Wild Card Yanks Can Be Anything They Want

By Jason Klein

The Yankees drew a Wild Card.

They can turn their mediocre hand into something special.

Tanaka Time in the Bronx Tonight vs. the Astros.

Tanaka Time in the Bronx Tonight vs. the Astros.

The Postseason offers a clean slate for all. Just like in poker, the Yankees can be anything they want to be as a Wild Card.

2’s can be Jacks. 7’s can be Queens.

Ordinary baseball teams can be Kings.

Just ask the 2014 San Francisco Giants.

Sure, the Yanks looked lifeless as they stumbled towards Tuesday night’s one-game playoff at Yankee Stadium. Losers of six of their last seven games, the Yanks weren’t hitting, looked tired, and appeared destined for a quicker hook than Joe Philbin got in Miami.

None of that matters now, though. That’s old news.

They made it to October as a Wild Card. They’ve got a seat at the table – just like those 2000 Yankees, who also sputtered through September and won 87 games. Those guys turned a Wild Card berth into a Championship.

Today’s team shows their hand tonight. It starts with an ace, Masahiro Tanaka. He’ll take the ball in this sudden-death matchup with the Houston Astros – the exact type of game the Yankees envisioned him pitching when they invested $175 million in him prior to the 2014 season.

It’s his biggest moment as a Yankee. It’s the most important game the franchise has had in two years. It’s the type of event that could propel them towards a 28th title.

October is different. The Yankees organization knows that better than anyone.

Ante up, Yanks! Push those chips to the center of the table.

Tonight, as a Wild Card, they can be anything they want to be.

Perhaps even winners.

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Bernie Williams Did Things His Way, Quietly.

By Jason Klein

“Shut Up.  Play.”

Bernie Williams stood there and faced the media with those three words quietly displayed on his t-shirt.  It was October of 1996, and Williams wore this motivational garb in front of his locker throughout the post season.  This subtle reminder personified the Yankees of the mid-90s.

Williams will have his #51 retired tonight.

Williams will have his #51 retired tonight.

Those Yankees teams never gloated, always acted as if they had “been there before,” and proceeded to win four World Series titles in five years.  When I spoke with Bernie Williams, a few years back, he reflected on his time in pinstripes. All these years later, he still maintained a humble opinion of his years in the Bronx.

“I played on some unbelievable teams, but I was never concerned about where we ranked all-time or anything like that,” he said.  “I was just glad to be there and be a part of all the winning.”

Williams, who officially retired earlier this year, will have his #51 follow suit tonight at Yankee Stadium. The switch-hitting legend will take his rightful place among Yankee immortals during a pre-game ceremony – A fitting tribute for a humble man who enjoyed a special career.

“As I’ve grown older, I’ve learned to appreciate all the precious moments I had,” he told me.  “I was part of a truly great team and I enjoy sitting back and enjoying those moments.”

Williams played on some of the most successful Yankees teams of all-time, and the center fielder had a major role in most of those triumphs. Over the course of his 16-year career – all with the Yankees – Bernie Williams was selected to 5 All-Star Games, won the 1996 ALCS MVP Award, won 4 Gold Gloves for his wizardry in center field, and captured the 1998 Batting Title.  Despite all his personal accolades along the way, Williams insisted his greatest memories are team oriented.

“The batting title in 1998 was special, but that whole 1998 team was unbelievable,” he said.  “Those are the things I remember the most…the things we accomplished as a team.”

It is that unassuming personality that has landed Bernie a special place in the hearts of most Yankees fans.  Adulation that was never more evident to Williams than at the final game ever played at the original Yankee Stadium.

With Bernie Williams

With Bernie Williams

“It was awesome to see the fans embrace me the way they did,” he said.  “Especially after being out of the game for a few years.  I was so surprised I got introduced after Yogi!”

Williams was invited back the following April to help open the new home of the Yankees.  He appeared in center field, playing “Take me out to the ball game” on his guitar, and highlighted an extraordinary day at the new ballpark.

