Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, so make sure you take the time to make your partner feel extra special.
The Yankees have had some special teams and players throughout their illustrious history, yet through almost every historic dynasty, there has been a pair of players who had trouble seeing eye-to-eye. These dysfunctional duos likely never called each other on Valentine’s Day, but all of these odd couples were able to win a World Series together, and some were able to eventually reconcile their differences.
Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig
These two Yankee legends helped build the foundation of the most successful franchise in sports history, though it was not accomplished with the two singing “Kumbaya” together.
Ruth and Gehrig were polar opposites from the start. Ruth was an outspoken personality raised in a boarding school while Gehrig was an introvert Ivy Leaguer. Still, the two spent plenty of time together off the field until Ruth’s daughter Dorothy arrived at the Gehrig’s for a weekend visit.
Dorothy was the Babe’s daughter from his first marriage (as the Babe was currently on his second marriage with Claire Ruth). Claire brought a daughter of her own from her first marriage, named Julia. Anyway, Dorothy Ruth arrived at the Gehrig house dressed in a less than impressive manner according to Mrs. Gehrig, who voiced her frustrating confusion as to why Claire didn’t dress Dorothy as well as her daughter Julia.
The remarks got back to Claire, who passed it along to the Babe, who angrily wondered why Mrs. Gehrig couldn’t mind her own business, and the two stars on the diamond began to separate off of the diamond.
There was also Gehrig’s displeasure of how Ruth treated manager Miller Huggins, who Gehrig loved dearly. Ruth didn’t help the situation when he publicly downplayed Gehrig’s historic streak of games played that earned him the “Iron Horse” nickname.
The culmination of these differences soured their relationship until Gehrig trudged to the microphone at Yankee Stadium in 1939 and delivered his famous and uplifting speech that caused Ruth to wrap his arms around Gehrig in a silent offer to bury the hatchet. Sometimes a big bear hug from the Babe can serve more powerful than words.
Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle
This famous duo seemed doomed from the start. Mantle and DiMaggio were heading in very different directions when they first played together in the spring of 1951. Mantle was an up-and-coming star in the making while DiMaggio was watching his playing days dwindle. DiMaggio was always a man who wanted to be recognized, and he was watching his replacement grow before his eyes.
Manager Casey Stengel instructed Mantle to hop in DiMaggio’s back pocket and learn how to play center field (Mantle came up as a shortstop). Mantle, a shy and nervous kid at the time, couldn’t get anything out of the jealous DiMaggio, who gave him the cold shoulder. Spring training didn’t help as Mantle wowed crowds across the country with his moonshots and incredible speed. Meanwhile. DiMaggio made headlines for his relationship with his wife and not much else.
Then the “play” happened. We’ve all heard it a million times, but Willie Mays hit a fly ball in the ‘51 World Series that Mantle rushed to grab, knowing the aging DiMaggio had lost a step in his age. However, just before he got under the ball, he heard DiMaggio call him off, causing Mantle to slam on the brakes and tear up his knee after his cleat got caught on a sprinkler head. DiMaggio told Mantle to stay down while a stretcher was brought out. Mantle would later say that it was the closest he had gotten to having a conversation with the Yankee Clipper.
Mantle was never able to regain his full speed potential and battled injuries the rest of his career, while DiMaggio retired after that championship season in 1951. The two were never able to build a relationship that never got started.
Reggie Jackson and Billy Martin (and George Steinbrenner)
I couldn’t mention this dysfunctional couple without including the Boss, who completed a trifecta of conflict during the Yankees’ successful seasons in the late seventies.
Martin seemed hesitant to lighten up to Jackson from the start. There was an ongoing conflict between Martin and Steinbrenner over batting Jackson cleanup during the summer of 1977. Tensions boiled over when Jackson took his sweet time chasing down a base hit in Fenway Park, which resulted in his removal from the game and a heated exchange in the dugout that almost came to blows on national television, and almost resulted in Martin losing his job.
Jackson finally found himself in the cleanup role in August and went on a tear to lead the Yankees to the World Series, where he really made history.
Despite the success, there was always conflict. Steinbrenner would fire and re-hire Martin too many times to count, and by 1981 even winning couldn’t stop the feuding. Jackson had a confrontation with Graig Nettles during a celebration of the Yankees’ 33rd American League championship victory, and afterward Steinbrenner would refer to Jackson as “the former number 44.” Nettles and Jackson dismissed the conflict as a misunderstanding, but Jackson would indeed be out of pinstripes after losing the 1981 World Series.
Jackson would not be offered a deal to return to the Yanks after the 1981 season, a move which Steinbrenner would later be one of his greatest regrets. As for Steinbrenner and Martin, the Boss was apparently on the verge of bringing Martin back yet again as skipper of the Yanks before a tragic car accident took his life in 1989.
Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez
This was a fascinating story to watch unfold during the Yankees’ most recent years of dominance. Jeter and Rodriguez were the closest of friends while Rodriguez was a member of the Mariners, and the two were helping to redefine the position. They would even stay together when one was on the road. Their relationship became tainted after Rodriguez was quoted saying that nobody worries about facing Jeter when going up against the Yankees. Jeter has always had a strict policy of letting people back into his circle after being wronged, and this was no exception.
Despite not carrying out a friendly relationship anymore, the Yankees brought Rodriguez to New York after the 2003 season. Despite being the better defensive shortstop, Rodriguez stepped aside (literally) and move over to third base. The duo helped bring the Yanks their most recent title in 2009, and while there was rarely any real animosity to each other, they never seemed to restore their relationship to what it once was. It did seem that they had more of a working relationship in that 2009 season when it all seemed to come together for the Yanks.
The two had very different legacies in New York. Jeter, the ultimate winner, had the rings and the postseason success while hiding in plain sight from the New York tabloids. Rodriguez filled the stat sheets but struggled in October until his remarkable 2009 postseason. His troubles off the field cast him as a villain for most of his time in the Bronx, despite being one of the greatest players in history. Jeter retired as one of the most beloved Yankees in history. I like to think that this was the moment the hatchet was officially buried.