Griffey Couldn’t Beat The Yankees This Time

April 30, 1998
Yankees 9, Mariners 8 (10 innings)

As a Yankees fan in the mid-nineties, there was one team I detested more than all others.  It wasn’t the Red Sox, the team’s historical rivals.  Nor was it the Blue Jays, who ruled baseball in the earlier part of the decade.  But rather, it was the Seattle Mariners, who beat the Yankees in heartbreaking fashion in the ’95 AL Division Series.  And on the Mariners, there was one player who I hated/feared more than all others: Ken Griffey, Jr. who destroyed the Yankees in that five game series in ’95 and always seemed to do damage whenever he was up to bat.  Besides, as an obnoxious Yankees fan, I felt Griffey was overrated, while my team’s Centerfielder, the less-flashy, but equally (if not more so) laid back Bernie Williams was underrated.

Well, earlier this week, Griffey announced his retirement.  He put up some great numbers in his day (cleanly, I might add), will surely make the Hall of Fame and while I can respect him and what he’s done, I still dislike him.  Once an obnoxious Yankees fan, always an obnoxious Yankees fan.

I remember one game in particular where, if I had not been an obnoxious Yankees fan, I would have appreciated his offensive abilities.  Unfortunately for me, he put up a few runs early on in this game.  But in the end, the Yankees somehow managed (in thrilling fashion) to defeat the hated Mariners and Griffey’s awesome display of power didn’t really matter that much.

The date was Thursday April 30, 1998.  The Yankees were wrapping up the first month of what would be their greatest season ever (or at least of my lifetime).  I was wrapping up my junior year of college.  My roomate Jon (the convert) and I should have been working on a group project for one of our classes.  Instead, we decided to head to The Stadium with our suitemate Royce to catch a Yankees game before finals started.  Because it was a mid-week game, the Stadium wasn’t near being sold out and we managed to get seats in the lower level on the third base side.

David Wells, who was erratic early on in the ’98 season started for the Yankees.  He gave up four runs in six innings, two of them to Griffey, who hit two home runs (with future Yankee Alex Rodriguez adding his own home run).  Despite the fact that the Mariners struck first, the Yankees showed up to play, with the lead see-sawing back and forth until it was 7-4 Yankees going into the eighth.  In the eighth, Mike Stanton gave up four runs, before Darren Holmes (“that young man from Colorado,” who seemingly was behind a number of Yankees losses early in the season) shut the Mariners down.  The game went into extra innings thanks to a Tim Raines solo shot in the bottom of the ninth.

Mariano Rivera quieted the Mariners in the top of the tenth.  In the bottom of the inning, Tino Martinez singled in Chuck Knoblauch to seal a win for the Yankees, sending the crowd home very happy.  Despite Griffey’s two home runs, the Yankees came out on top.  Griffey would only be in the league for another season and a half and the Mariners never really again struck fear into the hearts of Yankees fans.

As Griffey put up Hall of Fame numbers, our Centerfielder won four World Series rings.  I’d rather have Williams’ career.  But then again, I’m an obnoxious Yankees fan.

When I Was There: The New Place

July 24, 2009
Yankees 8, Oakland 3

This past weekend, The Civee and I headed east to New Jersey to visit King Classic. It was a nice, relaxing trip (even if I ruined my phone by letting it get submerged during a rafting trip down the Delaware River).

One of the big events (and I’ll get to the other later) was a trip to the new Yankee Stadium on Friday night to see the Yankees host the A’s. There were seven of us, and for all, it was our first trip to the Yankees’ all-new, all-different stadium.

I hadn’t been to The Bronx since August 9 2002, when the Yankees hosted the A’s at the old stadium.  For that game, the Fat Triathlete and I had upper deck seats and stayed for every pitch of the 16-inning affair.

For Friday’s game, the first pitch was scheduled for 7, with the gates opening at 5.  We figured if we left at 3, that would give us enough time to explore the new digs before game time.

We were wrong.

Between the GWB tollbooths and navigating the South Bronx looking for a parking spot, we were stuck in traffic for four hours.  We barely made it in time to hear the National Anthem.   We got to our seats, located in the “main” section of the bowl, the upper half of the first level of seats.  The seats were great, and in a weird way, it felt like we were at the old stadium, with just a few minor differences.

