They say history repeats itself. Well it does sometimes, and it did today.
The Yankees comeback from a 9-0 deficit raised the echoes from a Yankee-Red Sox game, just over 62 years ago.
It was April 18, 1950, Opening Day at Fenway Park. Yankees vs. Red Sox.
Boston pounded Yankee starter Allie Reynolds and, like today, led 9-0 entering the sixth inning following Billy Goodman’s two-run homer.
New York rallied, but still trailed 10-4 going into the top of the eighth. Then the Yankees struck for nine runs. Billy Martin, right, making his major league debut, doubled and singled in the eighth inning and knocked in three runs.
The Yankees added to the carnage in the ninth on an RBI double by Joe DiMaggio and a run-scoring single by Yogi Berra to win 15-10.
Sounds familiar, huh.
And again: The Yankees also rebounded from a 9-0 deficit to beat the Red Sox on June 26, 1987, at Yankee Stadium. The Yanks knocked out reigning Cy Young and MVP winner Roger Clemens with an 11-run third inning. They then won the game 12.11 on a base hit by Wayne Tolleson in the 10th inning that scored Mike Pagliarulo.
Catcher Jorge Posada played his entire career with the Yankees.
Sometime soon, Jorge Posada will announce his retirement, a Yankee catcher for life.
There’s something to be said for playing an entire career with one team. Players like Ted Williams of the Red Sox, Stan Musial of the Cardinals, and Cal Ripken of the Orioles have done just that and become the faces of their franchises.
Posada caught 1,574 games with the Yankees, third behind only Hall of Fame catchers Bill Dickey and Yogi Berra.
Few realize that Berra did not play his entire career with the Yankees. Early in 1965, a season after being fired as Yankee manager, Yogi started two games as catcher and pinch-hit twice for the Mets, getting two hits in nine at bats before becoming a full-time coach.
Berra is one of many legendary Yankee stars who played for other teams. Babe Ruth began his career as a pitcher with the Red Sox of course, and returned to Boston to play his final season with the Braves. Reggie Jackson, Dave Winfield, Tony Lazzeri, Joe Gordon and Charlie Keller all played for other teams.
Andy Pettitte spent three years with the Houston Astros. Lefty Gomex went 0-1 with the Washington Senators in 1943. Red Ruffing, like Ruth, started out as a Red Sox pitcher. Reliever Joe Page came out of retirement to pitch for the 1954 Pirates.
But there is a core contingent of players throughout the years who spent their entire careers in pinstripes. Here they are, the all-time, all-the-time Yankees:
C — Bill Dickey — .313 career hitter with high of .362 in 1936, 202 home runs, 100 RBIs four straight years, beginning in 1936. (1928-46)
1B — Lou Gehrig — The Iron Horse, 2,130 consecutive games, 493 home run, .340 lifetime batting average. Captain, two-time MVP, 1934 Triple Crown. (1923-39)
2B — Robinson Cano — Seven years with Yankees, hit .300 or better five times, including career-high .342 in 2006. (2005-Present)
SS — Derek Jeter — First Yankee to accumulate 3,000 hits, .313 lifetime hitter, 240 home runs, 339 stolen bases. Rookie of the Year 1995, five Gold Gloves. (1995-Present)
3B — Red Rolfe — Batted .289 lifetime, led American League in runs, hits, doubles in 1939. (1931-42)
OF — Joe DiMaggio — The Yankee Clipper, right, 56-game hitting streak in 1941 is all-time mark. Hit .325 with 361 home runs. Three-time MVP (1936-51)
OF — Mickey Mantle — The Mick, 536 career home runs, .298 average. Three-time MVP, Triple Crown in 1956. (1951-68)
OF — Earle Combs – The Kentucky Colonel, .325 career hitter, led league in triples three times and hits once. (1924-35)
LHP — Whitey Ford — Yankees all-time winningest pitcher, 236 wins, .690 career win percentage highest for 200-game winner. MLB Cy Young winner 1961. (1950-67)
RHP — Spud Chandler — 109-43, including 20 wins in 1943 and 146. Won MVP in 1943. (1937-47)
