Monthly archives: September 2008
There's No Place Like Home
Brian Cashman has agreed to a three-year deal to stay with the Yankees. Newsday has the scoop.
He's part of the Family and in the end, Cash didn't want to leave New York. Can you blame him? After all, if you can make it here you can make it anywhere like the song says. Leaving the big team in the big city and you end up something like Ray Liotta eating spaghetti with ketchup at the end of Good Fellas somewhere in Schnooksville, USA, right? For better or worse, I'm happy that he's staying...Money, Money...Cash Money.
Got to like the fact that Cash doesn't mince around. He gets right to it.
I had been planning to preview the various playoff series here at Banter, but I got a call from Sports Illustrated the other day asking me to pen a daily preview column for them on SI.com. So, starting today, you can find my previews of each day's playoff action over on SI.com's main baseball page. Today I discuss the heavy home-field advantage the White Sox will enjoy in tonight's AL Central playoff. Tomorrow, I'll have previews up for the three scheduled Division Series openers, and so forth on a daily basis. Giver 'er a look-see and feel free to send me feedback via email (since there are no comments over there).
Gettin Ready for the Hot Stove
Man, I stumbled all over myself in this one. I nailed the first take and then botched the second one. Not that I had anything so revealing to say in the first place...I wish I knew what the Yanks'll do this winter. One thing is for sure, it won't be dull. Anyhow, that's a wrap on the show for now. It'll be back a couple of times a week during the Hot Stove League:
Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory #23
By Jay Jaffe
The first time Alex asked me to jot down a few thoughts regarding my favorite Yankee Stadium memory for the purposes of this space several months back, a veritable flood of recollections washed over me, things I'd witnessed firsthand at the majestic ballpark over the past 13 years, from the historic to the mundane. Having spent the past eight seasons documenting my time at the ballpark via my Futility Infielder website, I scarcely needed to review my notes except to pluck a few dates for a quick laundry list of memories to share.
But a funny thing happened on the way to delivering this piece, namely the most disheartening season the Yankees have had in a decade and a half. Not only have the cracks in the facade of the team's roster and player development system been exposed -- inevitabilities in the life cycle of even the most championship-laden franchises -- but we fans have been struck with reminders of the current stadium's gradual devolution into a less-than-hospitable venue. The ridiculous sunscreen flap atop the long-settled, none-too-accommodating umbrella and backpack bans, the heavy-handed security forces and the odious and completely un-American "God Bless America" fiasco all serve as reminders of the Steinbrenner family's overzealous, misguided strategy to maintain the stadium in a post-September 11 world. Furthermore, with a cry of "wait 'til next year" the inevitable outcome of this season of discontent, we're left to an uncomfortable reckoning with the new ballpark, the ugly back story of its fuzzy math and the gross inflation that will price many of us longtime fans out of the cherished ritual of regular attendance.
Suffice it to say that -- for this fan at least -- there's been a mounting pile of baggage blocking the entrance to what the great writer Roger Angell termed "The Interior Stadium", the grand ballpark where each fan has a season ticket to relive the indelible, treasured memories of what we've witnessed. A mounting pile, but weighed against the some 130 games I've attended at the House That Ruth Built, not an insurmountable one. So having scaled Mount Samsonite, I'm ready to hand over my ticket and commence playing ball.
In the course of attending all of those games at Yankee Stadium II, I've come to appreciate the park's spartan pleasures. I love the way contains the famous reminders of its old history -- Monument Park, the white frieze, the flagpole in what used to be the center field patrolled by DiMaggio and Mantle, with the park's original dimensions preserved by the wall behind it, the black batter's eye where only the chosen few have reached with their towering blasts -- and the portents of its own obsolescence, the narrow concourses, meager amenities, and fatal lack of luxury boxes. As limiting as that latter set is, it's also been part of the park's charm, at least to me. If you go to Yankee Stadium, you're there to see a ballgame, nothing more and nothing less. No fountains, waterfalls, kiddie pools, mascots, slides, or other diversions. Compared to the modern mallparks, the center field public address system is much less intrusive, even when the hated "Cotton-Eyed Joe" blares. What follows here is not one favorite memory of Yankee Stadium, but a subjective top 10 whose glaring omissions might have me rethinking this list the moment after it's published:
10. My first trip to the ballpark back in 1996, an epic August afternoon where the Yankees and Mariners squared off in a slugfest that went 12 innings and lasted nearly five hours, finishing long after my brother, Bryan, and I had gone home. It was just my second trip to a big-league ballpark (Fenway had been my first back in 1989), and though there were "only" some 44,000 in attendance, the raucous crowd and grand scale of Yankee Stadium made for a sensory overload that overwhelmed me in the summer heat. This marked the beginning of a ritual Bryan and I developed of attending Yankees-Mariners games, one that lasted eight or years before he moved across the country... to Seattle.
9. The time my roommate, Issa, almost caught a foul ball at the Stadium in a game against the Mariners in 1999. Along with Bryan, he and I were sitting in the front row of the Tier Box on the third base side when switch-hitting David Segui came to bat. Batting left-handed, Segui fouled one off, and as I looked at the baseball spinning against the overcast sky, I judged a fly ball correctly for possibly the first time in my life. "That's yours," I told Issa, who was on the aisle seat. He is a soccer player, with no baseball experience whatsoever. The ball indeed came right into his hands, but rather than cradling it, he lunged at it, knocking it over the railing. With a grimace and a shrug, he slumped back into his seat as what felt like the entire crowd of 41,000 fans showered him with boos.
Sun Rise, Sun Sets
Steven Goldman's final column for the New York Sun is about Pedro Martinez and Mike Mussina:
Mussina reached the majors in 1991. Martinez received a cup of coffee the following year. Both excelled in their first full seasons, though Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda, in his dotage, put Martinez in the bullpen for a season before trading him for Delino DeShields, one of the worst swaps of all time. Simultaneously, Mussina was going 18-5 with a 2.54 ERA for the 1992 Orioles, helping that franchise improve its record by 22 wins over the previous season. He finished fourth in the Cy Young voting that year.
It's too bad that the Sun won't last because they had a good arts section and a sharp, progressive sports page.
Wait Til Next Year
This is sixth season I've covered the Yankees here at Bronx Banter and the first time they've missed the playoffs, which only goes to underscore just how fortunate we've been. However, just cause our boys won't be playing ball in October, doesn't mean that we're going anywhere. Like Earl Weaver once said, "This ain't football, we do this everyday." That goes for the post-season as well. So you'll be getting more from the gang--Cliff, Bruce, Emma and Will--throughout the cold winter months.
I do want to take a moment out to thank everyone who rolls through here on a regular or semi-regular basis. Thanks for coming back. We sure appreciate it.
You Gotta Have Heart
My boy Joey La P was at Shea last year when Tom Glavine got waxed and the Mets missed the playoffs. He was back at Shea this weekend--on Friday night and, of course, yesterday. He called to tell me about it from his stoop in Brooklyn. He had just locked himself out of his apartment and his super wasn't home.
Gotta feel for the Mets fans today.
From Grantland Rice:
When the one Great Scorer comes/To mark against your name/ He writes not whether you won or lost/But how you played the game.
And John Lardner's response:
Right or wrong is all the same
When baby needs new shoes.
It isn't how you play the game.
It's whether you win or lose.
The status of Yankee General Manager Brian Cashman will reportedly be determined shortly. So? You think he stays or goes? And, do you think he should stay or go? I think he'll stay and I'd be happy if he does.
Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory #22
By Will Weiss
Lasting Yankee Stadium Memories (Part One of Two): The Games
It is safe to say that most, if not all, of us who enter professions in sports media do so because at the very core, we're fans. For those of us who grew up Yankee fans, covering the team and seeing games from the Yankee Stadium Press Area was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.
In Part I of my portion of the Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory series here at Bronx Banter, I'd like to focus on the games that I was a part of during my five years at YES, both as an on-site reporter and an editor.
There are some honorable mention games, like July 7, 2003, when Pedro and Moose dueled and Curtis Pride won the game in the ninth. There was a September day-night doubleheader in which Mike Mussina pitched the first game in front of what seemed like 17 people. But after being asked to make a list of my favorite Yankee Stadium games in my tenure at YES, the games described below were the most memorable.
April 5, 2002: Yankees 4, Devil Rays 0
It was the Yankees' 2002 home opener, complete with all the usual pageantry, pomp and circumstance. There was an air of anticipation and a sense of purpose among the fans, given the way the team had lost the World Series to the Diamondbacks a few short months before. But this was a different Yankee team. Jason Giambi had been signed in the offseason, as had Robin Ventura and David Wells. Gone was Paul O'Neill; Shane Spencer and John Vander Wal were platooning in right field, while Rondell White was patrolling left.
I was having my own issues. I didn't have a seat or a phone line in the press box, but somehow finagled my way into the YES booth and sat right behind Michael Kay and Jim Kaat. Suzyn Waldman sat to my immediate left, fidgeting with everything from the phone to her makeup bag. Ten minutes of observing her nerves on display went a long way towards calming my own.
I'll never forget the view, the relief of having a seat, and the feeling of being able to walk on the field at Yankee Stadium before the game. From that point on, YESNetwork.com writers sat in the booth.
As for the game, it was about 50 degrees and windy. The Yankees made two errors and left 11 men on base. The star was Andy Pettitte, who threw six shutout innings to pave the way for the first of 52 home wins that season.
May 17: 2002: Yankees 13, Twins 12 (14 innings)
After six weeks of struggling in front of the Stadium crowd, this was the game in which Jason Giambi "earned his pinstripes."
The Yankees and Twins combined for 25 runs, 40 hits, 3 errors, 10 walks, 27 strikeouts, and the Yankees hit 6 home runs. Bernie Williams' shot into the upper deck in left off Eddie Guardado tied the game at 9-9 and sent the game into extras. Both teams had chances but no one converted until the 14th, when the Twins posted three against Sterling Hitchcock.
In the middle of the 14th, as the Twins summoned Mike Trombley to the mound, Jim Kaat looked at the Yankees' upcoming lineup – Shane Spencer, Alfonso Soriano, and Derek Jeter -- and said to broadcast partner Ken Singleton, "Trombley's on the mound. I wouldn't be surprised to see the first three guys get on base and Bernie end it with a grand slam." Spencer singled, Soriano flied out, Jeter singled and Bernie walked. The grand slam came one spot in the order behind Bernie. It was a classic finish, with his towering fly ball landing in the right-center field bleachers, and the rain pouring down as Giambi's teammates mauled him at home plate.
This game would not have made my list had Kaat not predicted the ending. Before I headed down to the clubhouse, I asked him if he was clairvoyant. He just smiled at me and said, "I knew they'd get to Trombley – I was just one batter off."
Twenty & Out
The Yankees ended the season on a good note, at least -- I'm going to pretend the second game of the double header, started by the inimitable Sidney Ponson, isn't happening; humor me -- beating the Red Sox 6-2 and earning Mike Mussina his long-deferred 20-win season. It's a statistical acheivement that I think we can all agree is an arbitrary and ineffective way of measuring a pitcher's worth... but still pretty damn sweet. A few weeks ago I didn't think he was going to pull it off, and I'm very glad I was wrong.
The Red Sox never mounted a sustained threat against Mussina, who allowed two walks -- he didn't allow even three in a single game this year --and three hits in six innings, using just 73 pitches. He left the game then, surprisingly, with a three-run lead, courtesy of a Xavier Nady fly ball that had bounced off the top of the wall by the Pesky Pole and into the stands for a home run. Mussina explained afterwards that his elbow was still sore from the comebacker it took in his last start; I figured that was probably the case, because otherwise you’d have expected him to lunge at Joe Girardi with a bat sometime during the eighth inning, when Joba Chamberlain, Brian Bruney, and Damaso Marte allowed two runs and looked like they might be about to collectively blow it. No jury would’ve convicted him.
