Baseball

Season of ’73 Saved Baseball in Jax

There’s s rich list of names and dates that are a part of Jacksonville’s baseball history: Henry Aaron 1953, Tom Seaver 1966, The Bragan’s 1984, Alex Rodriguez 1994 and even 2019 as current All-Stars Brad Hand, J.T. Realmuto, Christian Yelich and Clayton Kershaw all spent time In town during their ascent to the Majors.

But there’s an untold story about the 1973 season makes much of that list possible.

Since building the Baseball Grounds in 2003, fans have flocked downtown to see baseball games. But in 1972, baseball in Jacksonville was anything but a foregone conclusion.

“We had to borrow $75,000 from the parent club, the Kansas City Royals in ‘72 to stay in business,” former Suns General Manager Dick Kravitz recalled.

You might know Kravitz from his political career on the Jacksonville City Council and in the Florida House of Representatives. Before that, Kravitz was the GM of the baseball Suns, the football Express of the World Football League and the soccer Tea Men of the North American Soccer League. He also served the City of Jacksonville as the Executive Director of the Sports and Entertainment Commission during the Godbold administration.

After getting his undergrad at Temple, Kravitz went to Ohio University to get his masters in sports administration. He then went to work as the business manager in Oklahoma City for the Kansas City Royals’ AAA ball club. They asked him to come to Jacksonville the next year to run the Suns under new ownership.

“They told me we needed to pay back the $75,000 that year or we’d be out of business,” Kravitz said of his charge for the season. “We had four employees, including me, and we all did double duty.”

Ownership was two investors from Oklahoma City; Keith Price was in the oil business, and banker Carl Grant. They were anything but absent.

“Price liked to come to games and watch from upstairs,” Kravitz recalled. “It was wild. He got thrown out of a game from the press box for arguing with the umpire. The ump sent a policeman to he press box and he physically threw him out of the ballpark.”

The business plan was simple: Raise as much money as possible and spend as little as possible. They started selling sponsorships and season ticket packages in the fall of 1972.

And it wasn’t easy.

“We had to fight against what had happened before. Some people wouldn’t even talk to us,” Kravitz said of the business climate regarding minor league baseball in Jacksonville at the time.

They sold five sponsorship nights to Prudential. They had a cow-milking contest that included one of the players with some farm experience. “Rocky Gibraltar” was a regular promotion, throwing a ball into a replica of the famous Rock. Kravitz even arranged for one of his players to race a horse in the outfield.

“We were playing a day game and I knew we needed a promotion,” he explained. “So I tried to ask one of our players, Minnie Minoso’s son, if he’d race a horse. He didn’t speak any English and I didn’t speak any Spanish and I couldn’t find an interpreter. But I pulled out a $100 bill and he eventually figured out what I was asking. He said he would so I went to Bayard where they were running quarter horses at the time and we set up the race, foul line to foul line. A handicapper gave Minoso a head start. And he was winning but heard a thousand pound of horse coming and jumped out of the way!”

It was an uphill battle, even facing the weather. Because of a lack of staff to put the tarp on and off the field, the city provided eight workers out of the daily labor pool to do the job. They weren’t very skilled at handling the tarp and the team had 14 rainouts in 72 games. Once they pulled the tarp off the field but only had seven workers finish the job. The eighth had been rolled up in the tarp.

Minor league staples Max Patkin, Eddie Feigner and the barnstorming/retired Bob Feller were regulars.

“I knew we were in the entertainment business, not the baseball business,” said Kravitz.

Minimizing expenses was the mantra for that year. Every dollar counted. There was no money to send the play-by-play person on the road so he did re-creations of the game, a half inning delayed, from Jones College. Re-creations generally stopped in baseball during the 1930’s. Travel was done on a church bus until one night the team ended up in a ditch on the way to Chattanooga.

“The driver worked for the church and he was working all day and then driving all night,” Kravitz explained.

