In the long history of MLB, there have been many great players, and because of their place in history, I was able to put aside my hatred of the Yankees and admire those guys from a purely historical and statistical perspective. Guys like Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe Dimaggio, Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris were players who I spent countless hours reading about as I grew up, and I never felt guilty as I learned about all of their exploits.
The closer in era that the players got, the harder it was to recognize their talent without getting angry about how it had affected the Red Sox. Reggie Jackson would be the prime example of an exemplary player that I didn’t appreciate in my youth as fully as I should have, because even though I never watched him, I knew what he had done. There would be exceptions to this rule as my fandom continued to develop, and the first that I can recall is Don Mattingly who manned first base for the Yankees. For nearly his entire career, the Yankees were a second-rate franchise that didn’t cause Sox fans too much pain, except when they brought up the past, and I genuinely enjoyed the comparison between him and Wade Boggs (and to a lesser extent because he was in the National League, Tony Gwynn) about who the best hitter in MLB at that moment was. To this day, I believe strongly that Donnie Baseball should have made the Hall of Fame, and the fact that he never won a World Series is disappointing to me as a fan of the game.
In to the middle ’90s and going forward, the Yankee I enjoyed watching the most was Paul O’Neill. Many have lambasted him for his attitude, but for me, that was the best part of him. There was nothing more enjoyable than the moment right after O’Neill had struck out (especially if it was in a big situation) and the next moment when he simply lost it. Would it be a water cooler? Would he toss bats back out on to the field? It may not have been the most ‘professional’ behavior, but it was good entertainment. He was a guy who cared about winning and succeeding, and I can appreciate that, no matter who a player is suiting up for. Plus, there was his hilarious cameo on Seinfeld.
The 2004 season was interesting for many reasons as a Red Sox fan. Most importantly, 86 years of pain, suffering, and impossibility was finally shook off. Secondly, at least for me, two Yankees managed to intertwine their way in to that story. Mariano Rivera, the most consistent and dominant closer of his error proved that not even he was perfect as he allowed the Sox to come back in Game 4 of the ALCS. While the blown save seemed inconsequential in the moment, it would become the first step in the Sox unprecedented come back. The way he greeted Sox fans the following season when they cheered him on further endeared him to me as a player. I never cheered for a Yankee to succeed, but in Rivera’s case, I stopped wishing him ill, as I had spent most of my life doing to current Yankees.
The second guy who made an impression on me in 2004 was Derek Jeter. Of course, Jeter had been around for years by then, and just like Rivera, was the model of consistency at his position. The previous off-season, the Red Sox had made a mistake in attempting to acquire Alex Rodriguez which soured their incumbent shortstop Nomar Garciaparra to the point that by the time July 1, 2004 came around, he was benching himself. It just so happens that game was being played at Yankee Stadium, and the Red Sox were trailing the Yankees by 7 1/2 games for the divisional lead, and were a game back of the Athletics for the wild card. Rumors were swirling that the Sox were attempting to move Nomar, so rather than play and try to give his team their best chance of winning, he sat out. His counterpart, Jeter, made a play that was so sensational that game, that I actually stood up in disbelief as it occurred. He went tumbling in to the stands along the 3rd base line to make a sensational catch, busting up his chin, and helped guide the Yankees to a 5-4 extra inning victory over the Sox.
It seems almost fitting that the Yanks’ season began with the loss of Rivera, and for all intents and purposes, ended with Jeter’s freak ankle break on Saturday night. With their two classiest guys, the two most dependable players in their run of championships taken from the equation, it seems unlikely that the Yankees will be able to get past the Detroit Tigers. I’m okay with that, but I’d rather that the real culprit (Arod) not have an excuse for why he couldn’t lead the Yankees to another title. In the future, all that will be remembered is that Rivera didn’t play all season, and Jeter broke his ankle in game 1 of the ALCS, so of course the Yankees had no chance to win. Arod’s miserable performance will only be an after thought. This is unfortunate, but Yankees’ fans can delight in the fact that their club still owes that stiff another $114 million over the next 5 seasons, so at least they have that going for them.
Are you happy with the teams that have got through in MLB’s playoffs? Who were you pulling for?
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