“What’s up bro… Did u get the new iphone yet?” It was Brooklyn’s Own Mike Dantone texting me early this morning. “No. Ordered it. Shipping July 19. You?” was my reply. BOMD: “Got it yesterday. It’s Sick.” Me: “How? I know you didn’t wait on line at the Apple Store”. BOMD: “I went to the Apple store, went to the front of the line and paid the kid in spot #7 $100. My new iphone was activated 12 minutes later.“ Me: “You’re an effing genius. Best $100 you’ll ever spend.” BOMD: What’s up with A.J.?” Me: “I think he’ll come around. But I think Hughes and Pettitte will get hit for a while.” BOMD: “We will win or lose the division by 2-3 games. Just always happens that way.”
There was a blurb in the paper a few days ago that caught my eye and made me mutter to myself, which I rarely do. Russell Branyan was picked up by the Mariners. I wasn’t muttering because the move made no sense, which was true. Made no sense. Why would a team that was out of contention and basically existed to sell off its more valuable pieces (read: Cliff Lee) want to pick up a 35-year old left-handed power hitting DH/1B? Instead of bringing up a prospect, seeing what he had under the hood and getting him some experience? Made absolutely no sense. But that wasn’t my problem. My problem was that the Yankees hadn’t faced the Mariners yet this season, and Branyan, still the only man to hit the black glass batter’s eye at the new Stadium, always pummels the Yankees. Mariner last year – pummeled them. Indians this year – pummeled them. So I knew tonight was coming. That’s why I was mumbling.
So here’s where I try and piece this together. Like Brooklyn’s Own Mike Dantone said – you’re going to win or lose this division by two or three games. Seems about right. That’s certainly where we are right now. The fact that the Yankees have the best record in baseball is a bit of a farce. If you’re watching these games, it’s clear that they aren’t that good. Michael Kay made a comment on the broadcast the other day. Something to the effect of, “Kevin Russo, Chad Huffman, Ramiro Pena, Colin Curtis…. It’s certainly a far cry from Chili Davis, Tim Raines, and Darryl Strawberry.” He’s right. The Yankees have no excuse. There aren’t a ton of injuries. There are basically two. To the same position. Nick Johnson – I’m going to call him “TNT” because of what a huge bomb he’s been – and Marcus Thames. That’s it. But you’d never know it by looking at the lineups that the Yankees are trotting out night after night. Why is this?
I’ve hated this concept of the roving DH from day one. The Yankees have been resting Crazy Al, Jeter, and/or Posada every night. And often they’ll rest Granderson just because a lefty is starting (great deal, Cash. You let Damon and Matsui walk, two guys who hit lefties with power and regularity, for a guy who’s quick fodder for any lefty specialist in the late innings). There is no starting DH. That’s right. The Yankees do not have a starting DH. Just let that waft over you for a second. An American League team, the defending World Champs, the guys who outspend everybody just for sport, do not have a starting DH. And they seem perfectly happy about it. So what happens when the starters rest? The aforementioned Colin Curtis, Ramiro Pena, Kevin Russo, or Chad Huffman get the start. And Cervelli gets the start behind the plate. Often more than one of these guys is in the starting lineup. This is sinful. Here’s why. First of all, three of them are hitting under .200. This is a big deal. Especially since opposing pitchers, particularly the good ones, are pitching around the regulars to get to these guys. You got a miracle the other night against the Dodgers. And it’s a good thing you did, because you would have been staring at four losses in a row, having been dominated by five starting pitchers in a row, including Padilla on Friday night, from whom they were fortunate to get a win. The problem with these guys isn’t just that they can’t hit. The problem is that their only option is to try and hit. Not get on base. Not do little things to help the team. Hit. There’s a popular saying in the Dominican Republic. You can’t walk your way off the island; you have to hit your way off. These guys are in the same boat. They’re trying to stick. If not here, somewhere. And to do it they need to hit. They have mismatched priorities with the team. A 2-0 or 3-1 count to them means they’re probably going to get a fastball, and that means they are swinging. Even though the team really just needs the baserunner. This is what you get when you start calling up a bunch of minor league kids.
At its core, I have a big problem with this approach. Why wouldn’t the Yankees go out and get Russell the Muscle Branyan? Does anyone else see that he is the perfect type of midseason pickup the Yankees used to make? A lefty power-hitting DH? At Yankee Stadium? For a team that has no DH? Hello?? Anybody out there? How is it that the Yankees are going exclusively with guys from Triple A to fill any and all gaps? And it’s not like they are big prospects or anything. These are guys that nobody has heard of, playing almost every day. Yes, Michael Kay. Where are the Chili Davis’s, the Tim Raines’s and the Darryl Strawberry’s? Or the Jerry Hairston’s and Eric Hinske’s? It certainly feels like the Yankees have made a conscious decision to try and run this team on the cheap. I know there were some whispers this past off-season that the Yankees were going to try and cut the payroll. Is anyone else offended by this? The Yankees had to cut the most expensive ticket prices again this year, acknowledging they overcharged their most loyal fans. And no one disputes that they positively printed money last year and this year with the revenue from the new Stadium. We’re talking about a major upward spike in revenue. And they want to CUT payroll? “Hey fans. Steinbrenner family here. Listen, we understand that we’ve lined our pockets with way more of your money the last two years, but we need to spread it around a bit more since the old man is retired, so we’re going to have to stretch it a bit. Here is your **** sandwich. Eat up.”
This never would have happened if the old man was still in charge. The Boss used to drive people nuts, but you couldn’t argue with his core belief. He didn’t just want to beat you, he wanted to beat you senseless and then eat your lunch. He wanted to win at all costs. Not once did you hear him say he wanted to cut the payroll. Money didn’t excite him. Winning excited him, and he wanted to leave nothing to chance. The Mets stole the New York headlines for four or five years in the mid-eighties, and The Boss made them pay for it for the next two decades, as the Yankees pulled in those Met teams’ biggest stars to win multiple championships in pinstripes. That’s the only kind of owner you want. You show me a guy who owns a team to try and make money; I’ll show you a team that doesn’t win. I’m afraid the new Steinbrenners are not nearly as focused. They don’t feel the same sense of responsibility as the guy who actually took the risk, plunked down his cash, and bought the team.
I’m not saying the Yankees won’t make moves. I think they will. But they’re in no hurry. I think they’ll wait until they absolutely have to make a move. The fact that they’ve taken this approach over the first half of the season is telling. And when all is said and done, Brooklyn’s Own Mike Dantone could very well be right. Two or three games. You keep showing up limp like you have the last five games, that two or three will happen pretty quickly.