“Playing [the guitar] in center field on Opening Day was weird,” he said.  “It was such a bizarre moment.  I was in Yankee Stadium, with a guitar, playing in front of a full house.  It was such a cool moment.  There was so much electricity that day.  It reminded me of the old Stadium a lot.”

Inside that old Stadium, Bernie Williams cemented his place in Yankees lore, quietly positioning himself in the record books alongside other Yankees center fielders like Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio. Tonight, he’ll join them in Monument Park as well.

“I have no regrets about my career,” he said.  “I was part of a great team for 16 years.  I am very proud of that, and I did it my way.”

He shut up and just played.

*Updated from original 2009 Piece.

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Yanks Need A-Rod To Speak Softly, Carry Big Stick

By Jason Klein

His words are hollow, just like his milestone records.

That’s ok though. I don’t need to believe his new humble “good guy” routine. I don’t care where his personal triumphs will ultimately rest within baseball lore either. As a Yankees fan, in 2015, I only need Alex Rodriguez to do one thing.

A-Rod Has Returned.  So Has His Power!

A-Rod Has Returned. So Has His Power!

Keep hitting.

Defying Yankees brass is his business.   Defying Father Time is mine.

Thirteen games into 2015, he’s doing a great job of both. Yankees management had hoped the 39 year-old, admitted PED cheat would disappear faster than his own credibility. Instead, he’s strong-armed his way back into the heart of the Yankees line up, batting .286 with 4 HR and 11 RBI. Coming off two hip surgeries, and a yearlong steroid suspension, he’s once again the team’s most potent offensive force.

Fans around the league are disgusted by his return to baseball. Big deal. They never liked him to begin with. Yankees fans should embrace this! To make the Postseason in 2015, the Bombers need his bat to stay hot.

Just a few months ago, the remaining $61 million left on Rodriguez’s contract was an albatross. For the time being, it seems like money well invested. This will hold true as long as he speaks softly and carries that big stick.

To date, he’s done everything right. Despite all the scrutiny, haters and doubters, he came back and refused to be insubordinate or average. Instead, he’s batted all over the line up, willingly learned how to play first base, and kept his focus on helping the team win games. He’s also determined to be A-Rod again – one of the premier sluggers in the game.

So far, so good.

In 2015, Yankees fans shouldn’t concern themselves so much with A-Rod’s past. When he ties Willie Mays with home run #660 – he’s only 2 HR shy – don’t worry about whether the team publically celebrates or privately pays him a bonus for it.

That’s his concern.

For the team to find success this year, there’s only one thing Yankees fans need Alex Rodriguez to do.

Keep hitting.

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Revis Makes Swift Return to New York

By Jason Klein

Taylor Swift, you were wrong.

We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together? Think again.

Darrelle Revis returned, in Style, to the New York Jets on Tuesday night after short pit stops in Tampa and New England. He signed a 5-year, $70 million deal with $39 million fully guaranteed. Gang Green fans, punished for the last two miserable years, can Shake It Off now that they get their favorite toy back.

Revis Returns To New York.

Revis Returns To New York.

Welcome (back) to New York. It’s been waiting for you.

Jets fans are good at waiting – they’ve been waiting 47 years for a Super Bowl title. They waited two long years for owner Woody Johnson to awaken from his frugal slumber. They also waited for him to rectify the mistakes made by his former general manager, a man more concerned with counting pennies than title rings.

The waiting is over.

With his green and white hat in hand, Johnson acknowledged the missteps of the previous regime. Revis is not 22 anymore, but at age 30, he still deserves to be paid as the best corner in the NFL. Woody gave him what he was asking for.

He couldn’t save money, but at least he saved face.

Two years ago, while traveling down the road to ineptitude and indifference, Woody and the Jets decided it was best to rid themselves of the future Hall of Famer, rather than pay him. They knew Revis created problems for opposing quarterbacks, but overlooked the Blank Space he left behind upon his departure.

