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Backstage Bombers: The 25 Greatest Acting Moments in Yankee History

December 7, 2012
#12 | Mantle, Day, Grant, and Maris in That Touch of Mink

#12 | Mantle, Day, Grant, and Maris in That Touch of Mink

The boys in pinstripes can hit, pitch, field, and run, but they can act too… some better than others.  Here is a list of the 25 greatest Yankee cameos in history, ranked in order of how natural they are in front of the camera.

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Honorable Mention | Phil Rizzuto‘s Head | Seinfeld | 2/20/1997

George Steinbrenner hands out Phil Rizzuto keychains in honor of Scooter’s induction into the Hall of Fame.  Whenever George squeezes the head it repeats Rizzuto’s famous phrase, “Holy cow!”

Jerry: They don’t actually have to squeeze his head to get him to say ‘Holy cow,’ do they?

George: Just the last few innings of a doubleheader.

George loses his keys in a pothole and must figure out a way to get them out.  Check out the clip here.

#25 | Babe RuthHeadin’ Home | 1920

Headin’ Home is silent era film that unabashedly mythologizes the life of the Babe, just 7 years into his 22 year Major League tenure.  When the film was released in September of 1920, he was still 3 years away from his first World Series with the Yanks and had not yet reached 100 career home runs, but there was still enough fanfare surrounding the slugger, who was on his way to 54 homers in ’20, that Hollywood pumped it out.

Ruth stars himself but wears so much white makeup that he looks more like Mike Myers from Halloween than the Sultan of Swat.  But, for a $25,000 paycheck I don’t think Ruth complained about the makeup too much.  Ruth, who was widely credited with saving baseball after the 1919 Black Sox scandal, ironically starred in a movie that was partially financed by gambler Abe Attell who helped fix that 1919 World Series.  Watch Ruth smack a home run here, and the full movie here.

#24 | Mickey Mantle & Roger MarisSafe at Home! | 1962

A young kid brags to his little league teammates that his dad knows Mantle and Maris.  The kid goes to spring training, learns a lesson about honesty, and gets to meet and M&M Boys.  Extra points for Bill Frawley’s role as the Yankee manager.  Minus points for Mickey and Roger looking as stiff as new gloves on camera.  Watch the trailer here.

#23 | Rickey Ledee | For the Love of the Game | 1999

The once great Billy Chapel (Kevin Costner) throws a perfect game at Yankee Stadium in the final game of his career.  The game serves as the backdrop of a love story between Costner and Kelly Preston.  Ledee plays Ruiz, but a recent minor league call-up pinch hits for him in the 9th inning.  Nice.  But about a month after the film debuted, Ledee won his 2nd World Series ring with the Bombers, so he made out okay.  Extra points for any baseball movie starring Costner.  Minus points for the Yanks being “perfect gamed” at home, Steve Lyons commentating the game, and every Yankee fan in the film portrayed as a boorish moron.

#22 | Babe Ruth | “Just Pals” | 1932

“Just Pals” is a short film in which Ruth helps a young kid who struck out with the bases loaded in a sandlot game.  The middle of the film turns into an instructional video as he shows the boy how to hit properly.  It should come as no surprise to you that in the very next game the kid hits a moon shot that clears the street beyond the outfield fence.  It’s essentially a 9 1/2 minute Frosted Flakes commercial.  Ruth is so elated by the blast that he pulls the hat of a fellow spectator down over his head.  But Ruth’s best line is, “The first thing I’m gonna do is show you how to bunt.”  I don’t think he had much to offer in that area.  Ruth used his own advice to swat 41 homers and drive in 137 RBIs in 1932.  Watch the film here.

#21 | Reggie JacksonThe Naked Gun | 1988

Bumbling officer Frank Drebin (Leslie Nielsen), must foil a plot to assassinate Queen Elizabeth II.  The Queen visits a California Angels baseball game and Drebin disguises himself as the umpire.  Mr. October, who is unwittingly being used in the plot, incites a bench-clearing brawl.  During the melee Jackson points a gun at Her Majesty, but Drebin fires a cufflink dart at Jackson.  Missing the slugger, he hits a portly woman in the upper deck who goes over the railing and lands on Jackson.  Extra points for Reggie’s superb reaction to being pummeled by the woman.  Minus points for expecting us to believe that the Queen of England would attend an Angels/Mariners game.  Watch the woman fall on Reggie here.

