What I learned about the Chicago Bears from watching Olin Kreutz
The NFL Playoffs have started. Which means it’s the end of the 2017 Chicago Bears campaign, and that’s not a bad thing by any means. Yet another toilet season for a franchise that has given me such a tremendous amount of pride for so many years. In fact a couple Friday’s ago at Reading Terminal in Philadelphia my buddy Brett and I saw Bruce Arians walk by, and he politely waved back to our “How ya doing, Coach!?” greeting to him.
Then a moment later all I could think about was that Da Bears hired Marc Trestman in 2012 instead of Bruce Arians. Trestman then went on to lead the team straight into their current place directly in the bottom of the toilet. And the team has now lost 11 or more games for three consecutive years.
The truth is before Trestman arrived, I was so puffy-chested regarding the Chicago Bears that I couldn’t contain myself each and every game day.
And why wouldn’t I have my chest out? Every since I was a kid, Da Bears played a tough brand of football. Tough defense. Physical running game. Good special teams. Great tackling. Solid offensive line play. Signature Bears ball! The peak year 1985 story has been told so many times that at this point I can’t help but think it has hung over the franchise like a grey cloud that nothing short of another Lombardi will make it go away. Unfortunately, winning is not that easy.
Truth is, starting in about 1990 is when the love affair with those tough Bears teams really started for me. I’m talking a tough defense and the brand of smash mouth football that featured the likes of the great Neal Anderson, Trace Armstrong, Mike Singletary, James “Robo Cop” Thorton, and Jim Harbaugh long before he was a head coach.
When my parents brought home a VCR in late December of 1990, the first thing I recorded was the Bears NFC Wild Card Playoff game from Soldier Field vs. the Saints. Da Bears won 16-6. If a 16-6 score win for those Bears teams isn’t the most perfect score there is, I’m not sure what would be. Great defense, not much offense, and a couple of field goals and that gets the job done against teams like the 8-8 ’90 Saints. But the next week against the eventual Super Bowl Champion New York Football Giants didn’t yield the same result.
But I loved how those January Soldier Field games looked on television back when Soldier was one level before the remodel. Ice cold frozen grass turf and cold breath of “smoke” coming out of each face mask. It was a perfect image that was etched in my 10-year-old mind, and has stayed there to this day.
Fast-forward to 2000, the franchise drafted a guy named Brian Urlacher from The University of New Mexico. Little did I know at the time he would end up being one of the great players in modern Bears history. He transcended what it meant to play middle linebacker. He had an incredible combination of power and speed and covered so much ground with reckless abandon that an Oct. 2006 ESPN The Mag column by Rachel Nichols noted that “For opposing offenses, the middle of the field is not even an option.” My hopes are that he’s enshrined in Canton as a first ballot this year. He was a spectacular linebacker for so many seasons, and along with linebacker teammate Lance Briggs were so good that my chest was at peak stick-out from 2005-2011. I’m so proud of that 2006 team to this day.
But as I’ve gotten older, the more I’ve realized that the biggest badass of the 1998-2010 era Bears is without question Olin Kreutz. Olin played center for 12 years. He made six Pro Bowls, 2 All-Pro Teams and was named to the NFL 2000s All-Decade team. Read anything about the leaders of those teams, and every guy in that locker room has noted that Kruetz was the leader of that squad.
I know what you’re thinking. How could a center possibly be the most important dude? I get it. The National Football League has gone through a significant transition in the recent decade. For safety reasons, the hitting isn’t the same. It’s all about big plays on offense, touchdowns, end-zone celebrations, need a quarterback to have a chance to make a playoff run.
But you also need a guy like Kreutz anchoring an offensive line. And doing the small things that relatively go unnoticed. Here’s a few takeaways and learning’s from watching Kreutz play in Chicago for 12 seasons:
- Get ready to play
In December of 2009 I saw a meaningless early December Soldier Field game against the St. Louis Rams. My Dad and I got there plenty early to get “warmed” up on Miller Lites and were taking a lap around inside of Soldier to take it all in. It was early enough that hardly any players were on the field yet. The temp on the field was 24 degrees, went up to 26 by kickoff. Suddenly we both noticed one guy warming up and crouched, pretending to snap a football and take quick and squatted steps forward. He did this over and over and over again. He did this without a ball, and there was nobody else around him. He was at the corner of the Bears end zone. There was literally no one else inside the box.
