Last updated: 4:25 am
September 21, 2008
Posted: 4:03 am
September 21, 2008
REGGIE Jackson froze in the middle of the clubhouse as joy whizzed around him. He said nothing, did not move at all. He seemed a concussion victim, staring with a confused, unblinking gaze toward nothing, mouth hanging open, but with no words coming out.
In this moment, he was symbolic of us all. It already was well beyond midnight, already Nov. 2, and Mr. October still was trying to piece it all together. Still trying to fathom what had occurred over the past 72 hours.
More than anything else that has happened over the past two decades at my second home, Yankee Stadium, I will remember those three days in 2001, recall most of all that image of Jackson in silent awe as both summation and symbolism of what had transpired. Here was the wordiest man of my professional life without words. Here was a guy who had created incredible magic in this building with three homers in Game 6 of the 1977 World Series being left stunned and overwhelmed by what he had just witnessed.
More than 30 minutes after Game 5 of the 2001 World Series, Jackson responded to my hand on his shoulder, turned toward me and in a voice just above a whisper, said, "It is unbelievable."
It is hard now to capture all that was truly felt in the fall of 2001 at Yankee Stadium, when Ground Zero still was smoldering just a few miles away and our emotions caromed between fear and resolve. But when I recall that period, I recall those three days most powerfully. Because it felt like those three days began to make everyone feel a lot better, made us feel joy and healing when maybe that seemed unattainable.
Because regardless of your political leanings, there was something elevating about watching President Bush walk to the mound alone before Game 3, lift a thumb to the roars of the crowd and then deliver a strike. And what happened over the next two nights, well, they were beyond even a Hollywood script. The Yanks trailed both games by two runs with two outs and one on in the ninth. In both games, their offense to that point had done virtually nothing. And then, well, you know. Magic happened.
Tino Martinez hit a two-run homer to tie Game 4 and Scott Brosius hit a two-run homer to tie Game 5, and the YankeesNew York Yankees won both contests in extra innings. One time was a baseball miracle. But on consecutive nights, it was just inconceivable. It was one of those moments when you turn toward the person next to you and all you share is that "I can't believe it" look. You share that "darn, I am glad I was here" bond.
"I don't know how to describe this," Jackson said late that night, after Game 5. "I don't understand it at all."
What occurred over those three days would have had meaning anywhere. But that it occurred at Yankee Stadium brought greater context, more drama and, well, magic. There were signs hung all around the Stadium that referred to Mystique and Aura. The moment the ball left Brosius' bat, you knew this impossible thing had happened. Again. Well, that made it feel like the Stadium was indeed a character in all of this, as if there really was something unique in the walls. It felt like a continuum from Ruth to Gehrig to DiMaggio to Mantle to Reggie to a couple of pitches that left Byung-Hyun Kim's hand and reduced you to believing in fantasy, that made you happy that you were in that building in that time and place.
I had begun covering the Yankees as a beat for his newspaper in 1989 and in one of the first stories I wrote in that capacity I referred to "Yankee Stadium." My beloved, former assistant sports editor Dick Klayman gave me this advice: "Just call it the Stadium. Everyone knows what Stadium you are talking about." Right he was. This was the Napoleon or Bono of facilities, one word would do.
Over 20 seasons - from 1989-95 as the beat writer and since as the baseball columnist - I was blessed to cover more than 1,000 games at the Stadium. Many days were not magical. But so many were. I saw three no-hitters: one by a guy missing a hand (Jim Abbott), one by a drug addict (Dwight Gooden) and one by six Astros pitchers. That does not even count perfect games by one guy from Don Larsen's hometown (David Wells) and another (David Cone) who did it on the day Larsen threw out the ceremonial first pitch to Yogi Berra on Yogi Berra Day.
I covered the worst Yankees team in 77 years (in 1990) and probably the best team of all time eight years later, the 125-win 1998 Yankees.
People will talk about the many nights when the stands literally shook. But I was there on Oct. 4, 1995 when Don Mattingly homered in the sixth inning of Division Series Game 2 against the Mariners, and I was sure the only things that would not come crashing down in the stadium were the goose bumps on everyone's arms.
I remember during the 1996 ALCS dashing from the press box to the right-field stands to meet a 12-year-old from Old Tappan named Jeffrey Maier, who had abandoned Box 325, Section 31, Row A, Seat 3 to change history.
You know what I will remember most from the dynasty? The way the home clubhouse smelled when champagne seeped into the carpet. You know what I will remember from the last great Yankees win at the Stadium, 2003 ALCS Game 7 - the best game I have ever seen? Mariano RiveraMariano Rivera racing to and collapsing in elation and exhaustion on the mound as Aaron Boone circled the bases after his pennant-winning homer. You know what I will remember most from the night the dynasty really ended, when Boston extinguished The Curse in the 2004 ALCS at the Stadium? Red Sox fans cheering in The House that Ruth Built. Smell, sight, sound. Yankee Stadium had a way of provoking all your senses.
The building will be torn down, but the images will stay with me forever. Wade Boggs jumping on that horse. Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria euphorically running the bases in an empty Stadium after Josh Beckett dominated the Yankees in 2003 World Series Game 6. Deion Sanders moving with such speed on an inside-the-park homer in 1990 that it made Bo Jackson's three homers that night a secondary story.
And there were a million little things the past 20 years behind closed doors that will not soon flee my brain. A troubled man named Steve Howe, first locker as soon as you entered the clubhouse, smoking like crazy. Mel Hall making life miserable by hanging the word "zero" (as in how much you are worth) on a rookie named Bernie Williams' cubicle. Stump Merrill slugging beer and spitting tobacco into a kitty litter box while he talked to the media after games. Jorge PosadaJorge Posada shooing media out of Thurman Munson's memorial locker when interviews with his pal, Jeter, overflowed in that direction. Joe Torre hugging me and offering condolences outside his office during the 1998 playoffs on my first day back to work after my mother died.
There is just not enough space for it all beyond my memory. Yet when I think of a single moment to sum up the place, I will think of Reggie, silent and stunned, in the middle of the home clubhouse on a night we all believed there was magic in the place.