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Yankees Magazine: A Year in the Life

As he prepares for his second season running the Yankees, Aaron Boone is eager to build on an impressive -- but ultimately frustrating -- debut
Yankees Magazine

You'll forgive Yankees fans for being a bit perplexed. Recent years have seen objectively remarkable debuts. Gary Sanchez nearly won AL Rookie of the Year honors in 2016 despite playing just 53 games. The year before that, outstanding curtain-raising efforts from Luis Severino and Greg Bird had fans pinching themselves. Aaron Judge exploded like an atom bomb in 2017 before Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar defied all reasonable expectations in 2018.

In the Bronx, it seems, experience is overrated.

You'll forgive Yankees fans for being a bit perplexed. Recent years have seen objectively remarkable debuts. Gary Sanchez nearly won AL Rookie of the Year honors in 2016 despite playing just 53 games. The year before that, outstanding curtain-raising efforts from Luis Severino and Greg Bird had fans pinching themselves. Aaron Judge exploded like an atom bomb in 2017 before Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar defied all reasonable expectations in 2018.

In the Bronx, it seems, experience is overrated.

But Aaron Boone's debut as Yankees manager … well, it's a bit more complicated. The team won 100 games in 2018 and reached the postseason despite an overwhelmingly packed disabled list that robbed the club of much of its firepower for long stretches of the season. You simply can't measure the impact that a manager plays in shepherding his charges through that kind of adversity.

But there are only two types of ways a baseball season can end, and Boone's debut fell on the short side. Much like the end of his time as a player in pinstripes, Boone watched another team celebrate on the Yankee Stadium turf, and no matter the pile of positive moments the 2018 campaign included, the denouement stung. After a year of racking up wins and watching home runs leave the ballpark in record numbers, suddenly Boone was forced to account for things that went wrong, for decisions he might regret, for … losing. Managers can't crack walk-off home runs. But they have to answer for it when their players don't.

Almost a year to the day after he was introduced as manager, Boone sat down in his office with Yankees Magazine deputy editor Jon Schwartz to discuss the memories of a year gone by and the ways they will make him -- and the Yankees -- better in 2019.

How different is your life now than it was a year ago at this time?

Way different. I mean, way different. Just start with the fact that me and my family now have uprooted from Arizona and the West Coast, where we've been forever, and now live in the Northeast. So just moving kids, changing schools, obviously having this job, which is a lot different from what I was doing -- it's totally different, my life, but I've loved it. It's been great. My family has adjusted well. I'm looking forward to hopefully building on last year.

Video: Boone discusses going from booth to Yankees manager

You have your coaching staff all set up this time, you know where your office is, you know where your parking spot is. So, how are you spending your time?

It's funny you say that, I was actually talking to my wife about that just yesterday. In going through it last year, it didn't feel so overwhelming. But looking back on it now, just the comfort level of knowing who everyone is, what roles people have, knowing that this person does this and can help in this regard, I feel, in a lot of ways, so much more entrenched in the organization, which hopefully is something that will pay off.

I've often wondered about the smallest parts of the job -- literally, when did you decide where you were going to stand during games? Or whether to go with a pullover or a jersey on any given day. Was it just a matter of being in Spring Training and thinking, "Well, this spot seems pretty comfortable"?

Yeah, that's a great question. Because it does just kind of happen. Where to stand? You walk out during the first game. It's not like I planned it out the day before or anything, or even the week before. It's just like, "Well, this is what I do." Spring Training helps with that, in terms of building how you communicate during the game with coaches, with players. What's the banter? What's the rhythm of it all? And where you stand just kind of evolves. For me, it kind of changed gradually a little over the course of the year.

Obviously you're not a football coach, so you're not sitting here diagraming a brand-new play to blow everyone's mind. So, what is your day-to-day in the offseason? Is it just checking in with everyone? What are you trying to build right now?

It's reaching out to players periodically, having conversations with coaches, stopping by the front office just to spitball ideas. I want to keep in the loop of what's going on as far as free agency and different trades that might be in the works, different roster decisions that might be going on. I went down to Tampa, [Florida,] for a day to work with a couple of guys. I'll watch video on different people we're considering. So, there are little things each day that I'm interested in that kind of, in a way, start to point toward next year.

Did you give general manager Brian Cashman a Christmas wish list?

We talk all the time. I think he knows where I stand with different things we're considering. He'll ask my opinion on certain players or certain things we're considering. But it's more me, on the outskirts up there, just kind of watching them go through the process. And that's been a lot of fun for me, frankly, to see them work and see how the process works.

At the same time, though, are you like every other Yankees fan, constantly checking your phone and waiting for that text with the news?

I'm obviously very invested and interested. I follow it. I have a little insight here. So, I'm entrenched in it and love it, and I love seeing where it all is eventually going to end up.

What was your favorite moment of last year?

It might have been the home run Judge hit off of [Red Sox closer Craig] Kimbrel. I think it was in a May series here. It was in that stretch when we won [17] out of [18] games. That was one of those games when we came back. [Brett] Gardner hits a triple, and then Judgey just hits a rocket out to center field. That was pretty neat. There were so many fun moments. But it's hard to pick just one, especially when the one you want to ultimately have -- when you're celebrating it all -- didn't happen. It all ends kind of abruptly, in a disappointing way. But all in all, the year itself, it's a joy to go compete with those guys in that room on a nightly basis. The way you get to know them and know who they are and the respect that only grew during the course of the year -- to get to be, at 7 o'clock every night, in the trenches with them, that's the best part.

If you go back to February of last year, what do you think is the thing that you are the most improved at a year later?

I would start with an understanding of who people are in the organization, from the highest levels on down. You feel like you have such a leg up in what people's roles are, how they can help, how they are part of the machine. And hopefully, that lends itself to me, personally, being more efficient and more able to give my attention to places it should be on a daily basis. I would just say, overall, now being in it for a year, hopefully it shows up in myself and the rest of us being more efficient in what we do.

You send all the players home at the end of the season with an exit interview, evaluating them and giving them goals for the winter. If you were having that conversation with Aaron Boone, what would you tell him to work on?

Everything! Honestly. How we communicate with our players, how we get information to our players to help get the best out of them. And that looks different for everyone. Some guys, it's a lot; some guys, it's less. Ultimately, we're trying to get the best out of each individual between the lines. And the challenge -- I feel like the biggest challenge in this job -- is how do we do that? Some people, it's coaching a lot and giving a lot of information to. Some people, it's kind of getting out of their way. Understanding those things is really important.

Especially in the early days of transitioning from a guy who used to play to being a manager, you must feel so helpless. You simply cannot pick up a bat and go do anything anymore. Does that have an impact on the weight of all that happens, because you're just forced to take everything in? Everybody's at-bat is your at-bat.

It's obviously different. But I think, in a similar way, it's equally thrilling and exciting because you're a part of the competition. You're a part of the game. Being away from the game, that's probably the biggest thing you miss, is the competing on a nightly basis. In a way, you get that back, even if it's certainly different from being a player.

You go through six months in which you lead your team to 100 wins, in the face of a lot of injuries and actual adversity. And then the playoffs happen, and you're kind of expected to do everything a little differently. Looking back on it, do you feel that the criticisms in the moment were fair? Not right or wrong, but are there reasonable arguments that you should have done things differently?

That's baseball. Especially when you're not the last team standing. You can always do things differently. And me knowing -- as a sports fan, when my team doesn't win -- I could have done this different or I have a thought that I would have done this, and maybe that would have changed the outcome of the game. That's part of sports. So, was it fair? I don't know. It's sports. Sports is gray sometimes. But I'm satisfied with my process and our process, and knowing that we're very prepared going in to each game. Sometimes decisions work out, and sometimes they don't.

Are there things that, if the exact situations replayed themselves, you would have done differently?

There's probably a handful of times that, as you go through the season, maybe you would have done something a little bit different in the course of the game. Even sometimes in wins. Because there are decisions every single night that are decisions. I'll come in here a lot after a game, win or lose, and something was a close call for me. I could make a case for doing A, but maybe we did B. And I can talk myself into either way on most nights. One may not be necessarily right or wrong. That gets back to, sometimes it can be a little bit gray. And that's why I think if you prepare the best you can and go into the game understanding our personnel, our players, matchups and all that, now let the game play out. But the scrutiny on decisions, in the best of years -- and, in a lot of ways, winning 100 games, we had a great season, but we didn't get it done in the playoffs -- the scrutiny of decisions, especially in baseball, is inevitable.

Boston's first-year manager, Alex Cora, did things a different way in that ALDS, where he was willing to throw away what he had done all season, and every single thing he did seemed to work. But if it doesn't work, then he maybe doesn't have a starter for the next game. Are we all overthinking this? Something's going to happen one way or another, and you just can't control it.

Right! Again, that's part of why it's such a great game and part of why so many people care and are invested. Because there are a lot of decisions in the course of the season that can truly go either way.

When you were introduced a year ago, there was a lot of talk about your ALCS-winning home run in 2003. And you kept bringing up the next series against the Marlins -- that the World Series loss was what stuck with you. Last year, you watched another team celebrate on your field again. Does that stick with you in the same way?

Yeah, it stings. It's what you take away from the season. So, of all the things that we accomplished this past year, still, in the end, that's the lasting impression that you walk away with. That's the thing that resonates, in a lot of ways, the most. But I also think it's one of the things that fuels you. You know how precious the opportunity is. We're one of those teams that feels like we have a genuine chance to win a championship, and that's a good feeling. But when you come up a little bit short, it hurts.

How long did you stick around here that night? Did you want to rush out the door as quickly as you could?

No. I was here for a while. And I was back the next day. It was easy for me to get back in here and back at it, because I wanted to see as many guys as I could and have conversations. And frankly, in a way, it's the best way to turn the page and get back to work.

Did you watch the rest of the postseason?

I did.

Was it weird?

Not weird. But I watched. I watched the Red Sox celebrate at Dodger Stadium. I watched them on the podium. I made myself watch. It was tough. But it's important for me. I love the game, and it's important for me to watch and keep that fire burning.

James Paxton was the first new toy you got. Terrific pitcher. What excites you about that addition?

He's got the kind of talent that can be a game-changer. He can match up. His best is up there with the elite guys in the game. We feel like he's a guy that, for being 30 years old, is also, in a lot of ways, just scratching the surface. He hasn't racked up a lot of innings. He's had some different, lingering, nagging injuries. And for as much success as he's already had, we feel like there's an opportunity for him to come here and have his best couple years with us. And hopefully, we as a staff -- and I know Larry [Rothschild] is really excited about it -- can get the most out of him, help him take another step in his evolution as a frontline starting pitcher.

Video: Boone on Paxton, Torres, Bird and 2019 expectations

You have a pretty good view of the Aaron Judge show every night. When you look at the ways in which he has matured off the field in the time that you've known him, what stands out? When you have a supernova on that scale, do you have to be more than just his field manager when you know that everyone's going to keep wanting more from him?

I feel like I have a really, really good relationship with Aaron. It's obviously, in my view, an important relationship. He's really one of the faces of our franchise now, of our organization. I hope to be someone that continues to build a relationship of trust and respect with him, and I hope to be one of the people in his life that challenges him, also, to help him continue to become a better player, a better person, everything. Hopefully I'm one of those people in his life that is an asset to him because he is such a special player, a special person, and it's a relationship that's really important to me.

There are guys in that clubhouse such as Brett Gardner and CC Sabathia who must have helped you out so much in Year 1. How pleased are you to have both of them back for 2019?

Huge. I love our room. I love our guys and the way they compete. And part of the culture in there that I feel like is a strength, Gardy and CC have been major factors in helping establish that. I think as a result, we've had a lot of success with guys coming into the organization from outside that have kind of fit right in and become important parts of our club, and people that have come up from the Minor Leagues -- young players -- that have thrived. And I think part of that is the culture that CC and Gardy have helped establish here.

What's your pitch for why fans shouldn't be worried about Gary Sánchez?

The talent's undeniable. You've got to understand, he's still a young player at a position that is very demanding -- physically, mentally, emotionally. It requires a lot. And to have the kind of massive success that he had early in his career, at such a position, sometimes a bump in the road is part of it. And I would argue, hopefully, over the long haul, it will allow him to be an even better player. Because it forced him to be invested in so many different parts of the game that maybe before, because he's had so much success and because he's so talented, and because in a lot of ways success came so easy to him, hitting a bump in the road, getting punched in the mouth, forces your hand and makes you take stock and understand how challenging this game can be. And I would just say that he's absolutely equipped to be a star in this league for a long time. That's my expectation, and I know it's his, as well.

How do you make sure that you get the Luis Severino who was an All-Star in the first half of last year for the full year in 2019?

Similar to Gary, we're also talking about a young player. The year he just had isn't all that uncommon for a young pitcher establishing himself. I say hitting a bump in the road, but on balance, he had a great season. First and foremost, he has all the equipment to be great, as we've seen. We understand what he's capable of. What I love about Sevy is that I think he has the makeup to be great. He wants to be great. He works extremely hard. He's already doing things this winter, and we've had conversations, where he's working on things now that hopefully translate into next season as he continues his growth. And I would expect him to have a tremendous year next year based on things that he's starting to put in place, that we're working to put in place with him, that he will apply for next year.

Is there anything that you're planning on doing differently in this Spring Training compared to what you did last year, whether it be scheduling or anything else?

I don't think it will look that much different. I feel like, in a lot of ways, we had a successful spring. I thought we were efficient; I thought the biggest thing that was really important to me was that we used our time properly, efficiently. We aren't wasting guys' time, and I feel like we did a really good job with that. I think you're always making tweaks to try and make things a little bit better or little things that maybe you're incorporating. But I don't think that big picture-wise it will be all that different.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Jon Schwartz is the deputy editor of Yankees Magazine. This article appears in the Spring 2019 issue of Yankees Magazine. Get more articles like this delivered to your doorstep by purchasing a subscription to Yankees Magazine at

New York Yankees

Yankees Magazine: Mow 'Em Down

Whether unleashing a well-placed two-seamer or a witty one-liner, Whitey Ford could dominate friends and foes alike
Yankees Magazine

The night before his induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1974, Whitey Ford went up to his hotel room early. Even the man they called "The Chairman of the Board," who had leaned on his famous cool and his easy swagger to thrive in the cauldron of the World Series and win 236 games during his pitching career, got nervous.

As Ford would tell it years later to Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson, he was fretting over his speech the next day. It needed work. There was no time for a night out in Cooperstown, even if the whole celebratory weekend in central New York centered on him, Mickey Mantle and the other inductees.

The night before his induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1974, Whitey Ford went up to his hotel room early. Even the man they called "The Chairman of the Board," who had leaned on his famous cool and his easy swagger to thrive in the cauldron of the World Series and win 236 games during his pitching career, got nervous.

As Ford would tell it years later to Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson, he was fretting over his speech the next day. It needed work. There was no time for a night out in Cooperstown, even if the whole celebratory weekend in central New York centered on him, Mickey Mantle and the other inductees.

Mantle had other plans. Mantle, his kids and members of Ford's family went in search of fun. On the first floor of the famed Otesaga Resort Hotel, they found a room with a billiards table. No one was inside, but the door was locked. Mantle and the group went outside, and The Mick boosted one of the kids through an open window. The kid dropped into the room and unlocked the door.

"So there's Whitey, up in his room sweating his speech," Idelson says, recounting the tale Ford told him. "Mickey's playing pool. Mickey got two hours of sleep."

Ford told Idelson: "Mickey's speech was great. Mine was terrible. And he didn't even use notes!"

The legendary lefty has always loved a good yarn like that, even at his own expense. Quips and banter were an integral part of Ford's arsenal in pinstripes. Not as much as a good fastball and curve, certainly. But enough that several of his former teammates still believe that Ford's humor and flair for needling had a role in molding those Yankees teams of the 1950s and 1960s into a much-loved dynasty.

With that in mind, and with Ford's 90th birthday having just passed -- he was born Oct. 21, 1928 -- it seemed the right time to go searching for tales about the Yankees' all-time leader in wins, innings pitched and shutouts. Former teammates, folks in baseball who know him, even opponents, provided an entertaining snapshot of the talented kid from Queens who grew up to become one of the greatest Yankees of them all.

He was "an artist, as far as his pitching," says Hall of Famer Joe Torre, but Ford was more than just a .690 winning percentage and a record streak in the World Series. Ford was a study in poise on the mound. A competitor. A teammate. A friend. A man who liked to have a good time.

"Whitey, you never saw him in a bad mood," says Roy White, whose 15-year career in pinstripes was getting started around the time that Ford's 16-year run was nearing its end. "He always had a smile on his face. Good at a joke, a funny guy."

"He always had confidence," says Bobby Richardson, the second baseman for three of Ford's six World Series championship runs. "I think he had that as a little boy. I think he grew up with that."

"I love him," adds Joe Pepitone, a teammate of Ford's from 1962 to '67. "He made me feel comfortable."

Edward Charles Ford, who attended a tryout hoping to be signed as a first baseman, is probably the best Yankees pitcher who ever lived. And if he's not the greatest living Yankee, too, he's certainly at the very core of any debate on the matter.

Ford pitched his entire career for the Yankees, beginning in 1950 and, after two years of military service, going from 1953 to 1967. In addition to holding the franchise records for wins, innings (3,1701⁄3) and shutouts (45), Ford is tied with Andy Pettitte for most starts (438). He has won the most World Series games (10) in Major League history. He pitched in 11 Fall Classics, which is also tops, and he holds World Series records for career strikeouts (94) and innings (146), too. Only Mariano Rivera pitched in more World Series games (24) than Ford (22).

In 1961, a year best remembered for the pursuit of another Babe Ruth record, Ford topped The Babe's famous pitching mark of 292⁄3 consecutive scoreless innings in the World Series, a standard Ruth had set 43 years earlier. Before the streak ended in 1962, Ford had pushed the record to 332⁄3 innings.

Ford won the 1961 Cy Young Award, back when it was given to just a single pitcher instead of one from each league. He led the American League in wins three times, ERA twice. He was 236-106 with a 2.75 ERA in his 16 seasons and was the MVP of the 1961 World Series, in which he went 2-0, including a shutout, and threw 14 scoreless frames.

"He had this knack for always missing the sweet spot of the bat," says Al Downing, a mainstay in the Yankees' rotation throughout much of the 1960s. "They'd think they had him squared up. Then they'd be thinking about what happened."