But Mariano Rivera came to the rescue (of course), entering the game with the tying run on base and, calcified shoulder and all, nailing down a win for Mussina for the 49th time. And Mussina wasn't sweating it, at that point: "I knew with Mo in the game, it was going to be all right." Me, I still half expected Carl Everett to pop out of the Fenway shadows and ruin everything. Instead, the Yankees tacked on three insurance runs off Jonathan Papelbon in the top of the ninth, and whatever else fell apart this season, at least this one thing went right.
After eight years with the Yankees, Mussina says he'll take some time now to decide if he wants to keep pitching. Personally I'd be happy to see him back, but at the same time, it's very rare for an athlete to walk away at the absolute top of their game; if Moose pulled it off, I'd have a ton of respect for that decision.
UPDATE: So the Yanks went ahead and played the second game of the doubleheader, despite my protestations, and it was actually somewhat dramatic -- as dramatic as a meaningless late-September Spring Training game can be, anyway. All the scrubs were in, and Sidney Ponson pitched very well, I suspect just to spite me.
The Yankees were down 3-2 with two outs in the ninth when Robinson Cano drove in the tying run. But Jose Veras couldn't stave off the Sox in the tenth; he loaded the bases, someone named Jonathan Van Every singled home Alex Cora, and the Sox won 4-3. I say we all just agree to consider Mussina's win the end of the 2008 season and leave it at that.
Let's Go Moose
You Gotta Believe. That's the order of the day for the Mets who get to play an enormous game in the season finale at Shea. Talk about tension. For Yankee fans, there ain't much at stake, but You Gotta Believe Moose can win 20 games for the first time in his career. Personally, I don't think he'll do it. Something will happen. He'll pitch great but lose 2-1, or get bombed early or pitch well and have a 5-0 lead only to have the game called in the fourth inning. Something always happens. But even if he doesn't get the win, Moose has been one of the best things about the Yanks this year and he gets props over here.
Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory #21
By Pete Caldera
We've talked and talked, and asked and asked about Yankee Stadium memories for months. What will you recall most? What will you take? And then Derek Jeter reminded us of an underrated - and unforgettable - treasure.
It's the view.
From the batter's box, for a thousand games, Jeter tapped home plate and stared straight toward the black batter's eye - a perfect hitter's backdrop. And from the front row of the press box, I was lucky to take in the whole panorama from behind home plate.
You couldn't always see what was going on in the corners, but any member of the BBWAA was granted one of the best seats in the old house. The dugouts, the mound, the infield, the on-deck circle were all right in front of you. The battles in the stands - for foul balls, or for disputes - were in clear view. Occasionally, some daredevil drunk would even drop out of his box seat and land on the netting in front of us (happened twice).
The Bronx County Courthouse on a clear day. The moon rising from left field on a clear night. It was all right there. And then, of course, there was that grand, green field - and I'll count myself forever fortunate to have witnessed some precious moments on that celebrated turf.
I was there for David Wells perfect game, on a cloudy May afternoon. Remember that backhand stab by Chuck Knoblauch, of all people?
Saw an unassisted triple play by Randy Velarde.
Saw David Cone's perfect game, and remember telling a friend during a rain delay (33 minutes) that it was too bad - Cone's slider was unhittable. He could no-hit the Expos.
Saw Mussina save the day in Game 7, the night Pedro was left to battle through the 8th inning, and couldn't. Then, Aaron Boone. And bedlam.
Saw Pedro come within a Chili Davis homer of perfection, still the greatest pitched game I ever witnessed.
Saw the Red Sox win the pennant. Saw plenty of brawls - like the night Strawberry seemed to take on the entire Orioles team in the visiting dugout. Saw Jeter in the hole, whirling and throwing. And saw hundreds of his 2,000-plus hits. And saw go for that pop up, in fair territory, against Boston, knowing that his only landing area was full-speed into the stands.
Saw A-Rod make the Stadium small with those colossal home runs, and wished I could've seen Joe D. swing for the deeper fences - the original dimensions.
Saw the first Subway Series game, and the first Mets-Yankees World Series game. Saw Joe Torre do that slow walk to the mound. Saw DiMaggio wave from a convertible. Saw the Florida Marlins celebrate, and heard them too, in the silence. Saw the All-Star Game that never ended.
I witnessed all that from the press box, mostly from Seat 12, behind a red plate with 'The Record' in white lettering.
The Yankees are giving the writers those plates. And from where that plate once stood, I'll never forget the view.
Pete Caldera covers baseball for The Bergan Record.
The Final Day (Maybe)
The Phillies clinched the NL East by beating the Nationals yesterday, but there are still two unclaimed playoff spots heading into the final day of the season.
In the National League, the Mets tied the Brewers for the Wild Card lead yesterday when Johan Santana started on three-day's rest for the first time in his career and shutout the Marlins on three hits. Mets turn to Oliver Perez for today's finale, which could also prove to be Shea Stadium's final game, while the Brewers send ace CC Sabathia to the mound against the Cubs and Angel Guzman. If both teams win (or lose), they'll have a one-game playoff for the Wild Card at Shea on Monday.
The In the AL, the Twins hold a 1/2 game lead over the White Sox in the Central after both teams lost yesterday. If both team's win (or lose) the White Sox will have to make up a game against the Tigers at home on Monday. If they win that, they'll force a one-game playoff with the Twins in Minnesota on Tuesday. If they Sox to the Tigers, they'll hand the Twins the division. If the Chisox win and the Twins lose today, Chicago will still have to play the Tigers on Monday, but would win the division if they beat Detroit and would still have the Tuesday playoff against the Twins if they lost. If the Twins win today and the White Sox lose, the Twins will win the division in the traditional manner.
Here's the relevant for schedule today:
1:10 Fla @ NYM (Scott Olsen v Oliver Perez)
Amazingly, none of these games is being televised nationally.
If You Can't Beat 'Em, Join 'Em
A Bronx Cheer for Paul Newman:
The game in Boston today was warshed out. They'll play two tomorrow.
Moose goes against Dice K in the first game.
Here's Mud in Yer Eye
It's Sir Sid vs. Dice K in the rain today at Fenway.
Only two more left. The only thing I care about it is Moose winning tomorrow.
Man, I wonder what's gunna happen with the Mets and the Brewers...Ted Lilly vs Ben Sheets today. Santana on the hill for the Mets in the New York rain on three days rest. Holy crud this is good. Glad I don't really have a rooting interest or I'd be on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
He was one of the great movie stars of them all.
Newman was a guy that both men and women loved. I loved him because he was a pretty boy star and a serious actor. He did all of those big, splashy star vehicles and then stretched himself in smaller, character-driven movies. He wasn't always great, wasn't always right for a part, but he made the effort, he put himself out there. "Cool Hand Luke," "The Verdict," "Slapshot," "The Color of Money" are just a few of my favorite Newman movies.
He lived a long, good life. Did a lot of wonderful things with his name.
He will be missed. He should be celebrated.
Yankee Stadium Memory #20
By Will Carroll
I am not sad to see it go. I really have no connection to Yankee Stadium and have only been to a handful of games there. I went once, back in the 80s when the team was just a shell of it's previous self and New York seemed much more like what "The Warriors" made it out to be than it really is. Yankee Stadium and Times Square were similar in that they were places everyone said you had to go, but once you were there, you really didn't want to stay. Kodak moment and move on before something bad happened. Like Steve Balboni.
The Stadium has two things going for it - history and the entrance. While it's nice on the outside, somehow it doesn't have the same flavor as walking up to Wrigley or Fenway; it's more like old Comiskey where you went to a game, then got back on the train and got out of there. Once inside though, once you make it through the crush of the crowd and come out those narrow tunnels and pow, you see the green grass, those arches, you see YANKEE STADIUM in all it's game day glory and you get it for a second.
When I covered a game there, I walked out of the dugout and it was nearly the same, just a different angle. I wondered if Jason Giambi gasped like I did when he walked out on the field. I watched Joe Torre and wondered if that's where Billy Martin sat and answered questions. But it's a different bench. The grass is not the same that Babe Ruth walked on and isn't the same as what David Cone walked on. Time marches, right?
Time can also stand still. I have a tendency to wander at ballparks, rather than staying in the tight little area where press is expected. While the beat guys did their job on that May afternoon, I walked out to the monuments. I looked where the old fence line used to be. I touched the plaque of my father's hero, Mickey Mantle, and realized that I remembered Mantle for the stories of skirtchasing, drinking, and his numbers while my father got to see him play.
The Stadium is like its players, more than just concrete, more than just numbers, more than dates in a book, more than grass and dirt. It's a box of memories, open at the top so that the best float up.
Will Carroll writes about baseball injuries for Baseball Prospectus.
Wow, think the Yanks will save any runs for Moose on Sunday? They pasted the Sox in Fenway last night to the tune of 19-8. Welp, it's better than losing, right?
Boston Red Sox VI: It's All Over But The Shouting Edition
The Yankees can hand the AL East to the Rays by beating the Red Sox at Fenway tonight, and Joe Girardi has all of his starters in the lineup behind Alfredo Aceves to get the job done. As the Wild Card, the Red Sox would draw the Angels in the ALDS. Boston went 1-8 against the Halos this season.
Aceves has posted a 1.42 ERA and a 1.00 WHIP in his three previous major league starts, all Yankee wins, and pitched at least six full innings in each without once reaching 90 pitches. Given that, he could get away with a stinker tonight and still enter spring training in the mix for the 2009 rotation. After facing Boston tonight, he'll have faced three contenders in his four starts (also the Angels and White Sox). If he has another good outing, he might just go from being "in the mix" to being penciled in.
The Sox are slowly getting back up to health for the postseason. Mike Lowell, J.D. Drew, Sean Casey, Josh Beckett, and David Aardsma have all come off the DL in recent weeks, though Lowell and Drew are both still nursing their injuries (a torn hip labrum that will require offseason surgery and a stiff lower back, respectively). They'll continue to be careful with their players, particularly given the rain that's expected on the east coast this weekend, but will likely also want to get Lowell and Drew enough swings to feel comfortable heading in to the ALDS. Indeed, Lowell will DH tonight (with David Ortiz playing first base in presumptuous preparation for the World Series), while Drew continues to rest.
Speaking of that rain, there's a chance it could wash out Mike Mussina's opportunity to try for his 20th win of the season on Sunday, as there would be no need to play that game if the Rays clinch the division tonight or tomorrow. That said, the rain is expected to taper off come Sunday, and the Red Sox have rescheduled the retiring of Johnny Pesky's number (6) until Sunday based on that forecast. Even if tonight or tomorrow's game gets rained out and thus outright canceled, Moose will still go on Sunday, though given his history of near misses (including a memorable one in Fenway in 2001), one could imagine any number of Sunday scenarios that would bring Mussina thisclose to number 20 but leave him stuck at 19 for the third time in his career.
Oh, and if this series feels weird, it's because the last time the Yankees faced a playoff-bound Red Sox team after being eliminated from the postseason themselves was September 21 to 23, 1990. The last time the Yankees faced a playoff-bound Red Sox team at Fenway Park after being eliminated from the postseason themselves was October 2 to 5, 1986.
The Final Weekend
As we head into the final weekend of the 2008 baseball season, there are still five teams fighting for three playoff spots.
Three days ago, the White Sox pulled into Minnesota with a 2.5 game lead hoping to put the Twins away. Instead, they got swept and now trail Minnesota by a half game with three left to play. Both teams finish at home, the Twins hosting the Royals, and the White Sox hosting Cleveland. The Royals arrive at the Metrodome on an 11-2 tear, but I give the advantage to the Twins, as the White Sox will have to face Cliff Lee on the final day of the season if the race isn't settled by then, while the Twins will kick off their series with Francisco Liriano on the mound tonight.
Things are even tighter in the National League, where the Mets and Brewers both won in walkoffs last night and remain tied for the Wild Card lead, and the Mets are just a game behind the Phillies in the East, opening up a possibility of a three-way tie for the league's last two playoff spots. The Astros are technically still alive in the Wild Card race as well, but a win by either Milwaukee or New York, or a Houston loss, will eliminate them, likely tonight.
