Results tagged ‘ Joe Torre ’
Bernie Williams, a man of few words in his playing career, was downright eloquent in his remarks Sunday night in response to the Yankees’ presenting him with a plaque in his honor in Monument Park and retiring his uniform No. 51.
Williams, whose last season with the Yankees was in 2005, was joined on the field by his mother, Rufina, his brother and his children as well as former Yankees executive Gene Michael, former manager Joe Torre, former coaches Roy White and Willie Randolph and former teammates David Cone, Tino Martinez, Paul O’Neill, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter.
Williams thanked Michael “for not trading me” when he was a younger player. He thanked White for helping him with his left-handed stance that made him more effective as a switch hitter and Randolph for the advice never to be afraid of success. He also thanked his old teammates for all their support during his 16-season career, all with the Yankees.
Manager Joe Girardi, another former teammate of Williams, presented Bernie’s mom with a bouquet of flowers. Stephen Swindal Jr., grandson of the late Yankees owner George M. Steinbrenner, presented Williams a replica of his plaque. Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner present Bernie a milestone, diamond ring embossed with No. 51.
“Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought as a 17-year-old in Puerto Rico that I could be here this day,” Bernie said. “I am overwhelmed. I remember something Joe Torre told me once. ‘God does not give you the ability — he just lets you borrow it.’ I want to thank God for letting me borrow the ability to play for this franchise all those years.”
The years were filled with great memories on teams that won four World Series titles and was on the losing end of two other World Series, of exciting Division Series and League Championship Series games.
“I am frequently asked what my greatest memory as a player was,” he said. “There were so many. I will say this: all those memories you fans were involved in every one of them.”
Sunday night was yet one more.
In terms of profile and temperament, Bernie Williams and New York would not seem a comfortable fit. The city that never sleeps was the incubator that gave the culture such over-the-top performers from Cagney to Streisand to DeNiro, not to mention such flamboyant out-of-town athletes who conquered the Big Apple’s hard core, from Dempsey to Mantle to Namath.
But Bernie Williams? Bob Sheppard, the late majestic voice of Yankee Stadium, noted that even the syllables of Williams’ name failed to conjure up images of greatness. Except for his Puerto Rican heritage, which he shared with many Bronx residents, Williams did not appear to have much in common with the population of the borough that the Yankees call home which traditionally has revered players who thrive on being the center of attention.
Towards the end of the 2005 season when his tenure with the Yankees was drawing to a close, fans at the Stadium finally stood up and took notice at Williams on a regular basis with standing ovations before and after each of his plate appearances. Bernie Williams was at center stage at last. The outpouring of affection was a belated tribute by Yankees fans for all Williams meant to the franchise in one of the most significant periods of its glorious history.
And the penultimate experience occurs Sunday night when a packed Stadium will shower Williams with an abundance of affection as the Yankees will honor him with a plaque in Monument Park and officially retire his uniform No. 51. No player has worn that number since Williams’ last season 10 years ago, even the two who had worn it with distinction in Seattle, Randy Johnson and Ichiro Suzuki. After coming to the Yankees in trades from the Mariners, Johnson wore No. 41 and Suzuki No. 31.
While other teammates drew greater cheers and headlines over the years, Williams was the calming center of a team that went from spit to shinola in the 1990’s to complete a resounding history of baseball in the Bronx. The quiet, contemplative, switch-hitting center fielder batted cleanup in lineups that produced four World Series championships, including three in a row, over the last five years of the 20th century and the first year of the 21st.
Of all the players who took part in the Yankees’ extraordinary run during that period, Williams was the only one who was there when it all began, when the club started to make strides toward decency in 1992 and improved to such an extent that by the middle of the decade was on the verge of yet another dynastic era.
Yes, that Bernie Williams, whose way with a guitar rivaled that of his handling of bat and glove. Williams’ love of the guitar was so strong that he was just as much in awe of meeting Les Paul and Paul McCartney as he was shaking hands with Whitey Ford and Yogi Berra. Yet it is in the latter’s company that Williams will always hold a special place in Yankees lore.
