By Jason Keidel
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Perhaps you felt the same way when you clicked on your television yesterday around noon to watch the Yankees’ yearly rendition of Old Timers’ Day: overwhelmed with waves of nostalgia. Maybe even Mets fans tip a cap to the cadre of legends who stuff their swollen torsos into their old uniforms.
Depending on the age of the sage, they limped, walked, or trotted onto the vast, verdant outfield, a corporeal montage of my life, which started with Roy White and Ron Guidry, and flashed across the decades to Bernie, Tino, two Davids (Cone and Wells), Doc and Darryl.
I sound like a shill (and perhaps I am) but I’m not the only one to argue that no one celebrates the past like the Yankees. Maybe it’s by default, by dint of the decades, all the high deeds under brown leaves. Forgive the cliché, but if you have it, flaunt it, and the Bronx Bombers can unfurl the red carpet and create a catwalk from Cooperstown to Monument Park.
All of it was right, from the pudgy, old players to the sloppy play to the interviews. Kim Jones huddled with a distinguished quartet of widows, from Martin to Murcer to Munson to Hunter. Catfish, who, along with Thurman, made the Steinbrenner Yankees relevant in the 1970s, died, of all things, from Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
With so many sidebars, from the overdue nod to Gene Monahan to Lou Piniella in pinstripes for the first time since 1988 (I still can’t believe that), one story stood above the rest. Yet there was nary a whisper about it.
Joe Torre, the laconic, iconic former manager of the Yankees, appeared in a Yankees uniform for the first time since 2007, with his arm in a sling. The symbolism was endless, as though Torre were still hurt by his inelegant departure but not too hurt to appear at a park in which he never managed. All the ghosts are next door, where there is no building. But there was still a lingering comfort to seeing the skipper in his old garb, even for a few hours.
(You’ll have to tell me why the most important edifice in the history of American sports had to fall to a wrecking ball. Perhaps there’s a sudden boom in South Bronx real estate. They should have made a museum instead of a mausoleum.)
I won’t be a hypocrite; I led the conga line calling for Torre’s job and I laugh at any notion that he was fired. He was offered a salary soaring above any manager’s in baseball. Yes, it was wrapped with incentives for reaching each round of the playoffs. But Torre wasn’t canned; he left. You can argue that the Steinbrenners didn’t really want him there and that the quirky contract offer cloaked their true feelings, knowing that the proud Torre would balk and then walk from the money, but Joe Torre left at least $5 million on the table.
I blame Torre for the titanic, unprecedented choke in 2004. He handled A-Rod horribly, and even dropped the slugger (in his prime) to eighth in the order during the playoffs, and did nothing to fix the fissure between his third baseman and shortstop. And I felt it was time for new blood, and that Torre’s style wasn’t resonating the way it did during the dynasty.
But as the players mature from kids to kings to elders, we’d like to think we mature with them. As such, I regard Torre’s tenure with great affection now, and 12 playoff appearances in 12 seasons is nothing to sneeze at. Part of my beef with Torre is justified; the other part is spawned by obscene success, rendering me a big-time brat who absurdly demanded a World Series ring every spring.
More than a few eyes bubbled with tears as Monahan chucked the first pitch to Jorge Posada. And it was fitting that they were battery mates – two esteemed Yankees in their final years as Yankees. Torre, man already given to great fits of sentimentality, surely got lost in the moment. Posada is quick to call Torre his de facto father.
It was a perfect day, from SoHo to Central park to the Harlem River to River Ave. Baseball, more than any American sport, is wed to weather, numbers, and nostalgia, and all three were bundled into an afternoon of Americana.
Speaking of numbers, a real ballgame was played, too. The Yankees defeated the Colorado Rockies, 6-4, winning their second consecutive game and fifth straight series. Fittingly, the Yankees’ best player – who happens to be their oldest player – the immortal Mariano Rivera, saved the game with his mathematic precision, slicing the slivers of home plate that bats just can’t quite reach
The cloudless sky stretched like a blue tarp over the city, the Bombers beat the Clippers in Game 1 and then both beat the Rockies in Game 2. Did I mention that it was a perfect day?
It was the kind of game Joe Torre presided over a thousand times, brooding under the bill of his cap, his hands plunged into his pockets, his stiff gait to the mound as he tapped his right wrist to summon the final No. 42.
Torre’s number still stirs in the wind, like an unfinished sentence. We wait for the Yanks to sweep all squabbles under the grass and retire No 6.
Feel free to email me: Jakster1@mac.com
What was your favorite moment from Old Timers’ Day? Should the Yankees retire Torre’s No. 6? Fire away in the comments below…