Tony Kubek: My Dad's Favorite Player

My father owns a Mickey Mantle jersey. He grew up in the Mantle era, and I know he admired the effortlessness of Mantle's game.

But his favorite player was Tony Kubek, the Rookie of the Year who served as the super-utility man for the 1957 Yankees (who lost the World Series to Hank Aaron's Milwaukee Braves).

Kubek did not hit effortlessly, and he was not blessed with Mantle's physical talents. But he scratched out his hits, set a Yankee record for doubles by a shortstop, and formed (with Bobby Richardson) one of the best double play combinations in Yankee history. A slick fielding shortstop is easy to love.

Kubek, sadly, may be best remembered for the bad hop that struck him in the throat in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series loss to the Pirates. It prolonged a 5 run 8th inning that set up immortality for Bill Mazeroski. Kubek lost most of the 1962 season to Army service, and lost the rest of his career to back injury that curtailed his playing time and forced him into retirement at age 29.

Because Kubek's career has a tragic arc, I am resisting parallels. My father didn't know how Kubek's career would play out, nor how Kubek would reinvent himself as a no-nonsense broadcaster, eventually earning a Hall of Fame induction. As Kubek grew into my father's favorite player in the '50s, did my dad suspect that he was the kind of principled man who would walk away from the game forever amid the greed and politics of the 1994 strike?

I can think of only platitudes to articulate what this fandom might say about my father. Dare I say gritty? Head in the game. Give it your best. Do what the team needs. Maybe my father's connection with Kubek says the most about dedication and perseverance, about clinging to halcyon beginnings, about never forgetting that each day and season brings a new chance for success even as we grow older.

Hard work brings success eventually, though maybe not in the way we expect. My father may have taught me that.

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