Sunday, February 25, 2007

Birthday Wishes and Baseball

Not a lot of time to write this morning, so I'll be brief, with a Happy Birthday extended to Sean Robert Adams, the pride of mine and The Wife's lives. The Son turned five on Friday and has been partying down all weekend. He still has one more party - this time at his school. He struggles with the same things that many five year-olds do: temper, frustration, testing his parents' limits, and so on. At the end of the day, he's a very good boy and I am deeply proud of him. He's also going to play ball for the first time this year, in the T-ball league.

My friend from Section 5 at Yankee Stadium, Mick, has his own blog up and running. He responded to some of my feelings from recent posts regarding the Bombers. I'm glad I could inspire him to get back to blogging, but we have our differences. He thinks it's shameful the way the Yankees are treating Bernie Williams. I say it's time for Bernie to get over himself. Then again, I've often been very hard on Bernie. I respected the fact that Bernie stayed loyal, and didn't take the Red Sox money but at the same time, I've seen him hit strike out and hit into countless double plays in big spots. That doesn't mean that I don't like him. It means I'm critical. My feeling is still that if Bernie wants to play, then he should get to Florida and go through Spring Training. I don't think he's being thrown away like a piece of garbage. I think he's being treated like everybody else in the business. Unfortunately it happens to everyone, unless they know better and get out. Babe Ruth was dealt to the Braves in 1935. Steve Carlton pitched pitifully for the Twins and Giants in his last days. Hank Aaron as a Brewer? Let's go to other sports. Emmitt Smith as a Cardinal? Franco Harris with the Seahawks? Patrick Ewing? You're getting the idea - and these are hall of famers. Bernie had a nice year in 2006 but proved himself to not be the outfielder he once was. He doesn't seem to fit at first base, and is not a good pinch hitter. So where should he be? The Yankees have their outfield covered for now. Should he just stay in shape and wait at home for the phone to ring? OK - we'll see how it plays out.

Mick's other argument is about retired numbers. He takes me to task (not personally) for saying Ron Guidry's 49 shouldn't be retired. I know he didn't mean it this way, but here's his quote:

"Guidry - Yes! 14 years as a Yankee!"

By that rationale, Frank Crosetti, who played for the Bombers from 1932 to 1948 and won six world championships before becoming a coach and staying until 1968, would be a no-brainer. His numbers five (early years as a players), one (later playing years) or two (final playing and coaching years) should be retired. While we’re at it, why not Lou Piniella, or Willie Randolph, or Moose Skowron, or Hank Bauer, or Tommy Henrich? And there’s that nice outfielder/broadcaster from Oklahoma who’s currently battling brain cancer…He was a Yankee for 13 seasons. Obviously, Mick didn't mean it this way.

The problem is that these are the New York Yankees. If Ron Guidry had his career with, say, the Blue Jays, now you have a point. The Mets have only 14 (Gil Hodges), 37 (Casey Stengel) and 41 (G. Thomas Seaver) on their outfield wall. Yes I know about Jackie Robinson, but that will always be a politically correct make good move to me. Another argument for another time. The Yankees have too many numbers retired. Expect to hear this one day from Bob Sheppard: "And pitching, number one-oh-nine, Philip Hughes. Number one-oh-nine." The Boston Celtics are equally guilty, but their roster size is decidedly smaller.

So let's go through the numbers and get it over with:
1 – Billy Martin. Yes I know he was a good player, and a decent manager (1977 World Series Champs). Beyond that, he was often an embarrassment to the franchise. There was the Copacabana incident in 1957, the drinking, the fights with Ed Whitson, George Steinbrenner, Reggie Jackson, and a marshmallow salesman. As a manager he was often, um, interesting to say the least. Let's use Rick Rhoden (a pitcher!) as the DH! Let's take a pretty good A's team and turn their pitchers in jelly. Verdict - no. Earle Combs would be a better choice.

2 – Reserved for Frank Crosetti/Bobby Murcer (his later years)/Mike Gallego/Wayne Tolleson/Red Rolfe/Tim Foli. Or maybe we'll just save it for Derek Jeter. By the way, this one is a no-brainer. Yes, it's Jeter and it should be.

3 – Babe Ruth. Done. Should be retired all across baseball. If there's no Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson works magic in another facet of life because baseball as we know it does not exist.

