I had the duty of choosing a "classy" Yankees team from the past. The question, really, was where to start. An organization like the has more than a century of history, 16 retired numbers, 27 World Series titles, 40 pennants and dozens of Hall of Famers. No other American sports club has a richer history.
I tried to think of specific moments to help me choose a team that embodied "class." Babe Ruth's Called Shot came to mind (not what I would call classy though), Joe DiMaggio's hitting streak (I don't think a hitting streak can be defined as classy, but this is supposed to be about a team, not an individual), Roger Maris' 61st home run (again, an individual), Reggie Jackson's three World Series homers (also an individual), and of course, the Joe Torre Yankees (the way he left (the revealing book) and some of the players during that time (Wells, Clemens, Sheffield, Pavano) turned me off of them).
Then there is perhaps the Yankee moment. And it's more than just a Yankee or even baseball moment; it's an American moment: "Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth." Lou Gehrig said that on July 4, 1939, two months after his last game in pinstripes. He died less than two years later.
In attendance that Independence Day were members of the 1927 squad, the Mayor of New York and the Postmaster General. Every gift Gehrig received that day was quickly set down because he was too weak to hold them. Manager Joe McCarthy teared up during his speech in which he called Gehrig "the finest example of a ballplayer, sportsman, and citizen that baseball has ever known." That might hold true to this day.
After a loss in game one of the doubleheader that day, the Yankees, perhaps inspired by the between-game ceremony, went on to rout the Senators 11-1 in game two. Steve Sundra, a journeyman starter, threw one of the best games of his career. The Yankees also retired Gehrig's number that day, making him the first baseballer to ever receive that honor. It was truly a first-class ceremony for the game's classiest player.
The club finished with a 106-45 record, becoming the first (and only) team to have a .700 winning percentage, sweep the World Series and win their third (and fourth) title in a row.
Before that historic season, Colonel Jacob Ruppert, the owner of the Yankees since 1915, died in January. Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig attended his funeral and teared up. Ruppert left a third of his vast estate to a virtually unknown woman, $150,000 to Lenox Hill Hospital (the 2011 equivalent of $2.5 million) and his entire art collection to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
From the owner to the manager to the players, the '39 Yankees (and really, all those teams from the late '30s) embodied class in a way that has inspired Yankee teams to this day.
- Speaking of class, Curtis Granderson and Lousiville Slugger donated $50K to buy more than 300 wooden bats for PSAL schools. NYC public schools recently forbade metal bats for safety reasons, but the problem is that wooden bats break and hence need to be replaced often. The gift will help offset those costs and make the game safer.
- A charity benefit on Monday, May 9th, will feature Mo Rivera, Goose Gossage, Yogi Berra and Reggie Jackson, who are helping to raise money for abandoned teens. Click for more info.