Thursday, May 3, 2018

What it Means to be a Yankees Fan: David Lippman

So, we know what it means to be a Yankees fan for the co-owners of this blog, myself and Bryan Van Dusen, one of our usual friends that comments on the blog, Ken Hans, and in my humble opinion the best writer on the blog, Scott Fiedler, but today we break the mold a little. Today we find out what it means to be a Yankees fan from a fan of the blog, his name is David Lippman

What does it mean to be a Yankees fan to you, David? Let’s find out.

Dave Lippman essay for “The Greedy Pinstripes”
What makes you a fan of the New York Yankees?

My grandfather Joe Lippman became a baseball fan when his older brother Sam “Izzy” Lippman took Joe to the Polo Grounds to see Christy Mathewson fire a 3-0 shutout at the Cincinnati Reds. Grandpa was hooked on baseball and the Giants immediately and for the rest of his life. In 1912, the Yankees moved into the Polo Grounds when Hilltop Park burned down and started wearing the pinstripes with the interlocking “NY.” Since the Highlanders (as they were called then) were not in the same league as the Giants, Grandpa now had two teams to root for, which he thought was great. They were not in direct competition with each other, until Babe Ruth came along and made life interesting.

After that, Grandpa still had it easy, except at World Series time. When the Yankees were in, the Giants were out, and vice versa, and the ballparks were just a bridge apart. The 1951 World Series was the last time a World Series was held where fans could walk from one ballpark to the other, in point of fact. Grandpa rooted for his increasingly powerful Yankees and passed that on to my father, Paul Lippman.

My mother, Barbara Lippman, grew up in England during World War II, and listened on US Armed Forces Radio to baseball games, which were often Yankee games. She did not understand how the batting order looped around, but other than that, baseball made sense, and she became a Yankee fan.

They met in London in 1949 when Dad went over with a group of NYU students – Mom was hosting them with University of Leeds students. Dad asked Mom to see a movie at the Odeon. Dad thought there was only one Odeon in London, not realizing it was a chain like Loew’s. Mom thought that Dad knew where they were going. So instead of seeing “Treasure of the Sierra Madre” or “Twelve O’Clock High,” they saw “Abbott and Costello Join the French Foreign Legion,” which set the tone of communication for their entire 37 years of marriage. Mom, however, learned how American humor worked from when Dad laughed at Lou Costello’s jokes.

She came to America via Hoboken in a Dutch liner in the 1950s, which was a good time to be a Yankee fan, working as an editor on science books. One of them was the autobiography of the inventor of radar, Sir Robert Watson-Watt. He was late to an editorial conference and told Mom that the delay was caused when he was flagged for speeding by a New York State Trooper, who barked at Watson-Watt: “You were caught on radar. Do you know what that is?” Watson-Watt sighed, and said, “Yes, I invented it.” The trooper was not amused and issued the ticket.

Mom and Dad got married on Columbus Day in 1957 at the St. George Hotel in Brooklyn, and my English and American families met in mutual incomprehension, despite both being Jewish. The British side were all military or civil servants, who had built and run the Empire and fought in battles for the Crown since 1680. The Americans were all pharmacists and small businessmen who came originally from shtetls in Poland. The Americans couldn’t understand why the British were all so reserved, drank tea, and talked about colonial postings or some incident at Aldershot or Quetta. The British couldn’t understand why the Americans ate so much chopped liver, were so loud, and talked about “retail and wholesale, I hope,” and used so much Yiddish. Beneath it all, the Americans were also irritated that the Yankees had lost – LOST – the World Series to the Milwaukee Braves, of all teams, and the Giants and Dodgers were moving to California.

Mom and Dad followed the Giants soon after, working for an ad agency in San Francisco, which made it tricky to follow the Yankees, and Dad had divided loyalties in the 1962 World Series. Mom was worried about the pregnancy that would hatch me (in its late stages) and both worried about the Cuban Missile Crisis at the time, and Richard Nixon running for “Governor of the United States” in California. Bobby Richardson caught that Willie McCovey liner, JFK got the Soviet missiles out of Cuba, Pat Brown won the gubernatorial race, and moments after Tricky Dick said, “You won’t have Dick Nixon to kick around anymore,” and Mom promptly went into labor.

I was born at Beth Israel Hospital on the Lower East Side on November 7, 1962, six hours after Eleanor Roosevelt died at Mount Sinai Hospital on the Upper East Side. She heard I was coming and couldn’t stand it.

