The note may have been written out of jealousy in June when the Yankees were being swamped in attendance 2 to 1 by the shabby, unneighborly Mets. It may have been written in shame late in August when the Yankees were a third-place team five full games from the league lead. But last week, even though the Yankees looked as if they were on the way to winning their 14th pennant in the last 16 years, the note was still clearly legible on the dirty canvas pad that softens the home team's bench at Yankee Stadium. It reads, "Everybody Loves a Loser."
No Yankee player will step forward and admit he wrote this intriguing message, yet one of them did. Several players will gladly come forward now, however, and admit to supplying the two-word epithet that has recently been printed below the original text. The true mystery of this note lies not in when it was written, or why or by whom. The mystery is that it was written by a Yankee for other Yankees to see when all Yankees are supposed to be incapable of harboring thoughts of losing.
And the solution to the mystery is that these 1964 Yankees are not the heroic stoics that tradition makes them out to be. In action, the 1964 Yankees have been a phenomenon of collective ineptitude. Their hitting has been bad, their fielding spotty, their base running ragged, their relief pitching brutal. Devout Yankee haters and dedicated Yankee fans alike will admit that since April this team has been playing some very un-Yankeelike baseball.
There were notable signs of improvement last week, but no matter how this year finally ends for the Yankees, it is indisputable that there are some remarkable differences between this and former New York teams. Although vast internal shuffles have brought a new manager, a new general manager, a new road secretary, a new concessionaire and even new owners, the basic difference is that the Yankees have acquired a warm, human image. This has occurred because they have been beaten and forced to scramble hard for victories against teams that former Yankee clubs were able to shrug off.
It has been a new set of Yankees—Jim Bouton, Phil Linz, Joe Pepitone, Al Downing, Mel Stottlemyre, Pedro Ramos—that has been carrying the team through its late drive, and these Yankees have never been through a pennant drive before. True enough, there is an old Yankee leading the new ones on, trying to ease the pressures, trying to contribute more than he is physically capable of contributing. That, of course, is Mickey Mantle, and he has played this season with a quiet valor that has inspired every member of the team, the new set and the old hands. "The thing about Mantle this year," says Relief Pitcher Steve Hamilton, "is that you know he is playing with injuries that are tremendously painful. It's agony for all of us to watch him stumble in the outfield and try to swing a bat. But in watching him you stop worrying about what's bothering you. You say to yourself, 'He's making $100,000 a year. He's famous and could retire right now just on his name. If he can do it, I can, too.' "
Mantle's sense of humor also has been a big factor. Time and again it has, by itself, lifted the whole team from mass dejection. "When Mantle says something that he thinks is funny," says Hamilton, "it always is. He waits for the right time. There are many players on this team with a sharper wit, but when Mickey says something, everybody laughs."
Last week First Baseman Joe Pepitone was standing in the dugout singing Funiculi, Funicula in Italian, and Yogi Berra was waving his hands like a conductor. A large group of Yankees stood by watching, and when Pepitone was through singing Yogi leaned back with a contented smile on his face. "Boys," said Mantle, "you have just witnessed the first American performance of the two Japanese Beatles." When Infielder Phil Linz, the man who has done more for the harmonica than anyone since Borrah Minevitch, was in the doghouse with Berra as well as General Manager Ralph Houk and Coach Frank Crosetti, it was Mantle who eased his mind about the whole harmonica incident. "Phil," Mantle said, "I read where you played Mary Had a Little Lamb after we lost all those games in Chicago. It could have been a lot worse. You could have played Happy Days Are Here Again."
These new Yankees act and live differently from the previously accepted Yankee patterns. There is, for example, the matter of the top button on the uniform blouse. If you are a Yankee, that button is supposed to remain unbuttoned, probably because the great Joe DiMaggio always kept his top button open. ("There was no significance or superstition behind it," says DiMaggio, "but if you look through the Yankee team pictures you'll see that it was always unbuttoned. I don't know why I did it.") Look at the top uniform button of the older Yankees today and you will see that Whitey Ford, Mantle, Elston Howard and Roger Maris still follow the tradition. But the new Yankees button that top button.
When Mickey Mantle came up to the Yankees in 1951, he shared an apartment above New York's famous Stage Delicatessen with teammates Hank Bauer and Johnny Hopp. ("I gave Mantle his first drink," says Bauer. "We had come back from the ball park and I asked him if he would like a drink. I put a bottle down on the table and went to get him a glass. When I looked back he had the bottle right up to his lips glubbing the stuff down. Just like a big farm kid from Oklahoma, I guess.") By contrast, Phil Linz, a Yankee of only three years, shares a four-and-one-half-room penthouse apartment on fashionable Beekman Place. Linz's bedroom is decorated in mauve, with subtle touches of periwinkle and contrasts of turquoise and white. The headboard of the king-sized bed is an eight-foot, wrought-iron old Italian arabesqued gate. "It's a sublet," says Linz. "We rented it from Julie Newmar." Among Julie Newmar's credits—aside from 39-23-39—are a movie called The Rookie and the part of Lola in a road company version of Damn Yankees.
The newer Yankees have discarded one more cherished tradition. In past years when the press entered the Yankee clubhouse after a losing game most of the players would race from the shower to the off-limits dressing room, dragging their towels behind them. By hiding out they avoided answering embarrassing questions. Today some of the older Yankees still do this, but the new ones stand by their dressing stalls like sentinels and answer all questions. "When I first came to the club," says 25-year-old Jim Bouton, "some of the older players took me aside and advised me to watch out for this sportswriter or that one. I said to heck with that, I'd make up my own mind. When I began to talk to reporters after games the older guys would walk by me making noises and gestures—indicating that I was a loudmouth. It embarrassed me. I belonged to the team and wanted to be part of it. Now I don't care what anyone says. I don't get on those guys who don't talk to reporters and I don't want anybody on me because I do talk to them. I have as much right as anyone to set the pace."