(Originally featured in Arizona City Independent Edition, February 6, 2002)
Soft snowflakes drifted onto New York streets, spreading hope for a happier New Year. Still, Joe Torre was having a bad day when the angel came.
"Hey, Joe, you look like Clemens just announced his retirement. Anything I can help you with?"
"Not really, Babe. I've just been feeling a little stressed since the Series ended."
Not wanting to make his presence obvious to staff members passing in the hall, Babe lowered himself into a chair in the corner of the manager's office. He shook his head, causing his halo to jiggle awkwardly, and focused on the man sitting glumly behind the desk.
"Stress? Your team just finished one of the most stressful baseball seasons in history, and now you feel the stress? I tell you, I will never understand how you can live here on earth in this day and age."
"In your day, men couldn't admit to feeling stress, or anything else, for that matter," Joe said. "Take my word for it, being in the thick of the contest is easy. When all the shouting's over, that's when life gets hard."
"I guess you do lead an interesting life, Joe. Baseball, family, terrorists, Steinbrenner. I don't know which one's the toughest."
"Right now, baseball is definitely in the top three."
"And a manager has a lot to think about at this time of year, especially with some of your clubhouse leaders retiring. Let's see, there's O'Neill, and . . . "
"That's not the problem, Babe. Working on next year's roster is heaven compared to what's really bothering me."
"If it's that good, then what you're talking about is more like . . . " The angel glanced downward, and the manager nodded in agreement. "That bad, huh?"
"Afraid so, Babe. I've got plenty of my own rings already, but this year I really wanted to give the trophy to the people of New York. And to Rudy."
"Yeah, Mr. Mayor has moved up in the universal ranking lately."
"That's good to know."
"Rocket Roger took his sixth Cy Young, Mussina captured his fifth Gold Glove, and wasn't that you next to Giuliani on that Thanksgiving Day float? You're still numero uno in a lot of people's hearts, World Series win or not."
Joe shook his head. "I know, but I keep thinking that this year, Brenly's boys were better. That'll bother me till we get another crack at 'em, hopefully next year."
"Better than the Yankees? Joe, a lot more goes into winning games than which is the better team."
"What do you mean, Babe?"
"Well, September 11 affected you guys here more than it did all the players in the rest of the country?"
"Except for the Mets," Joe reminded him. "But you've got a point. Still, my guys are fighters. Look what we accomplished this year, in spite of it all."
"That's true for anyone who gets on with life the best way they can. Still, there were all those hungry veterans on the opposing team, all the years they played without even reaching the playoffs."
"That's another good point."
"And they played half their games in the desert. Instead of waiting to retire to the sun belt, they played in one of the biggest retirement communities in the nation. Believe me, summer there is bearable when they close that roof."
"You saw the Diamondbacks play during the season? I thought you were my guardian angel?"
The angel shrugged. "I've got an open invite from Brenly's spirit. He's bragged about that team since the day his guy was named manager. Besides, I have to scout for you, don't I? Anyway, it was fun to watch all those old guys circling the bases like they were 21 again."
"Like I said, they were better than us."
"Joe, how many times do I have to tell you? insecurity is a sign of talent, so relax. It's just that more positive circumstances were on their side this year."
"Okay, but what about those people who think we should have won it all because of September 11?"
"Aha, I knew that's what you had in mind. All right, there are three sides to the issue: First, there are those people who feared you would win."
"Yeah, they think it's fun to hate the Yankees."
"Success breeds jealousy. But don't they make you mad enough to play better? After all, if everybody loved you, what would you have to work so hard for?"
"I guess that's part of it."
"Then there's the folks that always want you to win. They're the ones you really play for, aren't they?"
"Without the real fans, we might as well pack our bags and go home."
"Right, but this year there was another group rooting for you. They thought you should win because you're New York's team, and they're giving the city the kind of respect they never did before. But if you apply that logic, what about the Mets?"
"How about another subway series, like last year?"
"All right, which one of you gets the ring?"
"Okay, scratch that. But since we were playing another city . . . "
"They'd have to take a dive. Then what do you think Bud would do?"
"Mr. Selig? Man! After he finished with those guys, the 'Black Sox' would look like a bunch of choir boys."
"Bingo! Commissioner Landis always tells us how much he admires the MLB office these days, except for that meshuga designated-hitter rule."
"Yeah, La Russa still gripes about having to decide whether to let a pitcher bat or burn a utility player for a possible hit."
"So, you don't automatically get the ring, but you can be proud of the great show you put on for the whole country this year."
"It was a winner, wasn't it?"
"The entire season was special, not just the records and the way you and Brenly finished, but the fact that the postseason went all the way. That was like kicking sand in those terrorists' faces. It really made them mad, especially since they can't do anything about it anymore."
"You know them?" Joe shook his head sadly. "No, forget I asked. I don't want to know about that."
"There are some things we can't tell you down here. But I can say, a few of us did our best to see that the fans got their money's worth this year. Take Kim, for instance."
"That was you?"
"His spirit is extremely generous. After all, the kid's going to be a superstar. You should recruit him for the Bombers one of these years."
"I'll mention it to Mr. Cashman," Joe promised. "So, can you arrange something for us next year?"
"I can promise you a good year, Joe. After all, you are the Yankees. At least no one's talking about contracting your team into oblivion."
"Ouch! Don't say 'oblivion' to a New Yorker."
"Sorry. But from our point of view, it just means there's a lot more of us, except those guys with hoses that keep trying to descend to the lower realms, looking for another fire to put out."
"Didn't all the firefighters go straight to heaven?"
"Well, it's kind of an open-ended thing, like when I come down here to talk to you. But sure, they have their season ticket punched, for eternity."