As the New York Yankees look to even things up today, there is a specter hanging over the House the Core Four built, and we’re not talking about their 1-2 deficit in the American League Championship Series against the Houston Astros.
But first, let’s take a trip to that Monument Park of the mind. Although it has been burnished by almost a quarter-century of highlight reels, all Yankee fans of a certain age remember the tale of manager Joe Torre talking down a nervous George Steinbrenner when the Bombers were behind 0-1 in the 1996 World Series against the Atlanta Braves. “We’re facing [Greg] Maddux,” Torre recalled telling The Boss in a 2016 Daily News interview. “We may even lose tonight.” Then the Hall of Famer added, “I got giddy, I guess. I said, ‘But don’t worry about it. We’re going to Atlanta, that’s my town. We’ll win three there and come back and win Saturday night.’ He looked at me cross-eyed. I was kidding, but I had a straight face. He didn’t believe me. I didn’t believe me.” Maddux did in fact beat the Yanks — then Torre was proven a prophet when his team swept the next four games.
Today, the catcher who played under Torre — the triple-hitting hero of the Game 6 clincher against the Braves, 21 years ago — Joe Girardi, is manager of the Yanks, and one wonders if he is as sanguine as his former skipper. His Yankees dropped two close games due to a surfeit of strikeouts at the plate and pinpoint defense from the Astros. However, Game 3 brought major pop to Yankee bats, while Carsten Charles Sabathia bamboozled José Altuve and company. Game 4 happens this afternoon, and the Bombers need to take three of the next four to go all the way to a world championship. But a dilemma potentially awaits this team made up of 32 percent foreign-born players, with six of those eight players — Jaime García, from Mexico; Ronald Torreyes, from Venezuela; Aroldis Chapman, from Cuba; and Gary Sánchez, Luis Severino, and Starlin Castro, all from the Dominican Republic — hailing from south of President Trump’s proposed border wall. And some of the swastika- and Confederate flag–brandishing “very fine people” and anti-globalists among Trump supporters might not care much for the Amsterdam-born Didi Gregorius’s African descent, or the fact that he speaks four languages; perhaps only Masahiro Tanaka, from Japan, could pass muster with our anti-immigrant, “America First” commander in chief.
So here’s an admittedly premature question for Yankees fans: How will you feel if the ahead-of-schedule-rebuilding Yanks pull off an October miracle and go all the way, and then go even further and hop on a charter flight to Washington, D.C., sometime early in 2018?
If they choose not to go, they would not be the first pro champs to snub the Donald. That distinction goes to the NBA’s Golden State Warriors, who were disinvited by way of a Trump tweet after superstar Stephen Curry let it be known he would take a pass on the semi-tradition of winners visiting the POTUS. The Warriors have said they will instead “constructively use our trip to the nation’s capital in February to celebrate equality, diversity, and inclusion — the values that we embrace as an organization.”
Baseball’s protests have been more low-key over the century and a half since two amateur teams — the Brooklyn Atlantics and the Washington Nationals — were the first ball clubs feted by a sitting president, visiting President Andrew Johnson four months after the end of the Civil War. It is, after all, the sport that did not welcome African American players onto the field until Jackie Robinson donned a Brooklyn Dodgers uniform 82 years later, in 1947.
We do, though, have the poignant example of a ballplayer protesting blind patriotism in Blue Jays slugger Carlos Delgado’s refusal to stand for “God Bless America,” in 2004. The Puerto Rican native remained in the dugout throughout the song that had become de rigueur in post–9-11 America, protesting not only the debacle of the Iraq war but also the use of the Puerto Rican island of Vieques as a target dummy for the U.S. Navy over a sixty-year span. At the time, he told the New York Times he remembered older residents reminiscing about “how, in the middle the night, a bomb blew up. I never experienced it, but I can imagine it.” He went on to explain why Puerto Ricans continue to feel hostile about the Vieques situation — “It’s still in the environment, it’s still in the ground, it’s still in the water” — and then pointed out, “That’s why we’ve got the highest cancer rate of any place in Puerto Rico.”
Going by the grudging relief effort he has offered hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico, Trump seems to be no fan of that American territory. He is, however, known to be a sports fan, and even told Sports Illustrated in 2015 that he might like to own a team: “I guess I would say maybe the Yankees. George Steinbrenner was a great friend of mine, did a great job.”
At least one current Yankee, Sabathia, is on record as not wanting to be on any team owned by the real estate mogul, recently telling the Daily News, “I just don’t believe in anything that is Trump.”
Now, in the age of the most divisive president in living memory, Yankee fans can hope for seven more victories this year, and then that their team will join CC and do the right thing and find something else to do if and when the White House beckons. And c’mon — they have the perfect excuse: Trump is from friggin’ Queens!
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