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Yankee Panky #20
2007-08-16 10:30
by Alex Belth
Note: The Bronx Banter blog has moved to bronxbanterblog.com.

By Will Weiss

I'll begin with a note on the Phil Rizzuto coverage. All outlets did a good job, but I thought the Daily News hit every angle yesterday. Even the normally crusty Bob Raissman provided a touching eulogy in his column. On the radio broadcast, beat man Mark Feinsand told a story about how he went to grade school with Rizzuto's granddaughter, and when he'd come for Grandparents Day, he'd sign autographs and talk with every kid in the class. Great information all around.

***

For anyone who believes athletes when they say they don't read the papers or they don't check the standings or the scoreboards, Curt Schilling has burst your bubble. A compliment from 38pitches.com:

"The Yankees have begun playing like we knew they would, which makes how well we played and the cushion we built a nice thing to see. I expect that team, managed by that guy, to maintain that pace the rest of the year.

The bottom line is the ball's in our court, we have a 6 game lead so for us to not be Division Champions will rest squarely on us. As a player I don't think you can ask for anything more. If we win it's our fault, and if we lose it it's our fault as well. No relying on someone to beat someone for it to work out for us. Now we spend the off day in Baltimore and go up against a team playing very well right now. We don't need any one thing to get where we are going, we just need to play better as a team, which we will."

That post was from last Thursday, the 9th, and since then the Yankees have nearly cut that six-game lead in half. Counting Monday's victory over the Orioles, the Yankees are 30-13 since July 1, playing a remarkable stretch of .698 ball to vault over seven teams into the Wild Card lead, and to our delight and the New Englanders' dismay, within striking distance of the Red Sox. In only one week have the Yankees lost three games – that was July 26, 27 and 28, when they lost the last of a four-game set in Kansas City and the first two games of a three-game weekender at Camden Yards.

Schilling offers the Yankees and Joe Torre a great deal of respect, and rightfully so, but I'm not sure I agree with him on the point of maintaining that pace throughout the year. The offense has bailed out periodically mediocre starting pitching, more regularly mediocre middle relief, and in his last three appearances, a vulnerable Mariano Rivera. How many more 7-6, 8-5 games can be won? I don't know how the Yankees can maintain this pace with the pitching staff still in such a state of flux. The Jeff Karstens/Jim Brower extravaganza from Tuesday night is proof of that. At least Phil Hughes battled back after a rough beginning to keep the Yankees within range for Shelley Duncan's game-tying homer.

Talking about the Yankees and Red Sox with a couple of co-workers, one of whom happens to be a reasonable Sox fan, there is a sense that the Nation has a sense of "here we go again," largely due to the Eric Gagne acquisition.

"I really didn't like the Gagne trade, because it threw off the balance in the bullpen," he said. Seeing how Terry Francona used him Sunday at Baltimore, there's something to it. Why take out Hideki Okajima, who's holding righties to a .180 average and is a junkballer that can get Kevin Millar – a dead pull-hitter -- to chase something away, in favor of the bespectacled Quebecois? Francona has used him as if out of obligation, not unlike how Joe Torre thrust Gary Sheffield into the first base/DH role last September.

My response to my co-worker was that leaving Gagne for the Red Sox could be the best deal Brian Cashman didn't make. He opted for youth, and it's paid off, with Joba Chamberlain looking Bobby Jenks circa 2005, while Gagne (whose middle name is Serge; I'm officially calling him "Serge" from now on) looks like Jon Favreau in a Red Sox uni.

