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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Proof there is no divine right to win in the Bronx

The New York Yankees’ Bernie Williams connects for a fifth-inning home run against the Oakland A’s at Yankee Stadium, April 29, 2004. During his rookie season in 1991, Williams was tormented by then-Yankees outfielder Mel Hall, who called him “Zero,” moving the shy, awkward Williams to tears. Hall is now serving a 45-year prison sentence after a 2009 conviction for sexual crimes. (Barton Silverman/The New York Times).

By Tyler Kepner / The Athletic

If you ever meet John Blundell at a cocktail party, know this: You’ll never be able to top him for crazy life stories. When Blundell was 18 years old, in 1990, he cleaned up cougar pee from the clubhouse carpet at Yankee Stadium. That’s a true statement begging for follow-ups.

“It’s not like a cat going to the bathroom — it’s more like a horse,” said Blundell, a bat boy then and MLB’s vice president for communications now. “I remember seeing it and thinking, ‘I know whose job this is going to be.’ But the Yankees clubhouse has the best cleaning supplies in the land. I made sure I sopped it all up, sprayed it, scrubbed it, vacuumed it — good as new the next day.

“And the amazing thing was, six years later, that urine was replaced by Champagne. So, that carpet withstood a lot — good and bad.”

The slapstick, sobering 1990 season led, improbably, to a New York Yankees dynasty. The story of that year, “Bronx Zoo ’90: Crime, Chaos and Baseball,” debuted last Thursday on Peacock as a three-part documentary.

It is based on a New York Post series by Joel Sherman, a columnist who serves as consulting producer. Sherman, a beat writer in 1990, reexamined that team during the COVID-19 shutdown in 2020, deep into the Yankees’ current run of 32 consecutive winning seasons.

“If there’s one group I wish could see it, it would be Yankee fans 35 and younger, just as a reminder that there is no divine right for the team to be good,” Sherman said. “Because they don’t know; they’re complaining when the team loses in the ALCS. But I’m here to tell you, I covered them when they were the worst, just a total embarrassment on and off the field.”

The looming suspension of owner George Steinbrenner — who had paid $40,000 to a gambling addict named Howie Spira for damaging information on Dave Winfield — was the off-field backdrop for a team that would lose 95 games, most for the franchise since 1912.

There were highlights, too, but the presence of outfielder Mel Hall was a disturbing symbol of how badly the Yankees had allowed their brand to be tarnished.

Hall was the one who brought the cougar cubs into the clubhouse, and he was arrested after the season for keeping them as pets. The next season, Hall would torment rookie Bernie Williams, calling him “Zero” and moving the shy, awkward Williams to tears.

But for all of that, Hall was committing far-more-sinister crimes in the summer of 1990, and for years later. He was sexually involved with a 15-year-old girl that season and lived with her and her family in Fairfield, Connecticut. The pair’s prom picture actually appeared in the Yankees’ yearbook.

Hall’s behavior was part of a pattern, and in 2009, he was finally convicted — in Texas — on three counts of aggravated sexual assault and two counts of indecency with a child. Now serving a 45-year sentence, he offered no apologies for the 1990 relationship in a prison interview for the documentary.

“Well, you gotta understand this, a lot of people look at it as she was much younger and I was much older, OK?” Hall says in the documentary. “But in retrospect, if you look at, now, life here, and some of the stars and movie stars, the age difference is about the same. So, that’s just how I look at it. Maybe we were just ahead of our time at that time.”

Hall’s girlfriend from 1990, Chaz Easterly, testified against him in the 2009 trial and speaks at length in the documentary. For all of the riveting interviews that director D.J. Caruso collected, Easterly’s storyline is the most powerful.

Hall’s crimes are the true tragedy of the 1990 Yankees. The unanswered question is how the organization somehow saw fit to keep him for two more seasons, and why it took nearly two more decades to put him away.

“That was part of my healing, that he did have to pay,” Easterly says in Part 3 of documentary. “He will not be known as a Yankee. He’ll be known as an abuser and a pedophile.”

Meet Mariners’ Mr. 1,000

It might not be the dream of every kid in North Central Florida to grow up and one day become the 1,000th player in the history of the Seattle Mariners. But it happened to Kirby Snead, and he’s just fine with that.

“It’s not really anything I thought about until they told me,” Snead said the other day, by phone from Seattle. “But it’s pretty cool. Getting up here has been fun.”

Snead, 29, made his Mariners debut on May 8 in Minnesota. With it, he became the 1,000th player in the history of the franchise, which began as an expansion team in 1977.

When the Mariners returned home May 10, Snead found an on-field celebration waiting for him. A few alumni, each with a number around his neck, joined in the festivities — and like Snead, they’re unlikely to be confused with, say, Ken Griffey Jr.

Bucky Jacobson (No. 505), Charlie Furbush (644), Danny Farquhar (677) and Kristopher Negron (823) lined up behind a table with four sheet cakes, decorated with a 1, 0, 0 and 0. They presented Snead with a special jersey and welcomed him to the club.

“I know they had the four cakes for me, but I didn’t actually get a piece of it,” Snead said. “But the jersey with ‘1000’ and my name on it, that was kind of cool. I’ll get to keep that forever.”

Two other teams have welcomed their 1,000th player this season: the Milwaukee Brewers (reliever Jared Koenig) and the Kansas City Royals (reliever Colin Selby). But leave it to the franchise that once brought you “Funny Nose Glasses Night” to make it a spectacle — the Mariners have also come up with “Hot Dogs From Heaven” and in-game salmon races this season, with a return of “Jay Buhner Buzz Cut Night,” scheduled for June 13.

“We definitely like to do goofy stuff,” said Tyler Thompson, the Mariners’ senior manager for experiential marketing and game entertainment. “We see ourselves as a little bit different up here.”

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