Local kids were paid 50 cents to retrieve foul balls and home runs so the balls could be reused. Scuffed baseballs were rubbed down with milk to give them a new white shine. The visiting clubhouse was a Spartan affair.

Even Kravitz now admits he cut too many corners.

“One night I forgot and left the baseballs in the milk,” he explained. “After the game the umpire asked me about the baseballs because they were like lead weights! Cal Ripken, Sr. was managing the Charlotte AA club and came into my office railing about the lack of towels in their locker room. That’s when I knew I had gone overboard trying to save money.”

The club’s books were being run out of a bank in Oklahoma City. Kravitz deposited the money and filed the receipts each night and went back to selling. He didn’t keep a ledger of whether they would make enough money to stay in business.

Around Labor Day when the season ended, the Royals sent word that the Suns had done enough to pay the parent club back their $75,000 and had made another $100,000 to boot. Kravitz was named AA General Manager of the Year by the league and the Sporting News.

So add 1973 as an important date in Jacksonville baseball history.

Shoot Your Age 500 Times Former Cubs Manager Jim Frey Did That This Week

You never know who you might run into on the golf course. A few years ago I saw Jim Frey headed to the first tee at Marsh Landing. Sports fans know Jim as the manager of the Chicago Cubs in the mid-‘80’s. The Cubs were broadcast every day on WGN “Channel 9” on the cable out of Chicago. Same as the Braves were on the “Superstation WTBS” from Atlanta. The Cubs were a national team. Harry Cary was doing the play-by-play, drinking Budweiser in the left-field bleachers; Jim Frey was running the team from the dugout.

Growing up in Baltimore, I knew Jim from his fifteen year stint with the Orioles as a scout, coach, and the guy who was coaching first base or sitting next to Earl Weaver on the bench in their heyday of the 1970’s. That stint is part of a more than four decades career in baseball as a player, scout, coach, manager and general manager. So we’ve had a lot to talk about.

It’s not unusual to hear about professional athletes in other sports playing golf at a high level. Michael Jordan’s money matches are legendary. Steph Curry’s play at the Web.com event last year turned some heads. John Smoltz, Tony Romo and countless others have game.

The same can be said for Jim Frey. This week, the week of his 88th birthday, Frey shot “his age” carding an 80 at Marsh Landing.

It’s the 500th time he’s done that.

A baseball man through and through, the golfer they call “Coach” at Marsh Landing is used to keeping track of a game based on numbers and statistics, Frey has documented the 500 different times he’s shot his age, from the first time when he was 72 at Cave’s Valley in Baltimore to this week at Marsh Landing.

And it’s amazing he’s even still playing. Just last year Frey, who moved here in 2008 to be closer to his daughter, had a health scare that included chemo, radiation and double pneumonia. So serious that at one point, as he puts it, “I thought the party was over.”

Once with a handicap as low as six, Frey has never relied on length rather using accuracy to get the ball in the hole. “I’ve always hit it straight,” he said remembering golf games with Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer who consistently outdrove him. But much like his plus-.300 batting average in his 14-year minor league career (two of those in the South Atlantic League here in Jacksonville), Frey’s golf game relies on his hand-eye coordination and his ability to think through the game.

When his playing career was over, Frey served as a scout and a coach before managing in Kansas City and Chicago. He took the Royals to the World Series in 1980 after winning 97 games in the regular season, losing to the Phillies in six games.

In his first season as the Cubs manager, they won 96 games to win the division and held a 2-0 lead over the Padres for the National League Pennant. But San Diego won the last three behind Steve Garvey to go to the World Series.

Baseball is a game built on failure. Get a hit three out of ten times and they put you in the Hall of Fame. As fans, the ups and downs stick with us. But when you’re in it Frey says, the downs really sting.

“You get your heart broken in baseball,” he said as he recalled a few of the near misses. “We got to the 7th game of the World Series in Baltimore in ’79 and Willie Stargell beat us with a home run.”

