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A Delicate Balance
2005-05-11 04:31
by Alex Belth
Note: The Bronx Banter blog has moved to bronxbanterblog.com.

I wonder if fans were more sympathetic toward aging players before the free agency era. I seriously doubt it. I'm sure fans have always given struggling players a hard time. These days, it's common to hear a player's salary come up when he's slumping horribly. "You make $15 million, throw a strike, get a hit, for crying out loud." If a player isn't producing, it must be because he's a fat cat, too rich and complacent for his own good. Fans have a right to their opinion of course, but often I feel as if this attitude discounts just how difficult it is to play baseball, particularly for players who are over 35 years old. I get as frustrated as the next guy at Kevin Brown, but I feel that it's easy for me to forget how tough it must be for a guy his age to continue to compete at an elite level. Physically, and mentally, playing baseball into your late thirties must be an incredible challenge. In an article that appeared yesterday in The Baltimore Sun, Laura Vecsey profiled Rafael Palmeiro:

Palmeiro's eyes dart here and there. He talks with a mix of passion, longing, anxiety.

...But his head is down. His frustration is evident. His disappointment over disappointing his teammates and fans is obvious.

Anxiety is the word that stuck with me. In the third inning of last night's game with the Yanks trailing 2-0, Bernie Williams came to the plate with men on second and third and nobody out. He popped out to shallow right field, failing to drive in a run. The camera followed Williams as he returned to the dugout. His mouth was tensed, and he clasped his hands together as if he were praying. But the gesture didn't look like a prayer, it looked as if it was everything he could do to prevent himself from losing his temper. It was just a moment, but it spoke to the kind of anxiety he must be experiencing internally. Moments later, he was sitting next to Don Mattingly, a placid look on his face, talking about the at bat.

Hideki Matsui, mired in the worst slump of his Major League career, must be able to relate. But Matsui still has several good years left in him. For Palmeiro, who homered last night, and Williams, time is running out. The pressure is also on Jason Giambi, who was evidentally approached by Joe Torre and Brian Cashman yesterday about possibly heading to the minor leagues to help his lagging confidence. Giambi insisted that working with Mattingly would be better for him at this time than a trip to Columbus.

Torre told the Daily News:

"I'm a firm believer of the mind ruling the body, and it's not good right now," Torre said. "I saw a calmness (before), but calmness in spring training is one thing. When you're 0-for-4 during the season, it takes on a different face. He was more patient in spring training. Physically, he had a little more life in his body, and I blame the psychological stuff."

Giambi was treated well by Yankee fans early this spring. But any sense of goodwill has run out, and the reaction to Giambi is getting downright nasty. No matter what happens, it doesn't feel like Giambi's career in New York is going to have a happy ending.

Comments
2005-05-11 06:00:42
1.   rbj
Jason's not going to get better sitting on the bench. He should go to Columbus for a week or two, get his stroke back, and then come back. Tino's not going to hit like this all season (though it'd be real nice if he did.)
2005-05-11 06:15:42
2.   Simone
The Yankees will need Giambi's bat this season. He needs to go to the minors for 3 weeks or even a month. He should play 1st so that he can once again become a competent 1st baseman and feast on some minor league pitching to build his confidence. If everything goes to plan, Giambi will come back to the Yankees with a swagger and start crushing the ball again.
2005-05-11 06:52:04
3.   Murray
Maybe it's time to structure a present-value buyout of Giambi's contract to get him out of here. The money is gone no matter what, so why waste roster space on him? I know we like the prospect of the feel-good story of his return to form. What's the point? It's a flip analogy, but George isn't running Bellamy Road in the Preakness because he's hurt, right? What's the point of keeping Giambi around?

I don't know how the luxury tax rules work, so I don't know whether paying him the NPV of the $78mm he's owed would trigger a higher revenue sharing obligation.

