Walking a Mile in Another’s Shoes (From the IBWAA)
By Paul Semendinger, Ed.D.
This piece ran in the IBWAA's newsletter, "Here's The Pitch" on October 26, 2022.
One of my best friends is a fan of the Oakland A's. He's been a supporter of the A's since the early 1970s. He became a fan the way many become fans -- he started watching baseball and the A's were the big winners. And to his credit, he has remained a loyal A's fan ever since -- through good and bad, through winning, and through a lot of losing.
We joke a lot about the teams we love. Me, a Yankees fan, the team that has such a history of success and he, rooting more often than not, for an also-ran.
One of the best jokes we have is the fact that seemingly all of the good players on the A's eventually become Yankees.
Since the 1970s, this has included Catfish Hunter, Reggie Jackson, Rickey Henderson, and Jason Giambi. Jose Canseco even became a Yankee, briefly, as did so many on those championship A's teams: Ken Holtzman, Bert Campaneris, Paul Lindblad, Claudell Washington ... on and on over the years.
Now, they didn't all become great as Yankees. The Yankees grabbed Sonny Gray from Oakland a few years ago. That didn't work out. The same seems true of Frankie Montas. But, by and large, if there is a good A's player, seemingly more often than not, he'll eventually be a Yankee.
As a Yankees fan, that always brings me great joy. I always hope that all the great players come to the Yankees. I first understood baseball as a fan of the late 1970s Yankees. Their way was the way I learned to appreciate baseball -- with the Yankees winning and with the star players coming to New York.
I loved Reggie as a kid. And there was no player more exciting to watch than Rickey Henderson. Those were great days!
A few years ago, one of baseball's premier players was a free agent. He was a slugging outfielder with the power, swagger, and style that reminded me of a modern-day Reggie Jackson. He had grown up rooting for the Yankees and liked to reference Mickey Mantle's name. He batted left-handed, and the Yankees needed a power lefty bat.
It was perfect. I knew he'd be a Yankee. It was preordained. Bryce Harper was going to be a New York Yankee.
Except ... he didn't. The Yankees didn't sign him. They didn't even make him an offer.
It didn't make sense then. It still doesn't.
And here we are. 2022. The Yankees were swept by the Houston Astros in the American League Championship Series, losing to the Astros in the playoffs for the fourth time since 2015. Each year, for the last many years, their bats have gone silent in the postseason. They lose against the best teams. They strike out early and often. They just put their heads down and walk back to the bench.
As I watch, my heart sinks. I start to feel like a Brooklyn Dodgers fan from the 1950s. "Wait till next year!"
And, just down the highway, not far from New York, there sits another city. Philadelphia. It has energy. And a great spark. Its manager was a Yankees coach who the franchise didn't deem able enough to lead their team to a World Series. And its biggest star is the one who got away.
When the Phillies needed a big hit this year, Harper was there. He blasted doubles and home runs and, above all, he brought a great winning energy to his team. Harper brought intensity and passion.
He could have been a Yankee. The stars seemed aligned. Only they weren't. He isn't a Yankee. He's a star in another city.
I never wanted to know what it was like to be an A's fan watching my superstar winning a World Series in another city.
I now pretty much know how it feels. While Harper never was a Yankee, he should have been. Bryce Harper, last year’s NL MVP and this year’s NLCS MVP, will soon be playing in the World Series, unlike the boys from the Bronx who only get to watch the biggest games on TV.
Oh, how great he would have looked in pinstripes.
*** Dr. Paul Semendinger is a retired principal in New Jersey. He is the editor-in-chief of Start Spreading the News, a Yankees site. You can follow him on Twitter @DrPaulRSem. On November 17, he'll be hosting a great event at Ramapo College with former Yankees great Roy White. Please click here for details.