"The career," as 1956 World Series hero Don Larsen puts it, "speaks for itself."

So do the stories about the man. Ford was vital in helping foster what Richardson calls a "spirit" among those Yankees. It was all business on the ballfield, but they kept each other loose elsewhere. That element always seemed to boost their play.

Downing remembers his priority boarding the team bus: find Ford and Mantle. "They'd be ribbing each other," Downing says. "You'd never hear superstars doing that, but they did it all the time.

"They didn't let things get tense. You didn't need a team meeting. It showed that if these guys can relax, we can relax."

Ford could turn the skewer even on a legend like Yogi Berra. Richardson recalls how he and Mantle told the catcher they didn't need him to call Ford's pitches -- Mantle could handle it from center field.

They tried it one day, and it worked. Mantle stood for a fastball, bent over for a curve. Ford won. "You're not that smart, Yogi," Richardson remembers them telling Berra. Of course, the two knew better than that, and the gag was a one-time thing.

Pepitone famously made a costly error in the 1963 World Series, losing the baseball in the sea of white shirts worn by fans in the stands. Afterward, media swarmed around Pepitone in the clubhouse. The first baseman, only 22 at the time, was "tearing up," as he tells it now, until Ford approached.

"You really screwed that game up, didn't you, kid?" Ford cracked.

Sharp-edged? Perhaps. But to Pepitone, it helped. While Mantle was warmer to younger players than Ford, Pepitone says, Ford had a way of letting you in, too. A barb meant something: You belonged.

"It actually made me feel better," Pepitone recalls. "That was Whitey. It meant a lot to me. Instead of being sad, he was having fun."

Video: Yankees Retired Number: No. 16, Whitey Ford

Still, Pepitone knew he had to be focused when Ford was on the mound. "I didn't look at girls in the stands like I usually did," Pepitone says. "I didn't know there was anyone in the stands when Whitey was pitching."

Years after both their careers ended, Pepitone had a 60th birthday party, and Ford and his wife, Joanie, were among the 200 or so guests. At one point, New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani arrived with an entourage of large, tough-looking men in suits, obviously security and law-enforcement types. Ford quipped to Pepitone: "I knew they were going to catch up with you one of these days," Pepitone recalls, laughing.

People were going up on stage to say nice things about Pepitone at the party, and Ford took his turn. The pitcher pulled a baseball out of his pocket and threw it at Pepitone, who caught it.

"That's the ball you missed in the '63 World Series!" Ford jibed. "That's the only reason I came here!"

Through the years, especially after he felt established in his career, Pepitone went right back at Ford. Once, Ford gave Pepitone a set of his old golf clubs -- they both played left-handed. Pepitone said they were too short.

"What am I going to do with these? Play putt-putt?" Pepitone quipped. But he kept the clubs. He still has them in a golf bag that has Ford's name on it. Yet later, when Ford asked Pepitone about the clubs, Pepitone responded that he didn't have them anymore. "I sold them for $10,000," he teased.

"You so-and-so!" Ford replied, but in language a tad more colorful. They had a good laugh.

"We're both from New York; had the same attitudes," Pepitone says. "He had a dry sense of humor, and I was a little bit crazy."

Ford was an expert at making light of his own foibles, too. Late in his career, he was pitching in a 'B' game in Spring Training, working his way back from an injury. White recalls a friend of his from the Minor Leagues, Ian Dixon, was playing third base in the game, and Dixon had to contend with multiple hard-hit line drives.

White says: "Whitey told him later, 'I'm sorry you had to risk your life out there -- they weren't fooled by my curveball.'"

To opponents, Ford might have had an advantage just by showing up, thanks to his reputation and résumé. It's clear by the way they talk about him that what they thought of him lingers today.

Ford was wrapping up his 10th and final All-Star campaign when Tim McCarver faced him in the 1964 World Series, and the former Cardinals catcher recalls being wowed even as St. Louis beat Ford in Game 1.

"He had an elegance about him on the mound, a regal presence," says McCarver. "That made an impression, believe me."

Torre can still recall a Spring Training home run he hit off Ford when he was just a 20-year-old catcher with the Braves. Torre claims it was wind-blown, but that doesn't lessen the thrill, even as the decades have passed.

"I wish I had a painting of it," Torre says. "I hit it off Whitey Ford, to right-center, and as I got halfway to first, I could see Mickey Mantle watching it go out. You can't buy those memories."

Jim Kaat, the former pitcher and current MLB Network analyst who won 283 games in his 25-year playing career, beat Ford for his first Major League win on April 27, 1960. Fifty years later, Kaat says, he and Ford were golfing at the same club, and the two posed for a photo that Kaat still treasures.

He got something even better from Ford back when they were both pitching. A few years into his career, Kaat was warming up for a start against Ford at old Metropolitan Stadium in Minnesota. The visiting bullpen was nearby, and Kaat says he could hear Ford's fastball spinning.

"We didn't have radar guns back then; we didn't care about that," Kaat says. "We wanted movement." Kaat asked through the fence separating the bullpens if Ford would show him how he threw his fastball.

Ford did. Kaat tilted his grip to the left slightly, like Ford, and, "My fastball started sinking," Kaat says. "I threw my fastball that way the rest of my career. After he showed me his grip, I had more late movement. Late bite. I was a ground-ball pitcher, and this really helped me.

"He could've told me to take a hike."

Mostly, when people talk about Ford, they've got funny stories. Former Yankees athletic trainer Gene Monahan says Ford told him a golfing tale where Ford was playing a club hotshot and demanded something to make the match more even. The opponent suggested strokes and said Ford, being a pitcher, could throw the ball once, too.

But when Ford was ready to use his throw, he didn't pick up his own ball: He threw his opponent's ball into a water hazard.

Kaat tells one where he was presenting Ford with an award at a dinner, so he asked Ford what his greatest thrill was, figuring here comes the scoop on some big World Series moment.

Ford brought up a good day facing Ted Williams. "Then he said, 'I went out and celebrated all night!'" Kaat recalls. "Whitey took his job seriously, but he never took himself too seriously." Richardson coached Ford's son, Eddie, a terrific shortstop, at the University of South Carolina. When the Ford family came down to watch Eddie play, Richardson had a standing offer from his old teammate, especially if Richardson's squad was in a slump.

"He'd say, 'Want me to take them out, loosen them up?'" Richardson says with a laugh. "I'd say, 'Oh, no, Whitey.'"

Torre enjoys retelling this anecdote from Ford: The pitcher was swapping stories in Cooperstown with other Hall of Famers. Reggie Jackson asked Ford, "Whitey, you think I'd be able to hit you?"

"Hit me?" Ford responded, the way Torre tells it. "Ted Williams hit .230 against me. What chance would you have?"

"Then Whitey said to me he had no idea what Ted Williams hit against him," Torre says, laughing. "He made it up. You don't lose that competitiveness just because you don't play anymore. Whitey, that's who he is."

This is also who Ford is: For years, the pitcher was part of a baseball fantasy camp, and Monahan and his then-assistant, Steve Donohue, were the athletic trainers. Ford was a constant presence, sitting in a golf cart, a can of Pepsi in hand. But he didn't just show up. He got involved, knew the campers and stored up anecdotes about them to riff on at the end-of-camp banquet, Monahan says. In 1994, there were so many injuries that Ford gave Monahan and Donohue the camp MVP trophy.

"I've got it on my shelf in my office. I look at it every day," Monahan says. "I love it.

"I have some special things," adds the man who spent 48 years in the Yankees organization. "That sits right out front. That meant a lot to us."

You could say the same thing about Ford to the Yankees.

Happy 90th, Whitey.

"Keep going," says Larsen, who himself is 89. "Why not?"

This article appears in the October 2018 issue of Yankees Magazine. Get more articles like this delivered to your doorstep by purchasing a subscription to Yankees Magazine at

New York Yankees

Yankees Magazine: A Dream Deferred

Forced to give up his first love in high school, first baseman Luke Voit has found a home in the same place where his brother once lived out their college football fantasies -- Yankee Stadium
Yankees Magazine

There is a violence inherent to football. The sport triggers the primal instinct that lives within many, giving that urge permission to emerge. Hard collisions. Devastating hits. The gridiron is rage incarnate, and the full-bodied emotion can be terrifying. But that was the part Luke Voit loved most.

Voit is not a football player, although you'd be forgiven for thinking so upon first glance. His barrel chest and massive biceps give off a linebacker's air. Nevertheless, at first base he stands, wearing his newly won crown as a fan favorite in the Bronx after leading the Yankees -- and the American League -- with 14 home runs from Aug. 24 through the end of the season.

There is a violence inherent to football. The sport triggers the primal instinct that lives within many, giving that urge permission to emerge. Hard collisions. Devastating hits. The gridiron is rage incarnate, and the full-bodied emotion can be terrifying. But that was the part Luke Voit loved most.

Voit is not a football player, although you'd be forgiven for thinking so upon first glance. His barrel chest and massive biceps give off a linebacker's air. Nevertheless, at first base he stands, wearing his newly won crown as a fan favorite in the Bronx after leading the Yankees -- and the American League -- with 14 home runs from Aug. 24 through the end of the season.

Voit lived some sort of a dream come true to finally achieve success on a grand sports stage, but it wasn't the original dream. He had always envisioned himself on the gridiron, dominating on his Missouri high school football team, then playing Division I in the SEC and, finally, making his way to the NFL. When he would lay his head down at night, he'd see himself lifting a crystal football or cradling the Lombardi Trophy and saying he was going to Disney World.

Instead, multiple shoulder injuries ended Voit's football dream before it ever really got started. By his sophomore year of high school, after surgeries and dislocations galore, Voit made the decision that football wasn't going to be his path. Except, not really; his body made the decision. Voit never really signed on, but either way, his life's direction was about to change.

Luke wasn't the only boy in the Voit house with gridiron dreams. His younger brother, John, had goals all his own that focused squarely on football. So while Luke re-set his sights on the baseball diamond, John stayed locked in with the pigskin. Four years Luke's junior, John, who also played football and baseball his whole life, decided during his junior year of high school that football was going to be his main focus moving forward. He was going to keep the Voit football dream alive.

While Luke worked his way through baseball's minor leagues and overcame setbacks to eventually earn the respect and admiration of a notoriously harsh New York audience, John starred in high school then earned a spot on Army's football team, eventually being named a team captain his senior year and authoring one of the more memorable plays in Army history.

Dreams are funny things. In some ways, they are so vivid and memorable -- the what happened, the feelings of greatness that can leave you striving to make it real. The how you got there in the first place, though? That's often lost, or fuzzy at best. Luke was a football star in the making with SEC dreams, and yet here he is at first base in the Bronx. John? He rose to impressive levels of success at one of the most-recognized institutions the world over. For the Voit boys, certain aspects of their dreams came true -- greatness was realized. But their journeys, each with a stop at Yankee Stadium of all places, defy belief.


Based on physical attributes alone, none of this would have been surprising. Luke and John Voit were made for the football field. Just stepping onto the grass, the two imposing figures had an advantage over most of their peers. They also had that characteristic that pushes a select few over the top, a work ethic and a leadership quality that coaches dream of.

As the older brother, Luke set the example. Their neighbors in Wildwood, Missouri, knew that on any given day you could find the Voit boys outside playing catch or throwing a football; having fun, but improving their skills at every turn. From an early age, Luke focused on strength and conditioning at a local gym with trainer Brian Fitzmaurice. John took notice and eventually joined the gym, as well. Amid the clanging weights and grunts of athletes chasing myriad goals, Luke and John were equals.

"We were super competitive, and even though he's four years younger than me, he still kept up with me," Luke says. "I always played with him, and that showed what a competitor he is and where his work ethic came from because I was always hard on him. Even with video games we were the same way -- always competing -- and either I'd win or he'd win. It was never overwhelmingly me over him or the other way. We just grew up doing everything together."

John echoes his big brother, reminiscing about what he called an "all-American childhood" spent in the backyard playing until the daylight disappeared. Those days spent roughhousing with Luke helped make John who he was, but so did his older brother's influence.

Video: Luke Voit named Player of the Week

"I copied everything he did," John says. "The clothes he was wearing, the sports teams he was liking, I wanted to hang out with his friends and follow him around and just be that annoying little brother. But the thing that stood out for me was just his work ethic."

John turns the conversation to the grit his big brother showed during his do-it-all month in the Bronx, the way he seemed to will his way into the everyday lineup. "He's always had that. He's the hardest worker I know, and I've always tried to copycat that."

Both possess a preternatural affinity for work, one that is immediately obvious regardless of location. On the field, in the gym and in the classroom -- although Luke gives the edge to John here -- there was no place where the brothers would concede to being outperformed.

"Luke's No. 1 attribute is his mindset and his work ethic," says Fitzmaurice. "That's why he's successful; he's willing to outwork the competition. [John]'s a great athlete, cut from the same cloth, hard-nosed. You won't meet a more serious, more driven, pure leader."

"Me and John always wanted to be the best," Luke says. "We weren't always the fastest or the strongest, but we wanted to outcompete you. Whether that was with mindset or toughness or going to the gym earlier than you or staying later than you or being up earlier than you, it was something we always had and we always wanted. To be the leaders of whatever team or sports or off-the-field activities, in a business setting, whatever, it's just something that we've always had."

Luke and John both attended Lafayette High School in Wildwood, where they excelled on every kind of sports field or court. The school had produced MLB stars Ryan Howard and David Freese, and the Voit boys wanted to add their names to the list of Lancers who made it on the big stage. Whether it was basketball, baseball or football, there wasn't a season during which the Voits weren't putting on some numbered jersey and giving it their all. On the diamond, Luke powered the middle of the Lancers' lineup, batting .486 his senior year with six homers, 17 extra-base hits and an .892 slugging percentage to earn first-team all-state honors. Four years later, as captain of the Lafayette football team, John was named first-team Class 6A All-State, earning first-team all-metro and all-conference honors, as well.

The boys were natural leaders, and teammates flocked to them. "[Luke] brought intensity and a great passion for the game and for the sport," says Boyd Manne, the football and baseball coach at Lafayette. "He seemed to bring the most and the best out of his teammates around him because his enthusiasm was contagious. … The work ethic rubbed off on [Luke's and John's] teammates because they were the first ones there and the last to leave, and the intensity with which they went about things was fun to watch."

The only thing on both boys' minds was getting to the next level, some next level, any next level. When Luke had to put his football dreams to the side, he threw himself full force into a new reality. And when John gave up baseball, he had but one goal.

"I really just wanted to play on the biggest stage possible," John says, recalling how he and Luke would go with their parents, Lou and Janice -- both University of Missouri alums -- to watch the Tigers play. "So, getting an offer from Missouri or Texas or some Big 12 team would have been my dream. I know Luke's talked about the SEC, but for me it was just going to the games and stuff like that that made it my biggest goal. I didn't want my parents paying for college. I wanted to get to college on my own, get a scholarship -- and I knew I could do it. I think that's eventually just where I wanted it to go."

Despite their determination, neither Voit was heavily recruited. Even though Luke was selected out of high school by the Royals in the 32nd round of the 2009 MLB draft, he was still planning to go to junior college before Missouri State came in with a last-minute scholarship offer. He accepted and made three All-Missouri Valley Conference teams in four years. And regardless of how much John dedicated himself to proving his worth on the gridiron, the D-I offers failed to roll in. It wasn't until The U.S. Military Academy at West Point's coach showed up to discuss joining the squad -- and by extension, committing to Army service -- that John could finally reach out and touch that football dream.

John had never even heard of West Point, but he had grown up playing with toy army-men figures and, in the back of his mind, had always entertained the idea of serving his country. After visiting the campus in upstate New York, he fell in love. In January of 2013, John signed on the dotted line. He'd be playing on a bigger stage. Then, just a few months later, Luke was selected by their hometown St. Louis Cardinals in the 22nd round of the 2013 MLB draft. He'd be pursuing a big stage all his own.

To this day, Manne uses both Voit brothers as examples of what student-athletes should be, breaking out newspaper clippings of the Voits' on-field exploits to demonstrate perseverance and hard work. Look at them, achieving their goals, not letting adversity set them back, Manne will tell his players. They made it.


The Voit brothers live for and vicariously through each other. They lift each other, cheer for each other, and throughout their lives have pushed each other toward greatness. And even though they took vastly different paths, somehow they still both wound up in the same place: Yankee Stadium.

It was 2014, John's freshman year at West Point, and Army's season was not going well. Despite their 2-6 record, though, the Black Knights knew that their Nov. 8 game against Connecticut would be a big one. They would be playing at Yankee Stadium, where Army hadn't won since 1960 (at the previous incarnation of the ballpark).

John had dreamed of playing on the biggest stage possible, and here it was, served on a frieze-lined platter.

"We grew up watching college football and I'd seen Notre Dame play in Yankee Stadium, so to be able to go into that atmosphere was cool," John says. "I had never been to Yankee Stadium, that was my first time, and I remember going in the locker room and suiting up in there, seeing Derek Jeter's locker. I've always been a Cardinals fan, but you can't not like Derek Jeter. … We were all like little kids in there."

Army jumped out to a first-quarter lead that the Black Knights' defense, including John on the defensive line, never relinquished, thwarting a late comeback attempt by the Huskies. With less than a minute to go and Army up by a touchdown, UConn had marched to the 1-yard line. Huskies quarterback Chandler Whitmer called for the snap from the shotgun and, with Voit racing toward him, rushed a throw that was intercepted by Army defensive back Chris Carnegie, who returned it 99 yards for a game-sealing touchdown.

It was one of the first big moments for Voit, who by his senior year had been elected captain of the Black Knights. During that final season, he authored his last big moment on the gridiron. It was Dec. 9, 2017, and Army -- which had snapped Navy's 14-year winning streak in the famed series in 2016 -- was trailing its archrival by three points in the third quarter with Navy driving for another score. John raced through the snow and mud at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia to make a shoestring tackle of quarterback Malcolm Perry, who had an otherwise clear path to the end zone. After the tackle energized the Army sidelines, the Black Knights held the Midshipmen to a field goal, extending their lead to just 13-7. Army crafted a game-winning touchdown drive in the fourth quarter to win back the Commander in Chief's Trophy, which Voit lifted high in the air as his proud brother stood nearby on the sidelines.

