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Despite standing ovation after standing ovation when Derek Jeter strode to the plate at the Cell over the weekend, these are not the Yankees we thought they were.
They used to be a team the White Sox saw 22 times a season when Mickey, Yogi and Whitey wreaked havoc on the South Side. Or George Steinbrenner fired yet another manager, one of whom, Billy Martin, was just the other day called a "bigot" by former pitcher Tommy John in an interview by Dan Patrick.
What about the ugly dugout fight between Reggie Jackson and Martin when the manager pulled his star right fielder in the middle of an inning for perceived lack of hustle? Or the way Joe Torre, who led the Yankees into the post-season for all 12 seasons he managed the team, was disrespected in 2007 when he was offered a measly one-year contract?
Now those were the Yankees we thought they were, a truly despicable outfit.
Mickey Mantle played 18 years (1951-68) in the Bronx including 322 games against the White Sox. The Mick banged out 72 homers and drove in 192 runs against our guys. We admired Mickey's skills, but we weren't sorry when his Sox-killing days were over.
Same with Whitey Ford, who had a 39-21 lifetime record against the Sox which included 13 shutouts, more than he blanked any other team. Why would any self-respecting Sox fan be upset when he was finished?
Yogi faced the Sox in 289 games, hitting .274 with 42 homers and 173 RBI. Many of those came in late innings, snatching victory from defeat for the Bombers when they toyed with the White Sox.
When Berra walked by me one evening on his way to the exit of a Palm Desert, California restaurant, my reflex reaction was, "I'm a Sox fan, and you broke my heart so many times."
"Oh, shit," he responded, being consistently distasteful.
Respecting the skills of those athletes was warranted, but we certainly didn't have to like them. They simply were better than anyone else. We acknowledged that they had earned their swagger, which was not inconsequential.
Jeter never was a nemesis like those other fellows. To begin with, because MLB schedule-makers have morphed into carbon copies of their NFL brethren, he faced the Sox just 142 times in his 20 years with the Yankees, hitting .294 with 13 home runs and 59 driven in. So Jeter played against the Sox in Chicago only three or four times a season since his rookie year in 1996.
Jeter saved his best for the other Sox, the division rivals from Boston. He played them almost twice as often as our Sox, slugging 25 round-trippers and driving in 129 runs.
So other than the hype emanating from Bud Selig's and the Yankee marketing
departments, what is it that encourages fans from other cities to honor Jeter?
For openers, even playing in the fish bowl of New York, he's never done much to attract negative attention. No DUIs, PEDs, messy divorces, drinking or carousing. He's dated models and actresses but never married. He's been labeled an "ambassador of the game" more often than Ronald Belisario blows saves.
Whereas Mantle, Ford, Martin, Berra and others grabbed headlines for escapades like brawling at New York's Copacabana nightclub, Jeter has flown under the radar since he first arrived at the Stadium. Even if he was on the radar, there would be nary a blip.
In her book The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America's Childhood, Jane Leavy details the shenanigans of Mantle and Martin when Billy would visit Mickey in the off-season in rural Oklahoma. The local citizenry, instead of bursting with pride, informed the duo that they were persona non grata because of their boorish alcohol-fueled behavior.
Jeter, for crying out loud, is a clean-cut wholesome Midwesterner from Kalamazoo. The Yankees made him a first-round pick (sixth overall) in 1992, but they didn't rush him to the big leagues even though the long-forgotten Spike Owen, Mike Gallego, Andy Stankiewicz, and Alvaro Espinoza had been manning the shortstop position for the pinstripes.
Jeter has never been MVP, and he's never led the league in hitting. Yet he has amassed 3,362 hits - 641 more than Lou Gehrig, who is second in Yankee history - and has eight 200-hit seasons. He's won five Gold Gloves, though there have been other shortstops, such as Omar Vizquel, who were better fielders.
What Jeter has done better than anyone is win. Not alone, but he's the trustworthy catalyst who led the Yankees to 17 post-season appearances in the last 19 seasons. He's played almost one entire season - 158 games - in October, resulting in nine post-season records, including hits, runs, doubles, triples and total bases.
Jeter isn't alone in representing the about-face these Yankees represent from those of yesteryear. The crusty Casey Stengel, who managed New York for 12 seasons (1949-1960), guided the team into 10 World Series', winning seven. He was the first manager to platoon players; his gibberish - known as Stengelese - confused everyone including himself; and he ignored the off-field antics of his minions.
Today's Yankees are led by Joe Girardi, a native Peorian who attended Northwestern. He actually makes sense when he talks. He's as far a cry from Stengel as Steinbrenner was to Branch Rickey.
Although these Yankees project a much different persona than their predecessors, it still is sweet when the Sox beat them. Adam Dunn's two-run walk-off blast in Friday night's 6-5 Sox victory was euphoric.
And when Belisario blew a 3-0 ninth-inning lead on Saturday before Jacoby Ellsbury homered in the 10th to erase John Danks' best outing in two years, we Sox fans were stung as badly as if Berra had deposited a drive into the upper deck at Comiskey.
Jeter led the Yankees to an easy 7-1 win and a series split on Sunday in his final game in Chicago - barring an unlikely playoff match-up.
His four hits included a triple - his first since August 2011 - and an RBI.
Meanwhile, Masahiro Tanaka avenged his first loss earlier in the week on the other side of town by handcuffing the Sox for 6 2/3 innings to run his record to 7-1.
Saturday was my day at the Cell, but unlike the majority of the 33,413, I wasn't moved to stand and applaud the Yankee captain when he came to the plate in the first inning. What I discovered when the Yankees mounted their ninth-inning rally to tie the game at 3 is that the cheers were even louder than those for Jeter. At least a third of the fans were Yankee supporters. It never occurred to me that New Yorkers and other Yankee fans have taken to the road to follow Jeter in his final campaign. But apparently that's the case.
Before the game, I ran into my friend Patrick, a staunch Cubs fan.
"What are you doing here?" I asked.
He said he'd come for a final look at Jeter.
"What's the big deal?" I said. "He's played here only three or four times a year."
"I'm here for the other 158 or 159," Patrick replied.
He had a point. In an era filled with too many self-centered, pompous athletes, Jeter has been the ultimate sportsman, the truest example of a team player. While I chose not to stand in his honor - after all, he's a Yankee - he received my finest golf clap.
Roger Wallenstein is our man on the Sox. He welcomes your comments.
1. From Frederick Nachman:
Great column. I stood on Thursday, mainly because everybody else was blocking my view and I wanted to snap a photo (here's the Flickr album).
I've found Yankees fans to be good ones, unlike Red Sox Nation, but our luck some idiot two rows in front seemed to think the game was also about him, standing, preening, bowing, etc. . . . just like a Red Sox fan.
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