Two of those minor differences bugged me, my only complaints about the new place:

1. The announcer, Paul Olden, while I’m sure he’s a nice guy, is no Bob Sheppard.

2. The location/look of Monument Park is horrible.  The old monument park was vibrant, out in the open, and surrounded by plant life.   The new park is in a gray little alcove beneath the center field batters’ eye.  It barely stood out from inside the stadium and looked a little depressing.  If you ask me, this off-season, the Yankees should switch Monument Park with the visitor’s bull pen and add some plants.  Doing so would make the new park within a park stand out more.

But anyway, enough of the complaints.

The Civee and I watched Joba Chamberlain struggle through the first (his only rough spot of the game until the eighth, when he was relieved) before heading downstairs to the ‘Great Hall’ to get some food.  If we had gotten to the Stadium earlier, we would have had enough time to adequately explore the place, but we only walked around a few sections because we didn’t want to miss any of the game.

The hall feature is nice and while I can see how some would complain about how it’s more of a mall atmosphere than a ballpark, I think the Great Hall is appropriate because it’s outside the field area (if that makes sense).  You can watch all the action, but if you’re in your seat, the hall doesn’t detract from your experience.

As an added bonus, you can see the field (or parts of it) through the hall, and there are enough monitors around the place showing the game with speakers blaring the game’s radio feed.

The Civee settled for some pizza, and I went for some hot dogs (the sausage stand was all out of sausage) and we headed back to our seats.  I’m a huge fan of the new seats.  I’m 6’4″, and there were times in the old stadium where my knees would be bumping up against the seat in front of me all game.  The seven of us in our group rotated seats (in the same section) throughout the game and I had no legroom or other comfort problems.

After giving up a run in the first, Chamberlain settled down, pitching a pretty good game.  The Yankees came back in the third, scoring two, and adding a few more runs in the fifth and sixth.

By the eighth, Joba had only given up two hits and struck out six.  He let two men get on, and was relieved.  Phil Coke got out of the jam and the Yankees struck for four runs in the bottom of the eighth sparked by a Jorge Posada solo home run.  By this time, the crowd was doing the wave and the Hip-Hip Jorge chant the Civee loves so much.

The A’s added two in the top of the ninth, but David Robertson recovered and finished off the game, and by this time, I was happy for two things:

-That this game didn’t go as long as the last game I attended.

-The Yankees winning.

We headed home while getting caught in another hour of traffic on our way.  Everyone seemed to like the new place.  For me, it was a great trip, and nice to see the Yankees finally get the stadium they deserve.

My one other comment about the stadium- people have said it’s not as loud as the old Stadium.  Maybe it seems that way on TV, or in those April games when the Stadium was half-full.  But on one Friday night in August, the New Yankee Stadium was just as loud as its predecessor.

Chili Davis 1, King Classic 0

I haven’t done one of these in a while, but I figured this would be a good one to share in light of tomorrow.

August 21, 1996
Angels 7, Yankees 1

August of ’96 was a hot, humid month in New Jersey.  My summer vacation (which I worked through) was nearing an end, and by this point,  my father (King Classic) , brother (t-shirt boy) and I watched every Yankees game, hoping that this year’s run in first place would surpass the previous summer’s wild card finish.

Even though the team slumped in August, our hopes were high.  We had been to a few games earlier that year (the last year before we got the Sunday ticket plan) and my father wanted to go to the last day game before I had to go back to school- a mid-Wednesday affair against the Angels (then from simply “California”).

There was a back to school promotion going on, with all kids 14 and under getting a Yankees pencil case (containing pencils, a ruler, pencil sharpener and a few other things).  Even though I was going into my second year of college and was much taller than your average 14-year-old, the gate attendants gave me a pencil case, which I had until a few years ago.

Unfortunately, aside from a Derek Jeter home run in the bottom of the first, the Yankees’ offense wasn’t able to make it to the Stadium that day.  Even though they managed 10 hits in six innings against Jason Dickson (making his first Major League start) and another three against relievers Mike Holtz and Troy Percival, they weren’t able to bring anyone else home.