“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
– Lord Acton, Letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton, 1887
As promised, part II of the ramble I began yesterday. Some quick stuff on the game today. I missed the first part, and I stepped onto the elliptical machine at Harbor Fitness on Third Avenue in Brooklyn in the middle of a commercial break. As the broadcast came back from the commercial, I could see that the Yankees were coming to bat, and that Scott Downs was in the game. That was a good sign, I thought. At least the starter isn’t still in the game in the eighth inning (again). Cervelli was up. A second later I looked up and he was on first. Hit by a pitch. Still no score up on the screen. I thought that was odd. Then they flashed to Brandon Morrow sitting in the dugout with a graphic detailing his line for the day. My eyes flashed to the “runs” column as my legs tried to balance on the elliptical without my undivided attention. Zero. Zero runs in seven innings. I almost toppled off the elliptical and over the rail of the newly renovated balcony in the movie theatre-turned-fitness center. Some quick (and basic) math told me that the Yankees had now scored three runs in thirty innings this series. Oh man. I wondered what the score was. Javy on the mound. I guessed four-nothing. Maybe five. Then Gardner got hit. First and second nobody out. Then they flashed it. Two-nothing. Could be way worse, I thought. You needed to get one of these runs in. Then Jeter had two awful strike calls go against him. One was inside and one was outside. Both were pretty clear. He got into it with umpire Bruce Dreckman (I’ll get to that later). Then he hit a double. Second and third nobody out. Two -one Jays. Then Swisher got punched out on a check swing by Dreckman, with Dreckman making the call without calling for an appeal. Swisher flipped. It was justified. It wasn’t a swing. Those things are often murky and close, but this one was clear, so much so that both Bob Lorenz (doing some play-by-play! Congrats on getting called up to big-boy TV!) and John Flaherty simply and correctly said, “Bad call. Swisher did not go around.” And it was. And that’s fine. It happens. But the crime there was not calling for an appeal. But I’ll get to that later too. So long story short, it came down to Robbie Cano with two outs and men on second and third in a tie game. And Cito Gaston chose to pitch to him. This is the kind of thing that would have had me punching a hole in the wall if I was a Blue Jays fan. Let me start by saying I’ve never liked Cito Gaston. I know there are people that like him, that say he is an underappreciated baseball mind. Okay. My lasting image of the guy will always be the 1993 All-Star game in Camden Yards. The AL was comfortably ahead, 9- 3in the 9th inning, and the crowd was loudly chanting for Gaston to insert Mike Mussina, one of only two Orioles on the roster in their own park. Instead he put his own guy, Duane Ward, out there, and left him out there for all three outs. I will never forget the defiant look on his face as the crowd was literally chanting, thousands in unison, for Moose. Even Ward was looking into to the dugout to see what Gaston wanted to do. At one point Gaston actually started shaking his head with this arrogant look that seemed to angrily tell the crowd – “Now I’m really not putting him in.” What an awful display. I get that you want your guy in there. But there’s no reason you couldn’t throw Moose out there for an out, have him walk off to an ovation, and then hand it to your guy. It’s not like it was even a save situation or anything. There was no statistical significance to Ward getting all three outs in the ninth. From that moment on I was sour on Cito Gaston. So that brings us to today. Why Gaston chose to pitch to Cano, I will never know. But you just knew it was going to bite him. And it bit him. Never mind that earlier in the inning he chose to walk Tex to get to Alex, who is what, five-for-five with three grand slams when teams have done that? The tying run scored on a wild pitch, so that was kind of moot, but I’m not sure why Gaston insisted on tempting fate twice like that. He got what he deserved, I’m afraid.
So to put a finisher on this series, the Yankees probably feel pretty good about it. The Jays could not have gotten better starting pitching. Three dazzling outings. They got multiple bombs from all of their big guns, six in total in the series to the Yankees one. Even the relievers generally pitched well. They basically played a perfect three games. And yet they needed fourteen innings to simply win the series in their own park. Pretty scary.
So now to what I really wanted to talk about. The Jim Joyce affair. We all know what happened. But here is the narrative thread, and arc, for Jim Joyce. He makes the call. Everyone is furious at him. Every announcer on every sports highlight show is crushing his life. Then an hour or so after the game ends, word starts to get around that Jim Joyce made a statement, dripping with remorse and regret, acknowledging that he blew the call, ruined the kid’s perfect game, and felt awful about it. The narrative starts to turn. By the next day, Jim Joyce was a martyr. He made a mistake on a close play, and now he was going to have to live with it. People popped up all over the map saying what a great umpire he was, and what a class guy he was, etc. Even Jim Leyland, who had chewed both of his ears off and spit them down Jim Joyce’s throat after the call, came rushing to his defense after heads cooled. It was sportsmanship held high. People carrying themselves with sense and class. It finished up with everybody applauding and wiping away tears the next day as Galarraga took the lineup card out to Joyce, himself awash in tears. And…. Scene.
But there is a hole in the narrative as constructed, and it is this: Jim Joyce is unequivocally, appallingly guilty. His most minor infraction was blowing a call that really wasn’t that close. That stuff happens. People make mistakes. If that was all he did, so be it. A more glaring infraction was being inexcusably unprepared. Ballplayers always talk about knowing what to do when the ball comes to them. Jim Joyce dropped it. Jim Joyce needs to have prepared like every other umpire in history has prepared for a big call. The game was not in doubt. It was 3-0 in the bottom of the ninth with two outs and no one on. There was a perfect game on the line. If you’re Jim Joyce, you need to be thinking, if it’s bang-bang, he needs to be 101% safe for me to make a safe call. There can’t be any question. No one is going to argue if you call a guy out on a bang-bang play to seal a perfect game. No one. Not the guy running to first, not the opposing manager, not anybody. Who really wants to be the disgustingly bad sport who’s whining about a call when you’re losing by three runs with no one on and two out in the bottom of the ninth that sealed a guy’s perfect game? The last pitch of Don Larsen’s perfect game was up around Dale Mitchell’s ear. Jim Joyce did not prepare himself for that play. If he really, truly did think that the play wasn’t even close, then he is not a good umpire. Period.
But the high crime on Jim Joyce’s rap sheet was neither of those things. Both of those missteps could have been overcome. Jim Joyce’s culpability rests squarely on the last of his crimes. The ugly arrogance and hubris on display as he, upon seeing the fierce, swift, virulent reaction from everyone involved, spent the next few minutes wagging his finger and jawing with Miguel Cabrera at first base, the entire Tigers dugout, and anyone else who dared question him. And all the while, he never once asked for help from the other umpires. And why? Out of sheer defiance. At that point he probably realized he blew it. Even if he wasn’t sure if he was actually out, he almost certainly realized that he should have called him out. And yet he chose to stand there yelling, jawing, and wagging his finger. If he had swallowed his pride, called the umps together in conference, and talked it over, they certainly would have come to the conclusion very quickly that they had nothing to gain by keeping the safe call. The call would have been overturned, correctly, and no one would have remembered or cared that Jim Joyce blew it at first. In fact, most people, myself included, would have gushed about how he did the right thing by asking for help. Jim Joyce didn’t ask for help. And he needs to be taken to task for that. That’s the problem. And it bothers me that this narrative has been created in which he is a victim. It only speaks to his missing the original call. It does not speak to his actions in the four or so minutes after the call, time enough for him to have corrected his mistake. The fact that he willfully chose not to is why he is guilty. Sorry, Jim Joyce. I understand you’ll carry this around your whole life, but you deserve to carry it around. You’re lucky this silly business about you feeling really bad about it is probably going to let you talk yourself into the fact that you don’t deserve to have this hanging over you… You do.
The quote at the top of the post speaks to part of this problem. Part of the problem is Major League Baseball, and frankly, all of the professional sports leagues. MLB coddles their umpires. They protect them. And let’s face it, the results are predictable. We all remember some of the teachers we had in school. Some were great, but some had a real problem with their authority. They were on a power trip from the word go, and it wasn’t about being right or wrong, it was about them being unchallengeable. They would react with swift harshness in the face of anyone who dared question them. They got very comfortable with the power they had. The illusion of infallibility is a dangerous thing, boys. You see it constantly with major league umpires. Just yesterday I was watching in extra innings as Brett Gardner was dancing around first base, causing all kinds of angst for Shawn Camp. Camp was doing everything he could to keep Gardner on first. At one point he quick-pitched, which John Flaherty pointed out on the broadcast. The next shot was home plate umpire Gary Darling ripping his mask off and the microphones clearly picking up Darling angrily screaming at the Yankee dugout, “He is stopping! Now relax!!” Girardi, the former catcher, had picked up that Camp did not come to a full stop before he threw the quick-pitch. And the replay showed that he didn’t. Girardi was right. So here’s the issue. I get that Darling didn’t want to listen to the Yankee dugout jawing, but his reaction was telling, and it’s all too common. “He is stopping.” He threw his authority down in the form of responding to Girardi’s remark with “The Answer,” as if he were Wikipedia, the Supreme Court and instant slow-mo replay all rolled into one. And yet he was wrong. Camp wasn’t stopping. It’s most likely that Gary Darling was either distracted and not paying full attention to Camp, or, like many umpires, was going to give him the benefit of the doubt on one or two pitches, sympathizing that Gardner is a royal pain on first. Often umpires will give the pitchers a “warning,” meaning, “I know you just broke the rules, but I’ll tell you right here and now not to do it again or I’ll call a balk.” This is sometimes useful for pitchers who have balkish moves to first. But instead of just telling Girardi to shut up, he felt it necessary to falsely correct him, and admonish him for challenging his authority. Another example – today in the eighth inning as Derek Jeter batted with no one out and men on second and third. Bruce Dreckman’s two aforementioned calls, one way inside and way outside, had Jeter irked. Derek Jeter, the epitome of class and decorum, the guy who doesn’t have a lot to say to any umpire, was livid. With his head down and digging the batter’s box with his spikes so as not to show Dreckman up, he was clearly jawing with him. The YES camera picked up Jeter mouthing the words, “No it wasn’t.” Then again, “No it wasn’t.” Then a third time, “No it wasn’t.” Not to put words in Bruce Dreckman’s mouth, but it seems clear that he was saying to Jeter, “Yes it was (a strike),” or some derivative of that. Now, the replay clearly showed both pitches were about six inches off the plate. Neither were strikes. But it’s telling the Dreckman chose to answer one of the classiest players in all of sports by simply insisting that he was correct, by virtue of….what? He hasn’t been involved with baseball in any capacity as long as Jeter has. What gives him a better understanding of the strike zone that he feels he can correct Derek Jeter? They had the same exact view of the ball.
