Full squad reporting for duty today. The first official warm-up starts tomorrow with all 83 men, roster players and invitees. Team Captain Derek Jeter did his first official press conference for the season, talking a good portion of the time about his recovery and expected return (Opening Day is just around the corner!). At the end of the it, Jeter was asked about Kevin Youkilis’ recent comments about whether Youk still considers himself a Red Sock, which he has since clarified and explained that he is glad to be donning the pinstripes this year and looks forward to beating them on April 1st in the Bronx. Jeter’s response, with an amused smirk, was simply, “Welcome to New York.”
This got me thinking about that old saying (something Youkilis actually referred to in his clarification interview): “once a Yankee, always a Yankee.” I know you cannot erase your history; in fact, you should embrace it as it helped make you into the person you are today (for better or worse). In that case, once a player’s been a Yankee, it’s not something they can deny any more than they can their other teams or heritage or family life or whatever. It’s part of your make-up, your identity, and you can either accept it or deny a part of who you are.
For example, there were a few years where Andy Pettitte played for another team, closer to his hometown, or even a brief retirement in 2011. But when he came back to New York, it wasn’t a denial or shameful betrayal, but rather a point of fact. Once a Yankee, always a Yankee. No one really even pictured Pettitte as anything but a Yankee who was temporarily reassigned to Houston or his home.
Even Babe Ruth played for another team his final year of baseball (Boston Braves in 1935), but he is enshrined at Cooperstown as a Yankee, even though his career with the Red Sox for the first 5 years were stellar. (Side note: many people thought he would never amount to anything in New York and wrote him off as a lost cause, thinking Boston was the only place where he could be a superstar.)
There is a well-known sign to remind the players as they approach the dugout from the locker room is Joe DiMaggio’s famous 1941 quote: “I thank the good Lord every day for making me a Yankee.” And what a reminder!
I think DiMaggio’s saying serves to remind the players that being a Yankee is a privilege, not an obligation. You can play on any of the other 29 professional teams and still be a million dollar athletic celebrity. But only a select few can call themselves “Yankees”. Much like anything in the world, the moment something becomes an obligation is the moment we lose passion and open the doors to burn out or sell out. This obligation to fulfill a contract or push for a certain statistic robs players of the joy and the privilege of being first a ball player and second proud to wear their team’s colors (especially the pinstripes).
There is an award the Yankees give out every year just before their season opener to a former Yankee who emulates everything it means to be with the team both on and off the field. They call it the “Pride of the Yankees”, after the Lou Gehrig-inspired 1942 film (former Yankees catcher Jorge Posada won the 2012 award). Giving this award prior to the season is a reminder for all current players as to what a privilege it is to wear the pinstripes and the level of leadership and responsibility that is required of the men who do, whether it be for one season or twenty with the club.
And I, for one, am proud to be a Yankees fan.