It is a past as eventful as any in franchise history. Williams’ rankings on the Yankees’ career lists include third in doubles (449), singles (1,545) and intentional walks (97); fourth in at-bats (7,869); fifth in plate appearances (9,053), hits (2,336), bases on balls (1,069), times on base (3,444) and sacrifice flies( 64); sixth in games (2,076), total bases (3,756), extra-base hits (791) and runs (1,366) and seventh in home runs (287) and runs batted in (1,257). He is one of only 10 players who played 16 or more seasons only with the Yankees. The others are Lou Gehrig, Bill Dickey, Frankie Crosetti, Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter.
Not bad for an unassuming man who was often the cruel butt of jokes by veteran teammates when he came into the majors in 1991. “Bambi” was the nickname Mel Hall, Steve Sax, Jesse Barfield and others hung on Williams, a suggestion that his non-confrontational demeanor and love for classical guitar music somehow made him unfit for the rigors of professional sports.
As it turned out, Williams not only turned the other cheek but also left the gigglers in the dust. He carved out for himself a career that is superior to all his old tormentors and one that just might make him a serious candidate for the National Baseball Hall of Fame some day.
Williams batted .297 over those 16 seasons, with a .381 on-base average and .477 slugging percentage. He won a batting title, four Gold Gloves for fielding, a Silver Slugger for hitting and was named to five All-Star teams.
Even more impressive are Williams’ post-season numbers. He ranks second in most major offensive categories – games (121), at-bats (465), runs (83), hits (128), total bases (223), singles (77) and total bases (202). In each case, Williams is second to long-time teammate Derek Jeter. Williams is also the runner-up in post-season home runs (22) to Manny Ramirez and walks (77) to Chipper Jones.
Williams is the only player in post-season history to hit home runs from both sides of the plate in one game, and he did it twice, in the 1995 American League Division Series against the Mariners and in the 1996 AL Division Series against the Rangers. Also in ‘96, he was the Most Valuable Player of the AL Championship Series victory over the Orioles.
The World Series victory over the Braves that followed remained a key moment in Williams’ career. Years later, he noted, “The World Series gives you confidence. Whenever a team goes through adversity, every player who has been to the World Series knows that this is the beauty of the game, how great it is. We don’t just play for the money or the records. There’s a reason to be the best. We realized it [in ‘96], not just because we won it, but the way we won it. We were down by two games, and we went down to Atlanta and swept the Braves. That taught us a lot about the game, what it means.”
Williams was distraught in the 1997 post-season when he was 2-for-17 in the ALDS loss to the Indians, a setback that seemed to galvanize the Yankees as they came back to win three straight World Series. They were memorable seasons for Williams, who won his batting title in 1998 with a .339 average to go with 26 home runs and 97 RBI and had an even better year in ‘99, batting .342 with 25 home runs and 115 RBI. His best overall season was in 2000, batting .307 with 30 home runs and 121 RBI.
Not even Yankees scout Fred Ferreira, with the recommendation of Roberto Rivera, who signed Williams to a contract Sept. 13, 1985, his 17th birthday, could have foreseen such a career, particularly in the heady atmosphere of center field at the Stadium that had been patrolled by Earle Combs, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Bobby Murcer and Mickey Rivers.
Bernabe Figueroa Williams was born in San Juan in 1968 and grew up in Vega Alta, P.R., where he played high school ball with future two-time AL MVP Juan Gonzalez. Williams’ parents also instilled in him a love for music, which proved a sustaining force at times when his baseball career became over-challenging.
One of the oddities of Williams’ time with the Yankees was that he was frequently the only player in the batting order who did not have a special song played for him when he came to bat, a practice that became prominent at ballparks in the ‘90s. Williams’ interest in music was so intense that he considered listening to a “theme song” before a plate appearance a distraction.
During Williams’ rise through the minors, the Yankees weren’t quite sure how to use him. Despite being fleet afoot, Williams lacked the larcenous behavior to be an effective base stealer, which made him less than an attractive leadoff hitter despite an excellent on-base percentage. His legs helped him run down any fly ball, but his throwing arm was never particularly strong or accurate
But in the early ‘90s, the Yankees were in no position to be over picky about prospects. When injuries cut into the playing time of outfielders Roberto Kelly and Danny Tartabull, Williams was summoned to the majors and the slow apprenticeship began. Brought along slowly by managers Stump Merrill and Buck Showalter, Williams came into his own in 1993 and took control of center field at Yankee Stadium, the most sacred patch of ground in the majors, for the next 10 years.
