I’m watching ESPN right now. They’re cablecasting live from “up in the Bronx where the people are fresh.” The most famous sporting stadium ever is hosting it’s last contest.
The NY Yankees were playing Baltimore’s Orioles and defeated them convincingly. Outfielder, Johnny Damon and sometimes catcher, Benji Molina both homered.
The great hispanic fireballer, Mariano Rivera came out of the bullpen in the ninth and did his thing by getting the last three outs in order. Sinatra is, “spreading the news” and once again, his, “vagabond shoes are longing to stray.”
Earlier in the day, “the worldwide leader in sports” went wall to wall from Yankee Stadium and waxed nostalgic for a six hour pre-game show.
Former greats dropped by. Witnesses to history shared their observations and memories. The topics were rich and varied and included; Gehrig’s retirement speech, George Brett’s meltdown over his overruled homerun in ’83, Aaaron Boone’s dramatic blast from ’03 that felled the hated Sox, Muhammad Ali’s TKO of Ken Norton in ’75, Joe Louis’ blow for freedom that knocked Max Schmelling out, and raised doubt about Aryan superiority, a Pope’s visit, Mandella’s stop through, Bush’s post 9/11 first pitch and so on. The stories flowed like Bud in the cheap seats.
THE LUCKIEST MAN ON THE FACE OF THE PLANET
THE ONE HIT WONDER
When I was a kid, toward the end of the Mickey Mantle era, the Yankees sucked. Even though Mantle was arguably the great player of his era. A three time American League MVP, a triple crown winner with speed to burn, an eye for the ladies and a taste for alcohol, he was poorly surrounded and retired without having achieved his true potential.
The late David Halberstam’s brilliant examination of the crumbling of the dynasty that had been built by the Ruths, Di Maggios, Berras and the rest, October ’64 attributed the team’s demise to it’s unwillingness to sign black talent.
In a time that was dominated by Willie Mays, Frank Robinson, Roberto Clemente and Hank Aaron, The Yankees had one black player and none of hispanic descent.
According to Halberstam, the great Mantle and his teammate, Roger Maris were defeated by a St. Louis Cardinal team that proved to be the model for the modern major league franchise.
Built on speed and pitching, the ’64 Red Birds featured; the base stealing expert, Lou Brock, strikeout artist, Bob Gibson, team leader, Joe Torre and the man who brought free agency to sports, Curt Flood.
THE GAME CHANGER, CURT FLOOD
Flood challenged baseball’s “reserve clause.” The standard feature in major league contracts that made a player the “property” of the team that first signed them forever. He took his case to the supreme court and won a decision that resulted in players being awarded free agency: the right to seek employment from the highest bidder at the end of a contract period.
Since the Yankee brand had fallen on hard times by the early seventies, a smooth operator from out of town bought in. A shipping magnate named George Steinbrenner.
Free agency took hold for good by ’75. The Oakland A’s of the early part of the decade had a collection of the best talent in the game. They also had an owner that was unable to adapt to changing times and refused to pay market value for his workers, Charles O. Finley. Finley’s antiquated persepective, coupled with Flood’s supreme court decision served Yankee interests well.
After having won the World series in ’72, ’73 and ’74, Finley began to sell the team piece by piece. His ace pitching star, Jim “Catfish” Hunter was the first to go, the “Catfish” was lured to The Bronx by the Yankees in ’75. And then, two years later, Finley foolishly refused to re-sign the most dynamic player of the decade, Reginald Martinez Jackson. Reggie to you.
Reggie had swagger. He was joining a Yankee team that had been in the World Series just the year before and starred Yankee great, Thurmon Munson. Even with Munson putting on a hitting show, they had been swept in 4 games by Cincinnati’s “Big Red Machine”. A team that featured a slugging lineup of current hall of famers, Johhny Bench, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez, as well as hall of fame pariah, all time hits leader and betting enthusiast, Pete Rose.
Reggie was brash and not suffereing from any lack of self esteeem. In an off season interview, that he’d given to a national sports publication, Reggie swore that no team of his would ever be pushed around like that in a series. He went on further to state that the proud Munson was a “nice” player and that the Yankees were like, a mixed cocktail and he, “was the straw that stirred the drink.” With the stroke of a pen, George Steinbrenner had brought the modern age to Yankee baseball and made me a Yankee fan for life.
Greatness lay ahead for this team but first Reggie had to meet the manager. The only Yankee to ever wear number 1, former Mantle drinking buddy, Billy Martin.
Martin and Mantle’s imbibing predated the age of celeb rehab. Their view of a drinking problem meant not having one. During his playing days with the team, Martin was a take no prisoners infielder who if cut, would bleed pinstripes.
Martin, Mantle and pitching star, Whitey Ford got into a fight at ’50’s NY hot spot,The Copacobana and Martin was punished and shipped out of town to some Americn League backwater. 20 years later, he was back as the manager of his beloved Yankees. Obviously, if there was to be any drink stirring going on he’d be doing it.
Once he was firmly a member of the team, Jackson proved to be a catalytic agent. The locker room was divided in warring factions, all of them battling for space in the sports columns and on the tabloid back pages.
It was high drama. Reggie battled with Martin. Munson with Reggie. The third basemen, Graig Nettles crticized Reggie’s defense. Reggie seemed to think that he wasn’t paid for that. Martin and Steinbrenner fought openly. In fact, Steinbrenner would eventually fire and rehire Martin five times.
That NY summer was also the one where, the east coast was plunged into darkness by a power failure and the famous blackout of ’77 sparked rampant looting. Serial killer, Son Of Sam terrorized the city. Strong Island native, Dr. J was preparing for a second NBA season. Marvin Gaye dropped the classic, Got To Give It Up. And Reggie Jackson hit homeruns with regularity.
That season’s World Series saw the Bombers pitted against the Los Angeles Dodgers. A classic six game battle that the Yankess won 4 games to 2.
Reggie powered the team to it’s first championship in 15 years and his 4th ring of the decade. He hit five homeruns in the series and three in game six alone.
The next season, the ’78 edition, the team beat the Dodgers again after overcoming a 14 game lead in August that was held by the Red Sox.
Martin ws fired midway through the year. Munson died in a plane crash in the summer of ’79. The team was devastated.
In an attempt to reinvigorate the franchise, Steinbrenner signed free agent, Dave Winfield to the biggest contract in sports history up until that point.
Reggie was not re-signed for the ’82 season. Steinbrenner went on a buying spree that netted poor results. After ’81 the team didn’t reach the Series again until ’96.
The ’96 team featured a group of home grown products of the Yankee minor league system; Bernie Williams. Andy Pettite, Jorge Posado, Mariano Rivera and a young shortstop named, Derek Jeter. They would be managed and led by the old Cardinal team leader, Joe Torre to 13 straight playoff appearances, 6 World Series and 4 World Series titles.
Jackson is alive, a hall of famer and he participated in tonight’s closing ceremony. He received a long round of applause and the stadium rang out with the old cheer of, “Reg-gie, Reg-gie, Reg-gie.” The crowd seemed to be stirred.
shouts to Nicole Moore, No. 6, The 4th Ward crew Mickey Rivers and Ed Townsend