Flash of Yankee pride

Notes from around the majors, including Tom Gordon's perspective on being a current Yankee and former Red Sox.

Originally Published: September 27, 2004
By Gary Miller | Special to ESPN.com

  • Who better to talk about the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry than Tom Gordon, who calls his days in Boston among his happiest in the game. Gordon came up as a Royal, and was signed away by Boston where he was converted from a starter to a closer. He set the team's single-season saves record, but blew out his elbow. After stops in Houston and both sides of Chicago, the Florida native was lured to the Yankees. With all due respect to the other teams he's played for, Gordon said that was all like the minors compared to being a Yankee. When Flash first saw the sign in the Yankees clubhouse and plastered throughout the lower reaches of the stadium with the Joe DiMaggio quote, "I'd like to thank the good lord for making me a Yankee," he felt it was written for him.

    Tom Gordon
    Tom Gordon has been an invaluable addition to the Yankees.

    While on the Red Sox's side of the rivalry, Gordon acknowledged that he felt the Yankees were a bit full of themselves, pompous and conceited. Now on the Yankees' side, he says it's merely pride and professionalism. He couldn't believe it when he got to spring training, and there just roaming around was Yogi Berra and Reggie Jackson along with the pictures every where of DiMaggio, Mantle, Ruth, Gehrig. No franchise has as many all-time great players or parades them as proudly and as often. Johnny Peskey's still a presence in the Red Sox's clubhouse, and has been foolishly banned from their bench by Major League Baseball. Occasionally you'll see Luis Tiant stroll through. Jim Rice and Dennis Eckersley do broadcast work there. But where's Yastrzemski, Fisk, or other icons of Boston's past? I asked Gordon if he felt part of New York's unprecedented 26 world championships by putting on the pinstripes. He said, "No, not yet. Not 'til I get one of my own."

  • The Yankees are perceived as stuffy, colorless, mechanical, well-paid mercenaries, who methodically overwhelm the opposition. But this team is not without characters (but always in the character of a Yankee). Take the generation's old ritual of stealing the rookies' clothes on the final road trip of the year and replacing them with something highly humiliating. Most clubs abuse their first-year players with Hooters outfits, and even make them wait on the veterans at the home of the orange short-shorts. Others have gone so low as to dress rookies in "depends" diapers and make them go out in public. The Yankees had a little more class. Andy Phillips, Bubba Crosby, Brad Halsey, Dioner Navarro and Scott Proctor were left with Elvis costumes for the trip to Boston. The worst level of humiliation was that some were powder blue, and that all five had to sign autographs out by the player's lot in them, and check into the Ritz Carlton that way, prompting the one of a kind announcement in the lobby that "the Elvises are with the Yankees." Crosby thought about buying his as a keepsake, but just to show how high class the Yanks are, all five were rented costumes, complete with rings and necklaces, and would have cost $1,000 to buy. The Yankee veterans aren't mean to their youngsters either. Not only were the Elvis costumes enforced on the short flight to Boston, they could have waited until the end of the week in Toronto, and make the guys go through customs like that, as most other clubs do.

    Crosby
    Crosby

  • Crosby, who still might make the Yankees postseason roster, says that if he did, "it would just be one more chapter in the storybook," including hitting a homer and taking a curtain call in his first game at Yankee Stadium this April. The Houston native grew up in the Dodgers' system before last season's deadline trade to New York for Robin Ventura. Even though he had some outstanding minor league seasons, he felt he was constantly starting over. Every time he batted over or near .300, the Dodgers would change general managers. He was so concerned about not making it and sticking in the majors, he went back to Rice for his business degree, just in case. He's pretty much always been "Bubba", ever since his older sister couldn't pronounce brother. But as he said, "almost everyone in Texas is Bubba when you're growing up." He tried hard to change it to Rick or Rickey when he got to be dating age, figuring it would work better with the girls, but if anyone called his house and asked for Rick, no one knew who they were talking about. Even his best friend is Bubba.

