The Myth of Yankee Class

03.5.2005 | Russ Smith | Sports
Here’s a question, a serious one, for longtime Yankees fans: Why has the word “class” become linked to the most victorious, and avaricious, sports franchise in the past 100 years? Apart from Lou Gehrig’s stoic appearance at the Stadium on July 4, 1939, probably the most dignified moment in the history of baseball, I’m at a loss for other examples of “class.”

General Manager Brian Cashman surely can’t be thinking of Babe Ruth’s off-field behavior (unless he contributed heavily to Democrats, the Babe would today be on NOW’s hit list), Mickey Mantle’s pussy scavenger hunts, George Steinbrenner’s two suspensions from the game, drunkard Billy Martin’s ignominious death in a ditch, Reggie Jackson’s pale imitations of Muhammad Ali or Gary Sheffield’s recent criticism of teammate and fellow steroid user Jason Giambi.

Sheffield, who called the Red Sox a scummy bunch of “characters” before the Yanks choked in the ALCS last fall, recently complained anew that the Angels’ Vladimir Guerrero bested him for the American League’s MVP in 2004. “At the start of the year I had two homers and he had 15,” Mr. Wiggles told the Post’s George King. “Look at the park he hits in and that’s hogwash.” There’s a “team” player for you. As for Giambi, who wouldn’t be tarred as a pathetic multimillionaire by the media if he’d hit 30 homers and batted .300 last year, Sheffield was a real stand-up guy. He said: “I said I didn’t know I took steroids, the bottom line was I thought it was rubbing cream on my legs. I am not like Jason Giambi sitting here crying and say[ing] it’s unfair, that the attacks are unfair. I have been attacked my whole career.”

Maybe Sheffield’s just a “classy” asshole.

Cashman reacted to Boston players jabbing Alex Rodriguez for boasting about his workout regimen by saying, “We’re more understated than they are. If they want to throw hand grenades, let them throw hand grenades.” Trot Nixon, devoutly religious and not known for verbal “grenades,” unless you consider thanking the Lord for a victory, slammed A-Fraud earlier this month. He said: “Like Rodriguez says, he’s running stairs at 6 in the morning while I’m sleeping and taking my kids to school. I’m like, well I’m not a deadbeat dad, Alex. He’s got a kid now, too, so I guess he’ll have his limo driver take her to school.”

The Times’ columnist Selena Roberts reacted on Feb. 17: “That’s got to leave a mark, even on A-Rod’s pristine veneer. But certainly, Rodriguez would be able to take comfort in teammates who would give him a kiss on the head and a spray of Bactine for the boo-boo, right? Certainly, his reputation would be valiantly defended by everyone assembled at the Yankees’ spring training facility—except that it wasn’t. ‘That’s between them,’ [Derek] Jeter said of the Nixon flap. ‘I have nothing to do with that one. That’s Trot and Alex.’”

A-Fraud (who may be goaded into having a lonely MVP season) tried to spin Jeter’s lack of support by saying, with a straight face, “It just tells you how classy our organization is. Our players, they don’t caught up in that everyday stuff. And I appreciate their position.”

The Post’s Joel Sherman, who uses his column as an ongoing audition for a slot with Yank suck-up Michael Kay on YES, was disappointed that Rodriguez didn’t stick up for himself. On Feb. 21, he wrote: “Had he handled [the various taunts from Bosox players] more sincerely, Rodriguez would have made the Red Sox look like the unprofessional bozos they are.”

Unprofessional? Because the Sox aren’t forced to cut their hair, shave regularly and slather praise on their owner? By the way, if Steinbrenner wanted to show some “class,” he’d spend a few bucks on doubling the size of the Stadium’s concession workforce so that fans wouldn’t miss at least an inning of a game waiting on line to get a beer and dog.

But let’s be frank: There’s not a lot of “class” in any Major League Baseball franchise. I’m a lifelong Sox fan, but every time Kevin Millar opens his trap you get the feeling that if Roseanne were still on the air, he’d have a recurring cameo role. Millar’s a moron, just like Sheffield. There’s a limited supply of gentlemen in the MLB today: Offhand, Bernie Williams is tops for the Yanks and Tim Wakefield gets the nod for the Sox.

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