Even though the game ended up being a Yankees loss, the highlight for the day wasn’t in Derek Jeter’s home run. Nor was it in the five runs the Angels tacked on in the top of the ninth.  Instead, in that first inning, as the Angels scored their first two runs, something happened that changed us (well, more accurately, King Classic) in a deep and profound way from that day forward.

Our tickets were in the left field stands.  We were a few sections to the left of the fair pole, with King Classic sitting in the aisle seat, me the third seat in and t-shirt boy in between us. In the first, with Jimmy Key pitching for the Yankees and Gary Disarcina on first, Chili Davis hit a long fly ball that was headed our way.  It cleared the outfield wall by about 20 feet and the rest of the stadium booed as he and Disarcina rounded the bases to score the Angels’ first two runs of the game.  The ball was still headed our way, and mostly everyone in the section was on their feet, trying to be in position to catch the ball.

No one caught it.  The ball hit the concrete, proceeds to ricochet off the concrete and hits the one person not standing up for the home run ball in the arm.

My father.

After being hit by the home run ball, King Classic uttered something along the lines as “what was that?” while t-shirt boy and I laughed at him.

Someone else got the ball, but t-shirt boy and I walked away with something that will keep us laughing.

Happy father’s day, King Classic.

The Sweep

October 27, 1999
Yankees 4, Braves 1 (World’s Series Game 4)

After graduating college, it took me nine months to find a job doing what I wanted to do.  I spent from May through December of ’99 sending out tapes and resumes to with TV stations around the country, snagging an occasional interview and little interest.  To keep myself busy, I worked a few meaningless jobs and helped coach my former speech team.  

I’d travel to Seton Hall at least once a week, mostly on Tuesday nights and coach for a few hours.  Tuesday October 26 was game 3, so I did my few hours of coaching then hung out with my friend Jon (the convert) to watch the game.  It was an exciting game with the Braves coming out to an early lead, followed by the Yankees coming back and finally winning it as Chad Curtis took center stage at the plate and on the mic.  

Jon and I were Chad fans from a game a few years earlier (I have yet to get to in this segment) where he started in left field and acknowledged our cheers.  Having the game end in extra innings on a walk-off home run was exciting.  As I left and headed for home, I said something to the effect that there’s little that can happen the next day in game four to top game three.

Had I known I’d be going to game four, I might have not said something so stupid.  Sometime early that Wednesday, a friend of my father’s gave him tickets to game four.  For some reason, King Classic couldn’t go.  So I called up Jon, who bowed out of a LCS game the year prior due to school newspaper commitments, and Setonian be damned, he was in.  

I picked Jon up at Seton Hall and we drove my old car (an ’87 Buick Century Limited I held on to until aught-three) to the stadium, encountering little traffic on the way in.  Our tickets weren’t that bad. We were field level on the first base side, but in the very last row.  The only drawback to the last row is there’s about three fewer inches of legroom in the row, but that wasn’t a problem, because we stood for most of the game anyway.  On our way into the stadium, some fans were passing out photocopied signs that read ‘Ban Jim Grey.’  I snagged one and actually think I still have the collector’s item somewhere in my possession.  

Roger Clemens, who never seemed to fit in during his first year as a Yankee started the game and held the Braves scoreless through seven, before allowing two runners in the eighth, one of whom eventually scored off Jeff Nelson.  The Yankees had scored three runs in the third off a pair of singles by Tino Martinez and [Hip-Hip] Jorge Posada.  So between the third and eighth, all we were doing was hoping the Yankees could hold the Braves to as little damage as possible.

Thankfully, the Braves only scored one in the eighth.  There was a big debate this point among some fans to the right of us whether the Braves should bring in controversial reliever and grade-A jackass john Rocker to keep the game close.  Braves manager Bobby Cox didn’t do that, instead throwing out lefthander Terry Mulholland who was utterly ineffective in one season as a Yankees starter in ’94.  Jim Leyritz was brought in to pinch hit for Darryl Strawberry and bolstered my confidence in the ineptitude of Mulholland with a home run off the lefthander.

The Yankees didn’t need any more offense, as Mariano Rivera threw a scoreless inning and a third to close out the game, with the World Series ending as Keith Lockhart’s pop fly landed in Chad Curtis’ glove.

