A Subway Series Memoir – James Campion’s 2000 World Series Journal.

Aquarian Weekly 11/22/00

Subway Series Memoir Part II – (read part I)

And so the crazed and frenzied follow this mess over bridges and under tunnels, digesting hype-job articles about the Mets being wimps and the Yankees stomping their psyches, and broadcasters calling for a full-scale war. This is the atmosphere for the third game of this Subway Series, pulling into the parking lot of Shea Stadium and the circus maximus provided by every radio station in the tri-state area. Unlike the grandeur of Yankee Stadium, this is an edifice built on the fumes of 1950s’ affluence and 1960s’ swirl, the place where the Beatles played and Joe Willie Namath used football sidelines for a fashion show. This is the home of miracles and strange happenings in post-season affairs. This is where the Yankees aim to continue an unfathomable 14-game World Series winning streak.

Teams that win 14 consecutive games in June are hailed as something of a juggernaut. In October it is ridiculous. And as the media throng descends on this orange and blue building, and the fans pour in carrying hundreds of placards screaming, “BELIEVE”, many think this could be another Yankees Fall Classic sweep. Tim McCarver, Fox analyst sent packing by the Mets and onto the Yanks to dissect the bunt forty ways to Sunday, was standing at a urinal in the Stadium Press box Saturday night bemoaning the Mets verve. “This is the World Series for crying out loud,” he whined. “You think these guys could run out a ground ball?”

Believing is good, but made better when Orlando Hernandez is considered “due for a loss”. The Yankees Cuban defector ace is 8-0 in October games. But the Mets are loose and play games with each other’s motivation before the first pitch, hanging with N’Sync who appear more like lost boys from the Con Ed bus trip than a pop group. One kid with blonde, curly hair asks me where the exit is and I cannot help but lead while asking him politely to sing the national anthem better than Billy Joel. “What?” he says, mouth agape. “Just do it,” I order.

N’Sync found the exit, kicked ass on the hardest melody to negotiate through a public address speaker, and by the eighth inning the Mets were tired of stumbling and threw up a two spot to take a 4-2 lead into the ninth that, this time, would not be relinquished. World Series win-streak halted, El Duque defeated. Strange happenings for road teams in October and life in this series.

Wednesday night there is an air that all had been tossed into some cauldron of doubt and pressure. Now we have a contest, a meaning to this push-and-shove, but there is an old adage that a series cannot be considered competitive until the road team gets one. That is what the eyes of Yankees wonder boy, Derek Jeter says. He tells us that he is lucky to be with a team that provides him three rings in four years. “The problem with other teams is that they don’t have this kid,” NY Times, stalwart, Dave Anderson tells me. He is one of only a handful of reporters here to actually cover a Subway Series. “Jeter is one of the best players I’ve ever seen in any sport,” he smiles.

The optimistic air of Shea and the cheering and the believing takes a hit when Jeter deposits the first pitch of game 4 into the left-field pavilion. By the fifth, the Yanks hold a 3-2 lead and Torre goes to the bullpen for David Cone. The once proud starter, relentlessly pummeled throughout the season, is asked to get one out, Mike Piazza, the Mets catcher and recent controversy tornado. Piazza had homered previously. Cone pops him up. Through the next four innings both teams threaten, but the Yankees win.

The mood changes immediately.

The next night, what would turn out to be the final game of the long-awaited Subway Series, goes on without me. I am physically and mentally ill. Constant parades of meaningless sound bites and media cramming, along with rapacious Woodstock-like merchandising, has rendered me unable to attend what becomes a coronation of a team that everyone with half an inkling about this game knew was going to find a way to win the last game of the year.

So from the comfort of my couch, and not those lame auxiliary media seats five hundred feet above home plate with the biting winds creasing the back of my head, I watch Al Leiter and Andy Pettitte chase the echoes of Whitey Ford and Sandy Koufax. Both are brilliant from the start and pitch their hearts out, but Leiter leaves a hard-luck loser. The Yanks scratch a two-run lead in the ninth with another string of two-out hits and walks, and when that Piazza guy drives a ball to the fence and it nestles into Bernie Williams’ glove the historical becomes history.

Since 1995 the core of this Yankees team has battled for championships, winning four. Along the way they have broken records, set impossible standards, and overcome every obstacle from disease, addiction, age and pressure. Still, facing the Subway Series with nothing more to gain, but much to lose, may have been their greatest challenge. Veteran’s Paul O’Neil and Tino Martinez hit, Martiano Rivera pitches, and Derek Jeter is Derek Jeter.

There is no way the Yankees could lose this one and make it feel alright. The Mets can speak of “close games” and “almosts”, they were pushing an envelope unopened. But when you win, like this Yankees team wins, you are expected to keep winning. This is especially true in New York where silly slogans and happy tunes are suddenly replaced by yesterday’s news for the “once golden.” From spring training to champagne pouring, it is always win or nothing for the New York Yankees, the boys of autumn.

Tough chore. Tought team.

Maybe the best in three or four generations, or a Subway Series ago.

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A Subway Series Memoir – James Campion’s 2000 World Series Journal

Aquarian Weekly 11/15/00

A Subway Series Memoir (Part I)

After ten years of covering baseball in one form or another, and entering my third consecutive season entertaining a journalistic meandering at the World Series, it is easy to see from the moment I glide off the Deegan Expressway toward Yankee Stadium that these will not be games, but times. These are times that this cathedral of baseball has known for nearly 80 years. Times from Harlem and the Polo Grounds to times in the friendly band box in Brooklyn called Ebbets Field, where the hated Yankees took 11 of 14 Subway Series building an impossible resume of winning. This was long before the times in the 60s’ when the National League came back to New York in the form of the hapless, but lovable NY Mets.

Thousands of people, hundreds of vendors and little walking room in the expansive courtyard surrounding this building, where the air is unseasonably warm, but thick with smoke and voices and music. Rock concert and a professional wrestling buzz cuts through a sport better suited for picnics and beaches, an urban, bucolic flavor that is both tense and uplifting the way Manhattan can be on any given night. It is the core of New York City when New York City embraces being the center of the world.

Inside the ballpark, down in its bowels with the sporting press and grunts and celebrities groping for a glimmer of the spotlight backwash, the atmosphere is even more cramped. The makeshift interview room is mobbed to listen to Yankees manager, Joe Torre. He is looking eerily calm despite the weight of four worlds on him. His team is attempting to do something only four other teams had done previously; win a third consecutive world championship. And his team will be asked to do it by beating another New York team in the first such a World Series since 1956.

