I’m guessing Yankees fans have heard this story before, but I don’t recall it. Here’s Bob Klapisch, relating the story of Mariano Rivera discovering his cutter. Given how dominant and unique Rivera is, it’s not terribly unlike a superhero creation story:
Its genesis is well known in the Yankees’ family, although Rivera still takes pleasure in explaining how a simple game of catch with Ramiro Mendoza changed his life 15 years ago.
“All of a sudden the ball started moving, cutting, in a way I’d never seen before,” Rivera said. “I wasn’t doing anything different, yet it had a life of its own. So, tell me, how do you explain that? [Mendoza] kept asking me what I was doing to make the ball move like that, and I had no answer. To me, the pitch was a gift from God. How can I really teach this pitch if I can’t explain how it came to me in the first place?”
And that’s the crux of Klapisch’s piece: Rivera will try to teach it to anyone who wants to learn it, but no one else can do it. His remains the single most lethal pitch in baseball after all these years, and it remains his alone.
I never get too wrapped up in mythologizing baseball players. But if one of our era deserves it, it’s Rivera. He’s just a different case altogether.
The Yankees have played “God Bless America” during the seventh inning stretch since 9/11. The version they play is the most famous version, recorded in 1939 by Kate Smith. As of today they will no longer be playing the Kate Smith version, however.
Why? The New York Daily News reports that it’s because “the Yankees were made aware of Smith’s history of potential racism.” Which is a rather interesting way of putting it, because there’s not much “potential” to this:
Smith was a famous singer before and during WWII who recorded the offensive jingle, “Pickaninny Heaven,” which she directed at “colored children” who should fantasize about an amazing place with “great big watermelons,” among other treats. She shot a video for that song that takes place in an orphanage for black children, and much of the imagery is startlingly racist. She also recorded, “That’s Why Darkies Were Born,” which included the lyrics, “Someone had to pick the cotton. … That’s why darkies were born.”
I’m guessing this information was available in some Kate Smith biography or is in the memory of some of her big fans who may still be alive, but it was news to the Yankees until recently and once they learned it they decided that going with a version of the song NOT sung by Kate Smith was better. Good call!
I’m sure someone will complain about this, but I feel like there are better hills to die on than “the Yankees should continue to play the racist lady’s version of the show tune that, despite what we think of it now, was never meant as an actual patriotic anthem.”
If you feel like dying on that hill, be my guest. But please, show your work.