View From The Middle
George Steinbrenner was mad last year when the Boston Red Sox, arch enemies of the New York Yankees who hadn’t won a World Series in 86 years, won the American League Pennant and then the World Series. I suppose “mad” is indeed the working word here when speaking of the Steinbrenner disposition. I’d intended to say “angry,” but that would not only have been too light, but also less accurate....in the strictest, truest sense of the word. He had always envisioned the Yankees as the best; always bought the best (Why not? He is among the richest team-owners in baseball, after all). To Steinbrenner, winning was, and is, everything. Suffice to say, a “mad” rant by The Boss was in the offing; BIG TIME!
I don’t want to dote on how bad 2004 was for the New York Yankees. I think most fans had it in the back of their minds that this wasn’t the best team in baseball. There was an undefinable something missing; something that had not been around for a few years, since maybe 2001, when they lost the Series to the Arizona Diamondbacks (Damn! It wasn’t even one of those Grand Old Teams like Detroit or Chicago or St. Louis!). Oh, yeah, they still had Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada and Bernie Williams and Mariano Rivera and a few others who shared the proud privilege of wearing FOUR World Series rings, but there seemed to be an intangible verve, if you will, that kept them reaching for the gold ring again and again and missing it.
Yes, they had ace-of-all-aces Roger Clemens pitching for them, and their newly-acquired third-base ace Alex Rodriguez (“A-Rod,” they call him), who switched over from shortstop to assuage Jeter and did a good job there, hitting too, although everyone expected even more from him. Lotsa money spent on this guy and, yeah, it will pay off. Just watch.
But there was a distinct, mystical feeling that things weren’t the way they were supposed to be. Steinbrenner had even hung on to the great first baseman Don Mattingly as an official batting coach (Mattingly was a team mainstay, although he still doesn’t have a World Series win under his belt. It was a “luck” thing that just didn’t work out. He quit the team the year before they started a streak and came back as coach just when it ended. Go figure!). Anyway, although even that stalwart game-winner Paul O’Neill, who, before he retired last year, would be known to kick a few water coolers if he struck out, was still around — in the announcers’ booth.
All those good things were around — but the team just couldn’t quite do it.
There was one thing missing; one man missing, I should say. And I think a lot of you die-hard fans just might agree with me when I bring up the name of Tino Martinez.
Three seasons ago, the Yanks let him go just so they could sign up a hotsy-totsy first baseman by the name of Jason Giambi — the biggest disappointment in baseball — and Martinez went to play for St. Louis and Tampa Bay. It was a bad move all around, since Giambi never reached what potential he was supposed to have. He got really sick, and eventually wound up confessing (allegedly) that he had been taking steroids for years. Meanwhile, every time Martinez would come to Yankee Stadium with the opposing team he would get a standing ovation because he was (1) a helluva player and (2) is so damned likeable.
This week the Yankees paid a lot of money and signed Randy Johnson, one of the best left-handers to ever step on a pitcher’s mound — ever. On top of that, don’cha know they signed our friend Tino Martinez for next year too, with options for another.
Now the New York Yankees are back on track. Now they have a winning team.
Now they’ll find out — as they pick up their World Series rings for 2005 — just what was missing all those years they didn’t win: Tino Martinez!