"[That tackle] is probably a top five or top 10 memory at West Point," Luke says, beaming with pride. "Of late, West Point hasn't been what they wanted to be, so for John to bring that back and get to see him lift the trophy was pretty exciting. For him to be the captain and hold the trophy after that game was something I'll always remember."

Just a few months earlier, Luke had authored a lifelong memory of his own. It was July 3, and he had been called up to The Show about a week earlier. He was making his third-ever start and looking to make a good impression before the All-Star break. John was in town on the last day of his Fourth of July leave, so he watched his brother from the Busch Stadium stands.

In the eighth inning, the Cardinals were leading the Marlins, 12-6, and Luke walked up to the plate with a runner on second. John sensed something might happen, so he switched his phone's camera to video mode and pressed record. Luke worked the count full before launching Jarlin Garcia's sixth offering to straightaway center field for his first home run as a Major Leaguer.

"I'll always keep that video because it's the coolest sports moment ever," John says. "Watching him do that, after going to a billion Cardinals games and watching our favorite players do it, it was so surreal. I was literally like a little kid. Seeing him do it was unreal. I couldn't breathe.

"And then to watch him do the same thing with the Yankees …"

Yes, Luke impressed in that first stint with the Cardinals, but ultimately he was blocked at his position by other players. So in July of 2018, St. Louis dealt the big first baseman to the Yankees. And at Yankee Stadium, Luke started setting the world on fire.

After a brief initial stint, he rejoined the big club in late August and, thanks to a torrid final month, wrested control of the everyday first-base job for the stretch run and postseason. The 27-year-old clubbed 14 home runs in 39 games, inspiring Yankee Stadium crowds to bellow "Luuuuuke" every time the slugger stepped to the plate.

It was a different dream come true -- hearing those fans was better than anything Luke could have ever imagined. But the regular season was only the beginning. The Yankees would host a winner-take-all American League Wild Card Game against Oakland at Yankee Stadium. It was October baseball at its most nail-biting, and Luke Voit was starting at first base. The Yankees had jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning thanks to a home run by Aaron Judge, but both offenses had gone quiet, and in the bottom of the sixth inning, the tension in the air was thick.

Judge led off the inning with a double, then scored on a double off the bat of the next hitter, Aaron Hicks. A walk to the following batter, Giancarlo Stanton, put two men on base for Voit. He worked a nine-pitch at-bat against All-Star reliever Blake Treinen, one of the best pitchers on the A's unconventional staff. After the pitcher threw Voit eight straight sinkers, he tossed a 90 mph slider that Voit turned on and drove deep to right field. Thinking he had gotten all of it, Voit exploded with joy, hopping down the first-base line, pointing to the sky. So when the ball bounced off the top of the wall and Voit had to turn on the jets -- no small feat for the 255-pounder -- racing into third base for his first-ever triple, the Stadium, not to mention the Yankees' dugout, erupted in a mix of joy and laughter. The "Luuuuuke" chant was louder than ever, and the first baseman stood on the bag and smiled, taking it all in.

This wasn't the initial dream. Had you told a young Luke Voit that his greatest sports moment would come while wearing pinstripes playing October baseball, listening to the Yankee Stadium crowd scream his name as he stood on third base, he probably wouldn't have been mad, but he'd be a little surprised.

And if you said to a young John Voit that when he got his first real crack at the big stage of D-I football, it would be for Army and at Yankee Stadium, there'd be some questions he'd want answered.

But so it goes. Four years apart, both Voit boys helped bring a Yankee Stadium crowd to its feet.

Luke had always led the way, so it's ironic that John's Yankee Stadium moment came earlier -- another story for the grandkids from a lifelong sibling rivalry built on love and respect.

"He's this big leaguer now, making the big bucks," John says, a bit of mischief in his voice. "But I was like, 'Well, I played in Yankee Stadium before you.' So, at least I've got those bragging rights."

True as that may be, Luke expects to add more unforgettable moments to his brother's camera phone. And John, having graduated from West Point, has thrown himself into a new dream, a new goal -- becoming an Army Ranger and defending a nation.

You see, the dream never actually ends; it just changes. It gets sharper in some places, fuzzier in others. The where, how and even the what are never for sure. Nothing is guaranteed. But dreams exist to be chased. And in the case of the Voit brothers, the work never stops. They keep striving for more, pushing each other and supporting each other every step of the way.

"It's almost like I got to live through [John], and he'd probably say the same thing with me through baseball," Luke says. "It did suck, I obviously did want to play football; football is my No. 1 love. But God has a way of fixing something and telling me I can't do it, and he did that with me getting hurt and ripping my shoulder up. But it's a blessing, and I got to live through my brother and I got to get a little taste of it.

"I'm super proud of him, and it's almost like he got an A-plus from an older brother's standpoint. What he did and accomplished, and obviously he's got to go defend our country now, which is really scary, but that's what he signed up for and as much as it's scary, it's exciting."

"It's amazing, we're like the same person, we think exactly alike, we might as well be twins," John says. "I know we're four years apart, but just being able to do both baseball and football as our things, sports have been our whole lives, and so to see ourselves live out our dreams together doing that is really cool. And I think it's really humbled us because one bad injury could have put us out. And if you look at Luke, he's had two of those but he keeps on persevering and he's done great things. Just being able to have him as a brother, we've been apart for the past five years or since I've been at college and he was at Missouri State, but we're still able to kind of be there for each other."

Hilary Giorgi is the senior editor for the New York Yankees. This story appears in the 2018 New Era Pinstripe Bowl Official Game Program. Get more articles like this delivered to your doorstep by purchasing a subscription to Yankees Magazine at

New York Yankees, Luke Voit

Yankees Magazine: Rookies Of The Years

As Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar vie for 2018 honors, we examine the Yankees' previous award winners and contenders
Yankees Magazine

In 1940, the Chicago chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America decided to honor the owner of the White Sox by bestowing the J. Louis Comiskey Memorial Award upon the top rookie in the Majors. This practice continued for seven years, with four National Leaguers and three American Leaguers -- including Yankees third baseman Billy Johnson in 1943 -- receiving the award.

But in 1947, the chapter decided to relinquish its autonomy, inviting all members of the BBWAA to vote. According to Total Baseball's Bill Deane, a group of 39 baseball writers were asked to name five rookies in order of preference, with votes distributed on a 5-4-3-2-1 basis. Jackie Robinson -- who broke the color barrier on April 15, 1947, and went on to bat .297 with 125 runs scored and an NL-best 29 steals while handling unfathomable hardships with class and dignity -- took home the first official award, topping Giants pitcher Larry Jansen, 129-105, in the voting. Forty years later, during the 1987 National Baseball Hall of Fame inductions, the award was officially renamed the Jackie Robinson Award.

In 1940, the Chicago chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America decided to honor the owner of the White Sox by bestowing the J. Louis Comiskey Memorial Award upon the top rookie in the Majors. This practice continued for seven years, with four National Leaguers and three American Leaguers -- including Yankees third baseman Billy Johnson in 1943 -- receiving the award.

But in 1947, the chapter decided to relinquish its autonomy, inviting all members of the BBWAA to vote. According to Total Baseball's Bill Deane, a group of 39 baseball writers were asked to name five rookies in order of preference, with votes distributed on a 5-4-3-2-1 basis. Jackie Robinson -- who broke the color barrier on April 15, 1947, and went on to bat .297 with 125 runs scored and an NL-best 29 steals while handling unfathomable hardships with class and dignity -- took home the first official award, topping Giants pitcher Larry Jansen, 129-105, in the voting. Forty years later, during the 1987 National Baseball Hall of Fame inductions, the award was officially renamed the Jackie Robinson Award.

The practice of naming just one Rookie of the Year ended in 1949, when the BBWAA split it into AL and NL awards. And in the decades since, Yankees rookies have contended for the AL hardware on numerous occasions. Nine Yankees have won the award -- three in the 1950s, two in the 1960s, one each in the 1970s, '80s and '90s, and, most recently, Aaron Judge in 2017. The Bombers have never had back-to-back winners, but that could potentially change this year, as second baseman Gleyber Torres and third baseman Miguel Andujar both produced outstanding rookie seasons.

While awards are nice, the impact that many of these fine ballplayers have had is of even greater import. When a roster is infused with exciting young players who bring energy and enthusiasm, the team as a whole stands to benefit. And with Yankees players garnering eight of 13 AL Rookie of the Month Awards starting in August 2016 -- after an 11-year drought -- there's a bumper crop of recent farmhands making hay in the Bronx right now.

As we await next week's 2018 AL ROY announcement, let's take a look back at some of the top rookie seasons in Yankees history since the advent of the award.


After the Jackie Robinson-led Montreal Royals ousted Yogi Berra and the Newark Bears from the 1946 International League playoffs, the two future icons and Hall of Famers produced strong rookie seasons in 1947. But while Berra would bat .280 in 83 games and deliver the first pinch-hit home run in World Series history, the top rookie performer on the Yankees that year was a 26-year-old Connecticut native dubbed "the Naugatuck Nugget." Frank "Spec" Shea had been injured in World War II, but he took the American League by storm in '47, starting the season 11-2 with a 1.91 ERA to earn a trip to Wrigley Field, where he became the first rookie to win an All-Star Game.

Shea, hampered by a neck injury in the second half, finished the season 14-5 with a 3.07 ERA, then won Games 1 and 5 of the World Series. After Brooklyn won Game 6, Yankees manager Bucky Harris tabbed Shea to start Game 7 on just one day rest. The rookie right-hander recorded only four outs in that game, but the Yankees' bullpen got the job done thanks to five innings of one-hit ball from "Fireman" Joe Page.


While winning five straight World Series from 1949 to 1953, the Yankees continuously bolstered their roster with rookies such as Hank Bauer, who hit 10 home runs in '49, and 21-year-old Whitey Ford, who would start (and nearly finish) the clinching game of the 1950 World Series.

With the team looking up at the Tigers in the standings, the Yankees summoned the brash young southpaw from Triple-A Kansas City in July to fortify the pitching staff. Ford's first eight appearances (four starts) did little to foreshadow the Hall of Fame career that lay ahead; his pitching line featured more earned runs (17) than strikeouts (16). But beginning with a 9-0 shutout at Washington on Aug. 15, something clicked. Ford started eight games down the stretch, completing and winning seven of them. The boost he provided vaulted the Yankees into first place. Ford finished second to Boston's Walt Dropo (.322, 34 home runs, 144 RBI) in the AL Rookie of the Year race, but earned the distinction of starting Game 4 of the Fall Classic against Philadelphia. Looking to finish off the sweep, Ford took a five-hit shutout into the ninth inning. But with the tying run coming up to the plate with two outs, manager Casey Stengel beckoned Allie Reynolds from the bullpen -- much to the dismay of the home fans, who wanted to see their new rookie hurler finish what he had started.

Video: Yankees Retired Number: No. 16, Whitey Ford


The middle year of the Yankees' unparalleled run of five straight world championships saw the swan song of one superstar (Joe DiMaggio) and the arrival of another: Mickey Mantle. But while the Commerce Comet would be sent down to the Minors, dejected and teary-eyed, in mid-July of his rookie season, it was instead Commerce (California) High School product Gil McDougald who was the '51 Yanks' sterling rookie.

After hitting above .335 in each of his three Minor League seasons and showing that he could play multiple infield positions, McDougald quickly became one of manager Casey Stengel's favorites. What began as a platoon mission -- filling in for third baseman Bobby Brown and second baseman Jerry Coleman -- ended up as a Rookie of the Year campaign for McDougald: In 131 games, he collected 123 hits and recorded more walks (56) than strikeouts (54). On a loaded championship team with DiMaggio, Mantle, Yogi Berra, Hank Bauer and such, McDougald was the only player to hit better than .300 during the regular season. He started all six games of the 1951 Fall Classic against the Giants, with his Game 5 grand slam contributing to his team-high seven RBI in the Series.

BOB GRIM, 1954

If Moose Skowron had played every day in 1954, he might have been a Rookie of the Year contender; the platoon strategy that manager Casey Stengel was so fond of employing limited him to 87 games, in which he batted .340 with 41 RBI and a whopping .969 OPS. Instead, in a rookie class that included Al Kaline, Hank Aaron and Ernie Banks, it was 24-year-old right-hander Bob Grim and St. Louis' Wally Moon who won the ROY awards. Grim was the first rookie to win at least 16 of his first 20 decisions -- a feat matched by Ivan Nova in 2011 -- and he remains the only rookie in Yankees history to win 20 games other than Russ Ford, who won 26 in 1910. The Rookie of the Year ballots since 1949 were cast by three BBWAA writers in each of the leagues' eight cities, and the AL writers gave Grim -- who finished 20-6 with a 3.26 ERA in 37 games (20 starts) -- 15 votes to Jim Finigan's eight and Kaline's one.


If Gleyber Torres is not named 2018 AL Rookie of the Year and Miguel Andujar is, it wouldn't be the first time in Yankees history that one rookie was an All-Star and another won the award. Bobby Richardson was an All-Star as a rookie in 1957, but the versatile, slick-fielding Tony Kubek -- who played more than 20 games at four different positions -- would be named AL Rookie of the Year. In fact, Kubek's 1957 AL selection was technically unanimous, as the lone dissenting vote went to Bronx-born Red Sox third baseman Frank Malzone, who had 103 at-bats in 1956. Until 1957, voters used their judgment to determine who was a rookie and who wasn't. But in September of '57, the Baseball Rules Committee established criteria that disqualified Malzone. The 21-year-old Kubek had a 17-game hitting streak from June 30 to July 21 that raised his average to .309; he'd finish at .297 as the Yankees won their 23rd American League pennant. In the World Series against the Braves, Casey Stengel tabbed the Milwaukee native as his starter in left field over the veteran Enos Slaughter, and the youngster rewarded his manager by homering off the Braves twice in his hometown in the Game 3 win.


With his thick, dark glasses and tendency for wildness on and off the mound, Duren was the most talked-about pitcher in baseball in 1958. A flameout as a starter and employed by his fifth different franchise, Casey Stengel moved the 29-year-old flamethrower to the bullpen, where Duren led the AL in saves (though not an official stat yet at that time) and held opponents to a .157 average, allowing just 40 hits in 44 games (752⁄3 IP). Duren's 33 games finished and 19 saves remain Yankees rookie records, and he is one of only five pitchers in history to record eight or more strikeouts in a World Series relief performance, a Game 6 win at Milwaukee. That outing was a sweet bit of redemption for the All-Star rookie, who allowed a walk-off 10th-inning single to Bill Bruton in Game 1, and it proved to be a crucial performance as the Yankees became the first American League team in history to rally from a 3-games-to-1 World Series deficit.


When shortstop Tony Kubek's National Guard unit got called into active duty, manager Ralph Houk tabbed 23-year-old Tom Tresh to step in and join the defending world champs. The switch-hitter started at short on Opening Day (the next rookie to do so for the Yankees would be Derek Jeter in 1996) and soon developed a great double-play chemistry with second baseman Bobby Richardson. Tresh became an All-Star, relieving Luis Aparicio at short and recording an RBI double in the game at Wrigley Field, and he took over left field duties for the Yankees when Kubek returned to the lineup in August. Tresh would finish second on the team in hits (178), OBP (.359) and RBI (93), while leading all American League rookies with 20 home runs, becoming the Yankees' fourth AL Rookie of the Year Award winner. The greatest moment of his season -- and career -- came in Game 5 of the '62 World Series against the Giants, when his three-run homer broke a 2-2 tie in the eighth and helped the Yanks take a 3-games-to-2 lead back to San Francisco. Tresh came up with another huge play -- snaring a Willie Mays liner to left in the seventh inning of the Yanks' 1-0 Game 7 win at Candlestick Park -- and led the Yankees in average (.321), hits (nine) and runs (five) in the Series.


With the formidable triumvirate of Allie Reynolds, Vic Raschi and Eddie Lopat long gone, and with Whitey Ford entering the twilight of his career, the Yankees needed to retool their starting rotation in the 1960s. A trio of promising rookies came along, beginning with left-hander Al Downing, who led all Major League pitchers in H/9 (5.8) and produced double-digit strikeouts in eight games -- a franchise record for rookies -- in 1963. A hip injury to Ford led to Mel Stottlemyre's call-up in August 1964, and the 22-year-old helped the Yankees emerge from a three-team race with the White Sox and Orioles to capture their fifth straight pennant. Stottlemyre led the Yanks in ERA and showed he could hit, too, collecting five hits in a game. In Game 2 of the 1964 World Series, the right-hander defeated Bob Gibson and the St. Louis Cardinals. "The kid's got the best sinker and curve I've seen," said Cardinals third baseman and NL MVP Ken Boyer. "There isn't a pitcher in the National League with this kind of stuff." Stottlemyre and Gibson locked horns again in Game 5, putting up zeroes for four innings until the Cards scored twice off the rookie in a 5-2 win. On two days' rest, Stottlemyre and Gibson dueled a third time in Game 7, with the Cards winning.

But as far as rookie seasons go, neither Downing nor Stottlemyre could top Stan Bahnsen's 1968 campaign. While balancing Army Reserve duties that relegated him to pitching only on weekends for part of the season, Bahnsen went 17-12 with a 2.05 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP, joining Bob Grim as the only Yankees pitchers to be named AL Rookie of the Year to that point. Bahnsen finished sixth in the AL in ERA and innings pitched (2671⁄3), with 10 complete games on his record. His 34 games started remains a Yankees rookie record.

Downing, Stottlemyre and Bahnsen went on to long and successful careers, combining for 44 seasons and nearly 7,500 innings among them. But the team success that their predecessors enjoyed eluded them: None won a World Series as a player.


When the Yankees jumped from a fifth-place, 80-win team in 1969 to a second-place, 93-win team in 1970, a hard-nosed young catcher named Thurman Munson played a key role.

After a short stint in the bigs at the end of '69, Munson went to the Puerto Rican Winter League and batted .333, prompting Crabbers teammate Roberto Clemente to tell him that any season in the Majors in which he hits below .280 should be deemed a failure. That next season, despite a slow start, the Yankees' backstop batted .302 and led all Major League catchers with 80 assists.