#20 | Don MattinglyThe Simpsons | 2/20/1992

Homer leads the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant softball team to the championship game.  Mr. Burns, the team’s owner, makes a million dollar bet with the owner of the Shelbyville Plant team that Springfield will win.  To ensure the victory, Burns brings in Roger Clemens, Wade Boggs, Ken Griffey Jr., Steve Sax, Ozzie Smith, Jose Canseco, Darryl Strawberry, Mike Scioscia, and Don Mattingly as ringers.  Mattingly is kicked off the team before the big game because Burns doesn’t like his sideburns.  Despite being cut, Mattingly is able to say,

I still like him better than Steinbrenner.

Watch highlights of the episode here.

#19 | Yogi BerraGeneral Hospital | 8/16/1963

The producers of the wildly popular General Hospital were huge Yankees fans and asked Berra if he would be interested in making a guest appearance for $150.  In one of the more implausible roles in television history, Berra played a brain surgeon.  I couldn’t find a clip of the episode to rate Berra’s performance, but just the thought of him saying a line like, “Hey, this scalpel cuts like a knife,” was enough to move it up the list a bit.

#18 | Mickey Mantle & Whitey FordRemington Steele | 10/23/1984

In their worst October performances, Mantle and Ford compete against a squad of former high school teammates at an adult baseball camp.  A number of “accidents” surrounding the event brings Steele (Pierce Brosnan) and Laura Holt (Stephanie Zimbalist) in to investigate.  In Mantle’s best line he says to an umpire,

C’mon ump, I’ve seen potatoes with better eyes than that.

Ah, early 80s trash talk.  Extra points for Mantle’s swing still looking as sweet as ever with a grand slam.  Minus points for an obvious “stunt runner” rounding the bases for the Mick, the yellow and green jerseys, and Whitey inexplicably following Mickey with a 2-run homer.  I guess one of the guys on base forgot to run home.  Watch the entire episode here.

#17 | Lou GehrigRawhide | 1938

Gehrig quits baseball for the allure of ranching.  When a group of bandits tries to coerce Gehrig and his fellow ranchers, Gehrig must fight back with the help of a local attorney.  As the film begins, Gehrig, surrounded by a group of reporters as Grand Central Station, proclaims, “I’m through with baseball.  I got what I want.  My sister and I bought a swell ranch in a peaceful valley, a hundred miles from a railroad.”  Sadly, it would not be long before the Iron Horse would start showing signs of degeneration due to ALS.  Watch a clip of the opening scene here and the full movie here.

#16 | Nick SwisherHow I Met Your Mother | 2/1/2010

In an episode of CBS’s hit show, Swisher plays a ladies’ man.  I mean, who in their right mind could resist that faux hawk of his?  His best line:

In a way, aren’t we all trying to find that special someone to share a toothbrush with?

So true Swish, so true.

#15 | Derek Jeter & Roger Clemens | Anger Management | 2003

Adam Sandler proclaims his love to a woman on the field at Yankee Stadium in the climactic moment of the movie.  The delay irks Clemens: “This clown better hurry up, my arm is starting to ice over.”  Luckily, the Captain is there to help settle him, utilizing a word that Eskimo children use to calm their children: “Chill, Rocket.  Goosfraba  Goosfraba.”  Clemens repeats the word: “Goosfraba…”  Extra points for a cameo by tried and true Yankee fan, Mayor Giuliani.  Watch the clip here.

#14 | Danny Tartabull & Buck ShowalterSeinfeld | 9/22/1994

While showing Tartabull some pointers on his swing, George, noticing that the slugger is hot, asks what his uniform is made of.  He is troubled to find out it is constructed of polyester instead of cotton.  He brings it up to Showalter and a switch is made.

George: How’s everything going?  Everything okay?

