- Faith and Fear in Flushing - http://www.faithandfearinflushing.com -

Of Sighs and Steinbrenner

Hate to break it to any of you who were keeping your October clear, but my co-blogger’s scenario has been thwarted [1], and the Mets have been eliminated from postseason play.

It’s fitting, somehow, that we’d be eliminated in a game that descended from taut but aggravating (rejuvenated Lucas Duda hitting an artillery shell of a home run but his teammates consistently being cut down at second base) to merely aggravating (David Wright stumbling in ungainly fashion over a double down the line, then breaking the wrong way on an infield error to put Mike Pelfrey in a hole, with Jose Reyes contributing a cosmetic but ghastly five-hole error of his own) to predictably tragic (Elmer Dessens, aka the Last Bullpen Toy Jerry Manuel Gets to Play With Till It Breaks, giving up a Gaby Sanchez home run that could have brought down a satellite).

Oh, and of course it was in Florida, against the consistently aggravating Marlins in their awful stadium, which should live on as a memorial to the millions of ulcers it’s bred in Mets fans. The only kindness was that they didn’t drag us to San Juan for our public execution [2].


Next year, by all indications, this club will have a different manager and a different general manager — which is entirely proper, given the recent run of disappointment and dysfunction and disaster and finally pervasive dullness. Whether the team will be run differently is another question entirely. It’s one that will be very much on all our minds this winter, and about which much more will be written by me and by Greg.

But if you’ll forgive me, after what feels like the eleventy-billionth dispiriting loss of the After Yadier era, it’s a question I can’t stand to think about right now.

* * *

The record will show that the night before the Mets’ season was handed from hospice worker to undertaker, I watched a baseball game from the kind of seat I probably will never sit in again: seven rows behind home plate, all food and (non-alcoholic) drink free, an army of people on hand to fetch things.

This seat, however, was in Yankee Stadium, courtesy of my friend Amanda [3], whom I hold in such high esteem that it only makes me grit my teeth moderately to write that she is simultaneously a rabid Yankee fan and a very fine person. Amanda and Wayne and I attended a game at Citi Field [4] a while back, with Amanda amiably offering her observations of enemy territory; this was the sequel to that night, except when the three of us made these plans we had no idea that it would be the night the Yankees unveiled George Steinbrenner’s monument.

Arriving in the Bronx and finding myself surrounded by Yankee fans, I felt like Frodo when he and Sam were trudging across Mordor in their lame-ass orc disguises. This was silly, of course: If you don’t count the look of wary chagrin, I bore no outward sign of Mets allegiance. Yet I found myself moving furtively through the Yankee hordes, waiting to be exposed.

This didn’t happen — in fact, everyone connected to the Yankees was perfectly nice, including Joba Chamberlain’s father, of all people. (How did we meet him? Amanda is the kind of person who will befriend everyone in a room inside of 10 minutes and have a grand time doing so, which means this stuff happens to her.) After a bit of milling around, we got armbands and descended into the subterranean Legends Suite Club, which is two levels of dining rooms and bars and the kind of spread that might impress even Nero. I believe I started with sirloin, mashed potatoes with goat cheese and duck medallions, and moved from there to cheeses and figs and sushi. Later there were garlic fries involved, and much later coconut cream pie in mini-helmets, chocolate-dipped strawberries and assorted truffles. I realize that sounds like some absurd flight of fancy, but I’m not exaggerating. Hell, I probably left out a confit or something. At one point I found myself sitting in my padded, teak-armed seat drinking a Bellini. Why? Because I freaking could, that’s why.

It was the kind of other-side-of-the-velvet-rope night you very occasionally luck into in New York and soak up, knowing you’ll soon awaken and be back in normal life. The lone disadvantage (other than now being much fatter) was that I didn’t explore any other part of new Yankee Stadium, because that would have leaving a place where you thrust out a plate and people put wagyu beef on it. (To be fair, the club also offers plenty of normal ballpark fare.) Amanda and I agreed we’d come another night, sit in seats for mortals, and walk around. Until we do that I can’t offer any assessment of Yankee Stadium. The part where I spent my night was spectacular, but of course it was.

I did get to witness the dedication of Steinbrenner’s memorial, though, and it was … interesting. First of all, the Yankees do spectacle better than the Mets do, which isn’t particularly a surprise or something to be envied. It was intriguing to play Kremlinologist based on what the Yankees showed fans on video: Joe Torre got plenty of close-ups, but the A/V people kept returning to Don Mattingly, who was cheered rapturously. The team, Steinbrenner family members and dignitaries made their way out to Monument Park via the warning track, which seemed like a misstep to me: There would have been a lot more visual impact had the procession gone from home plate to center field. But besides the problem of golf carts encountering a pitcher’s mound, the roundabout route meant much more contact with fans, which I suppose is a point in the Yankees’ favor. (Aside: It’s odd to realize you can’t scream vile things at Bud Selig because he’ll not only hear you but know it was you.)

What struck me — and struck lots of other people — was how big Steinbrenner’s plaque is. It’s 35 square feet — far bigger than the plaques accorded Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio and Mantle, to name just four. To me it looked ludicrous — and, frankly, ill-advised.

The Yankees have always been about exceptionalism — something I don’t mean as a compliment, though I understand why some of their fans consider it one. They’ve always stood out from the rest of baseball: When some veteran becomes a Yankee, it’s different than his becoming a Mariner or an Astro or even a Dodger or Red Sock. It’s the one franchise that diminishes its stars as it elevates them into the ranks of the bazillionaires — they wear the same uniform worn by all those men with plaques, with no name above the number, and have to prove themselves against all those forebears and all those rings (baby). Personally, I think all that adds up to an obnoxious cult, but it’s a pretty effective one even if I have no interest in being a member. I expected the Yankees to honor Steinbrenner with a memorial that would fit in with those accorded Ruth and Gehrig and Berra and Munson and the others; instead, they unveiled something big enough for the man to actually be buried in. And by doing that, the Yankees took the oldest, cheapest cliche about the Boss and made it true: He’ll forever be bigger than the team.