“Look at this f*#@$ng guy,” I said to my dad.
The guy pretending to snap the ball and take steps forward was Olin Kreutz. He was wearing just shorts and a tee-shirt. Kreutz was born in Honolulu. Don’t think it’s ever 24 degrees there. Look at this guy. My Dad and I had at least 3 layers on each. And the Bears starting center had on shorts and a tee shirt. Either he was completely insane, or it’s a mindset of repetition and preparation. I’ll go with the latter.
Just study the pic above. You’ve got Kyle Orton with sleeves, and hands tucked into hand warmers during what appears to be a freezing cold game. Even the ball looks cold. Then you’ve got #57 Kreutz with elbow pads and gloves with bare-arms, as if to say: ‘I’m good, let’s get after it.’
2. Protect your friends
So many times during NFL games you see a fight/shoving match/punches thrown/etc. If Olin was near, and he saw a teammate get shoved: he was the first guy there to shove back and pick up a teammate. It had nothing to do with being dirty, it had everything to do with backing up a teammate and defending him. Olin Kreutz defined this to each teammate, every damn game. It also helps to be a State Champion Heavyweight wrestler, which Olin was in Hawaii.
3. Speak up!
It has been well documented the number of times Kreutz addressed his Bear teammates in the locker room. One of them was at halftime during the 2006 comeback win vs. Arizona. The ’06 Bears won the NFC Championship, and went on to lose Super Bowl XLI to Indianapolis. But one of the most mind-boggling wins that season came when they came back from being down 20-0 at halftime to Arizona. They ended up winning 24-23 without scoring a single offensive touchdown.
Just think about that for one second. They did not score a single offensive touchdown. Not one! Not only that, they also had 6 total turnovers. SIX! This game has been marked as The Monday Night Miracle, and has been etched in football lore.
This game also marked absolute Peak Urlacher, and he finished with 25 tackles (Wikipedia says 19, Urlacher says 25–I’ll go with him), as well as a key forced fumble in the 2nd half. The dude was everywhere. It was probably the best game I ever remember a Bear playing in my lifetime. But it wasn’t Urlacher that spoke up at halftime.
It was Olin Kreutz.
You may remember the late Dennis Green’s “The Bears are who we thought they were” tirade following the game.
But this is the clip that means more to me:
Said Kruetz in a recent Chicago Tribune column regarding that halftime speech: “I felt like things needed to be said. So I spoke up. I just said, ‘Let’s hit them in the mouth and out-physical them and we’re going to win this game. I really felt that. But to be honest, I felt like that every football game. I felt like if you kick the other guys’ ass enough, you’re going to win the game.”
‘Hit them in the mouth.’
‘Out-physical them and we’re going to win.’
‘Kick the other guys’ ass enough you’re going to win.’
Olin Kreutz, Chicago Bear.
4. Do it the right way-people will notice
Jeter used to say that if you play well enough, other people will talk about it for you. You don’t need to say anything, they’ll take note of it. Kreutz falls right in line with that. In fact, a perfect example of this was when he was signed by the Saints in 2011 and immediately was named team captain.
When long-tenured Bears near the end of their careers Chicago, it rarely ends pretty. So many of the great ones all the way down the line are perfect examples of how they felt mistreated by the organization when their Chicago career comes to an end. And Kreutz was no exception.
But I’m not well enough in the know of those situations to write about that. All I know is that Kreutz was signed by a really good Saints team in 2011 and they immediately named him a captain. This was a team already stacked with talented veterans and leaders, and for Kreutz to be named a captain says all that needs to be said.
His season didn’t last long, though, as Kreutz walked away from football and the Saints in October of that season. In researching why he left, I read that Olin said he lost his passion for the game and retired. After 12 seasons of manning the o-line, who can blame him. That’s a hell of a career, and a hell of a long time to battle in the trenches.