This is my point. There is too much of this in baseball. Stop the God complex. This nonsense of taking offense because someone dares to challenge your infallibility, and the subsequent problems that causes (smile, Jim Joyce, the camera is on you) must end. Major League Baseball needs to hold these guys accountable. You blow a call, say they blew a call. If they were reprimanded by the league because they had an awful day calling balls and strikes, say it. This will, I assure you, provide them a very strong incentive to get calls right. What happens to them now? How many umpires have been fired or demoted recently? If an ump isn’t getting the balls and strikes right, what happens to him? Seems like nothing. Publish the results. Right now they have no incentive to swallow their pride and get it right. Ever. In Jim Joyce’s case, his pride was so blinding for him that he allowed himself to make the biggest blown call in the history of baseball. Yup, I think that’s fair to say. The biggest.
Apropos of this(slightly) but also totally out of left field, Adam Carolla did a great bit about this in the context of meter maids the other day. If you’ve never listened to his podcast, I highly recommend it. Insightful, thoughtful, funny stuff…
Last thing on this. Major League Baseball should have overturned that call. The only reason I have heard to date for them not overturning this call is that they’ve never done it before. That’s not a good reason. Bruce Weber wrote what I thought was a ridiculous piece in the Times this weekend. And he’s not alone. There are lots of romantics out there who are whining that overturning the call would ruin whatever it is that they’ve turned baseball into for them. It’s kind of like the artists and poets who had once flocked to Red Sox fandom, reveling in the Sisyphean metaphor. The same guys that bailed on them when they finally lost (hello Cubbies!). Those guys aren’t talking about baseball. They’re talking about something else. Certainly Weber is. There is no good argument for making errors for the sake of making errors. It’s not like they designed the game to purposely include errors. They designed it this way because there was no better way at the time. If you want to make it super-restrictive, go ahead. Say that you can’t change a call unless it’s the 27th out, because you can’t assume the game would have played out the same. Figure something out boys. Get clever. Use your heads. And by the way, it’s not like calls have never been overturned. Once upon a time Jim McClelland followed MLB rules to the letter when he called out George Brett for having too much pine tar on his bat. The rule is there because too much pine tar could affect the flight of the ball off the bat. It was there for a reason. George Brett broke the rule. He was called out, as he should have been. And along came the commish, who overturned that CORRECT call. There is precedent, purists. And a first time for everything. Especially when it’s correct. Even Weber acknowledged in his piece that once upon a time in the glorious history of baseball, umps used to occasionally ask fans for assistance on calls. Get it right.
You know where I stand on automating calls. I’m all for it, right down to the balls and strikes. All of it. I know I’m in the vast minority, but I stand by it. Here’s the measuring stick. If you have the technology, there is no post-facto argument for un-automating it. Once all of the calls are correct, you wouldn’t be sitting around pining for incorrect calls. It would be ridiculous. Imagine a guy correctly getting called out on a close play to end a seventh game of a series. Is that team going to petition the league to go back to human error because they think it’s unfair that there wasn’t an umpire out there to get the call wrong? That would be insane.
Do it. Automation. I’m all in.
Jim Joyce, go sit in a corner for a while and think about what you did….
“Everyone keeps asking me,” Big Joe said to me on the phone late last night. “I tell them…don’t hold your breath. Maybe one a month. If you’re lucky…“ Yup. That’s what it’s come to. So I promised him I would lay something down tonight while the missus is out at a birthday dinner for one of her crew. Big Joe tells me to get off my duff and hustle, I hustle. So here goes.
Bad day to get back on the wagon here. Down two straight to the Jays, who are playing pretty well. So here’s the Jays in a nutshell. A few young pitchers who are some blend of future aces and playing over their heads – Cecil, Marcum, and Ricky Romero. And a bunch of position players who are way over their heads. Last year everyone was gushing over Adam Lind and Aaron Hill. This year journeymen and career back-ups Jose Bautista and Alex Gonzalez have 18 and 12 home runs, respectively. Hmm. Am I going to scream that something smells PED fishy again? Probably…. Let me ask, guys. How many times have I steered you wrong? So here they are, a pretty good team that is playing head-scratchingly well. Cool. Either way, the Yanks have not played well here.
Twenty-three innings of baseball; three runs. And one of those was scored on a rally-killing double play when they were already down four runs, and the other two came on one swing when Jeter hit his bomb. One run in about every seven-and-a-half innings. The Yankees are 2-for-18 with runners in scoring position this series, which I think is a misleading stat. First of all, neither of the 2 hits scored the runner, and neither time did the runner in scoring position eventually score. So we really should be talking about something different. Something like 0 runs 18 opportunities with a runner in scoring position. A bit wordy, I know. But wait! There’s more! At least twice today (I didn’t see the game Friday night and I’m too lazy to look it up) the Yankees hit into double plays with a runner on second with less than two out. So that’s two additional opportunities blown. That needs to be factored in. So now we’re at 0 runs scored in 20 opportunities with RISP. See how much worse it is than the silly stat sheet shows? I was at the gym for the first part of the game today, and John Sterling was insisting on the radio that it wasn’t the Yanks cool bats that should be held accountable for the lack of output, it was that the Jays pitching was so brilliant. Fine. And then when the awful Jays bullpen, last seen puking every single game away to the Rays, shut the Yankees out with barely a whimper for 6 innings? What about then, John? Still not the weak Yankee bats to blame?
Texeira. Dude. It was bad yesterday when he was hitting .221 on June 4. It’s way worse after he took an 0-6 with 5 strikeouts to drop his average to .215 on June 5. And zero power. He has eight home runs, three of which came in one game. In one game the guy almost equaled his entire home run output for the rest of the season. And we’re more than a third of the way through the year. What is this? It looked like he was going to bust out of this a few times with some big hits, showing some progress. But as of today, he looked as bad or worse than he has at any point this season. An 0-for-6 with five strikeouts. Stranded four runners by himself. He looked like Danny Kenny at Wifflemania III out there today. Is he hurt? Is it time to drop him down in the order? Seriously. He’s killing us. Flip-flop him with Cano. This is insane.