The owner doesn’t like losing to the Mets in exhibition games, much less the grandest stage. George Steinbrenner was so worried he might give the Mets locker room fodder through a rankled slip of the lip he didn’t even attend the Yankees pennant celebration a few days earlier. Despite his team’s recent success, this is for all the cards in the deck. Torre knows this well. He says he doesn’t like people comparing this series to ones in June or July or any Mayor’s Trophy. His shortstop, Derek Jeter told me after the Yankees won the pennant a few days ago, “Forget that other stuff about rivalries, this is for the championship.” Secretly, the people upstairs didn’t want any part of the Mets. My friend, and general manager, Brian Cashman assures me that I don’t want to be any part of him over the next ten days.

Mets manager, Bobby Valentine also appears relaxed. He doesn’t carry the same pressure as Torre, save the millions of Mets fans who are sick and tired of surrendering the Big Apple to the condescending Yankees fans and the inevitable band-wagon chic who don pinstripes to feel a part of something. But Valentine’s team didn’t even win its division and it is the first time the franchise has been in one of these in 14 years. In fact, he spends most of his press conference defending his team’s right to battle history. “The Yanks are not as good as they once were,” says Mets eclectic reliever, Turk Wendell. “We’ll win in five,” Hawaiian born, left fielder, Benny Agbayani tells Howard Stern and Regis Philbin. No one wants to lose a Subway Series, but no one wants to feel they don’t belong. “We’re good too,” Valentine tells us.

From the moment the capacity crowd begins its crescendo of noises with the seesaw chants of “Let’s go Yankees” and “Let’s go Mets”, the opening game is as tight as a sealed drum. The Mets take a 3-2 lead into the ninth inning. The Yankees win in the twelfth. One young man repeatedly stabs another young man in the chest in a sports bar eight miles from my house over a baseball argument. But at nearly 2:00 am in the Bronx there are still hundreds of people waiting for the players to get in their cars or board the buses pointing toward Queens. The city that never sleeps goes overtime.

The next night there is talk of the Mets’ star slugger, Mike Piazza’s beaning at the hands of the Yankees’ newest villian, Roger Clemens earlier in the season. Even though the pitcher is from Boston and the catcher is from L.A, this is a NY thang.

Piazza’s teammates want to get Clemens back and the macho posturing reaches epic levels by game time. This brings rolling eyes and pooh-poohs from the veteran press, who think it beneath them to scour such depths of sensationalism when just playing a World Series entirely inside one town is enough. They convene for hours in the print room, literally rubbing elbows while tickling laptops, downing gallons of coffee and tearing off miles of chewing gum. Buried under a barrage of literature, stats and numbers, never to be used by anyone not acting as a nerdish, baseball actuary, they rumor, they curse, and they write anything twice. This is their turf.

In the first inning of game two, amid the flashbulbs and squeals, Piazza’s bat cracks in half and the splintered barrel fatefully skids toward Clemens’ feet. The pitcher whips it at the Piazza’s feet. Defacto commissioner and emissary of Satan, Bud Selig sees riot flashing before his eyes from his box seat as the Fox people call Los Angeles and tell them to run post-game polls. Organist, Eddie Layton plays a soothing tune. Piazza screams. Clemens points. The benches empty, but nothing happens. Yanks enter the ninth up 6-0, as Clemens did the rest of his intimidation, 2-hit shutout routine with the ball. Mets rally late against the Yankees bullpen, but lose again 6-5.

Clemens tells us he thought the bat was the ball, and more about never seeing anyone or “no intent.” Boston writers attack him and Torre with spiteful, if not useful, questions. Torre, forced to defend this lunacy, threatens to walk out of the press conference. Later, Piazza laughs and says something about it all being “bizarre.” Valentine claims to be the only man in NYC to not see anything. Mets utility man, Lenny Harris wants to fist fight Clemens right there in the hallway below the Stadium. “We have to go to their house now,” says Yankees centerfielder, Bernie Williams. “We’ll see.”


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james campion.com

Aquarian Weekly 9/27/00 REALITY CHECK


Nothing is worse than authority, except, of course, abusive authority, or abusive, teacher/coach, dickweed authority. And no one over the past quarter century has cornered the market on that then Bobby Knight, who used his abused players to win a ton of basketball games and three National Championships for him. Now his employer over the length of this unprecedented reign of atavistic terror, Indiana University, has finally seen fit to fire his sorry ass.

As laughable as that may sound, a university allowing a man to physically and emotionally wreak havoc on officials, NCAA employees, players, students, faculty and the media, while lauding him as a font of society, it is all sadly true. Even in sacking him, members of the board could not bring themselves to revisit the details of Knight’s latest grabbing and berating of a student for not referring to him as “Mr. Knight.” Instead they watered down this predictable ugliness by pointing out in excruciatingly long and tiresome fashion that he didn’t respect fundraisers, the board of trustees or professors. These infractions were, of course, all fine and dandy when the man was winning, but he hasn’t been doing much of that lately, with early exits in the national tournament.

The truth is Knight should have been bounced the second these overpaid pedantic jokers saw video of this cretin choking a player on May 15. That wasn’t enough. They needed a four-month review of his chair-throwing, head-butting, expletive-laced tirades, many on video and well documented, for over two decades. Then they took the onus off themselves and put it on this nut by imposing on him impossible guidelines under the heading of a “no-tolerance policy.” They were still working on the parameters of this mess when Knight accosted the kid.

Before the hammer came down, Knight pathetically performed an impromptu discussion session with reporters, complete with visuals and reenactments, in order to deflect what he surely knew would be his swansong. Throughout, he used the same smug tone that turned every other one of his boorish acts of savage lunacy into something akin to the late Mother Teresa coddling the starving children of Calcutta. His cushy place in denial-land continued during a live interview on ESPN days after the firing when he seriously wondered why no one explained what “zero-tolerance” meant.

To say the very least, university president, Myles Brand dropped the ball on this one. For years he, and the legacy of cash-bloated basketball pimps at Indiana, chose to look the other way as Knight piled up an embarrassing litany of belligerent violence wrapped up nicely under the guise of discipline and leadership. Turns out their fat coach/god was having trouble disciplining himself.

Indiana University’s hypocrisy notwithstanding, Bobby Knight is everything wrong with the always-prevalent jock mentality in sports. Everyone reading this, especially us rough and tumble male types who played any sport, can remember having some sick oaf screaming or ranting at them. This used to pass for hard-edged teaching in an age of stupidity that had the expression of any emotion beyond anger as sissy, fag stuff to be ridiculed and suppressed. Bobby Knight is its product, a small, but annoying mutation spanning centuries of macho bloodletting.