Here are the lines of Serge and Joba, since Aug. 1 (data through Monday, 8/13):

Serge: 5 G, 4 IP, 7 R, 7 ER, 10 H, 2 BB, 5 K, 1 BSV, 15.75 ERA
Chamberlain: 3 G, 5 IP, 0 R, 1 H, 2 BB, 8 K, 0.00 ERA

The trend of holding firm has been the spark for the Yankees in the past two years: first, Cashman's decision to hold onto Chien-Ming Wang and Robinson Cano when the Diamondbacks and Marlins wanted both of them during the winter of 2004 as part of the Randy Johnson deal was beneficial, as the two rookies helped lead the second half charge that sparked a division title. Last season, Melky Cabrera proved he was worthy of an everyday job, admirably subbing in left field for Hideki Matsui and leading the AL in outfield assists. Cashman could have dumped him over the winter, but did not.

(Buster Olney goes so far as to say a different Yankees GM might not have had Cashman's fortitude to stand firm and maintain the "build from within" edict.)

Cabrera has arguably been the most important player in the Yankees' lineup since the All-Star break. Cabrera's surge (Serge?) will test Joe Torre's loyalty to the veterans Damon and Giambi, who would best serve the lineup by not playing every day. Through four games, Torre has played it cool and smart. The next four series -- versus Detroit, the Los Angeles Angels who play in Anaheim like the Rams used to, Detroit again, and the Red Sox -- could be a precursor to Torre's playoff lineup, should the Yankees advance. Cabrera, whether he plays center, left or right, should be in there every day. Rotating Damon, Giambi, Matsui and Duncan at DH is a good move.

According to the Post's George King, Damon is fine not playing every day. And Suzyn Waldman noted on Sunday's radio broadcast that Giambi doesn't want to do anything to "muck things up." Torre seems committed to not repeating the 1B/DH fiasco of last September, when all hell broke loose trying to find a way for Gary Sheffield to play every day.

John Sterling was more concerned with Damon during the same broadcast – I'll admit, I haven't caught too many games on TV during the weekends because I've been doing a lot of driving – saying, "I believe Johnny Damon will be going to the Don Mattingly school of first base. That's not to say Damon can't play first base – he's an athlete – but he needs to find a way into the lineup. It's a good problem for Joe [Torre] to have." Damon and Giambi have both been banged up. They're a combined 69 years old. If they play three or four games per week each, the team will still be able to function.

ANECDOTAL EVIDENCE

I often tell people that I'm not a Yankee fan anymore, that I shed my fandom when I worked at YES in order to observe a level of fairness in setting the dot.com's editorial agenda. (I don't say "objectivity" because there's no such thing, but that's a different blog. And I digress…)

While I didn't care as much about wins and losses on a day-to-day basis, I found myself rooting for certain players. Mariano Rivera is all class, as are Andy Pettitte and Derek Jeter. Robinson Cano and Melky Cabrera have grown up in two-plus years with the team. Another guy I'm rooting for is Wilson Betemit. I haven't met him or had the chance to interview him as I did with the other players, but I have met his father and brother. Their pictures sit in a photo album along with many others from a trip I took to the Dominican Republic seven years ago, where I spent three weeks studying the culture of baseball. When the Yankees acquired Betemit, my thoughts immediately turned to Los Mina, a rough neighborhood in Santo Domingo, where Wilson was discovered. Los Mina was one of the places my study group visited. There, Wilson's father ran a YMCA-type youth academy. Upon our arrival at Mr. Betemit's academy, we donated several bags of baseball equipment, including gloves, bats, balls, helmets, and catcher's gear.

The elder Betemit was a barrel-chested man, proud of his son, who was working his way through the Braves system at the time. He used Wilson as an example of what hard work and discipline can do for kids who grew up poor like he did. Mr. Betemit treated the YMCA kids as his own. He disciplined them if they misbehaved, scheduled schooling and religious education during the day, and taught them to respect authority. The kids, aged 4-16, walked those grounds with a different sense of purpose than those in Boca Chica or San Pedro de Macoris.

Wilson's younger brother, Wascar, an infielder like his brother, was getting looks from the Minnesota Twins at the time. The few hours I spent watching him field, he never stopped smiling.

I've heard that Mr. Betemit's academy no longer exists. I don't know what happened to Wascar, either. Time passes, you lose touch. If I get to the Stadium and have a chance to interview Wilson, I'll be sure to ask him how his family is doing.

