JOCKBEAT 2021

Under President Biden, Will the Yankees Return to Their Winning Ways?

Yankee Pinstripes are the deepest blue: The Bombers .741 win percentage under dem Dems

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The Biden administration bodes well for Bombers fans. Over the past several years, the Yankees have had an abundance of talent — Judge, Stanton, LeMahieu, Hicks, Andújar, Cole, Chapman, Torres, to name a few — but also a surfeit of injuries. Will Joe Biden heal both the rift in the body politic and those ailing hamstrings out on the field?

History says he just might, because the Yankees have shown a partisan slant to their pinstripes going back to their earliest years. Let’s roll the tape on the Roaring Twenties, when the GOP’s Calvin “The business of America is business” Coolidge was in the White House. In 1923, the Yanks won their first World Series, led by slugger Babe Ruth’s three homers in six games. Four years later, the Yanks had assembled their fearsome “Murderers’ Row” lineup, but had only two homers over that whole 1927 Series, both from Ruth — which was still two more than the Pittsburg Pirates managed while losing in four straight. In 1928, Lou Gehrig hit four homers for the Yanks during the Series, but Ruth still outshone his teammates by hitting three dingers in Game 4, doing his part to sweep the St. Louis Cardinals.

The Yanks didn’t make it to the Series for the next three years, and the country was having its troubles, too. In 1932 you could support Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidential campaign by buying a “Republican Depression Coin.” The token lambasted then president Herbert Hoover’s moribund leadership since the stock market crash three years earlier. That same year, Ruth was holding out for an $80,000 a year salary. When a reporter pointed out to the Bambino that even Hoover was only making $75,000 a year, the Sultan of Swat retorted, “What the hell has Hoover got to do with this? Anyway, I had a better year than he did.” Indeed, in 1931 Ruth had led the league with 46 home runs, accompanied by a gaudy .373 batting average.

But it was 1932 that would mark milestones for both Ruth and the Yanks. In that year’s Series, the Bambino supposedly “called his shot,” gesturing with an arm toward center field to taunt the Cubs players and inform fans that he was going to hit the next pitch out of the park. The legend endures, because Ruth homered to deep center and the Yanks won that Game 3, finishing their sweep of the Cubs the next day, October 2. A month later, Roosevelt defeated Hoover in a landslide — Ruth was still doing a hell of a lot better than the POTUS — and the ’32 World Series would be the Yanks last championship under a Republican president for two — count ’em! — two decades.

When FDR took office, on March 4, 1933, the country was still in the trough of the Depression — unemployment was near 25%. The Yanks entered a slump too, not even making it to the Fall Classic in ’33, ’34, or ’35. But by 1936, FDR’s New Deal agenda had driven unemployment down to 17% and the Yanks were back on top, racking up four straight World Series wins from 1936 through 1939 under manager Joe McCarthy (the former minor-league second baseman, not the future Red-baiting U.S. senator from Wisconsin).

The Yanks won again in 1941 — the same year Time magazine founder Henry Luce called on all Americans “to create the first great American Century.” The Bombers beat “Dem Bums” — as the Brooklyn Dodgers were affectionately razzed by their fans — in this first of seven meetings between the crosstown rivals. The Yanks next triumphed in 1943, beating the St. Louis Cardinals, but without help from future Hall of Famer Joe DiMaggio or stalwart Tommy “The Clutch” Henrich, who were both in the military as World War II raged. More Yankee stars traded their pinstripes for service uniforms over the next few years, and FDR — after pulling the country out of the Depression and marshaling America and its allies in the struggle against fascism — died in 1945, just months before the war came to a close. The Yanks returned to their winning ways under his successor, Harry Truman, in 1947. The next year, while Truman was giving a speech excoriating the GOP, a supporter yelled out, “Give ’em Hell, Harry.” Truman shot back, “I don’t give them Hell. I just tell the truth about them, and they think it’s Hell.” The Yanks, however, must have felt the Truman era was heaven, winning every year from 1949 through 1951.

Then, on October 7, 1952, in the 7th inning of Game 7, with two outs, the bases loaded, and the Yanks ahead 4–2, Dodger Jackie Robinson hit a short pop-up that second baseman Billy Martin, positioned almost on the outfield grass, snagged with a lunging catch, saving at least two runs. The Yanks held off Dem Bums to win their fourth World Series in a row. Exactly four weeks later, Republican Dwight Eisenhower, riding his reputation as the Supreme Allied Commander who defeated the fascists in Europe, crushed Democrat Adlai Stevenson by an 11-point margin.

The nation liked Ike, and so did the Yankees, winning three times during his two terms, in 1953, ’56 (the last time they faced Brooklyn, for a 6–1 overall record), and ’58. Perhaps at some point the Bombers had heard this wry remembrance from the last Republican POTUS they ever won a Series under: “When I was a boy growing up in Kansas, a friend of mine and I went fishing and as we sat there in the warmth of a summer afternoon we talked about what we wanted to do when we grew up. I told him I wanted to be a real major league baseball player, a genuine professional like Honus Wagner. My friend said that he’d like to be president of the United States. Neither of us got our wish.”

In 1960, ready for a generational changing of the guard, the nation elected John F. Kennedy. The Yanks, like much of the nation, seemed inspired by the young president’s vision and vigor, renewing their winning ways in 1961 and ’62. Although he was eight years younger than the 43-year-old Kennedy, Yankee catcher and outfielder Yogi Berra was getting old for his profession. Still, he hit for a .318 average in the ’61 Series and, despite having only four plate appearances in ’62, earned his tenth World Series ring, a record that, like Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak, looks safe for the ages. Berra can perhaps be seen as having both blue and red pinstripes, with five rings under Truman, three while Ike reigned, and two to usher in JFK’s “New Frontier.”

