By Father Gabe Costa
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It was 1953 and I was in the kindergarten at Sadie F. Leinkauf School (also known as Number 8 School) in Hoboken, New Jersey. One of the two teachers (either Miss Francke or Miss Marotta) changed my seat one morning, sliding my chair — with me in it — from one table to another table.
Little did I know that I would wind up sitting next to little Frankie Mottola, who would become my friend and remain a friend for the next 61 years until this very day. In fact, with exception of members of my family, I’ve known Frank longer than anyone else on the planet.
Frank and I did all the things kids did in the 1950s and early 1960s. We played stickball, boxball and punchball. We played touch football. All in the streets.
We went hunting for “Spaldeens,” which we lost when they went down local sewers. We did this by reconfiguring coat hangers to form a loop at the end, removing the manhole covers and making sure the cops didn’t see us.
We had a lot of fun. And our main passion was baseball, especially the Yankees.
Frank has been happily married for years and has become an accomplished musician. We get together as often as we can and call each other at least two to three times a week, especially during the baseball season.
Over the years, Frank and I have had a zillion conversations about the Yankees. He is more pragmatic and pessimistic, while I tend to look at things a little differently. Take Billy Martin, for example. I loved Martin; Frank didn’t like “Billy the Kid” at all. And after George fired Billy for the second time, Frank made a statement sounding just short of a proclamation with the authority of Papal infallibility: Billy Martin would never manage the Yankees for a third time.
Frank is not too good with his predictions.
The other day we were talking about the greatest players ever at various positions, obviously connected with the fact that Derek Jeter has but a handful of games left to play. As I thought more about this I came up with an idea for this installment of By The Numbers. I decided to put together three teams (one made up exclusively of Yankees, another made up of American Leaguers excepting Yankees and the third comprised of National Leaguers) with the following conditions met:
- I had to see (either on TV or in person) all the players I selected. This would give me a time span of about 55-56 years, starting from approximately 1958.
- I had to see these players before they passed their prime. Hence, I would not select immortals such as Ted Williams or Stan Musial. And I chose Thurman Munson over Yogi Berra.
- At times I went for “money player” reputation. For example, Bob Gibson was such a clutch pitcher, I just couldn’t leave him off my team.
- At times I “bent the rules” just a bit. For example, if I had two strong right field candidates and no one comparable in left field, I picked the two right-fielders and called them “corner outfielders.”
- I followed the “spirit” and “trend” of the recent Hall of Fame election results. That is, Barry Bonds, et al, were not on any of the teams. Nor were those who have been suspended because of admitted guilt, testing failures, etc.
- I did not pick a designated hitter for the two American League teams because the senior circuit has no DH.
Here are my teams:
By the way, Frank agreed with most — but not all — of my selections. He chose Ron Guidry over Whitey Ford, and Brooks Robinson over George Brett.
What would your teams look like?
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