Relief — Mariano Rivera — Became all-time saves leader last year with 603. Lowest ERA among active pitchers at 2.21. (1995-Present)
C — Jorge Posada – A .276 lifetime hitter with 275 career home runs. (1995-2011)
1B — Don Mattingly — Donnie Baseball, below,.307 career average, MVP in 1985. (1982-95)
2B — Bobby Richardson — Five-time Gold Glove winner, World Series MVP in 1960. (1955-66)
SS — Phil Rizzuto — The Scooter, 1950 MVP, long-time Yankee broadcaster. (1941-56)
3B — Gil McDougald — Utility infielder, Rookie of the Year in 1951. (1951-60)
OF — Bernie Williams — Batting champion in 1998, hit .297 lifetime. Four Gold Gloves. (1991-2006)
OF — Tommy Henrich — Old Reliable, batted .282 lifetime with 183 homers. (1937-50)
OF — Roy White — Batted .271 lifetime with 160 home runs, 233 stolen bases. (1965-79)
LHP — Ron Guidry — Louisiana Lightning, three-time 20-game winner, 170-91 lifetime, AL Cy Young in 1978. (1975-89)
RHP — Mel Stottlemyre — Won 20 games three times, 164-139 career mark. (1964-74)
Notes – Others who received major consideration include catcher Thurman Munson, shortstop Frankie Crosetti and outfielder George Selkirk….The Yankees have had some great relief pitchers through the years, but other than Rivera all wore other uniforms at one time. Wilcy Moore, Johnny Murphy, Joe Page, Luis Arroyo, Sparky Lyle and Goose Gossage were among the top relievers.
Bob Dylan…singer, poet, painter, fixture in music for five decades, symbol of social unrest.
Johnny’s in the basement
Mixing up the medicine
I’m on the pavement
thinking about the government
(from Subterranean Homesick Blues, 1965)
Yeah that Bob Dylan. Robert Allen Zimmerman. Born May 24, 1941 in Duluth, Minnesota, this iconic figure of American art, is turning 70. Next Tuesday.
Baseball is one of the last things that comes to mind when describing Bob Dylan.Yet there are some strong connections between Bob Dylan and the National Pastime.
The day Dylan was born, a Saturday, the Yankees hosted the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium. That day, Joe DiMaggio singled to extend his hitting streak to 10 games, on the way to 56. Ted Williams singled twice, walked twice and raised his average to .383, on the way to .406. In nearly 70 years since, neither DiMaggio’s 56-game streak nor Williams .400 season have been seriously threatened.
The Yankees won the game, 7-6, on the day Bob Dylan was born. Strangely, there is no record of the time of game and attendance that day.
Because something is happening here
But you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?
(from Ballad of a Thin Man, 1965)
Dylan and Maris
In 1961, around the time Dylan’s career was taking off, Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth’s record with 61 home runs.In the book “Roger Maris: Baseball’s Reluctant Hero” by Tom Clavin and Danny Peary, the first chapter has a short byte on how Dylan became a fan of Maris during his 1961 home run chase. To quote:
“Among those rooting for Roger Maris as he closed in on Babe Ruth’s record in September of 1961 was a folksinger whose nascent career took off that month in New York City thanks to a rave in the Times and his first studio work. Although he wasn’t much of a sports fan, Bob Dylan felt pride when he learned that the ballplayer making national headlines also hailed from Hibbing, Minnesota.”
Maris was born in Hibbing, and later moved to Fargo, North Dakota, where he is buried, Dylan moved to Hibbing when he was seven-years-old
Dylan has always been an incredibly prolific songwriter, only releasing a fraction of what he records. One of those songs, a rare classic, was written and performed by Bob Dylan and Jacques Levy.It was a ballad of Catfish Hunter, who had just signed a five-year, $3.7M contract with the Yankees. Here’s a little taste:
Used to work on Mr. Finley’s farm
But the old man wouldn’t pay
So he packed his glove and took his arm
An’ one day he just ran away
Nobody can throw the ball like Catfish can.