The Brewers face the stiffest competition this weekend by hosting the Cubs, though Lou Piniella was unapologetic about resting some of his starters against the Mets this week. The Mets will host the Marlins in what could be the final three games at Shea Stadium this weekend. Neither the Mets nor the Brewers has a definite starter for Saturday. The Mets have lefty Jonathon Niese lined up, but could replace him with former Yankee righty and 2008 Olympian Brandon Knight given the Marlins' righty-heavy lineup. The Brewers, meanwhile, are hoping Ben Sheets can return from elbow tendonitis to start on Saturday. If not, they'll could wind up starting Dave Bush on three-day's rest. Sunday, both teams will send out their ace: Johan Santana for the Mets, CC Sabathia for the Brewers.
As for the Phillies, they seem likely to hold on to the division as they're hosting the Nationals and will have Cole Hamels going on Sunday if necessary. Of course, as with the Mets and Brewers, using their ace on the final day to secure a playoff spot would prevent them from using him in Game 1 of the NLDS, but you have to make it there first.
Oh, and it could rain.
Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory #19
By Ben Kabak
I bounded up the stairs of the Yankee dugout on a sunny August afternoon to acknowledge the roaring crowd. I landed on the top step, turned around and saw an ocean of empty seas. Row upon row upon row of those familiar blue seats were staring back at me, waiting for the next home game.
For a minute, I almost knew what Derek Jeter feels like when he turns to wave at the crowd. From the top of the steps, I could see just the box seats just behind the dugout, and even that view sent shimmers down my spine.
But I'm not on the Yankees, never was and never will be. My Yankee curtain call was, instead, just a part of the tour at Yankee Stadium. In mid-August, with the Yanks out of town, my dad and I went on the tour at Yankee Stadium. This excursion wouldn't be our final visit to the House that Ruth Built, but it was our gesture of saying good bye on our time. We weren't deluged with constant scoreboard distractions, yet another playing of the Y.M.C.A. or some guy in a hat dancing to that seminal New York song Cotton-Eye Joe. Instead, we walked on the field, sat in the dugout and soaked in the aura and mystique of the stadium in Monument Park.
While I've been on the tour twice before, I didn't truly appreciate it in 1994 as an 11-year-old and couldn't enjoy it in 2000 as a camp counselor overseeing a bunch of rowdy 10-12-year-olds. This time, though, I experienced the tour as it was meant to be. When 11 a.m. in the Bronx rolls around, Yankee Stadium truly feels like a Cathedral. The stadium is populated only by the grounds crew tending to the field, a few security guards and other tour groups. The grounds echo with the spray of water on the field and the history of eighty five years. The empty stadium bare witness to thousands of games and players long lost to the annals of baseball history.
Mickey Vernon: Gentleman
We lost one of the good ones on Wednesday, when Mickey Vernon passed away at the age of 90, the victim of a stroke he suffered one week ago. Ordinarily, most of us are not shocked when we hear of someone dying in his ninth decade. But this case is a little bit different for me. I saw Mickey this past June in the Philadelphia area, when he served as one of the featured speakers on a symposium about athletes in the military. Other than walking with a bit of a hunch, he seemed to be in excellent health, a 90-year-old man who had managed to shave years off his physical appearance. His mind and memory remained razor-sharp, with his wits, intelligence, and polite manner all still intact. In fact, this was what I wrote about Vernon at the time:
“As impressive as his personality, Mickey's health and conditioning are just as striking. He just turned 90, but he looks more like 60, with a full shock of hair that might make some middle-aged men jealous. He remains extremely sharp, with an excellent recall of detail and little tendency to exaggerate accomplishments.”
Later that day, my wife and I, along with several other organizers of the symposium, enjoyed having lunch with Mickey at a local VFW. Not surprisingly, Mickey became the centerpiece of the table, not because he tried to dominate the conversation, but because everyone wanted to hear his stories and opinions. I was no different; I desperately wanted to know about his feelings toward the Yankees, who employed him as a scout and coach in the seventies and eighties—his final job in baseball. Half expecting to hear some grumbles about the ownership of George Steinbrenner (who could be particularly hard on coaches and scouts at that time), I was surprised to hear Mickey say that he loved working for the Yankees. As proof, he showed me the Yankee watch that he still wore, given to him by the organization for his years of service. Mickey might not have been remembered as a Yankee, but he truly considered himself one.
For me, this was my second experience with Mickey. In 2006, I met him for the first time, also in the Philadelphia area, as part of a program that celebrated accomplishments of Chester, PA native Danny Murtaugh. Like the more recent encounter, this occasion also proved uplifting, as I came away with the kind of graceful impression that Mickey had made on so many other people both during and after his career in baseball.
And let’s not overlook that career as a player, which spanned from the late 1930s to the early 1960s. Mickey Vernon was a tremendous ballplayer, a two-time batting champion and a seven-time All-Star who was once voted the greatest first baseman in the history of the Washington Senators’ franchise. Yet, his career was hurt by Washington’s home park, which tended to suppress home runs, making life more difficult for a mid-range power hitter like Mickey. He also lost some of his career to military service during World War II, which caused him to miss all of the 1944 and ’45 seasons.
In spite of the obstacles, Vernon played more games at first base than anyone during the 20th century. He was a slick defender, one of the finest fielding first basemen in the game’s history, along with being a productive line-drive hitter who flashed power at various times during his four-decade career. He was a smart hitter, too, the kind who almost always walked more than he struck out. From 1953 to 1956, he put up big numbers with both the Senators and Red Sox, highlighted by a ‘53 campaign that saw him register a .403 on-base percentage and a .518 slugging percentage while reaching career highs in runs and RBIs. He was good enough to have merited inclusion on the Hall of Fame's Veterans Committee ballot, which features his name along with nine other players whose careers began prior to 1943. I know that more than a few of his fans in Philadelphia and his native Marcus Hook are crossing their fingers, hoping that the committee will finally call his name this December.
Even after all of these years, his friends still care about the Hall of Fame issue, in large part because of his character and charm. As fine a player as Vernon was, he was a better man. Likeable throughout his playing days, Vernon continued to spread the wealth of his amiable personality as a manager, coach, scout, and after his retirement, as a frequent guest at baseball-related functions. If you wanted to add a touch of gentlemanly class and quiet intelligence to your event, you just made sure to send an invitation to Mickey Vernon.
Jim Vankoski, who skillfully arranges a number of baseball-related events in the Philadelphia area, knew all about Mickey. He was the one who introduced me to Mickey, who told me what a wonderful guy that he was. Mickey certainly did not disappoint. He patiently answered questions that I interspersed throughout our conversations, while at the same time taking an interest in what I was doing. Thanks, Jim, for giving me the chance to meet this special man.
And thanks to Mickey for the way that he treated me—the way that he seemingly treated everyone. I only met him twice, but I feel like I knew him for a lifetime.
Bruce Markusen writes "Cooperstown Confidential" for MLBlogs at MLB.com.
Finish What Ya Started
The Blue Jays beat the Yankees 8-2 last night as Roy Halladay picked up his 20th win with his ninth complete game of the season. By doing so, Halladay tied CC Sabathia for the major league lead in complete games, though Sabathia could break the tie in his final start. Only one team other than the Blue Jays and Brewers has more than nine complete games.
Halladay needed just 96 pitches to finish off the Yankees' B-squad. Of the six hits he allowed, three were by Brett Gardner (one of them a double, one of them in infield hit on which Gardner beat out a nice play by Jays second baseman Joe Inglett on a hard grounder in the hole). Melky Cabrera (1 for 3) got one of the others, and Cody Ransom drew the only Yankee walk of the night.
It might have been a bit unfair for Joe Girardi to give catching prospect Francisco Cervelli (0-for-3) his first major league start against Halladay, but then Girardi didn't make Cervelli swing at the first pitch he saw in his first two at bats (both groundouts, the second a double play). Cervelli took two pitches in his final at-bat, but still struck out swinging on just four tosses. That said, Cervelli showed great form on the one stolen base attempt against him, firing a strike that would have nailed Alex Rios in the third had Rios not gotten a huge jump on Carl Pavano.
Speaking of Pavano, in his final act as a Yankee, he gave up five runs in just 3 2/3 innings. Don't let the door bruise your buttocks on the way out, Chuckles.
At least Pavano's short outing allowed Girardi to audition some relievers. Dan Giese stranded the two runners he inherited from Pavano in the fourth, but couldn't get the second out of the fifth inning, allowing two runs on three consecutive hits before David Robertson tidied up his mess. Edwar Ramirez struck out Vernon Wells and Lyle Overbay in a scoreless sixth. Humberto Sanchez gave up a run in the seventh after walking two men on nine pitches, but got a double play to get out of his own mess. Finally, in the eighth Darrell Rasner retired the Jay's 4-5-6 hitters 1-2-3, getting ahead of each hitter before inducing each into a groundout.
Speaking of the bullpen, Mariano Rivera had an MRI on his shoulder yesterday and could need some minor arthroscopic surgery this winter. Meanwhile, Joe Girardi continues to display either a dangerous ignorance or an inexplicable need to snowball the media regarding his players' physical health. After listening to his post-game press conference, I think it's the former, which means he needs to work on his communication with his players and his training staff. A manager's primary job is distributing playing time to his players. If the manager is ill informed about his players' health for whatever reason, his ability to perform that essential task in the manner most beneficial to the team is compromised. That may not be an issue in Rivera's case, but may have been with regard to Jorge Posada's shoulder, Alex Rodriguez's quad, or any of a number of other early-season aches and pains that got worse before they got better.
With four meaningless games left, the Yankees have mothballed Andy Pettitte for the year, giving Sidney Ponson his start on Saturday. Ponson and tonight's starter Pavano won't be back next year. Tomorrow night's starter, Alfredo Aceves, has already shown enough to survive a bad start and still arrive in spring training to fight for a rotation spot. The means the only remaining game that will actually be worth watching will be Sunday's finale in Boston as Mike Mussina goes for his 20th win (which he will do; his elbow is recovering nicely).
Here's tonight's lineup:
L - Brett Gardner (CF)
Derek Jeter is still sitting due to being hit on the left hand on Saturday and playing through it on Sunday. Cervelli is making his first major league start. This is just Melky's second start since being recalled (he went 1 for 3 in the last, accounting for his only trips to the plate since August). Brett Gardner is 8 for his last 23 (.348) with three extra-base hits. Wilson Betemit 6 for 19 (.316) in September with four extra base hits, but hasn't drawn a walk since August 16. Ransom is 0 for his last 16.
Perhaps most significantly, tonight's game will bring Carl Pavano's phantom Yankee career to a close. He faces Roy Halladay, who's going for his 20th win. Halladay's only previous 20-win season was 2003, when he went 22-7 and won the AL Cy Young award.
Meanwhile, Joe Torre's Dodgers have clinched the NL West. Congratulations to the Dodgers, their manager, and their fans.
Break it Down
Over at Baseball-Intellect, Alex Eisenberg takes a look at the pitching mechanics of Yankee minor leaguer Brett Marshall. Don't slumber.
Oh, and p.s. here is my favorite Yankee shout-out in a rap song. From Bronx resident, Diamond D, "the best producer on the mic":
It comes about two-thirds of the way into the song. It's so cheap it's great.
Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory #18
By Tim Marchman
When I was small, I didn't understand the point of the Yankees. It wasn't that I disliked them, but that they were irrelevant, the team of suburbs to the north and parts of the city that to me may as well have been. Even in deep Queens there were a few Yankees fans, usually Italians whose families raised them to think of Joe DiMaggio the way Catholics were raised to think of John F. Kennedy.* Those kids would taunt the rest of us odd moments. You'd be playing asses-up, dealing the ball in your best Dwight Gooden motion, when some kid would let on that two rings were nice enough and nothing to be ashamed of, but certainly not as nice as twenty-two, as if he'd been there in the stands when each of them was won. But mostly this didn't seem to have anything to do with anything. They may as well have been Kansas City Royals fans.
