Today’s New York Yankees are such a behemoth of major league baseball—with 27 championships, an annual payroll north of $200 million, a new stadium costing $1.5 billion and a list of alumni far exceeding what any other franchise can claim—that it is hard to believe they were ever the new kid on the block and a weakling at that. If you go back in time, as I was obliged to do in this book, you will see an inauspicious beginning. They were originally the Baltimore Orioles, moving to New York in 1903. The team played home games at hastily built Hilltop Park and were known as the Highlanders. The National League New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers had deeper roots, more fans, more press attention and won more often. The Yankees did not win an American League pennant until 1921 and a World Series until 1923, Babe Ruth’s fourth year with the team.
Everybody knows about Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Casey Stengel, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Roger Maris, Reggie Jackson, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and the other stars who have worn the pinstripes. But let’s not forget some of the less-prominent Yankees, past and present. I give you shortstop Norman Elberfeld (the “Tabasco Kid,” who fought often and well), first baseman Hal Chase (perhaps the most corrupt player in the history of the big leagues), owner Jacob Ruppert (who oversaw the construction of Yankee Stadium and the team’s rise from moribund also-ran to powerhouse), pitcher Dazzy Vance (twice a failure with the Yankees who went on to win 197 games for the Dodgers), pitcher Waite Hoyt (known alternately as the “Schoolboy Wonder” and the “Merry Mortician”) and pitcher Urban Shocker (master of the spitball and other junk pitches).
I also give you Louisiana-born catcher Bill Dickey (whose .362 average in 1936 is the highest ever for a backstop), manager Joe McCarthy (who led the team to five titles in the 1930s), outfielder Ben Chapman (who, as manager of the 1947 Phillies, did everything in his power to unnerve Jackie Robinson), announcer Mel Allen (voice of the Yankees from 1939 to 1964, minus the war years) and third baseman Bobby Brown (who pursued a medical degree during his off-seasons; Dr. Brown served as president of the American League from 1984 to 1994).
I also give you pitcher Bill Bevens (who threw 8⅔ innings of no-hit ball in Game 4 of the 1947 World Series only to end up losing), second baseman Jerry Coleman (who flew dozens of missions in World War II and the Korean War), first baseman Johnny Mize (who, while playing for the Giants, hit 51 homers and struck out just 42 times in one season), outfielder Jackie Jensen (who helped lead the Yanks to the 1950 World Series but saw his value plummet when Mantle arrived), pitcher Bob Turley (winner of the 1958 Cy Young Award and MVP as the Yankees beat the Milwaukee Braves in that year’s World Series) and second baseman Billy Martin (the team’s manager an absurd five times).
I also give you pitcher Jim Bouton (who later earned fame [or infamy] as the author of Ball Four), catcher Jake Gibbs (an all-American quarterback at the University of Mississippi), first baseman Joe Pepitone (a cautionary tale about talent and money wasted), pitchers Mike Kekich and Fritz Peterson (who revealed in 1973 that they had swapped wives and even children), owner George Steinbrenner (famous for having said, “I will never have a heart attack—I give them”), pitcher Ron Guidry (a 5′ 11″, 165-pound lefty who went 25-3 in 1978), first baseman Don Mattingly (who hit a record six grand slams in the 1987 season), pitcher Jim Abbott (who threw a no-hitter against the Indians in 1993 despite having no right hand), third baseman Wade Boggs (who joined a mounted policeman for a memorable ride around the perimeter of Yankee Stadium after the 1996 World Series), outfielder Tim “Rock” Raines (a man who could really wreak havoc on the base paths) and outfielder Bernie Williams (who played in his 2,000th game as a Yankee in 2006, joining Mantle, Gehrig, Berra and Ruth).
I could give you more, but this will have to suffice.
To commemorate the publication of the Red Sox and Yankees books, I bought a box of custom-made pens and threw a party at Mangia Pizza on Lake Austin Boulevard in April 2007. I was surprised when my cousin Dennis and his wife Diane—Dallas residents—showed up in Austin. A couple of ex-girlfriends also made an appearance; I am happy to say no catfights ensued.