Steinbrenner, who would stop to pick up gum wrappers on my concourse, was a stickler for cleanliness. In 1973 he demanded every day that his workers paint over any graffiti on the Stadium. This was war, and Steinbrenner knew he would win. Why? "We can buy more paint than they can," Steinbrenner said. He was right. The graffiti guerillas eventually surrendered.
In 1973 you would find the Yankees bullpen in right centerfield, where the pitchers threw on a slope toward the field. Today you find an elaborately landscaped, multitiered bullpen in left centerfield. Ironically, this is where you will find any graffiti. Bored relief pitchers, like cave dwellers, have adorned my bullpen bench area, which is encased by a glass wall and is air-conditioned. A switch plate has been decorated with a comic face that has the switch serving as a Cyclops-like eye and the name MENDOZA at the top, a reference to former Yankees reliever Ramiro Mendoza. One plastic cover over a fluorescent wall light has a football grid doodled over it, and another is festooned with an undersea montage, replete with a submarine that has the interlocking NY.
In the back corner is a door with the identification plate of GD 021. Open the door and you will find a small bathroom. There is a toilet bowl, a sink and no mirror. It hardly meets the Steinbrenner standards of cleanliness. This is where you would have found Mariano Rivera in the eighth inning of one of the greatest games I have ever hosted. This was the night of Oct. 16, 2003, Game 7 of the American League Championship Series against the Boston Red Sox. Rivera had been warming up on the bullpen mound when the Yankees, who had been down three runs to Pedro Martinez of the Red Sox with five outs to go, tied the game on a double by Jorge Posada. Overcome by emotion, Rivera ran off the bullpen mound, up a flight of stairs, into the enclosed area and into the tiny bathroom and slammed the door behind him. Then, alone, he cried.
"Just wait," Jeter had told new teammate Aaron Boone that summer, "when the ghosts come out here."
Boone remembered Jeter's prophecy after he hit the game-winning home run that night. Rivera was the winning pitcher. It was the 17th time I saw the Yankees win the clinching game of a postseason series. It would be the last time.
"People believe in myths and ghosts about this place," Rivera says. "I don't. We are blessed by the Lord. That's how I explain it. All of us players who have come through here have been blessed, and you see those blessings."
Rivera occupies a special place in my history, quite literally. During spring training in 2007, as it became apparent that veteran outfielder Bernie Williams would not be returning to the Yankees, clubhouse manager Rob Cucuzza told Rivera one day, "The Corner Locker. It's yours."
As you walk into the rectangular Yankees clubhouse, the locker in the near righthand corner is far bigger than all the others. A little farther south, say in midtown Manhattan, it could sublet for $5,000 a month. Here you get it only by invitation after acquiring enough service time and stature, and only when its occupant leaves the team. Starting with the 1976 renovation, it has passed from Sparky Lyle to Graig Nettles to Ron Guidry to Dave Righetti to Don Mattingly to Bernie Williams to Rivera. It will not be relocated across the street. There will be no corners in the next clubhouse. It is oval.
THE CLUBHOUSE, like most everything else, looks nothing like it did before 1973. For my first 20 or so years, in fact, the Yankees dressed on the third base side. The players used red metal lockers with swinging doors full of holes to allow air to circulate. The players' names and, after 1929, uniform numbers were painted in white across the doors. It was in that locker room on Nov. 12, 1928, that Rockne, with his Notre Dame team tied 0--0 with Army at halftime, told the story (likely apocryphal) of former Fighting Irish star George Gipp, who on his deathbed asked that Rockne, if ever in need of inspiration, implore his team to "win just one for the Gipper." They did, winning 12--6.
The Yankees relocated their clubhouse to the first base side in the 1940s. The NFL's New York Giants used it for 17 seasons, beginning in 1956. Sam Huff and Frank Gifford each swore that they had used Mantle's locker. Assistant coaches Vince Lombardi and Tom Landry would diagram plays on a chalkboard under pictures of Yankees greats.