Since 2002, the Yankees have the best winning percentage in baseball after the All-Star break, at .638 (240-136, including their 3-0 mark so far in 2008). Maybe it’s because with each passing year, the team gets a little older, and it takes four months to loosen up. Or perhaps by mid-July, the collective group remembers how to shrug off the media distractions (see Rodriguez, Alex), and win ballgames.
Contrary to last year, when the Yankees were 43-43 at the break, the Yankees began post-All-Star play this season five games above .500, with fewer teams to leapfrog in the Wild-Card race. But this year, there seems to be more riding on the last two and a half months of the season from a performance standpoint, with it being the final year of the current incarnation of Yankee Stadium, a 13-year playoff streak to maintain and a new manager trying to place his imprint on the franchise. At least, that’s my interpretation based on the media coverage of the team. Fewer pundits are writing the Yankees off, whereas last year at this time, broadcasters were giddy at the thought of a Yankee-less October.
Some of the stuff is mind-boggling, though. Is consistency too much to ask for? On Sunday morning’s SportsCenter, within 30 seconds of endorsing the Yankees’ Wild Card chances based on their second-half surges, Tim Kurkjian placed Joe Girardi on the “Hot Seat,” because, “He couldn’t think of anyone else” to put there. Huh? Tim Kurkjian, you’re better than that. Without concrete information, how can we take that comment seriously? If nothing has been printed or broadcast about Girardi being fired, don’t arbitrarily put him there during a five-minute filler segment; not unless you want to continue feeding the theory that ESPN has a company policy to hate the Yankees. For what it’s worth, I’d think that in Detroit and Cleveland, Mark Shapiro and Dave Dombrowski are keeping a close eye on Jim Leyland and Eric Wedge.
There is consistency on one level: broadcast teams habitually repeat the same meaningless banter on a game-by-game basis, and espouse the theory that this Yankee team is like the playoff and championship teams that came before it. It’s gone on for years, and it's wrong. These exchanges add nothing to the broadcast, and they insult the intelligence of the fans who eat, sleep and breathe the team and know better.
Some myths need to be dispelled, and the broadcasters hold the key. I say this because the writers — when not shadowing Star, Globe or the Enquirer for the latest dish on A-Rod and the Queen of Kaballah — are growing savvier in using the Internet(s) as a viable research tool for their stories. More beat members and columnists are scouring cyberspace to create angles and complement their articles with the numerous stat categories at their disposal. How difficult is it to take 10-15 minutes to provide a series of stat lines that could enhance the game and make the broadcasters sound smarter? Who cares if the numbers outline certain deficiencies? Numbers don’t lie, and they reflect the big picture.
Think of how much better the experience of watching or listening to a Yankee game would be if any member of a broadcast team would dispense the information listed below. If as David Cone says, pitchers can “variate” their delivery and arm angles, then broadcasters can take a risk and “variate” their preparation.
Myth 1: The Yankees are a disciplined, patient hitting team
From 1995-2002, maybe even through 2004, the Yankees would wear out opposing pitchers, forcing them to throw between five and 10 pitchers per at-bat, and demonstrating a penchant for working walks. Of course, this didn’t apply when facing rookies or any pitcher they’d never faced before, but in general, the Yankees routinely penetrated their opponent’s bullpen in the middle innings.
Fast forward to 2008 Despite ranking third in the AL in team OBP (.340), the Yankees are T-7 in walks (336). To date, the starting lineup boasts only two players with more than 40 walks: Jason Giambi’s mustache and Bob Abreu.
Myth 2: The Yankees’ offense will carry them
The Yankees scored 968 runs a year ago, but are on pace to be more than 100 runs short of that number this year. Why? Despite the Yankees’ ability to get on base (their .340 OBP ranks third in the AL), they are a terrible hitting team with runners in scoring position. The Yankees rank third among AL teams in at-bats with RISP (893), but are 11th in batting average (.254) in such situations. Further evidence of the Yankees' poor situational hitting is their incredible lack of sacrifice flies. Only the Kansas City Royals (18) have a total lower than the Yankees' 21. Conversely, the Minnesota Twins, who are directly in front of the Yankees in the Wild Card chase, are MLB’s best in both categories: they're batting .314 with runners in scoring position, and have hit 39 sac flies.
If you haven't done so already, start paying attention to the LOB area of the box score. The Yankees left 12 men on base through the first six innings of Saturday's game versus Oakland. Beyond the gross number, pay attention to the number of men left on base with two out, and the batter responsible. If you want to test your emotions, compare the Yankees' numbers to the teams ahead of them in the standings.
• When George Steinbrenner was driven around the stadium prior to the ceremonial first pitch in the All-Star Game, did anyone else sense the fear among Joe Buck and Tim McCarver to mention how frail The Boss looked? Most media members describe Mr. Steinbrenner as being “less of a presence” at the Stadium and in the daily operations of the team. The Steinbrenner family and his PR man, Howard Rubinstein, have been extremely secretive about the Boss's health.
Judging from his appearance, “less of a presence” could be “no presence” before too long. New York Times columnist Harvey Araton hinted at this in this feature on Dave Winfield, which ran Friday.
• Much has been written and said about Bobby Murcer since his passing a week ago. I was not surprised to hear the news, but I still thought his death, considering the circumstances, was sudden and I felt a sense of loss, having worked with him for five years. While our collaborations were not as frequent as they probably could have been, I will remember this: whenever we completed work on a column, he always said, “Thank you.” If our collaboration happened to be in-person at the Stadium as opposed to over the phone, he’d add a handshake, a pat on the back and an “aw, shucks” request to make him sound smart. His consideration, class and humility made him a pleasure to work with.