  • On ESPN's Sunday and Wednesday telecasts, a huge part of our preparation is negated because on "getaway day", especially in a day game after a night game, neither team is likely to take batting practice. Not only that, but it's the day they'll arrive latest at the park. On Sundays, the media's access to players is further limited by chapel services. With no organized batting practice or even stretching or fielding, players often choose to hide out in the training or meal rooms, off limits from our prying eyes, notepads and microphones.

    But it does allow for another sight. You can always tell the team's elite players by how they arrive that day. Most veterans take the second bus, sometimes arriving less than two hours before game time. The cream take a cab or limo in, and it's fun to see Jason Giambi and Bernie Williams walking together under Fenway in their stylish street clothes, and Bernie with his trademark guitar slung over his shoulder.

    Yankee roster decisions
    Joe Torre said he agonizes more over the 25th postseason roster spot than any other decision he makes, even the rotation or lineup. He may spend 24-hours with his staff deciding who the 15th player or 11th pitcher will be -- a player likely will never appear in a single game. Crosby's a strong possibility if Torre takes 10 pitchers as he'd like to do, but Kevin Brown's situation will probably dictate Torre's decision.

    If you know anything about Brown, and his gruff, often isolated demeanor as well as the volatility that caused him to punch out a clubhouse wall after that Sept. 3 loss to Baltimore and lose, you would understand Torre's assessment of his discipline for his injured pitcher. Torre said he didn't have to say much to his highest-paid pitcher ... Brown took it upon himself to apologize to his teammates, and as Torre put it, "nothing could be harder on Kevin than that."

    After his bullpen workouts at Fenway Park, Brown was asked if he'd be willing to pitch in relief. Brown said, "I will if I have to." He didn't have to, nor throw a simulated game, nor do a minor league rehab since there are no more minor league games. Why not test him for an inning in relief? Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said, and Torre confirmed, Brown wanted to start. So they threw him out there Sunday and he got tattooed. But this way, they can see him one more time before the season ends.

    By contrast, Jason Giambi missed the entire Red Sox series, save a meaningless pinch-hitting appearance, after hitting a home run this week that ended the longest hitless drought of his career. Torre's big on putting players in positions to succeed in, and with "Pedro, a knuckler, and Schilling going, we didn't want him to go backwards." Giambi's almost certain to sit out against Johan Santana this week, too, but he'll get some at-bats and be on the postseason roster. Giambi described that home run Tuesday against Toronto, like "coming out of a trainwreck," in contrast to the rest of this bizarre season. But he's happy to be healthy again, improving, and willing to do anything, even pinch-hit if that's what's asked of him. He called the standing ovation he got in Yankee Stadium after that home run the most satisfying of the many he's been called out for in New York and Oakland.

  • After Friday's game, Williams acknowledged his surprise that Pedro Martinez was left in to pitch the eighth inning, not only after Hideki Matsui's home run to face Williams, but also after his hit to face Ruben Sierra, who finally knocked Martinez out of the game to win it for New York.

    But Torre said don't read too much into Martinez's startling remarks that he doesn't want to face the Yankees again, and that they're "his daddy." Torre attributed it merely to the emotions of the moment right after the game and that he saw "two different Pedro's last Sunday and on Friday," one who threw all first-pitch fastballs, and the next one who started with changeups and curves. He expects Martinez is fully prepared for another meeting, although he allowed this about Pedro's peril, "I hope he feels that way, but it doesn't change how we feel about him, or about ourselves."

  • A pair of similar yet contrasting baseball mates in separate Fenway Park suites Sunday, Katie Couric and Shonda Schilling. Both have played prominent roles for cancer charities, Couric having lost husband Jay Monahan to prostate cancer and Schilling herself a melanoma survivor. Shonda Schilling's also a tireless contributor to Curt's ALS charity work and her own Shade Foundation. Katie passed a thank you note to Shonda during the game for their shared devotions to the cause.

    While there are many similarities, there are also contrasts. Even though she was in beau Tom Werner's owners box, Couric didn't want to do an in-game interview. She politely declined because, living and working in New York, Couric was sensitive to betraying allegiances, plus she would never hear the end of it from her fellow "'Today Show" staffers. Werner, with a bandage on his left hand, joked that it was a voodoo curse on Brown. Must have worked. In a white T-shirt, Couric was visually neutral, although she did note her true loyalties by pointing to her red watchband.