On behalf of myself, and millions of Bears fans everywhere I’m proud to get a post on The Town Mile to recognize Olin Kreutz for his tenacity and leadership for many years in Chicago. Olin was a great Bear and needs to be in the same breath as Urlacher and Briggs when those great modern players are mentioned.
Salute to the man in the shorts and tee shirt in freezing cold weather, getting ready to play:
Olin Kreutz, Chicago Bear.
The Town Mile Podcast #4: Chris Janssen
Happy New Year!! Holy Smokes it’s almost 2018!! But before we turn the clock over, let’s turn the clock back to the 1990’s and talk glory days with our main man Chris Janssen. Chris joins us to open up about growing up in Emery, South Dakota and tell us about his hoop dreams journey. Huge thanks to him for taking the time to kick off 2018 with us. Happy New Year!!!
The Town Mile Podcast #3: Marc Vink
Merry Christmas from The Town Mile! Huge thank you to Marc Vink for joining The TM Podcast tonight to tell his amazing story of moving to the United States at age 7 from the Netherlands. What a journey! He also opened up to Matt and I on his career as a US National Paralympic Judo Coach and hosting the annual Great American 4th of July Celebration from Riverton, NJ.
The Town Mile Podcast #2; Freddy “The Finisher” Druding: A Life In Boxing
The second installment of The Town Mile Podcast is up! We had the privilege of sitting down with Fred Druding, Jr. and hearing about his life in boxing in and out of the ring. Huge thank you to Fred to take the time and give us an amazing inside perspective on professional boxing.
The Town Mile Podcast #1
[TM Episode 1 – 11:16:17, 10.48 PM 53:51 0 ]
The Town Mile has it’s first podcast! After a few months of no content, finally have some fresh material! Big thanks to one Matt Scioli for being the catalyst for this to get done.
The Legend of Ichiro Suzuki
Recently I was going through the MLB app to see how the Don Mattingly-led Miami Marlins were doing. To my amazement, Ichiro Suzuki still is playing baseball. Actually: correct that. I’m not amazed or surprised at all that he’s still playing. Not surprised that he’s appeared in 95 games so far at age 43. Not surprised he’s played in 143 or more games every season since 2013. So have decided to dig a little deeper. Pulled up his career on Baseball Reference.
While scrolling through, it brought to mind a Lou Pinella story about Ichiro in the spring of 2001, when Ichiro came to Seattle from Japan as a prized international signing. Pinella was the manager for the Mariners then and according to a 2011 Seattle Times article by columnist Larry Stone, was not impressed by the then 27-year old rookie during spring training. Most notably was frustrated at how a light-hitting Ichiro never hit the ball hard, never hit it on the screws.
“Ichiro, do you ever turn on the ball?” Pinella asked in the dugout before a first inning spring training at-bat.
“Yeah, sometimes” Ichiro replied.
He then went into the batters box and crushed a ball onto a hill well beyond the center field fence. As he arrived back into the dugout, he asked Pinella: “Is that turning on the ball, skip?”
I know Pinella must’ve loved that. He then challenged his rookie on his next at-bat to pull the ball. The left-handed Ichiro had been hitting the ball so much to left field in spring training that teams were starting to defend him like a right-handed pull hitter. Pinella challenged him in his next at bat to pull the baseball. Sure enough in his next time up, Ichiro hit one over the right field fence and said to his manager:
“Are you happy now?”
To that Pinella replied: “You can do whatever you want for the rest of the year.”
All he did the rest of the year was win the AL MVP for 2001. Also won Rookie Of The Year. Led the league in hits, at-bats, stolen bases. Throw a batting title in there as well.
I listened to lots of Dan Patrick that summer. At the time he did a show with former Cincinnati Nasty Boy Rob Dibble. Dibble wasn’t sold on Ichiro’s early success and boldly proclaimed on the show in July of that summer that he would tattoo Ichiro’s name in Japanese print on his ass if Ichiro won the batting title. Well, he’s had that tattoo on his ass since October 2001.