His breakthrough year was 1995 when Williams batted .307 with 18 home runs and 82 RBI and followed that by hitting .429 with two home runs and five RBI in 21 at-bats in the grueling, five-game ALDS loss to the Mariners, an exciting series that helped “sell” the new concept of an expanded round of playoffs.
Joe Torre arrived the next season, and while some of Williams’ eccentricities had the new manager shaking his head on occasion was won over by his almost childlike enthusiasm.
“I don’t think there is anything about Bernie that could surprise me – take that as a plus or a minus,” Torre told MLB.com last year. “That’s just his personality, just him, basically. He’s very different in that he is not your typical baseball player. That’s probably why he was a little more sensitive than other players.”
But with that sensitivity also came with Williams a sense of loyalty. Despite being wooed by the Red Sox and the Diamondbacks when he was eligible for free agency after the 1998 season, Williams contacted Yankees general manager Brian Cashman and the sides worked out a seven-year contract for $87 million that kept Bernie in pinstripes.
Williams had been hopeful he could have played for the Yankees in 2007, but there was no longer a role for him. So the soft-spoken center fielder, now 46, enjoys a satisfying retirement and continues to write music. His 2003 CD, “The Journey Within,” drew praise from the likes of McCartney, Bruce Springsteen and Paul Simon.
“Don’t let your job define who you are,” Williams once said. “Your relationships will define who you are. No matter what you do in life, you are going to be in a position to make an impact on somebody’s life. In my experience with the Yankees, these are a few of the thing that I have learned. You’ve got to have a plan of action, you have to stay focused on the things you can control, and don’t get discouraged or distracted by the things you cannot control.”
“True Blue,” a celebrity softball game co-sponsored by the Yankees, WFAN Radio and its “Boomer and Carton Morning Show” to honor the memories of slain New York City police officers Brian Moore, Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, will be played at 8 p.m. Wednesday, June 3, at Yankee Stadium.
Tickets are priced at $12 and available at http://www.yankees.com/trueblue. All net ticket proceeds will benefit the Silver Shield Foundation, N.Y. PBA Widows’ and Children’s Fund and the families of officers Moore, Liu and Ramos. Those wishing to make a donation in lieu of purchasing tickets may do so by visiting the website.
Each fan attending the game will receive a voucher good for one complimentary grandstand or bleachers ticket or one half-price ticket in select general seating areas to select 2015 regular season home games excluding all premium games, subject to availability.
Quik Park and the Bronx Parking Development Corporation will offer parking at the reduced rate of $8 at their lots surrounding the Stadium. Lots will open two hours prior to the event and remain open for 1 hour after the event concludes.
Those scheduled to participate include former Yankees manager Joe Torre and pitcher Dwight Gooden; former Mets relief pitcher John Franco; New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie; former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani; general manager Mike Maccagnan, head coach Todd Bowles and wide receiver Eric Decker of the Jets; Giants punter Steve Weatherford; Bills head coach Rex Ryan; former Steelers coach Bill Cowher; St. John’s head basketball coach Chris Mullin; Nets center Mason Plumlee; former Knicks John Starks, John Wallace and Anthony Bonner; Olympics gold medal-winning figure skater Sarah Hughes; CBS-2 anchors Kristine Johnson and Chris Wragge; actress Zosia Mamet and actor Evan Jonigkeit.
The pageantry of Opening Day never fails to elicit positive feelings. The sight of the Yankees players fresh up from spring training in the pinstriped white uniforms on a crisp, sunny day is welcomed to us who slugged our way through a frigid winter.
The huge flag in center field unfurled by the West Point cadet while the Military Academy’s band played the Star Spangled Banner had the crowd cheering loudly before the first pitch.
And handling the ceremonial first toss was none other than Joe Torre, the new Hall of Famer and popular former manager who threw a strike to catcher Brian McCann.
Masahiro Tanaka got off to a promising start. He struck out the Toronto leadoff hitter, Jose Reyes, on three pitches — a slider, a changeup and a split-finger fastball. In fact, Tanaka struck out three of the first four Blue Jays hitters.