4 – Lou Gehrig. The very first number ever retired in professional sports. Even if he doesn't die of the disease that bears his name, this would have been a no-brainer. To me, when he retired, he was baseball's second greatest player ever, behind Ruth. He's still very high up there, as far as I'm concerned.

5 – Joe DiMaggio. As graceful and mysterious as anybody who's ever played. Another no-brainer.

6 – Barring an ugly exit, this one is on hold for Joe Torre. It should be.

7 – Mickey Mantle. No argument here. He's The Mick. There's a book out now that tries to say that number seven is more identified with JOHN ELWAY than with Mantle. Laughable.

8 – Yogi Berra and Bill Dickey. Well done, Yanks. Recognizing that both Dickey and Berra were hall of fame catchers, and that Dickey might have been just as great as Yogi (and helped teach “Lawdie” the position), the Yankees retired the number in honor of both of these gentlemen. Yogi always gets the nod because of his clutch hitting and personality. Plus he’s still alive. Dickey was a fine Southern gentleman.

9 – Roger Maris. I would normally criticize this one because I don’t like “make goods” (see Robinson, Jackie). But I can’t argue that the Rajah was treated abysmally by fans and media alike because he wasn’t The Mick, and dared to set the record for home runs in a season in 1961 (which he still owns, in my opinion. Are you listening, steroid boys?). George Steinbrenner wanted to make amends with Roger and his family, and honored him in 1984. Less than two years later, he was dead. I won’t quarrel with his number being retired, but only because of the circumstances.

10 – Phil Rizzuto. This has as much to do with the struggle of The Scooter to get in the Hall of Fame as it does with him being a great shortstop and broadcaster. If he had made the Hall of Fame sooner, I’m not sure we’d be having this discussion. If he weren’t the “huckleberry” of a broadcaster that he became, we definitely wouldn’t be talking about it. I can make a definite argument for his number not being retired. Sorry.

15 – Thurman Munson. Let’s be honest for a minute. I loved Munson, but if he doesn’t die on August 2, 1979, is his number retired? Nope. So again, this is a special circumstance. It can’t be argued, because the team was not the same for roughly 17 years. His locker is still there (at least until 2009).

16 – Whitey Ford. Still the franchise’s greatest pitcher. No argument.

21 – Save this for Paul O’Neill? For what it’s worth, nobody has worn it since he retired. There are just too many others who deserve the honor. I can’t, in my honest assessment, retire the number for t Paulie O’, as much as I liked him.

23 – Don Mattingly. Tricky territory here. He was all fans had from 1983 until 1995. Because of that, I don’t argue it. In fact, I’ve had to defend it in some rather heated debates. He’s Donnie Baseball.

32 – Elston Howard. We’re in “Robinson” territory here. One of the most honorable men in the history of the franchise, and the first black Yankee. Later a coach, he came mighty close to becoming baseball’s first black manager in 1974, with the job going to Bill Virdon (a mega-mistake). Due to the social importance, I understand why the number hangs on the outfield wall.

37 – Casey Stengel. Ten pennants, and seven World Championships in twelve years. Only misses managing the Yankees to the World Series at all in 1954 (when they won 103 games) and 1959 (when they weren’t very good). Easy call.

42 – Jackie…um…Mariano Rivera. No diss to Mr. Robinson, but it’s Mo that the number will be retired for. And it should be.

44 – Reggie Jackson. Five years, three swings. That’s how I see it. The rest was just straw-stirring bull s*it. I still see him as an Oakland A, or even an Angel (think “The Naked Gun”). What still bothers me is that I think he went into the Hall of Fame as a Yankee because A) He was promised a job with the organization and B) He was promised that his number would be retired. I would never retire his number.

49 – Ron Guidry. Here’s my problem: Guidry was one of my favorites. I was saddened when he retired. He had something left, but why force it (are you listening, Bernie?)? So if you retire his number, then why not retire Vic Raschi, Allie Reynolds, Eddie Lopat, Spud Chandler, Lefty Gomez, Red Ruffing, David Cone, and Andy Pettitte? Gomez and Ruffing are both in the Hall of Fame, by the way. The Gator isn’t going to get there, unfortunately.

51 – Nope. Sorry. Too many numbers retired. But that’s just my opinion.

So there’s my say on the retired numbers matter. When you get right down to it, I’m only truly debating 1, 10, 44, and 49, while saying no to the potential retiring of 21 and 51. Does any of this matter? Nope…really not even to me. OK, well kind of.

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