The New York Yankees are in crisis. Facing a 3-0 deficit to the Detroit Tigers, the Bronx Bombers are in danger of finishing the season with the kind of whimper unbefitting a team of their considerable history, character, and payroll. On the brink of elimination and without the services of talismanic shortstop Derek Jeter, manager Joe Girardi has rid his lineup of all slumping stars in the hopes of capturing a requisite amount of playoff magic. Gone are Alex Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson, and Nick Swisher — in are Raul Ibanez, Eric Chavez, and Brett Gardner.
On the surface, Girardi is potentially overreacting by refusing to let some of the club’s most dependable players work through slumps. But any baseball fan with gumption knows that the playoffs are a different world, one where psychological weaklings need not apply. Girardi isn’t only looking for guys who can hit — he is searching for True Yankees.
A True Yankee is hard to define but easy to spot. In 2005, American funnyman Jay Mohr, star of Gary Unmarried, blamed the club’s troubles on their tendency to buy players instead of seeking those who had pinstripes all over their hearts. They didn’t need A-Rod, Gary Sheffield, and Randy Johnson—they should’ve brought in Eric Hinske, Ryan Drese, and John Lackey instead. Sure, those players might have fallen on hard times, but just imagine what could have been if they had joined forces with their spiritually ideal employer.
Finding that next generation of True Yankees is the task at hand for the franchise this offseason. Yet, if these players are only known once they don the uniform, how can they be found in the first place?
The only answer is to reverse-engineer the meaning of the term. To do so, we must examine the qualities of Yankees both True and Illegitimate, check the results, and figure out which players on the market are worthy of the call. Read on for more.
Jason Giambi: In 2002, Giambi joined the Yankees from the A’s, the anti-Yankees, for $120 million and pledged to cut his hair and cover his tattoos, in keeping with franchise rules. As if expectations weren’t high enough, announcer John Sterling bestowed upon him a terrible nickname, “The Giambino,” that also happened to disrespect Babe Ruth, the man credited with “building” the club’s longtime stadium. Giambi never matched his Oakland form and became the first MLB star to admit using performance-enhancing drugs, which makes him simultaneously impressive and pathetic.
What did we learn? A True Yankee desires money but must have come up in a culture that knows its true value. A True Yankee never loses belief in the moral rectitude of his position, no matter the facts. A True Yankee has no need to alter his appearance to fit in, for he will already look suitable.
Alex Rodriguez: A-Rod has largely been an excellent player for the Yankees, agreeing to move to third base despite his Gold Glove-level defense at shortstop and putting up many seasons that have only greater established his status as one of the best players in MLB history. Unfortunately, he has also earned a reputation as not very clutch (in great contrast to Jeter) and dates muscular, past-their-prime women like Madonna and Cameron Diaz.
What did we learn? A True Yankee is a great player, but not so great that he brings sky-high expectations with him. A True Yankee hits meaningful home runs. A True Yankee dates young, relevant starlets.
Randy Johnson: When the Big Unit joined New York in 2005, his best days were behind him. His two seasons in pinstripes were injury-prone and unfortunate.
What did we learn? A True Yankee will not have dominated for another franchise. A True Yankee is not ugly.
Danny Tartabull: Despite a couple solid seasons with the club in the mid-’90s, Tartabull never brought the Yankees to the postseason. That is no great shame, particularly for a player of the pre-Torre era. However, Tartabull angered all of Yankeedom when he claimed True Yankee status on an episode of Seinfeld. Jerry and George might have referred to him as the ultimate Yankee, but any true fan knew that he was not worthy.
What did we learn? A True Yankee does not identify himself as such. A True Yankee does not eat his donut with a knife and fork.
Carl Pavano: Pavano spurned greater offers from several teams to join the Yankees before the 2005 season. That commitment turned out to be false, however, as Pavano missed large periods of time with injuries and even had teammate Mike Mussina question how much he cared about pitching for New York. Pavano also decided not to accept the Yankees’ request that he take a minor-league contract during the 2007 offseason, thereby eating up a roster spot and keeping Truer Yankees from joining the squad.
What did we learn? A True Yankee puts the needs of the Yankees above his own. A True Yankee does not break up with Alyssa Milano.
Derek Jeter: A Yankee his whole career, Jeter exemplifies the franchise’s ideals of stately grace and winning clutchery. Is it any wonder that the Yankees have struggled mightily as he sits with a broken ankle? No presumed statistical advantage can replace an aura this powerful.
What did we learn? A True Yankee feels no need to play for another team. A True Yankee wins. A True Yankee does not need a wife, for he is married to his club.
Paul O’Neill: As right fielder during the team’s glory years of the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, O’Neill rankled opposing fans and players alike with his tendency to whine about calls. He backed it up, though, by getting hits in big spots and proving to all that the Yankees were good enough to not even need beneficial umpiring in the first place.
What did we learn? A True Yankee is entitled to success but knows the system will only give him so much. A True Yankee attempts to game the system regardless. A True Yankee will appear on Seinfeld, be spoken of as a great player, but not claim that greatness personally.
Luis Sojo: Described as “not classically athletic” in his Wikipedia profile, Sojo played parts of seven seasons for the Yankees over two stints. He was never central to the team’s success, but he contributed in several World Series runs. Therefore, he gave his career greater meaning simply by being associated with such a great club. In turn, he is the rare player who does little for average teams and truly finds himself with the Yankees.
What did we learn? A True Yankee reflects the club’s greatness without soaking up that glory for himself. A True Yankee is sometimes a bad baseball player.
Andy Pettitte: Though he looks essentially the same as he did fifteen years ago, Pettitte has seen both the highest highs and slightly lower highs of Yankeedom. Barring a three-season stint with the Houston Astros, Pettitte has shown himself to be truly committed to the Yankee cause, whether by toughing out many postseason wins or ratting on friend and subpar Yankee Roger Clemens for using.
What did we learn? A True Yankee sells out Illegitimate Yankees to the federal government. A True Yankee sometimes does not age, like a vampire, Orlando, or the Highlander.
Don Mattingly: Donnie Baseball was the quintessential Yankee of the ‘80s and early ‘90s, a great first baseman who unfortunately played for a middling team. Unlike later members of the franchise, he had broad appeal across baseball, which in part helped him get his current job as manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers. While his managing is not stellar, it only serves to show that he does his best work in pinstripes.
What did we learn? A True Yankee looks like a winner when surrounded by losers. A True Yankee sometimes does worse for another team to prove just how much of a Yankee he is. A True Yankee trims his sideburns, even if he has none.
We have not discussed every Illegitimate and True Yankee, but this brief survey at least gives a sense of which people might be a stellar fit with the organization. So, like any good analysts, we must now suggest possible targets for this winter.
Potential Future True Yankees
Buster Posey, Felix Hernandez, Clayton Kershaw, Matt Wieters, Blake Lively, Angela Merkel, Gary “Baba Booey” Dell’Abate, Roger Goodell, Brandon Inge, Starlin Castro, Carla Gugino, Chris Capuano, Craig Kimbrel, Chris Sale, Garry Shandling.
You have been given your task, Brian Cashman. Do it well.