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A tribute to roll call, a Yankee Stadium tradition

Appreciating the finer details of roll call and salutes of Yankees past and present.

Tampa Bay Rays v. New York Yankees

There are the old stereotypes: infielders deliver a generic wave, while outfielders opt for a more customized salute with a personal touch. Each player who participates in roll call by saluting Section 203 joins a storied tradition, a long line of Yankees who’ve used a gesture to acknowledge the most passionate, linguistically clever, and heartwarmingly obnoxious fans in the world.

The Bleacher Creatures’ roll call is a signature feature of Yankee Stadium, so much so that it’s a little strange to imagine the first pitch being thrown at Yankees’ home games this year without that familiar chant kicking off the action. Earlier this season, roll call’s absence was evident to Brett Gardner, who performed his inverted double-flex salute—a Yankee fan favorite—to the empty stands behind him at the Yankees’ home opener this year.

Gardy’s double flex, much like the outfielder himself, is reliable and consistent. He never phones it in. Demonstrating that kind of commitment to his roll call salute has endeared Gardy to fans. I believe each Bleacher Creature reserves a place in his or her heart for Gardy and his double-flex.

Choosing his signature gesticulation was a big decision for third baseman Todd Frazier, who agonized over what his roll call acknowledgement would look like when he joined the Yankees midway through the 2017 season. Frazier, a Jersey boy from Toms River, grew up rooting for the Yankees. No wonder he felt anxious about coming up with an original salute. More than most, Frazier understood he was making a deeply personal statement with whatever body movement or posture he eventually chose.

Some players treat their roll call acknowledgement as an opportunity for creative self expression. Former Yankee Greg Bird falls into this category. Unfortunately, Bird’s desire to capitalize on his avian name did not impress his teammates, who reject his salute ideas in this 2018 YES promo.

For me, Andrew McCutchen’s salute really embodies his fun-loving spirit. I think Cutch would have enjoyed imbuing his salutes with a bit of zany flair, so it’s too bad his time on the Yankees was brief.

Though a player’s roll call salute lasts for a brief moment, the roll call chant as a whole usually takes a minute or two to complete. Depending on how swiftly the game gets underway, it’s possible for roll call—which requires a player to turn and face the right field bleachers—to conflict with actual gameplay. In these moments, performing the salute must never come at the expense of the player’s ability to field a ball that’s hit his way.

Most players will encounter this dilemma at some point during their tenure on the Yankees and the manner in which a Yankee manages the competing demands of fielding his position and executing a salute can reveal a lot about his ability to handle high-pressure situations.

Aaron Judge is particularly good at juggling his outfield duties with executing high-quality salutes. His salute body language, without fail, is so cool and casual.

But that’s Judge. He’s a professional. No matter what, he delivers a strong salute. Does Judge ever worry about his salute being interrupted by a fly ball hit his way? I don’t know. If he does, he doesn’t show it. He delivers his signature gavel mime with the utmost swagger every single time.

Sometimes, players must balance the demands of fielding and saluting, even after their playing days are over. Willie Randolph’s performance on Old Timer’s Day in 2008 is noteworthy. Check out how smoothly he handles a grounder, stifles his disappointment that Goose Gossage wasn’t covering first, and then delivers a peace sign salute that was well worth the wait.

There have been a number of special roll calls over the years. Here are a few noteworthy salutes:

Nick Swisher, himself an honorary Bleacher Creature, gets points for the enthusiasm and erect posture which combine to produce his soldier-style Swisher Salute™. Luke Voit modeled his own salute after the Swisher Salute, as did Tyler Austin during his time on the Yankees.

In 2012, when the YES Network’s Michael Kay and Meredith Marakovits spent time hanging out in Section 203, the Bleacher Creatures included Marakovits in their roll call.

If you’re a sucker for sentimental Yankee moments like I am, this one is for you. During the first game of a Yankees-Dodgers doubleheader in 2013, the Bleacher Creatures do roll call for Dodgers manager and former Yankees Captain Don Mattingly.