No Tears, Just Thanks

I see that despite the Yanks’ 3-1 win over Toronto last night, Boston’s victory officially eliminated the Yankees from post-season competition and ended their streak of 13 straight post-season appearances.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, you won’t get any tears from me over this.  To be clear, it isn’t as though I won’t miss the enormous rush that is October baseball, which I will and absolutely love.  It isn’t as though I didn’t want them in the post-season, for I certainly did and do.  It isn’t as though I’m unemotional about sports and the Yankees in particular, for I certainly am.  It’s just that, rather than being upset about it, my overriding sense is one of pride and especially thanks.  More than anything else, I’m thankful to have witnessed one of the greatest runs in the history of baseball and sports, and in my mind the greatest dynasty of my lifetime, the 1996-2000 Yankees.  Truly and sincerely, thank you for everything.

Thank you to Buck Showalter and Stick Michael for rebuilding the Yankees and re-instilling some pride and hunger into the organization, getting rid of unappreciative under-performers such as Mel Hall and Jesse Barfield and replacing them with Boggs, O’Neill, picking up Jimmy Key, using Bob Wickman and Bernie, and turning the team around and fast.  The 1996-2000 Yankees simply would not have been without Buck and Stick, no doubt in my mind.  Nor would they have been so without Don Mattingly, whose leadership and play through some dim years set the tone and a fine example to up-and-coming players such as Bernie and O’Neill.  Mattingly’s great moments in the 1995 playoffs were tremendous personal and team memories, crushing a big homer in Game 2 of the 1995 ALDS that nearly brought down the house.  Thanks, Cap.

Thanks to the 1996 Yankees for reminding this writer what it was like to be able to hold your index finger high and with pride for a year.  My first words after Charlie Hayes caught the foul ball for the final out in the Game 6 clincher were, “So this is what it’s like to back a winner?”  Having been a Bills fan and endured some real, consistent sports pain, and having been a young kid when the Yankees won in 1977 and 1978, I remembered the excitement of those Yankees back-to-back championships but completely lacked the perspective of how precious it really was as a kid.  The next 18 years, capped with the tremendous comeback in the ’96 series, brought that perspective in such a deep, resounding way that will never leave me.

Thanks to Wade Boggs for his horseback ride.

Thanks to Darryl Strawberry for being a vital player and great teammate.

Thanks to Doc Gooden for the no-hitter May 14 against Seattle, showing us all you still had it.

Thanks to Jeffrey Maier.

Thanks to Bernie Williams for positively owning Texas then Baltimore in the 1996 playoffs.

Thanks to Mariano Rivera for having one of the greatest years in 1996 (8-3, 2.09 ERA, .994 WHIP, 107 2/3 IP, 130 K, 3rd in CYA, 12th in MVP voting) for any reliever–as a set-up man for Wetteland.

Thanks to David Cone for turning the 1996 WS around with an excellent, gutsy Game 3 effort.

Thanks to Jim Leyritz for his three-run, game-tying blast in the 8th inning of Game 4, the sound heard ’round the world that Frank the Sage refers to as “G’DUZH!!” as it ricocheted off the boards behind the wall in Fulton County’s left field.

Thanks to Wade Boggs for the patience earning the bases-loaded walk in the 10th inning of Game 4 for the game-winning run.

Thanks to Lefty for one of the best, most clutch starts in World Series history in Game 5, outdueling John Smoltz, and for an outstanding 1996 season and rest of his career.

Thanks to Paul O’Neill for that tremendous running catch to his right, on a bum hamstring, off Luis Polonia’s bat to end Game 5.

Thanks to Jimmy Key for a terrific Game 6 win, outdueling Greg Maddux.

Thanks to Graeme Lloyd for being an absolute nightmare for Fred McGriff and Ryan Klesko throughout the 1996 World Series.

Thanks to Joe Girardi for that go-ahead triple in the third inning of Game 6.  The collective “YEAH!!” from the crowd when the ball landed in deep center was confirmation that the game was over, in my mind.

Thanks to John Wetteland for not only closing lots of games and the clincher, but also the tutelage for your successor, the greatest of all time, Mariano Rivera.

Thanks to Joe Torre for your calm leadership and genuine emotion after the 1996 victory and all others.  You’re missed more than you know.

Thanks to the 1998 Yankees, the greatest team in the desegregated era of baseball by a mile in my opinion, and the greatest in team sports in my lifetime.  After starting 0-3 and 1-4, that team ripped off victories in chunks, going from 1-4 to 23-6 in a month to 61-20 at the break.  After a somewhat sluggish late August into September, they won their last 7 of the year and, after going 11-2 in the playoffs, finished a remarkable 125-50 with a .714 winning percentage.  How much more serendipitous than that can it get, with their winning percentage being the same statistic as Babe Ruth’s grand home run total?  Watching them every day was nothing short of a privilege that I will never forget or fail to appreciate.

