Once coined to describe the unrelenting turmoil that swirled around the 1977 Yankees, the “Bronx Zoo” moniker has been much discussed over the last three plus decades.
The conflicting personalities of former manager Billy Martin, outfielder Reggie Jackson, and team captain Thurman Munson, the Yankees became as much a soap opera as a title-contending baseball team.
Screaming matches in the dugout, fist fights and shoving bouts behind closed doors, questionable quotes leaking into the media; the 1977 Yankees had it all.
All of this drama was exacerbated by Mr. George M. Steinbrenner III—the powerful and headstrong proprietor of the ball club and Yankee Stadium.
The 1977 season and subsequent hit television series The Bronx is Burning inspired a piece linking the actual Bronx Zoo and the seemingly uncontrollable roster of years past.
This list will identify the animal that the Yankee players would be reincarnated as in a second life, and a brief description as to how each decision was arrived at.
I hope you enjoy it, and feel free to come up with you own renditions of players mentioned or those not included in the list.
Brett Gardner – Cheetah
Often discussed as the fastest land animal on Earth, the cheetah can reach speed of up to 70-75 MPH—including a zero-to-sixty time of less than three seconds.
Yankees center fielder Brett Gardner had been clocked anywhere from 95-190 MPH from home to first, so I believe the comparison is more than warranted.
The cheetah can only maintain these speeds for a short period of time, which has been estimated at about 1500 feet. Luckily for this pinstriped cheetah, a trip around the bases spans just 360 ft, and he appeared very capable of sustaining pace during an inside-the-park home run on May 15.
Johnny Damon – Fish out of Water/Beaver
Johnny Damon’s reincarnation would have to be split into two separate species, due to the differences in his offensive and defensive games at the age of 35.
On defense, Damon represents a fish out of water, often struggling to regain his composure and sense of direction. He appears to flop around hopelessly throughout the left field grass, praying that the fly ball will somehow find its way into his glove.
After struggling for quite some time, a fish out of water will finally succumb to the realization that things will likely not end well. As the fish is released back into the pond or Damon’s glove finds itself wrapped around a pearly-white baseball, both are left with an awkward yet relieved smile.
On offense, however, Damon could return as no other animal than a beaver. Though it may surprise you at first glance, one must first think about what a beaver actually does.
Damon chews through more wood than any player in the major leagues—personally responsible for the destruction of the South American rainforests. He has shattered, cracked, exploded, and splintered more bats than even Rivera’s razorblade cutter.
Nick Swisher – Hyena/Chimpanzee
Nick Swisher is as much a performer as he is a baseball player, and a blend of the hyena and chimpanzee would seem to do him (and his actions) justice.
Hyenas are known for the laughing sound they produce, and have been featured in many movies as sarcastic, teasing, and joking characters. Swisher is rarely seen without a smile on his face, and always seems primed and ready to play a prank at a moment’s notice.
Chimpanzees are as playful as any animal on Earth, and are known to wrestle, tickle, chase, and show signs of something similar to human laughter.
They are often used in stage shows, circuses, movies, and other forms of entertainment, as a chimp is seemingly always ready to perform. Swisher is no different, and his “bleacher creature” companions wouldn’t have it any other way.
Derek Jeter – Lion
The captain of the Yankees is essentially the figurehead of Major League Baseball, as they represent the most recognizable baseball “brand” in the world.
The lion, on the other hand, is the much heralded “king of the jungle.” He is both respected and feared, while representing the symbol of confidence and power for the entire animal kingdom.
When I think of Jeter in lion’s fur, the first image that comes to mind is Aslan from The Chronicles of Narnia (I don’t want to hear it…it’s a great book). He is an “elder statesman” full of wisdom, strength, and bravery—never backing down from a battle with a worthy cause.
Author C.S. Lewis often describes Aslan as a symbol of Christ, and you would be hard-pressed to find any Yankee die-hard that considers Jeter anything less than half god.
Mariano Rivera - Bald Eagle
The bald eagle is the proud symbol of the United States of America, and Mariano Rivera is much the symbol of the most recent Yankee dynasty as anyone not named Jeter.
Often perching calmly and alertly until the opportune time to attack, Rivera’s bullpen activity is quite reminiscent of our nation’s favorite taloned predator.
Like Rivera, the bald eagle has many times been considered on its last legs—with widespread fear of extinction placing them on the endangered species list. Similar to many bald eagles currently protected in captivity, Rivera had to “mend a broken wing” in the offseason by agreeing to an offseason should procedure.
