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  • Tim Kabel

Playing Favorites

About the Off-Season: Playing Favorites

By Tim Kabel

January 20, 2023

***

I have been a Yankees' fan since 1975. That is almost 50 years, or to be fancy, half a century. I have seen a lot of players come and go and, in some cases, come and go and come and go again. Many fans have favorite players. I certainly have. What is it that makes a player the favorite of a particular fan? That is an interesting question.


When I started watching the Yankees, I quickly gravitated to Thurman Munson as my favorite player. Despite rumors to the contrary, I did not have a mustache at age 11. It came in at 12. However, I was a beefy lad and there was something about the stocky Munson with his gritty and determined nature that appealed to me. He was a hard worker and was extremely talented. He was also a bit of a curmudgeon, something I was not then, but am now. I had a Thurman Munson poster in my room. I had a fancy framed picture of him that I bought at the mall. I named my cat after him. To this day, he is my all-time favorite Yankee. Perhaps his tragic death contributes to his special status for me but, it may also be because he was my first favorite player.


After Thurman, I continued to admire Ron Guidry, but ultimately, Don Mattingly became my favorite player. In his prime, there was nobody more dynamic and exciting to watch. You had to be in front of the television when he came to the plate. Even though the Yankees never won the World Series with Mattingly as a player, I truly admired him and was very sad to see him retire.


When Mattingly retired, I didn't really have one specific favorite player. I liked Paul O'Neill, Bernie Williams, and Mariano Rivera. I also really liked Andy Pettitte. I was legally required, as were all Yankees' fans, to be an admirer of Derek Jeter but, he never quite rose to the level of Munson and Mattingly. Mattingly was a late-round selection who overcame great odds to make the major leagues. Munson looked like the guy behind the counter at your local deli. He succeeded because he was an extremely hard worker and a fierce competitor. Jeter was those things as well but, he was so smooth and sophisticated looking that I just assumed he had to be great.


There were other players I liked during this era and at the tail end of Jeter's career. I liked Melky Cabrera when he first came up, mostly because Mike Francesa didn't. The constant criticism of him made me empathetic and I always hoped he would succeed. I liked Mark Teixeira and CC Sabathia. I never really cared for Alex Rodriguez, as he seemed too synthetic and insincere to me.


Then, along came Aaron Judge. When he first came up in 2016, he struggled somewhat. He batted.179 and only hit four home runs in 84 at bats. A lot of fans and pundits said that he would never be a great player and would probably be a role player or a platoon player at best. I have always tried to avoid snap judgments and I really thought he was going to be very good. I took my sons to the last home game in 2016 and bought my younger son an Aaron Judge shirt. We know what happened after that.


Judge is not only a great player, but he is also a seemingly wonderful person. He handled his chase of the home run record last year with class, dignity, and a focus on the team. He certainly deserves to be the team captain. He is in the mold of Munson, Mattingly, and Jeter. Judge is also someone worthy of the admiration of fans, young and old.


I have also become a fan of Nestor Cortes Jr. He is an affable young man who seems to possess a sense of humor, charm, and humility. He was always a long shot to make the Major League roster, let alone to become an All-Star. That's why I have written many times that he reminds me of the cartoon character, Underdog. I enjoy watching him pitch and I feel he has the potential to be a great Yankee for many years to come.


So far, I am very impressed with Oswaldo Cabrera, and in his brief stint as a Yankee, he won me over. His hustle, diligence, and willingness to play every position is extremely impressive. He has a bit of a swagger to him but, not in an offensive way, in my opinion. I would be surprised if he is not a major contributor to the Yankees in 2023 and for many years after that.

I noticed as I was writing this article that all of my favorite Yankees players came up through the system. With the exception of Munson, I had heard about them when they were in the minor leagues. I think there is something special about a homegrown player, at least there is to me. The other common denominator is that they were all hard workers, who not only had talent but, put in the time and effort to succeed at the highest level.


This is a great time to be a Yankees' fan. The team has been extremely successful over the past 30 years and has the potential to win a World Series almost every year. In 2023, there could very well be several homegrown Yankees on the team. There are a few young players who are poised to make an impact on the Major League level. I am excited to see Oswald Peraza and Anthony Volpe when they are able to play on a regular basis. They will join Judge, Cortes, Luis Severino, and others.


I doubt any player will ever replace Thurman Munson as my all-time favorite but, I do have an Aaron Judge jersey, and I am hopeful of acquiring one for Nestor Cortez, and perhaps one of the new, young Yankees. The careers of individual players don't last very long, at least compared to other professions. However, there is a thread that is woven through a team's history. Fans, such as I, gravitate toward one or two players during their careers, and when they retire, we find another one. Having a favorite player is a lot like being a foster parent. There is always room for one more. Choosing a new favorite player does not diminish our opinion of the previous players, rather it enhances it. We see something in the new player that reminds us of our old favorite, and we embrace him.


So, in a few years, when I am writing an article wearing my Jasson Dominguez T-shirt, or my Oswaldo Cabrera jersey, I will still I have fond memories of Don Mattingly and Thurman Munson, as I will see things in the new stars that I saw in my old heroes.

7 Comments


fuster
Jan 30, 2023

MIckey Mantle.


Munson was a fine gritty player and well-loved, but not as talented as the greatest Yankees

such as DiMaggio of Gehrig

Like
Robert Malchman
Robert Malchman
Jan 30, 2023
Replying to

The Babe would crush the Mick on hot dogs. Now, a drinking competition, that would be a fair contest between two titans.

Like

Alan B.
Alan B.
Jan 30, 2023

Yes, even my friends know when im talking my captain, they know its Thurman. But i never did understand Mike's dislike of Melky.

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