Alex. Where is the power? Eight home runs? Eight? Come on, man. What’s up? His average looks about right. His RBI’s look about right. Why so few bombs? Is this why only one guy has made a run at Babe Ruth in the last 80 years? (Yeah that’s right. I’m ignoring you Barry Bonds.) Maybe that’s just it. You have only so many bombs in you, and then it shuts down. There was a time when people thought Junior Griffey was a shoe-in to take down Hammerin’ Hank. And then it just didn’t happen. Maybe that’s just the way it goes. I hope not. The guy should have been bumping up against 600 by now…
I have no idea how the Yankees are leading the major leagues in runs scored and batting average. It doesn’t seem like it. It seems like they go through monster stretches where they just flail away. On the other hand, people say that the Yanks haven’t really gotten going yet, but if you look at the numbers, the averages look high. Swisher, Gardner, Cervelli, Posada, Crazy Al, and Cano are all significantly higher than the back of their baseball card. Jeter’s about right, and Granderson is low. Texeira’s average is about the same as Acc’s Wifflemania average (although Mike Sherry would argue Tex’s current average is 215 points higher than Acc’s Wifflemania average). I’m not sure how much more offense people think they are going to get. Part of the problem is they’ve gotten away from the patience at the plate. Too many starters going really deep into games against them. Come on, guys. This is the formula: if a guy has his A-stuff going, you get prickly. Get stingy, start battling him, start frustrating him. Romero was 73 pitches deep in the 5th inning today. And yet there he was throwing an easy eighth inning. How is that possible? Well, because the Yankees made him throw exactly six pitches in one of those innings, and 4 guys made first or second-pitch outs. Awful .
All that said, I get it. They still have the second best record in baseball. They’re still only two games out of first. But it doesn’t feel right. They have no DH. No DH. I’m glad we’ve disproved this ridiculous notion that you can use the DH spot as a parking space for all of the starters that you want to rest. You can’t expect that you can do that unless you have a rotation of starter-caliber players to take their spots in the field. You can’t use the DH to continually give Crazy Al and Jeter a rest if the best you have to throw out there is Ramiro Pena. Your lineup very quickly becomes a National League line-up when you do that. You saw it in spades a few weeks back when clever Jim Leyland and his Detroit Tigers pitched around everybody to face Pena every time through the line-up. Pena left 6 guys on base that night by himself. The rest of the Yankees left 4 combined. You know when that DH-by-committee works? When you’re using an outfield rotation of Swisher, Gardener, Granderson, and Johnny Damon. Three of them in the field, one at DH. Thanks Mr. C. (I’m still so sour about that deal. Especially since Max Scherzer just threw a monster game for them the other night. If Dombrowski doesn’t get exec of the year something is foul. What a highway wagon-robbery that guy pulled off).
I’ve got a lot more stuff on my list to cover. I want to get to the Jim Joyce affair. I’m going to crawl up one side of him, crush his life, and crawl back down the other side, laying waste to Bud Selig, MLB, and most of the media coverage I’ve seen in the process. Tomorrow. Big Joe, I promise….
I get the biggest kick out of Vin Scully. Not him, necessarily, but the fact that the guy has been calling baseball games for 61 years. I’m watching the Dodgers/Pirates on mlb.tv as I’m tapping the keys, and there’s Vin Scully telling me all about it… It’s nuts. Over the winter it was a big deal when they found the tape of the Don Larsen perfect game on the MLB channel. They broadcast it in its entirety (for whatever reason it started in the third inning I think), and there was Vin Scully telling me all about it. And he pretty much sounds the exact same. “Robinson leads off first, dancing around trying to draw a throw… Fly ball to center, Mantle camps under it, and that’s the third out of the inning….“ And here I am, 54 years later, and the same exact voice is saying, “Here we are in the bottom of the fourth inning, and it’ll be Garrett Anderson, Matt Kemp, and Andre Ethier…” Yup. That’s 54 years later. Awesome…
So because I got such a visceral reaction on the last post, and the comments came flooding in about the scheduling conspiracy, I’ll state my case another way. Then I promise I won’t talk about it for a while… (Yes I’m being sarcastic, but I figured since I got just one comment – Mannino! – I would invent a reaction. Yeah, I know, no posts, no comments… I’ll give you that). So I think we can all agree that the “expected wins” stat is pretty ubiquitous these days, right? Well the same math that allows you to do the expected wins calculations lets you do it on a team-by-team basis. Meaning you can look at the Pirates expected wins calculations (probably third grade math), and the further break it down to Pirates expected wins against the Phillies (second grade math), and the Pirates expected wins against the Phillies on the road (first grade math). I’m sure Major League Baseball can also pretty easily assign a dollar amount to any given contest; gate, TV revenue, concessions, souvenirs, etc. So if I’m Major League Baseball, with some pretty simple mathematical modeling I can model out what combination of games will get me the most revenue, and which schedule configuration will get me closest to a dead heat in the standings as late as possible in the season. If you were Bud Selig, wouldn’t you do this? It’s easy enough to do. You would have to do it.
So another beneficiary of this has been the Mets. Man is MLB psyched. Even though they scheduled 15 of the first 21 Met games at home, and 15 of the first 21 Phillies games on the road, including a West Coast trip, MLB could not have imagined the Phillies would be in second place behind the Mets going into their first match-up in Philly. The excitement is back in the big market!
So how did the Yankees fare on their monster road trip? Fine. If there was one hiccup, I wouldn’t say it was losing the only series of the year thus far in Anaheim, that’s very difficult to avoid. I would say it was the first game in Baltimore. That was just stupid. The Orioles putting every run across with two outs, and getting what would be the game winner on an error, a lazy throw on a steal attempt, another error, and a seeing-eye base hit. All with two outs. Sloppy. And that being the run that prevented the furious ninth inning comeback from tying the game. Annoying. So that’s the one that got away. But that stuff happens.
Aside from Vazquez, the pitching is pretty tight. Vazquez is a duck. On the offensive side, Jeter has one more less homer (3) than A-Rod and Tex combined (4). Have to figure there’s a ton of upside there. Just nobody get hurt please. Please…
The Rays look mean, although their schedule has been somewhat soft. They’ve only played the Red Sox and the Yankees to speak of. They are 9-1 on the road, though. Doesn’t look like they’re going away.
Quick homestand coming up. No games for me. Was at Opening Day. The Big Boy, Tony Sherry, me, and Acc’s baby brother. Was also at Citi Field on Tuesday Night. Freezing. Crowd was humming though. And Shake Shack is the gold standard by which all other Stadium food should be measured…
Till next time…
“You won’t lose the beat if you just keep clapping your hands“
– From The Ruminant Band by the Fruit Bats
I know. It’s been a while. No excuses. But I did feel like if there was one post I didn’t mind hanging out there for a while, it was that last one. The Yankees won the World Series. Maybe you’ve heard…
So being that I’ve been away for a while, I figured I would come back with a gimmick. I don’t plan on doing this on a regular basis, but for today, this is how we’re kicking things off. Any post I write after a long layoff is notoriously choppy and uneven, so maybe the gimmick will distract a few of you from that. I tried something new last weekend, somewhat unwittingly. I was taking the missus out to dinner for her birthday (Eleven Madison Park, which I highly recommend), and I figured if I kept checking the Yankee score on the MLB at-bat app on my iphone, I was just a bad guy. So I refrained. From the carrot flavored marshmallow tapas, right through to the peanut butter and jelly macaroon, I left the phone in its holster (I mean proverbial holster, of course, I’m not one of those dorks who has a phone clip on their belt). So on the ride home, I figured I would try an experiment. Since the Friday night game was over anyway, I figured I would wait until well after the start of the Saturday game (a 1pm start last week), and save myself the stress of hanging on every pitch of both games. Odds were, and always are, I suppose, that the teams will split the first two games, and play a rubber game to decide the series. So, I figured, why not just sit out the first two games, and assume a split and that they’ll be playing the rubber game on Sunday. That way I eliminate the stress of watching two games, and just have the somewhat elevated stress of watching the rubber game, which I would have had anyway. There was a 75% chance that the Yankees would split the first two games or be up 2-0 going into Sunday. And it was probably a little more than 75%, since the Yankees were playing at home against an opponent that isn’t light, but also isn’t generally considered to be among the top five teams in the league. So figure there was a78-80% chance the Yanks would be up 2-0 or tied 1-1. Long story short, it worked. I turned on Sterling and Waldman at the gym around the seventh inning on Saturday. The Yanks were ahead comfortably. And they mentioned that they would likely be going for the sweep on Sunday, so, bang, I rolled a lucky seven. They won both. And of course they completed the sweep on Sunday. So since it worked so well last weekend, I figured I would try it again this weekend.