There’s more Dylan-baseball affinity. In 2004 and later in 2009, Dylan did a par of concert tours at minor league baseball stadiums. The 2009 tour, which also featured Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp, included stops at McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket, RI; Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen, Maryland, and the Durham Bulls Athletic Park in Durham, NC.
In 2006, Dylan hosted a program on XM Radio dedicated to baseball. He spun a wide selection of baseball tunes, including Buddy Johnson and Hit Hits Orchestra playing “Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball” and Les Brown’s “Joltin Joe DiMaggio,” an old-time band jewel.
In typical Dylan fashion, he told a tale during the virtual seventh-inning stretch of his radio show. He recalled how a Mexican community was destroyed to make the room needed to build Dodger Stadium and then introduced Ry Cooder’s “3rd Base Dodger Stadium” which spoke to the situation.
Jonathan Lethem wrote a piece called “The Genius of Bob Dylan” in Rolling Stone on the September 7, 2006, issue around the release of Dylan’s album Modern Times. In a footnote to the piece, Lehtem asked Dylan what baseball team was his favorite.
Dylan responded: “The problem with baseball teams is all the players get traded, and what your favorite team used to be – a couple of guys you really liked on the team, they’re not on the team now – and you can’t possibly make that team your favorite team. It’s like your favorite uniform. I mean, yeah, I like Detroit. Though I like Ozzie [Guillen] as a manager. And I don’t know how anybody can’t like Derek [Jeter]. I’d rather have him on my team than anybody.”
FOOTNOTE: Twice had the opportunity to see Bob Dylan perform in concert. On September 16, 1978, I saw him at the Portland Civic Center, the only time in my life I’ve set foot in the state of Maine (been to all 50 states). Earlier that day, the Yankees beat the Red Sox, 3-2, a ninth inning sacrifice fly by Thurman Munson, giving Catfish Hunter the victory. That win ultimately led to the game that made Bucky Dent famous. Also saw a Dylan performance at the Mid-Hudson Civic Center in Poughkeepsie, New York, about a dozen years ago.
Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak has held up for nearly 70 years. It’s one of 10 baseball records that will never be broken.
People like top 10 lists. They’re neat and tidy. They cut to the chase. They can be controversial. And they work. Ask David Letterman.
Throughout the past three years, the SportsLifer has posted a wide variety of top 10 lists. Here’s the top 10 of top 10s.
SportsLifer also appears on Bleacher Report, and this blog earned a gold medal with more than 5,000 reads. And it’s been grounds for debate, soliciting 39 comments on the SportsLifer web site alone.
Another Bleacher Report hit, this one led to a silver medal with 2,000 viewers.
An early SportsLifer blog, posted after Brett Favre retired from the Packers. Upon further review and based on his ill-fated comebacks, Favre slips from third to fifth, behind Dan Marino and Otto Graham.
One of the popular Lords of The Ringless postings, which also feature running backs, quarterbacks and MLB and NBA players.
A natural rivarly and a natural top 10. Did you know Horace Clarke knocked in the winning run in the longest game the Yankees and Red Sox ever played — 20 innings.
Art Monk, Washington Redskins wide receiver and NFL Hall of Famer, tops this homeboy list.
This list was sparked by the Giants upset of the previously unbeaten Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. That epic ranks second behind the Jets win over the Colts in Super Bowl III.
GOOD! HE DID IT! BRYCE DREW DID IT! VALPO HAS WON THE GAME A MIRACLE!” What a shot!
Who knew “Old Eagle Eye” had nearly 3,000 hits and and still leads all first baseman in putouts and total chances. Beckley retired after the 1907 season. Remember.
Bucky Dent’s home run in Boston in the 1978 Yankee-Red Sox game playoff game tops the list of games the SportsLifer has seen….in person.
Three is a magic number in baseball. Three strikes and you’re out. Three outs in an inning. Babe Ruth wore #3.
When Alex Rodriguez, above, hit three home runs iagainst Kansas City on August 14, it marked the 30th time a Yankee player hit three homers in a single game.
Lou Gehrig achieved the feat four times, and hit four in one game, the only Yankee to perform that feat. Joe DiMaggio did it three times.
