Mostly, the Yankees have the division itself working for them. No single team has been able to break away from the pack, and it is conceivable that the division champion eventually will have lost nearly as many games as it has won. The four contenders—Baltimore, Detroit, Boston and the Yankees—are now all barely above .500. Does this indicate strength or weakness?
Strength, says Houk. "This division is a lot stronger than some people anticipated. Cleveland has a lot of tools—all those young players—and Milwaukee has good pitching. It will be a race to the end."
If the Yankees should win it, comparisons with the 1969 Mets will be inevitable, although Swoboda, who was there then and here now, insists that the teams have only their low reputations in common.
Recent Yankee clubs, in fact, have looked a bit more like the early Met teams than like the old Yankees. After dominating the game for more than 40 years, the Yankees simply wandered off the pace after the '64 pennant. Even their stadium, once the Taj Mahal of baseball, has been maligned as a relic. And the team, dressed still in the venerated pinstripes, seems a sartorial anachronism in these peacockish days.
But there is new life now in the ball park and the ball club. The three dates with the Tigers drew 95,218 paying customers, the biggest Yankee haul for a single series in five years.
Team President Mike Burke was late for one of the night games. When asked to explain how such a thing could happen to him, he replied happily: "I was caught in a traffic jam. A traffic jam right outside Yankee Stadium! It was delightful!"
They'll cheer anything at Yankee Stadium these days.