Charlie Metro, who coaches for the Chicago White Sox, is a shade under 6 feet tall. He didn't feel that big back in 1947-49, when he managed would-be New York Yankees in outposts like Bisbee, Ariz. and Twin Falls, Idaho. "It seemed in those days like I always was the smallest guy in uniform," he says. "But I've been scouting the minor leagues the last two years and the Yanks have about the same size players now as anybody else."
He was not suggesting that the Yanks looked like kids, as some of them acted in that airport wassail two weeks ago. Metro has spent too many years on the road to raise an eyebrow when a ballplayer raises a glass. And didn't General Manager Ralph Houk imply that they were free to get stoned as long as they didn't make a public issue of it?
Metro meant that the Yankees in battle array are suddenly no larger than life, and they are strange to behold in their present humble estate: just another good baseball team, certainly much better than their current second-division standing, but debilitated by age, crippled by injury and vulnerable to attack because their unwonted uncertainty makes them prone to manual and cerebral error.
The Yankees, like a fine old horse going on class and guts, may struggle home in third place, as they did after stumbling starts in 1940 and again in 1959. They could even, by a stretch of the imagination, win the pennant and the season would be saved. But the era—29 pennants and 20 World Championships in 44 years—would still be over. The Yankees will win again, maybe next year, but probably never again will they, or any team, dominate. Send not to ask what happened to the Yankees. It has happened to baseball.
"Once they could go to Newark for players," says Tommy Henrich. "Now they look to Columbus, Ga., so-called Double-A." Look, perhaps, but they do not find. Horace Clarke, Ray Barker and Doc Edwards, the incomplete ballplayers the Yankees used to foist off on the have-nots, are the reinforcements of 1965. There is no wave of the future, like the Rizzutos, Lindells, Billy Johnsons and Ernie Bonhams waiting in the wings when they had that bad season in 1940, or the Boutons, Pepitones and Treshes laboring in the vineyards in 1959.
"They need four or five new men," says Ed Lopat, "and they just don't have them."
There's something else the Yankees no longer have. It has been fashionable expertise over the years to point out the Yanks' snug defense, their bench, the crafty pitching and the overall team effort. "When one guy was down," says Bill Skowron, who played on seven Yankee pennant winners before he was traded in 1962, "a couple of others would pick him up. But we was never as banged up as they are this year." They was never without a superstar, either. Lou Gehrig minded the store in the brief hiatus between Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio, and Mickey Mantle (see cover) arrived the year DiMaggio was finishing up. In baseball they call it "the big guy," and the Yankees have always had one, at least since 1920.
"I ain't underrating Elston Howard," says Billy Martin, "but there were years they wouldn't have won the pennant with five Howards if they didn't have Mickey." Mantle, the one-man orthopedic ward, is even more a symbol of the Yankees in crisis than he was in their predominance. He plays on, on agonized legs that would keep a clerk in bed, and the opposition wonders how. "He's hurting worse than ever," says John Blanchard, banished by the Yankees to Kansas City, "but he won't admit it."
"I don't see how the heck he can keep going," says Baltimore's Norm Siebern, another ex-Yankee. "It has to be his last year," an American League manager concluded after watching the 33-year-old Mantle for the first time this season. "He can't go on that way."
Following the Yankees these days is like watching a cowboys and Indians movie in which the bugle sounds but the cavalry never quite arrives. It is superstar time, but there is no superstar. "All they need," says Indians' Manager Birdie Tebbetts, in magnificent understatement, "is one great player. If there isn't anyone, then the Yankees have to worry."