From our Pinstripe Compare ‘n’ Contrast desk
Call it Yankee tradition vs. Yankee contrition.
First, the sad news, from Sunday’s New York Times:
Bob Turley, a Cy Young-winning, right-handed pitcher whose blazing fastball bore in on baffled hitters like a dissolving aspirin and lifted the Yankees to a come-from-behind victory over the Milwaukee Braves in the 1958 World Series, died in Atlanta on Saturday. He was 82 . . .
On a Casey Stengel team loaded with legends — including Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Hank Bauer, Moose Skowron and Elston Howard — Turley was a mainstay of a pitching staff led by Whitey Ford and Don Larsen, whose perfect game in the 1956 World Series symbolized a golden era of Yankee dominion.
To set the stage: The Milwaukee Braves were the defending world champions, having beaten the Yanks in the 1957 Series on the strength of three complete-game victories by Lew Burdette. The Yankees, winners of 7 of the previous 11 World Series, were burning for revenge. But besides Burdette, the Braves had Warren Spahn on the mound and the sluggers Henry Aaron, Eddie Mathews and Joe Adcock.
After four games, New York trailed 3 games to 1, and the Yankee prospects looked bleak. Only the 1925 Pittsburgh Pirates had come back from a 3-1 deficit to win a 7-game Series. With the Yankees just one game from elimination, Turley went to work. He threw a shutout in Game 5, picked up a 10th-inning save in Game 6 and won his second in three days in Game 7, giving up only two hits in 6 2/3 innings of shutout relief.
That’s clutch. And the exact opposite of Mr. September, Alex Rodriguez, who’s the subject of the sadder news on Sunday’s New York Time front page:
Rodriguez, the Yankees’ standout third baseman, had created a public uproar and infuriated team officials by opting out of his contract, the richest in the history of baseball at the time, seemingly to pursue options with other teams.
“I told him he had to take responsibility and make it right,” Rivera said last week at spring training, recalling how he admonished his teammate in the fall of 2007 and urged him to reconcile with the Yankees. “He had to call them.”
Rivera’s stern telephone call set in motion a negotiation that led to a contract that stands as the largest ever in American sports: $275 million over 10 years.
And the largest albatross this side of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.
But now, five years into the contract, that financial commitment hangs ominously over opening day, threatening to impose itself on virtually every decision the Yankees make and severely hampering management’s ability to cope with the shortcomings of an aging roster.
Regardless, the Yankees initially had high hopes for Rodriguez:
From 2005 to 2008, Rodriguez never played before fewer than 4 million fans at the old Yankee Stadium, and ratings on the team-owned YES Network soared.
There was also every expectation that Rodriguez, who had 518 career home runs at the time, would eventually pass Willie Mays, Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds to bring the title of home run king back to the Bronx. The ratings and marketing potential for that chase were considered extraordinary.
A-Roid never lived up to expectations, with one exception: In 2009, “he almost single-handedly led the team to the title . . . He hit 6 homers and drove in 18 runs in 15 games that postseason, and in the euphoric aftermath of that victory, few fretted over his contract.”
But the ballclub is certainly fretting now.