So did the Babe, although only one of his three occurred during the regular season. Ruth hit the final three home runs of his storied career in 1935 for the Boston Braves in a game at Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field, and retired soon afterwards.
A-Rod joins Tony Lazzeri, and Bobby Murcer as the only other Yankees to hit three in a game two times. Rodriguez had three HRs and 10 RBIs against Bartolo Colon and the Angels in 2005.
In all 20 Yankees have accomplished the feat, including eight Hall of Famers — Ruth, Lazzeri, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Bill Dickey, Johnny Mize, Mickey Mantle and Reggie Jackson.
Ruth’s World Series Heroics
Ruth was the first Yankee to hit three in a game, against the Cardinals at old Sportsman Park in St. Louis in 1926 in the World Series, right. The Babe must have loved St. Louis, repeating the feat in 1928 to power the Yankees to a four-game sweep.
Ruth had his only regular season “hat trick” with the Yankees on May 22, 1930, in Philadelphia’s Shibe Park in the first game of a doubleheader which the Yankees lost, 15-7. Gehrig repeated the feat the following day in the first game of a another doubleheader in Philadelphia, a 20-13 victory over the A’s. Oh yes, Ruth and Lazerri also homered in that game.
Reggie Jackson is the only other major leaguer ever to hit three home runs in a World Series game. In just three swings in Game Six of the 1977 World Series against the Dodgers, Jax lifted the Yanks to to their first championship. in 15 years.
Gehrig is the only Yankee to hit four home runs in a single game, on June 4, 1932, against the Athletics in Philadelphia. He was the first player in the modern era to hit four in a single game. He belted the circuit clouts in his first four at bats in a 20-13 win against the A’s. Gehrig missed a fifth home runs by inches, when his drive was caught in the furthest reaches of deep centerfield.
In that same game, Lazzeri became the only player in major league baseball to finish a natural cycle with a grand slam.
Other Interesting Yankee Trey Factoids
On May 21 and 22, 1930, Ruth and Gehrig hit three home runs in successive games.
Mantle, Tommy Tresh and Tony Clark hit homers from both sides of the plate in their 3 HR games
Bobby Murcer hit four consecutive home runs — three in the second game — in a 1970 doubleheader against the Indians at Yankee Stadium.
Reggie Jackson, left, hit a home run in his final at bat in Game Five and three in a row during Game Six of the 1977 World Series. (My friend Matty was at the game at Yankee Stadium, and missed all three Reggie homers. But that’s a story for another blog.)
Johnny Blanchard in 1961 and Mickey Mantle in 1962 are the only other Yankees to hit four home runs in a row.
Lazzeri hit two grand slams and a third home run and drove in an American League record 11 runs in 1936 in a 25-2 rout of the Athletics at Shibe Park in Philadelphia. Poosh em up Tony was also the first Yankee to hit three home runs in a single game in the regular season, in 1927.
On three separate occasions, the Yankees have lost a game in which a player hit three home runs — Ruth in 1930, Mize in 1950 and Mike Stanley in 1995.
DiMaggio’s first three home run game in 1937 resulted in an 11-inning, 8-8 tie with the St. Louis Browns in Sportsman’s Park.
Mize holds the MLB record for most times hitting three home runs in a game — six. Five came with the Cardinals and Giants in the National League. He was the first player to hit three home runs in a game twice in one season in 1938 and did it again in 1940.
Mize had his final three home run game with the Yankees in 1950, just five days after DiMaggio performed the feat for the third time.
The Yankees as a team have hit three home runs in a game twice in different seven seasons — 1927, 1930, 1932, 1950, 1977, 1995, and this year.
Earlier this year, Mark Teixeira became the first Yankee to hit three home runs in a game at Fenway Park since Gehrig in 1927.