I thus gained my Yankee and Giant fandom from my parents. My youth was the 1970s team: Thurman, Reggie, Catfish, Sparky, Billy, George, Lyle, and most of all: Gator. He was my professional role model, on how to handle things, on the mound and in life.

Logically, I began my baseball career with the crosstown New York Mets as associate editor of their house magazine, “Inside Pitch,” in the early 1980s, a job I loved, at a time when the team was on the rise. With typical Mets illogic, they sold the magazine to “Baseball America” in mid-1985, then based in North Carolina, and the North Carolinians believed they could cover the Mets better from Raleigh than Queens, and I was fired on September 12, 1985, thus missing the 1986 season. I dropped any adherence to the Mets beyond that of a fourth-generation New Yorker (meaning, that if they are in a World Series and neither the Yankees nor Giants were playing, I would root for the New York team).

I was also working a little bit for United Press, covering the Yankees, so I got to cover the good guys at the same time, and was present when Don Mattingly and Dave Winfield ended their internal war for the batting title on the final day of the 1984 season, in a demolition of the Detroit Tigers. As they had led the American League East from wire to wire, I doubt the Tigers cared.

With my baseball writing career over (the great dream of my life wrecked), I could root for the Yankees and Giants without having to maintain the cool impartiality of a UPI baseball writer and did. Unfortunately, 1987-1991 were lousy years for the Yankees. In 1991, I went in the Navy, and was overseas until 1998, in Japan, New Zealand, and Antarctica.  When I heard about guys like Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Bernie Williams, and Mariano Rivera, I said, “I’ll believe it when I see it.”

I saw it on my monitor in my office in New Zealand in 1996, when the Yankees came back from that horrific first two games to clip, nip, and dip the Braves in four straight, stunning the Southerners and Yankee-haters in my unit.

I got out of the Navy in 1998, which was a good time to be back in New York…NOW I began to appreciate Derek Jeter, David Wells, David Cone, Tino Martinez, Paul O’Neill, and Mariano Rivera, who was becoming my second professional role model, for his utter coolness and calmness in the face of crisis and defeat.

In 1999, I began my Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program, and sat struggling at my computer on an essay, unable to figure out what to do. Roger Clemens was pitching for the Yankees on the radio behind me, and as I listened to him pitch, I had a gigantic epiphany: writing is pitching: the pitcher is the writer, the batter is the reader, various types of pitches are various types of sentences, phrases, and paragraphs, and effective writing depended on velocity, movement, location, knowing the hitter, the game situation, and setting up the right pitch sequence.

Suddenly I understood it all. I attacked the essay, and got an A. I got an A on the next one. And the next one. And the one after that. I completed the Masters Degree with Straight A’s, the first and only time in my life I had ever run the table in any academic environment. And I owed it all to Roger Clemens. So, when he got in trouble as a headhunter and later over steroids, I stood by my literary mentor, one of four (the others being my high school writing teacher Frank McCourt, historian Walter Lord, and my MFA instructors at the New School).

What made me, in the end, a Yankee fan, was more than the family connection, though. Or the writing connection. It was the endless link to history. Every Yankee team and player has to measure up to and meet the standards set by previous generations of titanic players. They had to live up to traditions set by predecessors: Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio for quiet excellence, Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle for flamboyant power, Waite Hoyt and Whitey Ford for cocky dominance, Joe McCarthy and Casey Stengel for managerial brilliance.

It was always awesome to me to see so many players on one team through the decades who could and did. For example, I grew up with Willie Randolph – Robinson Cano kept up his tradition. Now it looks like Gleyber Torres will inherit the title. Grandpa saw Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Bob Meusel. Dad saw Joe DiMaggio, Bill Dickey, and Red Ruffing as a kid. Then he enjoyed Yogi Berra, Allie Reynolds, and Hank Bauer. Mom’s team was in the 1960s: Roger Maris, Elston Howard, and Bobby Richardson. I’ve gone from Munson to Mattingly to Mariano to Miguel Andujar. It never ends. It holds my respect, it holds my awe, and it holds my reverence.

And it ends with me. My daughter Wallis regards all sports that involve a ball as “sportsball.” Her sport is rock-climbing.

What is your earliest memory of the New York Yankees?

In 1977, Dad took me to the old Yankee Stadium (new version) for Old Timer’s Day. He was very excited to see some of his favorites taking the field one more time, in uniform, to take their bows. Out they came, gaining in importance as the introductions went on. Mickey Mantle was among the last. Joe DiMaggio was the “man they saved for last,” and he received the usual standing ovation. The Mick didn’t play. The announcer said he had “pulled a muscle while bowing,” but I learned later that he was completely drunk.