So here’s the gimmick: I haven’t looked yet. It’s Saturday night at 10:44 pm, the missus is out at a night-time wedding shower, and I have yet to check the past two days’ scores. The lad and I hit the Bridgeview Diner for dinner. I went with the chicken fingers and French fries off the kids menu for him, while I went with the cup of Manhattan Clam Chowder (not sure why I did that in CAPS), followed by the Chicken Panini. The kids’ menu also gives you a choice of dessert, and we went with the big cookie. The lad wanted nothing to do with it (he was too busy with the Thomas the Tank Engine app on my iphone), so I just minutes ago finished the last of it with some tea. All the while, I didn’t check the scores. Not last night’s, not today. So here’s how I’m going to do this. I’m going to throw out a few of my thoughts on things so far, check the scores, let them sink in for a minute, and then finish the post. Here goes…
The Yankees are good. There’s a real deep one for you. My thoughts coming in to the season:
The Yankees offense is not going to be as good as last year’s team. They’ll be good, and maybe good enough to win it all, but if you’re telling me for just this one year I can either have Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui or Curtis Granderson and Nick Johnson, I’m going with Damon and Matsui. If we’re talking about the next three years, maybe my answer is different. But Damon, Johnson, and Matsui all signed one year deals. And I was never a huge fan of Melky, but he did beat out Gardner for the starting job in the beginning of the season last year, and would probably have done so again this year. And he proved to be a pretty good clutch hitter who didn’t wilt in the lights last year. So throw in the fact that you’ve got Gardner instead of Melky, and I think you’re taking a step back offensively. I’m not pulling my hair out over Damon, because he’s probably getting close to the end of his advanced usefulness. But essentially swapping Nick Johnson for Matsui makes me sick to my stomach. I always liked Nick Johnson, and I hated that we dealt him for Javy Vazquez the first time. But Johnson for Matsui is not a good trade-off. All of the talking heads calling for Matsui’s exit last year (I specifically remember Brandon Tierney on ESPN radio in NY going on and on about it) were citing “roster flexibility.” “It’s not the money,” they said, “It’s roster flexibility.” He was a DH, and the Yankees had too many DH’s. Right. So they went and got Nick Johnson, who aside from occasionally spelling Tex (will be exceedingly rare), can play no other position but DH. Got it… Great, guys. So Matsui signs a one year deal for $6 million, and Nick signs a one year deal for $5.5 million. And Matsui crushes lefties, hits for power, is extremely clutch, and brings with him an entire continent’s worth of fans and their entertainment Yen, at the peak of his popularity. Dumb. Dumb, and no one will ever convince me otherwise. And while we’re at it, I think the Damon situation got silly as well. Even after the Granderson and Johnson deal, the Yanks still had a hole in left field. But instead of signing Damon for what eventually became the reasonable price of $8 million for a one year deal (and he would probably have given the Yankees a slight home-town discount to continue playing in a park that was hand-tailored for him), they insisted on throwing an eff-you at Scott Boras and wouldn’t sign Damon on principle. No matter how low the price went. Instead they signed Randy Winn and Marcus Thames for a total of $2 million. Watch them way overpay for somebody worse than Damon come June/July to try and bury that mistake.
Javy Vazquez. Oy. We’re already deep enough into the season to see that he’s not a new and improved Javy, but simply the same Javy that beats and pitches deep into games against bums and melts against anybody good when it counts, so I won’t rehash that. What do I expect of him this season? I expect that he will beat and go deep into games against bums and melt against anyone good when it counts. Note to self – get home field in the playoffs so you can negotiate the proceedings with a three-man rotation again.
Phil Hughes vs. Joba. I liked Hughes as the guy in the rotation. Still do. Not sure where is the best spot for Joba long term. For right now, I’m cool with him in the bullpen. And I’m tired of thinking about it…
Back to the Granderson deal for a second. I love Curtis Granderson. All-in I think he’s going to be a productive Yankee. And you have to love his slapping Jonathan Papelbon in the face to win a series in Boston on the opening weekend. But I didn’t like the deal. Austin Jackson, Ian Kennedy (to Arizona) and Phil Coke to get back Granderson. The Tigers gave up Edwin Jackson (to Arizona) and Granderson to get back Jackson, Coke, and two pitching prospects. But I don’t think that’s how clever Dave Dombrowsi mapped it out. Dombrowski saw the writing on the wall with the Yankees getting Granderson, probably through the clear vision of the notorious Jim Leyland-Scott Boras partnership, and figured he was getting Austin Jackson, the untouchable crown jewel of the Yankees farm system, Phil Coke, a young and very serviceable lefty reliever with a live arm and plenty of big game experience, and one more valuable piece. Johnny Damon, who the Yankees were dismissing in conversations with Boras on a daily basis as no longer needed. Perfect for a team like Detroit, which fizzled in a heart-breaking, extra-inning, bogus hit-batter call, play-in loss to the Twins last year. Now look at the deal for the Tigers: lose Edwin Jackson (a well-traveled guy for somebody who we keep hearing is the second-coming) and Curtis Granderson, get back two highly touted pitching prospects from Arizona, Daniel Schlereth and Max Scherzer, plus Austin Jackson, Phil Coke, and Johnny Damon. Wow. This is what happens when you do something just to spite Scott Boras, Yankees. He dips into his network and cleans up. This deal will start to tilt further and further towards Dombrowski’s favor if the Grandy-man proves as ineffective against lefties as he’s been the rest of his career. I worry about a playoff game in which Granderson is fodder for any lefty specialist in a bullpen. Time will tell.
Last thing. And I say it every year. I’m almost reluctant to say it again, just because I am tired of saying it. But I’ll do it until people start to acknowledge it. The schedule. This is the single biggest determining factor in the April/May standings. You can’t get around it. You’ve heard my points before. The real reason MLB adopted the unbalanced schedule and went away from the balanced schedule is that the unbalanced version allows them to manipulate the schedule. And manipulating the schedule, by definition, allows them to manipulate the standings, at least temporarily. MLB’s reason for the unbalanced schedule? To “create and enhance rivalries by increased intra-divisional play.” Really? Here’s the reason MLB (and every professional sports league) does everything it does. Money. Most people agree that 19 games a year between divisional rivals is overkill. And frankly, from a monetary standpoint, it doesn’t make any sense. The Yankees and Red Sox sell out, or close to it, every game they play. Regardless of opponent. Most other teams only sell out when teams like the Yankees and Sox come to town. So by pitting the Yankees and Sox against each other 18-19 times, you’re losing out on 6-7 games that would have sold out someplace else that will otherwise get 11,000 fans. But here’s what it does. The unbalanced schedule creates an uneven slate of games with non-division teams. You can play a team as few as six times a year (rare) or as many as ten (also rare, but the Yankees and Angels play each other ten times almost every single year – hmmm). Most are between seven and nine. But even then, look how many teams have won their division by two games or less the last few years – Colorado ’07, Philly ’07 and ’08, the Twins last year, etc. The difference between the Tigers playing the Yankees nine times and Baltimore seven times and the Twins playing the Yankees seven times and Baltimore nine times is cataclysmic for both of those two teams. The schedule is the single most underappreciated decider of outcomes in baseball.