Knight started this psycho garbage at the home office for berating, West Point. This agenda is all fun and frolic in the secret society of the U.S. Army because these victims of mental anguish reside outside the structure of American culture. This is the reason that when one of them is released from their duty they are once again considered civilians. Civility has no place in the training of men to rip, roar and kill, but playing a sport at a major college for millions of dollars a year pumped into a voracious system is another story.

The saddest part of the Bob Knight story, and its endless parade of fiascos dancing along side it, is that he survived every incident with the respect reserved for conquering heroes. Didn’t we call him “the general” with a smirk, waiting impatiently for that moment when his head would explode in a vein-popping crimson globe during every game? How we chuckled at his constant derision of officials. After all, we would like to be the ones nearly strangling the dumb fucks for not calling a foul on that last play. We need to win these games so much we turn into maniacs at the sight of a human mistake. Somehow Knight’s blow-ups became an extension of our own tired act.

So now the crazies on the Indiana campus scream and yell for Brand’s head on a platter and burn likenesses of Knight’s latest victim in effigy. They threaten to kill and pillage for their hero. They love their basketball and their icons and paint Knight as a martyr for the glory of the game.

Many of Knight’s defenders cite his clean NCAA record. He never broke any recruiting rules and made sure his players went to class and at least attempted to graduate. But that is the same logic that has abusive fathers and husbands passing muster because they pay the bills and tuck the kids into bed.

Bobby Knight has many psychological problems. These problems have been excused by being defining as old-fashioned values and stringent methods. You know, back in the day when screaming, belittling, choking and pushing was a sign of love and authority.

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Genesis Magazine 9/00

CBS Sports number one NFL analyst dissects Instant Replay, defends parody and puts the big money fishbowl of pro football into persepective…

For 15 grueling seasons Phil Simms played quarterback for the New York Giants. In that time he was sacked more than any other signal caller and heard the jeers of fans who expected him to be the next Y.A. Tittle. Even after leading the franchise to its first play-off birth in 18 seasons, he felt the sting of reports that someone somowhere could do a better job.

That all changed in 1986 when his Giants won a Super Bowl highlighted by his MVP performance. Simms completed a record 22-25 on a day he has admitted time and again was destined to be his. Four years later Simms had the Giants at 10-1 before suffering a season-ending foot injury and missing the team’s second triumph in the big game.

But when he retired in 1994 Simms’ left behind a resume that put him in the pantheon of Giants greats that has his name bandied about in Hall Of Fame discussions. During his tenure behind center those who swore he’d be missed once he was gone were proven right. Since his last game the Giants have had a host of starting QB’s with little to no success.

When Simms headed for the broadcast booth a few years later he became NBC’s fastest rising analyst. Calling Super Bowls and even Olympic events he combines an honest, no-nonsense style that speaks to fans aboove the din of professional sports hyperbole. When the network lost its football package, rival CBS scooped up the talented Simms and made him its lead anylist.

Mostly, Simms is anything but shy when discussing the game he’s loved for most of his life, a game he cites as a daily lesson learned everyday he slipped on a helmet. He doesn’t appologize for defending the National Football League, but he sees its faults and potential greatness better than most.

As the league enters the 21st century the man many have called a “thowback” sees both sides clearly. From Instant Replay to Free Agency, Salary Caps and a wide open run for the Super Bowl each year, Phil Simms still views the game as both beauty and grit, talent and effort, and most of all, a 60 minute drama filled with subplots and heroes played out over frigid Sundays of grandeur.

It was a tough year for the NFL, with the Ray Lewis trial, the Ray Caruth incident down in Carolina and the death of Derrick Thomas. Most of the off-season news has been negative for the league.

I’m not going to let a couple of incidences destroy everything the league is all about. Yes, there has been some very bad publicity. It has been extremely unfortunate, but does that change the way that I personally look at the NFL? No, it does not. I still view it as a great league, great entertainment and I always say this — it is made up of a lot of outstanding people. That’s from owners on down to the players. Most of the players.

I have high regard for the way many of the players go about their business on and off the field, the way they play and the way they live their lives. There’s always going to be trouble. Now, these are extraordinary cases this past off-season. What happened to Derrick Thomas is an incredible tragedy. But there is always going to be some trouble when you’re playing in the spotlight of the NFL. You’re a high profile athlete with so many people involved peripherally. There’s going to be trouble always. You and I both know that in that spotlight, it’s always going to be a big deal. Everyone is looking.

Certainly, three bad stories are always more interesting than hundreds of good ones.

C’mon, people really don’t care about those. They want to read about bad stuff. They want to hear about accidents and crime on television. That’s what sells. And I’m not saying that has anything to do with what happened this past off-season. I’m not apologizing for Ray Carruth. Derrick Thomas? He did a lot of good things in Kansas City. Was he a saint? By no means, he was not. He’s like a lot of young people. He liked to have fun. He made mistakes in his life. He also took time out to share his good fortune with a lot of kids. Athletes need to be commended for a lot of the good things too. He should be remembered for that.

I think we do forget that these are young men maturing in the limelight.

That is a wonderful point. You’ve got young men who play in a sport with tremendous high visibility and all of a sudden you have fame and money that most men their ages, or any age for that matter, will ever have. And that allows you to do so much more, but also puts you in different atmospheres and environments when you’re doing it. And you’ve got to be careful.

That’s the one thing that upsets me about players in the league. You’ve just got to know that people are watching all the time. You’ve got a different set of standards to live by. That’s the way it is. Deal with it. You better know that when you mess up it’s going to be big news.

Big news last year was the return of Instant Replay. Are you a proponent of it, and, if so, do you think it was used correctly this time around?

Wasn’t a big deal either way. That play at the end of the Tennesee-Buffalo play-off game. What did that replay tell you? If someone says to me it was definitely a forward pass I’d have to say get a life! How many times can you look at it? It was inconclusive.

That drives everyone nuts.

But it was inconclusive! Is replay perfect? No. Is it useful? Absolutely. It stops the really big-time errors like the Vinnie Testerverde non-touchdown in 1998. It eliminates a lot of the controversy a high percentage of the time. I don’t think people, writers, announcers and many fans know the rules with replay. It leads to further confusion. It has to be conclusive to overturn a play. It has to be clear cut, otherwise there is no point. All replay can do is take the pressure off the officials and put it on the coaches. That’s the way the NFL wants it. One thing is for sure, it’s here to stay.

Parity is the big word around the league now.

That’s because nobody can come up with something else, so they just throw this “parity” around. (sing-song) Parity! Parity! “Who’s gonna win the Super Bowl this year?” I honestly don’t know. “Parity!”