In the summer of 2003 when I first started going to Mariners games at Safeco Field, they would show his Japanese highlights between innings. His Japanese highlights. They were incredible to see. He was throwing dudes out at third from deep right field with these rope laser throws. The crowd at those games would erupt at these amazing video feats. The thing that always amazed me is that they never showed the same highlights more than once. There was an endless supply of footage to tap into and use.
In the Summer of 2004, Ichiro’s powers were at full peak. He set the MLB Record for hits with 262. TWO HUNDRED AND SIXTY TWO!!!! That’s nearly 1.62 hits per game. Nearly 2 hits per game. In the big leagues. Hit .372. Did all this and somehow finished 7th in the MVP voting. Finished behind Vlad Guerrerro, Sheffield, Manny, David Ortiz, Miguel Tejada, and Johan Santana. Chicks dig the long ball and heaters I guess.
Not that Ichiro didn’t bust out a long ball on occasion. In September of 2009 I sat behind the Yankees dugout at Safeco for a Friday night game. AJ Burnett vs. Felix Hernandez. Both starters had great outings. It was 2-1 Bombers in bottom 9. 2 outs, nobody on. Mariano Rivera on the mound, ready to close the door. Suddenly some guy named Sweeney doubled one off the wall, nearly cleared the fence. Ichiro was up next. The first pitch to him he smashed into the right field seats, about 18 rows back. Game over. Mariners won. Now as I type this I hope Lou Pinella was watching then. “He sure turned on that one, didn’t he Lou!” It was probably the most heart-breaking and shocking baseball moment I can remember seeing in person. A Rivera blown save right in front of my very eyes. But it shouldn’t have been that shocking. It was Ichiro.
As I think back of my time in Seattle, I feel fortunate to have been able to see so many of his games. He’s easily the best player I ever got to see consistently in person. There’s so many Ichiro moments I can think of. I don’t know how many times I watched him hit slow roller ground balls to all sides of the infield and say “whoa, he’s gonna beat this out” while watching him speed (more like fly) safely into first. He had this incredible speed, could just flat-out fly. Don’t recall too many guys that have carved out careers doing that. To a majority of major leaguers, that is an out. Not Ichiro. Not him. It was like he perfected the infield bunt while actually swinging.
The reality is that Ichiro is probably fully responsible for vaulting my love affair with seeing the game in person. Helped reload an appreciation for the subtleties and preparation in the game of baseball.
For example: Ichiro stretches constantly. ALL. THE. TIME. He never seemed to stop stretching, and seemed like he was made of a rubber band. He’s constantly keeping his body ready. Constantly preparing for the next moment, the next at bat. How else could a guy play until he’s 43??
I remember he’d always communicate through a translator, yet I can recall him speaking to outfield mate Mike Cameron in 2003 on the outfield grass during pitching changes. Either Mike Cameron knew Japanese or Ichiro was just that private. I think it’s safe to say it’s the latter. Which only adds to his legend. This also came to be a somewhat negative on his career, as he took lots of heat from baseball writers for a few years in the Northwest for not being a vocal leader in the Mariners clubhouse. His soft, quiet, subtle approach was easy to make him a target during any losing season in Seattle.
But all that is water under the bridge now. What needs to be remembered in the twilight of Ichiro’s career is his soft, quiet, subtle approach that has painted an amazing tapestry and leaves a beautiful mark on the game of baseball. Ichiro’s game wasn’t built on power. It was built on beauty and substance. Speed. It was built on art. Ichiro’s career is truly that: a work of art. It’s been beautiful to watch.
George Webb and chasing the Pearl Jam experience
It was spring of 2004. My Rock and Roll Kickstarter friend Jared Nelson convinced me that I needed to nearly overdraw my Washington Mutual (RIP) checking account and purchase a $200 secondary market ticket to see Sonic Youth. They were playing the Showbox in Seattle, and the gig hand been sold out for several weeks. It was fantastic. Thurston Moore seemed like he was 6’10” and each time he traded guitars between songs they literally were on fire. Kim Gordon, Sonic Youth’s bass player and Thurton’s wife at the time, had an incredibly confident New York strut and moved onstage with such style and substance that I have not forgotten about it since.
