Our next Pinch Hitter is John Findura, a 37-year-old who supervises the Writing Center at Bergen Community College in New Jersey, where he lives with his wife and daughter.
“On my parent’s first date, my mother was late because she was watching a Yankee game,” John wrote. “I first approached my wife because she was wearing a Yankees sweatshirt. Speaking of my wife, she’s still upset that I didn’t cry at our wedding but openly wept upon shaking Don Mattingly’s hand at the Yogi Berra museum.”
For his post, this lifelong Yankees fan wrote about Mattingly and the appreciation of fading icons.
Right off the bat we all knew it was gone. I followed it as it passed over my head and landed a few rows behind me in the right field bleachers of old Yankee Stadium. It was Don Mattingly’s final home run, and for most it was overshadowed sometime in the 44th inning when Jim Leyritz hit an opposite field walk-off to beat the Mariners in Donnie’s first postseason series. Of course the Yanks would lose the series to Seattle, and the next year, that Jeter kid would come into the picture. But that game was incredibly important for me because it was the last time I saw Donnie Baseball play in person, and I can’t believe it’s been nearly 20 years.
Most discussions this offseason have been about the luxury tax or Jeter’s ankle or Mo’s arm or something about A-Rod apparently drinking the blood of orphaned refugees while he participated in human trafficking (I in no way condone human trafficking). Of course I think about all of that, but I’m much more interested in just watching them play and appreciating them. A lot of fans came of age during the great Dynasty of the 90s, but when I turned 10, Mattingly was in the middle of his MVP season and playing for a Yankees team that never seemed to win.
I missed out on DiMaggio and Mantle and Munson, but I clung onto Mattingly harder than his mustache clung to his lip. I wasn’t letting go. A lot of younger fans don’t remember those lean years of the late 80s when having Dave Winfield, Rickey Henderson, Willie Randolph and Alvaro Espinoza meant nothing. Future Hall of Fame votes don’t equate to wins on the field. For many years, the only bright spot we had was Donnie – an underdog story, someone who always had a dirty uniform and a perfect mustache.
The thing is, I want to appreciate what we have. I remember reading my yearbook at the stadium with the names and pictures of the up-and-comers: Hensley Meulens, Orestes Destrade, Mike Blowers, Wayne Tolleson. When we traded Jay Buhner for Ken Phelps I was so distraught I missed a day of school. Over Jay Buhner.
I don’t know if fans today can appreciate the unbridled thrill when we acquired Jesse Barfield or Danny Tartabull. In ’89 we were hoping Barfield could carry us on his back – or at least Steve Balboni would, because I don’t even think we fielded a pitching staff that year. Those were our great hopes. I don’t think anyone expected us to win the series that year, and if they did, they were delusional; we were just excited at the prospect of winning a few games. Lee Guetterman would save us! If you want to argue over Ivan Nova’s effectiveness, please remember our ace Andy Hawkins.
Now we get caught up in so many different aspects of the game, and we expect to win every year. While I love winning the Series (yes I said “I” as though I were part of the team – I have willed many a ball over the fence and given the evil eye to most of the population of Boston), what I love is to watch good baseball. Now that Jeter and Mo and Andy are nearing the end of their careers, I love watching them even more because I know — just like with Donnie — they don’t last forever. I’m sure there’s some kid down in A ball who will come up and replace them and continue our winning ways (please, Gary Sanchez, please!), but for now I just want to watch some of the best ball players ever playing in their pinstripes while they can still play.
The lesson of Mattingly is that you don’t need to be a Hall of Famer or a World Series champion to enthrall the fans. You need to be a good baseball player and play hard. For those who want Cano traded because of the luxury tax situation, I say relax. Freeing up some money might be necessary, but I’d rather watch another year of Cano than be under the luxury tax threshold and watch Lenn Sakata try and turn a double play. Don’t like Joba? Hmm, he’s much more fun to watch than Cecilio Guante giving up 430-foot fly balls. Worried Brett Gardner doesn’t get on base as much as he should? Two words: Claudell Washington.
The frightening part? I loved watching Balboni and Jack Clark and Charles Hudson and even Alvaro Espinoza, because baseball is fun and the Yankees are the Yankees. Regardless of how the season plays out or how many human sacrifices A-Rod has made (at last count: approximately 34), I’m still watching every game and appreciating these guys who wear the pinstripes.
Associated Press photo