Thanks to David Wells for the perfect game May 17, 1998.

Thanks to Darryl Strawberry for showing what a great teammate he was by sticking up for Tino when Armando Benitez beaned him.  Were it not for the slippery steps to the visitors’ dugout, rescue crews would still be picking up the remains of Benitez’s face.  I am no fan of brawls, but Strawberry’s example was key to a team with enough young players that veteran leadership and some well-timed toughness are crucial to set a no-nonsense tone.

Thanks to Bernie for being the first player to amass a batting title, gold glove, All-Star appearance, and World Series ring in the same year in 1998.  Brilliant, Bernie.  Brilliant.

Thanks to a great acquisition in El Duque Hernandez, whose 12-4 1998 season all but assured the Yankees of a World Series title.  His Game 4 ALCS start against Cleveland, when the Yankees trailed 2 games to 1, was one of the best, most clutch starts the Yankees have ever had, propelling the Yankees to the ALCS and World Series win as they won seven straight to close the 1998 post-season, just as they closed the 1998 regular season with seven straight wins.  El Duque was a clutch, fearless, big-game pitcher to whom I’d hand the ball in any big game, any time.

Thanks to another great acquisition in Scott Brosius, who had what was in my opinion the greatest season a nine-hole hitter ever had (19 HR, 98 RBI, .300/.371, All-Star, WS MVP) in 1998, was just clutch throughout his four years with the Yanks, and was one hell of a fielder.

Thanks to Tino for being a great two-way first baseman for the Yanks, for being a huge fan favorite, and for his go-ahead grand slam in the seventh inning of Game 1 in the 1998 Series, part of “7 in the 7th.”

Thanks to the 1999-2000 Yankees for their solidifying this era as dynastic and utterly dominant.

Thanks to Chili Davis, who never got enough credit for being a great player and teammate, for being an excellent player and leader on a team with no shortage of either.

Thanks to David Cone for his dominant perfect game July 18, 1999.

Thanks to Derek Jeter for having the best offensive year of his career in 1999.

Thank you El Duque and Cone for absolutely shutting down the Braves right out of the chute in Games 1 and 2 of the 1999 Series.  Combined, they allowed 2 hits–one apiece–1 run, walked 6 and fanned 14.  The Series was pretty much over when they dominated in Atlanta.

Thanks to Chad Curtis for his two homers in Game 3 of the 1999 Series, including his tenth-inning walk-off.  It was even more “pretty much over” then.

Thanks to Mariano Rivera for providing one of the best examples of his brilliant dominance that even his opponents have been forced to appreciate.  With one out in the top of the ninth in Game 4 of the 1999 World Series, Mariano sawed Ryan Klesko’s bat into chunks on three straight pitches, prompting the great Chipper Jones to put his head down, shaking it and chuckling to himself as Klesko continually returned to the bench for replacement lumber to be turned into toothpicks.  Here it was in Game 4 of what would be another Yankees World Series sweep, the 12th straight World Series game the Yankees were about to win, the second time in four years the Yankees were about to storm the Braves, and Chipper Jones was brought to an act of impromptu admiration for Mariano’s unrivaled greatness.  Classic moment among so many for Mariano, the 1999 World Series MVP.

Thanks to Roger Clemens for, among many other accomplishments as a Yankee, that complete-game, one-hitter monstrosity imposed upon the Mariners in Game 4 of the 2000 ALCS, fanning 15.  Possibly on the roids then and otherwise?  Yes.  Still, it was nothing short of incredible to see, the best post-season start I’ve ever witnessed.

Thanks to David Justice for a great second half of 2000, and the monstrous homer off Yankee whipping mule Arthur Rhodes in Game 6 of the 2000 ALCS.

Thanks to Derek Jeter for his outstanding 2000 World Series MVP performance, for leading off Game 4 with a homer that I’d swear Chuck Knoblauch called for, as he and the rest of the team walked out of the dugout to greet Jeter after it, Knoblauch–who didn’t start Game 4–clapped as Bernie walked astride Knoblauch, pointing to him and saying something along the lines of, “He said it.”

Thanks to Luis Sojo for the seeing-eye single in the Game 5 clincher.

Thanks to the Yankees for serving as a tremendous unifying force and public-service role in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. You were even more inspiring than usual.