It wasn't until I was 22 that I understood the Yankees at all. My friend P. and I had upper deck seats for the Stadium, and two Snapple bottles full of liquor. We drank and watched the game and talked, convincing ourselves that we were much above everything that was going on around us: New York would never again be something it had stopped being around the time we were born; baseball had changed, with the money; capital had failed us; the electronic advertisements, greasy brokers on cell phones, cheap plastic, and loud music were an indictment; everything was at second hand and a great remove; the world was infinitely mediated and the city a sad, lonely and disfigured place in which great things were no longer possible; etc.
The score ran up early enough, and it was chilly enough, that the stands began to empty early, so we made out way down to field level, well toasted, and then worked our way from seat to seat until we were a row back of the home dugout. There was the field in total clarity: still and quiet, steam rising off the grass, the lights a half mile high, and Mike Mussina on the mound, curling up into his motion, in total control of events. At that moment it may as well have been 1946, 1977, or whatever moment P. and I had just spent so much time convincing ourselves we wished it was. The game seemed further away than it had seemed in the nosebleeds, but very much more peaceful, and at that exact moment neither Mike Mussina or all the ambitious people in the park seemed at all to inhabit a different city than I did, but just to be different parts of one raging engineparts with which I may not have had much in common, but parts toward which it was somewhere between absurd and obscene to feel something just past distrust and shading toward resentment.
Baseball and rock 'n' roll are such elemental and ubiquitous American inventions that it's a bit perplexing that they don't really fit together. Baseball just doesn't rock, no matter how hard stadium public address systems try to force the issue. Baseball is a game of calm, precision, suspense and strategy. For that reason, there are precious few worthwhile rock songs about the game.
That's not to say there aren't some great baseball songs in other genres. "Joltin' Joe DiMaggio," the 1941 novelty hit from Les Brown and his Orchestra, is a stone cold classic, and "Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball?," written by Buddy Johnson and recorded by both Johnson and the Count Basie Orchestra in 1949, is a jump-band variation on that theme that's nearly as good a song and a superior cultural signifier (Johnson name checks African American major leaguers Satchel Page, Roy Campanella, Don Newcome, and Larry Doby). Bob Dylan's "Catfish" from 1975 is great as well, but it's not rock, it's acoustic blues.
Being more of a fan of jazz than of baseball, my dad goes for David Frishberg's "Van Lingle Mungo", though I consider it more of a tone poem than a song. Still, I'll take Frishberg's list of names over any version of Terry Cashman's trite "Talkin' Baseball" (originally "Willie, Mickey, & the Duke"). "Joe DiMaggio Done It Again" is a fun alt-country tune, but it's removed from it's place and time as part of the Mermaid Avenue sessions in which Billy Brag and Wilco set long lost Woody Guthrie lyrics to music.
There are rock tunes that reference baseball, but aren't really about the game. Simon and Garfunkel's "Mrs. Robinson", speaking of DiMaggio, is the most famous. Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start The Fire" contains a variety of baseball references (including Joe D yet again), but Joel uses the game to greater effect in 1978's "Zanzibar" ("Rose he knows he's such a credit to the game, but the Yankees grab the headlines every time") and also drops a Yankee reference into "Miami 2017". "Zanzibar" also uses a bit of the "bases" metaphor best employed by Phil Rizzuto in Jim Steinman and Meat Loaf's "Paradise By The Dashboard Light". More recently, Belle and Sebastian's "Piazza, New York Catcher" is something of a cryptic love song in which Piazza (and Sandy Koufax, who isn't actually named) are either incidental or symbolic, and the only baseball reference in Kanye West's "Barry Bonds" is the title. Of course, extending the conversation to hip hop brings in hundreds of references, from the Beastie Boys having more hits than Sadaharu Oh or Rod Carew to Jay-Z having "A-Rod numbers."
For a long time, John Fogerty's "Centerfield" seemed like the only proper rock song that was actually about baseball. As a result, it quickly became overplayed to the point that it is now one of the few 1980s hits I can't stand (and I can stands a lot), though if it weren't so trite it would have held up better. Fortunately, "Centerfield" finally has some company this year. A quartet of alt-rockers, the most famous of whom is R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck, came together earlier this year as the Baseball Project and released a 13-song album devoted entirely to songs about the game and players including Ted Williams (via a rewrite of Wings' "Helen Wheels" called "Ted Fucking Williams"), Curt Flood, Satchel Page, Fernando Valenzuela, Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays, Ed Delahanty, Harvey Haddix, and Jack McDowell ("The Yankee Flipper").
More recently, Eddie Vedder, who is name-checked in "The Yankee Flipper," released a Cubs anthem called "All The Way" (as in "someday we'll go all the way"), and E Street Band guitarist Nils Lofgren released "Yankee Stadium," a tribute to the doomed ballpark which he cowrote with his wife, Amy. Unfortunately, neither really fits on the list of rock songs about baseball. Vedder's song deserves to be listed among the classics above, but it's more of a prostest/drinking song than a rock song (and veers dangerously close the list of team fight songs below). Lofgren's tune, though well-intentioned ("For every soul who entered here/we raise a glass we shed a tear"), just isn't very good. Lofgren's vocal delivery is off-putting and, not surprisingly, the best part of his song is the guitar solo.
Of course, Lofgren already has his baseball song bonafides from Bruce Springsteen's "Glory Days" (that's him in the beret with the white guitar), but that's another one of those songs that mentions baseball, but isn't really about it.
So what's your favorite song about the game? What did I miss?
Note: Even though Yo La Tengo once covered "Meet the Mets" and "Here Come the Yankees" by the Sid Bass Orchestra and Chorus, a 1967 Columbia Records release that was the best thing to come out of CBS's ownership of the team, is a personal favorite, team fight songs don't count. That includes "Tessie" by Boston's Dropkick Murphys, and the Sammy Hagar-meets-Kenny Loggins "Let's Go Mets Go" from 1986. Having said that, be sure to check out Larry Romano's trapped-in-time "Rock In The Bronx" from 1993. Also worth a look are the abominable "Super Bowl Suffle" rip off "Get Metsmerized," also from 1986 (cripes, how many songs did the Mets need?), and the horrendous 1987 update of The Twins' 1961 anthem "We're Gonna Win Twins." Actually, pregnant women and people with heart conditions should probably skip those last two.
A Great One
Sidd Finch, eat your heart out. It's Jimmy Scott!
The Awful Truth
Andy Pettitte's Yankee career could be over. Pettitte, talking to Mark Feinsand in the Daily News, was critical of his own performance:
"The biggest thing was me, personally; I just pitched terrible," Pettitte said. "I don't think we played great, I don't think we hit in some clutch situations when we needed to, but everybody pitched really well other than me down the stretch. If I don't win one game out of my last 10 starts, I think the last couple days of the season, we'd be right there."
I wouldn't be surprised to see Pettitte return but I'm not counting on it.
The Kid Stays In The Picture
Last night's pitching matchup of Phil Hughes and likely free agent A.J. Burnett almost felt like an open audition for a spot in the Yankees 2009 rotation. I'm happy to report, Phil Hughes passed the audition. Hughes had a nasty curve working last night and used it to great effect, neutralizing yet another dominant outing against the Yankees by Burnett. After lasting just four inefficient innings in his return to the majors his last time out, Hughes stretched 100 pitches (71 of them strikes) across eight full innings, striking out six (all on curveballs), walking none, and allowing just two runs on five hits. Hughes was actually beating Burnett 2-1 with two outs in the bottom of the seventh, but Scott Rolen shot a 1-1 curve over the wall in left center to knot it up at 2-2. Hughes, who was hoping to pick up his only major league win of the season, was furious at himself for allowing Toronto to tie the game, but settled down to retire the next four batters and pass the game to the bullpen.
After Jesse Carlson and Jose Veras swapped zeros in the ninth, Juan Miranda, who started at first and picked up his first major league hit in the fourth, led off the tenth with a double. Chad Moeller failed to bunt Miranda to third, but wound up working an eight-pitch walk, passing the buck to Brett Gardner, who bunted the runners up on the first try. Carlson hit Robinson Cano with his next offering to load the bases, and Bobby Abreu cashed it all in with a grand slam that handed the Yankees a 6-2 win. Sidney Ponson, of all people, pitched a 1-2-3 bottom of the tenth to seal the deal.
"One good outing isn't going to erase an awful season with injuries and being in the minor leagues," said Hughes, "but it's good to end on a positive note and carry that over into next year." Hughes didn't get the win, but he shaved 1.3 runs off his season ERA. He finishes the year having thrown just 69 2/3 innings between the majors and minors and will go on to pitch in the Arizona Fall League in order to get his innings total up to a higher baseline for next season, though he's unlikely to get past 100 innings all together, even with the AFL work.
Still, Hughes looked great last night. Joe Girardi said, "he did everything right tonight." His curveball, which is his put-away pitch, was monstrous, and the cutter he developed this summer is already rivaling his four-seamer. When Hughes is able to locate the latter, he should be able to dominate the way we've all expected him to, which was exactly the case last night. Phil Hughes needed that start, and the Yankees needed that start. True, one good outing won't erase the lost season that preceded it, but it served an important reminder that Hughes is still one of the top pitching prospects in the game.
No Pressure, Kid
Phil Hughes was seven years old the last time the Yankees were eliminated during the regular season. Tonight he'll be the first pitcher to start a game for an eliminated Yankee team since Sterling Hitchcock took the Camden Yards mound on September 28, 1993. Like Hughes, Hitchock was a well-regarded 22-year-old pitching prospect at the time, but he never fulfilled his potential due to a combination of injuries and ineffectiveness. Here's hoping Hughes, who pitched well though inefficiently in his last start, won't meet the same fate.
Fittingly, tonight's matchup of Hughes and Yankee killer A.J. Burnett should conjure up a fair bit of hot-stove conversation. Burnett is all but certain to opt out of his contract this fall as he's set career highs in games, starts, innings, strikeouts and wins this season and could finish with 19 victories by beating the Yankees tonight. His 1.78 ERA in four previous starts against New York has certainly piqued the Yankees' interest, but they'd do well to notice that Burnett's season ERA is barely above average and dips below average when you take away his dominance of the Bombers. He's also going to be 32 on Opening Day next year and has a very sketchy injury history. In fact, all of those career highs this year are the result of the fact of that, at age 31, Burnett has been healthy enough to start 30 games for just the second time in his career this year. Burnett has better stuff than former Marlins teammate Carl Pavano, but the Yankees would do well to remind themselves of the similarities between the two pitchers when contemplating the free agent Burnett.
Phil Hughes' one quality start in the majors this season came back on April 3 against the Blue Jays. Another one in this, his last start of the season, would go a long way toward building both his confidence and the team's confidence in him heading into next year, and would reduce the chances of the Yankees making a desperation move for an expensive injury-prone veteran like Burnett or Ben Sheets. In that way, Hughes beating Burnett tonight would be a tremendous victory for the future of the franchise. But, hey, no pressure.
Nothing original here, but...Go Moose.
Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory #17
By Charles Euchner
I've seen a lot of great players at Yankee Stadium -- Munson and Jackson, Catfish and Guidry, Jeter and A-Rod -- but my most memorable moment came at my first game in the Bronx. The Tigers came to town in 1971, just a few weeks after my family moved to Long Island from Iowa. I was a Mets fan but wanted to see any baseball game. My dad got tickets from his job at Con Ed, one of the team's sponsors. So off we went.
My most enduring memory is how empty the stadium was. About 12,000 went to the game, a quick check of Retrosheet.org tells me. Foul balls did not set off a mad contest of reaching, grasping hands. Foul balls bounced around empty seats while fans raced to retrieve them from other sections. Since it was a blowout -- a 9-1 Yankee victory, which improved their record to 68-71, good for fourth place, 18 1/2 games behind the Baltimore Orioles -- most people who came left early. Those who stayed sat around looking bored. I tried to convince myself I was watching something special. I wasn't. The Yankees had only one superstar, catcher Thurman Munson. Roy White and Bobby Murcer were decent. Not much else.
