No burying issue

Digging in, Yanks take no chances with Ortiz jersey

On the Yankees

April 15, 2008|By PETER SCHMUCK

When they unearthed the David Ortiz jersey Sunday that was buried under the new Yankee Stadium, this is the first thing that popped into my mind:

Was Ortiz still in it?

He certainly hasn't been seen anywhere around Fenway Park recently. The guy wearing his jersey -- turns out it was not the one that was extracted from two feet of concrete in the Bronx -- entered last night's games batting .070 and hitless in his past 17 at-bats.

The second thing that popped into my mind was just blanket incredulity that the Yankees would go to the time, expense and effort to locate and recover the jersey. The last time I hired someone to jackhammer through two feet of concrete foundation, it cost a pretty penny, and I already knew where I hid the body. I'm guessing that some serious technology was necessary to ascertain exactly where the rogue construction worker/Red Sox fan put the offending shirt.

What did they do, give the new stadium an MRI?

The whole thing started when a worker on the project named Gino Castignoli allegedly planted the No. 34 jersey in the newly poured concrete to put a curse on the Yankees, who had been the beneficiaries of the purported Curse of the Bambino that kept the Red Sox from winning a World Series for 86 years after Babe Ruth was sold into pinstripes.

The story was first reported in the New York Post and originally denied by the Yankees, which is where the whole thing should have ended if the team had (a) a sense of humor; (b) a sense of history; or (c) enough sense not to buy into the silly notion that an Ortiz jersey could summon enough supernatural forces to put a hex on a rival team.

Now, if it were a Ted Williams jersey, it might be a different story, but Ortiz's jersey apparently has its armholes full just trying to get David and his sore knee out of an early-season slump.

What the Yankees should have done was continue to deny the existence of the buried jersey with an exaggerated wink and allow a legend to grow up around it. It would have been the first piece of ballpark lore for a new stadium that's replacing what is probably the most legendary sports facility since the Roman Colosseum.

Yankees president Randy Levine acknowledged the team considered leaving it there and spinning the whole thing in the other direction.

"The first thought was, you know, it's never a good thing to be buried in cement when you're in New York," Levine told reporters. "But then we decided, why reward somebody who had really bad motives and was trying to do a really bad thing?"

Of course, that presupposes putting a curse on the Yankees would be a bad thing. I think if you took a national poll, Castignoli's approval rating would be a little higher then Hank Steinbrenner's right now.

In fact, there are even a lot of New York baseball fans who would be in favor of putting the whammy on the Yanks, particularly at a time when it appears some dark forces already are at work over at Shea Stadium.

Clearly, the Yankees believe in this kind of nonsense or they would not have had construction workers drill for five hours to pull a glorified piece of polyester out of the ground. They aren't saying whether it was Hank or The Boss or the consensus of Yankees management to dig the thing up, but someone was superstitious enough to decide there was no sense in taking any chances.

Personally, I don't take much stock in that sort of thing. Wade Boggs used to eat chicken before every game, and he's in the Hall of Fame, but I always wondered how he explained away the occasional paltry performance after poultry. Orioles pitcher Daniel Cabrera is very careful to jump over the white chalk line on the way to the mound, but -- for the life of me -- I can't figure out why he was still doing it when he was leading the major leagues in losses last year. I think, at that point, I'd be coating my entire body with chalk dust before each start.

The Curse of the Bambino made for some great story lines over the years, but do you really think the Babe looked down from baseball heaven in 2004 and said to himself, "OK, I guess 86 seasons is long enough?" For that matter, why would Ruth have any gripe with the Red Sox, who sent him to the place where he became the greatest sports hero of his time?

In what obviously is a further attempt to blunt any mystical backlash, the Yankees have pledged to donate the jersey to a Boston-based charity for auction.

The team also has promised to pursue appropriate legal action against Castignoli.

My last word: If the guy really wanted to curse the Yankees, he should have waited until the postseason next year and buried an Alex Rodriguez jersey under home plate.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon on most Saturdays and Sundays.

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