Munson would garner 23 of 24 votes for the AL Rookie of the Year Award, joining 1968 NL Rookie of the Year Johnny Bench as the only catchers to take home the hardware up to that point. "I'm glad to see the catchers are finally getting more recognition," Munson said that November. "I think the catcher holds the club together, but a lot of the things we do go unnoticed." The gap in the lineage of great pinstriped receivers -- since Elston Howard's departure, no Yankees catcher had topped 30 RBI in a season -- had been filled; Munson would go on to become a seven-time All-Star, a three-time Gold Glover, an MVP and the Yankees' first captain since Lou Gehrig. When he died tragically in a plane crash on Aug. 2, 1979, the baseball world mourned as it had when Clemente died in similar fashion nearly seven years earlier. But Clemente's analysis had been spot-on: Munson finished with a lifetime batting average of .292.


In 1971, the formal guidelines that we use today to determine rookie status -- a player who has not exceeded 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched or spent more than 45 days on the active 25-man roster -- were adopted. So even with 16 relief appearances and one start across 1975 and '76, Ron Guidry's 31 2⁄3 innings were well shy of the threshold.

The first time the Yankees ever faced the Seattle Mariners -- on April 29, 1977, at Yankee Stadium -- they had to scramble to find a starting pitcher. Mike Torrez, acquired two days earlier from the Oakland A's, had failed to report, so manager Billy Martin looked to his bullpen. He called upon the 26-year-old left-handed Guidry, thus beginning one of the great rookie seasons -- and pitching careers -- in Yankees history. "Gator" spun 8 1⁄3 scoreless innings in his "spot start" that night, and he would go 15-7 with a 2.84 ERA in 25 starts that season, including a stretch from Aug. 10 through Sept. 25 in which he went 8-0 with a 1.76 ERA in nine starts. In October, the Yankees won all three of Guidry's postseason starts as they ended a 15-year World Series championship drought.

Guidry -- who would go on to win the 1978 American League Cy Young Award and etch his name alongside Whitey Ford, Red Ruffing and Lefty Gomez as the greatest pitchers in Yankees history -- did not merit any attention in the 1977 Rookie of the Year voting (won by Baltimore's Eddie Murray), but he did finish seventh in the Cy Young vote, which went to Yankees reliever Sparky Lyle.

Video: Guidry introduced, celebrated at Old-Timers' Game


After leaning on Cy Young winner Sparky Lyle during their '77 title run and adding Goose Gossage for the '78 championship season, the Yankees knew the importance of having a quality bullpen. Lyle's departure in November '78 opened up a spot for reliever Ron Davis, whose 2.85 ERA and Major League-best .875 winning percentage (14-2) led to a fourth-place finish in the 1979 AL ROY voting.

Lyle had gone to Texas in a 10-player deal that brought back, among others, a 19-year-old southpaw from California named Dave Righetti. And while "Rags" would go on to have a great career as a closer, he burst onto the scene as a starter during the strike-shortened 1981 season.

After going 5-0 at Triple-A Columbus to start the year, Righetti earned a call-up in late May and went 3-0 with a 1.50 ERA in four starts before the strike hit. He picked up where he left off when the season resumed in August, finishing second in the Majors to Houston's Nolan Ryan in H/9 (6.4) and ERA (2.05), and allowing just one home run all year (105 1⁄3 IP). Righetti then went 3-0 with a 0.60 ERA in the AL playoffs, including six scoreless frames in the ALCS Game 3 clincher against Oakland. Pitted against Dodgers rookie sensation Fernando Valenzuela in Game 3 of the World Series, Righetti lasted just two innings -- his final postseason action as a player. He did, however, win the AL ROY handily (the last Yankees pitcher to do so), and would go on to win three World Series as a pitching coach for the Giants.


After Righetti, there was a dearth of impact rookies as the Yankees relied more heavily on veteran players. Brian Fisher, who saved 14 games in 1985, finished sixth in AL ROY voting, and Kevin Maas, who bashed 21 homers in 79 games in 1990, finished runner-up to Cleveland's Sandy Alomar. But something was brewing down on the farm, and the next crop of young Yankees began yielding major results.

A slender right-hander from Panama named Mariano Rivera and the tall Texan, Andy Pettitte, both made their debuts in 1995. While Rivera would go on to have the more legendary career of the two, his rookie season (5-3, 5.51 ERA in 19 games; 10 starts) paled in comparison to Pettitte's -- which, itself, got off to a rough start.

Beginning his career as a 22-year-old lefty option out of the bullpen, Pettitte debuted on April 29 at Kansas City and gave up two runs in 2⁄3 of an inning. It didn't get much better from there, and after posting a 5.14 ERA in five relief appearances, Pettitte was optioned to Columbus in mid-May to make room on the roster for Rivera.

Pettitte was recalled two weeks later, this time as a starter. He performed well in his first start, allowing one earned run in 5 1⁄3 innings at Oakland, and in his next start he tossed the first of his 26 career complete games. Pettitte got red hot in September, going 5-1 in six starts, and earned a no-decision in the Yankees' 7-5, 15-inning win in Game 2 of the ALDS against Seattle. Finishing third in the AL ROY voting, Pettitte led the AL in pickoffs (12) and led AL rookies in wins (12) -- the start of a great career and a golden era in the Bronx.


When first-year Yankees manager Joe Torre declared that 21-year-old Derek Jeter would be his shortstop out of the gate, it didn't take long for the youngster to prove that it was a wise decision.

Jeter hit his first Major League homer and made a dazzling catch on Opening Day, beginning a terrific season and a legendary career. The New Jersey-born Jeter would lead the team he grew up rooting for in hits (183) and games played (157) in 1996, and the 17-game hitting streak he authored in September was the longest by a Yankees rookie since Tony Kubek's 17-game streak in 1957. Jeter would finish with a .314 average, and his 78 RBI led all Major League rookies.

Under the spotlight of October baseball in New York, Jeter shined even brighter, posting an on-base percentage of .400 or higher in all three postseason series. His fan-aided eighth-inning home run in the ALCS opener was part of a four-hit night, and the run he drove in off of Atlanta's Greg Maddux in Game 6 of the Fall Classic helped end the Yankees' 18-year World Series drought. In all, Jeter collected 22 hits and scored 12 runs in 15 postseason games. After his first parade up the Canyon of Heroes (there would be four more to come), Jeter was named the Yankees' first Rookie of the Year since 1981 and just the fifth unanimous AL ROY in history (not counting Tony Kubek).


The Yankees' run of success during the late 1990s and early 2000s was buoyed by rookie contributors such as Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez -- the 32-year-old who debuted on June 3, 1998, after making a dangerous escape from Cuba less than six months earlier and went 2-0 with a 0.64 ERA that postseason, including a pivotal win at Cleveland in Game 4 of the ALCS -- and Alfonso Soriano, who in 2001 led the three-time defending world champs in games played (158) and steals (43, a Yankees rookie record). Soriano's walk-off homer -- the first by a rookie in postseason history -- in Game 4 of the ALCS against the mighty Mariners began a string of clutch heroics: After batting .400 in that series, he delivered a 12th-inning walk-off single against Arizona in Game 5 of the World Series and an eighth-inning homer in Game 7.

But in 2003, Hideki Matsui arrived and made an even bigger splash. After an iconic 10-year career in Japan -- he won his third Central League MVP Award in 2002, batting a career-high .334 with a career-best 50 homers -- "Godzilla" announced his arrival with a grand slam in his Yankee Stadium debut (a first in Yankees history). He was named AL Rookie of the Month for June and was the starting center fielder for the AL in the Midsummer Classic. Matsui hit safely in a Yankees rookie-record 16 straight home games (eclipsed by Aaron Judge's 17 in 2017), and his 13 outfield assists were second-most in the AL. After collecting 106 RBI (tops in the Majors by a rookie that season), Matsui drove in 11 runs in 17 postseason games, yet finished a close second behind Kansas City's Angel Berroa in ROY voting.

Video: MIN@NYY: Matsui hits a grand slam in the fifth


The Yankees got strong rookie seasons from starting pitchers in 2011, when Ivan Nova went 16-4 and was undefeated in his last 16 starts (12-0, 3.25 ERA), and 2014, when Masahiro Tanaka started the season 11-1 with a 1.99 ERA in his first 14 starts and became the only rookie in Yankees history to notch back-to-back double-digit strikeout games.

A strong case could be made, though, that reliever Dellin Betances authored the finest rookie season of any pitcher in Yankees history. The native New Yorker broke Mariano Rivera's franchise record for strikeouts by a reliever (130 K in 1996), and no Yankees rookie pitcher (min. 50 IP) has posted a lower ERA (1.40) or batting average against; opponents slashed a meager .149/.218/.224 against Betances in 2014. Half of his outs came via the strikeout, and his 4.60 H/9 set an American League record (min. 75 IP). In 10 appearances (15 1⁄3 IP) from May 10 to June 1, Betances did not allow a walk, and his punchout of six consecutive Mets on May 15 helped him reached 50 K's faster (28 2⁄3 IP) than any pitcher in Yankees history.

Tanaka and Betances became the first Yankees duo -- and the first teammates from any pitching staff -- to be named All-Stars as rookies.


While Greg Bird and Gary Sanchez put together impressive late-season performances in 2015 and '16, respectively, and Luis Severino posted the lowest ERA of any rookie starter in the Majors (min. 60 IP) in 2015, no Baby Bomber burst onto the scene quite like Aaron Judge did in 2017. Simply put, Judge produced the greatest rookie season in Yankees history -- and one of the best in baseball history. After a 27-game stint in 2016 during which he batted just .179, Judge came out swinging in 2017, powering the Yankees to within one victory of the World Series and finishing second in the MVP voting. A unanimous choice for AL Rookie of the Year and the first Yankees rookie to win a Silver Slugger Award, the 25-year-old became one of the biggest superstars in the sport. At 6-foot-7, 282 pounds, the hulking slugger broke Joe DiMaggio's record for home runs by a Yankees rookie on July 7 when he homered for a third straight game to reach 30 for the season. The youngest player to lead the AL in All-Star voting since 24-year-old Ken Griffey Jr. did so in 1994, Judge became the first rookie to win the Home Run Derby outright and is the only player to win both the NCAA and MLB derbies. He would go on to break Mark McGwire's rookie single-season home run record (49 in 1987), joining Ted Williams (1939) as the only players in history with 100 RBI, 100 walks and 100 runs scored in their rookie seasons. Among right-handed batters in Yankees history, only Alex Rodriguez's 54 home runs in 2007 topped Judge's 52 in 2017. In October, Judge etched his name alongside Lou Gehrig as the only Yankees with multiple RBI in three straight postseason home games, with five of his six hits in the ALCS going for extra bases. When all was said and done, Judge led the Majors in WAR (8.2) -- and jersey sales.


Gleyber and Migui. Migui and Gleyber. Either way, it has a nice ring to it, and Yankees fans hope to hear a lot more from Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar in the coming years. Neither infielder broke camp with the team out of Spring Training in 2018, but by the end of April, both had stepped into starting roles on a team with World Series aspirations and became major contributors. Torres, regarded as the top prospect in the Yankees' system, arrived with more fanfare -- and he did not disappoint. The 21-year-old second baseman batted .325 with 24 RBI in May and became the youngest player in AL history to homer in four straight games, earning AL Rookie of the Month honors. He was slowed by a hip strain in early July that prevented him from playing in the All-Star Game, but he picked it back up in August and September.

As impressive as Torres' offensive output was, Andujar's was even better. The 23-year-old third baseman was the Yankees' most consistent hitter in 2018, ranking second on the team in games played and first in batting average among regulars. The AL Rookie of the Month for June and August, Andujar led all Major League rookies in hits, doubles and RBI, breaking the franchise rookie record of 44 doubles set by Joe DiMaggio in 1936 and tying the American League rookie record of 47 set by Fred Lynn in 1975.

So will Andujar make it two straight Rookie of the Year Award winners for the Bronx Bombers? We'll soon find out. And we'll see just how big of an impact he, Torres, Judge, Severino and the rest of the Baby Bombers will have during this exciting and promising era of Yankees baseball.

Nathan Maciborski is the executive editor of Yankees Magazine. This article appears in the October 2018 issue of Yankees Magazine. Get more articles like this delivered to your doorstep by purchasing a subscription to Yankees Magazine at

New York Yankees, Miguel Andujar, Gleyber Torres

Yankees Magazine: Home Sweet Home Away From Home

On Nov. 17, Notre Dame and Syracuse will renew their rivalry in a familiar setting
Yankees Magazine

On a steamy and hot day in upstate New York, the Syracuse Orange football team has just concluded its afternoon practice. Training camp is in full swing for Dino Babers' squad, which won four games in each of his first two seasons as head coach.

A few minutes after the workout, Babers has found his way back to his office and changed into dry clothes. After walking past a bronze bust of Syracuse football hero Jim Brown, he sits down on a couch.

On a steamy and hot day in upstate New York, the Syracuse Orange football team has just concluded its afternoon practice. Training camp is in full swing for Dino Babers' squad, which won four games in each of his first two seasons as head coach.

A few minutes after the workout, Babers has found his way back to his office and changed into dry clothes. After walking past a bronze bust of Syracuse football hero Jim Brown, he sits down on a couch.

"That's quite a conversation piece," Babers says. "When I was growing up, my dad told me in no uncertain terms that Jim Brown was the greatest football player in history. Not one of the greatest, the greatest. He was the original G.O.A.T."

Babers isn't shy about his passion for tradition and history, especially when it relates to football, and so it's not surprising that his team's upcoming game against Notre Dame at Yankee Stadium on Nov. 17 has already seeped into his thoughts.

"Football coaches aren't supposed to look too far ahead," Babers says. "And November is like a lifetime from now. But, we're talking about Yankee Stadium. It's been fun to think about how special it will be to take the field where the Yankees play. Long after our players are done playing the game, they will find themselves sitting around with their children and grandchildren, and the Yankees are going to be on TV. They will be able to share the story of playing at Yankee Stadium, and that's pretty special.

"For me, I think about the fact that I will be coaching against some of the best collegiate athletes in the world," he continues. "They are going to be well coached, and the game will be viewed by millions of people. Hopefully, there will be a few moments during the game where I can relax a little bit and just reflect on where I am."

While Babers is happy to concede that no one will ever match the legendary status of Brown at the university, the thought of etching his name and the names of his players into Syracuse's football history moves him every time he walks past the statue of the former running back.

"When you think about the history of this program and what it has done in the past, it makes you want to succeed here," says Babers, who previously served as the head coach at Bowling Green and Eastern Illinois. "Having the opportunity to play a role in bringing it back to relevance is really what motivates me."

Since its inception in 1889, the football program has been relevant and successful in more seasons than not. Starting in the early 1920s, the team became a powerhouse, losing just five games from 1922-25. A few decades later, Brown arrived on the rural campus and ran the team to a Cotton Bowl berth in his senior season of 1956.

Three years later, another all-time great arrived. In three seasons at Syracuse, Ernie Davis dazzled the loyal fan base with his running and receiving prowess, and in 1959, he led the team to an 11-0 record and a national championship. In Davis's final season of 1961, he won the Heisman Trophy, becoming the first African-American player to take home college football's most prestigious honor.

Syracuse hasn't made it back to the top since '59, but it has earned 18 bowl game appearances since 1979 and -- under the direction of Doug Marrone, now the head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars -- the Orange captured victories in the 2010 and 2012 New Era Pinstripe Bowls at Yankee Stadium.

The two New Era Pinstripe Bowl victories are just a small part of Syracuse's history in the Bronx. In 1923, the Orangemen (as they were called until 2004) took on Pittsburgh in the first football game ever played at the original Yankee Stadium.

"Did we win the game?" Babers asks after getting a brief lesson about his team's Yankee Stadium pedigree.

To Babers' delight, Syracuse did win the game, 3-0. In fact, the school won a whole lot in the Bronx. Although not as extensive as Notre Dame's history at Yankee Stadium, Syracuse owns a 7-1 record at the original and current Yankee Stadiums. Its most memorable win came against the Fighting Irish on Thanksgiving Day 1963, only six days after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

"I like when we win," Babers says. "We need to get those stats to the team. They need to understand our history there, and we need to keep it going."

Babers may not know his team's entire history at Yankee Stadium, and he's admittedly "not a big baseball fan." But in anticipation of the game in the Bronx, he has been studying up on all things Yankees.

"A few days ago, we had a player who was hurt and just started practicing again," Babers says. "I was trying to encourage him, and I said, 'You've got to get back out there and work hard. You don't want to end up like Wally Pipp.' He asked me who Wally Pipp was, and I explained that he was the player who Lou Gehrig filled in at first base for one day, and Gehrig didn't miss a game for almost 15 years after that. So, it's been fun to get the players thinking about how special it will be to take the field where the Yankees play."

Following Marrone's departure to the NFL after the 2012 season -- he coached the Buffalo Bills for two seasons -- Syracuse has had just one winning season in the last five years. But going into this season, Babers is confident that things are moving in the right direction.

"We have the opportunity to play 12 games this season," he says. "If we play those games really well, we'll get to play a 13th game or maybe even a 14th or 15th. You never know what's going to happen during the season, but you have to keep your mind clear and continue to work toward the best outcome. That's what we're doing."

As the blue sky above Syracuse gives way to dark clouds, Babers speaks about what it would mean to the loyal fan base in upstate New York if he is able to turn around the football program and get the team to a bowl game, or, in an ideal scenario, return it to national championship contention.

"Everyone is hungry for something good," Babers says as he looks out of a floor-to-ceiling window and watches heavy rain pour onto a granite Syracuse Football sign surrounded by orange marigolds. "There's something to be said for eating whatever is on the table, and that's what they've been doing here for a while. But our fans are looking to eat something that they really enjoy, and if we give it to them, they will be crazy about it. That's what I want to see."


Taking a 3-mile walk around the Notre Dame campus in South Bend, Indiana, on a clear autumn day can stay with a person for a long time. The concrete pathways that weave from one brick building to another are surrounded by perfectly manicured grass. There are recognizable landmarks and monuments that celebrate the history and tradition of the 176-year-old university on each corner of the campus and in the middle of the school's grounds.