You have to admit though that in the past two seasons you had four completely different teams in the championship games. Two seasons ago the Atlanta Falcons went worst to first. Then last season it was first to worst. Who could’ve predicted the St. Louis Rams winning the Super Bowl after going 3-13 the year before?

Listen, parity is happening in every sport. It’s in college sports too. Take the college basketball now. Even though you have Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky and all those programs that can have a tremendous advantage, who can go out an basically hand-pick who they want, still does not guarantee them winning the tournament.

There are just more talented players available to more teams. A program can only recruit a certain number of players. There are much more out there for other programs. And how that correlates to the National Football League is that there are so many more talented football players available than anytime before.

But the league has set it up where with the way the draft is conducted from worst record selecting first to best picking last, and the fifth place schedule being easier than the first place schedules. This was the late Pete Rozell’s dream, to have it truly be “on any given Sunday.”

It’s true. The gap between the top athlete to the bottom athlete in all sports has changed dramatically. That’s the main difference in the league today to when I played. The mid-level player is better. The level of play between the superstar and the role player is no longer as glaring. Of course, the system helps. Worst team drafting first and free agency keeps the talent pool spread out.

Would you say that free agency has been the biggest change in the league in the last few decades?

I always say — and I never hear anyone agreeing with me either — the biggest change in the league is coaching! Coaching has gotten so much better. It’s hard for coaches to go out on a Sunday and out-coach the other team. Winning because you’re a better coach is not as much a factor now.

When I was playing back in the mid-eighties to the late-eighties we had three or four games a year that I knew we couldn’t lose because the coach on the other sideline wasn’t going to let us lose. He was going to mess it up eventually. You can’t say that as much anymore. The coaching today is more aggressive and highly inventive, and it’s nearly impossible for a team to gain an edge with the X’s and O’s like we did in the past.

Speaking about a coach who gained an edge on your sideline when you played, Bill Parcells has called it quits after a very successful career. You guys have remained friends over the years. You did the New York Jets pre-game shows the past two years. But you two are inseparable not only as legendary coach and quarterback. You had your acrimony and mutual respect, an almost father/son battle.

I was giving a talk in front of a group recently and somebody raised their hand and asked if I was a general manager, what kind of coach would I look for, and told him I want a guy like Bill Parcells every time. Does he have to put off the persona Bill does? Does he have to be media savvy? Not at all. I want a guy who can stand up there and inspire people. And I don’t mean some speech before the game, “Let’s go win!” Nobody cares by then. Can he inspire people to make them work harder –physically and mentally– than they want to without alienating them? You have to somehow find a way to relate to the players on about 20 different levels, because that’s what you have in that locker room.

You can hire coaches to do X’s and O’s for you, but to create a working atmosphere that will allow people to excel, that’s the trick. There are a lot of coaches out there who can make it look good on the blackboard, but can you make those people do all the little extra things during the off-season and during the week that make them excel on Sunday. That’s what a great boss does. That was Bill Parcells when he coached.

Did you ever consider coaching?

People asked me that all the time, and that was my goal in life. I wanted to play and then try the coaching thing. It does fulfill a lot of things I love like teaching. But it’s too late for me. I’ve been out of the game too long. The game is progressing so fast. I’ve forgotten a lot of the little finer things.

No kidding?

To run the ball off tackle takes tremendous work. Just designing one play to block 40 different fronts and all these defensive looks. I don’t have the time. I’m 45 years-old. By the time I put in my five years of work I’d be in my mid-fifites before I could take on the job of head coach. I’m not that patient and I don’t think I’m tough enough anymore. I couldn’t go in there at six every morning and work until ten, eleven every night of the week. I’ve gotten spoiled doing what I do. I’m just trying to hang onto this job.

You’re one of the top analysts in the game now. How hard was it making the transition from the guy who has to deflect the media, to the objective journalist getting the story and reporting on it live?

Anytime you change jobs it’s tough. The one thing I had going for me is I really love the sport. I love talking about football at any level. It intrigues me. It was getting down the mechanics of the business that took time. Taking the expressions in the locker room that may take awhile to translate and getting it across in under a minute on television. Then, it’s… “can you do the same thing in 20 seconds because a minute is way too long.”

It’s a lot like playing. I say this all the time — if you really like what you’re doing it will work. If you’re doing it for some other reason, forget it. If I was broadcasting NFL games strictly for the money, I think it would show in the work. It’s like a professional athlete getting to that level because they love the work. The money comes as a result of that. Sometimes the money gets in the way, but the first thing is the love of it. And the first time I’m not loving it anymore you’ll say, “You know, he’s not as good as he used to be.”

John Madden has his thing. Now you have Phil Simm’s All-Iron Team. What would be the number one credential to making the squad?

The player’s just gotta be eaten up with it. He’s gotta be obsessed with trying to do his best. Does he have to be the best player? No necessarily. You’ve just got to live and die the game. It has to be part of you. Mostly it’s the second tier guy that gets in. Hey, even though I’m an ex-quarterback I don’t have a lot of sympathy for them. They have a chance to be stars. I’m looking for guys who are really out there working and no one is paying attention to them when they should be.

Last year we gave a truck to fullback, Sam Gash because he’s out there making the play develop while nobody is noticing him at all. Anytime the skill people are out there having great games it’s because someone else is busting it and allowing them to excel on the football field.

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The Top 25 Sports Personalities – Author James Campion’s list for the most influential athletes ever.


East Coast Rocker 7/3/96 The Last Shot


Just a little Star Spangled food for thought this Fourth of July. I submit the list that will launch a thousand Independence Day picnic arguments. Upon the festival celebrating our nation’s birthday the roll call of the 25 most influential, celebrated, infamous, and far reaching figures of the 20th Century in American sports.

Now, before you break out the heavy verbal artillery and call me those names usually left for those really ugly donnybrooks, I only spent 24 hours on this list. So don’t be calling the poor editors of this paper up around Christmas time to tell them what form of torture I should be subjected to before snuffing me out all together. I might have left somebody out who might otherwise belong, but that’s the beauty of lists, and more importantly, the beauty of sports lists. So read along at your own risk and just try and dispute the greatness before thee.

1. Muhammad Ali – Transcended all sports and was the most recognizable and influential figure in the latter half of a century dominated by the black athlete. Saved the sport of boxing and used the lofty pulpit of the heavyweight championship to exalt the underdog, express his freedom, and spread his love of God and man. Ali not only belongs at the top of this list, but near the top of any list of Americans period.

