Open Letter to Tony Kubek: Come Back to Yankee Stadium (It’s Derek Jeter Day on September 7)
August 29, 2014
Hope you and your family are well.
A few months ago, I was watching a TV a story about Jim Abbott. Born without a right hand, Abbott pitched in the big leagues for 11 years. Remarkable. What a great story. There was footage from the wonderful no-hitter he pitched as a New York Yankee on September 4, 1993. You could hear the announcers of the game. One of the voices sounded so familiar. It occurred to me who it might be, but I needed to make sure.
On YouTube, I found a four minute clip of the last out of the game and the celebratory aftermath.
Sure enough I was right. It was your voice Tony. You had done the color commentary alongside Dewayne Staats who did the play-by-play. As I watched the Yankees celebrate on the field during the four minute clip, you let Staats and the moment taking place on the field, in the stands, and in GM Gene Michael’s box do most of the talking. But it was easy to recognize your distinctive voice as you paid tribute to Abbott the person, opined on the fielding plays behind Abbott, and mentioned the great play at third base earlier in the game by the Yanks’ Wade Boggs.
Your broadcasting career was so good, you were honored by Baseball’s Hall of Fame in 2009 with the Ford C. Frick Award for your major contribution to the game as an announcer.
When it came to giving viewers and listeners insight, analysis, and independent opinion, you paved the way for Tim McCarver.
Hard to believe that Abbott’s no-hitter was 21 years ago. Hard to believe you were a baseball announcer for almost 30 years at that point.
But even harder to believe: after you retired from broadcasting in 1994 you never came back to Yankee Stadium, and hadn’t watched a major league baseball game until at least 2009. Have you watched one since 2009?
For me, I will always remember you as the shortstop for the great, great Yankees’ teams of my childhood in the early 1960s. Mickey Mantle said those were the strongest of all the great Yankee teams on which he played. Mickey Mantle with Herb Gluck, The Mick, p. 186.
It would be great to see you again Tony. Please come back to the Stadium.
You left the game of baseball, disaffected to an extent because you were bothered by the greed and corporate culture that was in the game. You were closer to seeing it and more impacted by it than the fans watching the game.
But the more things change, the more they stay the same. My guess is that the owners in Babe
Ruth’s day and your playing days were no different than owners in the 1990s and today. They have always wanted to make as much money as possible and be in control of their businesses.
Murray Chass wrote in the New York Times at the time you announced your retirement from broadcasting that “[you] said you didn’t care for the film makers and authors who romanticize the game”. September 22, 1994.
But often the storytellers are the same as the fans. Fans just like me. How could we not romanticize the game?
Those Yankees were our first love. And you never forget, and for that matter, often never stop loving your first love.
First thing in the morning as a kid – I checked the Post to find out if the Yanks won. Then the box score. How many homers did Mickey hit? The batting averages. Who was hitting over .300? During the day, the countless arguments about who was better, Mantle or Mays.
Mickey Mantle, our hero. His many leg injuries, playing on taped legs, the death of his father who he was so close with from cancer at the age of 39, and Mickey’s fear that he would not live to reach 40 made his achievements even more compelling. His awesome and many home runs, extra base hits, and runs batted in from either side of the plate. Almost always hitting over .300. His great speed covering the outfield and around the bases. His strong arm.
Moments in baseball that bind us to our parents.
My mom, realizing that my brother, after he left our garden apartment in either 1961 or 1962 to go to a World Series game, had left his glasses home. Worried that he would not be able to enjoy the game, my mom, despite my protestations that she would never find him, took his glasses and went on a bus and subway from Queens to Yankee Stadium to try find him, not knowing where he was sitting among over 60,000 people. (She never made it past the entrance.)
Sitting with my 84 year old dad at Yogi Berra Day in July 1999, a day when Don Larsen threw out the first pitch to Yogi. During a rain delay in the bottom of the third, concerned for my dad because of the heat and humidity, I asked him if he wanted to go home. He said are you kidding, Cone’s got a no-hitter going, which had escaped me. Talk about the perfect day. I hope you heard about that day.
If this was a piece of paper instead of a computer screen it might be a bit stained. My eyes are welling up with tears right now.