The moment I remember best was when Joltin’ Joe came to bat. Dad grabbed my left arm and said, “His stance hasn’t changed a bit. That is the exact stance I remember.” It was a moment that connected us tightly…both being able to see Joe DiMaggio at bat. And, no, I don’t remember the regular game that followed. That overshadowed the rest.

What is your fondest memory of the New York Yankees?

I have so many memories. My favorite thing at Yankee Stadium was Old Timer’s Day, of course, seeing my old favorites and heroes come out and get introduced, play a not-too-serious game, and have some fun. They’d stand on the third-base or first-base line, quaffing water from bottles, yakking with each other. They all got applause, and I would remember moments from my youth or earlier adulthood.

Second favorite? That moment when the sound system replay screen cuts out of that horrific “Cotton Eye Joe,” (a country song in New York City?) and replaces it with the first bars of “Enter Sandman.” The home bullpen doors open, and Mariano Rivera himself, head down, dangling his mitt in his left, jogs to the mound, intent on his business, trailed by a YES Network cameraman, whose live imagery of Mariano coming into the game is flashed on the Diamond Vision screen. The entire audience at Yankee Stadium leaps to its feet and starts singing the song (if they know the words) and start wildly cheering, knowing that the most devastating weapon in baseball history was coming in to seal the victory yet again (652 times all told). We will never see the like again.

Third favorite: Game 3, 1999 World Series. Challenger the Eagle flew in from the visitors’ bullpen before the game and Chad Curtis smashed a walk-off home run in the 10th to the same place to end the game. The stadium was vibrating as the Yankees sealed their 100th World Series game win and record 11th in a row.

Fourth favorite: Game 2, ALDS, 2009: Alex Rodriguez blasts a homer into the Yankees’ bullpen to tie the game off of Joe Nathan in the ninth inning in the rain and snow. In the 11th, Mark Teixeira hits the game-winning walk-off shot, a laser to left. A few days later, Game 2, ALCS, A-Rod facing California Angel relief ace Brian Fuentes in the 11th, again with the good guys trailing in snow and rain, and he bashed a line shot that bounces in the area in front of the first row of seats in right field for a game-tying home run. The Yankees then win on a defensive misplay and Jerry Hairston, Jr. scoring.

Fifth favorite: All-Star Game, 2008: The last one at the old Stadium. 14 innings. I sat through every inning and scored every inning. Before the game began, an army of Hall of Famers emerged from the doors in center field and assumed their positions. I was in the presence of greatness, past and present.

These are all from games I was at. When I think of Yankee events I was NOT present for, there are even more…I’m 55 years old, and I can remember all the way back personally to the mid-1970s. I stayed home on Yom Kippur to watch Bucky Dent hit that home run, stayed up late to watch Reggie hit his home runs, saw Gator strike out 18, and so on and so on…I think Derek Jeter’s “Mr. November” home run in the 2001 World Series stands out. I lost friends on 9/11, and the city of my birth and youth was still smoldering. The World Trade Center was a mile-and-a-half from where I grew up. I saw it go up…I saw it go down. My wife was standing on 6th Avenue at 14th Street when she saw the first plane hit. I manned the Emergency Operations Center in Newark as the Public Information Officer. Jeter’s homer did not win the World Series, but it brought a bleeding, wounded, devastated city to its feet in defiance and triumph. We could withstand anything hurled at us and outlast them through determination and sheer resilience.

What do you think of when you see the interlocking NY of the Yankees?

The endless tradition of the team, which dates back to the precise year my grandfather started cheering for them. The uniform has undergone virtually no changes since the “NY” was put on the pinstripes, and a member of the 2018 Yankees wears the same uniform as the 1938 Yankees, and, in many cases, the same number as some distinguished player. Consider that there are no single digit numbers left. The lowest available number is 11, worn by the talented veteran Brett Gardner. Before him, Gary Sheffield, Chuck Knoblauch, Dwight Gooden, Gene Michael, Johnny Sain, Joe Page, Lefty Gomez, and Herb Pennock, to name a few. There’s no “Flashback Friday” or “Throwback Thursday” or “Turn Back the Clock” uniform night for the Yankees. They don’t have to bother. They ALWAYS wear the same uniform they did “back in the day.” The same interlocking “NY.” The same pinstripes. The history and heritage continues.

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Sorry for the Capatcha... Blame the Russians :)