2. Babe Ruth – Professional sports first superstar. The most famous man on the planet who didn’t commandeer an army. Saved the national pastime after the 1919 World Series gambling allegations and then proceeded to change the game by introducing a little thing called the home run. The Bambino was not only the best everyday baseball player ever, he was probably the best pitcher as well. He practically invented the American sports hero as celebrity.

3. Jackie Robinson – The bravest man to ever don a uniform in any sport or era. He not only changed a game, but an entire country, by just stepping on a field. His pulling on a Brooklyn Dodgers hat was the most important event in American sports history. And, by the way, he was a damn good ballplayer who scared the hell out of opponents the moment he hit first base.

4. Billie Jean King – The mother of all modern women athletes. She stood in the face of pressures way beyond tennis and was always the rock from which respect was built. King stopped the nation cold when she wiped up Bobby Riggs in the Astrodome. She came a long way, baby.

5. Jim Thorpe – Arguably the greatest pure athlete this country has ever produced. A true American who re-invented any sport you’d put in front of him. Thorpe became a martyr for all amateur athletes and Olympic hopefuls when the government stripped him of his medals. The century’s shining beacon and hero of native Americans for eighty years.

6. Knute Rockne – The quintessential American coach. Invented modern football and the author of more inspirational speeches than anyone before or since. Ask the Gipper.

7. Joe Namath – Changed the pay structure of modern sport. A rebel, a hippie, a late night ladies’ man with a thirst for whiskey and mink coats. My first hero and the last hero to sport white shoes. There is no #12 or Super Bowl without him. I guarantee it.

8. Howard Cosell – The most hated man in America for an entire decade. Still the only true journalist in the history of sports, Cosell attended and commented on nearly every important sporting event of his time. There is no Monday Night Football without him. Just telling it like it is

9. Michael Jordan – Biggest sports star on the planet today. Solidified top ten status after the incredible events of this past year when he returned from a two-year hiatus after the death of his father to reclaim his kingdom as champion and finest to play the game. Nobody ever dominated a team sport more completely.

10. Joe Louis – Pound for pound the greatest pure boxer of all time? Yes. Threw the first punch of World War II when he dropped Max Schmelling in a title bout.

11. Curt Flood – Decided he wasn’t anyone’s property one hundred years after the Civil War, and as a result, established the voice of the professional athlete. Free agents of all sports owe him a feast of thanks.

12. Jesse Owens – The father of American track and field. Joined Joe Louis in running circles around racist dogma.

13. Joe DiMaggio – Elegance, grace, and power. Defined a nation and married Marilyn Monroe. “Where have you gone…?”

14. Mickey Mantle – The only man who could have followed Joltin’ Joe. The Hercules of the Baby Boomer Generation.

15. Willie Mays – The human highlight reel.

16. Red Auerbach – Eleven consecutive championships? Look it up

17. Secretariat – The crown jewel in the sport of kings.

18. Pete Rozelle – Fall, Sunday afternoons, pro football

19. Red Smith – THE American sportswriter.

20. Walter O’Malley – Villain.

21. Rocky Marciano – Undefeated.

22. Arthur Ashe – Hero of humankind.

23. Arnold Palmer – Don’t care about golf. Cared about Arnie.

24. Jim Brown – Unstoppable.

25. O.J. Simpson – Notorious

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The Legacy and Legend of Howard Cosell ‘s eulogy to an American broadcasting icon.

North County 4/26/95


Howard CosellThis country has not known a more influential journalist than Howard Cosell. His innate ability to dissect an event, infiltrate a personality and offer honest analysis at the point of attack made him a unique voice in an otherwise antiseptic profession. The resonance of his talent is an echo in the world of reporting today, but it is a faint reminder of the man whose voice served as a sonic boom that shook the walls and shattered the windows of broadcasting.

Ironically, Cosell died quietly this past weekend after a private three-year battle with cancer at the age of 77. The doctor’s report told the world it was a heart embolism, but anyone who knew anything about the attorney with a microphone and the massive chip on his hunched shoulder was convinced that he was too stubborn to succumb to anything, much less a deadly disease.

His staccato delivery was immediate legend, his hawkish looks an instant caricature and his powerful ego a massive hammer swung sometimes with little control, if not definite, direction. These were the odd attributes that combined to make Cosell a superstar among faceless haircuts and scribbling notepads. But his greatest asset was that he was utterly fearless. There was no crusade too big, no injustice too imposing, and no human power too intimidating for his prodding sarcasm and razor-sharp wit. “I tell it like it is,” was his catch-phrase.

“I did what I believed in,” he reflected to a reporter a few years ago. “I saw myself as a person who wanted to bring to public attention that which I thought was wrong. No more. No less.”

Throughout the 60s’ and 70s’ the appearance of Cosell at a sporting event signified its importance. If there was ever a question of its relevance, it was answered by his presence alone.

He was the living embodiment of the first amendment and the shining example of what truths can be uncovered by the oft-challenged “freedom of press”.

Not unlike John F. Kennedy and the Beatles, Howard Cosell was a figure perfectly fit for the times in which he found himself. Ten years earlier, or perhaps, even ten years later, an editorial voice like Cosell’s might have been shoved aside as too assertive, or worse yet, ignored altogether. But in the age following McCarthyism and the Red Scare, a country swirling in the tornado of events from Vietnam to Watergate we were just cynical and thick-skinned enough to handle him.

He could have covered any corner of the news, but chose sports because of the immediacy and likelihood of the impossible to explode at anytime. Moreover, he precociously knew sports needed him. “If ever a broadcaster sought to bring sports out of the banal,” he once mused, “this, you see, is my mission.”

Throughout the 60s’ and 70s’ the appearance of Cosell at a sporting event signified its importance. If there was ever a question of its relevance, it was answered by his presence alone. In one predictably pompous moment, he once compared his celebrity to Walter Cronkite. But unlike the security and warmth of Uncle Walty at the time of breaking news or crisis, Cosell exuded the fastidious tension of a literate watch dog that needed not only an answer, but the answer.

If there was no Howard Cosell, Muhammad Ali would have still been an icon for a generation locked in turbulence, people would’ve still crowded into bars on Monday nights to watch prime time football, the tragedy of the 1972 Munich Olympics would’ve had the same impact on a stunned and riveted television audience, Joe Willie Namath would still have his middle name, Chris Chambliss would’ve probably hit that homer to win the pennant for the Yankees, and Joe Frazier still would have tumbled to the canvas under the thunderous blow of the brooding force of young George Foreman.

