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Posts Tagged ‘Mickey Rivers’

Walking down memory lane: The Yankees and Red Sox meet tonight in sport’s most heated rivalry. Sometimes, things get a little overheated…

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With pitchers and catchers celebrating our love of all things baseball by reporting to Spring Training on Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d share some reminiscences about Spring Trainings gone past.

First of all, this may come as a surprise to many of the Yankees younger fans, but the team didn’t always train in Tampa. Since the team’s founding as the New York Highlanders, they have trained in 19 locales. They spent a season in the Cactus League (1951). They trained in Atlantic City (1944 & 45). That was due to travel restrictions during World War II, but I can’t imagine the weather was much better in AC than it would have been in the Bronx. They even spent a season in Bermuda (1913).

But the period I remember from my youth is when the team trained in Ft. Lauderdale, from 1962 through 1995. In the early and mid-1970’s, I was lucky enough to make annual pilgrimages to south Florida. Ostensibly, my folks were sending me down to spend time with my grandparents. But I would invariably end up spending more time with my uncle at Ft. Lauderdale Stadium, watching my boyhood idols. Oh, and nabbing a few autographs; they were easier to get back then – I suppose because nobody had thought up the idea of holding events where people would pay $500 and up for one.

I remember in 1975 watching a tall, skinny kid routinely striking out some of the game’s better hitters. I didn’t know it then, but that was my first glimpse of the Gator. Then there was the time Bobby Bonds hit a ball that landed near the pitchers mound on one of the auxillary fields. I still think that’s the longest homer I’ve ever seen in person, and it brought everyone in attendance to their feet. In 1976, the Yankees debuted Mickey Rivers as their new center fielder – and his speed completely floored me.

There were other moments of baseball greatness that dazzled my preteen brain during those years, but they were my preteen years, after all. I wasn’t always as transfixed on the game as the happenings around me. One of the great things about those years was that not only did the Yankees invite back some of the former greats as guest coaches (a tradition they still follow today, thankfully), but you would often find others watching the games from the stands. Once we sat a row behind Moose Skowron, who was pretty much like any other fan. On another occassion, the guy next to me spilled his beer on me. My uncle was about to give him what-for – until he realized the guy he was getting ready to blast was none other than Tom Tresh. Mr. Tresh was a real gentleman about it. He got me a #15  jersey. At the time, I didn’t know it was his old number – I thought he got me a Thurman Munson jersey, who was (and still is) my favorite Yankee. As you might imagine, I was completely dumbfounded – and hoping to get more beer spilled on me by other former Yankees.

The memories from the halcyon days of my youth are a big reason why I’m such a huge fan today. It is why baseball, for me (and I suspect many of you) goes far beyond statistics, contracts and all of the other stuff we spend so much time talking about. It’s about great and not-so-great players, human beings not unlike us except for an incredible talent to play the game. In “Field of Dreams“, James Earl Jones‘ character Terrance Mann gives one of the best monologues about baseball ever written:

“The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and that could be again”

So, with that…let’s play ball! Mission 28 is officially underway!

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In the ESPN television series, The Bronx is Burning, the Yankees held kangaroo court inside the Yankee Stadium clubhouse in 1977.

When: May 13th, Post-Game: California  Perpetrator: Mickey Rivers

Charged With: Lunch Meat Violation

When reaching for a cupcake, Mickey Rivers private parts touched ham. Paul Blair called it “Meat on Meat Contact”, while Dick Howser said “Ball on Ham.” I laugh every time.

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I realize that many of the readers of this blog weren’t alive on August 2, 1979. Many of you were much too young understand why a city wept on a hot August afternoon some 31 years ago. For those of us who were around and old enough to comprehend the tragedy of the day, it was seared into our memories like few other events. Quite frankly, other than 9/11, I can’t think of another event in my lifetime that at once defined New York to the rest of the country and caused the nation to cry with us. As Yankee fans, it is a day that should cause all of us to stop and reflect on things that are much bigger than baseball.