Yankees Who Have Hit Three Home Runs in One Game
1926 — Babe Ruth (World Series)
1927 — Tony Lazzeri
1927 — Lou Gehrig
1928 — Babe Ruth (World Series)
1929 — Lou Gehrig
1030 — Babe Ruth
1930 — Lou Gehrig
1932 — Lou Gehrig (4 HRs)
1932 — Ben Chapman
1936 — Tony Lazzeri
1937 — Joe DiMaggio
1939 — Bill Dickey
1940 — Charlie Keller
1948 — Joe DiMaggio
1950 — Joe DiMaggio
1950 — Johnny Mize
1955 — Mickey Mantle
1965 — Tom Tresh
1970 — Bobby Murcer
1973 — Bobby Murcer
1977 — Cliff Johnson
1977 — Reggie Jackson (World Series)
1995 — Mike Stanley
1996 — Darryl Strawberry
1995 — Paul O’Neill
1997 — Tino Martinez
2004 — Tony Clark
2005 — Alex Rodriguez
2010 — Mark Teixeira
2010 — Alex Rodriguez
In America in 1950, the last time the Yankees and Phillies met in the World Series, the average cost of a new car was $1,510 and filling it with gas cost 18 cents a gallon. Harry S. Truman was President. With World War II just five years removed, the Korean War began when North Korean Communist forces invaded South Korea. “All About Eve” won the Academy Award for Best Picture. My folks got married.
On the diamond, the Philadelphia “Whiz Kids” defeated the Brooklyn Dodgers on the final day of the season to win the National League pennant.. Meanwhile the Yankees outlasted the Detroit Tigers by three games to win the American League flag.
The Yanks entered the World Series as heavy favorites, coming off a World Series win against the Dodgers in 1949. The Phillies were playing in their first Series in 35 years.
New York wound up sweeping Philadelphia in four games, although all four were tight, pitching duels.
Game One: Yankee right-hander Vic Raschi pitches a two-hit shutout to beat the Phillies and surprise starter Jim Konstanty, 1-0. Konstanty was making his first and only start of the season.
Game Two: Joe DiMaggio’s 10th inning home run into the left-field upper deck at Philadelphia’s old Shibe Park gives Allie Reynolds and he Yankees a 2-1 win over Robin Roberts.
Game Three: Shortstop Granny Hamner’s error in the eighth inning allows the tying run to score and the Yanks win 3-2 in the ninth on a two-out single by Jerry Coleman.
Game Four: Fueled by a Yogi Berra home run, rookie left-hander Whitey Ford, shown above, holds the Phils scoreless until an error in the ninth inning, and the Yankees prevail, 5-2.
The Yankees pitching rotation allowed only three earned runs and finished the Fall Classic with a combined 0.73 ERA. Only four other teams finished with an ERA of less than 1.00 — the 1905 New York Giants (0.00), the 1966 Baltimore Orioles (0.50), the 1907 Chicago Cubs (0.75) and the 1920 Cleveland Indians (0.89).
The Phillies also became the last National League team to fail to hit a single home run during the World Series. The last two NL teams without a homer before than were the 1939 Cincinnati Reds and the 1927 Pittsburgh Pirates. All three clubs were swept by the Yankees.
Coleman, the Yankees acrobatic second baseman who knocked in the winning run in both the first and third games and batted .286 in four games, was named the World Series MVP. Outfielder Gene Woodling led the Yankees with a .433 average and DiMaggio hit .308. Hamner hit .429 for the Phils, and first baseman Eddie Waitkus (whose godson is a Red Sox fan) batted. 267.
Konstanty would win the NL MVP Award that year, while Yankee shortstop and future Hall of Famer Phil Rizzuto won AL honors. And the Yankees would go on to win three more World Series and five straight overall, the longest run in baseball history.
As Yankee Stadium closes its doors, this is the final of a three-part retrospective on the moments that shaped Yankee Stadium, New York and the world of sports.
Top 10 post-season baseball moments at Yankee Stadium (chronological order)
1. Babe Ruth homers and the Yankees score the winning run on a wild pitch in the ninth inning to sweep the Pirates to clinch their first World Series at Yankee Stadium, 1927
Other Yankee home clinchers at the Stadium: 1938, 1947, 1950, 1951, 1953, 1977, 1996 and 1999.
