Y is for Yankees

The New York Yankees won their 27th World Series in 2009. Twenty-seven, which, coincidentally, is the number of outs each team gets in a standard nine-inning baseball game.

It’s interesting to me how people become fans of sports teams. Sometimes it’s based on geography, but it can also be a matter of particular players. My father-in-law still roots for the Minnesota Twins because he liked a player named Harmon Killebrew back in the 1960s. My father was a Los Angeles Dodgers fan because the Brooklyn Dodgers, before they moved to the West Coast, had signed Jackie Robinson in 1947.

For me, in baseball, it was both players AND geography.

Mickey Mantle, 1958

I remember well the 1962 World Series, whereas I have absolutely no recollection of the previous Fall Classics. It was the New York Yankees versus the San Francisco Giants, my favorite teams. Why I preferred the Yankees was easy; the minor league team in my hometown of Binghamton, NY had been a farm team (minor league affiliate) of the team from the Bronx. Then there was that New York State pride. The Giants USED to be a New York team and had my favorite player, Willie Mays. The Yankees, lead by Mickey Mantle, would win that Series, 4 games to 3, but would lose in 1963 and 1964, and then not even get back into the Series for over a decade.

But let’s start at the beginning. The team now known as the New York Yankees was an original team in the fledgling American League in 1901 – as the Baltimore Orioles. They became the New York Highlanders in 1903 and never got to the World Series.

Babe Ruth, 1920

The team’s fortunes were about to change when they acquired outfielder George Herman “Babe” Ruth from the Boston Red Sox after the 1919 season. Ruth lead the league in home runs with 11 in 1918, and an incredible 29 in 1919. But in his first two years with the Yankees, he hit 54 and 59 homers, respectively, eventually reaching 60 in 1927. Ruth’s presence also made the team first in attendance from 1920 on. And in 1923, in the Yankees’ first season in Yankee Stadium – they had been playing in the Polo Grounds – they won their first World Series against the crosstown Giants, 4 games to 2.

By the time they won their 2nd and 3rd titles in 1927 and 1928, they had a “Murderer’s Row” of sluggers that included first basemen Lou Gehrig. He’s known mostly for his Iron Man streak of over 2000 games played in a row, and the disease, ALS, which eventually claimed his life.

Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio watching batting practice, April 1939

I think Yankee hatred started when the team, led by outfielder Joe DiMaggio, got to seven World Series between 1936 and 1943, winning six of them. Worse, the Yankees, now featuring catcher/outfielder Yogi Berra, won in 1947, and every year between 1949 and 1953. The team, which by then also starred Mickey Mantle got into every Series from 1955 to 1958, winning two.

Reggie Jackson

After they were swept by the Reds in 1976, the Yankees won back-to-back titles in 1977 and 1978. This was the Bronx Zoo group that featured the self-described “straw that stirs the drink”, Reggie Jackson.

Derek Jeter, 1998

But after a World Series loss in 1982, another drought ensued until 1996, when some young players, led by Derek Jeter, won the title in 1996, 1998, 1999, and 2000. But they lost the Series in 2001 and 2003, and didn’t even get into the playoffs in 2008.

So yes, I was rooting for the hated Yankees, in their controversial new stadium, in 2009. I mean the archrival Boston Red Sox had won more World Series rings in the 21st Century (two) than the Yankees had before 2009 (zero).

So congrats to the Yankees; doesn’t mean I’ll root for them in 2010. One oughtn’t to be greedy about these things.
ROG