Monday, October 09, 2006
Where Have You Gone, Paul O’Neill?
I’m unabashedly a huge New York Yankee fan. I have been since the days of Mattingly and Winfield during the 1980’s. Those were some lean years, and as a guy born in 1976, I’m part of the only generation that can remember a time when the Yankees really had no chance of winning. If you were a Yankee fan from the 20’s-60’s… you saw so many championships and great players that it’s mind-boggling. The early 70’s were tough, but by the end you had the “Bronx Zoo”, with Billy Martin at the helm, that was as entertaining a team as you can find in the history of baseball. A dysfunctional family that was a perfect a team on the field… a great starter in Guidry, Goose Gossage closing, Munson behind the plate, Nettles catching everything on 3rd and Reggie Jackson hitting 3 home runs on 3 pitches in the World Series.
Then came the 80’s. My generation. Watching Mattingly become a Yankee legend. Dave Winfield walk to the plate seemingly 2 feet taller than everyone else. Ricky Henderson stealing 100 bases. They had a solid offense but their pitching was just atrocious. I would read books about the great teams of the past, Yogi Berra winning 10 rings. I couldn’t even imagine even watching the Yanks in the series let alone winning 10 of them.
In ’94 Yanks were on top and looking to be a playoff team. Then the strike hit and I turned to basketball for a few years. But the Yanks were always around. I still followed the team and by the 1996 championship I back on board. I moved to New York City in 1999 and during the 2001 playoffs, the Yankees were a huge part of New York City during the aftermath of 9-11. They were the perfect form of escapism and the only thing I could cling to after seeing unimaginable horror days earlier. That team, even though it lost to Arizona, solidified my love of the New York Yankees. They’re more than a baseball team to me, they’re part of the fabric of New York City. You can walk into any bodega in the city and talk Yankee baseball with a total stranger for hours. I just talked about trading Arod with a drunk stranger yesterday.
They’re the Yanks. They play in a section of the Bronx that you would never visit if it weren’t for the Stadium, there’s nothing like walking under that elevated subway track, as the 4 Train rumbles overhead, it’s New York. The upper deck is where the real fans sit, no emotionless suits and celebrities, just like NYC it’s a melting pot of different people… hard-working men and women coming out the Bronx after work to see the Yanks, a place where the vendors are lifetime New Yorkers with Yankee tattoos on their arms. It’s where Arod gets booed and Jeter is God. Where thousands of fans wish Melky Cabrera were playing instead of Bobby Abreu and Bernie was in Center instead of that guy from Boston. Where fans won’t wear the number of a Yankee if he’s not “Home Grown”.
After this latest debacle it’s grown blatantly obvious that the Yanks and their fans miss guys that play hard. During the 90’s we passed on high priced free agents, opting instead for guys like Paul O’neill and Scott Brocious. Cast off pitchers like David Cone and Jimmy Key. Today’s Yankee teams don’t have the potential for an unexpected triple from a catcher like Joe Girardi. No surprise big home runs from a Jim Leyritz. Or pitch hit home runs from Tino Martinez, a 100 RBI guy who didn’t start a big playoff game.
I hope the Yankee upper brass sits down and watches some tape of those guys. Guys who had fire and wanted to win more than anything else.
Well, there’s always next year. I only hope the team if far different.