In the next couple years, I experienced some real Yankees excitement during promotions like Bat Day that filled the stadium. I have always been amazed how great it feels to be in a stadium with 55,000 other people. Even when the team is out of the race, it can still feel like a playoff atmosphere. I also experienced how rowdy things can get during bad games. I never smoked pot, but I inhaled plenty when I went to Yankee games in the 1970s. At every game, fights broke out and fans got high and drunk. Then, in the late 1970s, the Yankees started winning. I guess George decided he could set some standards for fan conduct. Whatever happened, things didn't get so ugly in the stands.
I have a funny kind of nostalgia for those bad old Yankee teams. I went to the stadium because baseball was fun, not because the team was the best. The Yankee dynasty teams of later years were obviously better "products," as the number-crunching GM's say these days. But I miss the bygone days when winning more than you lost was good enough, before failure was defined as not crushing everyone every day. I'd love to get in a way-back machine and watch that 1971 Yanks-Tigers game again. Maybe I missed something.
Charles Euchner is the author of The Last Nine Innings.
With one out in the bottom of the third inning of last night's game against the Blue Jays, Toronto's rookie left fielder Travis Snider hit a comebacker that ricocheted off Mike Mussina's pitching elbow and shot into foul territory, allowing Snider to reach base with an infield single. The ball hit Mussina flush on the head of his radius, and when trainer Gene Monahan and manager Joe Girardi ran out to attend to their veteran ace, the conclusion to Mussina's terrific comeback season was clearly hanging in the balance. The Yankees had a 1-0 lead at the time, but Mussina needed to finish the third and pitch two more innings without giving it up in order to qualify for his nineteenth win and keep his hopes for his first twenty-win season alive.
Mussina asked the assembled group to let him throw a few pitches, and after tossing a fastball and a sharp curveball, he declared himself fit to pitch. He was right. Despite a large red welt on the outside of his elbow the size of a golf ball, Mussina allowed just one more hit before being pulled after going the minimum five innings required for the win. By then his lead had doubled to 2-0 thanks to Jason Giambi's 32nd home run of the season.
The Yankees added a third run in the seventh when Robinson Cano doubled off Blue Jays starter Jesse Litsch, moved to third on a wild pitch, and scored on a passed ball. Never mind that Cano was actually out at home as the ball bounced right back to catcher Gregg Zaun, who tossed to Litsch, who made a great play sliding across the opposite side of the plate and tagging the sole of Cano's foot as it came down to touch home. Home plate ump Larry Vanover blew the call and spent the rest of the game calling strikes in a manner that found the middle ground between a sea lion and the Swedish Chef (strike one: "BORK!" strike two: "BORK!" strike three: "ARF! ARF!").
The Jays got that run back in the bottom of the seventh when lefties Adam Lind and Lyle Overbay singled and walked against Damaso Marte and Scott Rolen greeted Joba Chamberlain with a single that scored Lind. With two out and none on in the eighth, the Jays loaded the bases against Chamberlain thanks to some sloppy defense by Cody Ransom, who replaced Derek Jeter and his sore left hand at shortstop just before game time (Jeter said after the game that he couldn't swing), and an intentional walk, but Chamberlain won a seven-pitch battle with Lyle Overbay on a slider breaking down and away for a called strike three (ARF! ARF!). Otherwise Phil Coke, Brian Bruney, and Mariano Rivera were perfect in relief, nailing down the 3-1 win and giving Mussina his nineteenth win.
Hard Times Befallen The Soul Survivors
Unfortunately, the Red Sox also won, putting up a five-spot against likely Cy Young award winner Cliff Lee at Fenway to squeek out a 5-4 win behind Tim Wakefield and a quintet of relievers. The decisive run was scored by Dustin Pedroia on a two-out single by Jason Bay in the fifth ("sweet things from Boston, so young and willing"). With that, the Yankees have been eliminated from the postseason for the first time since 1993, the last year before the Wild Card was introduced.
That year it was Toronto that won the AL East, though the Yankees avoided being eliminated head-to-head by beating Todd Stottlemyre and the Jays behind Jim Abbott in their final game at SkyDome that season. The Yankees won again the next day, beating Rick Sutcliffe and the Orioles 9-1 behind Scott Kamieniecki (playing right field in place of an injured Paul O'Neill, Jim Leyritz homered in both games), but the Jays clinched anyway by beating the Brewers 2-0 behind Pat Hentgen and a trio of relievers that included Mike Timlin. The Jays would go on to win their second consecutive World Championship that October with Joe Carter delivering the Series-ending home run off Phillies closer Mitch Williams.
Toronto Blue Jays VI: Elimination Edition
Though the Yankees are still alive with just six games left to play, a single loss or a single Red Sox win will eliminate them from the postseason for the first time since 1993. Elimination is all the more likely because the Yankees will be facing both A.J. Burnett and Roy Halladay yet again in this series, having already gone 2-7 in games started by those two this season. Of the Yankees' 18 games against Toronto this season, 11 will have been started by Halladay or Burnett. The Yanks are 5-1 against Toronto this year in games started by other Blue Jay pitchers.
Fortunately, Mike Mussina has drawn Jesse Litsch tonight as he goes for this 19th win of the season. Mussina, who will start the final game of the season in Boston, has won 19 games in a season twice in his career, but never for the Yankees. The Yankees are 21-11 in Mussina's starts this year, the fourth time in his eight years with the Bombers that the team has won 20 or more of the games he has started.
I really enjoyed the fact that the Yankees brought out the U.S. Army Field Band to kick off Sunday's pre-game ceremonies by playing a pair of Sousa marches thereby echoing the band John Philip Sousa himself led on Opening Day in 1923.
This ain't that:
The Decline and Fall
Over at Baseball Prospectus, Jay Jaffe has a scathing piece about how the Yankee Stadium experience has changed in recent years. Check it out.
Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory #16
By Maury Allen
This was in 1972 in the old Yankee Stadium, the one where Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio and Mantle had played, long before the 1974-75 refurbishing and a dream location across from The House That Steinbrenner is building for 2009.
I walked on that green grass again as I had for a dozen years or so as a sportswriter, looked out at those monuments, examined that façade above the third deck and waited for my pitching pal.
Fritz Peterson, the left-handed anchor of the bad Yankee pitching staff of the late 1960s and early 1970s, was on the field now, a smile on his face as always, his baseball cap tipped back, his eyes wide with glee and amusement.
"I got another Tugboat post card," he said, with that wry smile. "I put it in his locker."
Peterson had a habit of collecting post cards of big boats or even bigger women and dropping them off in the locker of Thurman Munson, the best Bronx Bomber catcher since Yogi. It irritated the surly Munson no end.
Sparky Lyle, another laughing teammate, had once described Munson as not really moody.
"Moody is when you can smile some of the time," Lyle once said of his unfortunate batterymate, later to lose his life in a 1979 plane crash.
We chatted a while about Peterson's next start in another strong season (17-15 in 1972 after 20 wins in 1970) and then I asked him if he was available on the next Yankees off day for a barbecue at my suburban home.
"Sure," he said. "Can I bring Kekich?"
He had become pals with another Yankee lefty, Mike Kekich and the two couples, Fritz and Marilyn Peterson, Mike and Suzanne Kekich had spent a lot of time together.
The four of them arrived at my home on a beautiful summer night. My wife Janet had gone all out with her best cooking, our best dishes and a beer-filled refrigerator. A good time was had by all.
Soon, the information was out. Peterson and Kekich had arranged that night to swap wives, kids, cars, dogs, houses and hearts.
Marilyn and Mike never lasted as a couple. Fritz and Suzanne are going on some 35 years together.
Some people will always remember the giant home runs at the Stadium hit by Mickey Mantle or the clutch World Series shots by Yogi Berra or the brilliance of Whitey Ford on the mound and Elston Howard behind the plate.
Me? I just remember standing on that famous green grass and simply asking Fritz Peterson to join us for a barbecue. Who knew what evil lurked behind that question.
Maury Allen, a veteran newspaperman and author, writes for The Columnists.com.
The Final Week
With six days left in the regular season, five of the eight playoff spots are still in play and nine teams are still in the hunt.
In the NL East, the Phillies have won ten of their last 11 to build a 2.5 game lead over the Mets. They have just five games left, two against the Braves, and three against the Nationals. The Mets have six games left, the first three against the NL best Cubs. That race looks over.
Fortunately for the Mets, they still hold a one-game lead over the Brewers in the NL Wild Card race. The Brewers also have three games left against the Cubs and have gone just 5-15 on the month. Milwaukee's other three games are against the Pirates, the Mets' against the Marlins. Since the top two teams here are choking their seasons away, it's worth mentioning that the third horse in that race is Houston, which is 3.5 games back this morning and has seven games left against the Reds, Braves, and a season-ending makeup game against the Cubs. All four teams mentioned above play all of their remaining games at home. The other two teams still alive in the NL Wild Card race are the Marlins and Cardinals, both of whom could be eliminated to day with a loss and a Mets win.
The Cardinals host the Diamondbacks for the next three days, then send them home to face the Rockies. The D'backs trail the Dodgers by two games in the West. Joe Torre's team finishes up against the Padres and Giants.
The AL finds four teams still in play for the remaining two spots, though one of them is the Yankees, who can do no better than tie the Red Sox for the Wild Card. The Sox will clinch the Wild Card with a win or a Yankee loss. Boston also has a chance to pass the Rays for first place in the East (they trail by 2.5 games), though that's less significant since the Rays have already clinched a playoff spot.
That just leaves the race in the Central, which is where the real action is over the next three days as White Sox, who hold a 2.5 game lead in the division, travel to Minnesota to try to put away the second-place Twins head-to-head. If they fail, the Twins will finish at home against the Royals, while the White Sox host the Indians (actually, that will happen anyway, it just won't mean as much if the White Sox clinch in Minneapolis).
Here's the schedule for the White Sox's series in Minnesota:
Tue 9/23 8:10 (Vazquez v Baker)
Sadly, none of these games will be nationally televised.
Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory #15
Seven Layer Chocolate Cake
By Jane Leavy
May 18, 1962 was a raw spring night in the Bronx. A mean chill filled Yankee Stadium suppressing attendance at the Friday night game between the Yanks and the Minnesota Twins. A forgotten tributary of the Harlem River, on whose banks the stadium was built, runs on a diagonal from left field toward the hole between third and shortlike a cut off throw. The ancient waterway, Cromwell's Creek, buried deep beneath the sedimentary rock of urbanization, asserted itself in the dew and chill of that otherwise fine Friday evening. Mist enveloped the scalloped copper frieze that ringed the upper deck of the Stadium. I remember thinking: if Mick hits one tonight nobody will ever see it again.
That was the thing about Mantle: you never knew what might happen when he stepped to the plate or what might happen to him.
My father, who grew up on the other side of the Harlem River cheering for the Giants from a rocky perch on Coogan's Bluff, had gotten box seats behind the dugout along the third base line. It was the best seat I would ever have in a ballpark until I went to work as a sportswriter fifteen years later.
I was ten years old that sweet evening. What could be better-a visit to see The Mick and a sleepover at my grandmother's? Her apartment was just up the street in a building called The Yankee Arms, a long, loud foul ball from home plate.
Mickey was my guy but I was grandma's girl, her favorite, I thought (as did all her grandchildren). I knew this because although she loved frilly things and rose sachet, because canasta not baseball was her game, because in the 20 years she lived in the shadow of the ballpark she was never once tempted to step inside, despite all this she put on her mink stole and open-toed shoes and took me to Saks Fifth Avenue to buy my first baseball glove. It was an odd place to go in search of a mitt but she only wanted the best for me.
Providence intervened--a mannequin in the front window had a Sammy Esposito glove on her hand. "We'll have that one," my grandmother told the flummoxed salesman, who pointed out it was not for sale. He was no match for a Jewish grandmother, mine anyway. I took Sammy home; I took Sammy everywhere, including the stadium on May 18, 1962.
My grandfather, a manic-depressive immigrant tailor, had made me two identical wool, plaid skirts, one in tones of beige, brown and gold, the other in red and green, Christmas-tree green, perfect for Hanukah. They were reversible and indestructible. A whole wardrobe, these skirts. They went with everything and nothing. He was in a manic mode when he sewed them; their oscillating hems reflected his ups and downs.