“I still lay in bed at night and think about games in 1991 that didn’t go so well,” he said of his final year as GM of the Cubs.

Maybe that prepared him for the ups and downs on the golf course. He had a chance to shoot his age they day before he did it for the first time fifteen years ago.

“I didn’t tell anybody, but when we got to the 18th that day at Caves, a pretty strong par four up the hill, I had a 7-footer to shoot 72. And I missed it. The next day, I had a six-footer for 72 and I stepped away and told the guys I was playing with what was going on adding, ‘I’m making this putt!’ he said with a huge laugh. And he did.

Shooting your age is a big deal in golf. I’m sure Chris Kappas at Sawgrass did it all the time. John Tucker and Wesley Paxon notched that with regularity.

But 500 times?

“I played a lot of golf after I retired down in Estero in the winters and in Baltimore in the summers. When we moved here in 2008 I was still playing three, four times a week.”

Knowing Jim, it’s no surprise that friendship and relationships are at the core of the two games he’s been involved in his whole life.

He was the young scout in the Midwest who alerted the Orioles that the Reds were willing to trade Frank Robinson. It’s considered one of the greatest heists in Major League history.

“I had breakfast with and old scout from Cincinnati and he said, “I just came from a meeting and they want to trade Frank Robinson!’ I went to the phone and called Baltimore. I had just started scouting for the Orioles. I talked to my boss, and they brought me home.”

He met with the Orioles brass including Lee McPhail, Harry Dalton and Manager Hank Bauer.

“How good to you think Frank Robinson is?” Frey was asked. “A better offensive player than Brooks?” He didn’t hesitate, ‘”Yes I do.”

And shortly thereafter the Orioles traded pitcher Milt Pappas to the Reds and got Robinson who won the MVP, the Triple Crown and helped Baltimore win the World Series over the Dodgers in four straight in 1966.

“All of the sudden, I’m not a little scout in the Midwest,” Frey said with a chuckle.

Frey hedges a bit when asked who the best player he ever worked with was, but admitted, “When I was with Baltimore, Frank Robinson was clearly the best player. He never quite got his due. He was the best player for nearly 20 years.”

That trust, camaraderie, friendships and the relationships he found in baseball are the things Frey says are important to him now in his golf game.

“I belonged to three or four other clubs before I came to Jacksonville. I joined Marsh Landing and I’ve appreciated the membership there, they’ve really embraced me. The group of guys I play with there has been a lot of fun. At this point in my life I’m appreciative of how they’ve taken me in.”

Hey Jim, that was the easy part.

Social Media a Fact of Life in Pro Sports

Walk into the Jaguars locker room during the “media availability” time on any given day and there will be a smattering of players arrayed in front of their lockers in various positions of repose with one thing in common: They’re all on their phones. Not talking on their phones, not texting, but looking at their phones, perusing social media.

“Media availability” happens four times a week for about an hour in the middle of the day, between meetings and around lunch. So it might be the only time the players have to check their phones.

While social media has given fans perceived access to their sports heroes, it’s also given players some ownership over a part of their public image and branding.

“My social media is about who I am not about what I have,” said Defensive Lineman Malik Jackson. “I’m fashion forward, so I post some fashion, some things about the team and some stuff about my family. That’s about it. Instagram is visual and written, that’s why I’m on it.”
We used to joke in the sports department about what goes happens on social media. “I woke up this morning thinking maybe Twitter would be nice today,” my colleague Matt used to say. “But then I got on it and.. . . Nope!”
Since becoming the NBA commissioner in 2014, Adam Silver has encouraged the use of social media league wide. So much so that it’s become an indelible part of the league’s culture.

“Those guys in the NBA, they’ve got a lot of time on their hands,” Jaguars Defensive Lineman Abry Jones said regarding what seems like the constant stream of tweets and post coming from NBA players. “Two hours here, two more there. We don’t have that.”