Thanks to Jeter for the flip against Oakland in Game 3 of the 2001 ALDS.  I immediately left the bedroom where I was watching the game and folding laundry so I could audibly cheer and not wake my infant son, who was sleeping in the bedroom.  I told my wife right there that that play would turn the series around and they would win.  It did and they did.

Thanks to Mike Mussina for a gem of a start that Game 3 of the 2001 ALDS.

Thanks to Tino, Jeter (“Mr. November”), and Scotty B. for the WS heroics.

Thanks to the fans at Yankee Stadium on November 1, 2001 who showered Paul O’Neill with continuous chants of “PAUL O’NEILL!!” during the ninth inning of Game 5 of the 2001 World Series, even though the Yankees were down 2 runs at the time.  Talk about getting teary watching a baseball game.  I was a mess before being overjoyed when Brosius homered.

Thanks to Jason Giambi for the May 17, 2002 grand slam in the rain to beat Minnesota, and for keeping the Yankees in the game against Boston in Game 7 of the incredible 2003 ALCS.

Thanks to Jeter, Bernie, Matsui, and Posada for the rally against Pedro to tie Game 7 in the eighth inning.  Thank you too, Grady Little.

Thanks to Mariano Rivera for three scoreless innings in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS.  That was as money as Mariano has ever been.

Thanks to Aaron Boone for the phenomenal dramatics in the eleventh inning of Game 7, homering into the night to win the series.  Frank the Sage said before the ALCS that AB would be big in the series.  Up until then, he wasn’t, but that was as big as big could be.  As soon as the ball was hit, my hands immediately went straight up into the air, right with Boone’s, and my subsequent five minutes of uncontrollable laughter awoke the family despite my best efforts to stifle it.  Forget it.  I finally called The Sage when I stopped laughing and he answered the phone laughing uproriously.  “I just got done doing that and couldn’t speak until I calmed down,” I told him.  “Well, there’s that too,” Frank said, “but I expected a call right after the homer since we always speak about big games and especially the big moments.  When no one called, my wife started giving me grief. ‘Why has no one called? Where is the phone call you said would come?’ As soon as she said that, the phone rang and I knew it was you.”

Thanks to Derek Jeter for diving face-first into the stands and eating a seat handle in the twelfth inning of the 5-4 win against Boston July 1, 2004.  I literally stood with my left ear to the computer speaker for the several hours listening to the game, for my brother-in-law was in town with his family, and they were watching a movie in the living room with my family.  With the TV not six feet from the computer and my lacking headphones, I turned down the sound and listened over several coldies.  I can recall Sterling’s great call by heart which, along with the great play and the overwhelming crowd reaction, gave me goosebumps that have returned as I write this.  Sterling: Swung on and popped up.  Jeter on the run, MAKES A ONE-HANDED RUNNING CATCH! AND DIVES INTO THE PHOTOGRAPHERS’ AREA! OH YOU CAN’T BELIEVE IT! He raced, he caught it…and boy did he get beat up.  Oh, did he get beat up.  He is bloodied about the face. [As chants of “JETER! JETER! JETER! grew from the appreciative crowd] Aww, what a player! Derek Jeter, what a player! You CAN’T say enough about him! What is he?!? He’s a WINNER! That’s what he is, he’s a flat-out winner! No runs, one hit, two left, and  at the end of eleven and a half, it’s the Red Sox 3, and the Yankees 3. In my mind, never has Sterling been better.

Thanks to A-Rod for many monster seasons, including a great 2005 and an incredible, clutch 2007.  Do it again in 2009, kid.

Thanks to Mike Mussina for being a great Yankee pitcher.

Thanks to Tino for helping carry the Yankees in 2005 when they floundered, hitting ten homers in thirteen games in May, including in five straight games.  Vintage Tino.

Thanks to Bernie for capping the comeback against Tampa June 21, 2005.  Though trailing 10-2 after four innings, the Yankees mounted a furious comeback resulting in a 20-11 win.  With the bases loaded in the bottom of the eighth and Giambi intentionally walked, the crowd already started chanting “BERNIE! BERNIE! BERNIE!” when he was in the on-deck circle.  When he swatted the first pitch for a bases-clearing triple to center to give the Yankees a 13-11 lead they’d never relinquish and catapult them to a 13-run eighth, he stood on third as the crowd went absolutely crazy and showered Bernie with more, throaty chants of “BERNIE! BERNIE! BERNIE!” Classic moment, and no one deserved it more than Bernie.

