Last week on Yanks Go Yard, Matt Mirro, in his weekly feature The Way It Was and the Way It Should Still Be explored the current game of baseball and the respect given to it from certain star players. His focus was on how players should be more in the mold of Derek Jeter and less in the mold of David Ortiz. Well, folks, I see things completely different. The Bronx is boiling and I need to blow some steam.
COUNTERPOINT TO RESPECTING THE GAME
I can’t argue with Matty the fact that some of today’s players are loud mouthed figures who like to toot their own horn and make themselves larger than the game. Matty’s argument was an attack on the bat flips of Yasiel Puig, the limelight stealing antics of David “Big Papi” Ortiz and the immaturity of youngsters like Bryce Harper. Again, I can’t argue that any of what he said doesn’t exist. He brought up players of the past that played the game right. But he left off a lot of people that played the game… well… differently.
The attacks led by most young Yankees fans these days revolve around David Ortiz. Why not? He is the central figure of the loathed Boston Red Sox. The problem with many young Yankees fans, and to no fault of their own, is that today is all statistics and sabermetrics. When people who were in pre-school for the Yankees most recent dynasty of the late 1990s look at the team, they hear the stories of a well-oiled machine, that no one person stood out more than the other. When they compare The Mick to Mike Trout, they look at the overall numbers and say Trout has a long way to go. Now that they are ready to enter college, they have had to witness two seasons in a row where the Yankees haven’t been, let’s face it, the Yankees. They are led by one of the most humble players in the history of the game. But when you are about to celebrate your 40th birthday like myself, you know that when the Yankees were winning, when they were at their peaks of their many dynasties, they were the archetype of everything David Ortiz is and will be.
Did you know right before the famed Murderer’s Row team and Babe Ruth’s legendary 60 home run season he was almost kicked off the Yankees all together? Skipper Miller J. Huggins suspended Ruth and fined him five thousand big ones for conduct detrimental to the team. Then owner Colonel Jacob Ruppert said unless Ruth made his peace with Huggins he was off the team. Ruth would eventually apologize and pay the fine, but he was and still is bigger than the game. Does Ruth get a free pass because he is the greatest of all time?
Remember that magical 1961 season when Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris made their legendary chase for the Babe’s 60 home runs that year. They would go on to become the single greatest two-man tandem in baseball history combining for 115 home runs between the two of them. The also formed the M & M Boys corporation, were in movies and commercials drawing attention to themselves more than any product and The Mick went down as one of the immortal bad boys of baseball. Do they get a pass because of all the MVPs and World Series they won together?
And then, my personal earliest memories of baseball began. The Bronx Zoo was one of the zaniest times in Yankees history. My editor Billy Brost’s idol, Billy Martin began it all in 1976 and then started the 1978 season before leaving halfway through. Martin and his antics disrespected everyone. You name it, umpires, opposing managers and teams, but Yankees fans loved him. George Steinbrenner was The Boss and there wasn’t one move he ever made that didn’t put him in the forefront. Remember, until The Boss came along, the Yankees were already the greatest franchise of all time. Steinbrenner took them to a new level where anything less than winning was failure. His attitude trickled down throughout the teams of the late 70s. Thurman Munson was a-brawling, hard-nosed Captain, and who was in the forefront? The most boisterous, loud mouthed, big time swinging, in-your-face baseball player possibly of all time. Say it with me: REG-GIE, REG-GIE, REG-GIE!
Yankees fans endeared Jackson so much that today his number is retired in Monument Park and Reg still works for the Yankees. You want to talk about being bigger than the game? You want to talk about disrespecting the game? Here are a few things Reggie said to remember:
“I didn’t come to New York to be a star, I brought my star with me.”
“I’m the straw that stirs the drink.”
“The only reason I don’t like playing in the World Series is I can’t watch myself play.”
“If I was playing in New York, they’d name a candy bar after me.” (AND THEY DID!)
Yankees fans, like myself, adored Reggie Jackson and his obnoxious big swing, belting three home runs in a World Series game. That sure doesn’t mean everyone else in the baseball world did though. I’m not saying that Matty is wrong. There are many players that appear to disrespect the game, but they are in every sport and have been for a long time. None of this is new. What is new is that David Ortiz is at the forefront and many Yankees fans are playing the innocent card and forgetting our past and what made the Yankees so great. It’s not about disrespecting the game alone, it’s about having the right balance. For every animal like Roger Clemens the Yankees had, they had a Mariano Rivera hanging in the wings to tame the beast.
So next time you get mad at Wil Myers watching his home run float over the wall, remember the Yankees once had Mel Hall crawling around the bases for his home run trot. Every time you get mad at Yasiel Puig’s bat flip, remember we had Rickey Henderson and his infamous ego and glove snap. Remember for every Don Mattingly and Derek Jeter, the Yankees won rings with Roger Clemens and Jim Leyritz. Remember the man who was honored this weekend, the Yankees “Warrior” who I, like all Yankees fans embrace, was one of the most hated players in baseball by opponents and opposing fan bases for the way he treated batting helmets and water coolers after a strike out. And also remember, whether we love it or most likely hate it, Alex Rodriguez is still a Yankee and no one has disrespected the game more than him. I haven’t heard any Yankees fans ask to give the 2009 World Series ring back because we had a disrespectful player on our team. If it was okay then, it is okay now.
Whether you are Richard Sherman or Terrell Owens, or Charles Barkley or Wilt Chamberlain, all sports are filled with athletes that are also in it to entertain people. We hate David Ortiz and his antics because he is our enemy. When we as fans or media complain that there are outspoken players out there, let’s at the very least be fair and remember the Yankees aren’t now, never have been and I hope never will be saints. We are New Yorkers, the Bronx Bombers and most of the time, the greatest show on earth.