Before the show started, we were having a beer at the Showbox bar when I noticed Jeff Ament of Pearl Jam’s bass guitar technician George Webb near me. Now if you know me, you know that Pearl Jam has been an inspiring and dominant force in my life. Their 1996 full length release “No Code” still reigns as my favorite record of all time. I can fully admit now that a big reason I moved to Seattle was because of Pearl Jam, and more importantly to be exposed to music and see all these amazing bands that I had only read about and existed only in their CD that I owned. To take it even further, I probably moved to Seattle so I could be somewhere and run into a guy like George Webb. Come to think of it you almost need to be borderline insane to recognize a bands’ bass guitar tech. But it is what it is. So of course I went right up to him.
“Hi George, I’m Joe and I just wanted to say hello and thank you for what you do. I saw you on the ‘Live From The Garden DVD’.” I don’t exactly remember his response, but it was something to that effect of “Cool, man. Thanks” while shaking my hand.
About 6 months later, I ran into George again. This time I was at a bar called the Rendezvous, which for the sake of this story is borderline irrelevant. So same thing:
“Hey George, I’m Joe I don’t know if you remember me but I saw you at Sonic Youth. Awesome show.” He responded something like “Yeah, I remember you. That was a great show.”
A couple years later, I’m at I don’t remember where. But sure enough, George was there too. So I went up to him again: “Hey George, I don’t know if you remember me but I’m Joe and I saw you at Sonic Youth in ’04, and at The Rendezvous a year or so ago” And sure enough he says:
“Yeah I remember you, man. You’re the only one that ever does this.”
Well that was great! He remembered me. I took it as a tremendous and deep compliment, and I heard it as the bass guitar tech of Pearl Jam essentially told me I was pj’s biggest fan. “No other Pearl Jam fan ever recognizes me other than you” is how I heard it. It can be argued either way, but that’s certainly how I heard it and I’m sticking to it.
I started college in the fall of 1998. The first time I ever skipped class was in my third year in the fall of 2000, when some friends and I road tripped to East Troy, Wisconsin and to Chicago to see two Pearl Jam shows on their Binaural tour. The Chicago show still stands out 17 years later as the best show I’ve ever seen, they opened with my favorite song “Release” and finished with “Baba O’Riley”. There was an energy in the building that was hard for me to wrap my twenty year old mind around: “What did I just see?? How am I going to apply to this to my life going forward. Nothing will be the same again” were my thoughts afterward. More than that, I wanted more live Pearl Jam experiences.
It would take nearly 3 years for the next one. This time in Vancouver, BC. (hi Barry!) It was phenomenal and unique in it’s own right as well. As were the other PJ show’s I’ve seen, and I’m lucky and proud to say 12 total. Most recently in Philadelphia with my beautiful wife Stephanie. Forgive me for the sappiness but I will say that experiencing that with her and seeing her enjoyment and sharing that pure stoke feeling with her afterward was pretty special.
I’ve sat on how to end this piece for a few days now, and it’s been difficult. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not fair for me to write words on how a silly rock band has impacted and inspired my life in the most positive way possible. You know what, it’s actually not silly. In reality I don’t really have the words. The truth is, it’s an emotional thing. I love that the late, great Joe Strummer of The Clash gave a theme to the band as “The only band that matters.” Well hey, Pearl Jam matters to me man. Matters a lot, and rock and roll matters to millions of people. (Don’t believe me: check out any live Iron Maiden video from any South American country on you tube).
I’ve seen it all over the place. In fact, a great bond I shared quickly as an expat living in Germany was through connecting and talking with Europeans about Pearl Jam. All of a sudden I was plugged in and had friends. Although I’m not sure how many of them would recognize my friend George Webb though.
