Sunday, April 13, 2008

N.Y. to Boston: Not in my stadium

George Steinbrenner don’t play that. That’s the message sent today by the principal owner of the New York Yankees, and legions of Yankee fans around the world (CULCHAVOX included), to the loyals of the Boston Red Sox in response to an act of baseball sabotage. Or, actually, attempted sabotage.

The news hit the New York Post just before the weekend: A local construction worker and a diehard fan of the Boston Red Sox secretly buried a Red Sox jersey — number 34, worn by the anathemized Red Sox slugger David Ortiz — in a space behind home plate at the New Yankee Stadium, which is currently under construction across the street from the original House of Ruth in the Bronx.

As even casual baseball students know, the relationship between the Yankees and the Red Sox is a storied antagonism. The enmity between the United States and the Soviet Union at the height of the cold war pales by comparison. It stems from the legendary Curse of the Bambino, a wrath of the baseball gods that the Red Sox incurred when they traded Babe Ruth to the Yankees for $125,000 in 1919. That schneid endured for the Red Sox until 2004, when they won the Series, beating the Yankees in a game that routed the Bambino curse — as baseball curses go, probably forever.

But it wasn’t enough for Beantown. The Post was told Thursday by two construction workers on the same job that the jersey had been buried in August by a Red Sox partisan who did it for a prank. The Post did not reveal the workers’ identities “because they are not authorized to speak to media” and because they’d rather not play any role in their bodies turning up in the weeds somewhere near one of three regional airports.

The perp was identified as [cue Darth Vader music] Gino Castignoli, a Bronx stonemason who, the Post reported, pleaded guilty in 2002 to involvement in a gambling operation connected to the Gambino crime family.

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Let the Post give you the play-by-play to Sunday’s big dig: “After reading about the traitorous act in The Post, the two workers approached a construction manager and said they remembered Castignoli, who only worked at the Stadium one day, and thought they knew where he must have placed the shirt.

“They led the manager to a service corridor near the site of the planned Legends Club restaurant, behind home plate and toward the third base side.

“After the hardhats pointed to the spot, workers brought out jackhammers and dug furiously for five hours, creating a 2-foot- by-3-foot, gravel-filled pit in their search for the tainted threads.

“They spotted the jersey at 3:25 p.m. and called Yankee brass. The cursed shirt was about two feet deep in cement."

Castignoli is said to be unrepentant. He may not be that way for long; there’s been talk of civil, and possibly criminal, charges against him. Unless that Ortiz jersey was wrapped around a low-yield nuclear device or a brick of C-4 plastique, criminal charges would seem to be a stretch. But Castignoli may have to eat the reported $30,000 it cost the Yankees to do the five-hour excavation. Plus a probable loss of, uh, community goodwill.

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Some diehard Yankee fans feared the worst would be necessary, and called for a complete excavation of the site a la “CSI,” in case there’s something else down there. Those fears are so far baseless; the conspiracy of jerseys (and dunces) apparently ends at one.

In any case, according to the Baseball Spiritualist Book of Rules and Regulations, since the Yankees haven't moved in to the new place yet, there’s technically no curse at all:

3.05 (a) No curse, epithet, execration, hex, jinx, whammy or blood oath shall be deemed spiritually enforceable if the physical headquarters and/or stadium of the team to be cursed is under construction; or shall be enforceable if said team is undergoing a transition from one physical headquarters and/or stadium to another.*

"It would take more than a Red Sox T-shirt to put a curse on the Yankees," said team spokesman Howard Rubenstein, to The Post, on Friday. Lately, that’s been true, but for reasons Rubenstein didn’t anticipate. They’ve been playing .500 ball, more or less, since the season started. Captain Derek Jeter was injured April 7 in a game against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. But the Yanks won the very last opening home game to be played in the old Yankee Stadium, defeating the Toronto Blue Jays 3-2, back on April 2. So much for your curse, Castignoli.

New Yankee Stadium opens in 2009. Even before the stadium opens, though, the New York Yankees have unearthed something more important than a dirty shirt: Their own refreshed appreciation of the long standing of their history as a winning franchise, and a fresh realization of the fans who love the team and that history.

For the Red Sox? This is really nothing new. After all, the act of burial isn’t that unfamiliar to them.

God knows, they’ve been buried often enough before.
Image credits: Stalin: Public domain. The Devil: Ortiz: Toasterb > Wikipedia, republished under GNU Free Documentation License v. 1.2 or later. * Not really.

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