Other than Roger Clemens dancing on the dugout, the team didn’t celebrate much as Right Fielder Paul O’Neill’s father died the night before.  The fans weren’t so subdued, as Jon and I hung around for a while, before heading back to Jersey.  

Of course, I realized early on that day that it would be much, much better than the day before.

The Mets Fan

October 13, 1998
Yankees 9, Indians 5 (ALCS Game 6) 

My senior year of college I roomed with a friend, who shall go by the name of Frank Liscapital.  Frank, because his first name was Frank.  Liscapital wasn’t his real last name, but he was memorialized in our college yearbook because the word “Liscapital” was added via hyphen to his last name because of his insistence that the ‘L’ in his last name was capitalized.

Frank Liscapital was a good guy, with one failing- he was a Mets fan, and just as much an obnixous Mets fan as I was an obnixous Yankees fan.  While the Mets didn’t have much to be excited about in the ’98 season, he was a huge Mike Piazza fan, and we had constant debates over who would have the better career from that point forward, Piazza, or Yankee flash-in-the-pan Shane Spencer.   I can admit it today, but Frank won that debate.  He repeatedly told me that summer and fall that it was “only a matter of time” before the Yankees’ historic season ended.  And in the ALCS, he was close to right.

The Yankees won game one against the Cleveland Indians, but lost games two (at home) and three (in Cleveland), and for a few days, Yankees fans were nervous.  It looked like for the second straight year, the Yankees would fall in the postseason to the Tribe, a team in the midst of a great run of its own.  The Yankees won games four and five in Cleveland, sending it back to the Bronx for the possible clincher on a Tuesday night.

My father called me at school that afternoon to tell me he had tickets (through the Sunday plan) and my stepmother wouldn’t let my brother go to a baseball game on a school night, playoffs or not.  I first called my friend Jon, but he had prior commitments.  I figured that Mets fan or not, Liscapital might enjoy the game, so I asked him and he said he would meet my father and I in the parking lot when his shift at the radio station was over.  

Liscapital and I hopped in the car, and we went with my father to the stadium.  My father and I were decked out in Yankees apparel.  But Liscapital presented a problem.  He was wearing a jacket over a t-shirt.  The jacket was buttoned up all the way, but one versed in such things could clearly tell that the t-shirt was a Mets t-shirt (a Piazza name-and-number shirt).  We didn’t expect it to be much of a problem.  Until we got to the stadium, and a few fans heckled Frank for the half-inch of Mets logo that peeked out from the top of his jacket.

Frank had never been to the stadium, so I showed him around.  We were on the field level, when he started waving to someone down on the field.  He told me that one of the walkie-talkie guys on the field was a coach of some sort at his high school and had talked of working for the Yankees in his free time.  I think I said something like “well, if you know him, you should have called so he could have gotten us on the field.”  Frank laughed it off and we quickly found our seats.

The crowd was crazy that night.  A few of the Cleveland players had made disparaging comments about the Yankees and the Bronx while the series was in Cleveland a few nights earlier, and the Yankees fans weren’t about to let them forget it.  Instead of hanging hand-drawn K’s after a strikeout, fans in the upper deck hung pictures of hand drawn UZIs.  As Indian (and future Yankee) David Justice stepped to the plate, the stadium erupted in chants of “Hal-le-Ber-ry,” his recent ex-wife.

And that pretty much set the tone for the whole night.  Despite giving up five runs in five innings, David Cone pitched a solid game, striking out eight and leaving the game with the Yankees holding a 6-5 lead.  While the crowd was nervous, the Yankees scored three in the bottom of the sixth to give them some insurance.  The Yankees held on until the ninth, when Mariano Rivera sealed up a 9-6 win that sent the Yankees to the World Series.  Dad, Frank and I hung around the stadium, me hoping that I’d get a chance to go to one of the World Series games (I would, but that’s another entry) and Frank probably hoping that his Mets shirt would go unnoticed.

As we left the stadium, we bumped into that guy Frank knew, who actually was some bigwig with stadium security.  The guy told us something to the effect of “Frank, it’s great to see you! You should have given me a call–I could have let you and your friends down on the field before the game.”