The Japanese righthander, who missed most of the second half in 2014 because of right elbow inflammation, told writers in spring training that he was working on a two-seam fastball, which is why his radar gun readings were down from last year. The idea, he said, was designed toward pitch economy. Yet he was up to 55 pitches by the third inning, a messy one from the Yankees’ point of view.
Tanaka was submarined by his defense, although he was also to blame for failing to minimize the damage. A two-base throwing error by third baseman Chase Headley after fielding a sacrifice bunt by Reyes opened the gates for the Blue Jays. One run scored on the misplay, and two more followed on a single to right by former Yankees catcher Russell Martin, the Canadian native now playing for his country’s team.
Even more damaging was a two-run home run by Edwin Encarnacion off a high fastball. Just like that, it was 5-0, and some of that positive feeling was shrinking.
Tanaka lasted for four innings, but the Yankees backed him up with only one hit. He allowed five runs (four earned), five hits and two walks with five strikeouts, an outing that was not very encouraging.
Former Yankees manager Joe Torre, who had his uniform No. 6 retired by the club last year following his induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, will throw out the ceremonial first pitch Monday prior to the team’s 2015 season opener against the Blue Jays at 1:05 p.m. at Yankee Stadium. Torre will also be honored with the Pride of the Yankees Award at the 36th annual Homecoming Dinner following the game.
Gates will open to guests with valid tickets beginning at 10:30 a.m. with ceremonies slated to begin at approximately 12:30 p.m. with the introduction of both teams on the baselines. Fans are reminded to arrive early as new security measures will be in place.
Torre spent 12 seasons as Yankees manager from 1996 through 2007 and guided the team to six World Series appearances (1996, ’98-2001, ’03) and four World Championships (1996, ’98-2000). He compiled a 1,173-767-2 (.605) regular season record and a 76-47 (.618) postseason mark during his Yankees tenure and led the club to the playoffs each year. While with the organization, Torre’s postseason record was 21-11 in the World Series, 27-14 in the American League Championship Series and 28-22 in the AL Division Series. His regular-season victory total is second in club history only to Joe McCarthy, who went 1,460-867 (.627) over 16 seasons (1931-46).
The United States Military Academy at West Point Band will perform the national anthem and a giant American flag will be unfurled by 75 West Point Cadets. The West Point Color Guard will present the colors. During the seventh-inning stretch, Paul Nolan, currently starring in the Broadway musical Doctor Zhivago and formerly of the Tony Award-winning musical Once, will perform “God Bless America.”
Following Opening Day, the Yankees will continue their six-game homestand with two additional games against Toronto (Wednesday-Thursday, April 8-9) and a three-game set against the Red Sox (Friday-Sunday, April 10-12). Ticket specials will run Wednesday, April 8 (Military Personnel/Senior Citizen/Student Game) and Thursday, April 9 (MasterCard $5/Military Personnel Game).
For a complete list of ticket specials, including game dates, seating locations, and terms and conditions, fans should visit http://www.yankees.com/ticketspecials. Please note that all ticket specials are subject to availability.
The homestand will also feature the following promotional items and dates:
Friday, April 10 – Yankees vs. Red Sox, 7:05 p.m.
Yankees Magnetic Schedule Night, presented by AT&T, to all in attendance.
Saturday, April 11 – Yankees vs. Red Sox, 1:05 p.m.
Yankees Calendar Day, presented to all in attendance.
Tickets may be purchased online at http://www.yankees.com, http://www.yankeesbeisbol.com, at the Yankee Stadium Ticket Office, via Ticketmaster phone at 877-469-9849, Ticketmaster TTY at 800-943-4327 and at all Ticket Offices located within Yankees Clubhouse Shops. Tickets may also be purchased on Yankees Ticket Exchange at http://www.yankees.com/yte, the only official online resale marketplace for Yankees fans to purchase and resell tickets to Yankees games. Fans with questions may call 211-YANKEES [926-5337] or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
So it turned out what Derek Jeter needed most in his final game at Yankee Stadium was Mariano Rivera. Then again, if Mo had been available to close out Thursday night’s game, it might not have had the dramatic finish it did.