Comments
2007-08-16 10:58:36
1.   williamnyy23
A couple of comments:

1) "The Jeff Karstens/Jim Brower extravaganza from Tuesday night is proof of that"

**I am not sure it was proof of anything other than the team was in a bind due to the Clemens injury. I certainly wouldn't use that game as a sign that the Yankees pitching is still unsettled. In fact, it is as stable as it has been all season.

2) "The trend of holding firm has been the spark for the Yankees in the past two years: first, Cashman's decision to hold onto Chien-Ming Wang and Robinson Cano when the Diamondbacks and Marlins wanted both of them during the winter of 2004 as part of the Randy Johnson deal was beneficial,"

**My memory could be wrong, but I remember reading that the D-Backs could have had either Wang or Cano, but opted for Navarro instead.

3)"I often tell people that I'm not a Yankee fan anymore, that I shed my fandom when I worked at YES in order to observe a level of fairness in setting the dot.com's editorial agenda."

**I have a hard time believing writers when they say they "stopped being a fan when they entered the profession". There is no rational reason to be a sports fan in the first place, so I don't think it's something you can just turn off. I can see how one would gradually lose interest, but I don't see how it's possible to simply shed one's fandom.

2007-08-16 11:05:05
2.   3rd gen yankee fan
Did you guys see the story at the Onion (cussing NSFW):

http://tinyurl.com/2uhkkt

2007-08-16 11:07:33
3.   bbfan1
Your red sox friend maybe reasonable, but he's also an idiot. The results of the gogne trade won't be known until the end of the season. Making a call on who did the right thing now is pointless.

As far as the yankees not giving up youth, I'm guessing that's a dig at the red sox. This wasn't the sox doing something the yankees were unwilling to do. This was the sox giving up youth they had no use for.

Right now, sure I can see where the trade and yankee lack of a trade looks good. It could be a far different story by the end of the season.

2007-08-16 11:20:03
4.   Shaun P
1 "I don't see how it's possible to simply shed one's fandom."

I do. This is a very different situation, but I know many people, including myself for a little while, who shed their fandom quite easily after the strike in '94. And it was as easy as turning off a switch.

Maybe its easier to do it when you're experiencing many strong emotions, such as those the strike evoked. But I imagine if you make a rational choice to stop being emotionally invested in a team, because you want to, say, maintain a level of fairness because your job requires it, fandom turns off quite easily.

2007-08-16 11:29:06
5.   Will Weiss
3 "As far as the yankees not giving up youth, I'm guessing that's a dig at the red sox. This wasn't the sox doing something the yankees were unwilling to do. This was the sox giving up youth they had no use for." ... Not a dig at the Sox at all. My friend's greatest objection to the trade was giving away a 24-year-old lefty who could help them in the long-term.

1 Shaun is absolutely right here. You absolutely have to be in the situation to understand it. Did I enjoy seeing the Yankees win? Sure. I also didn't mind if they lost as long as they didn't beat themselves. Overall, though, I didn't care about game outcomes. I cared about my story or the angles I was trying to help my writers formulate. I stopped rooting for the Yankees as a team, I didn't stop being a baseball fan. Maybe it's better to say "I shed my emotional ties to the Yankees" when I worked for YES.

2007-08-16 11:31:55
6.   williamnyy23
4 Fair point, but I just don't see it. I also don't find the 1994 argument very compelling...I don't know one die hard baseball fan who tuned out the game after the strike. Of course, that could be my problem understanding because I probably define "fan" to narrowly along the lines of a diehard.

I guess it could also have something to with one's background as a fan. For me, shedding my fandom would be like stopping my breathing. I might get by for a few moments, but would simply wind up gasping wildly for more.