In 2018, the NBA has already been tweeted about more than any other sports league. The league’s official Twitter account has 27 million followers, 3 million more than the NFL’s. On Instagram, the NBA has 31 million followers, more than the NFL, MLB and the NHL combined. In the NBA, there are 33 players with at least 2 million followers on Instagram. In the NFL, there are nine.

But NFL teams are using social media platforms to expand their reach. The Green Bay Packers have more Twitter followers than the entire population of the Green Bay metropolitan area.

Jalen Ramsey is the most active and followed player on the Jaguars roster. Ramsey has nearly a million social media followers, three-quarters of those on Instagram. He’s created some controversy and has experienced plenty of blowback on social media. So much so that he recently tweeted, “I’m gone from here, y’all gone miss me. I ain’t even trippin lol.”

When asked who that was directed at, Ramsey said, ““Whomever. You have something to say, you have some negativity, I guess the fake fans, the fake … Whoever. Whoever.”

While the Lakers’ LeBron James has 44.5 million followers on Instagram, more than the top 12 NFL players on that platform combined, Sixers Guard J.J. Reddick has none. He deleted all of his accounts recently. He believes he was an addict and it was taking away from his real life.

“It’s a dark place,” he told Bleacher Report. “It’s not a healthy place. It’s not real. It’s not a healthy place for ego. It’s just this cycle of anger and validation and tribalism. It’s scary, man.”

“I encourage players to use social to interact with fans and the community,” said Tad Dickman, the Jaguars Director of Public Relations. “If they’re looking for a restaurant, I’d rather them ask fans on Twitter than just go to Yelp looking for a place to eat.”

At the beginning of the season, Dickman, a 29-year old a social media participant himself, conducts a seminar on social media use, gives the players a handbook outlining the do’s and don’ts and how players can use it to their benefit. While the NFL has a broad social media policy, most of the specifics are set team by team.

No game footage can be used and live streaming is prohibited according to NFL policy. For the Jaguars the rules are pretty basic: No pictures or videos that could harm the team. No pictures from the training room or the locker room.

“Just like missing a meeting or being late, violating the rules could involve discipline,” Dickman responded without elaborating when asked if the players could find themselves in trouble posting on social media.

Like any organization with young employees, the Jaguars warn their players about putting out too much information.

“I don’t want people all up in my business,” Jones said, explaining why he limits his social media use to Instagram and even there, not much. “I like to stay in touch with some friends.”

Most Jaguars players have limited their social media to the Instagram platform. And as Jackson alluded to, it seems that everybody on there owns everything and has a fabulous life going on.

“It’s all fake,” fullback Tommy Bohanon, an Instagram participant said with a laugh. “I like to keep up with some friends. I don’t post much, but I scan through it to see what’s going on.”

Bohanon said the negativity on his accounts isn’t an issue. “I don’t care what anybody outside this (locker) room says. They don’t know what’s going on anyway.”

“I’m just on Instagram, I got rid of the rest,” Offensive Lineman Josh Wells explained.

Any trolls?

“Me, no, not me. But I know guys on the team who really get it all over social (media).”

Which is why some players have self-imposed rules.

Famously, James halted his social media posts during the 2015 NBA Playoffs calling it, “Zero Dark Thirty-23” mode.
“No phones, no social media, I don’t have anything,” James said at the time. “There’s too much nonsense out there. Not during this time. This is when I lock in right now, and I don’t need nothing creeping into my mind that don’t need to be there.”
Golden State’s Steph Curry recently stopped his usual ritual of looking at social media at halftime.

“When everybody is watching your game every night, if you let one ounce of negativity or one terrible comment creep in, especially right before a game or at halftime or something, it’s probably not the best bet,” Curry told the Mercury News.
I asked Head Coach Doug Marrone if he’d ever been on social media, he laughed as he headed to practice.
“Never. No Twitter, no Instagram, no Facebook, nothing. When I’m gone from here nobody will know how to find me!”
Probably a generational thing, but for sure, social media is a fact of life sports teams will have to continue to deal with in the future.

