The very best thing you can say about the Yankees in Friday night’s 8-2 win against the Cleveland Indians is that the team had everything working for it. And for the Yanks everything is quite a bit.
There’s a chalkboard outside the press room where the Yankees media people post home team and opposing team lineups before every game. A lot of people, including me, were scratching their heads when they read the lineup Joe Girardi was fielding Friday night. No Alex Rodriguez. No Francisco Cervelli. Juan Miranda, who’s barely hit at all since being called up from the Minors, in the designated hitter’s spot.
Even Robinson Cano was surprised by the lineup card, thinking it was a prank when he saw his name penciled into the cleanup spot. Then he realized Girardi was serious.
“He said, ‘Are you sure?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I’m sure’. I thought that was funny,” Girardi said with a grin after the game.
In his first at bat, top of the second, Cano hustled to first on what could have been a groundout and reached safely. Then Nick Swisher came to the plate and bashed a two-run homer out to right, putting the Yanks ahead 2-0.
They never looked back after that. Phil Hughes pitched a spectacular seven innings and allowed only a pair of earned runs. Cano finished the night going 3-for-4 and put the game away with his third career grand slam in the seventh. Everybody except third baseman Ramiro Pena got a hit, and Mark Teixeira put on a defensive show fielding a volley of grounders to first base. And besides leading off the seventh with a double that eventually led to Cano’s put-away blast, Curtis Granderson, in his first game back from the disabled list, looked healthy out in center and running the bases.
All in all, a crisp, well played ballgame by the Bombers. Good way for them to begin the homestand.
The Whole Truth?
A little before the start of the game, I was drinking coffee in the press cafeteria with some people that included a guy named Bill Stiner. Everybody at the Stadium knows Bill, who’s been a familiar presence since 1974 or so. Back then he was working for Entenmann’s Bakery out on Long Island and delivering cakes to George Steinbrenner and his staff. He was also a huge Yankee fan with an uncanny memory of the dates and details of Yankee games throughout the team’s long history. Steinbrenner took a liking to him and eventually Bill became one of The Boss’s extended family.
“Bill the Baker”, as he came to be known, has a lifetime seat in the press box and is there in the cafeteria hours before every game. He knows everyone and everyone knows him. He is quick to say that Steinbrenner’s largesse changed his life.
At the next table over was Ray Negron. Negron’s another guy who’s around all the time. Not long after Steinbrenner bought the team he spotted Negron, then an afroed sixteen or seventeen year old, spray-painting a NY logo on the outside of Yankee Stadium. Steinbrenner didn’t call the cops. He saw something in Negron, whom he would later describe as a “scrappy kid on the streets of New York City living without purpose or focus”, and hired him as a bat boy. Good thing, too. Negron’s two half-brothers were drug addicts and he was probably headed down the same self-destructive path.
Negron would rise through the ranks of the Yankees organization to become a team executive. He’s also written a bunch of bestselling children’s books, and is a member of the Screen Actor’s Guild who’s done movies and television. Negron knows the Stadium better than anybody. And, as with Bill Stiner, everybody knows him.
“The Boss essentially saved my life and I’ll never forget that,” Negron said in a 2007 interview.
There’s no mention of Bill Stiner in the current bestselling biography of George Steinbrenner, although he was interviewed for the book. Negron’s name does not appear until late in the book, when he is described only as a “clubhouse attendant” who helped enroll pitcher Dwight Gooden in a drug-rehab program.
Stiner and Negron are only a couple of the many people to whom Steinbrenner gave a leg up without trumpeting it around. I’m not suggesting this makes him a saint. But while we all know the greatness George Steinbrenner achieved as a baseball team owner it is these unlauded acts that allow us to take some measure of the man's heart--and that set him apart from many others in positions of power.
If you’re going to write a major biography of someone of Steinbrenner’s stature, you ought to include stuff like the stuff I just mentioned to complete the picture. Especially if you do choose to include the sort juicy, sensational rumors about his personal life that sales and marketing people love because it'll give the book some pop on the gossip pages and, they imagine, sell a few copies to some mythical "general" readership--i.e. people who aren't particularly interested in sports or baseball.
You have a chance to document a great man’s legacy, you have that responsibility and obligation as an author. You don’t meet those responsibilities, you haven’t really done your job. The omission of Stiner and, substantively, Negron, are glaring to those who have spent any amount of time behind the scenes at Yankee Stadium--as is the absence of other, similar, stories of which the author, a reporter who has covered the Yankees for decades, surely was aware. The result is just another shallow, sour and relentlessly mediocre sports bio that never goes beyond telling us what we already know.
Oooo Dat Smell
It occurred to me Friday night, and not for the first time, that the Yank locker room really stinks after a game.
This is a good thing. Locker rooms should stink after games. I don’t want to be gross, but you have all these guys peeling off sweaty uniforms and jock straps and whatever else they wear under the unis, and then tossing them in those big bins, you don’t expect the place to smell like roses.
You hear about the size of the Yanks clubhouse. The computers, sofas, flat-screen TVs, and the rest. The guys aren't living low in there; they’ve got plenty of perks. But get past the nonessential trappings that most of them don't use anyway--you never see anyone but the clubhouse attendants or players' kids sitting on the couches, and I've been told the computers don't even have Internet connections--get past all those frills and it’s still just a stinky baseball locker room after a game.
Like I said, good. If it doesn’t stink, figure the team probably hasn’t been working too hard at what it’s supposed to be doing on the field.
Which makes the fact that it does weirdly refreshing.
On Friday a wake was held at the Coppola-Migliore Funeral Home, in Queens, New York, for veteran pitcher Jose Lima, who passed away at last Sunday at age 37. Lima was almost as well known for his colorful personality, upbeat, good-humored spirit and generosity to young players as for his work on the mound. He had last pitched in the Major Leagues for the Mets.
“Even last year when he pitched in the Dominican, everyone still loved him,” said Robinson Cano, one of many players to attend the wake along with mourners from other walks of life. “It’s really sad to lose a guy like that.”
It sure is.
Rest in peace, Jose. Lima Time ended way too soon.
Crime Scene Investigation
Check the cover of my new CSI: Crime Scene Investigation novel, SKIN DEEP. I like those creepy gloves. Tats, extreme body mod and murder. Out in August.
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