Along these lines, I’ve always maintained that Major League Baseball shimmies and shakes the early part of the schedule in order to keep races close, and no one will ever be able to convince me otherwise. Through the late nineties and early 2000’s, the Yankees always had a brutally front-loaded schedule, as they do this year. The last two or three years they had flipped it to give the Red Sox a brutal front-end. What this does is simple. It keeps the pennant race, or the illusion of one, close for as long as possible. If the Yankees have the best team, and everyone figures they have enough to win it in the end, why not make the front end of their schedule brutal, make Boston’s softer, and voila! You have a race until June. It’s no coincidence that for about five years in a row in the late nineties/early 200’s, the Red Sox were in first place every year early on, and then the Yankees eventually caught and passed them at some point in June. Scheduling magic at work. Either way, I’m not saying this is entirely a bad thing that MLB does. They have to do this. If they allow the chips to fall where they may for the Yankees, and they just happen to play just six against the Angels but ten against Cleveland before the All-Star break, the race will be academic by Mother’s Day. And then people lose interest and stop going to games, watching games, etc… It’s a necessary evil. This year, the Yankees start in Boston, go to Tampa, back home for the Angels and Rangers, then off to the West Coast for an 11 day, 9 game trip. Fifteen of the first twenty-one games on the road, with twelve games against the teams generally considered to be three of the best four teams in baseball (other than the Yankees). So far (at least through Thursday night, as I still haven’t checked), the Yankees and Red Sox have not cooperated with the MLB plan. The Yankees have marched steadily through their storm, while the Red Sox, who play a preposterously high number of games at home in April/May, have dropped games to every good team they have played (again – through Thursday night). But the point is that the Yankees have an absolute goggleslog the first month of the season. I feel like they can only keep this up for so long.
So that brings us to this weekend. Two out of three games in the books in Anaheim, with one to play. And I’m still clueless as to how it went down. Burnett yesterday, Pettitte today, and Javy tomorrow. Ugh. Javy against the Angels in Anaheim has heartburn written all over it…. Excuse me while I check this out…
Well, about what I expected. A split. This is how I drew it up, right? Split the first two and play the rubber game on Sunday? My stomach would have been doing somersaults somewhere close to 1am last night when Kendry Morales took Joba deep. Definitely would have lost sleep. Maybe I made the right move…. Nick Johnson’s hurt already. Which is tough, because I’m not sure we can afford to lose his .135 batting average. Yeah, I know. He gets on base. Not when he’s hurt he doesn’t. Matsui with a clutch hit yesterday. I’m trying not to hate Nick Johnson. Tex went one-for-five today, and his batting average went up. Is that bad? Boston fattening up on Baltimore at Fenway. Shocker.
All-in, I’m feeling pretty good about things. A chance to win their sixth series in a row tomorrow and go 4-2 on the coast… What’s that? Javy’s pitching tomorrow? Ugh… Maybe I should check back out until Tuesday in Baltimore… Save myself the alka-seltzer…
Either way, when I wake up tomorrow morning, the Yanks will still be reigning World Champs… Life is good. Glad to be back…
I don’t know when it started. People ask me all the time, and I’m embarrassed that I don’t have a good answer. What made me start rooting for the Yankees. I guess it was the run they made in the late 70’s. I was so little, and I don’t really remember any of the games, but there is one clear recollection that I have. My father worked in downtown Manhattan, and on the day that the City held the tickertape parade for the Yankees back in ’78, he brought me back a souvenir. It was a button, one of those old-style big buttons that you would pin on yourself, like they used to use for political campaigns. It was one of those things that you have long after you realize that they don’t really make them anymore. The button was interesting because of its message. Across the top it said “New York Yankees – 1978 World Champions.” And along the bottom it threw this down – “We Will Do It Again.” Talk about scratching a baseball fan right where he itches. It was beautiful. Was that where it all started? Tough to say… I just know that it started, and it’s been a wonderful ride…
So here’s a question. Have I stayed away from the blog this year to avoid jinxing the season? What do you think? I started writing this thing (with a little help from my friends) because my boy Sean asked me to back in early 2005. He worked for mlb.com at the time, and they had started a new blog forum called mlblogs. They needed bloggers, he asked me to do it, so I did it. I’m a pretty lazy cat most of the time, as I’ve made pretty clear over the years. But I found it somewhat therapeutic, as I realized that it was a good way to get stuff off my chest about a particular game without waking my wife up and explaining to her why Jorge Posada needed to take a pitch in his at-bat in the seventh, and why Torre shouldn’t have pinch run for Giambi a run down in the sixth. It also made me realize what a jack*ss fan I really was. But hey, like Sammy Davis Jr. once said, I gotta be me. So in 2005, the Yankees lost in the first round of the playoffs. 2006, first round again. 2007, another first round exit. And then they finished third in 2008. Third. So yes, this year I wasn’t taking any chances. For the good of the team and Yankeedom everywhere, I was keeping the keyboard covered. So here I am.
A couple of notes about this playoff run:
Is there anybody out there who didn’t feel even the slightest bit good for Alex Rodriguez? I’m sure there are, of course, but man, what a monkey that guy had on his back. After all the meltdowns, the demotion to 8th in the order, the boos… After all that, have you ever seen anything so clutch in your life? Considering there are only 11 wins in a successful postseason, the fact that the guy tied two games when the Yankees were losing in the ninth or later with bombs is ridiculous. And he tied another in the seventh. That’s three games out of 11 that he pulled out of the fire with clutch bombs. And then he got a two-out, ninth-inning double to put the Yankees ahead in what was probably the key game of the WS, game four. I don’t ever remember anyone having that kind of a clutch post-season. If there had been a playoff MVP, rather than just an LCS and WS MVP, you’d pull your hair out trying to decide between Al and Mo, but my vote goes to Al. It truly was vindication for a guy who had earned a month like that. The big fly lit up again, just when we needed it most.
Jimmy Rollins. Poor Jimmy Rollins. Jimmy, shooting your mouth off is fine in the National League. You can talk smack to the Rockies, and the Dodgers, and the Brewers, and whatever other silly teams you had to go through the past two years, but now you’re way out of your league, dude. You may have slapped around the Mets, but now you’ve got to deal with Big Brother. And you got what was coming. Go play the Pirates next time, dude… Save yourself the embarrassment….
I had been saying since ’96 that I didn’t like Jeter leading off. To me, he was such a classic two-hole hitter. I always felt the Yankees were at their best when Jeter hit behind a classic lead-off guy like Knoblauch or even Damon. Soriano wasn’t really a classic leadoff guy, but you get the idea. But Torre would often throw Jeter in the leadoff spot in big games, especially in the post-season. So now, after 14 seasons, I finally get it. What better guy to send up there to set the tone for a game, what better guy for your team to watch stepping in to the batter’s box, especially when they might be up against the wall, or have butterflies… What better guy to stare all that in the face than Derek Jeter? I finally get it. When Derek Jeter hit the bomb to tie the first game of the playoffs against the Twins, Big Angelo and I both commented that he’s hit a disproportionate amount of bombs in the post-season. Not to mention clutch hits, clutch plays, and everything in between. So yes, I finally get it. Derek Jeter leading off. Genius.
Speaking of Jeter, I was introduced to a new term this post-season. Apparently Jeter, Mo, Pettitte, and Posada are now the “Core Four.” Okay. Michael Kay used to call them the “Lords of the Rings.” A bit too dramatic for popular consumption, perhaps. Whatever you want to call them, you can see why they’ve had so much success. Cool under fire. All of them. Jeter and Posada collected clutch hits all October (and beyond, thanks Mr. Selig…), and Mo and Pettitte battled like pros, always keeping themselves and their team in the game. It’s funny as you watch guys who have big numbers, and even some past post-season success – Lidge, Hamels, Nathan, Fuentes, etc, melt down like something out of “The Real World Las Vegas.” But not those guys. The core four. Five Yankee rings each. Five. Remarkable.
There’s been a lot of talk about the umpiring. As many of you know, I’ve always been a proponent of making the whole thing automated. Everything from balls and strikes to calls in the field. One ump for weird outlier calls that need a decision. The qualifier would be that you would need the technology to make the calls without having to review every play with replay. It has to be automated. We’re not there yet, I know. Particularly with calls in the field. Balls and strikes can already be called electronically with 99% accuracy. And you can see on TV how erratic the umpires are with their strike zones. Eliminate the subjectivity, I say. I understand I’m pretty much alone in that, but that’s cool. One man’s opinion. Speaking of the umpiring, one thing jumped out at me this post-season. In game two of the ALCS, which I attended with Big Joe and the missus, Erick Aybar didn’t touch second while turning a double play, and the runner was called safe by virtue of the “neighborhood play.” Everyone – the announcers, the Angels, the media – was up in arms. Tim McCarver almost had a stroke. “You NEVER see that play called!!” he crowed. “Now you’re going to call it? In the playoffs??” Mike Scoscia was beside himself out on the field, arguing his fat face off. So, a word to the irresponsible mainstream media. Never see it called? How about game five of the Division Series in 2005? Ringing a bell, Mike Scoscia? Robbie Cano was called for the exact same neighborhood play, contributing to the Yankees losing to Mike Scoscia’s very same Angels in the deciding game of that series in Anaheim. What goes around comes around. Do your homework, guys. Somebody.