2007-08-16 11:37:57
7.   williamnyy23
5 I am not why you'd have to stop rooting for the Yankees to be fair as a YES editor (especially at YES). It's not like rooting actually changes the outcomes. Is it not possible to root for the Yankees to win, and then work on the angles that resulted, win or lose? It would be one thing if a Yankee loss left you unable to work at all, but how would rooting for the team prevent you from being "fair"?
2007-08-16 11:39:09
8.   Will Weiss
6 "I guess it could also have something to with one's background as a fan." ... Exactly right. That's not to say it was easy to do. But I had to make a conscious decision, a compromise, to make it work.
2007-08-16 11:41:27
9.   alterity
7 ask some of he proponents of the iraq war if rooting for something doesn't create a bias in coverage. on second thought, better not. . .
2007-08-16 11:41:49
10.   Will Weiss
7 There's a level of professionalism that needs to be maintained either in the press box or the office. You're right. Rooting doesn't change outcomes, but it can make you look like a jackass, have you reprimanded by your bosses and potentially kicked out of a press box. ... I recognize that objectivity is an illusion, but the degree of bias or fandom presented by your affection for the team does come through in words, depending on the outcome.
2007-08-16 11:45:24
11.   ny2ca2dc
5 "Maybe it's better to say "I shed my emotional ties to the Yankees" when I worked for YES"

Does that mean they came roaring back when you left YES? I could see putting the emotional stuff on hold, even maybe in the indefinite medium term (there's always next year), but just turn the switch OFF?

6 I was 13 on the west coast during the strike, when a lot of my friends decided baseball wasn't cool anymore anyway, and the strike really did it in for me, for a long, long time (up to a few years ago). Strikes & etc. nonsense ('roids) can have a big impact on the huge center and periphery of fan-dom.

2007-08-16 11:56:35
12.   Cliff Corcoran
Will, great stuff on the Betemit family.

Melky, however, will start in CF every day except for the odd day of rest like what Cano got yeterday. That's his position for the rest of the season and the next several years.

2007-08-16 11:57:25
13.   williamnyy23
10 I am confused...by rooting, I thought you meant simply a strong desire for your team to win, and not an overt show of emotion based on the outcome. Of course, a journalist shouldn't "root" overtly (i.e., cheer, clap, stomp their feet, etc.), but that doesn't mean an objective editor can't quietly, but fervently, want the a particular team to win. A reporter can be both a professional and a fan...I don't see how they are mutually exclusive. There are plenty of examples of that right here at the Banter.
2007-08-16 12:01:45
14.   ny2ca2dc
13 "I thought you meant simply a strong desire for your team to win, and not an overt show of emotion based on the outcome."

For a lot of people (e.g. the description of Billy Beane in Moneyball), separating a strong desire for your team to win can't be separated from overt displays of emotion...

2007-08-16 12:14:30
15.   williamnyy23
11 I don't disagree that strikes and steroids might impact casual fans, but I am more interested in the reaction of diehards. For me, the salary cap terminated by NFL/Jet fandom (I now root for my fantasy team), but my interest in football was never close to my love of baseball. In all honesty, I can't think of one thing that would dampen my fervent interest in baseball and the Yankees. In many ways, I wish something would!
2007-08-16 12:24:37
16.   JL25and3
15 15 years or so ago, George was regularly badmouthing the Bronx and making noises about moving to New Jersey. I realized that that was one thing that could cause me to stop being a Yankee fan pretty easily.
2007-08-16 12:33:02
17.   Will Weiss
13 Very quickly, I grew to a point where I did not care if the Yankees won or lost. I began wanting to see certain players do well and see the team on the whole play good fundamental baseball.

14 I guess I was able to pull a jedi mind trick on myself, because I didn't care if they won or lost. I just cared about how the game and the events therein shaped my srories.

