Slate's Robert Weintraub, like many of us, loves the old purple prose of early 1900s sportswriting, the Grantland Rices, the men who painted epic tales of warriors, grizzled combatants and lardywarks too manly to wear gloves. In an occasional series, Weintraub writes about the week's best baseball game in the style of the vaunted sportswriters of yesteryear. This week: Johnny Damon's big day against the Royals on Saturday.
In its storied and celebrated history as a landmark sporting green, the Big Ball Orchard In The South Bronx has seldom hosted an event on such a day of beastial, Equator-like temperature.
The Congo-esque climate may merely have been a preview of future days on our simmering marble, but for the moment, it was surely unusually torrid for this time of weddings and blooms. Bother the Bombers it did not, however, as the Enemy of Reason and Balance, as it has so often has down through the years, conjured a left-columner against all odds, winning 12-11 over a group of straightmen from Flyover Country (aka Kansas City), brought to Broadway to provide pathos to this particular drama.
It was gripping, ripping stuff once again at George Herman’s Crib. Two days before, a shocking, Ruthian skip away blow from Jason “All Apologies” Giambi gave the Stripes a famous victory, their best of the season to date (and another that stretched on to lengths that proved unendurable by many of the faithful, their collective patience and gluteus maximi worn out by the timeless nature of the sport). A mere two score and eight hours later, another Tolstoyan epic that will talked about far in the future, albeit a future that won’t involve actually attending games for most of Bomber fandom, as they will be unable to afford passage into the new Versailles of the Northern Borough.
Johnny “The Apeman” Damon vaulted into the Joycian franchise record book by smacking a clean half-dozen safeties, the first player ever to accomplish the feat in this hallowed construct astride the El. His ultimate knock off Kansan anchorman Joakim “The Red Devil” Soria plated the winner in the last of the last, and it was Sweaty Celebration time again for home Nine. The most shocking facet of the display wasn’t the sweet stroke or the uncanny placement of batted ball, but the fact that The Hirsute One managed to play at all after lopping off his Soup Strainer after a disreputable evening in the batting rectangle the night before. Demon Damon’s ‘Stache never made anyone forget Anson or Fasano, but the very idea that a base ball player could improve after shaving is anathema indeed.
Earlier in the eventful frame, Bronx Backstop Jorge “En Cuerpo Y Alma” Posada launched a Big Fly off the usually untouchable Senor Soria to deadbolt matters at the bankruptcy chapter. Georgie’s shot was perhaps the most stunning blow of the ardent afternoon, given his recent ails and month-long acceptance of disability benefits.
The evocation of Hector by these aging sluggers was necessitated by another jolt on a day full of such Cardiac jumpstarts—a Long Sock from the ash of David “Ivanhoe” DeJesus in the upper part of the final innings off the Sainted Concluder, the Man With The Golden Arm, The Cutty Sark himself, Mariano Rivera. A gasp could be heard over the roar of rushing sweat in the grandstand when the hide left the playing field with room to spare, so unlikely was the feat. Yet, Mo’ Better avoided a D, thanks to the gumption and interior fortitude of his batsmen mates.
The Monarchs from the Midwest are no strangers to swampy conditions, and they fashioned a sizable lead against Fun City twirler Andy “BFF” Pettitte. The Mishearing Moundsman was bashed for a month’s worth of tallies (it is this reporter’s duty to pass along to the reader the incredible total, ten—a number that caused several radio station recreationists to go silent in disbelief, rather than accept the figure passed down along the wire to them) in an unlucky seven innings, mainly due to a kicking mule wearing Royal Blue named Jose Guillen. “Mr. Clubhouse Incident” showed all witnesses why he is worth the colic he inspires, blasting an Exacta of round-trippers, including the Quadrophonic that sent Pettitte to a much-needed shower. Joey also treated Yankee baserunners like Mike Scioscia, gunning down a brace at the pentagon with guided-by-wire accuracy. On any other day, in any other place, he would have been the day’s David. But Aura and Mystique had accepted box seats despite the soaring temperature, and there simply was no pinning Team Blue-Chip to the mat.
A note on a brave man in blue—the game’s Chief Judge, Jerry “Sonar” Layne, was forced from the premises and into an ambulance after a wayward deflection off an ash collided with his skull. Fortunately, the adjudicators recently have taken to wearing Gladitorial faceplates to ward off terrible injury on such happenstances, and Mr. Layne escaped the sort of lobe damage that apparently has afflicted so many of his fellow moderators. Nevertheless, the accident bruised his brain, and, almost as bad, held up the contest for a quarter of an hour, chasing sane onlookers to the concession stands for copious amounts of sarsaparillas and lime rickeys.
The number of visits to this Pantheon of Base Balling Fame dwindles ever closer to the circle number, while the new, gilded yet ersatz monster slowly but surely arises next door. For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of passing through The Yankee Stadium gates into it’s Edenic interior, rest assured that it is an experience worthy of Hedone herself, a magical journey into timeless youth and wonder. The new edifice will carry the same name, and bring over the fabled façade and Monuments to the Greats (Gehrig, DiMaggio, Leitch, etc), but the unique, tangible history and memories of the Ball Park cannot be loaded onto a semi and hauled across the way.
The fear is that the construct set to debut next season will be a Monument only to Avarice, and the People’s Game will no longer be in evidence or affordable along the Harlem River. If the Prodigal Son, Biff Steinbrenner, does nothing else as the Big Cheese (and it is even money that he won’t), preservation of the blue-collared, broad-shouldered, full-throated ethic that made The Stadium the most famous in the land will be enough to earn The Garish Gent a place in Yankee Lore.