In an act of filial devotion (and parental betrayal), my mother had made it a condition of attendance that I wear one of these atrocities. I chose the more muted tones and an overly generous straw-colored Irish cable knit sweater over a white turtleneck. I looked like a pre-pubescent haystack.
I knew it was going to be Mick's year. It had to be after the disappointment of 1961. God owed him after allowing Roger Maris to claim Babe Ruth's title as home run king. Being second fiddle made him more loveable to the masses, but not to me--I couldn't love him anymore than I did already.
"In 1961 I became an American hero because he beat me," he would say later. "He was an ass and I was a nice guy. He beat Babe Ruth and he beat me so they hated him. Everywhere we'd go I got a standing ovation. All I had to do was walk out of the dugout."
The Final Game
I spent nearly 12 hours at Yankee Stadium yesterday. What follows, believe it or not, is the short version of that experience.
At roughly half past midnight last night, my wife, Becky, and I were standing next to our car in the darkened parking lot near the Harlem River, finishing off the soft-serve ice cream cones we had picked up on our way under the Major Deegan. As Yankee Stadium sat glowing behind us, the blue aura of the stadium lights reaching up toward the half moon set low in the sky over center field, Becky compared the emotions we were feeling to a junior high graduation. We will still see the same people and do the same things next year, she reasoned, it will just be in a different place. I resisted the comparison at first, rattling on about history and landmarks and what will be lost when the Stadium is razed, but upon reflection, and still flush with the emotion of the night as I write this in the wee-morning hours, I've found the truth in her comparison.
Becky and I were high school sweethearts, and though our school days have receded deep into our past, they remain with us both through our relationship with each other, through our closest friends, most of whom we can also trace back to high school, and through the many other ways in which those years shaped our lives and set us upon the course we are on today. Becky was sad to leave high school, for reasons I didn't completely understand. I couldn't wait to leave it behind. Perhaps that's why it took me a moment to find the truth in her statement.
As I wrote earlier this week, the strongest of my many mixed emotions leading up to last night's final game at Yankee Stadium was anger. That anger has expressed it self in criticism of the public expense, abuses, and design flaws of the new Stadium, but ultimately my anger stems from the private hurt of being evicted from a place that I consider home. I imagine that's how Becky must have felt upon graduation, angry that forces beyond her control were robbing her of a place of comfort and familiarity, a place filled with elemental memories, and place in which she had grown from a timid 14-year-old girl into a confident young woman.
My feelings about Yankee Stadium are similar. Just 12 years old when I attended my first game there, I was a kid caught between childhood and maturity, still searching for my place after the dissolution of my parents' marriage and amid their subsequent relationships, still searching for an identity of my own, but beginning to sense that baseball might play a part. Last night I left that Stadium for the last time a grown man of 32, a husband hoping to become a father, a man who has found true happiness in his own marriage and who has followed his muse through a variety of rewarding and creative endeavors, not the least of which is the blog you're reading right now.
Other than my parents, the only constant in my life throughout that journey has been baseball, specifically Yankee baseball, and though I've been in locker rooms and press boxes in other ballparks, my relationship with baseball has been no more intimate than when I've been in the stands in Yankee Stadium. Now that's gone, and I'm hurt, and angry, and sad, but I'm also hopeful and excited about what the next twenty years might bring, for both myself and the team, and about the people I'll be able to share those experiences with. Perhaps most of all, I'm thankful. Thankful that I had the opportunity to see scores of games at the old ballpark. Thankful that I could share those experiences with Becky, both of my parents, and a variety of friends from across twenty years. Thankful that I have this forum to express myself and to share my thoughts and feelings with countless readers, who in turn share theirs with me and each other. Better yet, I'm thankful that I have lived a life privileged and pleasant enough that the closing of a sporting venue could have such a profound impact on me. While I'll never get to set foot in Yankee Stadium again, this morning I'm going to be thankful for the many wonderful things I do have rather than be bitter about the one thing I just lost.
Yankee Stadium: 1923-1973; 1976-2008
I've never been to Yankee Stadium. Oh sure, I've seen the Yankees play in the Bronx more than one hundred times over the past 20 years, but Yankee Stadium, the limestone behemoth that was home to Yankee greats from Babe Ruth to Mickey Mantle is something I've only seen in books, grainy film footage, and in the background of old baseball cards. That cavernous coliseum, with its copper frieze trimming the roof that hung over the upper deck and its career-altering death valley in left center, was destroyed following the 1973 season. Its last game was a forgettable 8-5 Yankee loss to the Tigers that concluded an equally forgettable 80-82 fourth-place season for the home team.
Two and a half years later, in its place, sat a different Yankee Stadium. A modernized, yet instantly-dated, grey, concrete bowl filled with royal blue seats and orange light bulbs that relayed information from a flat-black scoreboard. The copper frieze had been melted down and replaced with a concrete replica that sat on a lower perch atop the outfield scoreboard, like an artifact on one's mantle. The roof had been largely removed. The wall in left center was now 27 feet closer to home plate and would come in another 31 feet before I ever got to see it in person. Behind that wall, the three marble-and-bronze monuments that had formed a half circle around the flag pole in the grass of center field sat in concrete and were surrounded by a black chain-link fence that separated the two bullpens.
Still, though the structure had been changed, and the field which had played host to 27 World Series and two All-Star Games had been torn up and replaced, there remained a connection between the remodeled Yankee Stadium, as it would become unofficially known, and the original. Just as the Yankees inaugurated Yankee Stadium with the franchise's first World Championship in 1923, the team inaugurated the remodeled Stadium in 1976 with their first World Series appearance in 12 years and followed that up with championships in 1977 and 1978. In its 33 years of existence, the remodeled Stadium hosted 10 World Series and two All-Star Games. Unless the Dodgers reach the World Series this year, no other stadium will have hosted more than four Fall Classics over that same span. The remodeled Stadium quickly established itself as a worthy successor to the original not because of its own grandeur, which was lacking, but because of the grandeur of the games which took place there.
When the last out at Yankee Stadium is recorded tonight, baseball won't be losing a great piece of architecture; the remodeled Stadium is no beauty. What it will lose is the living memory of some of the game's greatest moments. What makes Yankee Stadium great is not the concrete replica of the frieze in center field or the relocated monuments beyond the wall in left field. It's not even the great views from the upper deck or the camaraderie and passion of the bleacher creatures. It's the history that was made there.
One can look around the current park and see where legendary home runs by Aaron Boone and Scott Brosius fell into the left field box seats, Reggie's moon-shot off Charlie Hough clanged off the black batter's eye, homers by Tino Martinez, Derek Jeter, and Chris Chambliss made post-season history by clearing the wall in right, with and without help. One can envision Mariano Rivera and Goose Gossage appearing through the bullpen gate in left center, Derek Jeter diving into the stands behind third base, David Wells punching the air and David Cone falling to his knees after the final outs of their perfect games. One can see Dave Righetti, Jim Abbott, and Dwight Gooden celebrating no-hitters, Thurman Munson crouching behind home plate as Ron Guidry strikes out 18 Angels, Don Mattingly bringing down the house with a home run into the right-field bleachers, Dave Winfield ripping bullets down the left field line, Rickey Henderson and Mickey Rivers burning up the bases, Willie Randolph turning two, Tom Seaver, Phil Neikro, and Roger Clemens winning 300, Alex Rodriguez hitting 500, and George Brett storming out of the visitor's dugout, a victim of Billy Martin's chicanery. One can also see Paul O'Neill meekly slumping his shoudlers as an entire Stadium chants his name, Reggie doffing his batting helmet to the crowd in front of the home dugout, Charley Hayes squeezing the final out of the 1996 World Series, Wade Boggs riding a police horse around the warning track, and both Jackson and Chambliss plowing their way through the swarms of celebrating fans toward the safety of the clubhouse.
Though the field has been torn up, replaced, moved, and lowered, it doesn't take much imagination to envision the old park. In fact, that has been one of my favorite things to do when visiting the Stadium. I'd squint at the left-handed batters box and imagine Babe Ruth taking a mighty swing and christening the new park with a home run or Lou Gehrig, hat in hand, addressing the crowd. Looking around, I could see Joe DiMaggio kicking the dirt near second base, Mickey Mantle launching a ball off the frieze, Jackie Robinson breaking for home, Yogi Berra leaping into Don Larson's arms, the Dodgers celebrating Brooklyn's first and only championship, Roger Maris circling the bases after number 61, and Bobby Murcer chasing a ball around the monuments in center. Because the Yankees were in the World Series with such regularity, all but a select few of the game's greats (most of them Cubs) played there, from Ty Cobb, to Ted Williams, to Tony Gwynn, Walter Johnson, to Sandy Koufax, to Pedro Martinez, Jackie Robinson, to Curt Flood, and Roberto Clemente, and so on. In 1928, Knute Rockne implored his team to "win one for the Gipper" there. In 1938, Joe Luis beat Max Schmeling there. In 1958, Johnny Unitas beat the New York Football Giants in the NFL Championship Game there.
That is what will be lost. Not the building, but the place and the tangible connection to what happened there. The Yankees may only be moving a few hundred feet to the north to play on a field of similar dimensions in a ballpark with an identical name, but Yankee Stadium, the real Yankee Stadium, in both its incarnations, will soon be resigned to the page, the screen, and the memory of those who were fortunate enough to have seen a ballgame there, whether they witnessed a great moment, or simply gazed out at the field and imagined all the great moments that had come before.
Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory #14
By Ed Alstrom
I've been to a lot of great and wacky games at the Stadium, like everyone else: the Chambliss home run, several other playoff and World Series games, some crazed comebacks, and some of those insane asylum games from the early 90s with people running onto the field at random (one game against the Red Sox, there were seven of them at different intervals, in the rain).
And, of course, auditioning for the organist position at the Stadium (with Eddie Layton himself standing in the doorway requesting song snippets!) was priceless, and fulfilling my childhood dream of playing the organ there is very special, every single time I do it.
But for my part, I'd have to say that my lasting memory of the Stadium after it's gone will be a little different from most, and that is having gotten to hang out with Bob Sheppard.
Mr. Sheppard (that's what all of us in the Press Box call him) has his public address booth right next to mine at the organ. Only a pane of Plexiglas separates us. Sometimes I'll knock on his door, sometimes he'll tap on my window and motion me in, and we chat, sometimes during the game. He'll be talking, and then point his index finger in the air mid-sentence, to say 'wait a minute,' step on a pedal to activate the mike, announce the next player (in the same exact tone of voice he's speaking to me in), and then continue where he left off. When a Yankee makes an error or a bad play, he'll look at me and very slowly point his palms skyward and shrug his shoulders.
His end of game routine is really beautiful: with 2 out in the ninth and Mariano on the hill, he'll slowly don his cap and coat, salute me, lock his door, and wait in the runway. If the game ends then and there, he is off like a shot, walking so briskly I can barely keep up with him (and I've tried it!). If that batter reaches base, though, he'll unlock the door, come back in, give me that same shrug, step on the pedal, announce the next batter, and repeat the procedure. His determination to beat that traffic (and his success rate, I'm sure) is admirable indeed.
Several times, I've gone down to the press lunch room and broken bread with him at 'his table,' which is the one in the corner of the room with a cardboard handwritten sign with his name on it. He surely deserves a gold plaque or something more dignified (well, he does have a Monument in the Park), but everyone knows anyway that that's his domain.
You've probably heard what a class act he is, and he exceeds all expectations on that count. I've spoken to him many, many times, but oddly it's almost never about baseball: usually music and theater. In fact, he usually changes the subject to music when I try to engage him about baseball.
He loves the music of the 40s, and the big bands. He told me once he was especially fond of the great singer Jo Stafford, so I went home and found a bunch of her recordings and put them on CD for him, and he was delighted and talked about her at length, and about how he was stationed in Aruba during World War II, and they used to get her 78s shipped to them, and play them at their bar in the 'Quonset hut' (you can just hear Shep saying 'Quonset hut,' right?).
