Pinstripe paranoia, a seasonal ailment, has plagued many of us since 1949, when Joe Page, predecessor of the peerless Panamanian, Mariano Rivera, was a prime reliever. When Page opened the bullpen gate at Fenway Park, we knew that Red Sox bats would soon turn into sawdust and that winter would soon arrive. Throughout the 1950s and much of the 1960s, pinstripe paranoia persisted into that stunner of the 1978 season when Bucky Bleepin' Dent, with a zephyr-wafted popup, administered a tracheotomy to the soul of New England.
Then, in 2004, came deliverance, along with reduction of sorrow and a fresh perspective. From that perspective, it's been a tough century for Yankee fans. Nine years without a championship may be a blinking of the eye on the North Side of Chicago, but the anxiety and distress of sure-thing, front-running big spenders has been profound.
Congratulations are in order, therefore, to all in the Bronx tabernacle. First to George Steinbrenner, who built the dynasty. Congrats to his sons Hal and Hank, who have learned an important corporate secret. They have exercised their First Amendment right to be quiet.
The onomatopoetically named general manager of the Yankees is Brian Cashman. He does more than drive a Brinks' truck. In the upper reaches of baseball, tens of millions of dollars and multi-year contracts are now commonplace. The pinstripe package is richer and longer, but the core of the team is homegrown, not hired-gun.
The manager, Joe Girardi, arrived at spring training and painted a target on his back. He asked for the number 27, signifying his intent to repeat the feat of 26 previous World Series winners. Politicians should be so bold and candid. Early in the season, his pitching rotation was in disarray and his biggest star was disabled. He didn't ask for a different number.
As for the team itself, I consult my own springtime prediction, based on age. I was sure the pennant would fly elsewhere, maybe not in Boston but probably Detroit or Anaheim. Like an insurance company actuary, I gazed at Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte, Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui. I saw a six-pack of decrepitude ready for the front porch of the old folks' home. In the series just concluded on 161st. Street in the House That Jeter Built, I was proven wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong and wrong again.
As for the younger stars (all Yankees this year are stars), Cashman acquired two top pitchers who delivered and a big first baseman who flourished during the season but like his Phillies counterpart was MIA in the World Series.
Alex Rodriguez has learned a fact of life in New York: those whom the tabloids make mad they first baptize A-God. So finally, his postseason has entered that charmed circle where the rubric of Roger Angell rules: They Are What They Do. We can admire A-Rod's accomplishments, but we don't have to worry about him. That's Goldie Hawn's job.
When Matsui, the essence of class, stepped in against Pedro Martinez, I should have known. I should have consulted my autographed icon from the days when Joe Page was exterminating Red Sox hopes.
In that season, my mother informed me that her cousin now worked for the Yankees and I could have an autographed picture of any Yankee. A dubious honor, but I could not refuse. I did not choose future Cooperstown idols Yogi Berra, Joe DiMaggio or Johnny Mize. I wanted a portrait of Tommy Henrich, known in Yankee lore as "Old Reliable." If he's called that, it must be because he's lucky, right? Twisted logic, wrong then and wrong now. Tommy Henrich showed up the other night as Hideki Matsui. Pinstripe paranoia often can't tell the difference between luck and skill.