Not far from the university's famed Golden Dome sits Notre Dame Stadium, the storied football team's home since 1930. Since the stadium opened, the Fighting Irish have won nine of their 11 national championships. Knute Rockne, the team's coach when the stadium opened and whose name is as synonymous with football lore as any throughout history, is celebrated with a statue just outside one of the stadium's gates -- which, itself, is named after him. In gold letters, the marble base of the statue reads, "Knute Rockne, Head Coach. 1918-1930. 105 Wins, 12 Losses, 5 Ties. National Champions: 1924, 1929, 1930.

Although Rockne captured many of those 105 victories in South Bend, one moment that has been passed down from one generation to the next took place at the original Yankee Stadium. It was there that the coach made a halftime speech -- immortalized more than a decade later by Ronald Reagan in the film Knute Rockne, All American -- imploring his team to make a comeback against an undefeated Army squad in a late-season game in 1928.

Almost a decade before the game, George Gipp, a star player at Notre Dame, had been hospitalized with pneumonia. Rockne spoke of his visit with Gipp, during which the young man told the coach to use his fatal illness as a rallying cry when the team was down.

In Rockne's "Win One for the Gipper" speech, the coach did just that. Notre Dame emerged from the Yankee Stadium locker room and won the game, 12-6.

In the nearly four decades between when Reagan earned the moniker "Gipper" for his poignant acting role and his election as the 40th president of the United States, Notre Dame played in several other signature games at the old Yankee Stadium.

The Rockne statue at Notre Dame faces the Hesburgh Library, separated by a few hundred yards of grass and a reflecting pool. The south panel of the library tower features the Word of Life mural commemorating "Christ and the Saints of Learning." The 132-foot-tall image depicts Jesus surrounded by theologians, doctors and teachers. The mural, with its religious and educational implications, fits perfectly on the campus of the esteemed Catholic university. Football fans, though, know the mural as "Touchdown Jesus," a name that became popular as soon as the 1964 masterpiece was dedicated. From several places within Notre Dame Stadium, "Touchdown Jesus" serves as a backdrop, and it is frequently visible on television during games.

Ara Parseghian was the first Notre Dame coach to roam the sidelines under the shadow of "Touchdown Jesus." He won two national championships between 1964 and 1974, and he finished his career in South Bend with a 95-17-4 record.

Not far from "Touchdown Jesus," in a second-floor office of the Guglielmino Athletics Complex, Brian Kelly runs the show these days.

In 2010, Kelly took over a program that had been mired in mediocrity since Lou Holtz led the team to its last glorious run in the early 1990s. His focus has been to return Notre Dame football back to its old glory, and although Kelly has yet to bring the Fighting Irish its 12th national championship (and first since 1988), he has accomplished more than any coach since Holtz.

Kelly, who came to Notre Dame following a four-year tenure with the University of Cincinnati highlighted by an Orange Bowl berth, has posted winning records in all but one season since taking over the program, and he brought an undefeated 2012 team into the BCS National Championship Game against Alabama.

"I feel like I'm upholding the tradition of Notre Dame football," Kelly says from his office on a late-September morning. "Bringing this program back to prominence is so important because that's what our history is all about. We have a history of winning, and I'm happy that we've been able to return the program to that tradition."

Although Kelly has made Notre Dame football relevant again, he's quick to point out that his goals each season go beyond that.

"We really only have two missions at Notre Dame," Kelly says. "To graduate all of our players and win a national championship. We don't play in a conference, so what else is there to play for? If we were in the American League East, our goal would be to win our division, win the pennant and then win the World Series. But we don't have that here at Notre Dame, so really, it's all about winning a national championship. It's about living up to a standard each and every week and then building off of that."

In the early part of this season, Kelly had the Irish pointing in the right direction. As of late September, the team was 4-0, and going into its Sept. 29 game against Stanford, the Irish were ranked eighth in the nation in both major polls.

"We're an emerging team," Kelly says. "We're a young team, especially on the offensive side of the ball where we have a few freshman starters who are just beginning to figure out who they are as college football players. We have a veteran presence on defense, and they've shown that early on as we continue to develop offensively. We are really starting to see signs of everything coming together, and I really believe that our best football is ahead of us."

In what Kelly describes as a lifetime ago -- although it has only been eight years -- Notre Dame returned to the Bronx for a game against Army. Including Rockne's 1928 victory at the old Yankee Stadium, Notre Dame had amassed a 15-6-3 record at the Yankees' former home, but this was the Fighting Irish's first appearance at the new ballpark.

Tweet from @CuseFootball: 📽 | Take a look at last time we played Notre Dame in Yankee Stadium... Nearly 55 years to the day prior to the 2018 game.

"The old Yankee Stadium was a big part of the formative years of Notre Dame football," Kelly says. "Before we took the field at the new Yankee Stadium, right in the shadows of the old Stadium, I wanted every player to know why that venue was important to us. It was important that they knew why we were playing there, and how that game brought us back to our historical roots."

Notre Dame won that game -- the second installment of the Shamrock Series -- 27-3. Since its inception in 2009, Notre Dame has played eight scheduled home games on neutral sites. In addition to Yankee Stadium, Notre Dame has played at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas; Boston's Fenway Park; and Chicago's Soldier Field, among other sites.

"The venues we've played the Shamrock Series games in have all been special," says Kelly, who has emerged victorious in all seven of the games he's coached in the series. "But the opponents have really mattered also. When we played Army at Yankee Stadium, there was a reverence to the game. Playing Boston College at Fenway Park also made that a highly impactful game. We've done a great job of matching up compelling opponents with the unique stadiums the games have been in."

Kelly believes that this season's Shamrock Series contest against Syracuse has the makings of another special day.

"You have a team that's in the state of New York, and that will likely be playing for a high bowl game opportunity," Kelly says. "The game will be on national television and at Yankee Stadium. I think there will be a lot of excitement surrounding this game. Syracuse has already knocked off a really good team with a great tradition in Florida State, and they are going to be a really good opponent and one that is going to be difficult to play."

Kelly is also aware of how taking the field against Notre Dame increases the level of motivation for his opponents.

"We recognize that each and every week, we carry that moniker or that label," Kelly says. "Because of that, we bring in players who want those bright lights on them. They expect to get the very best from their opponents each week. We carry that with a great amount of pride, and that's why it's important for us to play to a standard more so than anything else on a day-to-day basis."

A few seasons after defeating Army at Yankee Stadium, Notre Dame won the 2013 New Era Pinstripe Bowl over Rutgers, improving its record on the new ballpark's gridiron to 2-0. The experience of working with the Yankees on those occasions left an impression on Kelly, and have made him anxious to return to the Bronx on Nov. 17.

"It starts with the Yankees and their tradition, history and iconic brand," Kelly says. "We feel like we are pairing with a partner that is so much like Notre Dame. The Yankees and Notre Dame both have tremendous brand power, and we do things in a similar fashion. The second thing is that makes it special is the fact that we have such a strong alumni base in the New York area. So you take an organization like the Yankees, which has so many similarities in terms of its history and tradition as a sports organization, and you take the New York metropolitan area, and you have a great partnership."


A few hundred feet from Babers' office, several Syracuse players are in a dining hall, finishing lunch and enjoying what little downtime they have during training camp.

Like so many other players in the room, Kielan Whitner, a senior linebacker and one of the leaders on the team, is anxious for this season to start more so than any other in his career.

"There's definitely a different feeling around here this season," he says. "It takes a little time for coaches to get their cultures set and set their expectations and get everyone on the same page. But now, everyone knows what to do and how to do it. The culture has shifted, and we are headed in the right direction. We just have to put all of the pieces together."

One of the pieces that Babers and his team seem to have figured out already is how to beat ranked teams. In Babers' first season, Syracuse knocked off Virginia Tech, the eventual ACC Coastal Division champions. That win was the Orange's first against a ranked opponent in four seasons, and it was just a precursor to last year, when Syracuse defeated College Football Playoff semifinalist Clemson at the Carrier Dome.

"We have a great college town here," Whitner says. "The atmosphere in the Carrier Dome during both of those games was electric. It was truly the Loud House. The fans were into it from beginning to end, and long after both games ended. Those were great days to be a Syracuse football player and to be part of this community. We want more experiences like that."

Syracuse's struggle to win late in the season has hampered the team in recent years. After the big win against Clemson last season, the Orange failed to come out on top in any of their final five games. But this year's squad hopes that is all in the past.

"We hope that we're sitting in a good spot when it's time to make the trip to Yankee Stadium," Whitner says. "The games in November are the ones that stand out the most, and that's where we've struggled the most. We began talking about that on our first day of training camp this year. We need to prepare ourselves to play well in November so that we have a chance to play in December."

Whitner is aware that beating Notre Dame at Yankee Stadium will be perhaps the biggest challenge for Syracuse this November. But he also understands what a victory on that stage would mean.

"As a Syracuse athlete, there is so much great history that came before me," Whitner says. "Guys like Jim Brown, Ernie Davis and Floyd Little wore the same uniform, and I try to carry that legacy every time I put my jersey on. The fact that Syracuse teams from long ago and not so long ago won games at Yankee Stadium means a lot. We want to uphold that tradition. We want to put on a good show like the players who wore our uniform before us did. Doing that will create memories that will live on forever."


Tweet from @NDFootball: The Fighting Irish.The @Yankees.Two Iconic Brands.One Uniform.One Night.Yankee Stadium.November 17 - 2:30pm.#GoIrish ������ #ShamrockSeries

 A few doors down the hall from Kelly, Brian Polian is busy preparing for his team's Sept. 29 game against Stanford, but ever since it was announced that Notre Dame would be playing at Yankee Stadium on Nov. 17, that game has been on his mind.

The recruiting coordinator/special teams coordinator and son of Bill Polian -- the Hall of Fame executive who built the early 1990s Buffalo Bills teams that won four consecutive AFC championships and the Indianapolis Colts' Super Bowl XLI championship team -- was born in the Bronx and lived there until he was 6 years old.

"I was so excited," Polian says. "I just made my first trip to the new Yankee Stadium this summer, and when I walked in, I told my wife that I couldn't believe that we would actually be playing there. It's almost surreal."

When he was growing up, Polian was at the old Yankee Stadium frequently, and afternoons watching the Yankees play there remain some of his favorite childhood memories.

"I've been to the old Stadium dozens of times, and I have a great appreciation for how iconic it was," he says. "But I also recognize how iconic the new Stadium already is. I feel like I will look back at the end of my coaching career and be proud that I got to coach a game in that building."

By the time he was a teenager, Polian and his family had relocated to Buffalo, and he was frequently on the sidelines next to Marv Levy, assisting the Hall of Fame coach. Despite the distance from Buffalo to the Bronx, Polian still followed the Yankees closely, as did his family.

"I know I'm going to have to come up with a lot of tickets for family members," he says.

As excited as Polian is about the game itself, he's also enthusiastic about the special uniforms Notre Dame will be donning in the Bronx. The design of those uniforms combines the pinstripes and Yankees script with Notre Dame's iconic interlocking ND logo.

"The combination of the Yankee pinstripes and Notre Dame written across the front is both stunning and symbolic," Polian says. "We feel like we're the New York Yankees of college football. Not everyone loves us, but everyone knows who we are. Both brands are universally recognized, and these uniforms bring that together."


"The last time it happened, the Beatles were hot. The last time it happened, the '66 Mustang was the baddest thing on the road. I'm telling you now, you just put yourselves on the map."

That's how Babers begins an impassioned postgame speech in the home locker room of the Carrier Dome following his team's 30-7 rout of Florida State on Sept. 15.

The victory over the Seminoles -- Syracuse's first over the longtime national power since 1966 -- further validated Babers' preseason proclamation that his team was about to turn the corner in 2018, and a victory against Connecticut a week later gave the Orange a perfect 4-0 record to start the season.

Syracuse's early-season success only heightened the anticipation for the game at Yankee Stadium. The university's director of athletics, John Wildhack, was certainly excited about the game from the moment it was scheduled. But the idea of bringing a contending team to the Stadium to take on Notre Dame -- for a game that he firmly believes the Orange can win -- represents something far greater for Syracuse's student athletes, alumni and fan base.

"It will be a great experience for our team and our fans, and it will be a really great experience if we win," Wildhack says. "To play at a venue like Yankee Stadium puts our program on a very visible stage. We're building a program under Coach Babers, and we have a really good culture and great leadership. We are looking forward to playing Notre Dame."


Notre Dame vice president and director of athletics Jack Swarbrick and the university's vice president for campus safety and event management Michael Seamon have been at the forefront of planning out the Shamrock Series from its earliest days.

When the idea first began to gain traction, Seamon knew that in order for the event to reach its potential, it would have to be much more than just a football game.

"Bringing the team to an alternate location is one thing," Seamon says from the Notre Dame campus. "But for the Shamrock Series games to be true home games, we felt that we had to take all of the elements that we showcase and celebrate in South Bend, and bring them to the sites."

With that direction, Swarbrick and other members of the athletic department identified venues that were most appealing to Notre Dame.

"We've played in some great venues throughout the series," Swarbrick says. "Yankee Stadium is at the top of the list, and we are thrilled to return there this time around. The Yankees have integrated the history of the franchise everywhere you go there. The most famous players in Yankees history and the traditions of the Yankees are celebrated in the Stadium, and we wanted to come back to that."

Besides the game, there are several other elements that Seamon believes will make the upcoming installment a special experience for the Notre Dame faithful and for football fans in and around New York City.

"We will be bringing our marching band of 400 people," he says. "We'll have academic lectures with our professors and academic symposiums. We'll celebrate Mass on gameday at St. Patrick's Cathedral, and we will have a wide variety of social events, like pep rallies, concerts, receptions and tailgate parties. Our goal is to take all of the elements that people normally come to South Bend to experience, and we replicate them in these special places."

Since 2009, the reception from the cities that have hosted the Shamrock Series, as well as from loyal Notre Dame followers, has been overwhelming.

"The hunger that our fans have for this game has been unprecedented," Seamon says. "For many of our fans, this will be the one away game they go to each year. It has become a ritual for many of them, and they immerse themselves in all the things going on in these cities. It has really has caught on in the cities we have been in, as well. People who wouldn't normally be interested in college football find themselves getting caught up in the excitement."

The enjoyment among fans of Notre Dame has been matched by that of the student-athletes.

"We love to take our players to places that have a tradition like ours," Swarbrick says. "We like to bring them to venues associated with iconic franchises. It's great for our players to walk into the Yankees' clubhouse and get dressed in front of the nameplates of so many famous and highly accomplished players on the Yankees. That will be an experience they never forget."

Alfred Santasiere III is the editor-in-chief of Yankees Magazine. This article appears in the October 2018 issue of Yankees Magazine. Get more articles like this delivered to your doorstep by purchasing a subscription to Yankees Magazine at

New York Yankees

Yankees Magazine: Icing on the Cake

With a huge October, Scott Brosius helped cement the 1998 Yankees' place in baseball history
Yankees Magazine

To this day, Scott Brosius insists that you could choose any player on the 1998 Yankees who was just as, if not more, deserving of the World Series MVP Award than he was.

Nevertheless, Brosius walked away with the hardware after a Fall Classic -- and, in fact, an entire season and postseason -- in which he far surpassed anyone's expectations.

To this day, Scott Brosius insists that you could choose any player on the 1998 Yankees who was just as, if not more, deserving of the World Series MVP Award than he was.

Nevertheless, Brosius walked away with the hardware after a Fall Classic -- and, in fact, an entire season and postseason -- in which he far surpassed anyone's expectations.

Acquired by the Yankees in November of 1997, Brosius was coming off a dreadful year with the A's and wasn't even sure what his role with the Yankees would be. In Oakland, Brosius had never tasted October baseball. Now, shipped across the country and thrust into the New York spotlight on a team with its sights set on a championship, the third baseman promised himself that no matter what happened, he would try to enjoy the ride.

Twenty years later, and now the Mariners' third base coach, Brosius still looks back on the 1998 season fondly -- and still tries to deflect any credit for the Yankees' historic run. From one of his favorite haunts near his home in McMinnville, Oregon, Brosius spoke with Yankees Magazine senior editor Hilary Giorgi about his first year with the Yankees and what a wild and exhilarating ride it was.

How confident were you going into the 1998 postseason, both personally and as a team?

I'll tell you a conversation that really helped me. It was early September, and I had been struggling a little bit offensively. My average had dipped under .300, and I was just kind of grinding. Don Zimmer walked over to me while I was taking grounders at third base. He pulled me aside and goes, "I can see your frustration. Look, I don't know if you're going to hit .300 this year or not, but you need to know something. You're one of the reasons that we're in this place. If you can't enjoy a season like this, you'll never enjoy any season because this season is special." And that was kind of what I needed to hear at the time. From that point on, I let myself get back to enjoying this game and playing hard. I started swinging the bat good again at the end of the year, and so for me personally going into the playoffs, I was confident. I think our team certainly had confidence based on the games that we were winning and how we finished. And you looked at the guys we were throwing out on the mound -- when you've got those guys, you feel like you can win every single game that you're playing.

It was your first taste of the postseason. Any jitters or butterflies the night before your first playoff game?

No, it was excitement. For me it was just like, this is dream-come-true kind of stuff. This is what you dreamed about doing, so enjoy the ride. Obviously, you're going to play hard and play to win, but make sure you look around. Make sure you enjoy the festivities. Make sure you enjoy just being introduced. Enjoy it, and have fun with the experience. Ultimately, I just wanted to make sure that I was appreciating something that I dreamed my whole life of having a chance to do.

There's definitely a different feel in the playoffs. There's a different intensity and focus about it. The clubhouse was loose, but at the same time you could see the underlying sense of, "It's go time." It's getting used to the mental ups and downs, and going from the high-intensity feelings to telling yourself to relax and go to sleep so you can get up and do it again. It's emotionally draining.

Were you worried at any point?

The scariest series is the first one because it's best three out of five. You have that one game that could go the wrong way, and all of a sudden it puts you behind the eight ball. In '98 we swept the American League Division Series, but they were tight, close games with Texas. Obviously, being down 2-games-to-1 in the ALCS was the first time we kind of had our backs against the wall. But even at that point, you still have confidence. I remember after Game 3 we were going back to the hotel, and on the streets in Cleveland they were just going crazy -- they were celebrating and all that. I remember seeing it and looking around the bus and saying to the guys, "Gosh, I didn't realize this was best two out of three. I thought this was four out of seven, and as far as I know we're not even close to being out of it. Look at these guys. They're celebrating like they won it already." Then El Duque goes out and does his thing in Game 4, and from that point on it was kind of unstoppable.