The Importance Of Winning One-Run Ballgames
By Richie Gebauer, Contributor
At the start of every baseball season, I cannot stand when friends, family, and/or colleagues tell me that the first several weeks of the MLB season are not important because there are 162 games to play. Every game is of drastic importance! Ask Joe Torre and the ’73 Cardinals. They went 5-20 in April and found themselves losing the division to the Mets by a mere 1.5 games. I bet they wish they could have April back. I wonder if Tim McCarver wakes up with night sweats thinking about ’73. But yeah. Keep telling yourself it’s okay that your team had a slow start or lost a few one-run games in the middle of the season because they have 161 other games to make it up. That’s the kind of thinking that has you cheering for your favorite football team in the first week of September rather than uncontrollably waving your rally towel in section 118 after Matt Stairs rips one into the night causing even Joe Buck to show the tiniest bit of emotion.
So, why am I stressing the importance over each of the 162 games all 30 MLB teams play? Let’s use the 2017 Phillies as the lens for this discussion. This year, the Phillies have been on the wrong side of the win column. Currently 24.5 games out of first having only won 34 of their first 96 games, many are considering the Phillies to be one of the worst teams in baseball history. If you take a quick look at the standings, how can you disagree? 29 wins at the all-star break can make any fan sick to their stomach. However, what is most intriguing is looking at the way that the Phillies lose. The Phillies are 11-26 in one run games and are 4-9 when going into extras. 56% of their losses have come in games that were within their reach. Let’s just imagine that these Fightin Phils – claimed as potentially one of the worst teams in baseball history – win two-thirds of these games. They are then 57-39, find themselves 2nd in the division only 1.5 games back from the Nats, and heading into a battle for the divisional crown. This would come at a time when they are playing some decent baseball following the break, most recently taking two of three from the Marlins and then the Brewers.
Would have, could have, should have right? I don’t disagree. Back at the conclusion of May, Dan Levy said that after 75 pitches the Phillies had a 7.45 ERA. You deserve to lose one-run games and to send your team to extras only to lose at the rate the Phillies are when pitching that poorly. But, are they really as bad as their record indicates? I would argue they aren’t. Instead, they are just a prime example of how important each inning of all 162 games is. The best baseball teams – those consisting of players with “guts” – win one-run ball games either by maintaining the lead or digging deep and scrapping for late-inning runs because that’s what leads to them playing in October.
So let’s toss the “April isn’t important” philosophy out the window and pray that each one-run game your team loses in April, May, June, or any month of the season isn’t what keeps them out of the playoffs and has you wearing your ridiculous Tom Brady Jersey right after Labor Day.
Don Mattingly: The bricklayer of a baseball dynasty
I’ve now been a die-hard Yankee fan long enough to understand what comes with it, and believe me I understand all of it: I know I’m not from New York, I know I grew up in South Dakota, I know the payroll, I know people hate A-Rod (or did, he’s actually great on TV) , I know they blew 3-0 in ’04, I know the “Yankees suck! Yankees suck! Yankees suck!” and the whole nine-yards.
The good news is I’m now old enough to know that none of that matters to me nor does it bother me. I truly believe I understand the club and the franchise and the team top to bottom just as good as any true Bronx season ticket holder. I’ve been to the city and to enough ballgames there to know that this is indeed true. I get the MLB package every season to catch as many games as I can. To me, the beauty of baseball overall is beyond any one player and any one franchise so it essentially is bullet proof. Haven’t you heard the James Earl Jones speech in ‘Field of Dreams’??? I love the MLB, I love watching big leaguers compete, I love the high-level battles and I love how good they are. Plus the good news is that the way the game is now, you really can’t just stack your squad with the best offseason free agents and win a title every year. (I also think that the 2009 Yankees will be the last team to be successful at this and that will be a story for another day). Well, actually Boston continues to sign every big name free agent that comes up even though all the while their “RSN” mantra was built on being the “Anti-Yankees” when in reality they are now basically the Yankees. This is now true. At least Chris Sale seems to be working out much better than Panda and Carl Crawford. Anyway.
