As we suffer through the doldrums leading up to Spring Training, the LoHud Yankees Blog is currently going through their annual pinch hitting series. Yesterday's post came courtesy of Mark Braff, a veteran of every Yankees Old Timers Day since 1968.
Braff's premise is that the Yankees are doing a disservice to the event by making it a Yankee-only affair. Prior to the 1980s, Old Timers Day featured a team of Yankee greats against a team of baseball greats. Firstly, I'm insanely jealous the Mark has been lucky enough to attend the last 42 Old Timers Days. Secondly, I'm nearly as jealous that in doing so he had the opportunity not only to see Yankee greats but also the greats of other teams. And I'm on board with Mark's suggestion that the Yankees reinstate the tradition of flying the banners of past World Champions and pennant winners on Old Timers Day.
That said, I don't agree with the assertion that Old Timers Day should no longer be an all-Yankee affair. Yes, the days are gone when the Yankees could trot out all-time greats like DiMaggio and Mantle, or even franchise greats like Dickey, Keller, Henrich, Rizzuto, Howard, Maris, or Murcer. But that doesn't mean the Yankees don't have the clout to keep Old Timers Day an in house affair.
Perhaps the low end of the guest list is a bit thin, but for me at least, that's part of the appeal of Old Timers Day. When else would one remember the likes of Horace Clarke or Wayne Tolleson? Sure Aaron Small was a journeyman pitcher who logged all of 104 IP with the Yankees, but he also had a magical 10-0 run in the summer of 2005 as the Yankees surged back to capture the division. Yes, Brian Doyle hit .161/.201/.191 in 110 games over four seasons, but he went on a tear in the 1978 World Series, subbing for an injured Willie Randolph.
No one would ever take these guys over the HoFers from other teams, but they were Yankees. And when it comes down to Old Timers Day, that's all that matters to me. As more of the late nineties-early aughts dynasty hang up their spikes there will be more than enough memorable former Yankees to fortify the ranks and keep the event an all-Yankee affair.
Similar criticism was levied against the event last summer, and as I said then, I think the criticism is misplaced. The Yankees organization, the media that covers the team, and we as fans often get a little too self indulgent and congratulatory when it comes to Yankee history. But Old Timers Day is perhaps the one day where those traits are most justified. To my knowledge the Yankees are the only club that still celebrates a formal Old Timers Day annually. I wish other clubs would follow suit. And if some teams don't have enough players to bring back to form two teams, perhaps the Yankees could assemble a squad of former greats to go and help out.