2. Tommy Henrich hits a ninth inning, walk-off home run against Don Newcombe as the Yankees beat the Dodgers, 1-0, in Game 1 of the World Series, 1949
Other Yankee World Series walk-offs: Mickey Mantle in 1964, Chad Curtis in 1999, Derek Jeter in 2001.
3. Billy Martin singles home Hank Bauer with the winning run in the ninth inning as the Yankees beat Brooklyn in six games and win their fifth straight World Series, 1953
4. Don Larsen, left, throws the only no-hitter in post-season baseball history, a perfect game, as the Yankees defeat the Dodgers, 2-0, in Game 5 of the World Series, 1956
5. Chris Chambliss hits a walk-off home run in the ninth inning as the Yankees beat Kansas City, 7-6, to win the American League pennant and head to the World Series, 1976
Other Yankee playoff walk-offs: Bernie Williams in 1996 and 1999, Alfonso Soriano in 2001, Aaron Boone in 2003.
6. Reggie Jackson hits three home runs as the Yankees beat the Dodgers in six games to win the World Series for the first time in 15 years, 1977
7. Jim Leyrtiz hits a two-run homer in the 15th inning as the Yankees beat Seattle, 9-7, in Game 2 of the American League divisional series, 1995
8. Jeffrey Maier, right, a 12-year-old fan, interferes with Derek Jeter’s fly ball home run as the Yankees beat the Orioles in Game 1 of the ALCS, 1996.
9. Deja vu all over again: Tino Martinez and Scott Brosius hit game-tying, two-out, two-run homers on successive nights against Arizona in the World Series, 2001.
10. Aaron Boone completes a comeback with an 11th-inning home run as the Yankees beat the Red Sox, 6-5, in Game 7 of the ALCS, 2003
Don Mattingly hits his only post-season home run against Seattle, 1995
Roger Clemens throws splintered bat at Mets’ Mike Piazza, 2000
St. Louis pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander emerges from bullpen and shuts down the Yankees to give the Cardinals their first World Series, 1926.
Other opposing championships won at the Stadium: 1942 Cardinals, 1955 Dodgers, 1957 Braves, 1976 Reds, 1981 Dodgers, and 2003 Marlins
Brooklyn outfielder Al Glonfriddo robs Joe DiMaggio of a possible home run in Game 6 of the World Series. 1947
Southpaw Johnny Podres shuts out the Yankees, 2-0, to give Brooklyn its first and only championship, Game 7, 1955
Los Angeles left-hander Sandy Koufax, left, sets a World Series record by striking out 15 Yankees in Game 1, 1963
George Brett homers against Goose Gossage to give the Royals the 1980 American League pennant, 1980
The Red Sox become the first baseball team to overcome a 3-0 playoff deficit and beat Yankees to win the ALCS, 2004
The SportLlifer Yankee Stadium retrospective series:
This is the second of a three-part retrospective on the moments that shaped Yankee Stadium, New York and the world of sports.
Overall, there will be three categories — anything but baseball, baseball regular season, and baseball post-season.
This is the regular season baseball category….we’ll follow up soon with a top 10 devoted to World Series and post-season play at the Stadium.
Remember you read it first in the SportsLifer.
Top 10 regular season baseball moments at Yankee Stadium (chronological order)
Opening Day at Yankee Stadium, April 18, 1923
1. The Stadium opens with pomp and circumstance and Babe Ruth’s home run beats Boston, 4-1. 1923
2. Babe Ruth hits one over the right-field fence and becomes the first player to hit 60 home runs in a season, 1927
3. Dying Yankee captain Lou Gehrig, at left, being hugged by Babe Ruth, tells a crowd of more than 60,000 “Today I consider myself the “luckiest man on the face of the earth,” 1939
4. Joe DiMaggio begins his immortal 56-game hitting streak by going 1-for-4 against the White Sox, 1941
5. The Yankees edge the Red Sox in the final two games of the season to win the pennant by a game, 1949
6. Roger Maris breaks Babe Ruth’s record with his 61st home run on the final day of the season, 1961
7. Mickey Mantle just misses hitting a ball out of the Stadium when he homers off the right field facade, 1963
8. Ron Guidry strikes out 18 batters to silence the Angels in a team record-setting performance, 1978
9. On the day they buried their captain, Thurman Munson, Bobby Murcer’s 5 RBIs give the Yankees a dramatic win, 1979
10. Double Perfect: David Wells, right, and David Cone pitch perfect games a year apart, 1998 and 1999
Other Yankee No-Hitters: Monte Pearson (1938), Allie Reynolds (1951), Dave Righetti (1983), Jim Abbott (1993) and Doc Gooden (1996).
