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IT was the seventh game of the 1977 World Series, an event that had come from out of nowhere to assume absolute top priority in the young life of this young Yankee fan.
I remember my brother and I lying on our stomachs under a coffee table, our parents on the couch behind us, with all four pairs of eyes glued to the television set.
With each pitch, my sweaty hand gripped the leg of the table a little tighter, my heart and soul pleading for a Yankee hit. I even developed constantly changing rituals that I would repeat to myself, hoping they would somehow bring luck to one of those pinstriped heroes at the plate.
With each run, and especially with each of Reggie Jackson's three homers, my brother and I grabbed each other, crying from sheer joy. Our exultation led us to forget about the coffee table above us, and as we leaped, we repeatedly banged our heads. But we didn't care.
By the end of the night, the Yankees had won, and two kids were screaming at the top of their lungs, running madly around the house. The scene was probably being duplicated in millions of apartments across the city.
In those days, summer was hardly a vacation from school--it was an opportunity to stay up late enough to watch Yankee games. As their number one fan, I had to make sure the Yankees were still on top.
THEY were much more than a faceless squad at the top of the standings. These were individuals. There was Bucky Dent at short, with his trademark black shadow under his eyes. Everybody loved Bucky. The girls dropped dead at the mention of his name and wore their "I Love Bucky" T-shirts all around town. I loved him for his rare but timely shot over the Green Monster in Fenway which destroyed Boston's pennant dreams.
Graig Nettles played third. He was a ballet dancer who somehow ended up performing his pas de deux on a baseball diamond. Nettles was the one I couldn't take my eyes off.
At second there was Willie Randolph, a quiet leader who always got the job done. When Willie got to first, I sat on the edge of my seat, waiting for him to steal second.
Having Ron Guidry on the mound was like setting up a tank ready to fire missiles at home plate--all strikes. "Louisiana Lightnin'" was tall and lean and liked to plow fields in his home state during the off-season.
Where Guidry "the Gator," was quiet, Reggie Jackson, Billy Martin and George Steinbrenner were loud and obnoxious, firing salvos at each other virtually every day in the papers. If ever there were three people destined never to get along, they were the ones. Reggie was an egomaniac who created his own line of candy bars and announced in his first press conference that he would be "the straw that stirs the drink." Steinbrenner was an egomaniac who could not resist second-guessing and dumping players and managers.
Martin was an egomaniac who did not like to be second-guessed, and a field general who expected 110 percent from each player all of the time. He once said of Jackson and Steinbrenner, "One's a born liar, the other's convicted."
Last but hardly least, there was Thurman Munson. A great leader, a solid block of granite behind the plate, and noted for his bad attitude and handlebar mustache, Munson was killed in 1979 when his plane crashed. I can remember no moment in my life as sad as when I heard the news of his death. I was shocked, dumbfounded and crushed, unwilling to believe that such a person was mortal.
MARTIN and Munson have died, and my other heroes are gone, too. One by one they were traded, until Willie Randolph packed up his bags and headed for L.A.
The years in between have been a blur of names and journeymen. The Yankees became a shuttle between Columbus, the home of the triple-A minor league squad, and the Big Apple. They were years of mediocre records, middling talent, and half-empty stadiums.
That's when George became the show. With nothing to watch on the field except ghosts of a great past, fans could only turn their heads toward The Boss's box and complain, chanting "George Must Go" and "Steinbrenner Sucks."
But like him or not, George outlasted them all. For years, I have been hanging on Geroge, wringing the last drop of Yankee spirit and personality out of him that I possibly could. I and other Yankee fans can no longer take solace in the knowledge that a familiar figure from the old days was still in charge, corrupt or not.
The Yankees that I watched on television under the coffee table in my house thirteen years ago are now officially gone forever. Baseball and I have lost a piece of ourselves.
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