Why The New York Yankees Old Timer’s Day Has Become A Joke
Sunday June 25, 2017 the New York Yankees will hold their 71st Old TImer’s Day.
There was a time when baseball’s immortals and Gods showed up at Old Timer’s Day games. Take a look at this video below and you can understand my disappointment at what passes today for Yankees Old Timer’s Day. If you have any sense of the history of baseball, this assemblage of players at Yankee Stadium taped on the field by Greg Peterson in 1982 will blow you away.
Maybe the disappointment stems from the fact that with a few exceptions there are almost no former Yankee players of the Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Lefty Gomez, Waite Hoyt; Allie Reynolds; Bill Dickey and Yogi Berra caliber still living. The pomp and ceremony of recent Yankees Old Timer’s Day is now somewhat revolting to watch.
Old-Timers Day started with a gathering unlike any other. In 1939 former Yankee teammates of Lou Gehrig gathered to honor him after he had stopped playing due to contracting the illness, (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) that would eventually take his life and now bears his name. It was at this occasion that Gehrig made his “luckiest man on the face of the earth,” speech.
Starting in the 1940s, Yankees Old Timer’s Day became an annual event where former baseball stars from other teams squared off against former Yankee greats. The players who graced the field at Yankee Stadium to play in a spirited and fun exhibition game were among the best to ever play the game. Over the years other teams held their own Old Timer’s Day. Now the Yankees are the only team in baseball that still holds an Old Timer’s Day .
At previous Old Timer’s Day fans would see opponents such as; Ty Cobb; Lefty Grove; Dizzy Dean; Al Kaline; Stan Musial; Ted Williams; Warren Spahn; Hank Greenberg; Bob Feller; Bill Terry; Pee Wee Reese; Duke Snider; Willie Mays and dozens of other “real” stars.
As the Hall-of Famer’s and greats started passing away the names showing up at Old Timer’s Day gradually became less glamorous, until they started delving into quasi-stars and then marginal players.
I am not certain when exactly it ended, but the Yankees stopped inviting players from other teams to participate in Old Timer’s Day.
Over the last 15 years, you may have noticed Old Timer’s Day has become a Yankee love-fest of a few former stars such as Paul O’Neil, Roy White, Willie Randolph, Joe Pepitone and a lot of what can best be described as one season wonders or ordinary ex-Yankee players.
There are still some great former Yankee players who show up to participate in the festivities most notably Whitey Ford, Reggie Jackson, Ron Guidry, Goose Gossage and this year a rare visit by Sparky Lyle.
Many of players the Yankees invite to Old Timer’s Day are nondescript. Yankee management must feel that today’s fans prefer seeing some of these “greats” that have participated in Old Timer’s Day over the last few years:
Brian Boehringer; Scott Bradley; Homer Bush; Bubba Crosby; Chad Curtis; Brian Dorsett; Dave Eiland; John Flaherty; Bobby Meacham; Jerry Narron; Matt Nokes; Dan Pasqua; Gil Patterson; Andy Phillips; Aaron Small; Tanyon Sturtze; Marcus Thames and others of that ilk.
Maybe it’s unfair to compare these players to former players who could be invited to Old Timer’s Day like George Brett; Tom Seaver; Nolan Ryan; Joe Carter; Vladimir Guerrero; Frank Thomas; Dennis Eckersley; Paul Molitor; Alan Trammel; Willie Mays; Sandy Koufax; Hank Aaron; Jim Rice; Eddie Murray; Joe Carter; Johnny Bench; Ivan Rodriguez; Carl Yastrzemski; Jim Palmer; Cal Ripken Jr.; Greg Maddux; Ken Griffey Jr. and Roberto Alomar.
But couldn’t the Yankees assemble a higher caliber of Yankee old-timers?
Yankees I’d like to see invited to future Old Timer’s games that have not been there, at least recently, include wife-swappers Fritz Peterson and Mike Kekich; Graig Nettles; Don Baylor; Doc Medich; Wade Boggs; Dave Righetti; Randy Johnson; Tony Kubek; Luis Tiant; Bobby Shantz; Phil Linz; Stan Bahnsen; announcer Bill White (a great player for other teams); Lindy McDaniel; Dick Tidrow; and Cliff Johnson.
I understand that the Yankees feel they must have enough players who are capable of going out and actually playing in the Old-Timer’s game. Do they really need to have it be an all Yankee game? At least they could commemorate anniversaries in a more compelling manner.
40 years ago the Yankees beat the Dodgers in the World Series. Maybe I’m in the minority when I say I’d like to see the 1977 Yankees assemble and play Old Timer’s from the 1977 Dodgers. Wouldn’t you want to see Graig Nettles facing Don Sutton? Or Sparky Lyle pitching to Reggie Smith?
For some reason the thing that bothers me most about Old-Timer’s Day is not the many mediocre players who are there, but the acknowledgments of who has passed away since the previous year.
In the past, the late great Yankee public address announcer Bob Shepherd would slowly read off baseball’s necrology of the major league players who had died since the last Old Timer’s Day. It could bring tears to your eyes as the players on the field stood silent with their caps off and heads bowed listening to a cascade of names that fans of a certain age would certainly recognize.
The Yankees now choose to only acknowledge their own and maybe one or two great players, umpires or executives around the major leagues who were not Yankees.
So this year you might hear the names of former Yankees Bob Cerv, Bob Kuzava, Ruben Amaro, and Joe DeMaestri. Don’t count on the Yankees acknowledging the deaths of Jim Bunning; Ned Garver; Roy Sievers; Bill Hands; Sam Mele; Jimmy Piersall; Daryl Spencer; Ralph Branca; Chris Cannizarro; Jose Fernandez; Doug Griffin; Jim Hickman; Turk Lown; and Choo Choo Coleman.
Instead you’ll hear the names of a few former Yankees interspersed with deceased people no one has heard of except their families and friends. People who work in the Yankee organization either in the front office; behind the scenes like the manager of concessions; wives of people no Yankee fan knows or most insultingly people peripherally associated with the Yankees like a commercial sponsor of the team!
In all probability the current generations watching the Old Timer festivities don’t know what Old Timer’s Day used to be and they are quite content to watch this tepid imitation.
All in all, every traditional aspect of baseball is changing including Old-Timer’s Day. Change isn’t always better.
We’ll conclude with Mickey Mantle’s final home run at Yankee Stadium, Old Timer’s Day 1973.