To realize the enormous achievement of the Yankee boys of fall, we take you back to the Yankee boys of summer, to mid-July in their clubhouse where their former 52-year-old adolescent manager, Billy Martin, is grumbling:
"They told me in spring training I was loaded with pitching, that I had more pitching than I'd know what to do with. Bull. You never have enough pitching. Where's all the pitching now?"
In two words, all that pitching was Ron Guidry. By the All-Star break, the Yankees already had used 15 pitchers, and Martin was reduced to the soon-forgettable Dave Raysich and Bob Kammeyer. Catfish Hunter had been on the disabled list twice.Neither Don Gullett nor Andy Messersmith would throw an official pitch after July 19.
"I've never seen anything like it in my life," said pitching coach Art Fowler. "In all my years in baseball, I never saw so many pitchers on one team come up with back arms."
In one game, the Yanks lost two pitchers, Messersmith and Key Clay, to the 21-day disabled list. When Ed Figueroa developed tendinities in his right forearm, the logical move would have been to add him to the disabled list - except it was filled. Six games over .500, the Yanks were 14 games behind Boston - and grateful for every rainout.
It was about this time that owner George Steinbrenner decided to grab his wounded team by the bandages. He demanded that catcher Thurman Munson play right field and Mike Heath catch, that Gary Thomasson play left and Reggie Jackson be the permanent designated hitter.
With the exception of first baseman Chris Chambliss, every yankee regular at one time or another missed time for more than minor injuries during that ebb. When shortstop Bucky Dent returned to the lineup July 31, it was the first time since June 10 that the Yankees were able to field their regular starting team.
Slowly, they began to mend, and the Red Sox started getting hurt and folding like wet laundry. The Steinbrenner experiment was a flop, but a shot of Lemon-aid July 25 proved a mighty elixer.
Came the resurrection, and the realization that Guidry was the most valuable player in the American League, regardless of Jim Rice's heroic performance. Baseball is not likely to see numbers such as theirs in one season for decades.
Guidry's was a remarkable consistency. He was 13-1 during the Yankee collapse and 12-2 during the Yankee rise. He dragged a half-dozen late healers along for the lateseason joy.
In June, Lou Piniella was saying to Hunter, not totally in jests: "Hey, Catfish. I know how Steinbrenner can get back all the money he gave you. All he has to do is sell insurance to the people sitting in the right-field seats on the days you pitch."
Hunter was 2-3 on July 19. He was 6-0 in August, with an earned-run average of 1.64. During one stretch, reliever Goose Gossage appeared in seven games - and picked up six saves and a victory.
Jackson lifted his average 17 points from July 19. Graig Nettles improved by 32 points, Roy White by 26 and Mickey Rivers by 13. Ironically, the Yankee iron man the first half of the season, Chambliss, saw his average drop 15 points.
And in the manager's office where so much tempest once brewed, Sunday chapel services were conducted. All of a sudden, once-hostile fans were almost getting misty-eyed about the Yankees.
Up to a point, Yankee determination, Yankee grit, Yankee hustle, Yankee mystique and, yes, even Yankee togetherness are applauded here. Theirs has been a memorable season, but it also would not have been possible without Yankee dollars.
What other team could win more regular-season games than anyone in baseball with a Gullett pitching only 44 2/3 innings and a Messersmith pitching only 22 1/3 innings? And with the Cy Young Award-winner the previous year, Sparky Lyle, relegated to the back of the bullpen?
Yankee hating has been much tougher this season, but not impossible.