When former GM John Idzik traded him away in April of 2013, the Jets secondary went from being an organizational strength to liability. Former head coach, Rex Ryan was never the most accurate prognosticator, but he accurately predicted his corner-driven defense would suffer without a once-in-a-generation player like Revis. In Rex’s mind, he felt: “Darrelle, You Belong With Me.”

If Rex was upset when Revis was traded, he’s got to be hotter than a basket of wings now, watching this Revis Reunion from his new coaching perch in Buffalo.

Revis Signs New Jets Contract.

Revis Signs New Jets Contract.

Rex may feel Revis’s return to New York is a Mean twist of fate, but the fans he left behind are elated. They realize it was Woody’s wallet, not Darrelle’s heartstrings, that pulled him back to New York, rekindling this Love Story. They also recognize that it doesn’t matter why he came back. The only thing that matters is that he did.

The move restores credibility within the organizational hierarchy and returns Revis to the place where he was drafted in 2007. In all likelihood, his Super Bowl victory was The Last Time he’ll play in any other teams’ uniform besides the Jets.

Gone two years ago, Everything Has Changed, and he’s back Safe And Sound in New York.

Can his presence alone get the Jets Back To December with meaningful games to play?

Crazier things have happened.

Crazier things like Darrelle Revis returning to the Jets.

Welcome (back) to New York, Darrelle.

It’s been waiting for you.

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Thanks, Rex.

By Jason Klein

Thanks, Rex.

Although you never delivered the Lombardi Trophy you promised, you made me believe it was always within reach. You once had everyone believing, back before your team’s talent slimmed down faster than your waistline.

Rex Ryan Has Been The Jets Head Coach Since 2009.

Rex Ryan Has Been The Jets Head Coach Since 2009.

If today is the last time you don that black Jets vest, let me just simply say:

Thanks, Rex.

Thanks for navigating the Jets to within one game of the Super Bowl.

Twice.

Thanks for giving my perennially stale team a refreshingly colorful, vibrant image.

Thanks for your lighthearted press conferences and your Hard Knocks defense.

Thanks for making the New York Jets a place where free agents wanted to sign.

Thanks for bringing stability to an organization that historically lacks any.

Thanks for humanizing the head coach position with your public displays of raw emotion.

You were the biggest star in a town filled with them, and for a period of time, you were able to mask the dysfunctional stink that permeates all things Jets Football.

Most importantly, thanks for making the Jets relevant and credible. Before your bombastic arrival, the Jets had no personality and no hope. They were a “little brother” franchise, stuck playing in someone else’s building.

You stepped in and put the entire league on notice: “Here come the Jets!”

You refused to kiss Belichick’s rings…you wanted to go get your own. You made guarantees, wanted to meet the President, take “swipes” at other team’s players, “lead the league in wins,” and “Play like a Jet.” You brought “Rexy Back” and then got a “God damn snack.”

You made the media laugh and opposing quarterbacks cry. From your players, you demanded maximum effort and commanded ultimate respect. You gave Jets fans hope, even when ownership and the front office gave you none.

Over this past miserable year, you lost your bravado, a ton of games, and most likely, your job. Management set you up to fail, and ultimately, that’s exactly what you did. However, you don’t escape all culpability. Along the way, you had your own faults too. Everybody does, though.

Should you lose your “dream job” for it? It’s debatable. It’s possible your act has just run its course in New York. It could simply just be time to move on. If so, the Jets willingly let go of a brilliant defensive mind. They’ll fire one of the most competitive and confident men in the game, and someone who is adored by his players. They’ll say goodbye to the man who brought the Jets as close to a Super Bowl as anyone since Weeb.

Twice.

For that alone, I offer my gratitude and simply say:

Thanks, Rex.

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Dear Mr. Woody Johnson

By Jason Klein

Dear Mr. Woody Johnson,

I’m not angry. Really! I’m not.

No, I’ve long accepted that I root for a team allergic to success.

Instead, the 2014 New York Jets have left me feeling something much more damning:

Indifferent.

Jets Owner, Woody Johnson.

Jets Owner, Woody Johnson.

