Back in the Ballpark


HOW LONG HAS it been? In years, moderate; in discomfort, boundless. Other teams can claim longer dry spells, but none more humiliation. Others can claim deeper valleys, but none a farther fall. None can claim more vindictive, derisive press, none more vicious abuse, none a longer twelve years. But a tree grows in Carthage and the Yankees are winners again.

It was easy to be a Yankee-hater in the old days; the hate still floats too, with this new, streamlined set of players, when they go on the road. Even if you know nothing about baseball, you know plenty about the Yankees. It's like knowing about New York. You know the Yankees were rich, they won all the time, they hit home runs and married movie stars. If you travel around America these days you'll still find a jealous irrational hatred for New York City. The Yankees represented that part of New York the rest of the country revenges itself upon now.

Such poison! In 1959, the Yankee's third place finish inspired a hater to compose lovely verse. It was entitled, "To an ex-American League pennant winner."

Although you were defeated, Yanks,

You shouldn't feel too blue:


Just think of all your bars and banks

And bowling alleys too.

As businessmen you guys are tops,

It really seems a shame

That you should leave your shops

Just for a lousy game.

The Yankees lost only two pennants between 1949 and 1964. It would be silly to go over the list of names that wore pinstripes. It you care, you know them anyway--you don't need a catalogue. The generational continuity was astounding and the team had a farm system that would not dry up. This meant that there were always new young men ready to play and play better than the new young men on other teams. It also meant that the Yankees could do cold-hearted things like let go of their veteran All-Star shortstop Phil Rizzuto as a surprise gesture on Old Timer's Day 1956 sure in the knowledge that Jerry Coleman, Gil McDougald or Billy Martin (each a star on his own) would fill the hole.

Martin is back with the Yankees now. He manages the team. Before he could come back, however, he left as the scapegoat in the famous Copacabana incident of 1957. Some Yankees got in a brawl at a ritzy New York nightclub and Martin, the most expendable in the management's eyes, caught the rap. It was incidents like that which convinced fans the Yankees were a bunch of rich, cold stiffs. They got big salaries, the line went, World Series checks, and turned their backs on their old teammates.

Fans couldn't nuzzle up to their favorites in the huge, austere Yankee Stadium. In the comparative bandboxes of Ebbets Field and the Polo Grounds a sense of intimacy between spectators and players reigned. In Yankee Stadium, you'd have to be Allie Reynolds just to bean an umpire with a bottle from the reserved seats. Fans came to watch baseball, not be part of it with the Yankee ball clubs. The majestic park begged for spectacle.

To drag out a list would be silly. One of the things that happened during those years when the Yankees incurred so much venom was that a Yankee pitcher threw a perfect game in a World Series; another was that a Yankee outfielder hit 61 home runs in a season; another hit 18 home runs and 42 runs batted in in World Series games alone.