Speaking of the late 70’s, I’ve heard a few talking heads saying that this Yankee team more closely resembled the Yanks of the late 70’s than the late 90’s. Sounds about right to me. The late 70’s bunch was a bit shaggier, had all of the payroll allegations, had a blend of home-grown and imported talent. They were also a bit less buttoned-up-corporate. The mustaches and the afros were a bit more pronounced. They strike me as a bit more likely to smash pies into each other’s faces…
There are a couple of guys you feel good for in a year like this, because they seem extra psyched to have stepped into a championship. Guys like Nick Swisher and Jerry Hairston. Especially Hairston. Here was a guy who was toiling in Cincinnati for most of the year, a journeyman in every sense of the word. He was probably just hoping to hang on for a few more years of usefulness somewhere. Anywhere. Then his agent tells him he’s going to the best team in baseball. And then he makes a solid contribution, scoring the winning run in game 2 of the LCS, starting game 2 of the WS and coming up with some key hits, and finally, standing in left field when Tex squeezed the last out to win the World Series. His story and his game reminded me a lot of Jose Vizcaino in 2000. Good for you, Jerry Hairston. I’m glad you’re getting that World Series ring. You earned it.
This is why we got Johnny Damon. It took a few years and some heartbreak, and I’m sure he felt weird watching some of his old teammates celebrating in ’07, but when his time came, he came through in spades. Two words. Game four.
I sent a text message to Tony Sherry the day after the Yanks won the World Series. It said this, “I don’t know if I’ve ever felt happier for anybody than I feel right now for the Ferocious Lion, Hideki Matsui.” There was a great article in the Wall Street Journal a few days afterwards, with an even better headline – “Japanese Baseball’s Best Day Ever.” Man that made me feel good. Good for MLB. They got this one right. They could have given the MVP to Mo. They’ve done it before, and he’s deserved it. And you could make a real case for him again. But the Ferocious Lion was just as deserving, and MLB recognized that they had a golden opportunity to set off a blinding crush of energy for the sport of baseball on the Asian continent. Amazing, considering that Japan has now won two consecutive World Baseball Classic trophies and Ichiro Suzuki has won an AL MVP on his journey to the Hall of Fame. Amazing that everyone agreed that this was Japanese Baseball’s Best Day Ever. The only guy as excited as the Japanese mobbing the streets of Tokyo at lunchtime on that Thursday afternoon? The Lion’s biggest fan, of course. Tony Sherry….
Speaking of the Ferocious Lion, everyone seems to think he’s not coming back to the Yanks. Here’s why I say he is. Take a look at the ads on the right field wall at Yankee Stadium. Sony. Komatsu. Something else written entirely in Japanese. I have no idea what that’s for. Point is, Matsui pays for himself. The Wall Street Journal estimated that the Yankees bring in $20 million a year from Japanese advertising, merchandising, and broadcast rights. The Yankees will argue that’s because they have a big Japanese fan base and not necessarily all because of Matsui. Right. And now that he’s the reigning World Series MVP, imagine the payday looming for the Yankees. I don’t care what kind of roster flexibility you’re looking for. I need somebody to explain to me why you wouldn’t want a guy who gives you that kind of production, against lefties, righties, whatever, even if he’s only a DH, who pays for himself and then some…
This is apropos of nothing, but I’ll say it because I haven’t heard anybody else say it. The amount of tickertape this year at the parade was p*ss-poor. I understand that these days the windows are often sealed shut in favor of year-round climate control, but this isn’t that hard. I understand the City gave recycled paper to all of the buildings, but they didn’t give enough. You didn’t see the usual shots of the blizzard of paper raining down on the paraders this year. No good. More tickertape.
So there was one thing that came out of this World Championship run that I didn’t expect. The retribution. During the run in the late 90’s, the Yankees won every World Series they were in. They weren’t avenging anything. When this post-season started, the Yankees last 8 years had gone like this: Heartbreak in the ninth inning of the World Series against Arizona, out in the first round against Anaheim, losing a World Series they should have swept to a Marlins team that was far inferior, ’04 (nuff said), then the three first round exits I detailed earlier. I wasn’t expecting that, with this run, all of that would somehow be okay. I wouldn’t trade this championship to get any of those back. Even with all of those sour moments of the last eight years, you couldn’t be in a better spot than you’re in right now. World Champions.
Speaking of which, I was at game six with Big Ange and Acc’s dad. Yup, Bert Acc… Had a great time, too. They were good company. The texts came pouring in all game. I had sent Mikey D a text in game 2 (which he attended), telling him to bring one home for us. He sent me one before game 6, telling me the same. “I’m giving it everything I got,” I texted him back around the fourth inning… An hour after the game ended, I was still standing there, in the Stadium that had started me off so sour this season (I’m still not happy about the Pepsi…), singing along with Ol’ Blue Eyes, all by myself. Big Joe called. “I’m still standing here,” I told him. “You’re still at the Stadium?” he asked incredulously, laughing out loud. “Yup. Still here…” Where was I going to go? What a night…
Speaking of the last few years, I’ve gotten better at understanding that you need to enjoy the journey. I understand you can’t win every year. There will always be some heartbreaking moments. It only makes it sweeter when they win. I can go through my laundry list of great baseball memories. Where I was, who I was with. Going to games when I was a kid, watching the ’81 World Series in my parents’ room with my sister, going bananas when Butch Wynegar hit a two-out bomb to keep the Yankees season alive in ’85, Donnie Baseball tying the record for home runs in consecutive games, being at the Jim Leyritz walk-off game against Seattle in ’95. Chanting with 15 guys at Acc and Mike Sherry’s house in Long Beach in ’95 and ’96 when the Yanks were just getting warmed up. Being on the Upper East Side after the clincher in ’96 (which was pandemonium, by the way) when all of the Yankees showed up at Cronies to celebrate. Watching game 1 against the Mets at the Stadium with Ruddy, watching with Sean in the bleachers when Scott Brosius pulled off Miracle, Part II in 2001. Singing with Mikey Dantone when Aaron Boone catapulted us into the World Series. Taking my baby boy to the old Stadium last year, just so he could say he was there. Christening the new Stadium with a World Championship last week. I remember them all. That’s why I’m a fan. That’s why I show up. I understand it seems silly, investing so much in something I have so little control over. It is silly. But you can’t put that much emotion into your memories just BS-ing with your boys at a bar. Sometimes moments like these make perfect bookmarks on the story of your life.
And then there was perhaps my best baseball memory. The day after Thanksgiving, 1996, far from the grand baseball stadiums of New York and long after baseball had boarded itself up tight for the winter. There had been, in the weeks following the World Series, all kinds of souvenirs and knick-knacks that popped up on the carts of the street vendors in the city. Anything to commemorate what was at the time the 23rd Championship for the Yankees. One thing had caught my eye, and I had it with me that day as I trudged through a late November wind across grass that had just suffered its first frost way out on the east end of Long Island.
My dad didn’t make it to see the Yankees fulfill the promise of that button that he had given me some 18 years before. He wasn’t a big baseball fan, or a big sports fan. He liked the Mets, as he had grown up a Manhattan kid rooting for the New York baseball Giants. He didn’t root against the Yankees, as he always said he was a New York fan first. And he knew that his boy liked the Yanks, so he always made time for them. So that day back in late November ’96, amongst the many flowers, American flags, and the occasional early Christmas wreath, I placed something that must have seemed curious to the caretakers at Calverton National Cemetery. A small button (by this time they were primarily made to pin on knapsacks and the like) that said – “New York Yankees – World Champions.” What was not printed but understood, as far as I was concerned, was “Again.”
