Tanaka signing makes New York feel like Big Apple
NEW YORK -- Some 17 blocks north of the intersection of pinstripes and my childhood is the intersection of Tremont Avenue and the Grand Concourse. It's where we used to boast.
The intersection instantly came to mind Wednesday morning when word that the Yankees had done it again reached my ears. They had won again, this time in the pursuit of a special talent who is to help them maintain their brand, sell advertising on the YES Network and push their number of World Series championships closer to 30.
To borrow phrasing from a New Jersey marketing campaign of a few decades ago -- The Yankees and Masahiro Tanaka: Perfect together.
They are that. A mutually beneficial marriage has happened. The pitcher who doesn't lose will help the Yankees win. And with Yankees around him, Tanaka may emerge as the focal point of a different sort of a Shot Heard 'Round the World.
The agreement and the relationship conceived by it seems proper, appropriate. It seems so right. It's the sort of thing that made conversations at Tremont and the Concourse almost 60 years ago so passionate, compelling and fulfilling.
My strong childhood allegiance to the Yankees that developed while Mickey, Whitey, Yogi and Casey were the landlords of October is long gone, displaced by the objectivity required in my profession. It dissipated along with my appreciation of Saturday-morning cartoons and George Reeves' Superman. But when the Yankees assert themselves and it works, it strikes a chord in me. It tickles my New York chauvinism.
It is a personal phenomenon born in the Bronx bleachers, the far-away seats of the Polo Grounds and in some upper deck seats beyond third base in Flatbush and nourished in the Museum of Natural History, on Broadway, on the top floor of the Empire State Building, on the great lawn of Central Park and on the curb of whatever street that was when the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade passed.
I had a powerful sense then that New York was the best; moreover, I believed it was supposed to be that way. I didn't merely drink the Kool-Aid when Mayor Wagner identified the five boroughs as "the greatest city in the world," I gulped it and asked for a refill. That sense grew with me. I became one of those superlative lovers. NYC was the biggest, baddest, loudest, craziest, most densely populated and most perverse. Etcetera. I hailed the show tune "NYC" from "Annie."
I became one of the myopic folks who considered New York City the center of everything that mattered -- world politics: the UN; world finance: Wall Street; the media: seven dailies when I was a kid; television: "The Ed Sullivan Show," "The Tonight Show" and "The Honeymooners" were based in NYC. "Car 54" and "The Naked City" were, too.
And, of course, baseball -- no other city had three teams. New York City was baseball's Mecca.
Truth be told, it bothered me as a kid that the Liberty Bell was in Philadelphia rather than a few hundred yards from the Stature of Liberty. Graceland should have been in Queens. When Cleveland became the site of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I was miffed. It was bad enough the Baseball Hall of Fame was up there in Cooperstown, but at least it was in the proper state.
And I preferred the GWB to the Golden Gate.
Most of my New York chauvinism has receded over decades, a change brought about by travel, the printed word and eyes open wider. When the Yankees do it right, though, my narrow-mindedness resurfaces. I don't root for them or against them. I merely revel in New York City's successes. The Yankees acquiring Tanaka has that effect on me.
I do believe that a strong franchise in New York, regardless of sport, bolsters whatever game it is, just as a UCLA appearance in the Final Four creates an it-oughta-be-that-way sense and Super Bowl appearances by the Packers bring back a sense of Vince Lombardi.
It is a form of appreciation of tradition, I guess. Whatever it is, it lives in me. And evidently, it lived -- no, thrived -- in George Steinbrenner as well.
The late Yankees owner and I had a long talk about our New York chauvinism during Spring Training in 1989. His team had played seven seasons without an appearance in the postseason, and the Boss acknowledged he had the blues about that extended absence from October baseball.
Steinbrenner said he felt a responsibility to NYC. His sense of it was that the city needed to beat its chest every so often for its mental and emotional well-being, that 10-year-olds should congregate at Tremont and the Concourse and discuss how cool it was to be a New Yorker.
There was more to Steinbrenner's mania, of course. Winning meant money, and he coveted the role of hero. Steinbrenner believed he had been regarded as one in 1977 and '78, when the Yankees handled the Dodgers in the World Series. And he said he had that sense again in December 1980, when Dave Winfield spurned other clubs and signed on with the Yankees.
"This city deserves the best, and I try to provide it," Steinbrenner said that day. "It's healthy for the city's self-esteem when we win. People think everything is in its rightful place when we're on top. And the country is better off when New York is prospering -- in anything."
With Tanaka and Brian McCann and Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran and the returning lettermen from the 2013 team, an also-ran without A-Rod and even with Mo, these renovated Yankees may have enough to help the city as George Steinbrenner would have wanted.
His son spoke of the $189 million luxury line for months. A-Rod's suspension and Cano's departure were factors, no doubt. But it seems the Big Apple doesn't fall far from the Steinbrenner family tree. Hal Steinbrenner did what he thought was best for the team, following the footprints his father made when Catfish, Reggie, Godzilla and CC were all pursued. And maybe he had the welfare of the city in mind when he dismissed the $189 million threshold and acted as the ultimate capitalist -- spending money to make money. And win.
If you're a true New Yorker, even if you favor the Mets and find the way the Yankees do business to be unsavory, you have to feel better today about the city's posture and status. We have a Super Bowl coming, even if it's across the river. And we may have a World Series coming, too.
Now, about that Liberty Bell ...