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The difference is that Cosell was there, and for some strange reason, we remember that. Cosell and the event seemed to take on an inseparable quality as time passed. Yet, despite his propensity to find a space in the spotlight of a sporting event, like an annoying relative trying to squeeze into a family snapshot, Cosell never usurped the game itself. He somehow joined its magnitude by riding along, often times actually becoming the only voice that mattered when the dust settled.

He could sense a story as it unfolded and enlarge its aura as if it were a moment already recorded, digested and reflected in history.

In this way, Cosell clung to the light and fury that was Muhammad Ali, arguably the largest sports figure of the 20th century. When the young heavyweight, Cassius Clay embraced the Muslim faith and changed his name, only Cosell would honor it by calling him Ali during interviews. When Ali fought the draft because of his religious beliefs, and was stripped of his championship belt, Cosell was there beside him.

Cosell’s interviews with the always poetic and vociferous Ali were masterpieces in entertainment. “I’ll take you out Cosell,” Ali would pronounce with that ever-present smile biting down on his bottom lip. “I’ll knock you out and take that rug off your head.”

“You wouldn’t dare lay a hand on me,” Cosell would quip in his laconic drone.

His powerful radio show, “Speaking of Sports” lasted the longest of any of his projects. Probably because he didn’t have to share the spotlight with anyone else. And when I was a kid, it punched its way through the mono speaker on my little portable every Sunday morning. He took on racism, the wrongful treatment of pro athletes by monolithic leagues, the absence of a commissioner for prize fighting; but it what made those shows special, was those priceless moments when a unsuspecting guest would need to wiggle out of a finger-pointing diatribe on the hypocrisy of something somewhere.

Cosell’s best-known pulpit was the crowded booth on of the most popular experiments in network history. Monday Night Football was the perfect place for his pedantry and bluster, and he made it his stage. A man who had never played the sport, offering strong commentary, most of it derisive, led to a TV Guide poll that during the mid 70s’ had him the most hated and most loved sportscaster of all.

After denouncing boxing as a “disgusting mess” and pro football as a “stagnant bore”, Howard Cosell rode off into the sunset, leaving a 35-year body of work in his indignant wake. His last public jab came in the form of his fourth book, What’s Wrong with Sports, a truculent attack on everything he ever encountered along the way. Cosell went out the way he came in–swinging.

Howard Cosell never received a big sendoff like Johnny Carson of Cronkite, but one would have to wonder if he would’ve either expected or embraced it. But every one of us who have ever offered an opinion or covered an event, or tried to procure a quote from a newsworthy subject have a debt to pay to Howard Cosell. Because in the end, reporting is the search for truth, and as a reporter, you’d hope a little justice prevails. Right or wrong, the reporter strives to, at the very least, make people think. That is Howard Cosell’s legacy.

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Yorktown Football – Undefeated NY State Champs reviews one of the most exciting high school championship games ever.

North County 11/30/94


“My head is bloody, but unbowed… I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul.”
– from the poem “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley

When Mr. Henley sat down to write his poem on the strength of an individual against all adversity, it was hardly the turn of the century, and chances are old Willie never saw an American football game; but if he could have made it to the Syracuse Carrier Dome last Saturday night, he would have witnessed his words come to life in the form of the young men that make up the 1994 Yorktown Cornhuskers.

For four quarters, the defending Class B state champs put a perfect season, a 20-game win streak and another title on the line. All night the line was precariously thin. It was not a blowout like last year. In fact their biggest lead of the evening was eight points. The smallest lead was all of one point three different times. It was the first time all year the strength of the team’s soul was tested, and there’s a plaque sitting somewhere at the High School that says the Yorktown soul passed with flying colors.

The final was Yorktown 25, William South 24, and at crucial times during the contest it felt even closer. The Section 6 champs brought their own soul on the arm of a terrific quarterback named Mike Lester, who kept coming at the brick-hard Huskers defense like some wild-eyed Gunga Din in a helmet. When the evening was done he would accumulate some gaudy passing stats (10 of 17 for 190 yards and three touchdowns), including a wild third-and-27 heave that put an apple into the throat of everyone waving a green pom pom.

It was the first time all year the strength of the team’s soul was tested, and there’s a plaque sitting somewhere at the High School that says the Yorktown soul passed with flying colors.

But the black and silver blur with a #13 on his back nullified these considerable feats time and time again. Don Weese, the game’s MVP-with-the-ball would unveil the Yorktown soul before anyone had both cheeks planted into a Dome seat. His opening kickoff return made short work of 85 yards, and the team that had not trailed a single football game for 44 quarters had a 7-0 lead. Every touchdown the boy wonder QB from Williamsville South could muster, Weese had some answer; a 15-yard pass reception for a score followed by a 20-yard touchdown run.

All season long the vaunted Yorktown defense (number one in the league with six shutouts) did not allow a team to force a deficit on them, and the only team to so much as manage a tie-game into the fourth quarter, the Somers Tuskers, never scored at all. But throughout the game both offenses seemed locked in a trance-like dance of death, running up and down the field with reckless abandon.

However, Williamsville South was unable to attach the extra point to any of their four touchdowns. The Cornhuskers missed the kick on their second. In fact, with all the yards amassed by both teams (350 for South and 240 for ‘Town) the defining moments of the game were played within ten feet of the Yorktown goal line.

It was 13-12 Cornhuskers with one minute left in the first half, and the only thing standing between Williamsville South and the lead were four downs, four yards, and the Yorktown defense. They ran four plays, gained three yards, and went into the locker room down by one. Forty-six quarters without trailing.

The second half featured more of the same. Yorktown would score and back came the other guys, neither team able to buy the point-after. A football version of Ali-Frqazier in Manilla hitting and taking hits and standing for the next round. The winner would earn it, the loser would be disappointed, but proud to have played.

With less than 40 seconds remaining in the game, and faced with their last down from the Yorktown 16, the Williamsville South offense stepped to the line of scrimmage. The Huskers dug deep on defense. A fired up Adam Lodewick, who would earn Defensive Player of the Game honors for his relentless pursuit of anything that moved in this game, screamed to his teammates to make a stand.

Lester faded back from center and tossed the ball out to the left about two yards deep in the end zone to his receiver, Doug Goeckil, who would beat out his quarterback for Offensive Player of the Game. Touchdown. Williamsville South would go for two points. Two points they could not get three times before. Yorktown’s perfect season of leading all the way was three yards from becoming a one point deficit with 15 seconds left.

The fans stood on both sides of the field and cheered wildly. Both coaches bellowed instructions. Ten feet for the championship.

Once again Lester pulled out from center, rolled right, looked at the front line of the Huskers breaking through the wall, cocked his arm, and threw into the corner of the end zone. It was there the ball found the thrusting arm of Pete Cariello and fell to the ground.

