When you are a little kid in northern New Jersey in the early 1960s, there was a baseball team on your mind. You think about the players as you grab your glove and go into a wind-up and lob what you think are fastballs onto a brick wall and run around to catch the grounders that come back. You play with your friends at the nearby park. You get up to bat and you feel like you have the smoothest stroke in the world, because, of course, in your mind, it’s exactly like one of your heroes.
The New York Yankees, a colossal team of superstars, win the World Series in 1961, and 1962, and those years are vivid to you. They also won a string in the 1950s, 1940s, 1930s, and 1920s. Your battered baseball cards tell the stories of those old games you never got to see. In 1961, Roger Maris’s 61 home runs that break Babe Ruth’s season record (with asterisk ), which in your mind was ancient history. You get to see on the black and white TV Maris’s smooth swing, and Mickey Mantle’s steady power. With glove in hand, I was at the Stadium for one game, and saw Mantle hit a shot that hit the center field wall 461 feet from home plate.
Depending on the day, you get up to bat in a Little League game and one day you are Roger. Another day you are the Mick. And when you go into your wind up as a pitcher, you are maybe Whitey Ford. You catch with some old mitt and you are Yogi Berra or Elston Howard. You pinch-hit with that loopy swing and you are Hector Lopez.
When you are a little kid, each year is so long. It was 1960, and no baseball memories before that. Suddenly, it just blossomed before you. You stopped at the grocery store on the way home from school and someone wrote each game’s score on a glass board. It was Game 7. The Yankees power ahead. The Pirates come back. The game is only a few innings from being completed. The Yanks emerge. You are almost giggly as you turn on the Zenith TV. Wait, something is wrong. The picture is clear. It’s Yogi Berra racing toward the grass-covered fence in left field, and the ball is clearing the wall at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh. Oh no. You can’t believe it. A guy named Bill Mazeroski of the Pirates just smashed a home-run, and is circling the bases and crowds reach in to touch him as he circles third and heads for home, as if he just won a war. He did, in a way.
In 1963, there is normalcy, one thinks in the summer of baseball, months before the death of a president.
A loss: what’s that?
That year, the Yankees steamrolled through the American League, and one figured there would be no heartbreak like 1960. After all, they were two-time repeat World Champions, and just one more team to beat, the Los Angeles Dodgers.
If you were lucky, as a kid, there was something new to watching the World Series on TV. It was in vibrant, amazing colors. The splash of the constant sun in California. The bleached white home uniforms of the Yankees and Dodgers.
Once again as the World Series started, the Yankees were powerful, the only description for them when you are 11 years old. The team had just finished with a record of 104-57, winning another ho-hum pennant.
When you are a young fan, you didn’t think much about injuries, but yes they did happen. I knew Mantle had hurt himself years earlier on a drain in center field at Yankee Stadium. Maris had wrist problems. There were no statistics to speak of, at least from the newspaper sports pages besides batting averages, home runs, and runs batted in. Not like the metrics of today.
Coping with injuries: Yes, that’s been the badge of honor for this 2019 Yankees team, a monster group of sluggers reminiscent of the Yankees of old.
It seemed week after week, some key component of this Yankee team went down, only to be reinforced by a young player you never heard of doing amazing feats. And then that player went down only to be replaced by another.
“Yes, the Yankees have been resilient. They’re also hungry. They want it more than anybody else that’s walking on this planet, said The Athletic.
The story added: “The 2019 Yankees will be remembered as a squad that was resilient and focused in the face of adversity that refuses to let them out of its injurious maw from spring training right up until the final day of the regular season.”
“Powered to 103 wins by depth and skillful managing, the Yankees learned throughout the season a lesson that will serve them ell as they prepare to head into another October gauntlet.”
Those words were written Oct. 3.
Before last night, though, the Yankees seemed in disarray, a team that couldn’t hit or field, and were on the brink of elimination by the Houston Astros, 3 games to one.
As the Yankees warmed up, it was hard not to have visions of being a kid in 1963, thinking of the Bronx Bombers’ powerful lineup. And then running into the swooping curveballs of Sandy Koufax, and Don Drysdale’s fastballs. And more pitching. And more pitching. The Dodgers swept them 4-0.
The Houston Astros have a couple of incredible arms, future Hall of Famer (maybe) Justin Verlander and (maybe) future Cy Young Award winner Gerrit Cole.
Well, Verlander allowed four runs in one inning, almost unheard of.
And it was a guy who was sitting at home for months, injured, who instantly turned it around for the Yankees. Center fielder Aaron Hicks’ shot went high into the night and hit the right field yellow foul pole, bringing in three runs. Suddenly the Yankees were up 4-1 in the first inning and that made all the difference.
Last month, it looked certain that Hicks wouldn’t be back for the remainder of the season because of a flexor strain. It was also thought he might need Tommy John surgery.
Hicks didn’t. He underwent successful rehab. He came back and made the difference.
So the baseball drama continued at least another day. And for the Yankees, the World Series is not always something you can count on like the Mickey Mantle days. In fact, the Yankees haven’t been in a World Series since winning in 2009.
“Yankees fans between 10 and 110 years old are one defeat away from experiencing something for the first time: living through an entire decade without seeing their time: living through an entire decade without seeing their team win an American League pennant,” according to Newsday.
And that defeat came. After the Yankees came back to tie the Astros 4-4, Houston’s Jose Altuve dramatically hit a two-run walk-off homer tonight to knock off New York, and head to the World Series.
Decades later, haunted just like Mazeroski’s blast those many years ago.