The country entered a malaise when Kennedy was assassinated, in 1963, and it was doubly so for the Yanks. Neither Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, nor Gerald Ford got to throw out a pitch at a Yankees World Series game. During the city’s fiscal crisis, however, a hyperbolic headline in the October 29, 1975, Daily News became a bit of a fall classic itself — FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD. The Yanks went on to lose to the Reds in the Bicentennial year, the last of Ford’s term, but things brightened in 1977, when Jimmy Carter was in the White House. Although Howard Cosell is often credited with the phrase “Ladies and gentlemen, the Bronx is burning,” he never actually said it during the telecast from Yankee Stadium on October 12, 1977, when an ABC camera captured scenes of a blazing apartment building nearby. Instead, the always history-minded sportscaster noted, “That’s the very area where President Carter trod just a few days ago,” referencing a trip the former Georgian peanut farmer had recently made to the South Bronx to get a firsthand look at urban blight.

But if the borough was enduring hard times, the Bombers themselves were riding high that October, and the fans in the stadium for Game 6 — pent up after a decade-and-half drought and the Yankees up three games to two — were ready to explode. Then they did. After free-agent slugger Reggie Jackson hit three home runs off three successive first pitches, the Yankee faithful were in a howling frenzy. In the top of the ninth, the Yanks up by four, Reggie was in his usual spot in right field, basking in the cheers of “Reg-gie! Reg-gie!” after tying Babe Ruth’s record for three homers in a single World Series game. But he also found himself dodging firecrackers thrown from the stands, a display of hooligan passion that sent Jackson in for a helmet as Cosell intoned to a national audience, “We’ve talked about this before. We don’t want to belabor the point. Behavior like this is intolerable, unthinkable, disgraceful — not worthy of this great city.” Then pitcher Mike Torrez snagged a bunted pop-up for the final out, and the fans stormed the field. Jackson, running full tilt with his shoulder lowered like a halfback, leveled more than one delirious celebrant in his dash for the clubhouse.

In 1978, with plenty of high-priced free-agent egos in the clubhouse, Yankee drama had reached a fever pitch. A quote from Jackson (now known as Mr. October) typified the era: “In the building I live in on Park Avenue there are ten people who could buy the Yankees, but none of them could hit the ball out of Yankee Stadium.” His teammate, third baseman Graig Nettles, summed up the team some wags were calling the “Bronx Zoo”: “When I was a kid I wanted to be either a ballplayer or work in a circus. Now I get to do both!” Fiery manager Billy Martin continued a long-simmering feud with Jackson and also jousted with owner George Steinbrenner, who the scrappy former second baseman felt wasn’t giving him enough support in disciplining his high-priced players. Martin, always known for his temper (and the occasional bar brawl), apparently decided he’d had enough of both Jackson and the Boss, telling a reporter, “One’s a born liar, the other’s convicted.” Jackson may or may not have lied about missing a bunt signal from Martin during a game, but there is no doubt the Boss was found guilty in 1974 of making illegal contributions to Richard Nixon’s 1972 presidential re-election campaign. So Martin was fired, but the Yanks went on to win that year — only to start their longest winless streak in franchise history.

In 1980, Republican Ronald Reagan made Jimmy Carter a one-term president — and the Great Communicator didn’t help the Yanks much either (unless issuing a pardon to cleanse Steinbrenner of his campaign-donation foibles in the Nixon years counts.)

George H.W. Bush presided over no Yankee victory visits to the White House.

But the Clinton years saw a resurgent Yankee squad, which, with the help of what later became known as the “Core Four” — closer Mariano Rivera, shortstop Derek Jeter, pitcher Andy Pettitte, and catcher Jorge Posada — went on to snag rings in 1996, ’98, ’99, and 2000.

Then bupkis during George H. Bush’s two terms.

But with Barack Obama’s victory in 2008, the Bombers didn’t wait long, taking on the Philadelphia Phillies in the 2009 Series. First Lady Michelle Obama, along with Second Lady Jill Biden and World War II vet Yogi Berra, watched from the infield as Tony Odierno, an Iraq War vet, tossed the ceremonial first pitch. The Yanks lost that game, but behind the MVP hitting of Hideki Matsui they took the Series in six.

For those who have been keeping score — that’s Dems 20, GOP 7 — what can we divine for 2021? Under manager Aaron Boone, the Yanks have made the playoffs the past three years, but never advanced to the Fall Classic. In 2019, Boone famously called his own players “fucking savages,” because their discipline in not swinging at balls out of the strike zone was brutal on opposing pitchers. In retrospect, we didn’t know just how much fucking savagery was yet in store for the nation, as Donald Trump lied about the deadliness of Covid-19 and later encouraged his followers to ever-escalating acts of violence. In the last year of the Republican president’s wannabe autocracy, watching or listening to a ballgame was a surreal endeavor. With the foam-core crowds and canned cheers and boos, fans at home might as well have been watching that episode of Star Trek where Roman gladiators fought inside a pasteboard arena and a disembodied hand turned the dials for “applause,” “hisses,” and “catcalls.”

But 2021 holds new hope for the nation — and for the Yanks. Two Bronx natives shone at Biden’s inauguration: Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor swore in Veep Kamala Harris and Jennifer Lopez serenaded the crowd. J.Lo was accompanied by her fiancé, former Bomber third basemen Alex Rodríguez.

The Yanks have been on the verge throughout the Trump years. Maybe all it took to make the Bombers great again was to vote the Queens native out of office.

Thank you, America. See you in October.

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