The 1994 Yorktown Cornhuskers, state champs again. Twelve games played, twelve wins. Unconquered. Invictus. Amen.

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The Face of Yorktown Football is Smiling – Author James Campion covers the 1994 NY State Champions

North County 11/23/94


A chilly northern wind was blowing sharply across the illuminated artificial surface of Dietz Stadium on this November night in Kingston, New York. A bus carrying the Yorktown Cornhuskers football team quietly rolled into the parking lot. After a few hours the 42 young men who step off it will board on the happy side of a 22-0 score. They will have defeated Massena High School for their 20th consecutive victory dating back to last season, earning them a chance to defend their title as Class B State Champions.

It was nearly one year ago to the day that they stood victorious on this very field. There had previously been no such thing as a State Championship then, and no one outside of the team understood how good they could be. It was as if they had taken a riverboat up the Nile searching for the unknown. This season has been different. Everyone knew how good the Cornhuskers could be. On this night nothing short of another trip to Syracuse and the Carrier Dome would do.

Faces from the graduating class of 1993 filtered into the picture to lend their support. There was the leader from last season’s foray into glory, James “Bumper” Robeson, clad in black and tugging on his old familiar #60 jersey. He began clapping vigorously an hour before kickoff. He was joined by the infectious laugh of Vinnie D’Andraia, the silent confidence of John Benardi, and the piercing screams of Mike Myers. They were all here a year ago when a play-off game seemed like something out of a crazy dream. They were ones who paved the way for this night, and now the rest of us believed in the dream.

They are all talented athletes individually, but together they are champions, and champions they would stay…together.

I caught up with head coach, Ron Santavicca as his Cornhuskers waited for the Class C game to conclude. Sipping on a steaming cup of coffee, he extended his hand as he had done many times before on game day, in a television studio, or in the muddled comfort of his office at Yorktown High School. But this time the hand shake seemed to have a purpose. It was firmer than usual, like his expression–eyes widened, bottom lip tight. This was a man whom I’’d covered for the better part of the last two Autumns, and although he always made me feel like a friend, it was at that moment I felt I knew what motivated him to lead this team. Right then I knew this game had been played a hundred times or more inside his head, and Yorktown had won every time.

“”It’’s all about the kids,”” he said a few weeks ago on the occasion of his first regular season title at the school. Fighting back tears of joy, he wrapped his arms tightly around the neck of #13, Don Weese. “”They listen to the game plan,” he praised unabashedly. “They play hard on every down.””

Weese, celebrated weekly in these pages for his incredible feats of athleticism and sportsmanship, is one of those who play hard on every down. As the Class C game ended and the beaten Nanuet team marched in a line slowly by him, I could read the look in his eyes. “This will not be us,” they said. “We will not know that walk. Not tonight. Not this year.”

Later in the third quarter, after already having gobbled up a touchdown pass from quarterback, Matt Caione, he will be pounded to the turf and arise groggy. He will have to be dragged from the game, but for just two plays.

Phil Settembrino, who plays on every down on both lines, now walked by and faced the emptying field. For two seasons he and his line mates have dug deep into the trenches and anchored every yard both gained and given up, but his expression was that of a boy waiting to see his first Pop Warner action. ““’I’m nervous,”” he tells me. “”If you can believe it.”” I can believe it.

Later he will be pulled from the game for a few plays to get a breather from the constant pummeling a 200-pound Massena running back lays on him. But in the fourth quarter, after a Yorktown turnover deep in their own territory, he would push the very same back away from paydirt to preserve the precious shutout.

As the team headed for the locker room to pull on the uniform one more time, the eventual victory of this night would reflect in their expressions. A’Rhema Leach, MVP of the last two games, donned a smile as I wished him luck and told him to save a trophy for someone else. Before the game would be decided, his punishing inside runs would extend key drives and leave the Section One judges no choice but to hand him another. Pete Cariello, the fresh-faced sophomore defensive back, who alone has personally outscored most of Yorktown’s opponents this year, looked relaxed. He would play an important role in defending the Massena sweep, and twice end an opponent possession a yard short. Robbie Anderson, whose game face is usually fully loaded by Wednesday, did not look relaxed nor did he so much as crack a smile. In fact, he failed to utter a word to anyone. His jolting hits would speak volumes between the lines.

Soon all the faces disappeared into their helmets for pre-game warm-ups and last-minute instructions from the ever-prepared coaches. The next time I saw them together they were all standing on the field holding hands and waiting for the game to begin; their tightening grips told another story of this night and this team. They are all talented athletes individually, but together they are champions, and champions they would stay…together.

Two hours and four quarters later the result would illustrate the point clearly. The faces were all smiles. Now that the northern winds had died down, I could hear every one of them saying in unison: “One more to go

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1994 Baseball Lockout ‘s humored analysis of game’s implosion.

North County 8/24/94


“The ways by which you get money almost without exception lead downward. To have done anything by which you earn money merely is to have been truly idle or worse. If the laborer gets no more than his employer pays him, he is cheated, he cheats himself.” – Henry David Thoreau from “Life Without Principle” 1854

It is the second full week of the Major League Baseball Strike of ’94 and I’m hunkered down in the bowels of my home trying to piece together the hordes of ugly information seeping into my reluctant subconscious.

There are only so many pre-season football and minor league baseball games, and golf highlights that any self-respecting sports fan can endure before contemplating true acts of random communication with the outside world.

At my last official count there have been only three meetings between the players’ union and management lackey, Richard Ravitch since August 12 (or what is now being referred to in the inner circles of the Big Leagues as the day the money machine came to a screeching halt).

The owners, who up until the deal went down were decrying the end of civilization as we know it, have yet to show up at one of them. Union mouthpiece, Donald Fehr has been on everything from CNN’s “Crossfire” to the “Geraldo Show” and has presently taken the art of whining to its highest level to date. Still there is no real grit.

If nobody shows up at your games, and you have no sweet TV deal, and the market is dry…then get out.

Sources from the owner’s camp are leaking that the war is really between the HAVES and HAVE NOTS.

The richer franchises like the Yankees and Dodgers, Cubs, and Blue Jays want no part of this salary cap stuff. The troubles in places like Pittsburgh, Seattle, and Montreal secretly don’t concern them.

If nobody shows up at your games, and you have no sweet TV deal, and the market is dry…then get out.

They feel Bud Selig, owner of another painful franchise in Milwaukee, and acting commissioner, has painted them into a corner by trying to equal the social order. Evil words like socialism are sometimes heard in corner offices of large buildings somewhere in the heartland.