Maybe it was 1962 when I was 9. First game I ever went to at Yankee Stadium. Went with dad and a group that included neighbors Fred and his son and my friend Mark, my uncle Solly, and cousin Allan.
Got close to getting a high line drive foul ball – which seemed like it would be way short of us, but just kept on flying to my surprise – hit by Luis Aparicio in batting practice into the field level along the left field side, halfway between third base and the foul pole. A guy sitting in his seat stopped the then rolling ball with a lunch box and then calmly bent down and picked it up. And the amazing and almost breathtaking site the first time I saw the field – the green grass so vivid and rich. No color TV was available in my house to prevent that surprise.
And baseball has bound us to our kids too.
My two daughters don’t understand the game that much, but love the excitement of being at games.
Driving on the Deegan on our way to Game 5 of the 2001 World Series against the Diamondbacks (my first World Series game in person) and telling my older daughter not to expect the type of excitement that had occurred the night before.
The night before, Tino hit a two-out, bottom of the ninth two-run homer to tie the game and the Yankees won in the bottom of the 10th on Jeter’s opposite field home run after the clock had passed midnight and it was November for the first time in a World Series.
Don’t expect those things to happen again, they just don’t happen that often, I explained. A few hours later, Brosius’ homer sailed over our heads in the front row in left field with two outs in the bottom of the ninth to tie up Game 5 which the Yanks won in the 12th inning.
They were with me on Opening Day in 2002, Giambi’s first game as a Yankee. We all got a kick out of watching the sequence of a girl – maybe 19 years old – run on the field to shortstop during the game and give Jeter something (it turned out to be a piece of paper with her telephone number) and the security guard who got a poor jump on her, chasing her out to right field as she zigged and zagged away from him for a while, and even dead-armed him once or twice as she was momentarily caught, until she was finally caught.
Please come back to Yankee Stadium Tony Kubek.
It’s the 50th anniversary of the last year of the great Yankees’ dynasty. You were a big part of that dynasty.
The greatest dynasty in sports history. The dynasty that lasted from 1921 until 1964. Forty-four years during which the Yanks won 20 World Series’ and 29 American League Pennants.
The Yankees did not go more than three years in a row without winning at least one pennant during that time.
As you know, the Yankees did not win a pennant from 1965 to 1975 or from 1982 until 1995.
Don’t get me wrong. The last 20 years have been wonderful for me and my fellow Yankee fans. Five world championships and seven pennants. But the Yankees dynasty that I knew as a kid, and of both my parents’ and grandparents’ generations was over after 1964.
Playing only for the Yankees in your career Tony, you were a 3-time American League All-Star shortstop. Rookie of the Year in 1957.
In a nine-year career that began at the age of 21 in 1957, your Yankees’ teams won three World Series and seven pennants. Before 1960 you spent significant time playing the outfield and third base, besides shortstop. And before your last two seasons in which you were plagued by injuries, your lifetime batting average was over .270.
My earliest baseball recollection – Pittsburgh Pirate Bill Mazeroski’s home run in the bottom of the ninth at Forbes Field in Pittsburg to beat the Yankees in Game 7 of the World Series and not understanding how the mighty Yankees could possibly lose.
I know you may not want to hear about that game. But my family and I felt so bad for you and were worried about you after the game because of the injury.
On an infield where some sand, pebbles and small holes could be found, a ground ball took a vicious and cruel bad hop that drilled you in the throat with such force. “[Kubek’s] mouth filled with blood, and his windpipe swelled up. He wanted to stay in the game but was having trouble breathing. For a time, doctors wondered whether he would need an emergency tracheotomy.” David Schoenfield, ESPN.Com, The Greatest Game Ever Played, Oct. 13, 2010.
In sports we think of balls hit, thrown, and caught. But rarely do we talk of what seems to be the randomness of how a ball bounces. It might be the cruelest bad bounce in sports history. It happened in the bottom of the eighth inning, no outs, man on first with your team up 7-4 and Bobby Shantz pitching beautifully as the second Yankee reliever.
You played the hitter, lefty hitting outfielder Bill Virdon, perfectly. Without that bad hop, you, Richardson and Skowron would have turned an easy double-play. The Pirates most likely would not have scored that inning and the Yanks would have probably won the game and the World Series.