In today’s game, you need to grow your talent and they need to be good when they get to the Big Leagues. If you miss too many, you won’t be good. That’s the way it is. But in reality I don’t need to be a Yankee defender/apologist. But what I do want to get into is a three word subject:
Donald. Arthur. Mattingly.
Growing up as a kid, the Yankees weren’t really all that great. In fact, they hit rock-bottom in around 1990 and were terrible. But one of the brightest moments of this era was the career of Mattingly. Mattingly is my #1 favorite athlete of All-Time. To me, he was my original Eddie Vedder. What I mean by that is he was my original hero: the guy I checked box scores of every day, the guy my dad would always tell me when he homered, the guy that I collected the most cards of (this is true, I have over 350+ Mattingly cards and haven’t met anyone in the world who has more. Even though today all 350 cards combined are probably worth about $65). He was left handed, I’m left handed. He was gritty, tough, had a sweet mustache and a constant five o’clock shadow. But beyond all that he was ready to play every damn day.
Prior to a back injury in 1987 that ended up lingering and worsening for him thereafter, Donnie Baseball was one of the top players in the game. Mattingly still holds Yankee records for most hits in a season (238 in 1986), doubles in a season (53 in 1986), and holds the MLB record for grand slams in a season (6 in 1987). He was the MVP of the 1985 season, and as I type this I can’t help but wonder how in bloody hell he didn’t win it again in 1986? He hit .352 in ’86. Wait, who the hell won it then? Give me a sec while I check Google………………………………….Roger Clemens was AL MVP in ’86. Ok, got it.
Recently, Sweeny Murti (@YankeesWFAN) of WFAN New York Radio put together a great podcast (30 With Murti) that gave an inside look at when Mattingly as a 26 year old in 1987 homered in 8 straight games. The eight straight homer games generated a lot of attention and media coverage, and became one of the biggest stories in sports that summer. Yet during the season Mattingly never once made it about himself and always reverted back to the team. It was always about “the team, the team, the team” and never about him. The majority of MLB writers covering him during this time still speak fondly of this. He literally did this his entire career, he constantly downplayed his achievements. No matter what happened, it was always about moving forward and playing winning baseball. Hmmmmmmm….Does this sounds familiar? There seems to have been a guy named Jeter that mimicked this formula for twenty years.
There’s a great clip on the Murti podcast from a joking Mitch Williams, who was a young pitcher with the Texas Rangers in 1987: “Mattingly goes to the equipment manager in the locker room every year and says ‘give me a pair of pants that are too big, give me a jersey that doesn’t fit, and a pair of lightening-fast hands and I’ll go play.'”
Mattingly’s back injuries worsened each year after 1989, and there’s no question it limited him from being the same hitter he was before the injury. But he learned to play through it, to fight through the pain and continue to battle at-bats each and every ballgame. He did this until 1995. Right around that time, the Yankees organization started brining up key young players. Starting in 1991 with the debut of Bernie Williams, and culminating with other young players Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, and Derek Jeter. The latter four each made their Major League debuts during Mattingly’s last season in 1995. What happened with these players and teams after is a run of success that more than likely will be unmatched for quite some time in modern baseball: 4 titles in five years starting in 1996 and three straight in 1998, 1999, and 2000.
It’s always bummed me out that Mattingly missed out on ’96, but every player from that team speaks of Mattingly and his influence of why they won and also how each of them approached the game everyday as a professional. Mattingly wasn’t there physically, but he certainly had a profound impact on that championship dynasty. There’s no question that the selflessness of those clubs was a direct influence of Mattingly. He truly laid the foundation.
There’s not an anecdote about the Core Four that hasn’t been told already. It’s a part of history, and some would argue it’s been told too much and at times has seemed difficult for the franchise to move on from. Hence Derek Jeter Day, Derek Jeter Evening, Derek Jeter Morning, Derek Jeter Brunch, Derek Jeter everything at Yankee Stadium in the last couple years. But the most excited I get is during those times when a member of those championship teams talks about what Mattingly meant to them in their development. Donnie Baseball paved the way for them. He dug the foundation, he laid the bricks.