For show-and-tell on Wednesday, Gerrit Cole brought an 18-year-old sign to Yankee Stadium that read: “Yankees fan today tomorrow forever.”
This was the placard that as an 11-year-old he held over the right field fence at the Stadium during the 2001 World Series. He was wearing a Yankee jersey and cap. He was indeed a Yankees fan that day.
Of course, the question remained whether he’d be a Yankees fan tomorrow and forever. Would living in Southern California and playing college baseball at UCLA test his loyalty? Would becoming a standout Major League starter in Pittsburgh and Houston alter his point of view?
We know the answer to that now. Cole was at Yankee Stadium for his introductory press conference, customary for someone who had just signed a nine-year, $324 million deal to pitch for the Yankees.
He was wearing his No. 45, given to him by teammate Luke Voit.
He was clean-shaven, a nod to one of the organization’s rules of comportment.
“He cleans up nice, doesn’t he?” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said.
And he was surrounded by the team executives who had facilitated the richest contract for a pitcher in Major League history. He looked thrilled. Why wouldn’t he?
“I can remember as a little boy dreaming about being a Major League Baseball player, specifically a Yankee,” Cole said. “It’s the right time and the right place to take that step.”
Wait until you hear this: Included in his contract was an opt out after the fifth season. The New York Post reports the Yankees could void the move by simply adding one more year and another $36 million to the deal. So that essentially makes Cole’s contract worth $360 million.
Merry Christmas, Gerrit!
Truth is, the Yankees did not all of sudden fall in love with Cole. They’d admired him for 11 years. They selected him in the first round of the 2008 amateur draft. But Cole chose to go to college. Three years later, the Pittsburgh Pirates made him the first overall selection and his career was underway.
The Yankees finally got him when he filed for free agency after helping to lead the Astros to the World Series with a 20-5 record and 2.50 ERA. And now he will head a starting rotation baseball analysts have called the team’s weak leak.
“We need to win some world championships,” Hal Steinbrenner, the Yankees’ principal owner, said, “and I believe we’re going to do that. Sooner rather than later.”
Consider this: The Yankees did not win a World Series in the decade of the 2010s. It was the first time that had happened since the 1910s.
“It doesn’t scare me,” Cole said. “It’s what I dreamed of. Who wouldn’t want to compete for a championship every year?”
Cole won the press conference. He showed off his erudite personality. He came across as sincere and well-meaning. The Yankees gave him a lot of money, but he made you think it never really was about the money.
“I came eight outs away from getting a ring,” Cole said. “I felt I could see the light underneath the door and then it was slammed shut in our face. It never opened actually. I am as hungry as ever to finish that journey, and in my opinion there would be no better place to do it than in New York.”
He also paid homage to the past, mentioning the newly minted Hall of Famer, union leader Marvin Miller, and Curt Flood, the player who challenged the reverse clause. These were the men who paved the path in the 1970s that led to Cole’s payday.
“We’ve seen competitiveness blossom and free agency blossom, and he played a major role in that,” Cole said of Miller. “Curt Flood as well. Challenging the reserve clause was essential to the blossoming sport we have today.”
Cole told reporters Miller and Flood have been on his mind since his days in Pittsburgh. A Pirates veteran, catcher John Buck, essentially required the younger players to become familiar with the role both played in the history of the sport.
“I hope that goes on in every bus in the major leagues,” Cole said. “Challenging the reserve clause was one of the first steppingstones to, ultimately, the system we have today, which I believe brings out the most genuine competitiveness that we have in baseball.
“There’s many different stories to be told by every baseball season. And the best stories are always told because there’s competitiveness and Curt was instrumental in getting the ball rolling. And, you know, it’s so fitting that the free agency season that has started this year already coincides with Marvin getting into the Hall of Fame, I just think it’s so important that players know the other sacrifices that players made in order to keep the integrity of the game where it is.”
Keep in mind that the Yankees won 103 games in 2019 without a pitcher of Cole’s substance in their rotation. Imagine what might be possible if he can give them his customary 33 quality starts in 2020.
The Yankees would be a Cole fan today, tomorrow and forever.