prompted her to get behind the wheel and gun the engine, never hitting her brakes as she plowed into a group of Red Sox fans, killing one. She told police she was sure they’d get out of the way, just like American League teams got out of the Yankees’ way for so many decades. She has been charged with second-degree murder.

The players haven’t been more contentious than usual, but their behavior has grown more troubling with the recent report that Jason Giambi owns a lucky tiger-striped, gold-lame thong which he not only wears himself but shares with teammates who are trying to end batting slumps. The list of thong-donners includes Derek Jeter, Johnny Damon, Robinson Cano, and former Yankee stud Bernie Williams. This leaves even the hardiest believers in Yankee pride open to mockery:

The Yanks love Giambi’s gold thong,
They wear it and pass it along.
It gives them no pleasure,
Which is just one more measure
Of a franchise gone horribly wrong.

Okay, things are pretty whacked-out today, but what of the long tradition of Yankees greatness, the decades of success which gave them—from ownership down through management to the players and finally their fans—such a gross sense of entitlement, the notion that winning a disproportionate number of titles (after all, on average these days each franchise should win one title every 30 years) is not only their expectation but also their birthright. Has this Yankees tradition, this “universe,” always been such a marvelous thing?

This book shows that it has not. Even during their several periods of dominance, the Yankees have not only steamrolled their adversaries, they have also exploited and mistreated their own. What Hank and Hal Steinbrenner did to manager Joe Torre after the 2007 season—giving him a take-it-or-leave-it, pay-slashed offer—is part of a long tradition of callously casting aside the managers who have served the team so well. Yogi Berra was so offended by his mistreatment that he stayed away from Yankee Stadium for 14 years. Casey Stengel never forgave them. I’m not just talking about George Steinbrenner here. I could fill this whole volume with his travesties, but that would short-change the other bullies who have owned the Yankees. You want to know about man’s inhumanity to man? Read about how owner Jacob Ruppert begrudged paying a penny more than he could get away with to Lou Gehrig and the other stars of the 1930s dynasty, pleading poverty while amassing a personal fortune worth $40 million.

In these pages you will find ample evidence of how heartlessly the Yankees have treated their own people from top to bottom, from Babe Ruth down to batboys and ushers, from the city of New York down to their season-ticket holders, and even their legendary broadcasters Red Barber and Mel Allen. They have spared nobody, so neither have I.

This BAD Day in Yankees History is a celebration of everything bad that has happened to the Yankees and a condemnation of everything bad they have perpetrated. My policy has been to accentuate the negative and eliminate the positive. Each calendar date includes events and quotes from that date; Yankees ugliness is an everyday phenomenon. During the season, the majority of entries cover awful games and terrible performances—doubleheader sweeps, blowouts, losing streaks, and other embarrassments. The off-season entries focus more on their business dealings and personal/personnel strife—bad deals, salary squabbles, fights with marshmallow salesmen, ripoffs, and the steady parade of doomed managers. For the October entries, I include only games from postseason series they lost, with one lone exception. You can read the entries all at once like a book, and/or use it as a perpetual calendar, a daily reminder of the darkest days of the most-hated team in sports history. I hope you get as much enjoyment from reading this litany of mistakes and misdeeds as I got from compiling it.

Gabriel Schechter
Cooperstown
June, 2008

2 comments:

Jim said...

As a lifelong Yankee hater I look forward to adding this to my christmas list for Santa to leave under my tree. I hope there will be at least one chapter devoted to their most embarrassing defeats, with a list of dates and scores.

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