Appropriate is the key word to describe the finish of the Yankees’ 6-5 victory over the Orioles in the Captain’s last appearance in the home pinstripes. All week long Yankees manager Joe Girardi was asked what gesture he was contemplating for Jeter’s farewell. The skipper kept saying he would consult with Jeter, who did the one thing he has always done over 20 seasons in the major leagues — play the game until the last out.
Who else was better to win Jeter’s Stadium finale than Jeter? He fought back emotion in the last two innings after the Yankees had grabbed a three-run lead but reverted to the cool demeanor that has defined him to be in place to get the game-winning hit in the bottom of the ninth inning. It was achieved with his familiar inside-out swing, a single to right field that delivered pinch runner Antoan Richardson to the plate to end as astonishing an evening as there ever has been at either Yankee Stadium.
David Robertson, who succeeded Rivera as the Yankees’ closer, had a nightmare of a ninth inning by giving up a two-run home run to Adam Jones and a solo shot with two out to Steve Pearce that tied the score and threatened to ruin the night for Jeter. Rivera as well as other old teammates Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte, Tino Martinez and Gerald Williams and former manager Joe Torre were in attendance as well as Derek’s parents and his sister and nephew among a crowd of 48,613, the largest this year at the Stadium.
The blown save actually created the possibility that Jeter could be the hero. He had already contributed to the Yankees’ attack with a run-scoring double in the first inning and an RBI fielder’s choice in the seventh when the Yankees went up by a 5-2 score.
Imagine if Girardi had sent Brendan Ryan out to play shortstop in the top of the ninth to let Jeter get a standing ovation leaving the field? What a revolting development that would have been.
Two minor-league call-ups helped frame the bottom of the ninth for the Yankees. Jose Pirela led off with a single past third base. Richardson ran for Pirela and was sacrificed to second by Brett Gardner. I will not use the phrase “those remaining in the crowd” because I doubt anyone left the game before it ended. Up came Jeter to another crescendo of cheers. That was nothing compared to what came next. Jeter’s single was worth the price of every expensive ticket, the hottest one all year in New York.
His current teammates mobbed Jeter on the base path between first while his former comrades looked on approvingly. Hugs and high fives abounded. Jeter walked around the infield waving his cap in acknowledging the fans in every section of the Stadium.
He then walked slowly to the shortstop position, the only one he has ever played on a major-league diamond, and squatted in an almost religious gesture. He said afterward that he will not play shortstop again. He will go to Boston for the Yankees’ final three games of the season and out of respect for Red Sox fans plans to play but as a designated hitter only.
Jeter’s last season was nowhere near his best, but at 40 playing one of the game’s most demanding positions he stayed healthy and made it through 143 of the team’s 159 games. His hit gave the Yankees victory No. 82, guaranteeing them a winning season for the 22nd consecutive year. Jeter never had a losing season in the majors. The Captain also saved his best for last. In his final home stand, Jeter batted .353 with five runs, four doubles, one home run and nine RBI in 34 at-bats.
His Stadium numbers are also impressive. Jeter played in 1,390 regular-season games in the Bronx — 1,004 at the old Stadium and 386 at the current Stadium. He combined to hit .313 with 1,012 runs, 273 doubles, 30 triples, 138 home runs, 666 RBI and 193 stolen bases in 5,514 at-bats.
It is hard to believe that this tremendous career has come to an end. I was able to get a quiet moment with DJ before the game. I am not going to Boston and wanted to say my goodbyes and tell him how much I enjoyed watching him play and thank him for his cooperation over the years.
It was also the end of an era. Jeter, Posada, Pettite, Rivera and Bernie Williams are the only players I have covered in a 40-year career as a baseball writer from their first day of spring training to their last game at Yankee Stadium. They are the Core Four Plus One. Jeter’s retirement ends all that. But what an ending!
Microphone still in hand, Jeter began walking off the field and said into it, “We got a game to play.”
Perfect. Sure, it was nice to have his parents, his grandmother, his sister, his nephew and a slew of old teammates and pals on the field to celebrate his impending retirement. But the actual fact will not occur until the last game of the 2014 season. The Yanks had a game Sunday afternoon against a Royals team they are competing against for a post-season berth, and Jeter was in the lineup.
