October 27, 1999: the Yankees vs. the Braves, World Series Game Four: The End

More fun with the media: Before tonight’s game, John Rocker, the wacko Braves reliever, climbs the platform in left field where NBC has built its pregame setand begins screaming at the reporters and crew, “If you guys shoot me in the bullpen one more time, I’m gonna climb up here and shove those headphones upyour asses.” Apparently Mr. Rocker did not enjoy all his camera time last night.

Jim Gray, the NBC reporter at the center of the Series’ most tiresome “controversy,” sits down on the Yankees bench during batting practice and isimmediately surrounded by about 50 of his colleagues, who ask him questions about being snubbed on live TV last night by Chad Curtis. Gray, true to thetradition that reporters are the most antagonistic interview subjects in the world – far worse than Pete Rose – smiles so tightly his jaw muscles twitchrepeatedly. Finally Gray squeezes out an answer: “I’m just looking forward to game four.” He repeats this answer to every question he’s asked. His pal KeithOlbermann, sitting next to Gray, says that he’s used to media circuses: “I spent a year covering Monica Lewinsky,” Olbermann says, though no one has asked, and Olbermann seems to have made it his life’s work to make sure no one ever forgets his martyrdom.

Joe Torre has done a masterly job of minimizing media hassles during his four years as manager; it’s probably Torre’s third most amazing feat, after winning two championships and recovering from cancer. But Torre tonight makes some news: He’s angry at Chad Curtis for claiming last night that the Yankees had taken a team vote to boycott Gray when, Torre says, the silent treatment was all Curtis’s idea. The times Torre has publicly criticized one of his players can be counted on one hand. He must be livid at Curtis for interfering with the Yankees’ focus. “I’m going to plan on talking to the team today,” Torre says.”We have a certain obligation to NBC that we’re going to fulfill.” Good thing Curtis won that game last night.

Mostly it’s an excited, anticipatory mood tonight, everyone expecting a party celebrating the Yankees’ sweep. Paul O’Neill’s eyes are puffy, though; hisfather died last night. Yet when O’Neill steps in the batting cage, he starts laughing. “For most players,” David Cone says, “the field is their only realsanctuary.” A bit melodramatic, but true for O’Neill tonight. No doubt other teams have their illnesses and deaths in the family, but the Yankees have ledthe league in this kind of human-interest soap opera lately.

Speaking of sanctuary: Orlando Hernández is posing for pictures with a group of people who gave him a place to stay in Costa Rica after El Duque escaped fromCuba. Hernández has been remarkably testy recently, despite his great pitching, but with his Costa Rican friends, he cracks his biggest smile in weeks. JoséCardenal, the Yankees’ first-base coach and a Cuban also, says even with the Internet and satellite dishes, the average Cuban baseball fan is still blacked out from official news of Hernández’s games. “But the word is passed,” Cardenal says. “People hear about El Duque.” If the Series ends tonight, they’ll probably soon find out that he’s the MVP.

Tonight’s front-row fun couple: Tim Russert and Bob Gibson.

–7:45 p.m., October 27, 1999

Confetti drifting in disconnected clouds, police horses crapping on the field, 56,000 people staying in their seats and yelling – they seem to be suspended in the air above the field, the stadium itself disappearing in the sound, a three-story bowl of noise like no other.

Howard Safir, as soon as the Yankees clear the field, striding past the dozens of cops guarding the field, straight to the pitcher’s mound, where he poses forphotos snapped by his pit-bull press aide, Marilyn Mode.

Biff Henderson singing along with Frank Sinatra.

Somehow, with everything he’s been through in the past 24 hours, Paul O’Neill is able to sum up the larger scene, from this vantage point in right field. “It wasa perfect ending for us – the crowd on its feet, a three-run lead, Mariano on the mound,” O’Neill says in the chaotic, celebratory clubhouse, champagne spewing in random directions, camera crews elbowing for position. But everyone stands back from O’Neill, giving him some space. “It was the time to sit back and enjoy the moment,” he says. And O’Neill needed something to enjoy after his father’s death. “When I was 5 years old, my father told me I was gonna play in the major leagues,” he says, his eyes staring at the floor. “It’s not a fun way to start the off season – going to my father’s funeral. But I am proud of thisteam.” He can’t talk anymore and excuses himself.

Derek Jeter sounds like a little kid: He’s whispering, “Look out, look out, look out!” as he taps my arm and moves me away from George Steinbrenner, so Jetercan sneak up on the Yankees’ owner from behind. For the second year in a row, Jeter is the one who dares to douse Steinbrenner, who happily announces, “That’sthe end of the interview! I need a towel!” as Jeter wraps him in a hug.

Joe Torre is much more willing. He comes over to Jeter and takes off his hat. “I need to get wet!” Torre says, and Jeter doesn’t hesitate. “Awwww!” Torre yellsas he drips. “Now I feel like one of the guys! Now I feel like I belong!” Then Torre shivers happily. “Can’t you guys use warm champagne?”

Jeter, his hat backwards, a rare departure from baseball decorum for him, pulling a Cohiba (courtesy of El Duque) from his back right pinstriped baseball-pants pocket as he dances down the tunnel to the dugout, leaping up to touch the sign with the painted quote from Joe DiMaggio, “I want to thank the Good Lord for making me a Yankee.”

Andy Pettitte saying he’s really glad the Yankees didn’t trade him.

David Cone at 1:00 a.m., the last Yankee on the field, as always the last Yankee talking. “This seems like the culmination of so much emotion, from all the wayback in ‘96 when I had the aneurysm to this morning with Paul O’Neill. And losing our manager in the middle of it all. You saw it – the clubhouse was eerie afterwards, eerie with relief. Grown men were crying, and not because we won. That’s why there was no loud music playing. You saw Paul’s reaction on thefield, he kind of knelt down. Everyone surrounded him, almost like we were trying to protect him. Many of the emotions tonight had nothing to do with baseball. It’s tough to eloquate. I’m humbled to be part of it.”

–1:48 a.m., October 28, 1999

October 27, 1999: the Yankees vs. the Braves, Wor […]