I believe it’s the final stage of coping with your team’s inadequacies.

I’m a life-long Jets fan and season ticket holder, but my Football Sundays are no longer filled with anticipation, pageantry, or hope. I just go through the motions, devoid of any passion. You know, sort of like your Head Coach during press conferences these days.

I don’t blame Rex though. No, I’d probably be relegated to a comatose puppet too if I had an incapable GM pulling all my strings. I can only imagine how difficult Rex’s job must be after his best player was traded, his franchise quarterback was bamboozled, his personality was muzzled and defense was handcuffed without the necessary tools to succeed.

Phil Jackson has the Knicks running “The Triangle” offense. Rex is forced to run “The Circle” defense.

No corners!

Rex’s stomach may be stapled, but it was clearly in knots when he called this now 2-11 season “a joke.”

He’s right. It’s a bad joke. The punch line is a punch to the gut each Sunday.

The other thirty-one teams are the ones laughing too. They look at your inept, incompetent, impossibly ineffective franchise and can’t help but giggle. Not long ago, you were the one chuckling…all the way to two consecutive AFC Championship Games. Back then, your coach was cocky, your quarterback showed promise, and your fan base believed success was inevitable.

Now, we look on in horror as flames slowly burn through your wretched green and white dumpster fire.

It’s ok though! I’m not mad. I’ve moved well beyond any feelings of fury. Instead, I’ll robotically meander through the next three weeks of meaningless football with the expectation that this offseason, you’ll emerge from your season long hibernation and finally get things right.

By now, I’ve accepted the fact that I won’t hear from you before then. Rather than reassure your disgruntled fans, mid-disaster, you prefer to cowardly duck the media and wait until season’s end. I’d prefer you be more proactive like Titans owner, Tommy Smith, though. Last week, he publically pledged to his fans that he is “committed to making this thing right” and that he’s “going to build a team that…the fans can be proud of.”

His team is 2-11. So is yours.

That’s ok, though, Woody. Really! I know you’ll address fans when you’re ready. You can take your time. No problem. I’ll be patient, because, I know you’ll finally stop chasing dollars and headlines and go chase that Lombardi Trophy after this kind of a season. Your political agenda should probably take a backseat too. Maybe consider spending less time with Mitt Romney and more time with people who know a little bit about football. It might lead to more victories…you know, if that sort of thing is important to you.

Unfortunately, the man on your staff who knows the most about football will most likely be the one to fall on the sword. Like Mark Sanchez before him, you’ve created an environment so toxic for Rex, it’s best he just moves on to succeed somewhere else – a place where he’ll receive the support he needs and can be his bombastic self again.

Speaking of support, it’s time to stop giving it to your General Manager. Filling your roster with talent and your stadium with fans should be the priority, not filling your wallet with unused cap money. Take this opportunity to start fresh. Bring in a credible, football-minded GM to make smart football decisions. I mean, you do own a football team, right?

After you’ve replaced your GM and Head Coach, please go find a real franchise quarterback. Go get a Duck, instead of somebody who throws them. Do whatever it takes to outfit Marcus Mariota in green and white. The kid is special. He’s professional, polished, confident and exciting. He’s everything your current team is not! He could be the face of your franchise for the next decade.

Those three moves – GM, Coach, QB – should be where you start. If you finally make the right football decisions in those three essential areas, it should provide enough deodorant to mask the stink surrounding your franchise these past few years.

Also, moving forward, try not to “Play like a Jet.” Play like someone else. Someone who wins! Also, no more “Jet decisions.” Make smart decisions! Football-minded decisions! Decisions that are in the best interest of winning football games.

Football-minded moves like these will again fill my Sunday afternoons with hope and begin to dispel any feelings of indifference. I want the Jets to matter again…matter the way they did when Rex first blew into town and made your franchise relevant again!

Change the losing culture around your team, and your fan base.

Right now, Rex is right, it’s “a joke.”

All fans can do is laugh.

Let’s shoot for fewer punch lines.

Just more punch.

