Harvey Frommer

A Yankee Century

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EXCERPT

Introduction
by Paul O'Neill

When I was traded to the New York Yankees by the Reds in 1992, I was devastated. I had grown up in Cincinnati and was signed by the Reds right out of high school. The city and the team were places I was comfortable with. New York City and the Yankees were foreign to me.

But my father said: "Being a Yankee will turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to you." He turned out to be right.

Yet, at the start I didn't think so. The Yankees back then were a struggling, subpar team, and the Bronx was a place I had heard negative things about. In fact, early on my car was stolen-twice. But I stuck with the Yankees, the Bronx, the fans, and learned pretty quickly that there was something very special about all of them.

I went on to make nine consecutive Opening Day starts for the Yankees and was fortunate enough to hit .300 or better in each of my first six seasons with the team, to win a batting title, and to play on four Yankee world-championship teams. It was extraordinary to be in that supercharged environment, to play under pressure day after day, season after season.

But even more significant was my realization that I was becoming part of the history of the most famous, celebrated, and glamorous sports team ever.

I had the honor of playing right field-the same position that had been held down by such greats as Babe Ruth, Tommy Henrich, Hank Bauer, Roger Maris, Reggie Jackson, and Dave Winfield.

I'll always remember running out onto the field with my teammates at Yankee Stadium at the start of a game. I'll always remember listening to Frank Sinatra sing at the end of a game: "If I can make it there, I'll make it anywhere."

I'll always remember the fans calling out my name, "O'Neill, O'Neill, O'Neill," chanting, "Paul-ie, Paul-ie, Paul-ie." My time as a New York Yankee was nine years and one day, and it came to an end after the 2001 season. I am just one of about twelve hundred players who have performed in pinstripes, and I feel a connection in one way or another with all of them. I hit the jackpot being a member of the New York Yankees.

That is what Harvey Frommer's A Yankee Century is about-the connections, the Yankee tradition, the culture passed down through the decades.

This definitive book captures the sweep and the scope of the team from the Bronx. It is about super talents, guys who willed themselves to succeed. It is about the high moments in franchise history and also about the disappointments. It is about the magic, the aura. It is all about celebrating one hundred years of Yankee baseball.

If you love baseball, if you love the New York Yankees-you will love this book.

-Paul O'Neill

* * * * * * *

Prologue
Team of the Century

The beginning for the franchise was muted.

In their first two decades the New York Yankees won no pennants and managed just two second-place finishes. But then over the next forty-four years the team dominated the American League, winning nearly two of every three pennants and twenty World Series.

After that came another pennant drought of a dozen years, followed by years of plenty. Between 1976 and 1980, the Yankees won four division titles, three pennants, and two more world championships. For the next fourteen years, once again there were no pennants. And then came the world championships in 1996, 1998, 1999, and 2000.

From an inauspicious start back in 1903, once the New York Yankees got going, the world of baseball was never the same. The team from the Bronx has won more regular season games than any other franchise in the history of baseball, thirty-eight American League championships in an eighty-year period, and just about one World Series for every three played, twenty-six in all. The Yankees have been in more World Series and won more world championships and league championships than any other team in history.

They own bragging rights to the top five players of all time in World Series runs scored, RBIs, and total bases; the top three players of all time in World Series home runs, slugging percentages, and pitching; the most players inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

No matter what prism Yankee baseball history is viewed through, the image is supreme. The owners have been ambitious and aggressive, the managers prepared and innovative, the players talented and driven, and the regal home field commands respect.

The Yankees have actually played on four different home fields: Hilltop Park (1903-1912), the Polo Grounds (1913-1922), Yankee Stadium (1923 to the present); there were also a couple of odd seasons spent at Shea Stadium (1974-1975) while the old Yankee Stadium underwent a massive facelift.

But the big ballpark, the House that Ruth Built, powerful, historic, helped create and maintain the Yankee tradition right from the start. Through the years players from other teams have come into Yankee Stadium before a game, gawking, awed, and intrigued by the fabled monuments and plaques.

Different owners have put their stamp on the franchise, but Colonel Jacob Ruppert and George Steinbrenner have had the greatest impact.

The aristocratic and arrogant Ruppert held sway over Yankee fortunes from 1915 to 1939, a time of mostly great glory for the Bronx Bombers. One of the richest individuals in America in his time, Ruppert spent a good deal of his treasure on the Yankees. It was Ruppert who was responsible for Yankee Stadium and for the building blocks of the Yankee mystique. He truly earned his nickname, Master Builder in Baseball.

George Michael Steinbrenner III-who has owned the Yankees longer than any other owner-has been on the Yankee scene since 1973, a scene marked by turbulent issues, through stormy and down times to dramatic and thrilling successes. The man they call the Boss has been as devoted and driven about all things Yankee as anyone ever associated with the team. A big spender and poor loser like Ruppert, Steinbrenner remains totally immersed in the affairs of his team. From the first manager, Clark Griffith (1903-1908), through Joe Torre (1996 to the present), there have been a total of forty-two Yankee pilots. They have ranged from indolent to driven, from brilliant to slow-witted, from cautious to carefree. A few, like Billy Martin, Yogi Berra, and Lou Piniella, have served multiple managing terms.

