Christmas is a mere 2 weeks away, which means Spring Training is about 8 ½ weeks away. Not exactly around the corner, but there is some light at the end of the tunnel. It’s an especially comforting thought with temperatures getting ready to dip into the single digits this evening. Spring Training and baseball for me, means New York Yankees baseball. It’s in my blood -- from Father to my brother, my sister, and me. Through osmosis, if that’s what you want to call it, to my wife. I was born in 1961, the year of the great Maris-Mantle chase at Babe Ruth’s single season home run record. Though the very first game I went to was actually Reds-Mets at Shea Stadium in 1969 (hey I was 7 1/2, tickets were free…I didn’t know any better), I have been a Yankee fan as far back as I can remember. My first game was Yankees-Twins in 1970. The image of Thurman Munson scampering after a wild pitch still is vivid in my mind.
Bobby Murcer was my favorite player growing up, though I held The Mick in extreme awe as well. One of the worst days of my childhood was when the Yankees sent Murcer to the San Francisco Giants for Bobby Bonds. In those days Eyewitness News on Channel 7 used to have a headline board behind the anchors. One read, “Bobby for Bobby”. I remember saying “uh-oh” out loud. It was too true. Happy would be an understatement to describe how I felt when the Yankees reacquired Bobby in 1979. That was tempered very quickly by the tragic passing of our captain, Thurman Munson.
1977 brought the first World Series win in my memory (I couldn’t grasp what was going on in ’62). Reggie’s three home runs, Sparky’s magnificent pitching, Nettles’s incredible glove work at third, and just a balls-to-the-walls attitude for the whole team.
1978 was the great comeback. 14 ½ down to the hated Red Sox in July, only to comeback, take over 1st place, fall back into a tie, and ultimately win the division on the 163rd game of the season, October 2nd, 1978. Bucky “bleeping” Dent hitting his 3-run shot into the monster breaking the hearts, once again, of “those” fans. Goose Gossage walking the tightrope as the Sox battled back to trail 5-4, and then Mr. Red Sox, Carl Yastrzemski popping up to Nettles to end the game.
1978 was also the year of the Gator, Ron Guidry. He had the greatest single season pitching performance I have ever witnessed. 25-3, with a 1.74 earned run average. Gator won his first 13 decisions before losing to Mike Caldwell and the Milwaukee Brewers (ironically, Guidry lost his 3 games to pitchers all named Mike - Caldwell, Flanagan, and Willis). Guidry also blew away 18 California Angels one summer night that started the tradition of fans clapping when there were 2 strikes. There were many “Holy Cow”’s from the Scooter that night.
Then the dark and darker days came. Munson’s death in 1979, winning 103 games in 1980 only to be swept in the playoffs by Kansas City, and George Steinbrenner making one of his many poor decisions by firing manager Dick Howser. There was the strike shortened season in 1981, with a World Series loss to LA to boot. Then the drought came. The Yankees went without a championship for the first 15 years of my life. They would go another 18 between Thurman Munson catching Ron Cey’s foul pop to end the 1978 series and Charlie Hayes’s grab of a Terry Pendleton foul pop in 1996.
The 1980s were horrible. We, the fans, were constantly reminded by Steinbrenner how the Yankees had the most wins in the decade. Big deal Georgie Porgie, series titles are the only thing that matter. The 1990s didn’t start much better until Steinbrenner got suspended for the 2nd time by MLB (the first time was for illegal campaign contributions to that other crook, Richard Nixon). Seems that George hired a scumbag by the name of Howie Spira to get some dirt on George’s nemesis Dave Winfield. During the ensuing suspension, Gene Michael took over the day-to-day operations and put the house back in order. Young players like Bernie Williams were kept, hard nosed players like Paul O’Neill were brought in, and egos like Mel Hall were sent packing. The Yankees were on the brink of returning to the playoffs in the summer of 1994 when yet another player stoppage halted the game. We all thought they would be back. We never thought that the owner masquerading as commissioner would cancel the season and the World Series. We were wrong. 1995 brought renewed promise - once the labor situation was finally resolved. Don Mattingly would finally make it to a playoff, though it would end in heartbreaking fashion.
The Joe Torre/Derek Jeter Era was ushered in to the Stadium in 1996 with the first of four world championships, and six pennants. Yankee fans grow impatient again though. When October of 2006 rolls around it will have been 6 years since the last championship. Is this just a quick blight or another declinasty?
This blog is to chronicle the journey to next October. To discuss my beloved Yankees and the game that I love so much. I hope you enjoy what you read. You may not agree with it, but I hope it makes you think and appreciate everything that is Pinstripe. And if you’re not a Yankee fan, go **** yourself...only kidding….kind of ;)