It must help to get off to a good start though, which you did in Game 1 of the ALDS against the Rangers. You knocked in the first run of the game -- which also wound up being the winning run -- in the second inning. How important was it to get yourself and the team going quickly?

On the personal side, there's no question that it makes you relax. If you have some success early and get a hit, you relax, and it puts you into a flow. But it goes the other way, too. You see guys where the postseason starts tough for them, and it starts to snowball because there's so much more attention put on it. And during playoff games, you know that every run is golden. You don't know how the games are going to play out, and with the Rangers they were all tight, low-scoring games, so every run really mattered.

The Yankees wound up sweeping Texas and moving on to face Cleveland. How did you feel when you knocked off the Rangers?

After the first series win, it's kind of weird because you haven't really won anything yet; you've just sort of moved on. The first round is really just a first step. But for me personally, sweeping them meant there was an opportunity to heal up. I had rolled my ankle in the last game of the series when Pudge (Ivan Rodriguez) picked me off first, so I was pretty gimpy. If we had had a Game 4, I would have been really questionable because I woke up really sore the next day. It was good to spend a few days getting treatment and trying to get my ankle back and ready to go for the next series.

The Indians had knocked out the Yankees the year before. You obviously weren't there for that, but was there any extra sense of, "We need to get these guys"?

There was extra intensity, no question. Like you said, I wasn't there for it, but I think it was still raw. When a team ends your season like the Indians did to the Yankees in '97, that was still talked about. Of course, you're playing for your own motivations, and you're playing for an opportunity to get to the World Series, but to be able to beat the team that got you the year before definitely added another level of intensity to that series.

You punched your ticket to the World Series at Yankee Stadium. Going into that game, did you have any doubt that you were going to win?

No. I think you have to go in saying, "This is ours, now, and we're going to win it." That's how we felt. As the game went on and the score started to dictate thoughts of, "Hey, if we get a few more outs, we're going to win this," that's when the excitement starts to grow a little bit. So that celebration, for me, meant something. We had won the American League, and we were going to the World Series, and I was like, "No way." Punching that ticket, that dog pile, that celebration was fun.

People were going nuts. It's so cliche, but it really is the stuff you dream about. You think, "This is what the big leagues should be." You hope for it. You dream about it your whole life, and then you realize, "Wow, I'm actually going to get the chance to play in a World Series."

Heading into the World Series, what did you know about the Padres and what did you expect facing them?

We knew they beat two good teams to get to the World Series, so we had all the respect in the world for them. We knew they were a good team and could beat good teams offensively, plus they were really balanced on the mound. They had Kevin Brown and Sterling Hitchcock; a great closer in the 'pen with some good guys in between. So, we felt like we were playing the best from that league, and we felt like it was going to be a battle.

After winning the first two games in the Bronx, what's the confidence level on the plane ride to California?

Winning Game 1, to come from behind like that, that was a big win. Tino [Martinez] had the big home run, and it was huge to find a way to win that game against Kevin Brown, who was really good, really nasty. And in Game 2, we swung the bats well and took advantage of some mistakes. Any time you can leave home up 2 games to none, you feel great. But you also know how a series can turn, and you've watched enough playoff series to know that when you get a team to their home field, the series is far from over. So, we certainly didn't feel like it was over. We were treating every game like it was the most important game of the Series, because it was.

Take me through Game 3 in San Diego.

I think Sterling and Coney (David Cone) both had no-hitters going through the first four or five innings. So, it was a close game. But the thing that Joe Torre talked about all year long was, just grind. That was what we always talked about, how we had to keep grinding -- that's how you get through the season and these close games. That kicked in, and you're just hoping that you'll be the first one to crack the door.

Instead, San Diego got on the board first, scoring three runs in the bottom of the sixth, and then you're the guy leading off the top of the seventh. What was your approach?

I was seeing the ball pretty well off of Sterling, and to me it was just about getting on base. Just get on base and try to get an inning going. You kind of have to stay away from the thinking of, "Geez, we only have nine outs left," and instead think, "Let's score some runs."

So, the count went to 3-2, and as he should with a three-run lead, he didn't want to walk the leadoff hitter. I got a fastball to hit, and I just put a good swing on it.

Video: WS1998 Gm3: Brosius comes up big with two homers

How did the trip around the bases feel after that home run? Was there a bit of a spark?

It was kind of cool, but we were still down, and we knew we had a ways to go. But at the same point, it's like, "Wow, I just hit a World Series home run." It was a cool feeling, and a run is a run. The game was still close, and so to get one run closer it was great to feel like you'd helped. But there was no question I was rounding the bases thinking, "This is pretty cool." The little kid takes over.

In the next inning you come up again, this time against Trevor Hoffman, who, like Mariano Rivera, was a future Hall of Famer. How did you feel facing him?

That inning was a heck of an inning for our whole offense. If you look at some of the at-bats even before I got up, you'll remember that Tino had a great at-bat, Bernie [Williams] had a great at-bat, so there were a bunch of good things that led up to me coming to the plate. I had seen Trevor earlier that year -- he had struck me out in the All-Star Game -- and actually I think that helped me because at least I had seen him. I wasn't facing him totally for the first time. Going up to the plate I certainly wasn't thinking home run, though. I just wanted to get a pitch to hit and hit the ball hard and see what happens.

And then …?

And then he gave me a fastball, and I hit it good. When I hit it, I was thinking, "Is it going to be enough?" I was just worried about if it was going to carry. As I'm running down the line, I was waiting to see if it makes it over the fence or not. When it does, I think that's when the hands go up, and it's that initial reaction of, "Yes!" No question, that was probably my No. 1 highlight. To hit a home run to put you ahead, and at that point you see the dugout and the guys coming out, and you can't wait to get to home plate and high-five everyone.

In Game 4, you're facing Kevin Brown again, their ace. How confident is the team now that you're one win away from a World Series victory?

I think it was Tony Gwynn in an interview after Game 3 who said something like, "They're a great team over there, but I can't hand them the title until they win four, and they haven't won four yet." And he was exactly right. We knew this thing was not over. The thought process is, treat it like a must-win. And Kevin was tough. He was good that day, and we were struggling to score. But Andy Pettitte was good that day, too, and it was just another one of those close games.

You had a 1-0 lead going into the eighth inning when you come up with the bases loaded. How badly do you want to knock in a couple of insurance runs there?

Definitely. The infield was in, and I was fortunate because Brownie had a ton of movement on his ball that day -- he was throwing hard with a lot of sink. Typically, my approach off him was to pull something because everything was running in on you. I was able to get just enough barrel on something to get the ball into the outfield.

You knocked in one run, then the team added another and you knew you had the greatest closer of all time waiting in the bullpen. Are you counting the minutes and seconds at that point?

You're definitely counting outs.

The last batter of the game, Mark Sweeney, comes up, and hits a grounder to you. Are you thinking anything at that point, or is it just muscle memory?

What's funny is when I got traded over, (third base coach) Willie Randolph would hit me ground balls every day. And for the last ground ball of the day, I would always say to myself, "OK, it's two outs in the World Series." I'd tell myself that every single day. "Two outs in the World Series, last out of the season, make the play." I don't know why I did that. I guess I figured we were going to be in the playoffs so maybe I was trying to get myself used to the feeling, but it was just something I would tell myself. So, when the ball was hit to me I was like, "No way!" I started jumping in the air when I didn't airmail the throw. And then it's pandemonium.

Describe the rush of feelings in that moment.

I can't speak for the other guys, but for me it was just pure joy. My family told me the way I was jumping around, I looked like Tigger. And I was like, "I was jumping around?" I didn't even know. It's just joy, and you don't even know what you're doing. You can't wait to jump and hug guys -- it's the coolest feeling ever.

What do you remember feeling when you were named MVP of the World Series?

It was like icing on the cake. I saw it as a really awesome award to get, but it didn't matter because we won, and that's all I cared about. When they announced it, I remember I was wearing a hat, but I looked at it and it was the World Series champions hat. I gave it to someone and put on our team hat instead because we -- the team -- won the World Series, and that's what it was about. It was cool, and it was something I was proud of, but a lot of guys did their job and could have gotten that award.

What kind of bond do you share with those guys? How does a season like that connect you?

I think as time goes on you realize more and more how special it was. When you're in the middle of it and you're still playing and winning, you don't really think about it in those terms. When '99 comes you just say, "Let's do this again." Same thing in 2000. But now that we're separated from it, you can look back and say, "Wow, that was a pretty special year."

This interview is part of a season- long series of Q&A's with the 1998 Yankees and has been edited for clarity and length.

Hilary Giorgi is the senior editor of Yankees Magazine. This article appears in the October 2018 issue of Yankees Magazine. Get more articles like this delivered to your doorstep by purchasing a subscription to Yankees Magazine at

New York Yankees

Yankees Magazine: Split Personality

For five successful seasons, Masahiro Tanaka has balanced impeccable command and a fiery competitiveness on the field with a playful, positive attitude off it
Yankees Magazine

On the days he starts, Masahiro Tanaka leans back in his chair in the spacious Yankees clubhouse. His legs are tilted straight up at an angle to the floor, feet perched flat against the glass partition that separates one locker from the next. Or, in Tanaka's case, the glass offering privacy from the open doorway that leads out of the clubhouse toward manager Aaron Boone's office and that of equipment manager Rob Cucuzza.

While the pitcher often has headphones on while he lounges during the hours prior to game time, today he is enjoying (or more likely ignoring) the rap mix Aaron Judge has blasting in the locker room. The soon-to-be 30-year-old is fixated on his iPad with the No. 19 displayed upside-down on the back cover. It's unclear if the few intermittent yawns are because he's tired, bored or just so focused on what he's doing that it is draining him. Regardless, there's no worry that he'll have a narcoleptic episode while on the Yankee Stadium mound tonight. Out there, this laid-back, chilled-out Tanaka transforms into something entirely different.

On the days he starts, Masahiro Tanaka leans back in his chair in the spacious Yankees clubhouse. His legs are tilted straight up at an angle to the floor, feet perched flat against the glass partition that separates one locker from the next. Or, in Tanaka's case, the glass offering privacy from the open doorway that leads out of the clubhouse toward manager Aaron Boone's office and that of equipment manager Rob Cucuzza.

While the pitcher often has headphones on while he lounges during the hours prior to game time, today he is enjoying (or more likely ignoring) the rap mix Aaron Judge has blasting in the locker room. The soon-to-be 30-year-old is fixated on his iPad with the No. 19 displayed upside-down on the back cover. It's unclear if the few intermittent yawns are because he's tired, bored or just so focused on what he's doing that it is draining him. Regardless, there's no worry that he'll have a narcoleptic episode while on the Yankee Stadium mound tonight. Out there, this laid-back, chilled-out Tanaka transforms into something entirely different.

"Masa in the clubhouse is quiet, goes about his business," says catcher Austin Romine. "He'll be loose and joke around a little bit, but he's just quiet. When he gets on the mound, it's a complete flip. He's locked in. Every movement he has is for a reason. He's animated at times, and he expects a lot. I think that flows over into the game."

"On the mound, he's serious," Luis Severino adds. "He's thinking about his job; he's focused. Sometimes when he's coming off the mound, I'll try to look in his eyes, but he's so focused he can't even see me. He's two different people."

That focus was clearly on display Aug. 27. While this particular contest didn't have quite as much riding on it as some of the others Tanaka has pitched (his 1-0 victory over the Cleveland Indians in Game 3 of the 2017 American League Division Series comes to mind), his determination on the mound never wavers.

In the top of the fourth inning of a scoreless game against the White Sox, Tanaka had loaded the bases with nobody out. The Yankees -- looking to notch their fifth straight win despite a depleted lineup missing the names Judge, Sanchez and Gregorius -- had managed just one hit against Chicago's emerging ace, Carlos Rodon. Tanaka knew he had to at least limit the damage in this inning, or his team would be in a tough spot.

"I think No. 1 is just going batter by batter and then pitch by pitch," Tanaka says, assisted by Major League interpreter Shingo Horie. "You can't let your mind get caught up in, 'Bases loaded, no outs, oh my God!' You've got to look at it small and basically look at it one pitch at a time and try to execute that pitch. That's obviously an important thing. The other important thing really comes down to the strong burning desire to want to get out of that inning. You really have to want that result."

Tanaka struck out the next two batters, then induced a ground ball up the middle that ricocheted off his glove and right to Gleyber Torres, who fired the ball to first to end the inning. Tanaka roared as he walked off the mound. In the bottom of the frame, after a Miguel Andujar walk and a Luke Voit flyout, Torres crushed his 20th home run of the season to straightaway center field to give the Yankees a 2-0 lead.

Although three errors would contribute to an eventual 6-2 loss, that fourth-inning execution was quintessential Tanaka. He is calm and soft-spoken off the mound and disarmingly witty. On the hill, he is an intense competitor with a burning desire to be perfect and an arsenal unlike many others in Major League Baseball. And it's been his honor to put both sides of himself on display for Yankees fans these last five years.


Heading into 2014, CC Sabathia was coming off a down season; his years as an ace seemed behind him. The Yankees were in the market for a young arm to anchor their pitching staff, and the seven-year, $155 million pact to which they signed 25-year-old Tanaka implied that he was just the man for the job.

When Tanaka made the decision to leave stardom in Japan for an uncertain future in America, he brought with him a 24-0 record and championship ring from his last season as a Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagle. Along with those achievements, though, came huge expectations that likely incurred some baggage fees on the flight over to the States.

Five years into the deal, Tanaka has mostly lived up to those expectations. The pitcher made the All-Star team in 2014 and finished fifth in the American League Rookie of the Year voting. He has started three Opening Days for the Yankees and has racked up double-digit wins every year.

The control specialist has been a stabilizing force in a rotation that has seen 27 pitchers (including Tanaka) take the mound to start for the Yankees since 2014. Sabathia is the only other holdover from that first year. Despite trips to the disabled list in 2014, '15, '17 and '18, Tanaka has made at least 20 starts every season. In his lone year without a DL stint, the right-hander went 14-4 and placed seventh in the 2016 American League Cy Young Award voting.

Through the beginning of September this year, Tanaka was 62-33 lifetime with a 3.60 ERA and 773 strikeouts in 128 regular season games. And while the numbers are impressive, where Tanaka has truly thrived has been in the biggest moments. Whether it's a marquee matchup with an entire country watching (such as his outing against countryman Yu Darvish last year) or a postseason tilt with the Yankees' season on the line, Tanaka seems to rise to the occasion when it matters most.

"Being able to have that on/off switch is important to me," Tanaka says. "But I think it's something that happens naturally."

That natural propensity to get to another level has produced enviable results in the most important of circumstances. In Tanaka's mind, when that switch is turned on to "compete mode," the spotlight is squarely on him -- a feeling that endures whenever he's on the mound.

"I think he treats every situation like a big game so when that situation comes around, it's nothing he's not used to," Romine says. "He treats every pitch like it's the biggest pitch of the game, and I think that's why he has success. I think that's why he's so good at locating. His focus is there on every pitch, and when you practice that over and over like he does, when the moments come where it's actually like that, I don't think he knows anything other than, 'I'm just trying to make this pitch.' I think that fact that he treats every pitch like a high-leverage situation, when those high-leverage situations come, he's good to go."

It's in those situations that Tanaka comes alive, and the fierce competitor explodes from his body. His devastating splitter/slider combination -- part of a repertoire he has spent his entire life perfecting and learning to execute with precision -- becomes almost unfair to opposing batters.

"He's almost surgical in the way he works," Romine says. "He has pinpoint control at times. His slider and his splitter, when they're both on, can be pretty devastating. He knows what he's trying to do, he knows where he's trying to throw the ball, and he commands it. He expects a lot of himself, and you'll see him get frustrated on the mound because he expects to be perfect every time he goes out. He's one of the more fun guys to catch on this team just because he can put it where he wants, and he can move it the way he wants."

When both pitches are working -- along with a two-seam fastball, sinker and the occasional curve -- watching Tanaka outsmart hitters is like witnessing the most intricate ballet at The Met.

The pitcher moves easily yet methodically on the mound. In the batter's box, hitters watch helplessly as a pitch that looks straight as an arrow for 55 feet suddenly disappears, leaving them swinging wildly and pirouetting back to the dugout as Tanaka racks up another strikeout.

"I'm approaching my 30s, and on top of that, you look around the league and you see all these huge guys, and I can't compete with them when it comes to the velocity of the pitches or the velocity of the fastball," Tanaka says. "It has to be somewhere else where I approach the game, and for me that is to command the ball well. I think the most important aspect of being able to command the ball well really comes down to the mechanics; being able to repeat the exact mechanics is when you get good results on the pitches. That's obviously the key to it, but it's that hard part of doing it on the other hand. But just to be able to work on the mechanics, knowing where the flaws are at times, and being able to adjust that helps me in being a better command pitcher consistently."

Last year, Tanaka had batters swinging at 37.8 percent of his pitches outside the strike zone, the highest rate in the Majors. Through Sept. 21 of this year, batters were chasing his pitches just as frequently, and Tanaka was relying on his slider and splitter more than ever before. According to Brooks Baseball, he opted for the slider 33.7 percent of the time and the split 30.7 percent. He induced swings on 47.5 percent of the sliders and 63.5 percent of splitters, with a 15.2 and 22.6 whiff percentage, respectively.

"Everything comes out the same, so it's hard to pick up, especially for a right-handed hitter," says first baseman Luke Voit. "A right-handed splitter or change-up can be very effective because you think it's a fastball, and then it flops off the table."

Far from blowing people away, Tanaka is fooling them with movement and control in a way rarely seen in today's game, which is becoming more and more reliant on speed and power.

Video: DET@NYY: Tanaka fans 6 over 7 innings of 1-run ball

"I think the difference is all about how you grow up when you're playing," Severino explains. "In Japan, it's about mechanics and how you're moving the ball. In the Dominican, you just throw the ball -- throw it down the middle as hard as you can. I think Tanaka is one of the greatest and smartest pitchers in baseball. When his stuff is on, when he's got the good stuff, his split-finger, his sinker, he'll throw like 25 pitches -- all sinkers and sliders and splits -- wherever he wants. He can go right or left, and that's something you don't see that often -- a guy who can throw the pitch exactly when and how they want to. It's unbelievable."