Both have responded beautifully, as Rivera is as dominant as he has ever been, and the bald eagle has officially been removed from any endangered or threatened species list.
Ramiro Pena/Francisco Cervelli – Drone Bee
A drone bee’s life expectancy is anywhere from 40-50 days—very similar to the 2009 major league journeys of Ramiro Pena and Francisco Cervelli.
They may not be the biggest, fastest, strongest, or most equipped of the bunch, but the drone bees work very hard to contribute—fitting perfectly into the bigger community that is the “hive” or clubhouse.
Their work does not go unnoticed, but it does go somewhat underappreciated. Once they’re gone, the rest of the group truly realizes the benefits of having them around. This is especially the case when a less productive, deserving, or mentally prepared bee (Cody Ransom) takes their place.
Andy Pettitte – Camel
The camel is slow, workmanlike, and methodical, but does what’s expected of him in the roughest of conditions. Even when times are hard and hope seems lost, he always has a little water on reserve in his hump to get the big outs when he really needs them.
Camels are known to be stubborn at times, but their seniority and importance generally allow them to get their way. The camel will generally say something along the lines of: “Joe, I have trekked through 100s of miles of scorching hot desert…don’t you think I can retire the seven-hitter with the bases loaded? Go back to the dugout.”
They may not be as flashy and eye-catching as other animals, but the camel is more than ready to carry a team on its back (literally) to the Promised Land.
Alex Rodriguez – Rattlesnake
The rattlesnake uses a literal “rattle” in its tail to warn predators when feeling threatened, and can also be used by horrified humans to determine which path not to walk on.
Always letting you know when he is entering a room with his own figurative “rattle,” A-Rod craves bright lights and attention to be thrust in his direction. He wants to look cool yet intimidating, and he always hunts alone.
Stay far enough away from him, whether on the plate or in the streets, and you should be safe. If you get too close (I’m talking to you pitchers and media personnel), however, he will make you pay big time.
He is also never opposed to putting things into your bloodstream to alter body chemistry—whether venom in this case, or, well…you know.
Melky Cabrera – Cow
Do I really need to explain this one?
Mark Teixeira/CC Sabathia – Griffon
Mark Teixeira and CC Sabathia are making a combined $341 in pinstripes over the next eight seasons.
They are worth so much cash that they will likely outlive the inconveniencies and setbacks of old age. Living long enough to see medical technologies that we have yet to even fantasize about, Sabathia and Teixeira will live until somewhere between 500 and 1000 years old.
Who knows what kind of evolutionary or cultural changes will have occurred by then—especially with the added factors of Global Warming and space travel?
That being said, what other animal could these two men be reincarnated as aside from one of the most extravagant and spectacular creates to bless the pages of mythology.
Jorge Posada – Bull
One of the more stubborn and aggressive members of the animal kingdom, the bull even has a phrase coined after him: bull-headed.
Known to get feisty at the sight of the color red (see: old Boston-New York footage), the bull is tough, strong, and ready to rumble. The same qualities that make the bull as successful as he is also create problems dealing with others.
Jorge Posada’s bull-like confidence, stick-to-itiveness, and aggressiveness cause many pitchers to “butt horns” with him. Pitch selection, location, and sequence often create a proverbial “pissing contest” amongst the Yankee battery—eventually leading to some hurlers requesting “personal catchers.”
*NOTE: Joba Chamberlain will likely reincarnate as a matador instead of an animal, as Posada will finally have his chance to skewer the most frustrating pitcher on the Yankee staff.*
Robinson Cano – House Cat
This feline comparison is not at all meant to be a compliment, regardless of the fact that I have been a cat owner for 18 years.
Sure, they can jump high, run fast, and quickly change direction. They are also blessed with breathtaking agility and the potential to do great things—when they want to. Cats, however, would prefer to just lie there and take in a few rays of sun.
Unlike dogs, which will run to your side whenever you call, cats will never be there for you in times of need. They may be as smooth and clean as they come, but you will be left cleaning up their messes—whether in the litter box or the batter’s box.
A.J. Burnett – Wild Mustang
One of the most majestic, incredible creatures in all of the animal kingdom, mustangs are big, powerful, fast, and agile. They possess virtually every quality to be exactly what every other animal aspires to become. Regardless of how hard you try, however, they cannot ever truly be controlled.
You can tame it for short periods of time, but you never know what you are going to get from day to day. Burnett currently leads MLB in wild pitches with 13, leads the AL in walks with 53, and is not far behind the league leaders in hit batsman.
That being said, on those days when the mustang allows you to saddle up and ride, it is as magical and unparalleled as any performance the animal kingdom can offer.