Thanks to the 2005 Yankees for a great comeback to win the AL East for the eighth straight time after starting the season 11-19, capped by the great clincher Saturday, October 1, 2005 in Boston with Jeter hugging a tearful Joe Torre with all his might as the Yankees celebrated an incredible, improbable comeback with an 8-4 victory.

Thanks to Aaron Small coming out of nowhere to have an amazing 10-0 2005 season, with his best highlight to me being his scintillating September 3, 2005 complete-game, five-hit victory against Oakland, fanning Eric Chavez looking to win it.  The ear-to-ear grin on Small’s face as he walked off the mound toward Jorge, saying “How about that?” to the catcher as Jorge shook his hand and gave him the ball was inspiring.  He deserved everything he got that year and then some, a genuinely nice guy who was vital to that comeback.

Thanks to Shawn Chacon for his own excellent, 7-3, 2.85 ERA 2005 stint with the Yankees.  He and Small were instrumental to the Yanks’ comeback, pitching fearlessly and coming up on opponents sideways.

Thanks to Al Leiter for his great July 17, 2005 win in Boston, propelling the Yankees to a great second-half comeback that season.

Thanks to Jorge Posada, the guts of the team, for being a tremendous Yankee catcher in an incomparable lineage of great team catchers–Dickey, Yogi, Elston Howard, Thurman Munson, for your hanging onto the ball after getting plastered by Teixeira at the plate and later hitting the game-winning walk-off two-run homer to beat Texas 14-13 on May 16, 2006, among other memories.

Thanks to Bob Watson and Brian Cashman for building and sustaining great teams throughout this period.

Thanks to A-Rod for all the 2007 dramatics, including that walk-off three-run homer off Joe Borowski to beat Cleveland 8-6 April 19, and two homers in the same inning, the seventh, against Seattle in a 10-2 win September 5.

Thanks to the 2007 Yankees for an amazing comeback from starting 21-29 and finishing 73-39 the rest of the way.

Thanks to Mariano Rivera for being a Yankee, for all the success in the playoffs and World Series, in the clutch, for all the dominance and escape artistry, and at all times making it look easier than it’s ever been.  He’s not only the greatest relief pitcher I’ve ever seen, he’s one of the greatest pitchers I’ll ever see.

Thanks to Derek Jeter for being a Hall-of-Fame player, for all the clutch play, for being a terrific on-field leader and example of focus and hard work at all times, and for his great, heartfelt speech after the final game of Yankee Stadium September 21.

Thanks to George Steinbrenner for being so financially and emotionally invested in the Yankees, turning them around after the dismal CBS years and restoring them to greatness.  There have been lots of things about Steinbrenner that have bothered me–not worth recounting now–but the guy put everything he had into the Yankees, and I fully respect and appreciate that.  His tears and speechlessness in the locker room after the 1998 World Series, witnessing a team as close to baseball perfection as it will ever get, helped win me over to him, if begrudgingly so.

Thanks to Chien-Ming Wang for being a terrific starter.  Here’s to your much-awaited return in 2009.

Thanks to Joba for being a bright shining hope for the future, and to Phil Hughes for hopefully fulfilling his rich promise.

Thanks to Brett Gardner for the flashes of base paths blazing speed and center field prowess.

Thanks to Phil Coke and Humberto Sanchez for giving me even more hope for the future of the staff and bullpen.

Thanks to the Yankees for doing it more than right but grand for the 2008 All-Star Game and the emotional closing of Yankee Stadium September 21, 2008.

Thanks to Bernie for returning to Yankee Stadium one last time, my favorite moment of the pre-game ceremonies.

Thanks to Cone, Lefty, El Duque, Mariano, Key, Wells, Clemens, Bernie, Paulie, Donnie Baseball, Straw, Chili, Chad Curtis, Ricky Ledee, Jorge, Girardi, Tino, Knobby, Jeter, Hayes, Boggs, Scotty B., A-Rod, Shane Spencer, Mat-su, BA, Giambi, RC, Nady, and all others mentioned or forgotten above for being Yankees.

2009 awaits, as I eagerly will for it.

Published in: on September 24, 2008 at 10:32 am  Comments (8)  

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8 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Good stuff Jason, good stuff.

  2. you know what jason–thank you man. this just made my day. excellent! i feel the same way.

  3. joe–we missed you at that last HDLR

  4. i’ve read this 3 times now…it’s just so inspiring.

  5. Jason, I’ve enjoyed your blog this year and wanted to thank you, but I think you unintentionally sold short Mr. Torre who kept this improbable run going for so many extra years and moments. Don Mattingly as quoted in Pete Abraham’s blog:

    “I’m sure it’s tough for the Yankees — something different, for sure. Jeter, Pettitte, Mariano. They haven’t missed in a long time. It’s one of those years in a tough division to play catch-up. But this year is a transition year for them without Joe. I interviewed for the manager’s job and I knew going in that it was sort of a no-win situation. You listen to them talk, and I don’t think they realized what Joe did for them for so long, how special he is at what he does.

