Yankees' new postgame trophy: A helmet for the firemen

September 29th, 2022

NEW YORK -- Zack Britton spotted the shiny metallic firefighter’s helmet during an early-season visit to a training room underneath Yankee Stadium’s right-field stands. His curiosity was piqued enough to offer a full inspection of the dusty memento.

Dated 1986, an inscribed plaque revealed the trophy as a Rolaids Relief Man Award, once presented to Dave Righetti in recognition of his dominance out of the Yankees’ bullpen. The discovery sparked a realization for Britton: The present-day Yankees should have something similar to share among their relievers.

Now they do. Britton has introduced a new clubhouse tradition in which relievers are awarded an authentic Fire Department of New York helmet after each win, acknowledging the day’s best performance out of the bullpen. Each recipient places a sticker with the pitcher’s uniform number on the helmet; Britton’s goal is to see it completely covered by the end of October.

“We have a lot of young guys this year, with me being hurt, Greenie [Chad Green] being hurt, [Aroldis] Chapman going through some struggles,” Britton said. “When I was a young reliever, we had some similar stuff in Baltimore and it was just a friendly competition, some incentives to go in there. You want to be the guy that gets the helmet, in this instance.”

Britton said the helmet was obtained by Yankees security officer Mark Kafalas, who previously worked for the New York City Police Department and maintains connections with FDNY personnel. The helmet bears the markings of FDNY Engine 1, whose station house is located in midtown Manhattan on West 31st Street, between 6th and 7th Avenues.

A cursory inspection of the helmet shows that it has had some use -- certainly, it has seen a few real-world situations more harrowing than facing the heart of the lineup with runners on base.

“This is slightly different,” Britton said. “With the Fire Department of New York and all the history of it, and the role of a reliever putting out fires -- it just made sense.”

Britton said that he unveiled the helmet during the Yankees’ recent series at home against the Pirates. Its first recipient was right-hander Lou Trivino, who recorded two big outs in a 5-4 win over the Red Sox on Sept. 22.

“I think it’s a friendly way to make us compete against each other,” said reliever Scott Effross. “It’s a cool symbol that he brought in. I got [a sticker] from the Boston series, so I hope I’ll get a couple more on there by season’s end. It’s a really close-knit group down there, and I think we’re in a good spot right now.”

As for Righetti’s long-dormant trophy? Britton said that he relocated it to the Yankees’ bullpen.

“I want guys to know,” Britton said. “There’s obviously a history here of good players, but there’s also a history of having really good bullpens, long before [Mariano] Rivera. I think it’s good for guys to know there’s a standard here that you want to pitch up to.”

For years, the Yankees swapped a wrestling-style championship belt around the clubhouse after victories, a presentation that usually involves that game’s key performer addressing the team. The belt has typically gone to position players or starting pitchers, making the firefighter’s helmet something that belongs solely to the bullpen.

That begs the question: Can you get the belt and the helmet in the same night?

“You could,” Britton said. “Hasn’t happened yet.”

Those relievers, by the way, agreed to look the other way when infielder Gleyber Torres donned the helmet during part of Tuesday’s division-clinching celebration.

“I think it’s a good thing for team building,” Britton said. “With a new bullpen, you have a lot of young guys and guys that we acquired – it’s not the same bullpen that we’ve had for the last couple of years. I think guys that are new to the team will feel comfortable, and that’s what you need in the bullpen. It’s a team within the team; every bullpen I’ve been in that was really good had a good culture.”