He loves poetry, so he is quite enamored of the lyrics of Hart, Hammerstein, Gershwin, Porter, et al., and we've spent quite a bit of precious pre-game time analyzing those. And I've spent some time (at his behest) trying to explain the merits of rock and roll, or any music recorded after 1955 (with limited success, I think).
At times, he'll approach me with some handwritten poetry he's composed, which is invariably literate, funny, and sometimes biting. He once wrote a concise and venomous little masterpiece about Kevin Brown's bout with a cinderblock wall, and showed it to me; I am not at liberty to disclose it, but lemme tell you, it's incredible. I said to him, "You must have a lot of these." He said, "Oh, hundreds." I said, "You should get these published," to which he replied, "Oh, no, Mr. Steinbrenner would fire me!"
One Saturday afternoon, it was Military Day at the Stadium, and the formalities were to begin with the Golden Knights parachuting onto the field. It was about two minutes before the ceremony was to begin, and Mr. Sheppard was nowhere in sight.
I knocked on the control room window, got the director's attention, and pointed to myself and then to Shep's booth. He said, "Yeah, go ahead." So, I gave the script a speed read, got the cue, stepped on the pedal to activate the mike, and very deliberately said... "Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen; welcome to Yankee Stadium!"
Now, I didn't have time to think about it, but my instinct was to not attempt my Shep imitation, because I felt it would be disrespectful somehow, but I did try to phrase it as he might have, veer a course somewhere down the middle vocally, and create the illusion that it was him.
It was a very long script, about two pages, and it was a real roller coaster moment. Toward the end of it, I noticed out of the corner of my eye that Mr. Sheppard was standing behind me! I finished with the read, released the pedal, and looked at him gingerly, feeling somewhat like a child about to be scolded. Instead, he grinned broadly, and said very slowly, "Were you trying to imitate me?" Imagine that thrill!
But the best of all was when he approached me one day, and said, "You know, I wrote a song many years ago." Of course, I wanted to hear it, so he showed me the lyrics and sang it to me. I told him the next day I was coming back with a recorder, and he sang it again for me, acapella, and then I got him to talk into the recorder for about 15 minutes about it. I then went home and created a musical track for his melody, chopped his vocal track into pieces and flew it in over the accompaniment, and presented him with a finished product worthy of Sinatra. He was very touched, and I was touched to be able to do that for him. He wrote a handwritten note of thanks, which is more valuable to me than any piece of memorabilia could be. Believe me, Mr. Sheppard, the pleasure was all mine.
Whatever our collective vignettes are of Yankee Stadium, Bob Sheppard's narration to that soundtrack is a thread that runs through all of them, and an essential component of it. His humanity, wit, and warmth are every bit as momentous as that voice, and I am honored to have shared some time on this Earth with him. He is Yankee Stadium, in a lot of ways.
Ed Alstrom will be playing the organ from the early afternoon until late tonight at Yankee Stadium.
It's Hanky Time for Yankee Stadium today. The tributes just keep a comin. Yesterday, Paul Simon had a piece about the old place in the New York Times, today, it's Henry Kissinger's turn. Also in the Times, comes memories from Billy Crystal, Robert Creamer, Jane Heller, and B-Girl Penny Marshall.
Here is Maury Brown's ode to the cathedral, as well as Alan Sepinwall's memories.
Read em and weep.
It was a near perfect afternoon in the Bronx yesterday as the Yankees and Orioles played the final day game at Yankee Stadium. Amid sharp shadows and under a cloudless sky, the Stadium gleamed, the cool early autumn air adding a crispness to the day. The Yankees and Orioles played scoreless baseball for eight-plus innings, but the lack of action on the field mattered little as most everyone on hand and watching at home was more concerned about drinking in the doomed ballpark, which has rarely looked more welcoming or more vibrant.
Afredo Aceves got things started off in style in the first inning. Following a Brian Roberts lead-off double, Adam Jones popped up a bunt in front of the mound. Aceves, who has shown himself to be a solid infielder, caught the ball on a lunge before tumbling forward to his knees. He then spun to double Roberts off of second, but Roberts had been running on the pitch and had actually rounded third base slightly, so rather than throw to Cody Ransom covering second base, Aceves, with a big grin on his face, jogged the ball over to second for an unassisted double play, a play rarely turned by a pitcher (paging Bob Timmermann).
Aceves wouldn't allow a runner past second base all day, and after six innings and 92 pitches, he was replaced by Brian Bruney, Damaso Marte, and Mariano Rivera, who kept that streak intact. The Yankees didn't do much better against lefty spot-starter Brian Burres. With two outs in the first, Bobby Abreu doubled and moved to third on a wild pitch, but Alex Rodriguez popped out to strand him, and the Yankees didn't get another man past second until the bottom of the ninth.
Though it would ultimately prove a fitting conclusion to a beautiful day, the bottom of the ninth started off ominously when a 1-1 pitch got away from rookie reliever Jim Miller and hit Derek Jeter on the back of his left hand. Jeter spun to avoid the pitch, but it caught him flush and sent him skipping toward the visiting batting circle in obvious pain. Joe Girardi and trainer Gene Monahan quickly attended to Jeter, who was the DH yesterday to give him a breather before today's final game at the Stadium, and almost immediately pulled Jeter from the game. Jeter didn't make a fist with the hand when Monahan was checking him out on the field, and as he headed into the tunnel toward the clubhouse, Jeter slammed his batting helmet on the dugout floor. Fortunately, post-game x-rays were negative and Jeter is expected to be in the lineup for the Stadium's finale . . . of course.
Brett Gardner ran for Jeter at first base and stole second base easily on Miller's first pitch to Abreu. After Miller fell behind Abreu 3-0, Orioles manager Dave Trembley decided to make use of that empty base and pass the buck to Alex Rodriguez. Rodriguez took two strikes then hit into a near double play, but managed to beat out the relay to put runners on the corners with one out for Jason Giambi. Trembley called on veteran lefty reliever Jamie Walker to pitch to Giambi, and Walker responded by striking Giambi out on six pitches. Rodriguez stole second on strike three, so Trembley had Walker put Xavier Nady on base and pitch to fellow lefty Robinson Cano. Cano, who still holds the distinction of having hit the last home run at Yankee Stadium, jumped on Walker's first pitch, delivering a line-drive single just to the right of second base, plating Gardner with the winning run.
So in the final day game at Yankee Stadium, the Yankees beat the Orioles 1-0 on a walk-off single by Robison Cano. Mariano Rivera got the win, and the Yankees staved off elimination for at least one more day. The day was so close to perfect that, in some peverse way, I almost wish yesterday's game was the last ever at the Stadium. The only way tonight's game could be better would be for a Yankee to hit a home run and for Jeter to be somewhere other than the trainers' room when the game ends.
It is sunny and cool and decidedly a fall day. The last day game at Yankee Stadium.
As Aaron Gleeman says, Happy Baseball.
Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory #13
By Pete Abraham
There is not one in particular moment I remember.
I've attended roughly 200 games at Yankee Stadium since I started covering the team in 2006 and they all seem to blend in. The best part of the day is walking from the elevator on the loge level, down the concourse, into the press box and sitting down in my seat in the front row.
I always pause a minute to look around and soak it in. When they're playing a big game, the skies are clear and the fans are buzzing, it's intoxicating.
I became a sportswriter when I was 17 because I loved the idea of communicating the details of something that matters to people. Baseball always drew me in because it was the one sport people had passion for all year.
Yankee Stadium is the front office of baseball, the best venue in the game. Where else does baseball matter more? I feel tremendously fortunate every time I sit down and look around. At that moment, there is nowhere else in the world I would rather be. That's my favorite memory, no matter how many times it repeats.
Pete Abraham covers the Yankees for The Journal News.
Easy Does it
Last season Tom Verducci worked as an umpire during a spring training game and wrote about the experience for Sports Illustrated. The bit I remember most about the article was how fast the game is on the field, how quickly things move for everyone involved, the umpires, players, the fans in the front row when a foul ball comes their way. But for some players, for the best players, the action slows down and they are, momentarily, able to master time.
Two nights ago, a dapper little man named Emilio Navarro, the oldest living ballplayer, threw out the first pitch at Yankee Stadium. Navarro, 102 years old, was the first Puerto Rican to play in the Negro Leagues. He was escorted to the mound by Pudge Rodriguez and Jorge Posada. When they reached the grass in front of the mound, Posada went to home plate to receive the throw.
Navarro took his time. A squirrel was standing on the first base side of the mound watching as Navarro gave it a little of the ol Ed Norton and he went into a full wind-up. As he released the ball (and delivered a good throw), the squirrel darted across the field behind him and disappeared from the camera's view. I'm sure Navarro, who was a second baseman in his playing days was quick like that back when. Then Navarro did a little jig and tipped his cap to the crowd before Rodriguez and Posada escorted him back off the field.
Navarro continued to move slowly, but not like a feeble or sick man, just one who knows exactly how fast he should be walking. He soaked in the moment and had no desire to rush anything. Navarro looked like a gnome compared with the two ballplayers next to him, and they looked like parents walking with an infant, you know, when adults have to constantly remind themselves that they are walking too fast for the kid. But Navarro was relaxed and comfortable and at 102, what's the rush?
I thought about Navarro's grace and ease last night in the ninth inning. With a man on first and two men out, Mariano Rivera fielded a soft ground ball on the third base side of the diamond. It was not going to roll foul. Rivera darted to the ball, picked it up and threw a bullet to first base. The runner would have been out and the ball game over, but the ball bounced off Cody Ransom's glove. The replay showed Rivera pick up the ball and firing it to first in one smooth motion. Then he stood, erect when a small, easy smile spread across his face, even before Ransom dropped the ball. When the ball got away, the smile grew ever so slightly before Rivera jostled himself back into reality and moved toward home plate.
We've seen this look from Rivera in the past, it is one of simple disbelief. But last night, it wasn't so incredulous, just a simple smile. Suddenly, the Yankees one-run lead was in jeopardy. Runners on the corners and two out. But Brian Roberts popped up the first pitch he saw, a cutter in on his hands. The ball was not high and inbetween Rivera and Rodriguez. For a brief moment there was some confusion as to who was going to catch it. But Rodriguz caught the ball for the third out and that simple smile returned to Rivera's face as he shook hands with Rodriguez who was now smiling too as the Yankees beat the Orioles 3-2.
Baltimore Orioles VI: The Final Series Edition
The just-completed series against the White Sox had some interest beyond the impending closing of Yankee Stadium thanks to Chicago's fight for the AL Central, Mike Mussina's still-active quest for 20 wins, the return of Phil Hughes to the Yankee rotation, and the major league debuts of three Yankee prospects last night. This weekend's series against the Orioles has none of that. These last three games will be about Yankee Stadium and nothing else. With that in mind, here are the three other opening and closing dates in the Stadium's 86-year history:
April 18, 1923 - the first game at Yankee Stadium, Yankees beat the Red Sox 4-1 behind Bob Shawkey, who scored the first run at the new park on a single by third baseman Joe Dugan in the fourth inning. Ruth followed Dugan with a three-run homer, the Stadium's first. Second baseman Aaron Ward had picked up the park's first hit in the previous inning.
Sept. 30, 1973 - the final game at the original Stadium, Yankees lost to the Tigers 8-5 as Fritz Peterson and Lindy McDaniel combined to allow six runs in the eighth inning. Backup catcher Duke Sims, in his only start of the year, hits the last home run at the old park in the seventh. Winning pitcher John Hiller gets first baseman Mike Hegan to fly out to center fielder Mickey Stanley to end the game.
April 15, 1976 - the first game at the renovated Stadium, Yankees beat the Twins 11-4 with Dick Tidrow picking up the win with five shoutout innings in relief of Rudy May and Sparky Lyle getting the save. May gave up the first hit and home run in the remodeled Stadium to Disco Dan Ford in the top of the first. Twins second baseman Jerry Terrell, who led of the game with a walk, scored the first run ahead of Ford. The first Yankee hit was delivered by Mickey Rivers in the bottom of the first. The first Yankee home run at the redone park would come off the bat of Thurman Munson two days later.
