We want our heroes like the Yankees. We want them like the Bambino, Joltin’ Joe and Mickey Mantle-even Thurman Munson. Any one that has ever heard “Mrs. Robinson” by Paul Simon has had the feeling-the sensation of something surreal that they cannot quite touch. I never met or saw Joltin’ Joe play, but I have felt the feeling. I felt it reading a giant tome of a book on the World Series as a child. I feel it hearing Costas talk about any Yankee, even Tim Raines. Perhaps especially Tim Raines. I say these things not as a Yankee fan, or someone from the Northeast. I say them as a Cardinal fan. Someone who is keenly aware of my own teams’ place in history. A place that is behind the Yankees. Far behind the Yankees.
We need our heroes to be as black and white as those famous pinstriped uniforms, with the shades of grey developing in between the pin stripes through playing… fighting. Sweating. Willing and bleeding. We need the stark contrast of black lines against a bright heavenly white. It is like the game itself-a crisp, brilliant and innocent white ball against the pits of dirt waiting to be dug. The blades of grass waiting to be torn apart then watered, grown and done again. The oddly shaped white plate within the brown of the batter’s box, surrounded by even more white powdered lines. We need to see that black and white image of Thurman Munson, his jaw clenched in a defiant bust of determination, with no hint of bravado; only of what is to be done. The imperfection of Mantle, the lives of Maris, Gehrig, Munson and Ruth that were cut short. The trials, triumphs and tragedies of Strawberry, Martin and Steve Howe. The possibility of what could have been, and the reality of what was.
Maybe we need to see them in that black and white image before they are elevated to demigod status. That stark image that is part shaded grey, and terrifyingly dull white before they are worshiped. Before they are legend. We need them to exceed and then fail and then in reverse. To battle, and to cry. To bleed and seethe at every missed opportunity, at every perceived injustice. To be just as stern and strong when they are wrong as when they are right. We need them to fight for us, and with us. The Yankees are us. They are you and I, they are America. We need a Bucky Dent for every Babe. We need Brosius and Boone and Leiter for every Posada Berra and Jeter. You see, every plaque that graces Monument Park is as equal as every memory talked about over chess games and dinner tables. Every bust in Cooperstown is no more important than every clipped newspaper or crumpled baseball card wrapper. Bucky Dent is you. Every David Wells is someone you have worked with, or knew. Every role player is like you, and me and everyone we have looked up to that has changed the world is Lou Gehrig. They are our teammates, and we are theirs.
All remember the heroes, but it is the role players that are remembered by the legends. Without those that play alongside the greats, the greats would be a lone star in a blank sky. Though they make history just as we make our cups of coffee, we all sit at the same tables and tell the same stories, and we all play on this team… the Yankees. America has been the bright morning star, that storied house on the hill. America is the Yankees, and we are all playing for them.
I imagine if there is a heaven, then there surely is a beautiful day with green grass waiting, and when we all arrive, Bob Sheppard will announce our arrival. The breeze will blow, and Mr. Layton will go into his organ rendition of take me out to the ballgame. Then the black stripes will stand out further, be more stark, and the role players will once again stand among the legends, and God will welcome all of us Yankees.