Thanks Frank.

The Convert

May 11, 1997
Yankees 3, Royals 2 

One of my best friends in college was a guy named Jon, who was a teammate on the speech team.  Jon was a year younger than me and hailed from the state of Wisconsin.  As much as a Yankee fan as I was/am, Jon is a cheesehead (with the foam wedge to boot).

On the night the Yankees won the ‘96 World Series, the team was at an away tournamet in Long Island.  The team was staying in a seedy hotel in Hempstead (underneath the Fukudaya Sushi bar) and we gathered in one of our rooms to watch game six.  Everyone cheered on the Yankees victory–that is everyone except Jon.

Fast-forward seven months to May 11 ’97.  The defending World Champion Yankees were scheduled to host Kansas City and also hold ‘Ring Day’ ceremonies on a windy Sunday afternoon. My father had tickets as part of the Sunday plan, but for some reason which has been lost to time, neither King Classic nor Pete could attend.  My father offered me our four tickets, and after asking Jon, he, myself and a girl named Gail took the train into the city and then the subway to the stadium.

Like me, Gail was a Yankee fan and had been to the stadium many times before.  But this was Jon’s first time. We got to the stadium an hour or so before the ring ceremony was scheduled to begin and walked around some, showing Jon around. As we walked around, maybe it was because of the sales job that Gail and I did, or maybe because it was because it was Yankee Stadium, but Jon started to develop an appreciation for the team.

We took our seats and watched video after video of the ’96 team, followed by the ring ceremony.  As fun as that was, the game was even better.  The offensive highlight was Bernie Williams hitting a solo shot in the third, helping the Yankees cement their 3-2 victory.  David Wells posted eight-plus strong innings and Mariano Rivera, who was in his first full season as Yankees closer walked one and struck out one to end the game.  As the game progressed, Jon got more and more into cheering for the Yankees- a big change from his demeanor that night seven months prior. 

As we walked back to the subway, the three of us all got a chance to bang on Freddy’s pan.  We headed back to school, two of us longtime Yankees fans with another notch under our belts, and the third, a (at first) reluctant convert to Yankees fandom.

Tenure? Rickey's Got 16, 17 Years

August 24, 1988
Yankees 7, A’s 6

Growing up, I spent many a summer week enrolled in different YMCA camps in New York (Camp Pouch, Staten Island) and New Jersey (the Metuchen Y).  A few times each summer, the camp would organize a field trip to a Yankees game.  Our parents would pay for a cheap ticket to a day game, and the camp would bus us to the stadium with the counselors trying to watch over a group of kids in the stands.  Pretty much every time, the seats were way up in the upper deck, in fair territory.  (What a difference 20 years makes–today it seems impossible that there would be that many cheap tickets available to a Yankees game, even if it were a daytime game in the middle of the week).

We weren’t overly rambunctious- most of us would follow the games and cheer for the Yankees.  Our favorite [collective] player would be whichever Yankee would acknowledge us.  When we were seated in the left field stands, we’d scream Rickey Henderson‘s name until he waved.  The other times we went, when we were in right field, we’d try shouting at Dave Winfield. Needless to say, Rickey had much more fans just because he had a better track record of acknowledging the kids.

Anyway, this particular game, on August 24 1988, was during the last week of camp.  Our bus was somewhat late leaving the camp- and our driver actually hopped the median right before the George Washington Bridge to get us to the stadium in time.  Before the long trek up to our seats, our counselors took us to the gift shop.  I used what little money I had on me to buy an ’88 Yankees yearbook.  A friend (whose name has long since escaped my memory) used his to buy a portable radio pre-tuned to the AM station which had the Yankees broadcast rights (this minor purchase will come into play later on).

So us camp kids spent the game screaming for Dave Winfield and going unacknowledged. The game was slow, and Oakland scored the first three runs of the game before the Yankees scored on a Claudell Washington groundout (with Rickey scoring the run after stealing second).  The A’s scored another run and the score remained at 4-1 until the eighth.  

After what looked like a comeback started by two singles, Don Slaught hit a sacrifice tie to bring in one run, but the rally was soon killed.  When the eighth ended, the counselors decided it was time to head home. We filed out of the stadium–my group was the first to arrive at the buses right outside, but we had to wait for a few other groups.  

