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"Do you see a Mantle on this team?" Kubek asks. "Or a Maris? Or an Elston Howard? I don't see a Boyer. I don't see a Bobby Richardson, although the catcher, Matt Nokes, reminds me a little of Johnny Blanchard." Blanchard, you'll recall, was the 1961 Yanks' second-string catcher.
Maas and leftfielder Hensley Meulens, who some have tried to tag as the contemporary M&M boys, are a thin candy shell of the originals. "We don't have any true Yankee sluggers anymore who people will come out to see," says Rizzuto. "Reggie Jackson played in New York for five years, but even he wasn't a true Yankee. They'll retire his number in Oakland, not in New York."
"Mantle was the last true Yankee slugger," insists New Jersey bartender Bob Pezzuti, a true Yankee fan. "When he retired in 1968, Yankee tradition became frozen in time."
Time literally stopped at Yankee Stadium during the fourth inning on May 15. The scoreboard clock stuck at 8:53 with New York trailing the California Angels 6-2. During the time warp, two innings passed, and four more Angel runners crossed the plate. In that game, Yankee starter Chuck Cary was relieved—if that's the word—by Eric Plunk, who finished the week with a 9.90 ERA. Plunk's most notable pitch last Thursday was a fastball that went behind a batter. Poor Plunk may be the only '91 Yankee with a '61 counterpart: He pitches like Ryne Duren without glasses.
And whatever happened to good old Yankee spirit? "The team I played for knew how to root," says 1961 alumnus Hector Lopez. "Every inning we'd be up on the dugout steps, hollering, shouting, slapping each other on the backs. Very seldom do you see today's Yankees pulling for their teammates. They just sit on the bench watching the game as if it was on TV."
Complacency had no place in Yankeedom in 1961. "I never felt secure," says Skowron. "I remember checking out the minor league statistics to see who was after my job." Says Kubek, "I get the feeling now that some guys [free agents] join the Yankees because it's easy to play for them. You're not expected to win anymore. They think, 'Hey, the Yanks lost 95 games last year. What the hell, I'll take the money and put up with everything.' So much for Yankee tradition."
In recent years, pinstripe tradition came to be worth exactly zero to a free agent confronted by the specter of Steinbrenner and offered $17 million by someone else. "Most quality free agents haven't wanted to sign with the Yankees," says agent Arn Tellem, whose most prominent client, pitcher Mark Langston, spurned Steinbrenner in 1989. "They were scared off by the pressure of having to perform for George. They feared his capriciousness. After leaving the Yankees, players are so mentally drained that they have to go through a kind of detoxification. But that's not the main reason the better free agents have stayed away. It's that the Yankees just aren't competitive anymore."
Could New York's free-agent fortunes improve? Among the premier players who will enter the free-agent pool at the end of this season are three who grew up within a short train ride of Yankee Stadium: the New York Mets' Frank Viola, the Pittsburgh Pirates' Bobby Bonilla and the Chicago Cubs' Shawon Dunston. "The Yankees need every one of them," says Tellem. "I'd bet they'll all be offered mammoth contracts. It wouldn't surprise me if all three wound up Yankees."
Still, the Yankee future is not in the pool, but on the farm. The Diocletian Yanks traditionally sacrificed their young (see McGee, W.; Drabek, D.; Rijo, J.) for seasoned gladiators. They tried to dump Roberto Kelly on Atlanta two years ago, but the Braves—not noted for talent judgment themselves—turned down the offer. Now the Yankee bushes are flowering again: Besides Pat Kelly, watch for outfielders Bernie Williams and Gerald Williams and pitchers Wade Taylor and Jeff Johnson. "The Yankees' bright spot is on the horizon," Rizzuto says. "They just can't trade any of the kids."
Yankee fans react to this with mild diffidence. "If Roberto Kelly continues to develop, if Mattingly gets his power back, if Maas hits homers, if Pat Kelly stays up, if Steinbrenner stays away—if all that happens, the Yanks might have a bit of a nucleus," says Manhattan lawyer Joe Villella, a Yankee diehard. "It's not much, but you've got to start somewhere."