2007-08-16 12:34:55
18.   Will Weiss
12 Thanks Cliff. I hope you're right, and Torre keeps Melky in CF every day. One of the things I'm happiest about regarding the Yankees (again, this ties into rooting for players over team), is seeing his maturity over the last two seasons and how much he's improved as an all-around player. Tremendous.
2007-08-16 12:40:29
19.   Chyll Will
16 Agreed. Being cold and/or aloof to fans and /or your own players will easily do it, and (not surprisingly) the general behavior of the fanbase of the teams themselves can diminish or extinguish one's interest in another team.
2007-08-16 12:43:26
20.   Shaun P
15 Would you consider me a diehard fan? (OK, I guess you've got to accept that I was a diehard fan in 1994 too. I was. =)

It was my diehard fan-ness that led me to swear off baseball due to the '94 strike. My whole fandom life (1984-1994), I had been waiting for a Yankee team to make it to the playoffs. I had been waiting for my favorite Yankee Don Mattingly to get his chance in the Serious, to get a ring. That damned strike ruined the best chances of those things happening that I had ever seen. And all because a bunch of billionaires were pissed that they had to pay their employees competitive salaries, and had lost to them time and time again. Only the turnaround that started in August of '95 for the Yanks brought me back, because it meant Mattingly might just get to a Serious after all.

A guy I worked with at the time was a diehard Braves fan, had followed them from the late 60s all through the lean years. He swore them off when the '94 playoffs were canceled. Not even the Braves winning it all in '95 was enough to bring him back. He still doesn't follow baseball to this day.

2007-08-16 12:54:43
21.   williamnyy23
20 I don't think it's possible to make that assessment from afar, although I still can't imagine how a die hard could ever swear off his sport/team. I guess there are some traumatic events I'm not contemplating, but something like a strike doesn't come close to that classification, in my opinion (nor does jockeying for public funding of a ballpark). It might sound corny, but being a Yankee/baseball fan is something innate to me. Maybe I need to distinguish myself from the ranks of the diehard and perhaps settle in among the psychotic? In any event, I still really can't understand how a fan could give up his interest if it really was interest to begin with. For example, I no longer root for the Jets, so I guess you could say I gave up being a fan, but in retrospect, I've come to the conclusion that I never really was.
2007-08-16 13:03:58
22.   NJYankee41
What about "writers" like Lupica or Wallace? They seem to have such a strong hatred for the Yanks. Why don't they get reprimanded?
2007-08-16 13:04:33
23.   Will Weiss
21 There are different means of giving up interest. The analogy I use is this: you could love pizza. So much that you get a job at a pizza parlor. But after a while, if you work 12 hours a day, smelling all the ingredients, etc., and seeing perhaps some things you didn't know existed in the process of getting the pizza to you, the last thing you want to do is go home and eat a pizza.
2007-08-16 13:07:27
24.   Chyll Will
21 The same thing could be said about relationships; i.e. did you ever really love your significant other before you married/broke-up? It's a matter of personal opinion and unfair to define for someone else, so you really have to take a person's word for it that they were/are a fan/in love or not until they themselves show/prove so or otherwise.
2007-08-16 13:13:14
25.   Fritsthestud
Lineups have been posted for tonight, Giambi at first:

Damon LF
Jeter SS
Abreu RF
Rodriguez 3B
Matsui DH
Posada C
Giambi 1B
Cano 2B
Cabrera CF

2007-08-16 13:18:29
26.   williamnyy23
23 Now that I can understand. Of course, that analogy describes a gradual, involuntary process. What I couldn't understand is opening up a Pizzeria and deciding you'd stop eating it cold turkey because you thought it would help the business. If that was the case, I'd question why you opened a Pizza place in the first place, and whether your decision to stop eating pizza might make you less qualified to make it.
2007-08-16 13:22:52
27.   williamnyy23
24 I am not trying to be fair, nor I am suggesting a litmus test for entrance into Yankee Stadium. I am simply talking about my opinion of what defines a diehard fan, and abandoning one's rooting interest for the reasons described seems to fall outside my definition. By no means, however, am I suggesting it is a good definition. In fact, I am willing to consider that my own fandom likely goes well beyond normal psychological boundaries.
2007-08-16 13:24:39
28.   Chyll Will
25 I'm guessing Torre wants known quantities against Verlander and would have inserted the newbies had we swept Baltimore, no?
2007-08-16 13:24:53
29.   williamnyy23
25 I would have preferred to see Betemit at 1B and Giambi at DH. Pound for pound, that is the best lineup the Yankees can field against a righty, but I guess Damon does have to play sometimes.
2007-08-16 13:28:24
30.   Chyll Will
27 I'll take your word for it >;)

