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YORK -- Plans had been made, then reservations. Shoes shined, check. Shaved, check. Shower and shampoo, check, check. It was Dec. 31, 1974. The beginning of something new was about to be celebrated. Then the damn phone rang.
The voice on the other end delivered the unimaginable. The Yankees were about to provide an alternate means of marking the new year. They would sign Catfish Hunter that night. And we who wrote baseball in this market were invited -- no, obligated -- to show up. The roads were slippery with sleet that night. And the hastily called news conference would be staged in the old Parks Administration Building near Shea Stadium in Queens. Yankee Stadium was being remodeled. New Year's Eve was being rescheduled for baseball writers in the Big City.
The Yankees provide.
That's what the current Yankees beat writers say dozens of time each season. "The Yankees provide." Seldom, not even in the final days of Spring Training, when storylines in 29 other camps have evaporated, do Yankees beat reporters ask "Is there something to write today?" With the Yankees, there's always something. It's like sand on the beach, pine needles in a forest and litter in the Canyon of Heroes.
The Yankees provide. Often, they are generous to a fault.
The media attention they command often is a doubled-edged sword. Cyberspace can handle it, but newspapers count column inches the way Warren Spahn counted his pennies. And there's just so much time a reporter can type before the desk calls to say, "We need your story ... now." So it wasn't necessarily a good story when Billy Martin and Ed Whitson tried to perform cosmetic surgery on each other sans anesthesia in and outside a hotel bar in Baltimore late on a Saturday night in September 1985. Neither sufficient column inches nor a box score template existed. And when Don Mattingly wouldn't accommodate the demands of another hotel guest the following morning, we knew to keep it short. There was a pennant race under way, ya know.
Whether it was Pine Tar in 1983, Frank Torre's heart transplant in 1996, the daily Dick Howser watch in late 1980, Dave Winfield and Howie Spira (for too long), Nettles swinging at Reggie after the A's series in '81 or the ever-compelling infernal triangle, better known as Billy, George and Reggie, the Yankees provided. They filled scores of notebooks every week. To mix a literary metaphor, The Bronx Zoo was Burning.
Then there was the baseball part of it, much of it magnificent theater, some of it reduced to sidebar material because Zim charged Pedro or Nettles tried to disarm Spaceman or Billy didn't care for Reggie's bunt or the more serious stuff -- Travis John's injury, Thurman's death, Coney's aneurysm.
So, as saddening and unexpected as the death of Yankees manager Joe Girardi's father, Jerry, was when word of it reached the public Thursday, it wasn't surprising. It was the Yankees filling it up to overflow. Again. Less than 24 hours after their latest game for the ages, reality stepped and obligated the Yankees' beat guys to write stories that had nothing to do with the two prodigious pokes Raul Ibanez produced Wednesday night in Game 3 (and the Yankees' second victory) of the American League Division Series.
An afterglow to their 3-2 victory existed. Folks had awakened Thursday morning still excited about 12 taut innings and home runs that made us all recollect the wonder of Chambliss v. Littell, Tino, Jeter and Brosius v. Kim. Boone v. Wakefield. Dent v. Torrez. Henrich v. Newcombe and Mantle v. Schultz and Reggie v. Hooton, Sosa and Hough. Now we have Ibanez v. Johnson and Matusz.
But the afterglow pushed aside. The Yankees had over-provided.
Nowhere else does this happen. No, not with the Cowboys. No franchise can compare. Game 3 of the 2012 ALDS is just one of so many that will make Old Timers' Days special in the 2030's. That was Steinbrenner's plan.
So much of it is and was his doing. He wanted control of the tabloids' back pages, not merely most of the time, but everyday, even in the winter. One former Yankee from the '70s coarsely suggested the Boss had made a deal with Martin to die on Christmas Eve. He hired Piniella as manager during the hours before a World Series game in 1985.
Steinbrenner held announcements so he might offset any positive news the Mets generated. He was the primary provider. He'd make unsolicited calls to reporters. He planted stories though there was no need for deception because, even without him, the Yankees provide.