Friday, June 24, 2011

Yankees Old-Timer's Day Ceremony for the Unceremoniously Dumped

Expect to hear some of the most heartfelt cheers bellowing through the Bronx this Sunday afternoon in a long time.  No, the applause won't be for Derek Jeter's long-awaited milestone hit or even for any of the New York Yankees on the field.  The roar will be for three of the most beloved Yankees ever to don pinstripes--Joe Torre, Bernie Williams and Lou Piniella--who will be making their Yankees Old-Timer's day debuts.  All three will stand in the middle of Yankee Stadium for the first time after being unceremoniously dumped by the team.

All three former-Yankees have witnessed the pomp from the dugout.  Now it is their turn to bow and the gratitude extended to these former-Yankees will be both long overdue and bittersweet.

In a tradition that seems to have been around almost as long as the 65-year old ceremony, the Yankees are welcoming back fan favorites who were sent backing by the team.  In return, they triumphantly return to the Bronx as conquering heroes.  Remember Yogi Berra?

Why do the Yankees continue to perform this sado-masochistic act?

The appearance of Torre, Williams and Piniella should stir up memories of some not-so-good teams, dynasties and the turbulent reign of George Steinbrenner.

All and all, good memories, even though the trio all left the team under strained circumstances.

Individually, the former-Yankees' personalities are as different as the reasons for their walking papers.

Torre, the Brooklyn-born manager who guided the early careers of the Core Four--Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada and Jeter-- during the team's late-90's dynasty.

In 2007, the classy Torre rejected a one-year, $5 million take-it-or-leave-it contract by the Yankees.  He called the offer "insulting."  He was replaced by current manger Joe Girardi.

The parting wasn't amicable.  Don't even mention Torre's remarks about his time with the team or excerpts from his bitter 2009 book, "The Yankee Years," during this forgive-and forget weekend.

In the book, the 70 year-old Torre referred to A-Rod as "A-Fraud" and publicly aired out his dirty socks by ruminating about his contentious relationship with GM Brain Cashman and president Randy Levine.  Not exactly a Hallmark thank you card.

After a stint as manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Torre is now MLB's executive vice-president of baseball operations.

Torre may have buried the hatchet, but if you look closely, part of it is still in Cashman's back.

Sunday's reconciliation tour continues with another of Cashman's castoffs showing love.

Bernie Williams, the quiet, guitar-playing ex-centerfielder is also coming to his first Old-Timer's game.  It still sounds weird saying old-timer and Bernie Williams in the same sentence.

Williams was shamefully excluded from the Core Four equation --it should have been known as the Fab-Five or Jive-Five or a more pertinent name that included the five-time All-Star in that Yankees core group--but not as disgraceful as his banishment from the Yankees.

The clutch Williams played the game just like he exited--with class.  Even after Williams contract wasn't renewed by Cashman in 2007, the fan-favorite and life-long Yankee retired with the gracefulness he covered the middle ground for 16 years in Yankee Stadium. Bernie's #51 is still one of the most worn jerseys.

Finally, Piniella joins the ranks of another incendiary former-Yankee player then manager who was fired--Billy Martin.

Like Martin, Piniella had success with the team on the field and in the dugout.  Unlike Martin, Sweet Lou was not canned five times.

It's been 23 years since Piniella has squeezed into a Yankee uniform after managing stints with the Reds, Mariners, Rays, and Cubs.

Torre has to remember the glaring omission of his name and image from the video tribute on the closing of the original Yankee Stadium in 2008.  That slight had to hurt more than the feeble contract offer but makes his trot into the stadium a cleansing of the soul.

""I know the way it ended the last couple of years in New York was something that both the Yankees and myself didn't know how to say goodbye and it turned out to be something uncomfortable," Torre said.  "Looking back, I never would have traded anything for those 12 years."

Get ready for 50,000 fans and 50 other Yankees old timers to salute the three first timers with a rousing welcome back. The trinity of new kings won't come empty-handed.  They'll come bearing 10 World Series rings.

All three Yankee greats will wear Yankee pinstripes for the first in a long time but, what must seem like eons in Yankees years to each of them.  

Sunday's appearance of Torre, Williams and Piniella beckons back to the time when Steinbrenner ruled the team with passion and an iron hand, not the cookie-cutter corporation it seems to have become. 

Torre, Williams and Piniella will discover, like the exiled Martin, Reggie Jackson and Berra before them, you can go back home.

Call it Yankee love.

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