"I think it's a God-given talent," Romine says. "If everybody could do it, there would be more guys doing that. But he was born with the ability to throw the ball and do what he wants with it. I couldn't tell you why."

Tanaka will tell you there is no miracle happening; it is a game of constant adjustment and toying with the minutiae of finger pressure, arm slot, focus and confidence. But more than anything, the pitcher says it's about knowing exactly who you want to be on the mound, then doing whatever you need to do in order to become that person.

"In between starts, you're thinking about this ideal pitch form or mechanics," he says. "You have it in your mind, and you're visualizing it and trying to get to that leading up to the start. Once you get to the start, it's not necessarily there. There might be some aspect of it that might be off, so it's more trying to be able to adjust to be able to control the ball and just looking at trying to locate it where the glove is more than anything. So, the first part, the in-between starts part of it, is about going for the ideal mechanics. And the second part, the in-game part, is just making the adjustments you need to in order to get through that game."


If it seems like Tanaka has lived two lifetimes, it's because he kind of has. Between playing seven seasons professionally in Japan and five years in the Majors, Tanaka has made more than 300 career starts, winning better than 70 percent of them, and has eclipsed 2,000 strikeouts. He has succeeded, and he has failed. He has gained knowledge and doled some out, too. "He's young, but he's one of the veterans here," Severino says.

Tanaka has pitched in the Olympics, the Japan Series and under the October lights in Yankee Stadium. He has come through in each situation.

But the man who was on the mound then is nothing like the one at his locker right now. It's two days after his last start, 48 hours before his next, and he smiles as he leans against the glass partition. Tanaka has just walked off the field, past the Yankees' batting cages and into the clubhouse. He stealthily approaches a member of the Japanese press corps from behind and, very gently, bends his knee into the back of the reporter's knee, causing the scribe to lurch forward. Tanaka, the reporter and the staffers nearby all laugh.

But the switch is about to be flipped, if only for a moment.

Tanaka is reminded of last year's playoff run, of how close his team came to World Series glory and how, shortly thereafter, he chose to decline an opt-out clause in his contract in order to remain with the Yankees and continue his pursuit of a championship in pinstripes. The pitcher is asked to think about what it all means to him, and to visualize what it would feel like to blend the two careers and the two personalities into one Tanaka who achieves the ultimate success.

"Experiencing what we experienced last year, going through those playoff games and really soaking in what really happened and being a part of that, you feel like you want to go there again," he says. "I feel fortunate to be on this team because of all the players and all the staff I've been fortunate enough to be able to work with. I feel good about the decision to stay here, and if we're able to, number one go to the World Series and number two win the World Series, it will obviously be one of the highlights of my baseball career."

Hilary Giorgi is the senior editor of Yankees Magazine. This article appears in the October 2018 issue of Yankees Magazine. Get more articles like this delivered to your doorstep by purchasing a subscription to Yankees Magazine at

New York Yankees, Masahiro Tanaka

Yankees Magazine: A Man With a Plan

A revelation since arriving in the Bronx this summer, J.A. Happ has fortified the Yankees' rotation with a style all his own
Yankees Magazine

His Yankees debut on July 29 -- a 6-3 win over the Kansas City Royals -- could best be described as a workmanlike performance for J.A. Happ. The southpaw didn't quite dominate. He competed and won, allowing one run over six innings with Salvador Perez's solo home run accounting for the only blemish on his afternoon.

Happ effortlessly located his four-seam fastball -- down and away to righties, up in the zone, in on both lefties and right-handed batters -- and got ahead of hitters. Again, nothing flashy. A 12-year veteran, Happ isn't a must-see attraction on the mound the way some other hurlers are. He doesn't hit triple-digits on the radar gun like Luis Severino. He's not Masahiro Tanaka, a wizard moonlighting as a starting pitcher who can make the baseball dip, dive and bend at will. And he doesn't carry the prestige and pedigree that CC Sabathia brings to the hill each time out. J.A. Happ is a capital-P Professional. Assured. A man with a plan.

His Yankees debut on July 29 -- a 6-3 win over the Kansas City Royals -- could best be described as a workmanlike performance for J.A. Happ. The southpaw didn't quite dominate. He competed and won, allowing one run over six innings with Salvador Perez's solo home run accounting for the only blemish on his afternoon.

Happ effortlessly located his four-seam fastball -- down and away to righties, up in the zone, in on both lefties and right-handed batters -- and got ahead of hitters. Again, nothing flashy. A 12-year veteran, Happ isn't a must-see attraction on the mound the way some other hurlers are. He doesn't hit triple-digits on the radar gun like Luis Severino. He's not Masahiro Tanaka, a wizard moonlighting as a starting pitcher who can make the baseball dip, dive and bend at will. And he doesn't carry the prestige and pedigree that CC Sabathia brings to the hill each time out. J.A. Happ is a capital-P Professional. Assured. A man with a plan.

"The thing about him is that he knows what he wants to do and is very confident in how he wants to do it," says Neil Walker, Happ's teammate with the Pirates in 2015 and now again in the Bronx following the July 26 deal that brought the left-hander to New York in exchange for infielder Brandon Drury and outfielder Billy McKinney.

A word about Happ's confidence: After arriving a day late in New York due to a delayed flight out of Chicago, Happ met with catcher Austin Romine and pitching coach Larry Rothschild on the morning of his debut. To prepare for the meeting, Romine watched video from Happ's final start with the Blue Jays. He also looked back at his own at-bats against Happ; Romine had gone 2-for-9 with one strikeout against the Peru, Illinois, native.

Romine prefers getting to know his pitchers before working together. He likes learning about their mindset. "Who they are and how they like to pitch and what they like to do," the catcher says. "A lot of times, you have to figure out how they think so you can call a game to their strengths." The CliffsNotes version of his scouting report would read: pinpoint control and "sneaky" fast with a 93-94 mph fastball that plays like 95-96 due to a smooth delivery. But when it came time to devise a game plan, Romine didn't offer much input. He just listened to his new batterymate.

Happ remembers the meeting as such: "We sat down in the conference room, and I just briefly said, 'Hey, this is how I like to do things and what I'd like you to trust in.'"

Like Walker said, J.A. Happ knows what he wants to do and is very confident in how he wants to do it.


Doing it his way has worked out just fine for Happ, who turns 36 this month. As of mid-September, he was 6-0 with a 2.70 ERA and 1.01 WHIP in eight starts since arriving in New York and 16-6 with a 3.75 overall on the season. During a time when injuries and inconsistencies plagued the Yankees' pitching staff, Happ emerged as the team's most effective starter even as he navigated his way around a strange clubhouse and a big, unfamiliar city. Then again, midseason moves are nothing new for Happ; 2018 was the fourth time in nine seasons that he was traded at or near the deadline.

It's the off-the-field stuff, Happ says, that makes relocating difficult. He's a husband and a dad now. Family takes precedent. "Gotta worry about them," he says. "If they are going to be comfortable where we live, how they are going to get to and from the game, stuff like that. Those are the stressful parts of it."

Happ didn't take it so well the first time he was traded. The Phillies drafted Happ in 2004 and he rose through the ranks of the organization, making his big league debut on June 30, 2007, at Citizens Bank Park in an 8-3 loss to the Mets. Paul Lo Duca and David Wright took him deep in the top of the first. A Carlos Beltran home run ended Happ's day in the fifth inning as he departed to an ugly line: five earned runs in four innings. Welcome to The Show, rook. He wouldn't throw another inning for the Phillies that season.

But Happ would contribute to the Phillies' 2008 World Series title run and was a member of the vaunted rotation that carried the team back to the Fall Classic in 2009, when the Phillies fell to the Yankees in six games. Philadelphia had become his home, and so it hurt when he was traded to the Houston Astros on July 29, 2010, the main chip in a package that netted Roy Oswalt, a three-time All-Star who finished in the top five in National League Cy Young Award voting five times.

"It was emotional," Happ says of leaving Philadelphia. "That's all I had known. I had gone to two World Series with them. That's where I wanted to be. That was emotional, but with each subsequent [trade] you start to understand the business part of it. You just kind of move on, and now it's a little bit easier to handle."

From Houston, he was shipped to Toronto near the 2012 Trade Deadline, and then on to Seattle following the 2014 season. A midseason trade to the Pirates in 2015 would turn his career around. With Pittsburgh, he focused on two pitches: the fastball down and away to righties and the breaking ball to lefties. He also eliminated the arch from his delivery, simplifying it in order to consistently repeat the same motion.

Happ was Pittsburgh's best pitcher down the stretch, going 7-2 with a 1.85 ERA in 11 starts and leading the Pirates to the NL Wild Card Game, which they lost to the Cubs. "He was huge for us," Walker says. "He came in and took the proverbial bull by the horns and gave us a chance every single time he went out there. Obviously, his numbers showed that. It's just a shame we weren't able to go farther [in the postseason] because it would have been a lot of fun seeing him go."

After signing with Toronto following the 2015 season, Happ flourished north of the border. He helped lead the Blue Jays to the ALCS in 2016, going 20-4 with a 3.18 ERA and finishing sixth in the AL Cy Young Award voting. In 2018, he was named to the American League All-Star team, a first time All-Star at the age of 35. But with Toronto struggling this season -- and Happ's impending free agency -- the southpaw was the subject of trade rumors throughout the spring. Happ's performance suffered as the scuttlebutt grew, and he posted a 6.03 ERA in his final six starts with Toronto. In the Blue Jays' 8-5 loss to the Yankees on July 7, Happ allowed six earned runs in 22⁄3 innings.

"He pitched against us up there, and I was just like, man, that's hard when you know you are going to be traded and you're waiting for it to happen," Sabathia says. "That weighs on you more than anything. It's hard to pitch like that. I wasn't worried about him coming here with his numbers struggling before."

Video: TEX@NYY: Happ strikes out 9 to earn his 12th win

Happ, however, insists that the trade rumors didn't affect him. "I don't really know how to pinpoint it," Happ says. "Sometimes you are just the victim of circumstances in a game -- and that's not to deflect any results. I own the results. But crazy stuff happens in this game. I don't feel it was indicative of the way I was throwing."

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman and the front office agreed and traded for the impending free agent in hopes he would stabilize their rotation. He did that, and more.


With the trade, Happ stepped into a familiar atmosphere: the heat of a pennant race. And when he took the mound for the Yankees on July 29 against the Royals, he felt the difference. "It's fun to have that little extra bit," he says. "We are prepared and ready regardless. It's still our job. It's fun and we love doing it, but when you have that little bit of extra energy from the Stadium, from the crowd, just the reality of what these games mean, that's stuff that can lift you up a bit."

Happ officially earned his pinstripes after the 6-3 win when Didi Gregorius used a personalized emoji to refer to Happ in his postgame victory tweet. Gregorius selected the bull's-eye for Happ. "I like it," Happ says, stroking his chin upon learning of the emblem. "I didn't know that, but I like it."

And if you listen to the people who know best, the emoji is, well, on target.

"Oh, he throws the ball wherever he wants," Sabathia says.

"Catching him, I was pleasantly surprised with how well he locates the ball," Romine says. "I figured out a lot that first game. I figured out how he liked to pitch, where his misses are, what he likes to do late in counts, stuff like that. He's an easy pitcher [to catch]. He knows how to pitch. He knows where to put the ball. He knows how to get guys out."

A bout with hand, foot and mouth disease, a children's virus characterized by sores around the mouth and a rash on the hands and feet, then landed Happ on the 10-day disabled list. Highly contagious, he was quarantined from the club and his family, confined to a hotel room in Manhattan. "It was boring," Happ says. "A lot of room service and bumming around during the afternoon."

But he showed no ill-effects from the virus upon rejoining the club. Happ went six strong innings for the win in his return from the disabled list and would go on to become the first Yankees pitcher to start and win his first five appearances with the team since "Bullet" Bob Turley in 1955.

With the Yankees closing in on an American League Wild Card berth, Happ turned his eye toward October once again. He got his first taste of postseason baseball as a rookie in Game 3 of the 2008 NLCS, pitching three innings in relief and allowing one run in the Phillies' 7-2 loss to the Dodgers. Philadelphia would eliminate Los Angeles in five games and then defeat the Tampa Bay Rays in the World Series, although Happ did not pitch in the Fall Classic. He allowed one earned run in two relief appearances against the Yankees the following year, a lasting experience even in defeat.

"I was so lucky to go to two World Series during my first two years," Happ says. In 10 postseason appearances, including three starts, Happ is 1-1 with a 3.72 ERA. "All the veterans on the team were like, 'You need to realize how rare this is and how special this is. People go their whole career without making it to a playoff game.' Ever since then, I've realized how hard this is. Having the opportunity to be in the hunt is exciting."

And so, as the Yankees enter the stretch run, Happ will take the ball and give his team a chance to win. He will compete, turning each at-bat into a one-on-one clash with personal stakes attached to it. And in the midst of battle, he will throw that sneaky fast four-seamer either chest high, low-and-away or up and in, wherever he darn well pleases. More often than not, it will hit the bull's-eye.

This article appears in the October 2018 issue of Yankees Magazine. Get more articles like this delivered to your doorstep by purchasing a subscription to Yankees Magazine at

New York Yankees, J.A. Happ

Yankees Magazine: The Take And The Give

CC Sabathia's big league success is hard-earned, but he is still cognizant of the debts he owes to those who made it all possible
Yankees Magazine

We begin where we'll finish, on the grounds of Vallejo High School on June 2, 1998. It's just two years since the naval shipyard in town closed down, burying the city under a strain of unemployment, boarded-up windows and crime. So much crime. The shuttered Mare Island is just one example of years of downward neglect, as a hard place kept getting harder. And Vallejo, California -- never exactly a Garden of Eden in the Golden State -- fell. Hard.

Today is the day, though. A favorite son will get his spin on life's wheel of fortune as 30 Major League teams take turns picking their futures. They'll make millionaires out of high schoolers, seeking out Hall of Famers while they try their best to avoid tomorrow's no-names. It's a calculated crapshoot, but such is life.

We begin where we'll finish, on the grounds of Vallejo High School on June 2, 1998. It's just two years since the naval shipyard in town closed down, burying the city under a strain of unemployment, boarded-up windows and crime. So much crime. The shuttered Mare Island is just one example of years of downward neglect, as a hard place kept getting harder. And Vallejo, California -- never exactly a Garden of Eden in the Golden State -- fell. Hard.

Today is the day, though. A favorite son will get his spin on life's wheel of fortune as 30 Major League teams take turns picking their futures. They'll make millionaires out of high schoolers, seeking out Hall of Famers while they try their best to avoid tomorrow's no-names. It's a calculated crapshoot, but such is life.

No one would have minded if CC Sabathia had spent the day at home, nestled in the swell of his family and friends' loving support. This is the biggest day of CC's young life, the day that he's going to get out, at least symbolically, of a place that has chewed up and swallowed a lot of kids who don't have his gifts.

"He said he couldn't take it," his mother, Margie Sabathia-Lanier, recalls. "He said, 'I'll just wait for your phone call. I can't sit at home, Mom.'"

So he went to school, and while he was there, the call did come, of course, a life- altering conversation that somehow managed not to change CC Sabathia at all. Now, 20 years later -- a generation for laymen, a lifetime-plus for athletes -- he has shown few signs that he's planning to retire, and he has proven that he can fight off the precariousness of aging. But there is a clock ticking, and Sabathia is not immune.

So, he engages in the give and the take that has defined his entire life, the generational link between two special days at Vallejo High School. Sabathia can't go back to that day 20 years ago, not emotionally or physically, but he can and does give back on its account. This year, for the third time in his career, he was nominated for the Roberto Clemente Award, which honors philanthropy as well as on-field excellence. Even at 38, the two are in balance for Sabathia. It's about how he was raised, and, yes, where he was raised. But it's also who he is, a decorated and celebrated superstar who attributes everything to the love he got, and the love he has to give.


About 25 miles south of Vallejo High School sits Oakland- Alameda County Coliseum, and that's where Sabathia finds himself laboring on Labor Day 2018. It's a bad start, one that drops the pitcher's record to 7-6 on the year. But Sabathia is six weeks past his 38th birthday, and there were always going to be some bad starts this year. And besides, "I'm actually used to losing here," the pitcher says over breakfast the next morning in San Francisco, alluding to his 5-8 record and 5.38 ERA in 17 career starts at the Coliseum.

It's a famous story, but one that bears repeating here. Dave Stewart won 20 games in four straight seasons for the A's beginning in 1987, and he spoke at the Vallejo Boys and Girls Club when Sabathia was 9 years old. Stewart, himself an East Bay native, had come through the club as a young child, and he felt a need to return and speak with the next generation. "My only motivation was to just hope to touch somebody," Stewart says.

Chatting in the home clubhouse at the Coliseum nearly 30 years later, Stewart recalls his own youth. "I can't say that my childhood life was unhappy because it wasn't. I had my sisters and my brothers. I had a good foundation. My parents. But there was a lot around me that was going on." Stewart lists all the sports leagues and organizations that he participated in as a way of staying out of trouble. "If I didn't have any of those things, I think that my outcome could have been drastically different." That was the message he remembers passing on to kids such as Sabathia. "That my beginnings and my growth was similar to theirs," Stewart says. "And that good things had happened for me, and they could happen for them."

These chance encounters form the upward rise of Sabathia's arc. The pitcher had strong role models -- his mother, his coaches, even his peers. So, he vowed to become one. In the first decade of this century, and a bit beyond, too, Sabathia repaid those who had taken chances on him with wins. When he retires, he'll have more strikeouts than all but two left-handers in baseball history: Hall of Famers Randy Johnson and Steve Carlton. The payback in 2018 is different, though. His primary currency is his wisdom. His experience. The heart of a man who actually does care.

But that passion is what Paul Cogan saw right from the start, when he was a Cleveland Indians area scout based in Northern California. "There were times when I felt like, 'What are we looking at?'" the scout, now with the Dodgers, recalls. "It happens every so often in a career, and not to say people didn't think CC was good. But why he was even a consideration outside the first round just baffled me. It really did. So, you end up questioning yourself a little bit. And in this case, I didn't. I swear, I didn't even care in this case. Throws hard. Got a breaking ball. And he's a friggin' off-the-charts competitor. It's in front of our face." But Cogan was also wowed by the structure around the massive pitcher -- the loving mother, who sometimes acted more like his sister; the father who wasn't around much, but who managed, before he passed away too young, to make sure his son knew how much he loved him; the friends and teachers and even the strangers who saw potential in young CC.