I'm sure the Yankees are thinking about all of it. And I'm sure Arn Tellem is, too. If it's that important to Giambi to play, then he can play for somebody else at whatever the market will bear for his diminished services. Giambi will be viewed as a villain in most eyes for the rest of his baseball career and possibly beyond, but that's too bad. Being a grown-up means learning to live with the consequences of the life choices one makes.

2005-05-11 07:38:13
4.   rsmith51
How about sending Bernie with him. He could play some LF and get some at bats as well. Or how about that pitching machine that Neyer talked about a couple of years ago? They need to get some abs against non-batting practice pitchers.
2005-05-11 07:41:57
5.   weeping for brunnhilde
I'm competitive, though not the most competitive person in the world. Nor am I a professional baseball player. Yet when I pop out in softball I get very angry with myself. I've let the team down and to boot I've squandered a precious at-bat doing so. Making an out while hitting the ball squarely is one thing but popping out is just too much to bear.

That said, I can't imagine what it's like for a guy like Bernie to fail in that way, at this stage in his illustrious career. It's the tragic dimension that makes the game so compelling.

He was very poignant in an interview with Suzyn Waldman a couple weeks ago. Asked if he thought it might be getting close to that time he said something like, "I can't really say, as a matter of fact, the athlete's usually the last to know." Nearly brought a tear to my eye.

As for Giambi, he needs to go down and eagerly. Work with Mattingly? What, he's not been working with Mattingly this whole time? It's hard to feel sympathy for a guy who's too proud to do the right thing FOR THE GOOD OF HIS TEAM! Most guys, when they're benched for poor performance, or when they're booed, say something like, "Yeah, well, I understand. I'm not helping the team right now. I'd boo me too."

Enough of him already, it's time for him to go.

2005-05-11 08:55:02
6.   rilkefan
Note that Giambi has the 5th-best OPS among regulars on the team. Anybody want to send Matsui to the minors for a tune-up?
2005-05-11 09:09:08
7.   Cliff Corcoran
It would be one thing if Giambi was swinging and hitting crappy grounders and pop ups like Slumpzilla. He's not even trying up there. He's just hoping he'll get walked/hit. His body language has been saying "get me out of here" for most of the season.

That said, there is no reason why Matsui should still be hitting cleanup. Joe needs to drop him, I'd say to seventh. Let Rodriguez protect Sheff and shift Tino and Jorge up in turn.

2005-05-11 09:21:52
8.   KJC
From AP news: "If the Yankees send Giambi to the minors outright, they would save $37,470.73 in luxury tax for each day his $17,142,857 average salary isn't included on the payroll of their 40-man roster"

Sometimes I'm reminded -- and blown away -- at how much these players make (and not just the Yankees). The team would save over $37,000 -- more than many people make per year -- per DAY! Just in luxury tax! Absolutely amazing/disgusting...

2005-05-11 09:51:03
9.   rbj
From what I've read, the Yankees can't outright Jason to the minors, because he's been in the majors for 5 years. Woudln't he also have to clear waivers then too (not that I think anyone, not even KC, would claim him.)
Jason, just think of it as a rehab assignment. Please.
2005-05-11 09:55:52
10.   rilkefan
"He's just hoping he'll get walked/hit. His body language has been saying 'get me out of here' [...]"

And lo and behold he's getting walked and hit. I don't care much what his body is saying as long as it's doing so from the basepaths.

Ok, perhaps OPS isn't sophisticated enough to describe his performance - what does EQA say about him?

2005-05-11 10:21:42
11.   Cliff Corcoran
.274 EQA, which is solid, but the issue is that he hasn't had a hit since April 28 or an extra base hit since April 19. Remember when I said Tony Womack's singles-or-outs offense wasn't worth very much? Well a walks-or-outs offense is worth even less. Actually, what Giambi's doing this season (near .400 OBP, sub .200 AVG, SLG barely over .300) just might be unprecedented. I may have to put the Toaster's listmeister, Mike Carminati on this case.

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