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The Olympus of New York: Imagining Yankees legends as the Greek gods

With Percy Jackson behind us and the baseball season in front of us, we ponder which Yankees legends might actually live on the 600th floor of the Empire State Building.

The National Dog Show Presented by Purina - 2023 Photo by: Ralph Bavaro/NBC via Getty Images

Two weeks ago, the Season One finale of the hit television series Percy Jackson aired on Disney+. Based on the young adult book series of the same name, the series depicts the adventures of Percy Jackson, the son of Poseidon, as he encounters a world in which the Greek (and Roman!) gods are alive and well and living in the United States of America, with their palace of Mt. Olympus hosted on the 600th floor of the Empire State Building. The original series, while slightly dated, is an absolutely blast, and also fairly educational — author Rick Riordan often structures his books around particular ancient story cycles, and his portrayals of the Greek gods as a squabbling family of narcissistic snobs is one of the most accurate adaptations of them in popular culture since Ancient Rome.

One week ago, Pinstripe Alley completed our Top 100 Yankees series, a site-wide undertaking that took the entire winter and generated no small amounts of discussion within the comments section. Through it all, we highlighted the highs and lows of the franchise’s esteemed history, attempting to the greatest extent possible to depict the legends of Yankees history, warts and all.

The juxtaposition of these two events led us here at PSA to an idea. Let’s pretend for a moment that the Greek gods walk the earth today and, every once in a while, decide to join the baseball world. Which legendary Yankees figures were secretly the gods of Mt. Olympus?

Jupiter Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Obviously, George Steinbrenner is Zeus. Having taken over from the Titans of CBS that ran the organization into the ground, Steinbrenner took over the Yankees and turned them into a dysfunctional family that somehow managed to accomplish great things. If you know anything about Greek mythology, that describes Zeus in a nutshell. And for Zeus’s wife Hera, well, there’s only one option: the manager with whom he fought like an old married couple for years, Billy Martin.

For the remaining members of the oldest generation of gods, Poseidon and Hades, we’re going to stick with individuals known primarily for their time as managers, not players; this is to represent the difference in status that they had, both in Greek religion and in artwork — note, for example, that you’ll always see Zeus and Poseidon depicted with facial hair, but never Apollo or Hermes. Casey Stengel is my pick for Poseidon. Not only did he enlist in the Navy during the First World War, his style as manager was as unpredictable as the sea; rather than maintain a set lineup and pitching rotation, he made heavy use of matchups by employing platoons and by manipulating his staff so that his best starters would go up against the most difficult lineups.

For Hades, we need to find a manager who is misunderstood within baseball history — after all, as the Lord of the Underworld (NOT the Lord of the Dead; that’s Thanatos), he is often portrayed as a cunning Satan-like villain in modern retellings, such as in Disney’s Hercules. Fortunately, the Top 100 Yankees list has the perfect guy: Bob Shawkey, the first Yankees ace and the manager in 1930. Despite doing an admirable job and gaining the support of the players, the Yankees opted to relieve him of managerial duties in favor of Joe McCarthy; while that move worked out, it led to his semi-estrangement with the organization, which is partially the reason for his relative anonymity today.

Let’s now move to the Olympian sons and daughters of Zeus (we include Aphrodite here, even though technically she’s not a daughter of Zeus, but was born out of sea foam). Some of these are fairly obvious — Wade Boggs, the third baseman who allegedly drank 107 beers in one day, is Dionysius, the god of wine, while Yogi Berra, the man just as famous for his sayings as he is for his on-field performance, is Athena. Elsewhere, Hephaestus did not let his physical disability stop him from achieving greatness and neither did no-hit artist Jim Abbott. Aphrodite is clearly Joe DiMaggio, whose marriage to Marilyn Monroe firmly entrenched his status as the sex symbol of Yankees history. And who else could be Ares, the god of war and military power, than the embodiment of home run power, the Sultan of Swat himself, Babe Ruth?

Others require a bit more thinking. For Demeter, the goddess of grain, we have George Weiss, the Yankees executive who built the organization’s farm system from the ground up in the 1930s, building on developments made by the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League (Gene Michael would also be a good pick here for his development of the ‘90s Yanks). For Hermes, the messenger of the gods, Phil Rizzuto rings truest, for his career as the voice of Yankees television; the fact that he “stole” time on the commute home by slipping out early makes it doubly fitting, as Hermes is also the god of thieves.

Sportscaster Phil Rizzuto, aided by monitor, calls the actio
“I’ll see you soon, Cor!”
Photo by David Mclane/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images

The two Olympians most difficult to identify by far are the twins Apollo and Artemis. Throughout Greek and Roman history, both figures took on many roles — Apollo was at times the god of archery, the Sun, music and dance, medicine, herds, young men, and prophecy, while his sister Artemis was the goddess of the hunt, the Moon, the wilderness, young maidens, childbirth, and virginity (except in her massive temple complex in Ephesus, where she was worshiped as a fertility goddess).

After thinking about it for far too long, there’s only one conclusion I can come to about Artemis: there is absolutely no way that anybody associated with baseball fits this list. No matter how she is portrayed, Artemis was always a patron and protector of young women. Baseball has, historically, not been a welcoming environment for women. That is changing, and in a few years, we’ll be able to point to several pioneering women who blazed the trail (such as Kim Ng and Rachel Balkovec); however, they are all still active, and thus ineligible for this list.

That leaves us with Apollo. There is one aspect of the god that unites all his portrayals: his attractiveness. Seriously. In the ancient Greek world and beyond, images of Apollo were held up as the standard of male beauty, the image of physical perfection achievable only by the divine. Those statues of the Buddha and bodhisattvas from Gandhara (modern-day Afghanistan) in the Metropolitan Museum of Art? Fusions of Indian iconography with Hellenistic statues of Apollo brought east by the campaigns of Alexander the Great. That figure of Jesus in Michaelangelo’s The Last Supper in the Sistine Chapel? Copied from ancient images of Apollo. I could go on.

So, who in the Yankees lore fits this bill? Who was, in their youth, the embodiment of modern male beauty, whose face was known by all throughout the country and who was known, at least in his youth, for enjoying his fame? I’m sure the comments section will have a field day arguing this point — there’s a number of players who could fit — but we’re going to go with the Giver of Gift Baskets, No. 2, The Captain, Derek Jeter.