Hey Barry, You’re No Babe

I haven’t been a Barry Bonds fan from the beginning. I thought he was a great player, and continue to think that, but I’ve never been a fan. His years with the Pirates were punctuated with the occasional tirade, the most celebrated was one directed at then Manager Jim Leyland.

Bonds didn’t like PR department’s ability to allow journalists to do their job, and photojournalists to take Bonds’ picture during spring training. Bonds went into a profanity laced diatribe aimed at the PR director, who was backed up by Leyland. So Bonds turned his venom on the Manager, who didn’t back down. And Leyland proved to be right and Bonds proved to be a bad guy. He says the Pirates never made an offer to keep him, and he’s probably right. A city like Pittsburgh isn’t going to put up with a sulking star, so Barry was out, off to San Francisco.

It’s one thing to have a bad relationship with the fans and the media, but when your teammates are willing to throw you under the bus at the drop of a hat, then you’re the problem. Bonds had his own corner of the locker room created, taking up three lockers with lounge chairs and a big screen TV. And the TV’s were tiled so only Bonds and his “visitors” could see them.

I’ve been on enough teams and have been around enough athletes to know that some have a reputation that precedes them. And people buy into it and it’s self-perpetuating. But if you’re around them long enough, you know what kind of person they are, what their values are (if they have any) and if it’s an act, or the real thing. Baseball especially with its long hours and extended season of 162 games feeds off the chemistry of a team. Teammates know who you are, and none of Bonds’ teammates have ever backed him up. They all hate him too.

So in his insulated world, Bonds is existing as a baseball player with a constant shadow. Actually two shadows. One is his personality that turns off just about everybody, the other is the shadow of steroid use as a performance enhancing drug that helped him get bigger, faster and stronger. At this point, it doesn’t matter if Bonds did steroids or if he admits to it or denies it. The question will always be there and it will always taint any milestone he reaches.

Major League Baseball decided not to do any kind of celebration for passing Babe Ruth’s mark, rather calling it a “milestone” and putting specially marked balls into play to authenticate the actual home run ball. “We’re not going to have a celebration for passing into second place,” was their thinking. You can be sure it would have been different if Bonds didn’t have a shadow or two following him all over the place.

You might remember he derided Babe Ruth about a year ago saying nobody would remember Ruth once he passed him. Wrong again Barry. Ruth was no saint but his mark was an enduring standard only broached by one player, who did it through hard work and long seasons.

There are no shadows following Henry Aaron around. If Bonds ever gets to 755 baseball will be obligated to have some sort of celebration. Which might finally answer the question: What if you were to throw a big party and nobody came? Is it still a party?

Baseball’s New (and Old) Problem

I suppose you can’t come to any other conclusion than Rafael Palmeiro is lying. He sat in front of a congressional committee on March 17th, waved his finger and said, “I have never used steroids.” When Major League Baseball suspended him for 10 days last week, he altered that statement adding, “I have never intentionally used steroids.” So he gave himself an out, giving rise to the theory that he took a supplement that had a steroid product in it, unwittingly.

But then it was reported that he tested positive for Winstrol, and that whole theory went out the window. You don’t get Winstrol by accident in your system. It’s either done through a pill or through an injection. Maybe his doctor, not associated with the team gave him the pill to help rehabbing an injury, but that’s not an excuse either.

As a pro athlete in these very sensitive times regarding steroids, if you sat in front of congress and waved your finger, you better know everything that you’re putting in your body.

It’s a real shame too, because Palmeiro was looked on as a sympathetic figure after the congressional hearings. He didn’t look like a steroid guy, so it was plausible that he had been named as a user because of some kind of grudge. But that all goes out the window now. Congress has asked for the documents regarding his failed drug test and if the test was before March 17th, they’re thinking about charging him with perjury, for lying under oath.

