Monument Park in Yankees Stadium was once reserved for the best of the best. The Mantles/Berras/Ruths of the world. In some ways that was a bit silly. A function of George Steinbrenner’s obsession with casting Yankees history in near-mythic terms and peddling the notion that anything less than uber-elite and perpetual champion players and teams was not up to Yankees’ snuff. That’s the kind of thing that leads to the sort of eye-rolling that a lot of Yankees fans have toward that franchise today.
And it also did a disservice to the merely good players who, if they played for any other franchise, would likely be honored somehow with a plaque or something in whatever that team’s particular hall of fame happened to be called. Lots of teams have those, by the way. They just don’t have press agents as good as those that Monument Park has had over the years.
The Yankees seem to be changing this. Last month they announced that Paul O’Neill and Tino Martinez would be honored in Monument Park. I scoffed a little bit at that when the news came out, but after the weighing-in by some Tino fans and a month or so worth of reflection, I’m feeling cooler about it. Indeed, if this is truly a move by the franchise to come down off its “Only The Titans Are Worthy” stance toward its history, I’m all for it. Making Yankee Stadium a more populist place is good thing. I mean, you don’t go honoring Kevin Maas or anything, but people liked Paul O’Neill so why the heck not? At least as long as you don’t make everyone buy the notion that the standards haven’t been relaxed and that, really, Tino Martinez is worth every bit of praise that, say, Lou Gehrig is.
O’Neill and Martinez will enjoy wonderful days this summer when they are honored. But if they are being recognized for their vital contributions to a Yankees dynasty, then I think we have to start opening the door to countless more players who could be considered Yankees greats.
We could add dozens more names if we wanted to, and maybe we will. But I’d like to start with two — Willie Randolph and Graig Nettles.
I suppose people’s mileage may vary, but they are pretty much the 1970s equivalents of O’Neill and Martinez. Not the biggest stars on the team, but certainly the sorts of players who could be strong second bananas on any championship club.
What say you, Yankees fans? You all for opening the doors like this? Or does Monument Park need to be reserved for only the inner-circle Yankee greats?