Friday, March 26, 2021

Top 5 Old-Time Yankees Who Would Never Make It in the Social Media Age (And 5 Who Would Thrive In It)

We live in the Social Media Age, where some people, including athletes, have elevated themselves, and sometimes even society as a whole -- and some have made fools, or worse, of themselves.

Which Yankee Legends would have made it in this era? And which wouldn't have?

10. Would never make it: Babe Ruth

The media of the 1920s and early '30s loved the Sultan of Swat. He was great copy. So they protected him against revelations of his peccadilloes: His drinking, his carousing, his womanizing, and being possibly the worst driver in the history of the City of New York.

But by the early 1960s (more on that later), things began to change. Some players, the ones who cooperated with the media, would still be protected. Others, the ones who tended not to cooperate, were ripped. By the dawn of the 21st Century, as the Internet became a factor, and social media was on its way, any slip-up that got found out would have been exposed. The Bambino would have been shredded.

Granted, the media might soon have buried such a story, and pushed his redemption. Look at Kobe Bryant. Look at Tiger Woods (if you want to go outside the realm of sports). Maybe they would have let the Babe redeem himself.

But the Babe's own mentality would get in the way. In so many ways, he was like a kid that never really grew up. It would be wrong to say he was dumb: He was smart enough to understand every aspect of baseball. But he may have had a learning disability, one which blocked his ability to understand things he should have.

And social media might have been one of those things. Money certainly was: He needed his 2nd wife, Claire Hodgson, to be a proper business manager for him. I can certainly imagine her having control over his smartphone. But it might not have been enough: She slowed his carousing down, but it didn't really stop. He would still have been vulnerable to phone cameras recording his shenanigans.

9. Would thrive in it: Lou Gehrig
On the other hand, the Iron Horse would have adjusted just fine. The press didn't cover his private life because he didn't seem to have one. Today, people would have seen that he was a mama's boy, didn't go out partying with the Babe and the boys, didn't get married until he was 30 years old, and never had children, and might guess that he was secretly gay. (As far as I know, he wasn't.)

Or maybe, like Roger Maris, people in the media, and in social media, would have found him boring off the field. And, unlike Maris, he was able to roll with the punches. Twitter might have gotten Ruth into a problem he would have needed a lot of help to get out of. Gehrig wouldn't have had such a problem.

8. Would never make it: Joe DiMaggio
The Yankee Clipper was fiercely protective of his privacy. The very wording has become a cliche. He would never have gone on Twitter, probably not on Instagram, probably not on Facebook, either. Just as Seinfeld suggested that it would be absurd for Joltin' Joe to go into Dunkin Donuts (they called it "Dinky Donuts," but who's kidding who), I can't imagine him sharing intimate details like his breakfast or a new suit.

And the stories that were kept quiet by a media that was cowed into submission? His connections with organized crime? His treatment of his wives, first actress Dorothy Arnold, then superstar actress Marilyn Monroe? His late-night "raid" of Marilyn's place with Frank Sinatra? His later feud with Sinatra, in which the two most famous Italian-Americans of them all became bitter enemies -- over Frank's moves on Marilyn?

Joe would never have held up to modern scrutiny. And his attempts to avoid scrutiny, including calling on his aforementioned connections, might well have gotten him into hotter water.

7. Would thrive in it: Phil Rizzuto
But the Scooter would have loved it. During the games he was broadcasting, he was always talking about his family, the friends he had, the restaurants he dined at, the golf courses he played, the far-off places he visited. He would have been good on Twitter, better on Facebook, and, holy cow, maybe the King of Instagram.

6. Would never make it: Mickey Mantle
The Mick was basically shy. While Phil and Yogi were extroverts, Mickey, so different from Joe in some ways, was every bit the introvert. He didn't want to share his life with outsiders. And, with his drinking and womanizing, he had things to hide. Plus, if the stories about him shooing away autograph-seeking kids is true, then how he reacted to unkind online treatment might also have been bad.

5. Would thrive in it: Yogi Berra
Lawrence Peter Berra didn't look like an athlete, and he didn't look like an intelligent man. But he was both. The way he handled the media career that unexpectedly grew out of his baseball career, I have no doubt that he would have been just fine online.

As the man himself might have said, he would have been an overwhelming underdog, but he wouldn't have made too many wrong mistakes.

4. Would never make it: Roger Maris
Another guy really protective of his privacy. I can't see him ever opening an account. Maybe Facebook and Instagram after he retired, but never Twitter.

3. Would thrive in it: Joe Pepitone
Joe Pepitone had a lefthanded swing tailor-made for Yankee Stadium (especially before the renovation, when it was 296 feet to the right field pole and 344 to straightaway right), a nice glove, and a bubbly personality. He loved the spotlight. He enjoyed being a New York baseball star. If the Yankees had kept it going through the Sixties and into the Seventies, he would have been the guy to succeed Mantle as The Next Great Yankee.

There were 2 problems with this. The Yankees didn't keep it going. And Pepi cared more about being a star than about winning ballgames. It's one thing to be a man about town if -- like Mantle, the Jets' Joe Namath, and the Knicks' Walt Frazier -- you have the substance to back up the style.

Joe was backup to Moose Skowron at 1st base on the 1962 World Champions, but didn't appear in the World Series. He was the starter on the 1963 and '64 Pennant winners, and hit a grand slam in Game 6 of the '64 Series, so he'd done all that within a few days of his 24th birthday.

He made the All-Star team in '65, and won 3 more Gold Gloves. But he only batted .300 once (in 1971, with the Chicago Cubs after leaving the Yankees), only hit 30 homers once (in 1966), and topped out at 100 RBIs (in 1964, and that was the only time he even topped 90). That .307 season with the '71 Cubs was his last full season, and he turned 31 right after it ended.

But, oh, how he would have loved to make his case on social media. Oddly, now, at age 80, and apparently in good health, he's not on any of the major platforms. So maybe I'm wrong.

2. Would never make it: Billy Martin
There's a fine line between genius and madness, and Billy the Brat passed out on it. For every story about how good a manager he could be, there are a dozen about how he was nuts. The best thing he could have done with social media was stay the hell away from it.

1. Would thrive in it: Reggie Jackson
Reggie has been called "a sensitive soul." And he has been burned by mainstream media: SPORT magazine lied about him in both Oakland and New York, the New York media always seemed to take Martin's side, and the national media, which has never much liked the Yankees, always used them as good copy, Reggie among them. It seems like he wouldn't have fit in well with social media.

But he managed to turn the tables. He used the media as well, cultivating good relationships with some reporters, and doing commercials for things people actually liked to use: Candy, TV sets, cars, and the gasoline needed to power them.

And as the son of a Negro League player, and having come of age during the Civil Rights Movement, Reggie managed to get black activists on his side. Once he retired and his ego -- never greater than those of, say, Pete Rose or George Brett -- was no longer a threat to a fan's favorite team, he began to be seen as something of an elder statesman of baseball.

And he's been pretty good on Facebook and Instagram. (On Twitter, to a lesser extent.) If he had the opportunity to use social media to go over the heads of his mainstream-media accusers of 1977, he might have been perceived differently then, and might even be better off now.

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