    “I think they sort of took him for granted, didn’t realize all the things he brings to the table as a manager. You’ve seen it here with the Dodgers this year. How he keeps the ship going the right way, keeps things on track when it looks like things are getting ugly.”

    Thanks for the blog.

  6. Jason …

    Excellent Post !!!

    Not much more to say, except, that the last 13 Yankee Seasons were “awesome”. There are many in the Yankees Organization to thank, and you offered all those thank you’s “perfectly” in your post !!!

    My list of thank you’s includes all you have listed, Jason; and, I would like to add an extra special thank you to each of the following …

    George M. Steinbrenner, III
    Gene Michael
    Buck Showalter
    Joe Torre
    Derek Jeter
    Mariano Rivera
    Don Mattingly

    And, of course, thank you, to everyone who was part of the whole Yankees Organization during the past 13 successful years in Yankees history !!!

    When the Yankees opened the new “renovated” Yankee Stadium in 1976, the Yankees won the American League Championship; and, then, the World Series in 1977 and 1978 …

    So, all Yankee fans look forward to the opening of the new Yankee Stadium in 2009, and the start of many more Championship Seasons, and many new memories that will continue the awesome Yankees Tradition of “greatness” !!!

    I’m “proud” to be a Yankees fan, and I’m sure all Yankee fans feel the same way !!!

    Take care, Jason …

    — Jimmy [27NYY]

  7. one of your greatest posts… also one of your longest, if no the longest lol.
    i too was not sad, which was weird, but after everything that has happened this season it was obvious the yanks weren’t going to make it, so at least we had the heads up. it would’ve been muuuuuchhhh worse if the yanks were neck and neck with the red sox or rays and it had gone down to the wire, and then the yanks would of been eliminated, so thank goodness that didn’t happen. it would’ve been a steak to the heart.
    i’m thinking of an in-gamer for the last game on sunday. even though these games are meaningless, i really want 2 see the moose get his 20. lemme know if you’d be able to stop by J.

  8. Thanks people, really. I promised myself that I would post something of this sort when the Yankees were mathematically eliminated from playoff contention and, being extremely busy with various things, it came up on me faster than I expected–and would have hoped. In small part, I wanted it to serve as more than just a verbal slide show of sorts about these great years–and there is much more I could include–but also as a rebuttal to the occasional fan who considers us as Yankees fans spoiled. I think when people say this, they’re actually conflating spoiled with expecting success, which I and others do and for which I don’t apologize. Spoiled connotes a mindset of being pampered, and I don’t think that’s the case with me or others. That ignores not only how appreciative I and others are for all we’ve witnessed, not only how many times the Yankees have lost tough games and series yet we’ve held our heads high, but also the team’s odd history of deep tragedy–Gehrig, Munson, Lidle; all the players’ parents and relatives passing in the late 1990s, and more. For goodness sake, Lou Gehrig is remembered about as much for having a debilitating disease named after him as he is for his prodigious, historic baseball exploits. That says enough about being a Yankees fan. I’ve discussed the pain I’ve felt over Thurman Munson’s death all too often.

    Ed, thanks for commenting and come back any time. I intended this to be a retrospective of thanks for as many Yankees accomplishments and memories I could remember as I wrote, and was mindful of Torre’s various contributions. But you make a good point, that implicit in all this, there really needs to be much more said about Torre. At other times recently, Mike F. and I have discussed Torre’s managerial style and what he could possibly have done differently this year (possibly some things handling and motivating players, though I doubt anything better with the bullpen than Girardi, but certainly better media relations than his successor). I actually have to give Mike more credit for all that. But you’re right, there could have been more said about his contributions.

    Here are a few: all you need to know about Torre and how well he handled his players and how much respect they had for him comes in a few incidents–how he embraced Paul O’Neill as a father comforting a son after Game 4 of the 1999 World Series, when O’Neill’s father had just died; how Jeter always called him “Mr. Torre;” how Torre himself chuckled and acquiesced when he tried to take Mussina out of a game with 2 outs in the 9th inning and Mussina yelled at him, “Get back in there!” before Torre even got off the dugout steps. Mussina knew he COULD say that, and surely Torre bore him no ill will as many managers would. Torre treated his players with respect and as men.

    You’re right, V. The above post was the longest I ever wrote, I believe.

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