  • By contrast, Shonda Schilling's partisanship could hardly be more evident. Her only condition on doing our interview to promote the Harley Davidson Internet auction for Lou Gehrig's Disease, was that we had to do it in the bottom of an inning when Curt wasn't pitching. She almost threw me and producer Craig Rothberg out of the box though, when I carelessly mentioned Curt hadn't given up a hit yet. He only gave up one all day, and thankfully, it was after we left. Incidentally, you can bid on the 2005 Harley, signed by all the Red Sox until 5 p.m. ET Monday at mlb.com.

    When I asked Shonda about her husband's propensity for not only listening to radio talk shows, but actually calling in, she said she quit trying to stop him in Arizona. She used to call in herself when she heard him, tell the station to put him on hold so she could talk to him, and try to get him to hang up. Shonda explains it is Curt's way of giving fans a unique perspective.

    That's certainly true. No other player, especially of Schilling's stature, would even acknowledge he listens to those shows, let alone respond to what he hears on them. Last week's run-in with WEEI substitute host Butch Stearns was to refute that there's friction between Schilling and Pedro Martinez, as exhibited by the contention that Pedro doesn't hug him during the postgame victory line. Stearns stands by his sources, and similar stories of jealousy and discord surfaced in Arizona about Schilling and Randy Johnson. In fact, when Johnson's wife Lisa heard about this latest flap, she called her close friend Shonda and sympathized, "I see they're doing it to you all over again in Boston."

  • If Schilling rubs any Red Sox the wrong way, it's certainly not about his pitching. He's clearly supplanting Martinez this season as the ace of the staff. And, although you never hear Dave Roberts say anything negative about anyone -- not even Brad Halsey who threw at him Sunday or Paul DePodesta who traded him from his beloved Dodgers -- Roberts is certainly a Schilling supporter.

    On Sunday, Sept. 19, Roberts and his wife Tricia decided to induce labor back in Boston, as soon as the Yankees series ended in New York. Schilling arranged for his jet to whisk Roberts back to Boston, where his wife would already be in labor. He arrived in time for the birth of 7-pound Emerson Faith Roberts. They picked that time so Tricia would be far enough past delivery to fly home to San Diego on Oct. 5, and because Dave would be at home all week, before the season ending weeklong road trip and playoffs. The birth was four years to the day after Roberts first went inside the fabled Green Monster.

    As a member of the Indians, he added his signature to all the others immortalized in that dark, cramped, landmark, and added the initials C.D.R., 9/19/00. Three weeks later their first child, Cole David was born. This summer, in Robert's first month as a Red Sox, he took Cole for his first visit in the wall, to see where his dad had signed. Roberts had forgotten about the initials etched on the wall, and was overwhelmed to show Cole how his dad had dedicated the inscription to him, before he was born.

  • Roberts was even drawn into the debate about Shawn Green playing on Yom Kippur. Even though most teammates advised him not to comment on his best friend on the Dodgers, Roberts feels an obligation to honor almost any request. Gabe Kapler hesitantly decided to share his feelings about playing during the holiest Jewish observance, but Kevin Youkilis had enough on his plate as a first-year player in a pennant race to get drawn in. Youkilis had never had to face the issue of playing through Yom Kippur. Even in the minor leagues, his season was always over. Plus, with his father in the stands in Boston, just as he had been in Yankee Stadium the weekend before, the Cincinnati native felt the family decision had been made for him. Still known as "the Greek God of walks," as he was described in Moneyball, Youkilis is just now being recognized as another member of the rather exclusive club of Jewish major leaguers. As he put it, "that's the solution. This weekend, I'm Greek."

    Gary Miller is a reporter and play-by-play announcer for ESPN's major league baseball coverage.

    Gary Miller

    MLB commentator
    Gary Miller, who joined ESPN in 1990, serves as Major League Baseball commentator for ESPN DayGame and select game telecasts. He's also served as a host of Baseball Tonight and as an anchor for SportsCenter.
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