"I guess I grew up bad, but I didn't think so," Sabathia says, echoing Stewart's similar self-assessment. "People grew up in way worse situations than I did. I had love. I had a loving family. I had support. … I feel like I had a good upbringing, man. I was in a difficult situation a lot of times, and I grew up in a bad neighborhood, but I had the love of my family and support, so I always felt like I was in a little bubble."

The bubble analogy is astute and self-aware. Sabathia was always getting pulled out, lifted up, pushed forward. There are the examples that every young baseball player has, the stories of Ellis Burks buying him suits as a rookie, the same way that Jim Rice and Oil Can Boyd had done for Burks. But there is also the history more personal to Sabathia, a boy from notoriously tough waters that somehow parted for him. Sabathia grew up in Vallejo's Country Club Crest neighborhood, which was where the bad stuff happened in town, sometimes right under the young pitcher's nose. "There's guys that are incarcerated, there's guys that are dead," Abe Hobbs, Sabathia's high school baseball coach, says somberly. "There's times when there was a murder in front of his house, and he couldn't come to school because they had it taped up. The things that were going on in his neighborhood, it's pretty easy for somebody to steer you in the wrong direction. But there were not just adults, there were some peers that went out of their way to look out for him many times. If something was getting a little funky, they got him out of there."

When Cogan emphatically reported back to his bosses, practically screaming about this kid throwing 92 to 95, it struck a chord with the Indians' front office. "I think it was Paul's conviction about CC's character, and how special Margie was, in concert with his talent and athleticism," says Mark Shapiro, now the Toronto Blue Jays' president, but in 1998 the Indians' assistant GM. The 20th pick in the first round, while valuable, is no sure thing. Shapiro says that you're expecting a big league regular in that slot. An average Major Leaguer, which is no dig. In Sabathia, the team got so much more. A leader. A winner. His Cy Young season in 2007 also saw the team reach the brink of the World Series. Sabathia recognizes that the years that followed represent life as a cashed-in golden ticket -- a midseason trade the next season, then a record- setting free-agent contract to come to New York, where he threw the first pitch at the new Yankee Stadium and celebrated a World Series win in his first year. "When I got drafted, I didn't have mechanics or anything -- I was just raw," he says. "I think it was the best-case scenario for everyone. For the Indians, who drafted me and were able to get me for six, seven, eight years, however long it was. For me, to be able to come to New York. For me, my family, my life, it's been the best-case scenario for everybody. I couldn't even have dreamt this."

Cogan saw the whole board, reading Sabathia's future as he watched the kid pitch. Did he see nearly 250 big league wins? Almost 3,000 strikeouts? Of course not; that type of decoder ring doesn't exist. But although he was scouting a boy, he saw a man. "I think he felt a responsibility to his mother, to his community, to his teammates," Cogan says. "And I think he took it and put that weight on his shoulder. He was going to do whatever it took."


Sitting in the dugout of Osceola County Stadium in Kissimmee, Florida, Charlie Manuel saw a tough conversation looming. It was March 2001, and Sabathia had just Houdini'd his way out of danger in a Spring Training game, loading the bases and then striking out the next three hitters. The Indians' manager was convinced. This kid didn't need to go to Triple-A. He was ready. And Manuel was going to fight for him.

"At the time, Dick Pole was my pitching coach," Manuel says, "and they told Dick and me at the meetings, 'OK, you're accountable for this.' Because they thought he hadn't pitched enough."

Seventeen years later, Shapiro mostly shrugs. "I'm a player-development guy," the executive says. "I'm always trying to fight for more time to develop and build a strong foundation. That's just my nature." But in pushing for a chance to pull the young pitcher out of the Minors a year early, Manuel just continued the trend of spotting the greatness in Sabathia's nature -- and taking a stand on his behalf. Sabathia, who turned 21 that July, responded by going 17-5.

"And actually, in his first year, I felt like not only did we handle him right, but you could see that CC would be around for a long time," Manuel adds. Two All-Star Games followed in his next three years, and Sabathia fell in love with Cleveland, and the city with him. He had left Vallejo an untraveled 17-year-old, crying to his mother on the phone. "I was shell-shocked," he says. "I had never washed clothes. I was a sheltered kid. My mom, my grandmother, did everything for me." But in Cleveland, he began to grow up, learning the hard way about partying too hard, too ostentatiously. One night at a hotel downtown, the pitcher was robbed at gunpoint, losing nearly $45,000 in cash and jewelry. It was a hard lesson, and sad, too. Everyone wants to keep a piece of home with them when they move away, but there are parts of The Crest that were better left behind. "It's just growth as a man, as a young man," Sabathia says.

On the field, things were easy, but Sabathia kept messing with success in all the best ways. The fastball was a weapon; the slider, too. So, he worked with pitching coach Carl Willis to develop a change-up. He went 19-7 with a 3.21 ERA in 2007, but saw the World Series slip away in Game 7 of the ALCS. The next year, he proved Cogan right. He was going to show that he would do anything in his power to go deeper.

At midseason, the Indians were out of contention, and they shipped the free agent-to-be to Milwaukee for the stretch run. Over the next three months, the pitcher was a man possessed. He made 17 starts for the Brewers, going 11-2 with a 1.65 ERA. He completed seven games, and with the Wild Card race going down to the season's last day, Sabathia made his last three starts on three days' rest. He won two of them, allowing just two earned runs in 211⁄3 innings as the Brewers clinched a postseason berth on the last day with Sabathia, naturally, going the full nine innings.

"I just felt like that was what everybody always expected me to do, from the time I was 9 years old," Sabathia says of his bulldog display. "I was always the pitcher. That was always my thing. Being able to be put in that spot and being able to succeed was awesome."

But as much as fans and even other players around the league fell hard for this guy who demanded the ball every day, the pitcher kept tooling. During his months in Milwaukee, pitching coach Mike Maddux taught Sabathia a two-seamer that quickly became a weapon to induce ground balls. That was the funny thing about Sabathia, even back then. People saw the huge frame, the huge fastball, the terrifying strikeout numbers. But he could still sneak things past them. Manuel recalls when his Phillies faced Sabathia in the 2008 National League Division Series. All of a sudden, he noticed that the pitcher was trying to establish his change-up more than the fastball, defying the scouting report. But Sabathia had been falling in love with the off-speed pitch for a while. "My change-up was really, really good back then," he says. "I don't think people really realized that. I think that was my second-best pitch, and I think a lot of people thought it was my slider. But honestly, from the year when I won the Cy Young, from '07 to 2012, my change-up was a huge key for me that people didn't really realize."

And it would matter in the years to follow, when Sabathia signed a then-record $161 million contract with the Yankees. This was financial security for generations to come. His first year in pinstripes ended with 19 wins and a World Series parade. The next year, he won a career-best 21, before adding 19 more the next year. But as the accolades piled up, so did the signs of aging. Sabathia had his first knee surgery in 2006, and barely a day goes by that he doesn't feel the effects, whether of that particular operation, or of the subsequent procedures in 2014 and '16.

But still, recall the best-case scenario Sabathia mentioned. Here he was, by the end of 2011. He had won a Cy Young. He had signed a borderline unimaginable contract. He had won a World Series, and even 20 games, joining an exclusive group of African-American pitchers to have done so, a club called the Black Aces that Sabathia honored with special cleats during Players' Weekend in August. Has he done it all? "I don't have a win in the World Series," Sabathia offers. "I need that."

Video: TEX@NYY: Sabathia dazzles with 6 1-hit innings

If that sounds like winning a huge poker pot but still wishing you'd had a better hand, then so be it. Nothing about Sabathia as he ends his first decade in pinstripes suggests complacency. The wins come harder now, but he adapts. Watch him on the mound today, and he's different, but the same. He has a less explosive drive down the mound, relying on a tighter motion that allows him to land easier and control the strike zone. "If your knee is bothering you," says Rob Friedman, a guru who breaks down pitching repertoires and evolutions on his popular @pitchingninja Twitter account, "not being able to use your lower half is definitely going to decrease your velocity, but it also means he can take advantage of pitching with more control and getting hitters to chase, and doing other things that people consider pitching instead of throwing." But Sabathia's arm slot remains consistent, allowing him to thrive on deception and location. And he has the mental game mastered.

"Facing somebody like him," says veteran teammate Neil Walker, "you know if you see five pitches in an at-bat, you're going to have maybe one that's a good pitch to hit. He's going to work his cutter back door and hit the edges, and he might mix in the change-up and a slider. It's not an easy at-bat anytime you face him. You have to hit pitches that are mistakes." Everything smarts more at 38 than it did at 18 or 28. So Sabathia fights it with smarts. He plays around with the strike zone. He sees a fastball sign and chooses on the fly whether it's going to be a four-seamer or a cutter. It's usually a cutter -- the straight stuff isn't what it used to be -- because the cutter is funky and weird. He loves that change-up, but at some point, he noticed that rather than diving glove-side, away from right-handers, the pitch was cutting over the plate like a batting practice pitch. So, he modified his grip, creating some sort of hybrid two-seamer/change-up. He also recalls a recent game when his cutter started betraying him. It had "too much action," Sabathia explains, "and I couldn't really control it, so I started throwing my four-seamer. And it was cutting like this. So, it was working just like my cutter."

"He's morphed into a different style of pitcher," says Yankees pitching coach Larry Rotshchild, who has been coaching Sabathia since 2011, "but the nature of his competitiveness is the same, and that's why he's been able to do what he's done. … It's not a huge difference delivery-wise, but pitch selection-wise, and what he can do with the baseball, it's changed."


The repertoire has changed, but so has the pitcher's identity. At 38 years old, the years of taking are, naturally, mostly over. Yet with CC Sabathia, the giving is hardly new. Over the years, Sabathia has had his share of rough outings, and he endured a public struggle with alcohol. But his successes -- on a baseball and a personal level -- have far outweighed the negatives.

Andrew McCutchen recalls when he made an all-star team in the low Minors, and he and his fellow stars were honored by the Pirates in a pregame ceremony in Pittsburgh. The team was playing the Indians that day, and McCutchen saw Sabathia in the dugout. "I believe he was starting that day," McCutchen says. "And I saw him in the dugout kind of sitting there, probably preparing, getting himself ready. We just spoke really quick. But I was like, 'Man, that's CC. That's the guy.' Now, years and years later -- I might have been 19 at that time -- 11 years later, I'm here, and we're teammates." You could fill an encyclopedia with similar stories. There are scores of players around the league (and certainly in the Minors) who have taken from the inspiration Sabathia has given.

Part of it, of course, is that the big big league pitcher has a lot of teddy bear to him. Sabathia is always laughing, he's always chatting. He sits with young lefty Jordan Montgomery during most games he doesn't pitch, offering advice and insight. He has taken Dellin Betances under his wing as a little brother. And notably, he might be the least precious starting pitcher in the league. He works like crazy to get his arm and knee game-ready, but on days he starts, Sabathia still holds court in the clubhouse, chatting with teammates and even occasionally reporters. "He was a guy that I would always ask teammates that played with him, 'How's CC?'" says recent import J.A. Happ. "I always kind of wondered. And everybody, across the board, was like, 'Great teammate, one of the best teammates I ever had.' So, I was like, 'OK …' Then I come over here, and I feel the same way already after just a couple weeks."

Teammates watch and admire the way a 38-year-old pitcher adapts and adjusts, taking inspiration for what their own end games might look like. But more than that, they just seem to feed off his example Rothschild insists that there are soft benefits to his presence; he says that the team simply plays worse when Sabathia is on the disabled list than it does when he's active -- even on the four days he doesn't pitch. And manager Aaron Boone -- who played with Sabathia for a short time in Cleveland and sometimes feels more like the pitcher's peer than his boss, is equally appreciative. "He's certainly one of the glue guys in that clubhouse," Boone says. "I think CC does as good a job as I've ever seen as a veteran player with the kind of stature that he has of kind of connecting with different people -- young, old, different backgrounds. He's just got a way about him that's approachable. I think he makes guys feel comfortable."

Sabathia doesn't shy away from the role -- or the perception. He knows that the work he does with the young players will pay off down the road, even after he's gone. It's a different kind of legacy that the 18-year veteran is after. Talk to him about the things he'll eventually miss in retirement, and he laughs off the question. He's mainly excited to be a bit lazier, and determined to avoid any type of livelihood that requires him to wear a collared shirt. His fear isn't being 40 and aimless; it's seeing all that he built come crashing down. "It'll bother me if I retired or played somewhere else and I heard that these guys were fighting in the clubhouse or stuff was going on," he says. Betraying his habit of swatting away talk of the Hall of Fame, on this morning he mentions that the thing he'd enjoy most about the honor -- more so than a bronze plaque -- would be the annual trip to Cooperstown to hang out with his peers. After all, he says, "I'm the ultimate get-together guy. I love to get people together. If I can get in that get-together, that would be fun." His wife, Amber, meanwhile, plays her part as the matriarch of two families, leading the players' wives and girlfriends in all manner of events and activities. She also puts the women to work; in late September, a collection of Yankees-in-law supported the Sabathia's PitCCh In Foundation by running the New Balance Bronx 10 Mile race, among them Rosmaly Severino, Elizabeth Torres and Morgan Happ.

The fact remains that Sabathia can't change who he is. He's still the goofy, misshapen ace, his hat askew and his smile charmingly gap-toothed. He's CC -- grinning from pole to pole when he's happy, throwing his glove in frustration when he's not. If he's sometimes embarrassed by the emotional displays on the mound, he's also comfortable enough in his skin to know that it's just who he is, and that he gets as much from the passionate explosions as he gives.

But he's also the guy island-hopping during the offseason, shuttling from place to place in a private jet. He lives in one of New Jersey's ritziest towns, and he somehow has to teach his four kids that this isn't how most people grow up -- it's certainly not how he and Amber did. "He's obviously become more sophisticated," says Coach Hobbs, who knew both of them as teenagers. "He's become more of a Renaissance man in terms of the finer things in life because of what his stature is now. But he's still pretty much the same guy."


And so we return to Vallejo High School, 20 years later and at least that much wiser. Amber noticed a quirk in the schedule this year, an off-day after a series in Oakland, and she pounced. Today is going to be about the PitCCh In Foundation. It's going to be about the pieces of their hearts that still consider Vallejo home. "That dude started talking to me at 13 years old and told me that he was going to make it, and he'll never forget where he was born and raised," CC's mother, Margie, says. "And that's amazing. He's doing it!"

For years, the PitCCh In Foundation has been working with kids in Vallejo and New York, refurbishing ballfields and providing backpacks filled with school supplies. Today will be the first event the foundation does for high school students, as all 1,700 kids at CC and Amber's alma mater pack into the football stadium for a unique assembly. The Sabathias look right at home here, and they should. The next field over, where Vallejo's baseball team plays, is named for CC, and Josh Ramos, the school's athletic director, says that the local hero's presence goes well beyond a sign on the scoreboard. You want proof? During the event, at which other prominent Vallejo natives such as former UFC fighter Mark Muñoz and the up-and-coming hip-hop quartet SOB x RBE chatted with and performed for the students, the city of Vallejo unveiled a proclamation declaring Sept. 6, 2018, as CC and Amber Sabathia Day.

"CC Sabathia is the one name at this high school that everybody knows," says Ramos. "It doesn't matter if you're a freshman or a senior. This school's been around for 150 years. And he's the one name that everybody in the city of Vallejo knows."

So today is about giving, a familiar feeling for Vallejo's first couple. But it's also about showing up, about making sure that the kids in the stands get more than just a sweet Jordan Brand backpack. They need to see what it looks like to be active participants in the world. As Amber is fond of saying, anyone can write a check, and that's doubly true for CC, who has earned more than $250 million over his career. Time, though, is precious.

It's the connection that bonds Jim Rice and Oil Can Boyd to Ellis Burks to CC Sabathia and beyond. Days earlier, upon hearing what the Sabathias had planned at the high school, Stewart beamed at the idea that he played a role in making it happen. Years ago, he had just wanted to inspire someone, and by association, he's impacting the lives of 1,700 high school kids he'll probably never meet. That's the give and take, though -- a positive, mutually beneficial arrangement. Amber looks at her husband, and of course she knows that she's looking at an extraordinary Major League pitcher. But that's not what grabs her attention. "I see a very confident man that knows what he wants to do and knows where he is in life," she says, and she smiles at the import, the memory of the high school boy that she and her friends kept out of trouble, in ways that the big man on campus never even realized. "The CC way back then probably wouldn't have done something like this because he didn't live the life to see what Vallejo did for him. It was such an impactful part of his life, but he didn't know that then. Now he does. Him coming back and being here, it means more than him going out there and pitching."

Back when he could get outs without even trying, he needed help getting out. These days, the outs come harder. But the off-field work, getting kids out of the situations that he defeated, that stuff comes easily. It's a cycle, ever continuing. Dave Stewart inspired him as a young kid? He devotes himself to doing the same. Charlie Manuel and Dick Pole and Mark Shapiro got him out of the Minors, and Ellis Burks made sure he kept his head above water, so he takes his youngest teammates, fresh off the buses, and shows them how to live like big leaguers.

And as for Amber, for Margie, for Coach Hobbs and all the people who helped him survive? CC takes them with him in his heart wherever he goes. Because of them, his life is a best-case scenario. And even as he has evolved, he's still totally recognizable as CC Sabathia, barely changed from two, even three decades ago. "If you see me [showing emotion] out on the field," he says, "just think, if you'd watched a Babe Ruth game or a Little League game, the whole game was like that -- everybody on the field was like that. I'd be out there screaming and yelling. It was good competition. We had some great players come out of that city. But it was a show. And the way I am, I represent that city. It's just in me.

"That's why when you asked me if I ever could have dreamt this about my career, no! I never would have thought that I'd be third under Randy Johnson and Steve Carlton. That's crazy. I'm a kid from Vallejo. Only person to get out of there."

Jon Schwartz is the deputy editor of Yankees Magazine. This article appears in the October 2018 issue of Yankees Magazine. Get more articles like this delivered to your doorstep by purchasing a subscription to Yankees Magazine at

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