It was 1988 — pretty much the middle of the New York Yankees’ longest drought between World Series wins (1979–1995), and seven years since they’d even made it to the Fall Classic. All the more reason to sit in the cheapest seats, drink too much beer, and unleash invective upon visiting players and fans. As correspondent Ivan Solotaroff wrote in the September 20, 1988, issue of the Voice, “Baseball-watching invites strange behavior and, two weeks into this Yankee homestand, I’ve actually begun to fear the Voodoo Man’s Evil Eye, and to respect his power.” Solotaroff was referring to one of the bleacher regulars, called “Bleacher Creatures,” in this case a man with a pencil mustache who would train his “magnetizing gaze” on opposing ballplayers.
The Voice reporter succinctly summed up these lean times for the Bronx Bombers: “The Yankees, 2-8 in their last 10, are coming into the fifth inning down by a familiar four-run count. [Bleacher Creatures] Frank and Bob are already ingesting their remedy for slumps like this: many Jumbo beers, a confirmed one-way ticket back to second grade.”
Solotaroff then consults with Cousin Brewski, the beer vendor. “‘How are you? How are you? How are you?’” he asks from ten rows away. “‘The Voice? Sure, I’ll tell you everything you wanna know. The Regulars? Best fans out here. Class. They know everything. Teena’s got the batting averages, Bob, the Captain, knows every word of the “Gang Bang Song,” the “Get the Fuck Out Song,” “Syphilis,” all the songs. Melle Mel’s a singer too. Big rap star. Famous, famous, famous. Sees everything — the others tend to drift a little.’”
Sports give us a tribal outlet that might otherwise turn into uglier fanaticism, and the bleachers have never been a place for the fainthearted. But, as always, the crowd in ’88 was a disparate mix, the fans glad to have anything to cheer about. Melle Mel — “taking time from cutting a new album to attend every Yankee home game” — commands his compatriots’ attention when he bellows, “Let me hear it, one time, for my man Mr. Da-a-ave Winfield.” Solotaroff drily notes that the huge crowd screamed, “Dave, Dave, Dave” as Winfield looked at a third strike.
Winfield had signed with the Yanks in 1980, for the highest-paying contract in baseball at the time. And in his first year he delivered — at least during the regular season. But he was flat in the 1981 World Series, which the Yanks lost to the Dodgers, and that was the last trip he made to the playoffs in a decade of wearing pinstripes. “I let Mr. October get away,” said Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, in 1985, referring to clutch hitter Reggie Jackson, “and I got Mr. May, Dave Winfield. He gets his numbers when it doesn’t count.”
Still, Winfield’s long-striding grace in the outfield and powerful strokes at the plate (he hit 465 career homers) made him a favorite with many fans, especially the Bleacher Creatures, who would yell encouragement at the right fielder from directly over his head. “Yeah, we know him,” bleacher denizen Bob told the Voice reporter. “Well, we don’t know him personally, but, he sees us on the street, he knows, yeah, the bleachers. We gave him a plaque last year, congratulating him for his sixth consecutive year hitting 100 RBIs. He didn’t do it, he ended up with 97, but we gave him the plaque anyway.”
This was back in the day when all that most of us could count on was that fabled fifteen minutes (or hours or seconds) of fame — that epoch before the social chum of Facebook and the careening notoriety of Twitter. Being a tried-and-true Bleacher Creature offered proximity to greatness. As one cheap seat regular said to another, referring to the Voice scribe: “Talk to the man, Frank. Get famous.”