Sincerely,

Jason Klein

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One More Time, Jeter Brings Out The Kid In Me

By Jason Klein

It was supposed to mark the end of my childhood.

Instead, I got thrown right back in the middle of it.

I was a kid again – despite having kids of my own now – all because the kid from Kalamazoo did what he always does…one last time.

Jeter Leaps Following His Walk-Off Hit.

Jeter Leaps Following His Walk-Off Hit.

Thursday night against the Orioles, in his final Yankee Stadium at bat, Derek Jeter poked a bottom of the ninth, game winning RBI single to right field. In the last huge moment of his twenty-year career, Jeter came through again.

Of course he did.

His storied career is loaded with sweet ice cream sundae moments, and this last one will sit near the top like a cherry. Captain Clutch’s latest greatest moment didn’t surprise anyone who’s been paying attention for the past two decades. It certainly didn’t shock me. Instead, it brought me right back to the late-90s, when these types of things happened with regularity.

After securing victory, Jeter leapt high into the Bronx night, the way he used to back when I was in high school. In that moment, his recent injury woes and diminished abilities didn’t matter. The forty candles on his last birthday cake didn’t matter either. In that moment, the only thing that mattered was that Derek Jeter – at least for one night – was a kid again, flying high through the sky, arms raised, like the super hero he’s been for more than half my life.

Teammates Celebrate With Jeter.

Teammates Celebrate With Jeter.

He always seems to save the day for the Yankees.

As teammates flooded the field, so did memories of previous triumphs, so magical and so perfect, you’d think the whole thing was a Hollywood script. Instead, it’s reality, and Jeter’s been the one writing history, one remarkable moment at a time, for the past twenty seasons.

When the spotlight – and camera phone flashes – were brightest, that’s when Jeter would always shine brighter. Thursday night was no exception. His walk-off hit was so reminiscent of past Jeter conquests, you’d swear you saw the Posadas, Pettittes, Bernies, Tinos, Torres and Mos out there celebrating victory with him.

And then they actually were.

Torre, Posada, Rivera & Martinez Wait To Walk Jeter into Retirement.

Torre, Posada, Rivera & Martinez Wait To Walk Jeter into Retirement.

Jeter’s baseball brothers stood behind home plate in the Bronx, quietly watching their former teammate do what he always seems to do…one last time. Then, they too congratulated him and symbolically asked him to join them in retirement.

It was a poignant moment that, no doubt, had Jeter fighting back some tears.

“I think I’ve done a pretty good job of controlling my emotions throughout my career,” he would later say, “but today, I wasn’t able to.”

Neither were those of us watching the drama unfold.

Eliminated from playoff contention the night before, it was the first game of Derek Jeter’s Yankee Stadium career without any meaning.

Jeter Acknowledges The Yankee Stadium Crowd.

Jeter Acknowledges The Yankee Stadium Crowd.

Except, in the end, it really meant so much.

For Jeter, it was the final big moment of a career he would later deem to be “above and beyond anything I’d ever dreamt of.”

For me, it was a chance to be a kid again, one more time, when these types of Jeter moments happened with regularity.

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Sheppard’s Run Ends With Jeter’s Exit. Introduced Major Yankees, Personal Moments

By Jason Klein

Derek Jeter’s career is coming to an end.

When it does, he’ll take Bob Sheppard’s voice with him.

Though Sheppard was silenced for good with his passing in July 2010, Jeter has continued to pay homage to the legendary Yankees Public Address Announcer of nearly 60 years. Since his final game in the booth, back in 2007, a recording of Sheppard’s Jeter introduction has been played prior to each of Derek’s at bats.

A Sheppard Recording is Played Before Every Jeter At Bat.

A Sheppard Recording is Played Before Every Jeter At Bat.

“Now batting for the Yankees…number 2…Derek Jeter…number 2.”

Sheppard’s voice had a mythical quality to it. Goosebumps surfaced with every properly pronounced syllable. Jeter single-handedly extended Sheppard’s Stadium shelf life by seven years – long enough for a new generation of fans to experience him, including my 4 year-old daughter.