Buck: Well, all of a sudden there’s a problem with Tartabull’s swing but…

The switch works fine for one game, but by the second the uniforms have shrunk in the wash, leading the commentator to exclaim, “Mattingly just split his pants!”  Watch a clip here.

#13 | Reggie Jackson | The Benchwarmers | 2006

Three nerdy adults try to capture the athletic glory they never has as kids against a bunch of little leaguers.  In one scene, Jackson helps them with their hand-eye-coordination by smashing mailboxes out of the back of a stock car driven by Jon Lovitz.  Mr. October’s swing never looked sweeter.  Extra points for Reggie wearing a Yankee hat during his blatant act of vandalism.  Watch the clip here.

#12 | Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris & Yogi Berra | That Touch of Mink | 1962

Doris Day and Cary Grant are sitting in the Yankee dugout, since Grant’s character owns part of the team, and Day gets herself and the Mick, Roger, and Yogi tossed for arguing balls and strikes.  Though it may be one of the Yankees’ most famous cameos, the trio loses some points with their stiff acting.  Berra himself once said, “It wasn’t one of the great scenes in Hollywood.  But it was fun.”  Minus points for the emotionless reaction from the boys when they get tossed and for the Yankee dugout looking as big as a matchbox.  Watch the clip here.

#11 | Jim AbbottBoy Meets World | 11/26/1993

When Cory hands in a class project, explaining that his dream for the future is to be a Major League baseball player, Mr. Feeny gives him an incomplete grade.  Cory’s hopes are crushed, but his dad pesters Jim Abbott enough that he comes to the house to cheer him up.  Extra points for Abbott rocking the satiny, early 90s Yankee jacket and Minkus showing up with a basketball for Jim to sign: “Apparently I’ve brought the wrong ball.”  Watch the clip here.

#10 | Danny Tartabull | Seinfeld | 10/6/1994

Jerry, needing a celebrity for a public television fundraiser he is hosting, enlists George’s help.  George gets Danny Tartabull to appear on the show, but they are delayed when George thinks he sees someone give him the middle finger and they chase after him: “No one gives us the finger!  We’re Yankees!”  Tartabull’s signature moment is when he eats a donut in the car with a knife and fork, a motif in the episode.

#9 | Reggie Jackson | The Jeffersons | 1/15/1985

In an episode cleverly titled, “The Unnatural,” George drops a Reggie Jackson grand slam ball on national television, and is devastated.  Louise smuggles herself in the Angels’ locker room to enlist Mr. October’s help.  When she tells Reggie who her husband is he responds, “Hey guys, this is the lady that’s married to old toaster-glove,” a scathing slight in 1985.  Reggie eventually agrees and cheers up George by giving him the home run ball he missed the day before.  Unlike Mr. Jefferson, Reggie is a natural in this scene.  Watch the clip here.

#8 | Paul O’Neill | Seinfeld | 10/12/1995

In an episode entitled, “The Wink,” the narrative arc revolves around a piece of grapefruit and the chaos it wreaks.  Jerry accidentally squirts grapefruit juice in George’s eye, causing George to wink uncontrollably.  This leads to several misinterpretations including Kramer thinking that George wants him to sell a birthday card, meant for George Steinbrenner, that has been signed by the entire Yankee organization, so that they can split the profits.  When George asks Kramer to get it back Kramer finds out it was sold and given to a terminally ill boy in the hospital.

In order to get it back, Kramer promises the boy that O’Neill will hit 2 home runs in the next game, just for him.  In an effort to help the process along Kramer, after somehow getting into the Yankee clubhouse, speaks to Paul O’Neill in person.  When O’Neill tells Kramer it’s impossible, the K Man retorts that Babe Ruth did it, to which the Warrior says, “He wasn’t stupid enough to promise two.”  O’Neill ends up hitting a homer and what looks like an inside-the-park home run until it is ruled a triple and an error.  Watch the clip here.