(?) Psychological boundaries... psychological boundaries... nope, doesn't ring a bell.

2007-08-16 13:39:25
31.   Shaun P
21 Nothing wrong with being psychotic. ;)

I understand where you are coming from on this whole fandom thing, I just have a different perspective. Fine line between love and hate and all that.

29 Damon hasn't played since Monday, and he's probably sitting tomorrow vs Robertson, so I think this is best.

2007-08-16 13:41:24
32.   ny2ca2dc
My god, that's a go-for-the-jugular lineup. If Giambi can play 1B on occasion without getting hurt, this is a lineup I can really get behind (Phillips LIDRz in late innings with a lead)! It's even a very good defensive alignment.

Not much conversation about the Brackman signing - most of ya kind of nonplussed about it? Crazy upside, but also a lot of peripheral stuff & red flags... It ain't my money, so I'm happy!

2007-08-16 13:47:22
33.   Chyll Will
32 I dunno, wait until we see how... um, hold on for a minute...

31
all work and no play makes jack a dull boy
all work and no play makes jack a dull boy
all work and no play makes jack a dull boy

32 ... wait until we see how the surgery turns out and what he does from there.

2007-08-16 13:51:24
34.   rbj
32 Which is why you rest people yesterday, and go for the jugular this weekend. Especially as the Tiger pitchers have been scuffling a bit. And Zumaya has another scheduled rehap stint on Saturday, so the Yanks should miss him entirely. (Todd Jones as your closer? Oy)
2007-08-16 13:52:24
35.   tommyl
32 The Brackman signing, and really the whole draft class for the Yankees is an excellent example of them exploiting a market inefficiency that really only they can, namely: signing high-ceiling guys well over slot. That allows them to sign players that by all rights should be going higher, and to take some big risks. I like the overall strategy, a couple of million now on a kid we can control for 6 years sounds a lot better to me than signing Gil Meche for a bazillion dollars and 40 years.
2007-08-16 13:52:25
36.   ny2ca2dc
33 Times article indicated he might not need surgery - that the ligament wasn't torn:

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/16/sports/baseball/16pins.html?ref=baseball

""The elbow is still a little aggravated," Brackman said. "But the ligament is not torn, so that is good news.""

Maybe we'll learn in a few days/weeks if he's going to need the TJ right away or not. Still an impressive group in the minors, excluding Joba/Hughes/Kennedy: Bettances, Brackman, plus the TJ guys, Humberto & Melancon. Not half bad!

2007-08-16 14:06:56
37.   Shaun P
35 Actually the Yanks could control Brackman for up to 10 years (4 years' worth of options in the minors and then 6 years worth of MLB service time). Maybe he amounts to nothing, but you're right - its a lot better risk than blowing far more money on the decline phases of crappy free agent pitchers.

32 Someone wise once said to get as many high upside pitching prospects as you can - because some of them will get hurt and others won't make it because of their stuff, the more you have, the more likely you're going to get a few good pitchers out of them. So in that regard, woohoo, another pitching prospect!

NOTE: If you are Jim Dean, regarding the above, YMMV.

2007-08-16 14:18:20
38.   tommyl
37 Well, we did also get Carmen signed. Pending Pinstripes (or River Ave. Blues) calls him the best infield position prospect we've had since Jeter (and that's including Cano). Mmmm...an 18 year old Derek Jeter v2, that sounds nice to me.

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