It may have taken 18 years that time, and it may have taken 9 years this time, but the Yankees delivered on their promise. The world has turned right side up again. The Yankees are Champions of the World.
And now, like then, it was worth the wait.
fternoon? He’s innocent until proven guilty, right? Sometimes, common sense is the best guide. And common sense could clearly tell you, four years ago plus, that David Ortiz was perhaps the best example of everyone in the juice era. A guy who just burst out of absolutely nowhere to scrape the top of the record books and who was unconsciously automatic. Bonds was perhaps more automatic (you could probably also throw Manny in that category), but certainly didn’t come out of nowhere. Brady Anderson blew up from out of nowhere but was by no means as automatic. In terms of one guy who best exemplified the juiced-up superstar, it’s Big Papi. It has to be Big Papi. So now it’s out there.
. And so on and so on… So the bad news if you’re the Red Sox is that the Yanks will get their wins eventually. And they’re already a game up in the loss column. So what else do the Sox have to worry about. Well, they can’t win on the road. Again. It cost them the division last year, and then it cost them the pennant. And this year they’re just as bad. And the Blue Jays are right next to them. The only team in the AL East that wins on the road is the Yankees. But then again that was true last year too. Whoops… And although I say boneheaded things all the time, it seems I wasn’t so far off on the Red Sox staff. My points at the start of the year – everyone was thinking that Jon Lester, he of exactly one full season in baseball, would be an automatic stud this year (and for years to come). I wanted to see him do it for two years, consistently. Next – everyone was letting Dice K’s numbers last year wash over what everyone could have and should have seen with their naked eyes – that he wasn’t dominating anybody. Eight wins when he didn’t make it past the fifth inning last year should have been a clue. Well, I felt that this year it would come home to roost. So where are we this year? Lester and Dice K have been awful, with ERA’s of 5.6 and 9 as of today. Beckett’s also struggled, but at least he’s got history on his side. Lester and Dice K have one good year apiece. Guys, you need more than that to anoint them a great staff. The Red Sox even had to make up an injury for Dice K to try and get him right with some minor league starts, the same thing the Yankees did with Wang. So the Red Sox have struggled just a tad with starting pitching. Some seem to think Smoltz will be the answer. Really? Smoltz? He’s spent his entire career pitching in the comfy, cozy National League, he’s coming off major arm surgery, and at times over the last five-six years has been absolutely abysmal. You’re going to throw this guy in the middle of the AL East at the age of 67 and expect that he’s going to be the savior? Okay….
I’m going to start with last week’s post. Because I’m so rarely right… I flipped the game on last Tuesday when I got home, rolled my eyes, and went back downstairs to eat dinner with the missus and the baby boy. The missus had whipped up some chili; the last of the year, said she, as the rainy, cold days of the spring were due to break any day. Throw in some crusty brick-oven bread from Paneantico on Third Avenue and you’ve got yourself a fine Tuesday night dinner. I was in no hurry to get back to the game. As I detailed last week, I was pretty sure I knew how it was going to go. And that’s how it went. Maddeningly. I was pretty confident Burnett was going to pitch well. He’s been pitching well all year. The only hiccup has been that one game at Fenway when he couldn’t stop the usual ping-pong game at the original launching pad, Fenway Park. And the Yankees don’t handle the good pitchers the way they should, so they were going to be toast. So sometimes I know what I’m talking about. Or I just got lucky…
This was a mighty fine stretch of exciting finishing for Yankee fans, I must say. The last few years it seemed we were on the losing end of these things far more than the reverse. So I’ll take what transpired this last weekend with the Twins, whose last few seasons at Yankee Stadium have been the baseball version of Jennifer Aniston’s love life. Plucky, interesting, but ultimately sad. For them. Not for me. Walking-off is no way to go through the season, of course, because the fact that you can’t close the deal and need to keep relying on your last at-bat tells you that you’ve got things that need to be fixed. Friday night was highway robbery. A two-run deficit against Joe Nathan in the ninth inning, and then a run down with two outs, well, what can you say. That was funkadelic. Saturday’s game should have been closed out before any extra-inning nonsense ever happened. Joba put you in the driver’s seat, and Phil Coke and Edwar Ramirez puked it right up. You need to close that out. And today’s game was a great come-from-behind win, and the Yankees did a lot of things right, but the Ferocious Lion swung at ball four and ball five with the bases loaded in the eighth inning, taking a run and a lead off the board with two ill-advised swings. And that crazy play in the ninth should have put Robbie Cano in the batter’s box with one out and the fastest man in America on third. In fact, I was scratching my head when, after Swisher walked and Gardner went in to pinch run, Melky bunted him over to third. Why are you bunting there? Just steal the base. You’ve got a better-than-average chance he makes it, so why don’t you just give it a whirl. You left it up to Ramiro Pena/Francisco Cervelli with a runner on second and one out? Didn’t love that play. Point is, the Yankees should have won that game before the dramatic Johnny Delicious swing.
There were actually three defining plays in today’s game for me. Obviously one was the walk-off bomb. The second was the crazy play in the ninth. So let’s go back to that crazy play for a second. Was Gardner too aggressive? Yes. Do I have a big problem with it? No. I want the other team back on their heels. I want them nervous that he’s going to do something off-the-wall like that. Fielders who are concerned about stuff like that will often rush things and find themselves butter-balling things. I’ll take it. The hero of that play, obviously, was Joe Mauer. It might have been the best play I’ve ever seen a catcher make. The reason wasn’t so much the athleticism (world-class) but the thought. There was an out to be had at first. He would have gotten Cervelli, and it would have been the second out, seemingly exactly what you would have wanted. Watching the play live, I was surprised he didn’t throw it. After having a minute to drink the whole thing in, you realize why. If he had thrown it, they never would have gotten Gardner coming around third. Never. And Gardner expected him to throw it, which is why he never broke stride. Clever. Mauer pump-faked it. More clever. Then he turned and won the foot race back to the plate. Brilliant. Other-worldly. The other pivotal play was the Ferocious Lion tagging from third on Melky’s pop-up to tie the game in the seventh. That was a therapeutic moment for me, if I can be unnecessarily dramatic for a second. I can’t say it long enough or loud enough. You have to go there. Make them make a play. If you play it safe and don’t tag up in that spot, you’re again relying on Ramiro Pena with two outs, and only a base hit gets it done. This was an opportunity to force the issue. The only thing the runner has to do in this case is not leave early and run as fast as he can. The fielder has to catch it cleanly, transfer it cleanly to the throwing hand, make a strong throw that will beat the runner, throw it accurately enough to beat the runner, the catcher has to catch it cleanly and apply the tag cleanly and quickly enough to beat the runner. Granted, if all of those things had happened the Ferocious Lion was a dead duck. The ball wasn’t that deep. But when you look at what had to go right for the defenders, it was check, check, check, whoops. Run scores. This is how Mike Scoscia has been eating the Yankees’ lunch for what seems like a century. Kudos to Rob Thomson the third base coach. I love the work he’s doing down there. That was the game, if you ask me. That run doesn’t score, and I’m probably still huddled in a corner shivering and muttering to myself about the Ferocious Lion swinging at balls four and five in the eighth.
The New York media has decided that Allie’s return is the reason Tex has busted out. Maybe, maybe not. I tend to think that a guy whose average is hovering 100 points below his career number is going to turn it around at some point. Might as well be now. It is getting towards late May… And although Allie clearly doesn’t have his timing all the way back, you can’t argue the difference he makes in a game. Big-moment bombs on Saturday and Sunday. Plain and simple, you didn’t have anybody to hit those bombs for the first six weeks of the season. Is Allie the reason they’re 6-2 since he’s come back? Who knows. But he hasn’t hurt things…
I hope they ride this wave a while. It’s nice to be back within striking distance. And three days of walk-off wins is not a bad way to spend a weekend…