As we left, the Yankees gave up two runs in the top of the ninth, meaning the score was 6-2 going into the Yankees’ last frame.  

We stood outside the bus, getting updates from my friend who had the foresight to buy that little radio.  Suddenly, the fans smart enough to stay were cheering–a Ken Phelps home run tied up the game and Rickey singled in the winning run. Yet most of the kids of the YMCA Camp Pouch were waiting outside the stadium.  It was a good thing there was only one day of camp left that year, because the counselors who made the decision to leave early made the list.  

Even though this one should probably go under the ‘When I Wasn’t There’ category, it was still a fun game.  And I was there for eight innings of it.

Remedy used to work as a vendor at the Stadium- and every now and then he’d get me a shirt or a cap. One of my favorites was a Henderson t-shirt (Interlocking NY on front, name and number on the back)- and I’d get made fun of whenever I wore it to school. Of course, growing up in New York in the mid 80s, I was one of maybe four kids in my school who was a Yankee fan.  I’m just glad YMCA management didn’t send us to Shea.

*The titular line of this entry comes from one of the many great Rickey stories, some of which are available here.

Broadcasters Need To Eat Too

You can blame the Morning Toast for this one.  

In the comments to yesterday’s post about Yankee Satdium’s final game, tMT said I should start a series about the times I’ve been to Yankee Stadium.  

I don’t mind if I do.  

I wrote a rather lengthy, but somewhat general post about my memories of Yankee Stadium.  While it was a nice look back, there are more to the stories than what I wrote. At least I hope they are.  So in an effort to expand the blog content, I give you the very first post in an ongoing series called When I Was There.

Memorial Day, 1997
Orioles  8, Yankees 6

While my father took my brother and I to Yankees games numerous times growing up, our most prolific attendance came during the ’97 and ’98 seasons, when we had the “Sunday Plan,” which gave us tickets to every Sunday home game, as well as a number of other games throughout the season.  The three of us had a routine every gameday from the time we left our house, to what tollbooth to use on the GWB to what food stand to hit first.

It was a great two-year run for the team, and we had pretty damn good seats- the third row back in the second level in Section 22.  Here’s an attempt at showing you what it was like (keep in mind these two pictures were taken more than ten years ago, and had I known I would’ve needed to make a photo montage, I would have taken better pictures.):

Memorial Day was one of those bonus days we got as part of the plan.  The third-place Yankees were taking on the first-place Orioles, and the game was scheduled to be on ESPN, so there was something in the air that day.

Before the game started, the three of us went to Sausages, Etc., the sausage stand right behind the Yankee offices and stadium pressbox.  While it served as lunch for my brother and my father, for me, it was typically the first of many food stops on any given game day.  We liked to start off at Sausages, Etc., because the lines were usually short and the staff more friendly than other stadium locations.

The line this Memorial Day was actually a bit long.  The three of us were standing behind a short guy in a suit.  I whispered to my father “I think that’s Joe Morgan,” when without skipping a beat, the guy turned around and said “Yes, I’m Joe Morgan–and don’t be afraid to say hello…I don’t know why people never want to talk to me here!” 

Joe was actually pretty gracious. He shook my hand and we talked about the season as the line progressed.  While he placed his order, he turned around and said that of the three sausages he ordered, two were for [broadcast partner] Jon Miller.  Before he headed back to the booth, I got an autograph (which I think my brother is in possession of).  Throughout the whole few minutes, neither my father nor my brother said a word.  When I asked my father why he didn’t say anything, he said simply “I hate Joe Morgan.”  (Of course, this was back before everyone else had the same opinion of Morgan as my father and way before he said Billy Beane shouldn’t have written that book).

The game itself wasn’t that memorable (and I’m probably saying that because the Yankees lost) outside of a Tim Raines triple, Bernie Williams home run and Derek Jeter driving in two with a bases-loaded single.

Last night, when talking with my father about the TV coverage of the Stadium’s final game, my father said he was disappointed that when asked his favorite stadium memory, Morgan didn’t mention his sausage stand run-in with the King, and a silent King Classic and t-shirt boy.

You know what Dad? Me too.