Monday, July 20, 2009

Old Timers' Day Ruminations

As I mentioned this morning, Old Timers' Day is probably my favorite day of the regular season. This was the fourth consecutive one I've attended, and for me, they don't get old. The Yankees were not a very good team in my early years of following them. But part of what I really enjoyed about the franchise was their history. My family had a copy of the 1987 documentary New York Yankees The Movie, detailing the team's history. I watched it until the tape wore out.

My father has a library of books on Yankee history, from the Bronx Zoo years, back to the Dynasty era, to the Ruth and Gehrig years. Once I devoured all of them, the local library was an excellent source of other books on Yankee and baseball history.

So for me, I really enjoy seeing the Old Timers come back. And while the Hall of Famers and the players from the most recent dynasty get the biggest pops, I enjoy knowing who "Bullet" Bob Turley and Luis Arroyo and Hector Lopez are when they're introduced.

I can appreciate why outsiders may be somewhat disgusted by it. It's highly self-congratulatory and self-indulgent, and that appearance isn't helped at all by twin blowhards John Sterling and Michael Kay continually trying to one-up each other introduction after introduction. But baseball, perhaps more than any other sport, is built on its own history. To my knowledge, the Yankees are the only franchise that still celebrates Old Timers' Day anually, a tradition that dates back to 1946. And as a fan of the team, I'm happy that the franchise gives the fan a day each year to bring back the heroes of the past. It's something that I wish fans of other teams had the opportunity to experience.

Last night, Mike at RAB linked to post from NBC's Circling the Bases blog, that criticized the Yankees' annual tradition. Yes, there is a sense of overkill following the closing of the Old Stadium and the opening of the New Stadium, but those are rare, once in a lifetime experiences. Old Timers' Day is 60+ year tradition. It should not be ended; it should be duplicated throughout baseball. Yes, Mantle and DiMaggio and Scooter and Murcer have all passed on. Outside of Yogi and Whitey, who are certainly on in years, Old Timers' Day doesn't really have any of the top tier Yankee Legends any more. But it's not just about the all time greats, it's really a day to celebrate anyone who contributed through the years, anyone who ever gave the fans cause to cheer.

In Peter Golenbock's Dynasty, an account of the 1949 through 1964 Yankees that won 14 pennants and 9 World Series, there's an interview with Johnny Blanchard, a Yankee platoon player from 1959 through 1965. I don't have access to the exact quote at present, but essentially Blanchard spoke of how important it was to him to go back to Old Timers' Day each year - to see his old friends and teammates, to relive the memories of years past. I think he may have even said he would die if they wouldn't let him come back anymore.

Blanchard was a fixture at Old Timer's Day. He passed away just prior to the start of this season and was remembered Sunday in the list of baseball deaths from the past year. I hope the other former Yankees in attendance yesterday remembered him, and remembered why it was an important day for all of them. In the aforementioned documentary there's a great quote from Hall of Famer Lefty Gomez: "Once a Yankee, always a Yankee". I'm grateful we have Old Timers' Day to remind us of that.

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