Yankees Suck postsWednesday October 04, 2017
Of Monsters and Mean People
The other day I was looking through an old notebook from a trip Patricia and I took to Prague, Vienna, etc., in the summer of 2014, and came across this conversation we had the morning after we arrived in Salzburg, Austria. It wasn't about Mozart:
Me: Wow. Weirdest dream last night.
She: What about?
Me: OK, this will sound silly, but the Yankees were in the postseason against the Oakland A's. They'd won the first two games and were ahead in the third game, 22-6, and it was just awful. This awful feeling.
She: (Laughs) My nightmares are always about monsters and mean people.
Me: (Pause) So are mine.
Last night, in the one-game American League wildcard playoff, the Twins took a 3-0 lead against the Yankees in the top of the 1st, Yanks tied it in the bottom of the 1st, and went ahead for good in the bottom of the 2nd. The rest played out as normal. The Twins knocked out the Yankees starting pitcher sooner than any Yankees starting pitcher has ever been knocked out in the post-season, and they lost the game, 8-4. And the shocking thing was how unshocking it all was. Twins go up 3-0 and the thought was, “So how are they going to blow it?” I could tell from the player's faces on the bench. They weren't loose; they weren't having fun; they didn't have fire in the belly. They were tight. That team needs some Eric Hosmers or Sal Perezes or Tino Martinezes on it. The guys that whoop it up or burn. Or both.
Here's a great passsage from Josh Ostergaard's great book, “The Devil's Snake Curve,” which my friend Dave gave me a few years ago and I've only recently gotten around to reading:
When the United States was testing its first atomic bomb in the summer of 1945, a code system was created so its success or failure could be communicated back to Washington without worry of the news leaking.
“Cincinnati Reds” would mean the test had failed. “Brooklyn Dodgers” would mean the test had gone as planned.
After scientists tested the first nuclear weapon, and knew the war in the Pacific would end, and that all life on earth could end, the signal of unimagined triumph went back to Washington.
The message read: “New York Yankees.”
So now we have scientific proof. It's not just me; scientists say this.
“The Devil's Snake Curve” is part Midwest memoir, part Howard Zinn history of the U.S., and part baseball history from the perspective of a Yankees hater. So kinda up my alley.
Elsewhere, as if to underline the sentiment unnecessarily, this year's Yankees, dubbed the “Baby Bombers” by an lovestruck press, clinched a playoff berth this past weekend. They look to play the Twins in the wild card game on October 3. Their record against the Twins since 2002? 89-33.
The Curious Case of Cliff Mapes, the Greatest Numbers-Wearer in Baseball History
Cliff Mapes (third from left) flanked by three future Hall of Famers: DiMaggio, Mize and Berra.
If you're talking retired numbers in baseball, you have to talk about Cliff Mapes.
Now if you're a non-baseball fan, you're probably going: Cliff Who? And if you're a baseball fan, you're probably going: Wait. Cliff ... Who? But if you're a longtime baseball fan, steeped in its history and trivia, you're probably just nodding your head. You know where this is going. Although maybe not all of it.
From 1948 to 1952, Cliff Mapes was an outfielder for three teams in the American League: the New York Yankees, St. Louis Browns and Detroit Tigers. For his career, he appeared in 459 games, slugged 38 homeruns, and retired with the following BA/OBP/SLG line: .242/.338/.406. Right: Not exactly Hall of Fame stats. So if we're talking retired numbers, why do we have to talk about Cliff Mapes?
Because Mapes wore three of the most iconic retired numbers in baseball.
A little history. MLB teams didn't begin wearing numbers on their backs until 1929, and back then the numbers correlated to their spot in the batting order. That's why, for the Yankees, Babe Ruth was No. 3 and Lou Gehrig No. 4. It was an easy way to let people in the stands know who was who. The Indians and Yankees were the first to do it and by 1937 every MLB team was doing it.
The first retired number belonged to the Yankees' Lou Gehrig, a beloved figure and the “Iron Man” of baseball, who died of a disease that now bears his name. In 1939, on Lou Gehrig Day, after he gave his “luckiest man” speech, the Yankees retired his #4. Essentially they were saying, “No one is fit to wear this uniform again.” Five years later, in 1944, the New York Giants retired Carl Hubbel's #11. Four years after that, on the 25th anniversary of Yankee Stadium, and as he was dying of cancer, the Yankees finally got around to retiring Ruth's #3.
Back then, numbers weren't quite as sacrosanct as they are now. Indeed, when the Yankees released Ruth in February 1935, they immediately gave #3 to the new right fielder George Selkirk, who wore it for seven years until he entered military service during WWII. Bud Metheny then wore it from 1943 to 1946, but he only last three games into the '46 seasons, so the number went to Eddie Bockman (who lasted four games), Roy Weatherly (two), and finally Frank Colman, a midseason pickup from the Pirates (five games).