That is what Jeter has always been about. As his former manager, Joe Torre, said before the game, “Derek was always ready to play every day. A manager knew he could count on him.”
Torre was among those closest to Jeter back at the Stadium for the ceremonies, along with former teammates Paul O’Neill, Tino Martinez, Mariano Rivera, David Cone, Bernie Williams, Gerald Williams, Jorge Posada, Hideki Matsui and Tim Raines; Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson; former trainer Gene Monahan; MLB Network broadcaster and former infielder Harold Reynolds and commissioner-elect Rob Manfred.
The Yankees had a few surprises for DJ by trotting out Hall of Famers Cal Ripken Jr. and Dave Winfield and hoops legend Michael Jordan. The Steinbrenner family presented several gifts, including a Waterford Crystal tower with Jeter’s No. 2 atop it and a check for $222,222.22 donated to his Turn2 Foundation.
“It’s hard to believe 20 seasons have gone by so quickly,” Jeter said to the sellout crowd. “I want to take a brief moment to thank the Steinbrenner family and Mr. George Steinbrenner for giving me the opportunity to play my entire career with the only organization I wanted to play for.
“I thank my family and friends for all their support through the good times and more importantly through the tough times. All my managers, coaches, trainers and teammates current and former, I have been blessed to play with the best. I would not want to compete without you guys.
“Thank you fans for helping me feel like a kid the past 20 years. I got to be the shortstop of the New York Yankees, and there is only one of those. I have loved what I have done and loved to do it in front of you. From the bottom of my heart thank you very much.”
Not much syrup, all on the mark and to the point. This is the Jeter all of us have watched and heard for two decades. What began Sunday was not just the passing of 20 years but that of an era. The Yankees’ most recent dynastic run of championships started in 1996, Jeter’s rookie season. What is harder to believe is that one of these days he will be in one of those seats for guests at Yankee Stadium events.
Throughout all those World Series triumphs from 1996 through 2009 and up to today Jeter has been the constant thread. Sunday was chosen by the Yankees to celebrate that career, but as Jeter plainly put it that career is not over yet.
As team captain, Jeter is the first to break from the dugout onto the field at the start of home games. He went into his similar trot Sunday, but when he reached his customary position at shortstop and turned around he noticed that he was the only player on the field.
His fellow starters had stayed back so that their captain could take center stage in front of the fans who have adored him all these years. Jeet then made a come-on gesture with his glove for the guys to get out there with him. Another Jeter trait: he has never believe he could do it alone. Once again, he was saying, ‘We got a game today.’ ”
The Ice Bucket Challenge that has helped bring awareness to the debilitating disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) reached the Yankees Wednesday as manager Joe Girardi took part and then offered challenges to the four newest members of Monument Park — Joe Torre, Goose Gossage, Tino Martinez and Paul O’Neill. Torre already participated earlier this month alongside commissioner-elect Rob Manfred.
In connection with Girardi’s participation, the Yankees pledged $100,000 to the ALS Association (www.alsa.org). The donation is made in recognition of those who bravely live with ALS, those who have died from the condition and those around the world who have taken part in the Ice Bucket Challenge in an effort to raise awareness and funding to find a cure.
Girardi, whose uncle died of the disease in April, told reporters in Detroit after Yanks publicist Jason Zillo dumped over an ice bucket on him, “I think this is a really good thing. It started here, and it’s bringing a lot of attention to ALS. It’s a horrific disease, what it does to people. And it’s not just older, it’s young people that it happens to. Hopefully all these things people are doing to raise money help find a cure.”
Video of Girardi’s participation may be found at http://www.yankees.com, on the Yankees’ official Twitter account (@yankees) and on the Yankees’ official Facebook page (facebook.com/yankees).
“The Yankees organization has been inspired by the public’s embrace of the Ice Bucket Challenge as a creative way to support ALS charities,” Yankees chief operating officer Lonn Trost said. “We make this donation in the memory of everyone who has been touched by ALS and those who have tried to make a difference in finding a cure.”
The Yankees have had a long-standing relationship with the ALS Association Greater New York Chapter (www.als-ny.org), providing financial contributions and other resources to the organization.