It is the day that Thurman Munson crashed his plane on a small airstrip in Akron, Ohio.

Munson’s legend has, with time, grown to immortal status. There is the empty locker, the plaque in Monument Park, the retired number 15 on the outfield wall. All of these are fine tributes to the man. But none of them can explain why Thurman is still such a beloved figure in Yankees lore. This is a team that has produced some of the game’s greatest players, after all. Why is it that Yankees fans continue to place him on a higher pedestal than Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle or even Babe Ruth? I think the answer to that, can be summed up in one game that occurred several years before that tragic crash.

It was a typical New York summer night in May 1976. Hot and humid, with the all the tension of the time (remember, this is the era when Gerald Ford told New York to “drop dead”). The South Bronx was well-known as “Fort Apache” and the atmosphere was rife with the expectation that at any time, a major riot would erupt. The only thing that could possibly raise the figurative temperature would be a visit from the hated (and defending AL champion) Red Sox. And so, of course, the Red Sox arrived that day to play a game that would go down in history.

The Sox were already reeling by that point in the season, while the Yanks were riding a six game win streak. But nobody could have foreseen what was about to happen when Lou Piniella barreled over Carlton Fisk at home. Piniella, upset that Fisk had tried to spike him, got up and slugged Fisk. The riot everyone in New York had been waiting for had erupted, but it was on the Yankee Stadium field, not on River Avenue. By the time the melee died down, Mickey Rivers had effectively ended Bill “Spaceman” Lee’s career and the “Bronx Zoo” era of Yankees baseball had been born. So, you ask, what does this have to do with Thurman?

Everything, as it turned out. Although the Yankees wound up losing the game, 8-2, Thurman demonstrated the type of class and fire required to be a Yankee captain. It was Munson who came to Graig Nettles defense when Lee charged him from the Red Sox dugout, after the initial fight had ended (Rivers showed up just in time to body slam Lee – as he was readying a roundhouse for the back of Munson’s head). Munson, appointed the first Yankee captain since the late Lou Gehrig by George Steinbrenner that Spring Training, was the one who restored order on that sultry summer evening. When all hell broke loose it was Munson who somehow managed to get his fellow teammates back into the dugout. And it was Munson who hung up his catching gear and went out to play right field (starting right fielder Otto Velez had been tossed), putting aside his personal rivalry with Fisk. There was no doubt after the game who the Yankees field and clubhouse leader was after the game. He wore number 15 and although the Superman cape was missing, everyone who watched that game swore there were red-and-blue tights under his torn Pinstripes. The following evening, Munson led the Yankees to a critical victory over the same Red Sox, a come from behind 6-5 win in 12 innings. He went two for six, driving in the first two Yankee runs with a booming double to Death Valley.

Thurman Munson is a Yankees legend, but he is much more than that. So if you see me shedding a few tears today, you’ll know why. When his plane skidded off the runway in 1979, the heart and soul of one of the great Yankee dynasties was what really went up in flames.

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The Boss is already looking forward to the start of the upcoming baseball season.

“I am. Aren’t you?” the 79-year-old New York Yankees owner said with a smile on Friday.

George spent four hours in his office at the team’s complex in Florida yesterday, where individual spring training game tickets went on sale.

The Yankees’ 2009 World Series championship trophy actually took a trip to Steinbrenner’s home for him to see earlier this week. Yesterday, it was displayed outside of George M. Steinbrenner Field.

Steinbrenner said the Yankees are in position for what could be another “special” season this year, and that he is “feeling good.”

Former Yankees, David Wells, Lee Mazzilli and Mickey Rivers are currently involved in the Yankees fantasy camp, and they took the time to stop by Steinbrenner’s office to talk.

It’s nice to hear that Mr. Steinbrenner is felling well and that he already has his sights set on #28. (more…)

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This isn’t all of them, but there will be more in the future. Enjoy!

(more…)

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