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Greatest Hits Vol. I: The First Pinstriped Bible (excerpt)

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As you read these words, I am in a car somewhere, taking my first vacation in about five years. I will probably post from time to time, but for the most part I’ll leave you in the good hands of Cliff, Jay, and Stephani. While I’m gone, I thought it would be interesting to dig into the back catalog for some greatest hits of the PB. We haven’t had a proper archive until recently, so many pieces from back in the day have long since vanished. Today, an excerpt from the first column to run under the Pinstriped Bible name. I began writing this feature back in 1999, but I struggled to come up with a name that was properly evocative until I came up with the PB back in early May of 2001. Reading over this first entry, I am struck at the consistency of my ideas and philosophy. As Dr. Seuss might have put it, I said what I meant and I meant what I said.


According to Casey Stengel, Yankees’ manager from 1949-1960, what held his seven-time World Series-winners together was not just great hitting from future Hall of Famers like Yogi Berra or Mickey Mantle, or clutch pitching from Joe Page, Allie Reynolds, or Whitey Ford, but, "that carry-on spirit that the Yankees have and everybody in this country wants somebody to be a Yankee or live like a Yankee which don’t mean just baseball but to be somebody for the United States."

Stengel was a verbal sorcerer, an auto-cryptographer, and when he went to meet Babe Ruth he left no Rosetta Stone behind, so what he meant by "carry-on spirit" can only be inferred, but it seems clear that it referred to the never-say-die ethos of the ballclub in those years, the way they pursued the pennant with single-minded devotion even when injuries depleted the roster or personal problems put other matters on the brain. They won, relentlessly, and did their complaining after work.

Much of what Stengel said of his Yankees Dynasty also applies to the current team, a unit which has repeatedly impressed with quiet, even-keeled professionalism absorbed from pater familias Joe Torre and the lingering example of Don Mattingly. Casey Stengel again: "They thought all you had to do at the Yankees is to be there on time, tend to your own business off the field and when they said play ball be sure you go out and play hard and play clean." Stengel said these words four decades ago, but they apply to the current Yankees as much as they did to his own.

The French, who don’t play baseball, have a word for that kind of professionalism and excellence, "élan." Literally translated, élan means, "dash," doing your job, doing it well, with just a hint of Errol Flynn verve thrown in. Élan is a rare quality in this selfish, surly, solipsistic society. It’s a pleasure to be around and a pleasure to watch.

This column is the first in an ongoing series where the New York Yankees’ dash is to be dismantled, dissected, discussed, and then put back together again. Over the course of the season we’ll be thinking along with Brian Cashman and Joe Torre, not second-guessing, but first-guessing, asking questions, making suggestions, and double-checking the conventional wisdom against common sense, and all with one end in mind —to get at the clockworks of the Yankees’ season, or, in a word, to think.

Judged by the sheer number of opinions it inspires, baseball can withstand quite a bit of thinking. Fittingly for a sport that has been characterized as the national pastime and America’s secular religion, the game is so accessible that just about anyone with more than a passing interest in it feels like an expert. Unfortunately, a lot of that expertise comes in the form of received wisdom, generations-old, hand-me-down ideas that date back to the beginning of the century, if not to the rheumy Civil War camps of the game’s infancy: this is what a leadoff hitter looks like, this is what your clean-up hitter should do, here’s how you use your closer, and so on.

These old images die hard, and many fans, coaches, and executives are quite attached to them, but they’ve got to be challenged, because it’s only in questioning our beliefs and assumptions, no matter how closely held, that we can break through to new solutions, new understandings of life — or how to run a baseball team. You can apply this to sports, politics, anything: any time ideology is emphasized at the expense of pragmatism, you have avoided the real labor of thinking.

Here’s what you will find in this space when you tune in each week: when the Yankees do well, we’ll acknowledge and applaud, but we’ll also ask if the team can do even better. If the team doesn’t execute, it’s our job to figure out why, and we may even gripe a little bit, but griping never implies a lack of respect. It does not forget joy of élan. It’s all about building up rather than tearing down, about meeting the challenges of sustaining the team’s remarkable success as it defends its fourth title in five years.

So get ready to be challenged… and be ready to respond.