For that, I’ll always be grateful for Jeter’s decision to be introduced by the “Voice of God” for as long as he continued playing.

As it turns out, he only has another month to go. Two if we’re lucky.

Sheppard’s style always inspired me. In an industry saturated with big, booming voices, Sheppard preferred to quietly stick to his timeless method of “Clear, Concise, Correct.” Yelling and over-embellishment wasn’t his style. Instead, he took pride in his ability to properly speak the English language.

His voice was ear candy. He made every trip to Yankee Stadium an event. He was synonymous with the Yankees brand, like pinstripes and façade.

His voice was heard before some of the biggest moments in franchise history.

In 2008, I wanted his voice heard before my biggest moment too.

In the winter of 2008, I placed a call to Paul Sheppard, Bob’s son. I was getting married that upcoming July 4th, and wanted the “Voice of Yankee Stadium” to present my wife and I to our guests.

At that time, Sheppard had already announced his final game at Yankee Stadium. His health was deteriorating and his son informed me that he’d honor my request should his condition remain stable.

In late Spring, Sheppard, feeling more like himself, pre-recorded intros for my future wife and me, along with the rest of our wedding party – something that remained a surprise for our guests until our wedding reception was interrupted by:

“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to Glen Island Harbour Club.”

Heads swiveled, eyes popped, and jaws dropped low. His voice added a layer of historical elegance typically only found at East 161st Street in the Bronx.

After our wedding party entered, my wife and I joined the fun on Sheppard’s cue:

“Now, ladies and gentlemen, please rise, and remove your caps. Please give a warm welcome to, for the first time as husband and wife…the Bride and Groom…Mr. and Mrs. Jason Klein…the Bride and Groom.

[See Video of Intro Below]

Hearing Sheppard announce my name as I entered the room on my wedding day was one of the most surreal experiences of my life.

Only Derek Jeter has had that same pleasure over the past seven years.

When he goes, so does Sheppard’s voice.

We can all enjoy hearing it over the next month.

Two if we’re lucky.

 

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Jeter’s Last Act as Captain America?

By Jason Klein

Derek Jeter grew up on the national stage.

Next Tuesday could be his final performance there.

Prior to 2014, his Yankees teams have made the playoffs in 17 of his 19 years in the league. They have won 7 American League Pennants and 5 World Series. During that time, Jeter has methodically built his name, his brand, his reputation, and his legacy as one of the most clutch and consistent winners in sports history.

An October Staple, Will Jeter Get Another Shot in 2014?

An October Staple, Will Jeter Get Another Shot in 2014?

As this season’s pinstriped pieces continue to crumble around the 40 year-old shortstop, so do his chances of adding more postseason success to his remarkable resume. Injuries have decimated his teammates, claiming 4/5 of the Yankees pitching rotation, and forcing key position players to miss considerable time.

Once a right of passage for The Captain, his place in October is not guaranteed this year. For that reason, his appearance at this year’s All-Star Game, the 14th of his career, could be America’s last real opportunity to say goodbye to the future Hall-of-Famer.

At times, those who follow Jeter on a regular basis thought he might play forever. His youthful appearance, consistent demeanor, and will to win have never waivered. He’s kept us all feeling young, even as he got old.

There was a time, in the late 90s, Jeter had a legitimate shot to catch Yogi, and match his ten rings. If the Yankees miss the playoffs for only the third time in the last twenty seasons, Jeter’s title count will be permanently frozen at five.

If there are no more postseason evenings in Jeter’s future, there will also be no more legendary flips, dives, or signature jump throws. We will have seen the last of his October heroics and his November home runs. Never again, will we witness a Pennant clinching fist pump or a World Series clinching, arms raised, leap into baseball lore.

Typically a meaningless sports charade, Tuesday’s All-Star game becomes must-see-TV, if, in fact, it’s Jeter’s last appearance in the national spotlight. A sport, and an entire country, will get a final opportunity to honor one of the game’s most respected ambassadors.