Mark McGwire came off poorly during those hearings because he kept protecting himself. Palmeiro, on the other hand, seemed to be the guy baseball was counting on to drag them out of this morass. A bona fide major league hitter with Hall of Fame numbers who didn’t look like he was about to bust out of his uniform. Now the question is reminiscent of the Watergate hearings and the question asked often, “What did baseball know and when did they know it?”

There are reports that baseball knew as early as May that Raffy had failed his drug test and tested positive for steroids. But, they held off the announcement until after the All-Star break and until after Palmeiro broke the 3,000 hit mark. (He’s the fourth player in history to hit 500 home runs and have 3,000 hits.) If that’s all true, baseball will have another black eye, and the game will take another step backwards. Not in places like Boston or New York or St. Louis, but in the non-major league cities where daily contact with the majors only comes through news reports. And those reports in recent years have been more about baseball’s problems than it’s glories.

Bud Selig has never been a strong leader for MLB, but now, more than ever, he needs to turn the reigns of this problem over to an outside agency. People are losing faith that baseball is capable of policing itself when it comes to drug testing. Hire the World Anti-Doping Agency or somebody like it to run the testing. Get out of that business and make the punishment swift and meaningful. We can hope can’t we?

A Baseball Town?

When the city announced that the ACC baseball championship would be contested at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville in 2005, there was a small amount of excitement in town. Not a lot, but not a collective yawn either. Nice event, nothing spectacular.

Wrong.

The ACC championship drew over 66,000 fans over the five days, and could have easily been more if there had been a night game on Saturday to determine who was going to the finals. As it was, the tournament had every thing you hope an event in your town has. Good weather, competitive games, a great venue and happy fans.

In all, eleven teams came to town with a chance to win the conference championship. Three play-in games on Tuesday put Wake Forest in the main draw, a double elimination tournament beginning on Wednesday with the top seven teams from the regular season. (The conference will cut the tournament down to eight teams next year with no play-in games)

There were all kinds of games in the tournament. Low scoring, high scoring, tight finishes and blowouts. In the end, Georgia Tech was named the winner, beating Virginia 4-3 in the title game on Sunday afternoon.

But the real winner was Jacksonville.

It’ll be hard for the conference to move the game anywhere else. The attendance eclipsed the previous record by the time they had played games on Friday. Florida State got beat by Tech on Saturday afternoon, but if they had been able to force a second game Saturday night, you can add over 12,000 more to the final total.

Although it’s a two-year contract with a third year option for the ACC, no doubt they’re looking to keep the game in Jacksonville for a while. But there are a couple of other options, including a very attractive one at Fenway Park. Apparently because Boston College joins the fray next year, Fenway would like to host the tournament with the Eagles as the home team. That would be tough to pass up, no matter how nice things were here in Jacksonville. And with its roots in the Carolinas, the conference probably wants to put the tournament in its home state every once in a while. So while Jacksonville is the preferred venue, it’ll take some lobbying and some guarantees to keep the tournament here.

What it proves is that Jacksonville is more than just a one-horse (football) town. Anytime there’s been a well promoted, worthwhile event here, people have turned out. The ACC Championship isn’t supposed to be a big time event, but it attracted fans from all over the conference and all over the city. If it’s not here permanently, don’t worry, it’ll be back.

Baseball, Steroids And You

It’s not hard to discount anything and everything Jose Canseco says. He’s been a self promoter and a characiture for most of his career. In a nutshell, he’s not smart. But he has admitted to using steroids during his career in Major League Baseball, and has implicated most of the big names in baseball in the process.

His book about steroid use explains how, and why, top-notch athletes use performance enhancing drugs to make good athletes better and as Canseco writes, “great players legendary.” It’s not hard to look back at Canseco early in his career and see a very different body style than the one he had as his carrer ended. He was tall and muscular, but was almost wiry. He stole 40 bases and hit 40 home runs in the same season. He ran balls down in the outfield, and legged out doubles with his speed. But as his career progressed, Canseco became a heavily muscled bomber, somewhat injury prone, but more prone to outlandish behavior and prodigous home run blasts.

