Sign O’ the Times
If you’re taking the D train to the South Bronx for this weekend’s latest installment of the Subway Series, take a good look around the station platform when you arrive at 161st Street and River Avenue. Except for a few tiny signs on the support columns—signs that aren’t even visible from the windows of the train—there’s no indication that you’ve arrived at a world-famous landmark, the hallowed “House That Ruth Built.”
Conspiracy theorists who are looking for clues that the pinstripers plan to bolt Yankee Stadium (well, clues other than the constant bleating coming from the city’s current lame-duck mayor) can point to the NYC Transit Authority’s curious decision not to incorporate the words “Yankee Stadium” into the mosaic when the station’s walls were recently retiled. (By contrast, when tiles were replaced at the 34th Street station last year, the words “Madison Square Garden” were made a permanent part of the design for the first time.)
Is somebody, in fact, trying to tell us something?
“Whatever we’re doing is what the T.A. hired us to do,” said a projects manager for M.A. Angeliades, Inc., the contractor currently rehabbing the 161st Street station. “We took down the [huge, floor-to-ceiling] signs that said ‘Yankee Stadium’ on them, and we’re not contracted to put them back up.”
Looking over the blueprints in his office, Abdul Muqtadir, the construction manager for the project, said, “Nowhere does it say ‘Yankee Stadium’ on any of the signs or tiles. They all say ‘161st Street.’ I have no idea why that is.”
Deirdre Parker, a spokesperson for NYC Transit, insisted, “The blue porcelain-on-metal signs will be returning,” though she couldn’t say when.
Interestingly, one of the more popular items at the New York Transit Museum gift shop these days is a small metal replica of a subway station sign. It reads, “161 Street-Yankee Stadium,” and sells for eight bucks. Cute little souvenir? Or soon-to-be coveted collector’s item?
Jockbeat recalls the fierce battles that once raged over the all-important question “Which is your favorite Duran Duran member?” The choice revealed everything about one’s character. The same holds true for today’s Yankees (who resemble a boy band, except that there are more of them). Our pick: Paul O’Neill, the intense, brooding veteran slugger—a saturnine presence in the clubhouse amid the sunny temperament of a Derek Jeter, mild-mannered Bernie Williams, and homely, lovable Scott Brosius.
See O’Neill stand in the dugout, casting a grim, stony-faced glare at the field after whiffing. Watch him mutter under his breath at the plate (a prayer? an imprecation? the Meow Mix theme song?), right foot twitching uncontrollably, as if awaiting a firing squad. Pity the manly, 6-4 right fielder as he sighs and puts his hands on his hips, unwittingly camp with frustration, after a rare flub of the ball.
Like Beethoven and Russian gymnast Svetlana Khorkhina, O’Neill suffers from a tortured, stormy nature. Those who despise his helmet-hurling tantrums and water-cooler assaults (sample Yahoo thread: “O’Neill is a crybaby bitch”) fail to grasp that his sole aim, like that of the Borg, is perfection. So when he homered against Baltimore for his only run last month, he didn’t crack a smile—not while rounding the bases, not while bopping fists with his teammates in the “Wonder Twins, activate” gesture that is their idea of a high-five. (He was still cross about grounding out on the previous at-bat.) “Paul is never happy,” observed Jeter, sagely. “Never.”
The bad news: Demoted from the No. 3 slot to the 6 hole, O’Neill’s bat drooped throughout the month of June, when he averaged a feeble .233. The good news: Joe Torre‘s nutty lineup shuffle last weekend against Tampa Bay put O’Neill second in the order (after Jeter), resulting in a surprise 4-for-7 surge from the grimacing lefty. (Moreover, rumor has it, the 38-year-old O’Neill maintains a team low of 3 percent body fat.) The worst news: The man’s favorite movie is Grease, and Bruce Springsteen is played over the stadium p.a. before every O’Neill at-bat—per his own request. Now, that’s truly awful.
• Memo to the copy editors at The New York Times: Soccer is that game played outdoors on grass, with athletes kicking the ball; basketball is the one played indoors, with athletes shooting the ball through a hoop. This is a significant difference—even when the players are women. The Times seems to have forgotten on Friday when its WNBA standings showed Cleveland in first place and the Power—yup, the WUSA soccer team—in second. For the record, at press time, it’s the New York Liberty (9-4) who are trailing Cleveland (11-4) at the top of the Eastern Conference. The New York Power (12-6) are clinging to first in the WUSA with Atlanta, Philadelphia, and Washington all a breath away (12-5). Somehow you don’t imagine that the guys at the Times sports desk would have confused the Yankees and the Knicks. . . . • The Mets may be going nowhere this season, but nobody can accuse them of getting there fast. Through Sunday, the heart of the Mets’ order (Robin Ventura, Mike Piazza, and Todd Zeile) have combined for half as many stolen bases as the Giants’ Benito Santiago, who, at 36 years old, has been catching in the Majors since the Reagan administration.
Contributors: Jeff Ryan, J. Yeh, Alisa Solomon, Jonathan Kalmuss-Katz
Sports Editor: Miles D. Seligman