When the Yankees first held Old-Timers' Day, at the end of the 1947 regular season, the proceeds went to the Babe Ruth Foundation and the Bambino was there to see it. Hundreds of thousands have seen it since then and more will see it again Sunday, evidence that the event never has become yesterday's news.
When Joe Girardi was a Yankees player, he said: "I used to be like a kid in a candy store. It was really pretty incredible, the people you would see." Among them, the current Yankees manager said, was Joe DiMaggio.
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When Buck Showalter was the manager, Mickey Mantle asked if he could get dressed in his office. "He was my childhood idol. CBS had the games back then and I would stand in front of the TV, emulating the stances," the current Orioles manager said Saturday. "I said to myself, 'Wow, Mickey Mantle is in my office.' "
When CC Sabathia recalls the past few Old-Timers' Days, he thinks about shooting the breeze with Ron Guidry, Yogi Berra, Cecil Fielder and Charlie Hayes. "Johnny Damon is playing this year, I think Jorge [Posada] is playing this year," Sabathia said. "It's kind of good and bad to see guys I've played with, playing in the Old-Timers' Day. I don't know what that says about me."
Old-Timers' Day says what it always has said, that there is something special about playing for or rooting for the Yankees. "You understand the expectations, probably, a little bit better. When you are a champion here, you get an idea of how it feels," Girardi said. "You just tell the players to enjoy it but I think they understand it."
It is hard not to get the message when you see Don Larsen, David Wells and David Cone -- perfect game pitchers -- all wearing pinstripes again, as they will Sunday. You catch their drift when you see eras coalesce: base stealers Mickey Rivers and Rickey Henderson, second basemen Bobby Richardson and Willie Randolph, outfielders Roy White and Reggie Jackson and Hideki Matsui (a first-timer Sunday).
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, it was a rare excuse for fans to show up. The Yankees don't need it as a gate attraction now, but they still have it because it is important to them. Old-Timers' Day has become more than a celebration of franchise's traditions. It has become one of them. It was on Old-Timers' Day in 1975 that the Yankees first hired Billy Martin as manager and on Old-Timers' Day three years later that he was dramatically rehired five days after a bitter public firing.
Old-Timers' Day is not just about the past. It reflects on the present and future, too. You don't necessarily have to be a Yankee or fan to appreciate the whole thing. "It's cool to see these guys. You hear about them and when you come here, you see the 'Yankeeography' episodes," Orioles centerfielder Adam Jones said. "I'm a baseball fan, not just a player, and it's cool to see all that history and real-life legends in one place."
Showalter still believes it is a custom worth respecting. Thinking back to an Old-Timers' Day when he was the Yankees manager, he said: "I actually made up my mind about trading a player when he walked out in the dugout and said, 'Who are all these old guys? What are we doing? What is this all about?' I thought, 'I hope you enjoy Montreal next year.' "