Wrapping up the Pinch Hitters series is Pete Colgan, who came up with his own way to define the greatest moments in Yankees history.
Pete lives in Central Illinois and has been a Yankees fan since 1962. In coming up with his list of the greatest moments in Yankees history, Pete worked from his own spreadsheet of data he’s collected.
“E-mail it?” he wrote. “No, its not on my computer. I have it in a notebook. I’m old school.”
Mariano Rivera is pitching in a non-save situation. A ground ball to second and a quick flip to first. A great moment has just occurred? Better than the no hitters by guys named Reynolds, Righetti, Abbott and Gooden? Better than the perfectos of Wells and Cone? Yes, better than any other, because this is the final out of the 2009 World Series and my pick for one of the 27 greatest moments in Yankees history.
What moment is better for a fan than the moment their team wins it all? I’ve followed the Yankees since 1962, the year McCovey’s line drive found Bobby Richardson’s glove with the tying and winning runs in scoring position to end Game 7. I have read books and viewed videos proclaiming a multitude of greatest moments: Home runs like Maris’s 61st or Ruth’s 60th. Pennant winners from Chambliss and Boone. DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak. Gehrig’s 2130 consecutive games.
In my mind none of these moments can match the thrill and exhilaration of that moment of winning it all, pure and simple. Thankfully none of the winners have been quite as harrowing as 1962 and McCovey’s near miss.
I recently made up a hand written spreadsheet of each of the 27 clinching moments. Most are ordinary plays involving mostly ordinary players. I can tell you, as much as baseball has changed the more it stays the same. Today it is always the closer getting that final out, and true to form, Mariano has closed the last four championships, with Wetteland and Gossage the two prior. Used to be guys like Gomez and Ruffing and even Torrez and Terry finished what they started. But check out Johnny Murphy and Joe Page, both pioneer relievers who closed out a combined four of the eight championships between 1936 and 1949. Ever hear of Bob Kuzava? He closed out two straight clinchers during the run of Casey Stengel. Second guess Casey for using Kuzava? Why should you? Casey won five straight championships. You can look it up.
Sure, some big names have fallen as the final outs. Guys like Hodges, Reese and Robinson — all of Brooklyn — made the final outs. So too did lesser knowns like Wasdell, Garmes and Yvars, plus names of recent vintage like Lemke, Sweeney and Lockhart. For every McCovey or Piazza there seems to be three or four of these quite ordinary players. Yet, they are all a part of the 27 greatest moments
I look at my spreadsheet and see only 10 clinchers at home. That means 17 on the road followed by a long train or plane ride home? Not exactly, because eight of the 17 road wins occurred at Ebbets Field, Polo Grounds and Shea, all just a bus or subway ride from the Bronx. So 18 of the 27 celebrations were kicked off somewhere in New York City. Two championships were won in the Yankees final at bat. The team that legend says intimidated the Pirates by merely taking batting practice, the Murderer’s Row team of 1927, walked off on a wild pitch of all things, and Billy Martin clinched 1953 with a line drive single.
It is that split second that leads to the subsequent wild celebration: The weak grounder, the routine fly ball, the strikeout and yes, McCovey’s scorcher to Richardson. It is all about the moment, the place, the people and the final play.
Ordinary as the final play might be, no Yankees fan can deny, THIS moment as the ultimate. All 27 of them. Putting it in perspective, Reggie Jackson’s three homer game will always be remembered as the greatest memory of 1977. But Reggie’s third home run wasn’t even the greatest moment of that game. Instead it was Mike Torrez squeezing the final out, a pop up bunt by Lee Lacy. Reggie’s heroics were merely stepping stones to one of the greatest moments in Yankees history. One of 27. We all know about Larsen’s perfect game, but it too was a precursor to THE event of 1956: Jackie Robinson’s strike out ending Game 7.
So now pitchers and catchers are about to report and great moments can be anticipated. What great moments lie ahead for the 2010 Yankees? Walk off wins, performances worthy of MVP and Cy Young awards, unimaginable feats of hitting and pitching may all be in our 2010 season just ahead. For all of these great feats I’ll take another routine grounder to second to end another Yankee championship and in the process become one of the TWENTY-EIGHT greatest moments in Yankees History.