3a) Why the Yankees Finished Second

Inexplicably, all of the postmortems I’ve come across have ignored the two most important reasons the Yankees came up short in 1993. Am I alone in seeing the obvious, that the factors most responsible for the Yankees’ second-place finish were the questionable priorities of the people who make our drug rules and the embarrassing reluctance of my fellow fans to get their street clothes dirty?

To take the latter issue first: how often in this past season could it be said of Yankee fans that they were truly into the game? Can we count how many times they sat and watched while a Yankee made a final out, or failed to snatch a ball from the grasp of an opposing outfielder and bring it into the seats when New York needed a dinger? (I’m sorry, but over the course of eighty-one home games, one fan taking the field to keep an inning alive, and one fan deftly lengthening the reach of a warning track fly ball, hardly qualifies as the model of hustle you’d want to see Little League fans emulating.)

Unfortunately, given the contemptible chicken-heartedness of the current crop of so-called ”Yankee supporters” from The Bronx, there are no quick remedies for this grievous situation—none that I can see, anyway. A solution will likely have to wait until Mr. Steinbrenner relocates the team to New Jersey where it will attract fans of proven mettle. (A demonstrably fearless people, New Jerseyans have astonished everyone with their remarkable ability to survive in a cruel and hostile environment the rest of us had written off as unfit for habitation. Although their faculties have been severely compromised they still manage to sort of function. Folks like these won’t be intimidated by the prospect of security personnel bouncing their heads around.)

The other problem, however, could be disposed of as quickly as next season if we can get our leaders to re-think their position, bend a little, and allow Steve Howe to do cocaine again. I mean Howe performing at his best was crucial to a Yankee success this year and, his ERA up something like four runs since he quit using, you don’t have to be a Starfleet Academy graduate to recognize that letting him keep his blow was the way to maintain his effectiveness.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not unmindful of the potential risk involved in granting Howe such a dispensation. There is, indeed, an argument to be made against it. Permitting him to go back on coke could very well subject his friends to yet more rounds of earnest, inane and exasperatingly discursive all-night monologues, and force his lovers to endure more three-hour bouts of limp and grossly sweaty sex with never a climax. But think about it. Isn’t winning a pennant worth the price, especially when you consider that Howe would frequently demonstrate an amazingly generous spirit and an exceptional capacity for affection?

Look. We’re all going to get very sick, really seriously ill, and then we’re going to die. And life, I’m sure you’ll agree, is no bowl of Jack Daniels even before this happens. When a chance to become forgetful of our circumstances and to feel superior to our fate presents itself, don’t we owe it to ourselves to take full advantage of it? And to these ends, how many things, besides winning a Superbowl, are equal to winning a pennant? Blowing the head off a rabbit at fifty yards? Meeting Chuck Norris? (Make your own list, but I’ll bet it’s just as short.) No, winning a pennant is something very special.

I’m reasonably sure that I haven’t had one of those nasty flashbacks since 1975. So why am I the only one who remembers the exchange between Phil Rizzuto and Bobby Murcer that took place during a lightning storm delay in Milwaukee a few years ago and which, the weird static and mesmerizing visual interference notwithstanding, illuminated far better than I ever could, the size of the reward a pennant offers.

”Accomplishing a league championship,” Rizzuto said, ”is to solve a fundamental existential dilemma. Have you ever thought, Murcer, about the euphoria that one observes on such occasions, when big, fiercely perspiring, tobacco spitting and flatulent men pile upon one another in the infield, and with utter indifference to the incredible effluvium that permeates their lungs? Is the matrix of this phenomenon not the sensation, albeit fleeting, of having triumphed over the ephemerality and vileness of the body, of having won a victory over mortality itself?”

”Scooter, I couldn’t agree with you more.” Murcer responded. ”And this elation that we witness is hardly limited to the actual participants, but is, in fact, shared by those who follow them; people whose lives— bereft of heroic possibilities—oblige them to identify with the transcendent achievements of others, and whose joy can actually turn night into day when, in the immediate aftermath of victory, they will sometimes set their stores and automobiles on fire. I would go so far as to say that man invented competitive athletics, and the sportsplex with the skyboxes, that he might create for himself an opportunity to win and, in the winning, experience his apotheosis.”

What could I add to that to make my point? When you consider what we gave up to protect his friends and intimates from a little self-indulgence and hyper-activity, it becomes quite clear that a reassessment of the Howe issue is very much in order. I don’t mean to minimize the gravity of the concerns or to appear insensitive, but listen: I don’t have any friends or intimates. How many might he have? Three? Five! In a year when we could certainly have used a championship, a year of biblical floods, a terrorist bombing in New York City and Billy Ray Cyrus (and in which, let me tell you, I had more than my share of personal and emotional problems), our chance to get one was sacrificed to the convenience of what can’t amount to more than a handful of people.

Are we going to repeat this mistake next year when who knows what fresh horrors nature, the Third World and the music industry have in store for us, and when many of us are also due for a checkup?

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Writings & Miscellaneous

Books by Robert Levin

When Pacino’s Hot, I’m Hot
The Drill Press LLC

Against Mental Health: Short Stories


“A writer of talent and intelligence.” — Irving Louis Horowitz

“Distinguished quality…profound emotion.” —Dr. Karunesh Kumar Agrawal

“Some real gold in here.”—B.D. Charles


Music & Politics
by John Sinclair and Robert Levin
World Publishing

“Robert Levin’s articles…make up the second half of Music and Politics, and they’re something else again. He’s a quietly briliant writer (not flashy but subtly dazzling) who knows jazz extremely well and who knows how to let us know what he knows. His piece on Sunny Murray says more about the birth of the New Jazz than most writers could say in a volume; the Anthony Braxton interview is one of the freshest, most reassuring articles on the future of music (of the arts in general) that I’ve read; his ‘found critique’ of ‘Space’ by the MJQ, which contrasts Murray’s thoughts on music at the White House with President Nixon’s introduction of the MJQ in that very place, is brilliant; his piece on the unfortunate evolution of Willis Jackson…is a minor masterpiece; and he’s lucid and painful and thoroughly correct when he writes that ‘What is meant by ‘every man has his price’ is that every man has his uncertainty about the validity and sanity of his perception of the truth. To ‘sell out’ is to capitulate to that uncertainty.'”
—Colman Andrews, Creem

Giants of Black Music
Edited by Pauline Rivelli and Robert Levin, with a foreword by Nat Hentoff
Da Capo Press

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