By now the number should've been a jinx. Allie Clark took it on in '47 and played 24 games for the Yanks, then was traded to Cleveland in the off-season. That's how, in '48, it wound up on the back of Cliff Mapes, a rookie outfielder. But then the Yankee organization threw itself a party for the silver anniversary of its stadium, not to mention its first championship (they'd won 11 by then), where it planned to finally retire Ruth's number. Here's how big of a deal that wasn't. This is the report in the May 25, 1948 New York Times.
It's buried on pg. 34, lost amid the box scores. It got a bigger spread the day of (“Famous 'No. 3' to be Retired for All Time”) but we didn't get any highlights the next day. Nothing on Ruth's weakened state and cancer-ridden voice. Two months later, Ruth died.
But back to Mapes. To replace his No. 3, he—as A-Rod would do in the 21st century—just added a “1” and went with 13. The following year, maybe figuring that 13 was unlucky, he chose No. 7. Which he kept through the '51 season, by which time he was in a limited role, coming to the plate as a left-handed specialist. Then a few things happened. In early July, rookie Mickey Mantle, of whom such great things were expected that he had been given No. 6—signaling that the Yankees expected him to be next in line after Ruth (3), Gehrig (4), and DiMaggio (5)—was sent to the minors for seasoning. By the time Mantle returned in August, Mapes had been traded to St. Louis, and Mantle, figuring the No. 6 was a jinx for him, or put too much pressure on him, took Mapes' No. 7. Which he wore until the Yankees retired it on Mickey Mantle Day: June 8, 1969.
So that's why we talk about Mapes when we talk about retired numbers: When he died in 1996, the fact that he shared numbers with Ruth and Mantle was the primary focus of his two-paragraph New York Times obit. Almost nothing else was mentioned.
But you know what the Times inexplicably left off? Mapes wore the number of yet another Hall of Fame icon of baseball. In his last season in the Majors, with the Detroit Tigers, Mapes wore No. 5, which, throughout most of the '30s and '40s had been the number for the original “Hammerin' Hank,” Tigers slugger Hank Greenberg. What was his number still doing around in 1952? Well, the Tigers were late comers in the retiring-numbers biz. In fact, they were the 13th of the original 16 teams to retire a number—Al Kaline's No. 6 in 1980. By that point, the Yankees had retired nine numbers, the Dodgers six, and three expansion teams (Astros, Brewers, Mets) had gotten in the game. The Tigers didn't get around to retiring Greenberg's number (along with teammate Charlie Gehringer) until 1984—two years before his death at age 75.
So there you have it: Ruth, Greenberg, Mantle ... and Mapes.
Or is that it? As mentioned, Mapes' No. 13 was later worn by Alex Rodriguez, one of the greatest players of all time, if not exactly one of the most beloved of all time. A lot will have to be forgiven before the Yanks ever retire it, but it could happen. Meanwhile, the fifth number Mapes wore, No. 46 for the St. Louis Browns, who later became the Baltimore Orioles, was worn by popular O's pitcher Mike Flanagan.
I've looked for others that might've shared the number of more, or as many, baseball immortals, but no one comes close to Mapes. He's the Forrest Gump of baseball.
O Captain Your Captain
As the stomach turns.
Wall Street Journal sports editor Sam Walker has written a book about what makes a great team captain, and, anticipating it, or publicizing it, or simply tweaking the noses of Yankee fans everywhere, he has a piece on Deadspin about why Derek Jeter doesn't make the cut—and why it's not even close. It's called “Why Does Everyone Think Derek Jeter was a Great Captain?”
It's the greatest thing I've ever read.
OK, but nearly.
He brings up stuff I know all too well but not enough apparently do: How Jeter became captain in 2003, after the Yankees' great run, meaning the team won just one World Series under his stewardship—and that thanks mostly to Jeter's bete noir Alex Rodriguez; how Jeter never suggested moving away from shortstop when a better defensive SS came along (A-Rod again), not even in his dotage when he was, by any statistical measure, a massive defensive liability. Walker also brings up that awful farewell tour in 2014, when enemy teams bestowed gifts upon him, and enemy fans stood and applauded. The stomach turns at the thought.
But this is the decisive blow:
There's another crucial piece of context to factor in, here too—money. It's true that Jeter's captaincy coincided with an aggressive new MLB luxury tax that forced the Yankees to surrender a chunk of their revenue to support the league's poorer teams, but the Yankees still had more than enough left over to maintain a sizeable spending advantage. In fact, according to payroll figures over those 12 seasons, the Yankees outspent the No. 2 MLB team by more than $1 billion.
All of that money, and Jeter's supposedly brilliant leadership, produced the same trophy haul as the Florida Marlins.
Read the whole piece. It's nice seeing this Macy's parade balloon popped.
No. 2 Circle of Hell
Yankee broadcast is advertising “50 hours of Derek Jeter-themed material.” There is a 10th circle of hell, after all. . .— Bill James Online (@billjamesonline) April 30, 2017
The reason for all of those hours? Jeter, who may soon be the co-owner of the Miami Marlins, had his number retired this weekend in a lavish ceremony by the New York Somethingorothers. They now have zero single-digit numbers left. Unless you count zero.