Derek Jeter grew up on that national stage.

Can he rally his ailing Yankees towards another playoff run?

If not, the All-Star Game could be his last performance before the entire country.

No October encore.

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The Kentucky Derby, Whitey Ford & Me.

By Jason Klein 

I watched the Kentucky Derby with Whitey Ford.

It was just the two of us. Well, not really, but it sure seemed that way.

It was May of 2005, and I was at a charity event in Scarsdale, NY. Brandon Steiner, CEO of Steiner Sports Marketing, had put the affair together at his home, and had attracted a group of former Yankees that would rival any Old Timer’s Day in the Bronx.

While there, I talked hitting with Don Mattingly, pitching with Ron Guidry, and drank some Miller Lite’s with Wade Boggs. I even played poker with reigning World Series of Poker Champion, Chris Moneymaker.

Whitey Ford.

Whitey Ford.

Around 5:30 PM, a bunch of us filed into Steiner’s TV room to watch the 131st Kentucky Derby. That year’s race had a strong pinstriped presence too. The late George Steinbrenner, then still much in control of his beloved Yankees, owned the race’s 5-2 favorite, Bellamy Road. Trained by Hall of Famer, Nick Zito, and coming off a victory in the Wood Memorial, Bellamy Road was Steinbrenner’s best chance to win the storied race. He had tried four times prior and never saw any of his horses finish higher than 5th place. This was his big shot!

The room I was in was packed. Everyone wanted to see how Bellamy Road would do. I couldn’t find a seat, so I leaned up against the wall on the side of the room. Moments before “My Old Kentucky Home” signaled the race’s imminent start, I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned around and saw that the left hand resting on me was attached to the most famous left arm in New York Yankees history. It was Ford. He was there to watch the race too.

“The Boss is probably nervous as all hell,” he said to me.

“I know, I responded. “You think he’s going to win this thing?”

“I sure hope so,” he said with a stone cold face. “Otherwise, he’s going to be mad as shit.”

With Mattingly at the event.

With Mattingly at the event.

I tried to swallow, but suddenly my palms were wet and my throat was dry. During his career, Whitey Ford had that effect on nervous opposing batters. That day, he had the same impact on me. At the time, he was an ornery 76 years old, baseball royalty, and still very intimidating. After that, I don’t remember another person in that room besides Ford and myself.

I was about to share the “greatest two minutes in sports” with the greatest lefty starter in Yankees history. The horses entered the start gate, heard the gun sound, and were off!

Bellamy Road got off to a decent start, keeping pace with the early leader Spanish Chestnut. I looked over at Ford and saw him pumping his fist. He looked encouraged.

Things got very exciting about a minute into the race. That’s when the announcer blurted out, “…and here comes Bellamy Road, who’s charging up on the outside!”

I made eye contact with Ford. He gave me the same confident look he used to give Yogi Berra behind the plate, or so I imagined. He was sure Steinbrenner’s winning ways would continue that day at the Derby.

I remember thinking to myself, “I wonder what it would be like to be watching this race with Steinbrenner?” I also wondered if Ford was thinking the same thing. What an experience that would be! Especially if his horse actually came out on top!

Hold that thought. That’s when things fell apart.

With Boggs & Guidry at the event.

With Boggs & Guidry at the event.

As the horses came down the final stretch, Bellamy Road faded worse than the 1978 Red Sox.

“Come on!” Ford yelled.

It wasn’t meant to be. The Boss’s hyped horse drifted backwards into the pack to finish the race in 7th place. A 50-1 shot, Giacomo, ended up winning that day.

Ford put his hand on my shoulder one more time, brought his lips close to my ear, and whispered, “The Boss is going to be fucking pissed! That I promise you.”

With that, the “Chairman of the Board,” chuckled, patted me on the back, picked up his drink, and walked out of the room.

Ford was right. Steinbrenner must have been seething after that defeat. On the other hand, I think Ford was at peace with the situation – for once, he didn’t have to deal with the boiling boss. He watched the race with me instead.

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