#7 | Babe Ruth | The Pride of the Yankees | 1942

The tribute to Lou Gehrig was released just a year after he passed away.  Babe Ruth appears as himself along with Bob Meusel, Mark Koenig, and Bill Dickey.  In one of the most oft-remembered scenes, Ruth comes in with a new straw hat and warns the guys not to mess with it like they have the others.  As the Babe sits down to a hand of poker, one teammate steals the hat and takes a bite out of it, and passes it along to the next who takes a bite, and so on.  When it eventually gets to Gehrig (Gary Cooper) his teammates encourage him to take a 2nd bite and Ruth catches him in the act, unleashing chaos on the train.  Extra points for how natural the Babe is in front of the camera.  Minus points for it being more of a love story than a baseball story and for Cooper’s complete lack of athleticism.  Watch the clip here.

#6 | Derek Jeter & Bernie WilliamsSeinfeld | 11/21/1996

When George abstains from sex his intellect sky rockets.  While in the batting cage at the Stadium, he gives Jeter and Bernie some pointers about hitting based on the laws of physics.  When Jeter responds defensively, “We won the World Series,” George counters: “Yea, in six games.”  Extra points for Jeter’s high fade.  Watch the clip here.

#5 | Derek Jeter | Saturday Night Live | 12/1/2001

Jeter hosts the show and delivers a gem with the sketch, “Derek Jeter’s Taco Hole.”  It doesn’t take long for the Captain to convince you that his joint is “one of the top five Mexican restaurants in all of northern New Jersey.”  He continues,

All year long I can’t wait for the season to end, so I can get back to my first love: Derek Jeter’s Taco Hole.

Extra points for Jeter in full Mariachi regalia.  Minus points for his guitar playing.  Watch the clip here.

#4 | Mark Teixeira & Alex RodriguezEntourage | 9/4/2011

Turtle is trying to get investors for a restaurant he is starting including Tex, A-Rod, the Giants’ Michael Strahan, and the Knicks’ Amare Stoudemire.  When Tex refuses to put in $250,000 more, Turtle counters: “C’mon, you got an 8-year, $180 million contract.”  Undeterred, Tex says, “I’ve also got three kids in private school in Greenwich, Connecticut.”  Extra points for Tex being on the field at the New Yankee Stadium and for his natural acting ability.  He looks like he could have a 2nd career after he retires in his late 30s.  Not so much for A-Rod.  Watch the clip here.

#3 | Derek Jeter | The Other Guys | 2010

During a counseling session for cops who have fired their weapon in the line of duty, Mark Wahlberg must recount how while on duty at the Stadium during game 7 of the World Series, he shot a shady character that turned out to be Derek Jeter.  While writhing on the ground in pain, Jeter yells, “You d***!  I’m Derek Jeter!  You shot me!”  Wahlburg gets a desk job and Jeter turns into a homeless bum. Watch the clip here.

#2 | Yogi Berra | Aflac Commercial | 2001

Yogi is getting a haircut when the conversation turns to insurance.  The spot is chock full of Yogi-isms including, “And they give you cash, which is just as good as money,” leaving everyone, including the Aflac duck, speechless.  It’s classic.  Watch the ad here.

#1 | Derek Jeter | Saturday Night Live | 12/1/2001

In one of the most memorable SNL sketches since the millennium, Derek Jeter plays Alfonso Soriano‘s wife in full drag.  Jeter tells the story of how he/she and Soriano fell in love:

It’s the cutest, sweetest stoy, you guys!  I was at Senor Phrogg’s in Jamaica, and Alfonso was juding a bikini contest I was in.  And I went up to him, and I was like, ‘You are the most beautiful man I’ve ever seen.’  And he was like, ‘You’re just saying that because I play for the Yankees.’  And I was like, ‘You’re right, I am!’  And we fell in love.

Some of his other classic lines include: “God, I know I shouldn’t say this, but I think Tino Martinez is super-foxy, girl!” and “No, Jeter does not do it for me.  He looks like if the Rock had sex with a muppet.”  Just to round out the skit, David Wells and David Cone show up as groupies, inciting a brawl with the other Yankee wives.  Extra points for Wells rocking his goatee while wearing a black dress and for Coney’s massive thighs.  Watch the clip here.

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