Yankees-Braves series causes unsettling flashbacks

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The Yankees play the Braves starting tonight, and whenever that happens, I get seriously bad flashbacks . . .

I was in my second year of law school in the fall of 1996 and I had a
professor that semester who would just go on and on and on about the
Yankees. He’d use them as the example of greatness, in much the same
way people used to use Cadillacs (e.g. “Goldman Sachs is the New York
Yankees of investment banks,” etc.). I cut him some slack because he
was in his early 50s, which meant that he grew up at a time when the
Yankees won all the time and such comparisons made sense. Because of
his age, he could be forgiven for overlooking the fact that the Yankees
hadn’t won anything in close to 20 years, and had only been in the
playoffs once in the previous 15. The way in which he clinged to the
past was kind of cute and endearing.

But then the Yankees started working their way through the playoffs.
My Braves — the reigning World Series Champions — were too, and
despite a big scare from the Cardinals in the NLCS, I and many others
expected them to coast easily to another title. My professor, high on
New York’s run, noticed my Braves cap in class one day and decided to
taunt me a bit. Asking me how I’d feel when the Yankees thrashed the
Braves. Asking me if I’d need a couple of days off from class to
recover from the epic beatdown that was to come. When I realized that
he was looking for someone to jaw back at him I obliged, and for a
couple of days two or three minutes of class was taken up with our
smack.

When the Braves put the hurt to the Yankees in games one and two, my
professor backed off. I, however, amped it up. I talked about how
unlikely it was for a team — especially a green and untested team like
the Yankees — to come back from a 2-0 deficit. Especially when they’d
have to beat Tom Glavine, Steve Avery, John Smoltz and Greg Maddux —
in that order — to do it. I was a total ass about it, really, and that
would have remained the case even if what happned over the next four
games hadn’t happened.

But it did happen. Oh, God, did it happen, and to this day I can’t
think about that World Series without shuddering, partially because of
just how epic was the Braves’ fail, but even more so for the complete
lack of humility and grace I displayed in the runup to it all. To my
professor’s credit, he only rubbed my nose in it for, oh, three weeks
afterwards. When I got my A in his class, I couldn’t help but wonder if
pity was just as much at play as performance. Since then I’ve done my
best to blot the memory of 1996 out of my mind, and I’ve succeeded to
varying degrees.

But then a blogger like Jay at Fack Youk goes and starts what looks to be an excellent series reviewing the 1996 and 1999 Yankees-Braves World Series,
and the bad memories start flooding back. Not so much for 1999 — every
Braves fan just sort of knew on some level that the Yankees would kill
us — but for that awful, awful 1996.

He has Game one up right now.
Since I knew it would have a happy ending I managed to make it through
it. By tomorrow morning he’s going to have Game Four posted, however. I
can’t decide if I’ll read it yet. It’s been over 12 years so you’d
think I could handle it by now, but I’m not sure I can. Maybe I’ll
email Jay and ask him to move Game Four up to this evening so it will
be a little more acceptable for me to take a belt of scotch or
something before diving in.

Anyway, Jay’s series should be enjoyable for (a) anyone too young to
really remember the details of the 1996 Series; (b) Yankees fans; and
(c) masochistic Braves fans. As for the rest of us? Well, whatever
doesn’t kill us only makes us stronger, and the 1996 Series hasn’t
killed me. Yet.

Tommy La Stella talks about his refusal to report to the minors in 2016

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In late July of 2016, Cubs infielder Tommy La Stella was demoted to Triple-A. It wasn’t personal. It was a roster crunch situation and La Stella had options left so, despite the fact that he had been an effective player to that point of the season, it made sense to send him down.

La Stella didn’t take the demotion well. In fact he refused to report to Iowa and went home to New Jersey instead. It was not until August 17 that he finally reported and then only after prolonged discussions with the Cubs and the assurance that he’d be back in the majors once rosters opened up. Which he was, after spending just over a week down on the farm.

Such a move by a player would, normally speaking, make him persona non-grata. His teammates would shun him and the organization would, eventually, cut bait, with the press characterizing him as a me-first player as he walked out the door. That did not happen with La Stella, however, who remains with the Cubs two years later and, by all accounts, is a popular and important guy in the Cubs’ clubhouse, even if he’s not one of the team’s big stars.

Today Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic has an in-depth story about La Stella, what went down in 2016 and how he and the Cubs have proceeded since then. The story is subscription only, but the short version is that there was a lot of understanding and empathy on the part of the Cubs organization and their players about what was going on in La Stella’s head at the time and how everyone allowed everyone else the space to work through it.

I’m happy to read this story, because all too often we only hear about such incidents as they occur, with little followup. To the extent the story is told, most of the time its completely one-sided, with the player who acts out being treated like a bad seed with little if any explanation of his side of things. And, yes, there are always two sides to the story. Sometimes even more.

Kudos to Rosenthal for telling this story. Here’s hoping the next time a player is involved in a controversy that, in the moment, makes him appear to be a bad seed or have a bad attitude, we hear more about it then too.