ALS is most closely associated with former Yankees first baseman and captain Lou Gehrig, who passed away from its effects June 2, 1941 at the age of 37. Former Yankees pitcher and fellow Hall of Famer Jim “Catfish” Hunter also died from ALS in 1999 at the age of 53.
Known as “The Iron Horse,” Gehrig played in 2,130 consecutive games before taking himself out of the Yankees’ lineup prior to the team’s May 2, 1939 game at Detroit where the Yankees are now involved in a series against the Tigers. He never played in a major-league game again.
This year marks the 75th anniversary of Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day, which was held July 4, 1939, at Yankee Stadium between games of a doubleheader against the old Washington Senators. After receiving kind words from New York City Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, U.S. Postmaster General James A. Farley, Yankees manager Joe McCarthy and former teammate Babe Ruth, Gehrig stepped to the microphone to make his famous speech which began, “For the past two weeks, you’ve been reading about a bad break. Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth.”
And then there was one, which is actually two.
The discussion is about uniform numbers. The Yankees retired No. 6 for Joe Torre Saturday. It occurred to the popular former manager that the shortstop he brought to the major leagues and nurtured through his early career has another distinction besides being the Yankees’ all-time leader in games played and hits.
Looking into the dugout where Derek Jeter was leaning against the railing from the top step, Torre said to the sellout crowd of 47,594 in the pregame ceremony, “There’s one single digit left out there.”
That would be Jeter’s No. 2, the only single digit not yet retired by the Yankees but definitely will be at some point, perhaps as early as next year following his retirement. Yogi Berra, one of the two No. 8’s retired (fellow catcher Bill Dickey is the other) took part in the ceremony, along with several former players, including two others who have had their uniform numbers retired, Reggie Jackson (44) and Ron Guidry (49).
Berra and Dickey are in that group of single-digit retired numbers that also features Billy Martin (1), Babe Ruth (3), Lou Gehrig (4), Joe DiMaggio (5), Mickey Mantle (7) and Roger Maris (9). So DJ now stands alone.
Torre, his wife Ali and other members of the family began the ceremony in Monument Park where he unveiled his number and plaque alongside Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner and general partner Jennifer Steinbrenner Swindal. They eventually made their way to the center of the field for the ceremony amid former players David Cone, Hideki Matsui, Paul O’Neill, Tino Martinez, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte; former coaches Guidry, Willie Randolph, Jose Cardenal and Lee Mazzilli; longtime managers Tony La Russa (who was inducted into the Hall of Fame this year with Torre) and Jim Leyland; former trainer Gene Monahan and Jackson.
An especially nice touch was Jeter escorting Jean Zimmer from the dugout to the field. Known by her nickname, “Soot,” she is the widow of the late Don Zimmer, Joe’s longtime bench coach. There was also a touching video message from former Yankees pitcher and pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre, who was unable to travel to the event.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who served for Torre both as a catcher and a bench coach, presented his old boss with a framed version of his Monument Park plaque. Hal Steinbrenner and his wife, Christina, presented a framed version of No. 6. Jennifer Steinbrenner Swindal on behalf of the organization gave Torre a diamond ring with No. 6 embossed in the center.
Observing all this from the visitor’s dugout was another of Torre’s former players, White Sox manager Robinb Ventura.
“It feels like the World Series all over again,” Torre told the crowd. “To have a number retired for any team is something special, but when you’re talking about the history and tradition of the New York Yankees, it is a feeling you can’t describe. There wouldn’t have been a Cooperstown without Yankee Stadium. I want to thank Randy Levine, Lonn Trost and Brian Cashman and the woman behind the scenes, Debbie Tymon, who does so much for this organization. Arthur Richman mentioned my name to George, but it was Stick Michael who recommended me for the job.”
And what a job Torre did. The Yankees reached postseason play in all 12 of his managerial seasons and won six pennants and four World Series, including three in a row from 1998-2000.
Torre acknowledged his gratitude to the late owner George Steinbrenner for taking Gene Michael’s advice and hiring him despite a resume that included mediocre results as a manager with the Mets, Braves and Cardinals, the same three clubs for whom he had played during a 16-season career. The kid from Brooklyn who grew up a New York Giants fan clearly fell in love with the pinstripes.
