Sunday, June 21, 2015

Mel Stottlemyre, the greatest Yankee of my adolescence, gets his monument

I once went to war over Mel Stottlemyre.

It was with Johnny Z, my next door neighbor. He was bigger than me, four years older, and a Giants fan. I had no business tangling with him. He said Willie Mays was better than Mickey Mantle, and though I disagreed, I could respect his view. But when he made fun of Mel, I went for his throat. He beat the shit out of me.

(But I'd do it again, Johnny. Better secure your oxygen tank, because I'd do it again.)

Yesterday, the Yankees surprised Mel Stottlemyre with a centerfield plaque. In doing so, they tipped their cap to every Yankee fan who survived the lean years, the Horace Clarke and Dooley Womack epoch, when every budding star turned into Steve Whitaker, and every big acquisition became Duke Carmel.

It was when we realized that the world was not a fairy tale, that presidents were not immortal, and that a Mantle and Maris - garnished with a Yogi - only come once in a lifetime.

It was a long dark era, and yet we had hope every fifth day, because Mel would pitch.

Lately, I've been grumbling over the Yankees' penchant for retiring numbers. Frankly, I think it's the wrong way to remember a guy, and I fear it's done more to sell tickets than to honor a legacy. I believe that if you bestow Bernie's number upon a great young player, you're creating a psychic connection to Bernie - not showing disrespect. Ah, but what do I know. This is a franchise that refused to celebrate A-Rod's homerun that tied him with Willie Mays, simply because it couldn't monetize it.

And yet... yesterday, the Yankees sold no tickets on the memory of Mel Stottlemyre.

They just surprised him - and all of us. They honored him.

For one last moment, Jake Gibbs was behind the plate, and Harry Bright was playing first. Elvio Jimenez was patrolling RF, and the next budding superstar - Roger Repoz - was batting third. We didn't know it at the time, but the Yankees were going to suck for ten years. Ten wonderful years.

Listen: I fear we are headed toward another abyss. An injury here or there, and the 2015 Yankees could look a lot like 1965. But yesterday, I realized that the Yankee fan base will get through this, regardless of what happens to Rob Refsnyder. And we will make it because no matter how many bad hops the Fates supply, there will always be a Mel Stottlemyre.

Thank you, Mel.

It was an honor to have fought for you.

1 comment:

John M said...

I have rarely had occasion to say it, but when I was a kid my nickname was "Mel," in honor of the Yankees greatest pitcher of the era.

It was amazing that the Yankees had the brains and the heart to spring this on us, but much appreciated. He's done everything well as a player and a coach, including hitting an inside-the-park HR against the Senators, if I recall correctly.

That was a great day, too.