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On Sports

The Yankees have made a mockery of jersey retirements

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Rochester Business Journal
February 27, 2015

The recent news that the New York Yankees are going to retire three more uniforms this season got my blood boiling, which might not be a bad thing as I shiver through this new Ice Age.

As someone who has followed the Bronx Bombers since that magical summer of 1961 when the M&M Boys—Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris—chased Babe Ruth’s hallowed home run record, I appreciate the contributions of the men who’ve helped make the Yankees the most storied franchise in sports history. But that doesn’t mean every star Yankee deserves to have his jersey number taken out of circulation. This excessive behavior has given new meaning to the expression: “Nobody does tradition like the New York Yankees.” These days, it should be “Nobody overdoes tradition like the New York Yankees.”

This summer’s retirement of Andy Pettitte’s No. 46, Jorge Posada’s No. 20 and Bernie Williams’ No. 51 will bring to 20 the number of numbers no longer in play. And later this year or next, Derek Jeter’s No. 2 will be placed in mothballs, eliminating all the single-digit digits from ever being worn again and tying the Yankees with the Boston Celtics for the most retired jerseys by a sports franchise. Jeter clearly is deserving of the honor, because—like Ruth, Mantle, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and Yogi Berra—he is a transcendent Yankee.

I have nothing against Posada, Williams and Pettitte (other than the fact that Andy used performance-enhancing drugs and honoring him at a time when the Yankees are doing everything in their power to rid themselves of PED abuser Alex Rodriguez seems a tad disingenuous). The trio clearly helped write this latest chapter of the Yankee dynasty, but they aren’t quite in the same league as the aforementioned Pinstripe immortals, or even their contemporaries—Jeter and reliever Mariano Rivera.

Sadly, the genie has been let out of the bottle. And given the Steinbrenner family tradition of overdoing things, the jersey retirements may continue until the Yankees are forced to petition Major League Baseball for permission to don triple digits, or perhaps letters. There are 26 letters in the alphabet and, if you double them up, you could retire at least 52 more jerseys. That should take care of most of the players, plus a few bat boys and select members of the grounds crew.

I believe there should be only eight retired Yankee numbers: Jeter (2), Ruth (3), Gehrig (4), DiMaggio (5), Mantle (7), Berra (8), Rivera (42) and Whitey Ford (16). I’m sure the other Pinstripe legends would have been content with a day in their honor at the stadium and a plaque in Monument Park, which essentially is the Yankees Hall of Fame.

Instead, the organization has made a mockery of the process. The honor is now as watered down as a packet of Kool-Aid in a 50-gallon barrel of water.

Speaking of jersey celebrations, you may have heard how Syracuse University botched the retirement of Roosevelt Bouie’s No. 50 during halftime ceremonies of the Pitt game in the Carrier Dome last Saturday afternoon. Seems some people in the athletic department have problems spelling and don’t bother to double-check their work. The commemorative jersey presented to arguably the greatest center in Orange hoops history featured the nameplate: B-O-W-I-E. Oops!

Not surprisingly, this gaffe, in front of more than 30,000 spectators, went viral as critics on Twitter, Facebook and several national media websites had a field day. One of the better zingers pictured David Bowie in a Syracuse basketball uniform, noting that the rock star had once performed in the Dome. Hey, it could have been worse. Much worse. Imagine if they had misspelled Bouie’s name on the large replica jersey unveiled near the Dome’s rafters?

This isn’t the first time SU has had the entire omelet on its face while commemorating its rich sporting past. Several years ago, the school unveiled a statue of 1961 Heisman Trophy winner Ernie Davis, featuring Nike swooshes on his cleats and a modern-day football helmet in his hand. This lack of attention to historical detail also resulted in negative national publicity. To its credit, the university quickly commissioned a new sculptor to fix the errors, just as it has ordered a new jersey for Bouie.

The classy Bouie took things in stride. He wasn’t about to allow the faux pas to rain on his parade. Nor should he have. “They came to me and were very apologetic,” he said. “They’ll get it right and they’ll get it back to me. They’ll fix it. Really, it’s no big deal.”

Syracuse is considering proposals to either enhance or replace the Carrier Dome. To me, the most desirable option would be a retractable roof that could be opened on those beautiful autumn days during the football season. It’s not a pleasant experience being cooped up inside a sweltering domed stadium on a mild day. I understand, though, that a retractable roof is probably a pipe dream because it would be cost-prohibitive. Other options include replacing the air-supported bubble with a permanent roof on the 35-year-old stadium, or seeking a site either off-campus or on SU’s south campus. I think something would be lost if the stadium were away from the main campus.

Scott Pitoniak is a best-selling author, nationally honored columnist, television correspondent and radio talk show host in his 42nd year in journalism. You can listen to him Monday-Friday from 3-7 p.m. on 95.7 FM, AM 950 or on-line at espnrochester.com.

2/26/15 (c) 2015 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email service@rbj.net.


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