In other words, the poster boy for steroid use.

Whether he actually injected Mark McGwire with steroids in a bathroom stall in Oakland as he claims in his book is not very relevant. McGwire clearly enhanced his body style and his performace with some kind of substance. He’s admitted to using androstinedione, not a steroid per se, but rather a drug that allows an athlete to work out harder and more often with less recovery time.

McGwire went from a strong, tall home run hitter to a strong, tall, huge home run hitter. No doubt he spent a lot of time in the gym, and no doubt he used drugs to get big. Did Canseco inject him? Did he use illegal drugs? Who cares? Either way he did it with help, and that help put him in the record books with 70 home runs.

As a fan, just think about the players you know in your mind who went from regular looking pro athletes to sculpted Adonis looking mashers. Barry Bonds, Brady Anderson, Ron Gant, McGwire, Canseco, Sammy Sosa, Ken Caminiti, Roger Clemens, Jason Giambi, Gary Sheffield, all guys who are substially bigger than when their careers started. So were they all on steroids? Did they just get bigger with age and hard work? We’ll never know. Unless of course, more players like Giambi come clean.

Canseco might be a cartoon character, and desperate for money, but at least a portion of his claims are true. Baseball players went outside the game trying to break the bank. And most did. But at what cost? Whether there’s an asterisk or not next to the records, the last ten years will always be known as the time in baseball when the players used drugs to inflate the numbers.

And how about the latest allegations?

Did MLB know this was going on, only to turn a blind eye in order to bring some new excitement to the game?

Boy, I hope not.

Yankees Go Home

While you can call it the greatest comeback in baseball history, which it was, you can also call it the greatest collapse in baseball history. The Yankees with a 3-0 league clammed up and stopped figuring out how to win while the Red Sox were focused on every pitch and every at bat trying to get to the next game. While you can excuse a little bit of a relaxed atmosphere among the Yankees after spanking Boston 19-8 and going up 3-0, it was an uneasy feeling even after the Sox won game 4 with a David Ortiz home run.

What did the Yankees do after that?

They seemed to jog off the field in anticipation of the next game. And what did they do after Ortiz singled in the winning run in the 14th inning the next night? They seemed to jog off the field in anticipation of the next game. And what did they do after losing game 6? You know the drill.

There wasn’t any sense of urgency, nobody in the Yankees clubhouse seemed to be seething with the competitive fire that’s necessary in the post-season. Where were the leaders? Starting with their captain, Derek Jeter, they seemed to forget how to win. The Yankees are super talented, chisled and well dressed. The Red Sox seemed to try to portray themselves at the opposite. They grew their beards, they messed up their helmets and wore their uniforms baggy. So what! The Sox were just as talented and it showed on the field. Even Joe Torre said after game 6, “We’re evenly matched, so now we’re tied. What else is there to say?”

But Torre failed to mention heart.

Did you see the Red Sox players hugging each other in the dugout? When was the last time Gary Sheffield hugged anybody? Alex Rodriguez is easy to root for. He’s talented and plays the game impecably. But with runners in scoring positon, Rodriguez was a .250 hitter. And with two outs he was down around .200. The Yankees needed a grinder in this series and they didn’t have one.

It’s now four years in a row that they’ve had enough talent to win the World Series, but haven’t come home with the hardware. Should we expect a George Steinbrenner meltdown? Probably not, but a real evaluation of the team’s psyche is in order. Paul O’Neill, Tino Martinez, Goose Gossage, even Reggie Jackson seemed to have that intangible that translated to their teammates when it came to crunch time. This version of the Yankees seemed to check their briefcase before going up to bat. What they should have been looking for was their heart.