The Yankees: A Reflective Essay (Part 1)
by Paul Semendinger
January 14, 2021
I love the Yankees. LOVE. After my family, and for as long as I remember, the Yankees have been the one constant in my life. There is something about baseball that when it captures your heart, it never lets go. Ever. And when baseball grabbed mine, it has me good. Real good. Locked it up forever.
Believe it or not, the first baseball game I ever remember watching was actually a Mets game. I was probably eight years old. I put the TV on and there was a baseball game on. A Mets game. So, I watched it. I don’t remember anything about that game other than the names of a few players (Joel Youngblood and Lee Mazzilli who became my “favorite players”). I remember my mother being surprised that I was sitting in front of the television and actually watching baseball. For whatever reason I watched the whole game and declared I was a baseball fan and (God forbid!) a Mets fan.
The Mets fan part didn’t last long. I don’t know why, but soon, it might even have been that day, but was soon after (when you’re a little kid, each day can be a lifetime) the Yankees captured my imagination, my interest, and my heart. I guess what it comes down to it when I was young and immature I was a Mets fan and when I grew up a bit (even it was just a few hours later) and my tastes became more refined, I gravitated to the Yankees.
Whatever it was, the Yankees became my team at the exclusion of all others.
There might be no bigger baseball fan than my father. He was open minded about my love of baseball, but my choice in favorite teams had to be hurtful to him since he’s a Red Sox fan. Die Hard. Growing up in my house, the name Ted Williams was spoken with reverence. (Still is.) Ted. Yaz. Bobby Doerr. Johnny Pesky. Mel Parnell. These players were all legendary. (Imagine being such a giant Red Sox fan only to have your little kid fall in love with the Yankees.) And fall in love, I did.
The Yankees became my heroes. All of them. Each and every one. Reggie and Thurman. Graig Nettles. Guidry. Sparky Lyle. Roy White. Mick the Quick. Bucky Dent. Dick Tidrow, Fran Healy. George Zeber. Gil Patterson. When I mean all of them, I mean all of them. The Yankees, they had me.
Over time and over the years, I realized that my dad and I follow the sport of baseball differently. Yes, my dad loves the Red Sox, but he also loves the game of baseball, the sport. He loves baseball. I also love baseball, of course, but I don’t really follow the game itself as much as many others. I follow the Yankees. They are who I care about. I love baseball, but I love the Yankees more. My baseball interest is consumed by the Yankees, not the other teams. It’s rare that I’ll watch any other game, even the playoffs or World Series if the Yankees aren’t playing. It’s just hard for me to care, except of the periphery. (“Well, good for the Dodgers. Their fans are lucky, they have a new championship. When will the Yankees win it again?”) It’s been like that for a long long time. My dad doesn’t understand when I say that I am a Yankees fan, not a fan of baseball. (Or at least enough to watch other games, for the most part.)
I invest my love of baseball in one account. The Yankees’ account.
Imagine growing up and coming of age in a world where you have everything you want in abundance. That’s what I had in relation to my baseball rooting interests. The Yankees had the biggest stars, the greatest moments, and all they did was win.
“I’m a Yankees fan,” I announced. They won the 1977 World Series.
“I love the Yankees,” I said. They won the 1978 World Series.
When Reggie hit those three balls into the night, I had no context to really understand all of that. All I knew was that he was a Yankee and Yankees did great things. Of course he hit them. And of course they won. These were the Yankees.
When 1978 came, it was a given that the Yankees would have the best pitcher too. Of course Ron Guidry was a Yankee. Why wouldn’t he be? When Bucky Dent hit his home run, it probably wasn’t as remarkable to me because somebody on the Yankees had to do it. The Yankees were going to win, after all. A few weeks later, it was also a given that my hero, Graig Nettles, would make all those plays in Game 3 of the World Series. Who else? No one really thought the Dodgers were going to win the World Series did they? (Come on, we’re talking about the Yankees.)
Thurman’s death hit me hard. I have probably never fully understood it. Heroes don’t die. Yankees live forever.
A fourth place finish that year also didn’t make sense.
I do remember in those years rooting hard for the Pirates in the 1979 World Series (Dave Parker was awesome) and I loved the 1980 Phillies (I acted like Tug McGraw when I pitched for a while after that). The Yankees hadn’t quite attained exclusivity in my heart. (It was a gradual process, but was coming.)
One of the things I loved about the Yankees then (and still do today) was their never-ending desire to win. Because of that, the Yankees were exciting. I didn’t like the controversy (when I was little all the Bronx Zoo stuff was way beyond me. I didn’t understand and I didn’t care), but as I grew up, marshmallow salesmen being punched, a raging manager, coaches GMs and managers fired seemingly always, an owner who just seemed to yell all the time… that wasn’t fun. I didn’t understand it. (“Just let them play, they’ll win.”)
I did love that the team only talked about winning. That’s all they wanted to do. And hey did try hard to achieve that goal, even if, after 1981, the World Series became elusive and seemingly further and further away. There was one Yankees way – one expectation. Play big and win big. The goal was crystal clear. Always. (Even if the results weren’t what we hoped for.)
Those Yankees teams of the 1980s were exciting. They were great fun. They were loaded with talent. It just never quite came together. Let me tell you though, it was a special time rooting for the likes of Don Mattingly, Ron Guidry, Willie Randolph, Dave Righetti, Rickey Henderson, Don Baylor, Tommy John, MIke Pags and so many others.
The results weren’t there, but the desire was. The Yankees were in on everyone. They tried to make it work. And it almost did. In many of those seasons, they were one pitcher away. Just one.
I was always disappointed when the Yankees failed to make the playoffs, but at the same time, I was still optimistic and hopeful because I knew they’d try again the next year. And I also knew that the winter would be packed with deals, signing, and excitement. (That’s what is missing, by and large these last few years… the winters have not been exciting. The Yankees are dormant. They don’t do much of anything. Even the big trades and signings are preceded and followed by weeks and weeks, months and months, and now even years and years of very little activity.)
Jack Clark wasn’t a great Yankee. But boy, when they got him, that was huge news. It was exciting. It brought energy. That’s what the Yankees did… they went for it. Always. Their commitment to win wasn’t in question.
The Yankees of that period are remembered as being terrible, but the terrible play and such didn’t really hit until 1989. And the really bad years didn’t last long.
By 1993, I was grown up, I was a teacher, married with a wonderful wife, we had a child on the way, and for the Yankees, things were also looking brighter…
(End Part 1)