Treasures in the basement

Time has not yet begun, not without Opening Day, and we don’t know when it will.

And with the exception of those praying for more time for themselves or their loved ones and the heroes racing to save the lives of others, most of us seem to be losing all sense of time in a month that feels like it may never end.

But even if baseball is way down the list of what’s important, it’s still the (hopefully temporary) loss of a constant companion.

I was pretty sure I had that one somewhere, but where?

Yankee yearbooks used to be an every-year thing, usually for my birthday, which is at the end of May, but had they made the moves with me, or were they buried somewhere in my parents’ house?

If I didn’t have them, I couldn’t imagine my parents having thrown them away, but there was still the worst-case scenario of them having been victims of an aging, incontinent cat.

After all, I had lost a bunch of books that way.

If they were at my house, they would have been in the basement, so downstairs I went, searching through plastic tubs that only yielded Christmas decorations and stuffed animals, sports gear and photo albums.

There was one tub left, under a pair of stereo speakers with a wreath tossed on top. The contents were mostly old trophies, but I also saw something that looked like a magazine.

I reached down for it, and it was a yearbook. Hoping it wasn’t the only one, I kept digging, and found more and more.

I put the cover, speakers and wreath on top of the tub and marched upstairs with an armful of Yankee yearbooks, including the 1983 edition with Billy Martin on the cover.

Old Yankee yearbooks

And it wasn’t just yearbooks from my youth and young adulthood. I don’t remember the details, or even when it happened, but my mother got her hands on a bunch from the 1950s and 1960s, plus a World Series program from 1962.

I think they were from a co-worker of hers.

These were the Yankees of Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra, Elston Howard, Bobby Richardson — the Yankees of my grandfather’s (and even though I didn’t meet him until years later, my father-in-law’s) era.

Things were a lot different then, not the least of which was a series of photos on the bottom of Page 21 in the 1953 yearbook. Titled “Starring in a tougher league …,” it was pictures of Jerry Coleman and Bobby Brown, who were serving in Korea, and Tom Morgan, “who has exchanged Yankee pinstripes for Army khaki.”

When Suzi and I were moving to Cape Cod, we found a chest in the basement of our new house that included both silver kitchenware and old Boston Bruins yearbooks.

The agent who sold us the house said the previous owner was fine with us keeping the contents, so we gave the silver to our agent and I was planning to give the yearbooks to my buddy Mix, since I figured he’d appreciate them.

However, she decided she did want the stuff after all, so we had to ask our agent to return the silver (which he did, graciously, because he’s that kind of a guy), and I never got to give the yearbooks to Mix.

I wonder what happened to them.

Random yearbooks and guides

The tub was also home to a few odds and ends, starting with a picture album of the 1980 Yankees, a giveaway from the first time I went to Yankee Stadium as an 8-year-old.

I have three programs from Heritage Park, one for the Albany-Colonie A’s and two for the A-C Yankees. I may or may not have seen a young Bernie Williams; his picture  is in one of the programs, but I don’t remember one way or the other.

Jim Boeheim was on the cover of the program from the only Syracuse men’s basketball game I’ve been to at the Carrier Dome — Jan, 9, 1988 against Seton Hall. I was a sophomore in high school and went on a bus trip to sit in the upper reaches of the dome.

It was the Syracuse of Sherman Douglas, Derrick Coleman and Rony Seikaly, and the Big East of John Thompson at Georgetown, Lou Carnesecca at St. John’s and Rollie Massimino at Villanova.

P.J. Carlesimo was just starting to turn things around at Seton Hall, and Connecticut had “longshot hopes of a winning season” under some coach in his second year there named Jim Calhoun.

Those were the days.

In college, a professor who knew so many people that my buddy Jon referred to him as “God’s Rolodex” (perhaps “God’s iPhone contacts” works better for the younger set) knew I was a San Diego Chargers fan, so he got in touch with a friend in an NFL front office and scored two media packets from Chargers preseason games.

They consisted of clippings, rosters and information, but more than that, I was holding in my hands the same folders with the same contents as real sportswriters at real — well, real exhibition, anyway — NFL games.

1990s Yankee yearbooks

As for the yearbooks themselves, even though I usually didn’t get them until the season was underway, they were previews of the year to come, and contained an optimism beyond the “hope springs eternal” narrative this time of year.

The yearbooks not only were optimistic in a way that a blank slate of 162 games leads to a belief anything can happen — the 1991 slogan was “At Any Moment, A Great Moment” for a team that ended up 71-91 — but would have had you believe anyone could be important.

In 1982, for example, newly named captain Graig Nettles could provide a “big bat, peerless glove and immeasurable talent at the hot corner,” while newly acquired New Jersey native Bob Sykes had a chance “to land a spot on the talent-laden Bronx Bombers relief corps.”

As it turned out, Sykes never pitched for the Yankees, but holds a place in history, anyway, as they got him in exchange for a young outfielder named Willie McGee, who turned out to be pretty good.

The individual editions may have consisted of stalwarts and names never heard from again, great predictions and ones that look silly in hindsight — “no one will be disappointed” with Yogi Berra as manager in 1985, a year he was fired after 16 games, but George Steinbrenner clearly was — but as I read them, I realized there was an arc, a story, in the collection.

My first yearbook, other than the ones from the ’50s and ’60s, was from 1982, the year after the Yankees won the pennant and lost the World Series. The last was from 1997, the year after they won their first championship since 1978.

As Dave Winfield, Ron Guidry, Willie Randolph and a lot of baseball ranging from pretty good to really bad gave way to Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Paul O’Neill and the start of the Yankee dynasty of the late 1990s, there was one constant …

… and he happens to be my favorite player of all time.

Don Mattingly Monument Park

Don Mattingly was in the 1982 yearbook as the organization’s minor league player of the year, having hit .314 at Nashville and leading the Southern League in doubles, with “slick fielding at both first base and the outfield” that gave him “double-value in his pinstriped future.”

By 1983, he had made his debut with the big club and made the yearbook (wearing No. 46) between Roger Erickson and Dale Murray.

Come 1984, he was in New York to stay, and the yearbook had a warning — “Be careful Mr. Wade Boggs, or Donald Mattingly will replace you as the best young hitter in baseball.”

A batting title and MVP followed, and by 1987, he was on the cover of the yearbook as one of the players “Tearing up the Yankees record book.” The fans worshipped him, and the ones around my age still do.

Then the injuries started.

Once 1992 rolled around, the numbers weren’t “Mattingly-like,” and he “may never match his statistics of glorious seasons past, but he is sure to play a major role in the Yankees’ 1992 offensive machine,” but at 31, he was “still the individual the Yankees look to as their beacon” and “emphatically demonstrated he was capable of remaining in the lineup everyday.”

He was pretty good in 1992 — .288 average, 14 homers, 86 RBI — but by 1996, his story was that he “exited as he entered, with little fanfare. A Yankee for life,” having played his final game the year before.

The official retirement announcement came in early 1997, and in my last yearbook was a five-page “an appreciation” piece for a man who wasn’t able to play long enough to see the World Series glory he deserved.

Tino Martinez was a really good first baseman, but there’s only one Donnie Baseball.

“I see great things in baseball. It’s our game, the American game. It will repair our losses and be a blessing to us.”

— Something Walt Whitman may not have actually said, but it’s a good line and it’s close enough.

No, I cannot cite the Whitman apparent misquote from memory, but it’s the penultimate line in “Bull Durham,” which was just on TV, and I practically do have the movie memorized.

There are a lot of losses that need to be repaired before we can see great things in our game again, but it will be a blessing when that day comes.


4 thoughts on “Treasures in the basement

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