“When I got traded over here, I was thinking, ‘Man, I gotta calm it down a little bit.’ This is the New York Yankees!” he says. “But then I realized, ‘Hey, it’s stuffy in here!’ So I cranked up the Bose speaker and turned it into Dance Party ’99 over here.” Swisher laughed, began to do a little dance, if it could possibly be called a “dance,” and cackled some more before heading over to talk to Sabathia.
A few lockers over, Mariano Rivera watched him prance by and did not change his expression. The new guys are a small part of this brand. Bose speakers and Twitter pages aside, they’ll blend in soon enough. The true Yankees have been here for a while. Some have won titles. Some haven’t. But they’re all getting older and are burdened with dramas of their own. The way we look at them, the way we remember them: That might not be the way they are anymore.
Tampa’s George M. Steinbrenner Field, the spring-training home of the Yankees, exists to satiate the fan’s nostalgia. The famous façade spans the grandstand, and the ﬁeld has the exact dimensions of the old and new Yankee Stadiums. Outside, there’s a mock Monument Park featuring the retired numbers of all the Yankees greats. The scoreboard even plays the same videos on the Jumbotron, which can be strange, considering you’re watching the famed subway race in a city that lacks adequate public transit. Steinbrenner Field—built in 1996, it was renamed from Legends Field for the Yankees owner before last season—is to the old Yankee Stadium what Las Vegas’ New York–New York casino is to New York City: smaller, faker, sunnier, more comfortable, and palatable for retirees, lazy tourists, and those too averse to perceived urban squalor to actually visit the real thing. (And parking’s easier to ﬁnd, too.) Outside one spring-training game, a man, with his son clad in a JETER 2 jersey and carrying a sack of baseballs for players to sign, asks an usher if he’s ever been to New York City. “I’ve never been,” he says. “Is the subway really that dangerous?”
Retired Yankees are all over Steinbrenner Field during spring training. Following the unwritten rules of old-timer etiquette, they all put the uniform back on, like little kids in pajamas, and mingle with fans and current Yankees, dipping into that Yankee mystique and all it still holds. Goose Gossage watches the pitchers run sprints on a practice ﬁeld, his mustache as gigantic as ever. Tino Martinez looms around, devouring the free clubhouse food. Yogi Berra, 83 years old now, shufﬂes through the locker room, feeble but still iconic, a living piece of American folklore.
C C Sabathia is in the grand tradition of lovable baseball lugs like John Kruk, Rich Garces, Babe Ruth, and David Wells: He’s fat.
And then there is Reggie Jackson, still the straw that stirs everyone’s drink. When Reggie is in the room, no one else is. The players revere him—“That’s Reggie fuckin’ Jackson!” gasps Swisher—the fans surround him (when he happens to slip into the sight of the general public), and beat reporters, still, stop whatever they’re doing to sidle up to him. Reggie’s the mayor of Tampa, the main link to the “Bronx is burning,” Billy Martin, Steinbrenner-in-his-prime days. With Mickey Mantle gone, Reggie is the closest thing to the embodiment of Yankees as breathtaking drama, living a big life on and off the ﬁeld and, most important, winning championships.
Reggie knows everybody, the clubhouse attendants, elevator operators, weight trainers, and security guys. Before one spring-training game in mid-March, a couple of reporters waited outside the Yankees clubhouse for entry, talking up a security guard with a Gossage-inspired Fu Manchu. In walked Reggie, who called out the guard’s name and slapped him on the back. The guard was holding a copy of that day’s Post. On its cover: The Details photo of Alex Rodriguez, in which he appears to be kissing a mirrored reﬂection of himself. Eager for a connection with Reggie, the guard showed him the paper. “You see this shit, Reg?”
Reggie picked up the paper, and his face went ashen. “Naw ... aw, hell no,” he said, jaw dropped, stunned, as if the picture were of A-Rod having relations with a barnyard animal. “Naw. That ain’t what he’s doing. That ain’t ... aw, man, that’s just not right.” He thrust the paper back toward the security guard as if it were on ﬁre and then scurried into the locker room, slamming the door behind him.
When you talk about the Yankees and what they really are, rather than what they’d like to stand for, you have to start with A-Rod. As much as we might like Derek Jeter to be the face of the Yankees today, he isn’t. Not anymore. When you demand the best and the brightest for your franchise, money and psyche be damned, sometimes you end up with Alex Rodriguez. It’s been quite the dirge for A-Rod this winter. We had Torre claiming in his book that the rest of the team referred to him as “A-Fraud.” (Whether this was meant as an insult or amiable teasing depended on whom you talked to.) We had A-Rod gallivanting around with Madonna, a woman seventeen years his senior but several light-years ahead of him in the ﬁeld of managing public relations.