Braves owner, Ted Turner has started to perk up, and underground reports have revealed that even Jane Fonda can no longer control him. “We have a legal monopoly and we still screw it up,” he has recently told his fellow owners.

Billions of dollars lost in less than two weeks, and in two more weeks the NFL will blow their product off the scale.

“The greed always outweighs the cause!” they chant around our nation’s capital when filibusters drag on and connections fade. It is a well-known fact (and one not lost on Mr. Ravitch) that if there is no settlement by Labor Day, or soon thereafter, the idea of selling the post-season to media outlets will be gone.

And with no guaranteed network revenue from ABC and NBC it will be doomsday for the small market teams anyway.

Fehr is putting out feelers now that indicate the owners will crack again, just like they always do. The players know there will be a game. There has always been a game; since high school, and in some cases college, and the minors, too.

The players are not only the employees, but the product as well. A product that has been pummeled in the last few years by the likes of Shaq and Messier, and the resurrection of the Dallas Cowboys hype machine.

The AP and UPI lines are quiet. The parks and stadiums are empty.

The pastime is passing into oblivion, and there is little that a federal mediator, or Bill (I can’t pass a bill through Congress on a sled) Clinton, or the poor lonely baseball fan can do about it. The ball, as it has been from the beginning, is in the owners’ court; simply because they own the court.

The clock runs, and the cash slips through the grating.

Ravitch and the owners have to know that even today under the new bargaining agreement a good deal of their actions would not be the least bit legal out in the private sector of the business world. When the dust settles all the owners really want if for that nasty ARBITRATION to go away. Maybe then the wheels will turn fast enough to have a baseball fan. Maybe not.

The players union is strong. The owners alliance is not. And the real fight may be between themselves for such things as properties, revenue sharing, and equal rights under the baseball money law.

A billion-dollar business that is untouchable by antitrust laws is at stake. Lines are being drawn in the sand, and the heavy stuff is yet to come. Ross Perot’s “giant sucking sound” has become audible and the view from the front line is becoming ever more frightening with each passing day.

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Don Mattingly’s Last Stand James Campion’s tribute to an injury-riddled Mattingly’s fight to stay on top.

North County 7/27/94


Don MattinglyDon Mattingly, the tenth New York Yankee captain this century, stood on first base Saturday night. He touched the bill of his cap and waved his right hand, a small wry smile twisted his face. The few remaining fans at Anaheim Stadium stood to salute him. It was the occasion of his 2,000th career hit. The Yankees won the game 7-2.

“It’s nice to know I did it in the context of winning,” he said later. “We’re playing well now as a team, and that makes me feel that much better about it.”

The next day Mattingly stepped to the plate in a pinch-hit role with the Yankees down by two runs and blasted a three-run homer. His face exploded with an excitement rarely seen on a 33 year-old man; his home-run trot turning into a sprint. Rounding third base, he threw his open palm into third-base coach, Willie Randolph’s outstretched hand and reached his awaiting teammates with a bellow of triumph. The Yankees won the game, 6-4.

Two at-bat’s, with noticeably different reactions. The simple fact is (and for anyone lucky enough to follow his career) Don Mattingly would rather win one pennant than pick up 10,000 hits. And for the first time since he has put on pinstripes the Yankees have a solid lead in the American League East.

“I have to work hard just to be average,” he told reporters after the game.

After 11 years of good teams with no pitching to bad teams with no pitching, Mattingly’s Yankees are close to a dream season. But the reality of no longer being the best he can be — which used to mean the best in the game — is killing him.

Chronic back pain and nagging injuries changed his baseball life. For four years he was voted the best player in the game by his peers. Winning a batting-title race with teammate, Dave Winfield in 1984 and an MVP the next year; he was not only the most feared bat around, he was the league’s defensive standout at first base.

Every year the Yankees would make noise, then George Steinbrenner or Billy Martin or some other team in the East would make a louder noise and drown out the season. Yet, Mattingly remained in New York when everyone else seemed to leave around him. His contemporaries in the Big Apple who’ve won, Dwight Gooden (second drug suspension), Lawrence Taylor (retired) and Phil Simms (retired) are gone now. Mattingly has not won. He’s still around.

It was painful to watch him shuffle down the hall toward the Yankee clubhouse. And this was four seasons ago and a man who is only a year older than me. I saw him play minor league ball, his first game in the bigs, his All-Star rise. Now he pained to merely sit in front of his locker and tug a tee shirt over his head.

I met him in the summer of his decline in 1990, deep in the bowels of the Stadium where the pipes and wires above your head run to be hidden from the beauty of the green grass and looming white facade above. He agreed to an interview after a difficult night at the plate. But as was the tradition of the year, I had to wait until his “post-game workout” was done. “My back,” he told me, “will not wait.”

After a half hour, Mattingly emerged from a steamy room covered in towels and walking like a man 40 years his elder. He peered out from the one on his head, recognizing me with a nod. “I don’t think anyone knows how hard you work,” I told him.

It was painful to watch him shuffle down the hall toward the Yankee clubhouse, and this was four seasons ago and a man who is only a year older than me. I saw him play minor league ball, his first game in the bigs, his All-Star rise; now he pained to merely sit in front of his locker and tug a tee shirt over his head.

“Part of my game these days,” he whispered.

Long hours after games, between games, between seasons; working harder for lesser results. But the Yankees cannot win a pennant without him. The only losing stretch the team has endured all season occurred when Mattingly was on the disabled list. Since his return the Yankees don’t seem to lose.

“This is not as good a team without Donnie in there,” manager Buck Showalter said recently. “Not even close.”

Now he is two months and a player’s strike away from his first post-season. The Yankees organization spent two thirds of a century in the post-season. The Yankees with Don Mattingly have never had a good September with a pennant on the line.

In my lifetime there has been only one other Yankee to stand beside Mattingly for continued excellence in pinstripes; Thurman Munson. As Yankee captain, Munson presided over three pennants and two World Championships. He died in his ninth season. Two fewer years than Mattingly.

The man whose peers have dubbed Donnie Baseball has one more year on his present contract. He says he’ll decide on signing another then. There was a time when you’d volunteer to dust off a place for his plaque in Cooperstown, and now you wonder. There are a few other guys that played in the Bronx with 2,000 hits that reside in the Hall of Fame; Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, and Yogi Berra. These are men who made a living playing in October, and now after years of frustration Don Mattingly hopes to get that chance.

Last weekend there were two at-bats, and two very different smiles. One remembers the personal triumph. One draws closer to the October dream.

Part of his game these days.

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