You recovered and in the next season, 1961, you were the shortstop for perhaps the greatest baseball team ever – rivaling the 1927 Murders’ Row Yankees. Winning 109 games, the team set a record for homers at 240. They easily won the World Series in five games over the Reds.
Mantle and Maris chased the Babe’s single-season home run record and Maris broke it with 61. Mantle hit 54. Elston Howard was second in the American league with a .348 average. Six guys had more than 20 homers. You had 617 at-bats in 153 games, batting .276.
You were part of a tremendous fielding infield, with Clete Boyer at third, you at short, Bobby Richardson at second and Moose Skowron at first. Mel Allen said about the four of you, “Ft. Knox had more holes”. Curt Smith, Voices of the Game, MLB Pro Blog, For Kubek, A Deserved Nod, January 2009.
Lefty Hall of Fame hurler White Ford had a 25-4 record that year. And who could forget Luis Arroyo and his screwball out of the bullpen going 15-5.
September 7 would be a great time to see you at Yankee Stadium. It will be Derek Jeter Day. The Yankees are honoring the shortstop who became a Yankee great over the past 20 years. Jeter became the starting Yankee shortstop in 1996 and is now playing his last season. He’s 40 and can still play the game well.
Generations of Yankee fans adore him. If you haven’t seen him play, you owe it to yourself. Yankee shortstop to Yankee shortstop.
To say the least, many improbable things happened over the past 20 Yankee seasons.
The storied franchise became storied again.
George Steinbrenner mellowed.
He apologized to Yogi and Yogi came back to the Stadium.
Joe Torre, whose playing days overlapped for six years with your playing career, showed that life can begin again at age 55. He managed for 10 years winning four World Series and six pennants. Not since Casey Stengel, has anyone managed the Yankees for such a continuously long time.
A new Yankee Stadium opened in 2009, next door to the old one.
Many truly great players wore the pinstripes during the past 20 years. But I want to talk to you about Jeter.
Jeter, starting at the age of 21 has played for the Yankees for 20 years. Like you, he has played his whole career with the Yanks. And like you, he was a Rookie of the Year.
He stands sixth all time in number of hits with over 3,400. A .311 lifetime batting average. Fourteen times an All-Star. Five gold gloves. Rarely injured, he took care of his body and played in over 2,500 regular season games, and starting in his first full season until last year, played in less than 148 games only 3 times. He has a .308 batting average in 158 post-season games and hit .321 in 38 World Series games.
His play was consistent, day in and day out. And clutch.
Two of his outstanding clutch fielding plays will always be remembered.
One play, now named “The Flip” for posterity, was an original that might not ever be seen again by fans. As his momentum carried him, he made a lateral, away from his body toss to catcher Jorge Posada to nail Jeremy Giambi of the A’s at the plate in a close 2001 playoff game. He was about a third of the way up the first-base line in foul territory at the time of the toss. After a hit into the right field corner, Jeter caught on one bounce the overthrow from the right fielder as he ran from shortstop to back up the back-up man to the cut-off man.
The second memorable play, “The Dive” was against the Red Sox in 2004. A long-legged full-out sprint going quite a distance from shortstop to catch, with glove arm extended as far as possible up and away, a pop-up near the stands in short left field while still moving at full speed; and unable to stop, he flew head first with body flattened into the stands.
You would love how he respects players from earlier eras and Yankee tradition. He enjoys talking with the old-timers at Old-Timers’ Days.
Jeter enjoys Yankees tradition so much he is still introduced at each home game at-bat by the late long- time public address announcer Bob Sheppard via a tape recording.
The Yankees’ Captain. You would be proud of his calm leadership and how he let his playing do the talking in public.
He voyaged through 20 years of media frenzy and managed to create calm seas by the way he conducted himself on and off-the field. A gentlemen.
Connecting the good old days with the present has always been a great Yankee tradition.
Sorry if I went on too long. But the memories started flooding back.
My younger daughter and I have tickets for the September 7 game in section 420B, row 10, seats 9 and 10.
Sincerely hope you come to the game.