The self-effacing Miller Huggins (1918-1929) was the franchise's first great Yankee manager. Just five feet four inches and 140 pounds, the man they called Hug was an unlikely Yankee. The eighth manager in the sixteen-year history of the franchise, Huggins initially was dwarfed by Babe Ruth and other Yankees in reputation and physical stature. But his tenacity and brilliance overcame his size and image handicaps. The first monument ever at Yankee Stadium was dedicated to the odd little man, "the greatest manager who ever lived," in Pitcher Waite Hoyt's phrase-who moved the Yankees from mediocrity to greatness.

Joe McCarthy came to the Yankees from the Cubs in 1931 and stayed on the scene as manager until 1946. A minor-leaguer for fifteen seasons, "Marse Joe" never played in the major leagues, yet he is the winningest manager of all time. Dedication to craft was one of McCarthy's most outstanding traits, and he passed this on so that it has become part of Yankee culture. The square-jawed pilot spent sixteen years in pinstripes, a time in which his teams won 1,460 games and recorded a superb .627 winning percentage. His 1936-1939 teams won four consecutive world championships. Outlandish, unorthodox, a true baseball lifer, Charles Dillon Stengel was on the scene as manager from 1949 to 1960, a time of legendary accomplishments for the New York Yankees. Out of Kansas City, Missouri, Casey was a master of the pun, the one-liner; he scrambled verbs and adverbs and mangled other parts of speech. But oh, could he manage a ball club. His Yankees won ten pennants and seven World Series, including a record five straight world championships, 1949 through 1953. Only once in his dozen seasons as Yankee manager did a Stengel team win fewer than ninety games. Casey's Yankee career managing record was 1,149-696, a winning percentage of .623.

Pugnacious, disagreeable, driven, Billy Martin had five stints managing the Yankees: 1975-1978, 1979, 1983, 1985, and 1988. Number One's comings and goings were grist for New York City newspaper gossip and a source of endless fascination for fans. His record as a Yankee manager was 556 wins, 385 losses. His teams won two American League titles and one world championship. He died too soon at age sixty-one in a tragic automobile accident.

Joe Torre came to the New York Yankees in 1996. His previous record as a manager was undistinguished. He began the 1996 season with more than a thousand career losses, never having finished higher than fourth. But with the Yankees he turned himself and the franchise around. A communicator, a calm presence, a skilled handler of players (and owners), Joseph Paul Torre promptly showed the stuff that may qualify him as one of the top Yankee managers ever. The first manager in franchise history to be born in the New York City area, the sixth manager to reach the 500-victory plateau (582 wins through 2001), Torre's glittering record includes four World Series titles and five American League championships in just six Yankee seasons.

Owners and managers notwithstanding, it is the players who have truly given the Yankees their magic, their aura, their identity. More than twelve hundred have worn pinstripes.

There have been Babe Ruth's Yankees, Joe DiMaggio's Yankees, Mickey Mantle's Yankees, Reggie Jackson's Yankees, Derek Jeter's Yankees. There have been players with unique talents and standout personas whose images linger down the decades:

The tiny Wee Willie Keeler, hitting 'em where they ain't.

The sturdy Yogi Berra rushing to leap into Don Larsen's arms after the perfect game.

The determined Ryne Duren, wearing the coke-bottle eyeglasses, throwing the fastball to the backstop.

The solid Lou Gehrig playing on and on through the hurt and the pain.

The adroit Phil Rizzuto deftly bunting the ball.

The zoned-in Eddie Lopat tossing the junk balls.

The multitalented Mick busting it down the first-base line, head down after bashing one of his monster home runs.

The peripatetic Thurman Munson in the dirty uniform, blocking home plate.

The composed and collected Mariano Rivera, always ready for the pressure.

Yankee fans have thrilled to the quiet class and dignity of Joe DiMaggio, Earle Combs, Elston Howard, Don Mattingly,

Willie Randolph, Lou Gehrig, Roy White, Bobby Murcer, Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams.

They have tuned in to and sometimes been turned off by feisty, fiery, moody ones like Bob Meusel, Joe Page, Roger Maris, Thurman Munson, Billy Martin, Paul O'Neill.

They have admired the gifted ones like Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, Dave Winfield, Jim "Catfish" Hunter, Red Ruffing, Joe Gordon, Graig Nettles, Herb Pennock, Ron Guidry.

They have been entertained and also annoyed by characters like Lefty Gomez, Mickey Rivers, Phil Linz, Sparky Lyle, Reggie Jackson, Goose Gossage, Joe Pepitone.

They have felt a special affection for the tough and dependable ones like Bill Skowron, Chris Chambliss, Hank Bauer, Tommy Henrich, Ralph Houk, Allie Reynolds, Bill Dickey, Tony Lazzeri.

And they have marveled at the Babe, bigger and better than them all, swinging from the heels, connecting with the crowd, lit up by power and personality. So come, let us celebrate one hundred years of New York Yankees baseball.


ófrom A Yankee Century by Harvey Frommer, Copyright ?2002, The Berkley Publishing Group, a member of Penguin Putnam, Inc., used by permission.

 

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