Yankees Suck postsThursday October 12, 2017
Rooting for the New York Yankees is like Rooting for White People
Imagine if the Houston Astros hadn't done its job, we'd be getting Yankees vs. Red Sox in the ALCS again. Lord.
Last night the Cleveland Indians didn't do its job and so “for the first time since 2012” (as SI intoned on Twitter), the New York Yankees are going to the ALCS. Yeah, that five-year-long wandering in the wilderness they went through; I don't know how their fans stuck it out.
Overall, it will be the Yankees' eighth ALCS this century. Since 2000, we've had 18 LCSes and the Yankees have been in eight of them. The Indians remain stuck on three. Scratch that: two. This will be Houston's third LCS this century, and its first in the American League. The team with the most is the Cardinals, who have nine.
But to Yankee fans, those aren't the numbers that matter. The numbers that matter are 40 and 27. As in pennants and rings. They've been stuck on those since 2009 and want to move on. They want to add to them. Continually. Ad nauseum. And in case you don't know, the team with the most rings after the Yankees is the Cardinals, who have ... 11. The team with the most pennants after the Yankees is the Giants, who have ... 20. So no one's close. The Yankees have most and want more.
Last night, watching all of this at the QL, our local bar, with too much drink in me and surrounded by too few people who cared about the game, I thought of the famous slogan from the early 1960s: “Rooting for the New York Yankees is like rooting for U.S. Steel.” Meaning a powerful, faceless, pointless entity. A machine that kept producing this product on an assembly line. Rah.
I thought of the update while stewing (stewed) at the QL: Rooting for the New York Yankees is like rooting for white people. When I got home I plastered it all over Twitter. I interrupted Yankees fans online celebrations with it. Many didn't get the reference, of course, and thought to educate me by bringing up all the non-white players on the team.
In the remaining LDS, I'm rooting for the Nats (with zero LCS appearances and zero pennants) over the Cubs (last year's feel-good story). Mostly, though, I'm just rooting for Houston. To end it already.
Kansas City Royals, we hardly knew ye.
ALDS Game 5: Who to Root For
Right now there's some mainstream-media confusion as to who is the underdog (and thus who you should root for) in tonight's winner-take-all American League Division Series matchup between the New York Yankees and Cleveland Indians.
Cleveland, you see, went to the World Series last year. They forced a Game 7. They were one measly run from winning it all. And this year they set a modern record by winning 22 straight games. They had the best record in the American League. They's a powerhouse.
The Yankees, meanwhile, haven't won it all since way back in 2009. (I can barely see back that far.) The team, for once, is not totally made up of high-priced free agents (although it's still got its share of those), but its heart is a couple of young, hungry, powerful players, like 6' 8“ monstrosity Aaron Judge, and 1930s Warner Bros. gangster Gary Sanchez. They've been dubbed the ”Baby Bombers," which is a cute name, and they do cute things. After a player hits a homerun, for example, the others, rather than congratulate him, conduct a mock press conference in the dugout. And they've turned a hapless Tampa Bay Ray fan's sign of disapproval, a thumbs down gesture after a Todd Frazier homerun, into a talisman. Now when they do good things, they use this gesture with each other. Shows that fan of that team that never won anything.
So, for some in the media, the Yankees are not completely the Goliath here. If you squint, like until your eyes are completley shut, they're a little bit of David.
In this frame of reference, both teams are due. The Yankees have won 27 World Series championships throughout their storied career, which is an average of one every 4.15 years. And it's been eight years now, nearly twice that. Their fans are bereft.
The Indians have won two World Series championships throughout their less-than-storied career, which is an average of one every 56 years. They last won it all in 1948, which is longer than 56 years. But is it twice that? No. So whose fans are truly bereft?
A few more stats to continue the discussion. I posted these on Facebook yesterday.
Before baseball's expansion era began, meaning from 1903 to 1960, the New York Yankees won 25 pennants. That's 44% of all possible pennants they could've won during this period. The second-best AL team (the Athletics) won 8 pennants—or 14%.
The Cleveland Indians won 3.
Once the expansion era began, and the number of league rivals grew from eight to 10 to 12 to 14, and now 15, the Yankees couldn't dominate the way they once did—but they still dominated. Since '61, they've won 15 pennants. That's 27% of all possible pennants they could've won during this period.
The second-best AL team during this era (Orioles, BoSox, A's) won 6 pennants—or 11%.
The Cleveland Indians won 3.
But here's the best measure of the success, or not, of the two teams. Warning: There's some math involved.
In both eras, i.e., from 1903 to today, the Yankees, with their 27 rings, have won 24% of all available World Series titles, while the Indians, with their two, have won 1.8%. So for the Yankees to reach the Indians' current percentage level of titles to opportunties, i.e., that 1.8%, they need to not win a World Series title for a while. How long?
The answer is approximately 1,350 years. Until the year 3366.
Essentially that's how much misery the Yankees and their fans have to make up in order to to reach the current misery-level index of the Cleveland Indians and their fans. Just a thousand years. And change.
That's also my answer as to when I might begin to root for them. If the Yankees haven't won another World Series title by the year 3366, I'll consider it. I might throw them a bone. Until then, nah. Until then, I have another hand gesture for the Baby Bombers and their fans. It's a little less polite than the one used in Tampa Bay.
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 history.
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 it 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.