By Paul Arnett

Friday, October 23, 1998

This wasn’t even the best
Yankee team of all time

MY lasting memory of the New York Yankees is from the summer of 1964.

I was barely 9 years old. My parents took me and my two younger sisters from Beaumont, Texas, to Tarrytown, N.Y., to visit my aunt, her husband, and the two cool cousins on the family tree.

Going to Yankee Stadium was supposedly a sideshow to the main event -- the World Fair in New York. But for me, the trip through the Bronx in the back of our Buick station wagon to The House That Ruth Built was it.

We went to a Saturday afternoon affair between the Yankees and the Cleveland Indians. I still have the program and the lasting images of walking up a ramp that emptied along the right-field line.

My parents had to guide me carefully to my seat because I couldn't take my eyes off the players warming up in the outfield. My search for Mickey Mantle wasn't to be interrupted.

When I finally spotted No. 7 in deepest center retrieving lazy fly balls against a high New York sky, the 2,000-mile journey across America was all worthwhile.

My father left us briefly to snap some pictures we cherish to this day, but I barely noticed. My attention was on an infield that had Clete Boyer digging out hot shots at third, Tony Kubek snagging liners at short, and second baseman Bobby Richardson making pinpoint throws to Joe Pepitone at first.

BEHIND home plate was Elston Howard and warming up on the mound was Al Downing, a pitcher who would give up major-league baseball's most memorable homer a decade later.

The outfield had Tom Tresh in left, Mantle in center and Roger Maris in right. I don't remember the final score. What I do recall was Mantle hitting a homer and the Yankees losing in 15 innings.

Some of this flashed through my mind late Wednesday night as I watched the New York Yankees celebrate their 24th World Series title. As you might expect, young television announcers -- whose memories are as long as a gnat's nose -- unabashedly called this the greatest team ever.

I chuckled to myself, bored my wife with another dissertation of how television is guilty of revisionist history, then tried to understand how anyone could come to such a quick conclusion.

Yes, winning 125 games is extraordinary. And granted, this is a team blessed with a deep pitching staff and a collection of players that fit perfectly together from top to bottom. But the best team ever? Give me a break.

This might not be the best Yankees squad ever. The few old-timers left would argue hard for the 1927, 1939 and 1961 Yankees. Even the 1970 Orioles and the 1976 Big Red Machine would give these youngsters a run for the ring.

THE fact that this year's New Yorkers were able to win so many games, coupled with the Microsoft numbers put up by Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Greg Vaughn and Ken Griffey Jr., are an indictment of expansion.

There are so many bad pitchers on poor teams, one wonders what the 1927 Yankees would have accomplished on the 1998 stage. Would Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig battle to see who would be the first to hit 100 homers and plate 200 RBIs?

Pardon me, but the outfield of Paul O'Neill, Bernie Williams and whoever manager Joe Torre saw fit to put in left doesn't move me enough to plan a trip to New York City, my own family in tow.

No, I'm sorry. Even the 1964 team I saw that went on to lose the World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals in seven is as good as this group that ripped through the Padres in four games.

Not that the 9-year-old boy in me wasn't happy the Yankees won. He was. But there is another part that believes this was a big money-market team taking advantage of expansion and the fact there is no salary cap.

One magical season may be acceptable. But should this become the norm, the greatest team ever may be recreating itself every season.

Paul Arnett has been covering sports
for the Star-Bulletin since 1990.

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