restricted access 3. Bronx Summers
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34 3 Bronx Bummers “How would you like it if every time something went wrong, I just blamed you, the supervisor, huh? Let’s just fire the supervisor ! Then I’ll hire some other guy, and something would go wrong and I’d fire him, and I’d probably rehire you! Then fire you again, bring in someone else, then fire him and rehire you again! Then fire and hire, back and forth until the whole thing’s just a big joke! Is that the kind of owner you want? Some yammering nincompoop in a fancy suit? No way you take that road, ’cause before you know it, you’ll probably be banned from running the entire company.” —Saturday Night Live skit, October 1990, featuring convenience store manager Carl, played by George Steinbrenner, reacting to his head supervisor Pete’s comment that when owners are unsatisfied, they fire people For the New York Yankees, fate had chosen a far different course than that of the Seattle Mariners. The Yankees had already won a record twenty world championships before Marty Pattin threw the first pitch for the Pilots in 1969.1 The 1977 Mariners sported such forgetful names as Kevin Pasley, Bill Laxton, Joe Lis, and Tommy Smith. The Yankees’ roster throughout the years had included baseball legends like Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, and Mickey Mantle. While just reaching .500 was considered a laud- BRONX BUMMERS • 35 able goal in the early days of Seattle baseball, anything less than a championship was deemed a failure for the Yankees. After more than a decade without a playoff appearance, New York made the World Series in 1976, although they were swept the Cincinnati’s “Big Red Machine.” The following year, despite constant clashes between outfielder Reggie Jackson and manager Billy Martin, among others, the Yankees won their twenty-first world championship. The coexistence and odd relationship of Jackson and Martin came to define what would be famously labeled as the Bronx Zoo era. It was a time in the team’s history when players fought themselves as well as the manager, took shots at each other in the press, and gave the general impression that they did not like each other, and yet somehow, they still found a way to win. It was an element that separated the Bronx Zoo Yankees from other teams. Hatred equaled winning. In 1978, the Yankees overcame a two-games-to-none deficit against the Dodgers to win their twenty-second world championship. Little did anyone know that as Thurman Munson squeezed the last out of the series in his glove at Dodger Stadium, it would begin a championship drought the likes of which no Yankees player, coach, or fan had ever seen. • • • • • • • • • Stunned by the death of Munson, killed in a plane crash at age thirty-two, the Yankees failed to make the playoffs in 1979. They returned to the postseason in 1980 after winning the American League East, but were swept in the American League Championship Series by the Royals. They again made the playoffs during the strike-interrupted 1981 season. Because the strike had occurred in midseason and resulted in the loss of approximately one third of all games for each team, a playoff format was devised whereby the teams in first place before and after the strike would make the playoffs (or a wild-card team if the same team was in first place for the first and second half) and a third round would be added to the postseason. It was a novel concept at the time, deemed necessary because of the work stoppage. A similarly formatted playoff would have to wait fourteen years before becoming a permanent fixture in the game. 36 • BASEBALL’S GREATEST SERIES The Yankees eliminated the Milwaukee Brewers in the best-of-five divisional series. They then swept the Oakland Athletics, led by manager Billy Martin, in the American League Championship Series and climbed out to a two-games-to-none lead against the Dodgers in the World Series. It looked like they were well on their way to a twenty-third championship, but it was not to be. After Game 2, the Yankees headed to Los Angeles where they blew leads in Games 3 and 4 and lost the next two games, as well. Unbeknownst to anyone in the crowd of 56,513 at Yankee Stadium during Game 6 against the Dodgers, fans were witnessing the last postseason game played in the Bronx for a...


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