Opposing No-Hitters: Bob Feller (1946), Virgil Trucks (1952) and an army Houston Astros pitchers (2003).
Babe Ruth’s final appearance in The House That Ruth Built, 1948
Umps over-rule George Brett’s homer in the “Pine Tar” game, 1983
Tom Seaver gets 300th win as White Sox beat Yankees on Phil Rizzuto Day, 1985
Roger Clemens wins 300th game; reaches 4,000 K’s, 2003
Derek Jeter dives into the stands against the Red Sox, 2004
Several years ago, my son, who is as big a baseball fan as I am, asked me who was the greatest ballplayer I ever saw….in person?
Willie Mays I replied without hesitation. It wasn’t even close.
Saw Williams and Musial, Mantle and Aaron, Ripken and Gwynn, and Bonds too.
Willie Mays, the Say Hey Kid, was the best.
As a kid in 1962, I saw Mays hit a grand slam at Candlestick Park against the Cubs. Later on, I saw him against the Mets at Shea Stadium.
And in 1972, I saw Mays, then with the Mets, and Henry Aaron at Shea. They both went hitless and wound up the evening still tied at 648 home runs apiece, trailing another pretty famous ballplayer name of Babe Ruth at that point in time.
Willie Mays would go on to hit 660 home runs, behind only his godson Barry Bonds, Aaron and Ruth. A four-time National League home run champion, Willie once hit four home runs in a single game, against the Braves in 1961. Not even Ruth, Aaron or Bonds ever did that.
He was Rookie of the Year in 1951 with the New York Giants, MVP in 1954 and 1965. He led the NL in stolen bases four times, and in triples three times. He won the batting title in 1954 with a .345 average, and finished .302 lifetime with 3,283 hits.
“I would love,” comedian and Giants fan Rob Schneider told Sports Illustrated recently, “to be the Willie Mays of anything.”
And he was equally as brilliant as a fielder. Mays won 12 straight Gold Gloves, and is perhaps best known for the most famous catch in baseball history, against Vic Wertz and the Cleveland Indians in deepest center field in the Polo Grounds, a catch that turned the 1954 World Series.
‘Where Triples Go to Die’
“Willie Mays and his glove,” Dodgers executive Fresco Thompson once said. “Where triples go to die.”
Two years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Willie Mays on a flight from San Francisco to JFK. We didn’t talk during the flight, but when we got on the ground in New York I caught up with Willie and we walked together to baggage claim.
I told him about the conversation with my son. He smiled, and asked me which team I rooted for. I told him I was a Yankee fan.
“Well, why aren’t you a Mickey Mantle guy?” Willie asked.
“I loved Mickey, but I always thought you were the best,” I replied. “You were a better center fielder, and you hit more home runs. And you were faster than Mickey,”
“Not always,” said Willie. “”When Mickey came up, he was faster than any of us.”
Willie, Mickey and Joltin’ Joe
The discussion then turned to the 1951 World Series between the Giants and Yankees, and Willie asked me if I remembered the play where Mantle got hurt.
“I was still in the cradle when they played that World Series,” I said.
But I do remember reading about the play, how Joe DiMaggio called off Mickey for the ball at Yankee Stadium, and how Mantle stopped short, got his foot caught in a drainage cover and tore up his knee.
“Do you know who hit the ball?” said Willie. He quickly added. “I did.”
Think of the convergence of great center-fielders on that one play — Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle (who was playing right field that day) and Willie Mays.
That one play epitomized three Hall of Fame careers. Mantle, the legendary but oft-injured slugger. DiMaggio, the one-time greatest living ballplayer. Mays, the current greatest living ballplayer.