“George gave me the greatest opportunity in my professional life,” Torre said, “I played in the majors for 16 years, but they could never match my 12 years in Yankees pinstripes. I will be forever grateful to the Steinbrenner family for trusting me with this team.
“One thing you never forget or lose feeling for are you people, all of you people, and it continues. I walk around and people thank me. They don’t realize what a good time i had. New York fans make this city a small town. When you get to this ballpark you feel the heartbeat, and it’s something that does not go away.
“It’s a short distance from the old Stadium to here but a long, long way from the field to Monument Park. I was blessed to make that journey on the shoulders of some very special players.”
In his previous managerial stops, Torre had worn No. 9, but he could not get that with the Yankees because it had been retired for Maris. Early in his playing career with the Braves, Torre wore No. 15 (his brother, Frank, had No. 14), but that was also not available with the Yankees since it was retired in honor of the late Thurman Munson.
Actually, Torre is one of four Hall of Famers who have worn No. 6 for the Yankees. Some fans may not know that Mickey Mantle wore No. 6 as a rookie in 1951 before switching to 7 the next year. Tony Lazzeri was the Yankees’ first No. 6, followed by his successor at second base, Joe Gordon.
Perhaps some karma was in the air because the Yankees second baseman Saturday, Martin Prado, was a huge factor in their 5-3 victory over the White Sox that was a fitting accompaniment to the afternoon.
Prado, who won Friday night’s game with a walk-off single in the ninth inning, had a part in four of the Yankees’ runs Saturday. His bunt single in the second helped build a run that subsequently scored on a double play. He drove in two runs in the fourth with the first of his two doubles in the game. He also doubled in the sixth and scored on a fly ball by Stephen Drew. Carlos Beltran drove in the other Yanks’ run in the sixth with his 15th home run.
Perhaps the only thing more appropriate would have been if the Yankees had scored six runs. What is definitely appropriate is that the number was retired for the person who wore it the longest, one more year than the player who had it for 11 seasons, Roy White (1969-79).
Now all that awaits is the day when Jeter, who got a rare day off Saturday, completes the single-digit retirement.
Most fans may not realize that on a nightly basis there are gripes galore about official scorers’ decisions. The compromise reached in the recent collective bargaining agreement that allows players (and/or their agents) to call for review of questionable calls rather than the clubs alone is proving to be a major headache and could be under review during the next CBA talks.
Routinely, calls come before executive vice president for baseball operations Joe Torre for review, which I am sure have become a major nuisance. The latest example was the infield single Derek Jeter got in the first inning Aug. 8 against the Indians at Yankee Stadium that we all thought was the hit that tied him with Hall of Famer Honus Wagner for sixth place on the career list. It turns out that the play was reversed with an error charged to Cleveland’s shortstop, Jose Ramirez.
Jeter did not get all that bent out of shape about the whole thing. After all, he has long since passed Wagner and appears to be in position to be sixth on the all-time list for quite a long time. Jeter has the ball that he thought tied Wagner and the ball that did tie Wagner, plus the ball that passed Wagner. It is all ancient history as far as DJ is concerned.
But how chintzy was Indians pitcher Trevor Bauer to take issue with what was a borderline call on an historic play. Granted, the ruling change meant that only two of the runs he gave up in that game were earned instead of all five (in 3 1/3 innings yet; let’s face it, it was not his day).
Complaining about official scorers’ calls is as old as the game. I know of coaches who habitually berated official scorers during and after games. Perhaps the most famous example was the father of a shortstop who was charged with only three errors in 161 games of the 1990 season and was a coach on his son’s team (you will not need more than one guess).
Occasionally an official scorer would review his decision and make a correction. He or she may have been coerced, but it was not to the level it has become under current conditions. Now every agent in the big leagues can pick up a phone and talk his client into lodging a protest over a questionable decision. While I am all in favor of an appellate court to sort out such disputes, the volume under the new system has proved troublesome.
Even the Major League Players Association, which pushed for this system, is starting to have second thoughts, largely because the beefs often pit teammates against each other. For every pitcher protective of his earned run average is a fielder protective of his reputation as a defender. In most cases, one player is appeased while two are miffed. In this case, Bauer is happy, but Jeter and Ramirez are not.
How can that be a good thing?