Why the New York Yankees Are the Greatest: Part 20

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Why the New York Yankees Are the Greatest: Part 20

Twenty-six World Championships;

 

The greatest stadium in the history of sport;

 

More Hall of Fame players than any other team;

 

The most storied franchise in the history of sport;

 

All these things are true and all of them must be included in why the New York Yankees are the greatest team in the history of baseball.

 

But there are also intangibles that are not easy to count, not easy to hang on a wall, not easy to note in a book or capture in a photograph.

 

Derek Jeter has talked sometimes about strange things happening when the ghosts come out in Yankee Stadium and that is part of it.

 

But what makes brings out the ghosts. Or to be less ethereal, what evokes so many memories, what causes such raw emotion among those who love the Yankees so much.

 

Intangibles can be so many things. They can be visual.

 

One memory, for those of us who grew up remembering day games in the World Series, is the shadow of the upper deck advancing on the pitcher’s mound as late afternoon closed in around the Stadium.

 

Or old black and white pictures of bunting around the upper deck which we could discern as red, white and blue even though there were no colors in the pictures we saw.

 

Or the gingerbread of the unique façade that decorated the roof of Yankee Stadium before remodeling in the 1970s.

 

Or the pennants flapping in the wind above the outfield, the baseball bat that looked like gold turning in the wind and the huge American flag that flew in the stands beyond the right center field wall.

 

Or the image of a once massive and then slightly bowed back in a pinstripe uniform with a large midnight blue “3” silhouetted against the upper deck of the old Yankee Stadium as Babe Ruth said goodbye.

 

While looking at a darkening sky it is possible for a Yankee fan to see an image from our past of a dark wall with small white numbers that said “461” and just slightly to the left, standing conspicuously in the playing field, three stone monuments and a flag pole.

 

The intangibles could also be auditory.

 

Because we also can still hear Robert Merrill as he stood behind home plate and sang the "National Anthem."

 

And we can hear Ronan Tynan sing “God Bless America” soon after 9-11, when we all still grieved and wondered how we would recover and restore.

 

And in each game the tradition continues of “God Bless America” in the seventh inning stretch most often with the recording of Kate Smith belting out the song in her own irascible way.

 

And we can still hear, from the days we listened on the radio of the southern cadence of Red Barber and the different, more insistent, voice of Mel Allen.

 

We can still hear, as though he is still with us, the Brooklyn born cheer of Phil Rizzuto as he yelled, “Holy Cow!”

 

We can still hear the not quite angry voice of the hawker trying to impress upon us the absolute need to have a Yankee program and a scorecard.

 

We can also hear the Hammond organ playing whenever there was an interlude in the game or when more fan support was needed.

 

And we will never be able to forget the echoing sound of one of our heroes who, although knowing he was going to die, could tell us he was the “luckiest man on the face of the earth.”

 

And it will forever be hard to leave any baseball park without expecting to hear the fluid tones of Old Blue Eyes speak to us about “New York, New York.”

 

Perhaps the most vivid auditory memory for those of us who are Yankee fans will forever be this:  “Now batting, Mickey Mantle. Number Seven, Mantle.” No public address announcer will ever bring chills to our spines as Bob Shepherd has done.

 

And intangible memories can also be smelled and tasted. This is one fan who will never forget what the mustard smelled like as I looked out over a hot dog and saw Bobby Abreu playing long toss with a ball boy stationed near the Yankee dugout.

 

Or what the air smelled like sitting in the right field bleachers as the wind came down over the tracks from the four Train.

 

Or what another victory tasted like from the bleachers, something like peanuts and pretzels combined and something sweeter than anything I had ever tasted before.

 

The intangibles can also just be memories.

 

The memory of how high Mickey Mantle’s elbows came up behind his back as he trotted around the bases after hitting another home run;

 

The memory of Roger Maris when he reluctantly came out for a curtain call and, holding his batting helmet in one hand, could not get back into the dugout because his teammates wanted him to hear the cheers a little longer.

 

The memory of Derek Jeter racing into left field, stabbing a ground ball, leaping and turning in one motion to throw a runner out at first; The memory of Yogi Berra jumping up and down on both feet and yelling at the umpire who had called Jackie Robinson safe stealing home in the 1955 World Series;

 

The memory of a radio program interrupted with news we could not believe that our Captain, Thurman Munson, was dead in 1979;

 

The memory of seeing a Tim Wakefield knuckleball turned back into the night on a higher parabola over the left field wall as Aaron Boone put the Yankees back into the World Series in 2003;

 

The memory of Casey Stengel wobbling to the mound on crooked legs to take the ball from Bob Turley and hand it over to Johnny Kucks;

 

The memory of thousands of fans walking across the greenest grass in the world to exit through gates in the outfield wall.

 

The New York Yankees and Yankee Stadium have always been about more than just the players, the numbers on the uniforms or the numbers in the stat sheets.

 

The New York Yankees have always been about feelings, emotions, pride and disappointment.

 

The New York Yankees have always been about hope and expectation and dreams and desires.

 

For all of those of us who have been Yankee fans, all of the intangibles, more than anything else, are the reasons the New York Yankees are the greatest team in the history of baseball.

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