The relocated St. Louis Browns first played at the Stadium as the Baltimore Orioles on May 5 and 6 of 1954, losing to Eddie Lopat and Allie Reynolds by scores of 4-2 and 9-0. The O's first visit to the renovated stadium came in a three-game weekend series starting on May 14, 1976. The O's took two of three in that series, beating Catfish Hunter in the opener. The first batter in that game was Ken Singleton, who struck out looking, but the next six Orioles delivered hits off Hunter, among them a two-run homer by O's center fielder Reggie Jackson (!) as the O's cruised to a 6-2 win behind Ross Grimsley.
For the curious, the action depicted in the Merv Rettenmund card pictured here occurred on August 9, 1970 in the seventh inning of the first game of a Sunday doubleheader. With the O's leading 1-0 behind Jim Palmer, Rettenmund led of the seventh with a double off Fritz Peterson. Andy Etchebarren then hit a hot shot to third base that Jerry Kenney either booted or bobbled, allowing Etchebarren to reach and Rettenmund to advance. The photo on the card freezes the action as Kenney, ball in hand, checks Rettenmund at third base. The O's would go on to score three unearned runs in that inning, but the Yanks got two in the eighth and two in the ninth to tie it, the latter two on a single by Roy White after Earl Weaver had replaced Palmer with Pete Richert. White would later end the game in the 11th with one out and Horace Clarke on first base by homering off Dick Hall to give the Yankees a 6-4 win.
Finally, here's an account of the last game at the original Stadium from Glenn Stout's outstanding Yankees Century:
The Yankees ended the season on September 30, closing down old Yankee Stadium to accommodate the scheduled renovation. In the final week of the season, the Hall of Fame hauled away a ticket booth, a turnstile, and other memorabilia. Anticipating souvenir takers, the club had already removed the center-field monuments and a hoard of equipment scheduled to follow the Yankees to Queens.
What to Do With Bobby?
Providing Closer Views For All
This below is a very unscientific comparison of the seating bowls in the new Yankee Stadium (on the left from a photo posted on the WCBS web site) and the current Yankee Stadium (on the right from a photo I took three weeks ago). It's an imperfect comparsion to be sure (the photo on the left appears to have been taken from in or near the press box, while my photo was taken from a seat in the upper deck behind home plate), but the difference in the upper deck seating is striking nonetheless.
The Relics of Shea Stadium--Pat Dobson
Right from the get-go, I have to admit I’m cheating a bit with this article, the last in my series on the "relics" of Shea Stadium. The previous three articles profiled Yankees of the 1970s who never called Yankee Stadium home, since their careers coincided only with the Shea Stadium seasons of 1974 and ’75. In actuality, Pat Dobson did pitch for the Yankees during the second half of the ’73 season, the final campaign at the "old" Yankee Stadium. But I’m willing to make an exception for "Dobber." He’s worth it.
I never met Dobson, but I always enjoyed reading articles that quoted him, especially from his days as a scout. Known as a funny free spirit during his playing days, Dobson became known for the strange vernacular he invented. He called curve balls "yakkers." He referred to liquor as "oil." And he called a big game a "bogart." Many of his invented terms were adopted by his teammate in Cleveland, Dennis Eckersley, who made such slang famous later in his career.
After his playing days, Dobson became a legendary storyteller and an incisively honest assessor of major league talent, both good and bad. Largely employed as an advance major league scout, Dobson did good work for a number of years with the Rockies and the Giants, who benefited from the opinions he offered based on his years of experience.
Dobson also happened to be a very good pitcher, a legitimate No. 3 starter for some excellent postseason teams of the 1970s. In today’s game, a younger Dobson would have merited a four-year contract worth $40 million, maybe more, on the open market. He was that good.
Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory #12
By Brian Gunn
I went to my first and only game at Yankee Stadium earlier this year, a Sunday game in April against the Rays. As I took my seat behind home plate I drank in the stadium – the green lawn, the Facade running along the bleacher billboards, the retired numbers out in Monument Park – and I tried to imagine all the greats who made the stadium come alive. I tried to imagine Babe Ruth circling the bases with his little birdlike feet, or Joe DiMaggio gliding in from center to snag a fly ball.
And I tried.
And I just couldn't do it.
I was so goddamn cold I could barely concentrate on anything but the weather. I know, I know – just what you'd expect from a Californian. But I swear I wasn't the only one. A cold wind whipped in from left field and had the sparse crowd huddled together for warmth. Whenever the Yanks retired the side or scratched out a hit the fans would let out a perfunctory clap or two before sticking their hands back in their pockets. Sometime around the 4th inning a fan sitting behind us accidentally spilled his beer all over my four-year-old nephew. It was about as far as you could get from my first-ever baseball memory – seeing Reggie Jackson, on TV, go deep three times in a row against the Dodgers. I can still remember how the air looked in Yankee Stadium that night (at least as it came across our Zenith television): thick with pitch and moment, steam from 56,000 fevered bodies rising into the October night.
My experience with Yankee Stadium was nothing like that. There was no momentousness, no steam, no October magic, and certainly no Babe or Joe D. It was, instead, a pretty ho-hum experience – a stiff reminder that Yankee Stadium isn't, after all, a vending machine. Its wonders aren't available on demand.
Brian Gunn is a screenwriter living in Los Angeles.
The Long Goodbye
Over at CNN, Jim Bouton remembers Yankee Stadium (peace to Gamingboy at Baseball Think Factory for the link).
Just Writing My Name and Graffiti on the Wall
Ray Negron had an unlikely start to a career in baseball--he was caught spray painting his name on Yankee Stadium by none other than the Boss, George Steinbrenner. Today at 3:00 pm, Negron will be on hand as Bobby Murcer's face is added to the great mural across the street from the Stadium. If you are in the neighborhood, stop by and check, check it out.
So Long (It's Been Good To Know Ya)
Tom Verducci wrote SI's cover story on Yankee Stadium this week. He also penned a column about the ballpark up on 161st street:
I understand the price of progress is to lose a piece of history. I understand Yankee Stadium was never re-built to accommodate four million people. The stadium, in fact, is overrated simply as a place to watch a game. The concourses are frighteningly narrow and without view of the field, the food services are abominable, the bathrooms require haz-mat gear to enter, there is far too much room behind home plate, and you could probably earn an online degree in the time it takes to exit a parking garage if you dare drive and stay for a whole game. But hey, my 1973 Plymouth Satellite was nothing to look at, either. It's the history, which becomes a personal history because we connect its events to moments in our lives, that made the place beautiful. Yankee fans seemed to pride themselves on not being comfortable. They were there to watch some ball, that's all.
Thrills, no frills.
I Will Gladly Pay You Tuesday For A Mooseburger Today
Your 2008 New York Yankees are, obviously, a major disappointment... but they’re not actually bad, either. Last night's 9-2 win was their 82nd of the season, which means they’ll finish at .500 even if they lose every single game remaining. And they’ll almost certainly finish with well over 83 wins, which is more than can be said for the 2006 World Champion St. Louis Cardinals. Okay, that's an extreme example, but still: in the AL Central the Yankees would be two games out of first with this record, and they’d actually be winning in the NL West. Now clearly wins do not translate so exactly across divisions, and you cannot aim for 80-odd wins if you’re playing in the AL East, and yes, the Yankees have lots of very real and significant problems, yes the offense was surprisingly mediocre, yes Sir Sidney Ponson started 14 games. Still, technically, this is not a bad team, not by general MLB standards. They’re just not good enough.
The Yankees kept tacking on, one in the third inning and four in the fourth; Ozzie Guillen wisely removed Vazquez before he could face Abreu again, but Horacio Ramirez was not much of an improvement, and the Yankees got a little Conga line going around the bases. They added two more in the fifth, and the New York bullpen trio of Jose Veras, Humberto Sanchez, and Chris Britton finished things off with little incident. In other news, Juan Miranda made his major league debut tonight with two walks, and later in the game Francisco Cervelli stepped in behind the plate, apparently recovered from his controversial broken wrist.
Last Shot atTwenty
Two Faces of Fandom
As an antidote to my vitriol from this morning, I wanted to share this Star-Ledger story on blind Yankee season ticket holder Jane Lang. Mrs. Lang hales from my home town of Morris Plains, New Jersey, and I remember her coming to my school to give presentations on the Seeing Eye (which was founded in neighboring Morristown) when I was in elementary school. Mrs. Lang has long been an important role model in our community and is a die-hard sports fan (here's a two-year-old Times article on her trips to see the Rangers at Madison Square Garden). Mrs. Lang can often be seen sitting next to Harlan Chamberlain in the special-needs seating behind home plate (where she's protected from foul balls by the netting) and was brought upstairs earlier this year to pull the countdown lever. For all of my cynicism about the Yankees organization, the genuine love of the game of fans such as Jane Lang continues to inspire me.
Also, those of you who actually sat through both games the last two nights likely noticed that a fan in the right field bleachers caught home runs in both games. That was not entirely a coincidence. The fan in question is Zack Hample, a Mets fan and Manhattan native who has "snagged" more than 3,700 baseballs and written a book how to do it. Hample has a blog on MLB.com, and you can read his account of the last two nights here and here. Hample is one of the more unusual affirmations of my belief that it's possible to get better at anything if you work hard enough at it.
Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory #11
By Phil Pepe
There were times in the 1960s and 1970s when I came to think of Yankee Stadium as my second home. As Yankees beat writer for two newspapers, the New York World Telegram & Sun and the New York Daily News, I spent more time in the big ballpark in the South Bronx in those days than I did in my own home.
I'm not complaining. Covering the Yankees in those exciting and turbulent times was my job and my joy. As a result, I got to know interesting, exciting and legendary personalities: Casey Stengel, Joe DiMaggio (after he had retired), Mickey Mantle, Billy Martin, Yogi Berra, Phil Rizzuto, Pete Sheehy, Reggie Jackson, Mel Allen, Thurman Munson and George Steinbrenner. (My one regret is that I came along a few years too late to have met Babe Ruth.) And I was blessed to have witnessed so many historic moments to feed my lifelong passion for baseball, a coincidental byproduct of my position and my advanced age.
There is a sadness now, and a melancholia because of the imminent demise of this baseball cathedral where I have spent so many hours, witnessed so much history, and chronicled the exploits of so many legends of the game. The mind is cluttered with so many memories, I find it difficult, no, impossible, to catalogue them; to choose one as my greatest Yankee Stadium memory.
In no particular order of importance or historical significance, here is a list of 10 Yankee Stadium memories -- events I witnessed -- that easily fall under the heading of memorable and unforgettable, deeds that might make anyone's list:
* Mickey Mantle's blast off Bill Fischer of Kansas City leading off the bottom of the eleventh inning of a 7-7 tie on the night of May 22, 1963. The shot came within inches of being the first (and only) fair ball ever hit out of Yankee Stadium. Mantle called it, "The hardest ball I ever hit."
It may have been the hardest ball anybody ever hit.
* Roger Maris' 61st home run off Tracy Stallard on October 1, 1961, the "year of the asterisk." The solo home run was the only tally in a 1-0 Yankees victory. It still boggles the mind that a mere 23,124 fans showed up (through the years I have encountered more than that number who claim they were there) to see the coronation of baseball's new single-season home run champion.
The Rich Get Richer: The Ugly Truth About The New Yankee Stadium
As the Yankees play their final games at Yankee Stadium, I've come to realize that I've never really shared my reaction to the organization's decision to move across the street into a new billion-dollar stadium built primarily with public money. When they announced the plans for the new stadium in June 2005, I said nothing. When they broke ground in August 2006, I remained silent. Beyond a few kinds words for the old park and some photos of the construction taken out of curiosity and a desire to document a significant event, I've almost ignored the entire stadium business altogether in this space.
I realize now that the reason I haven't said much is that every time I start to think seriously about the move, I become overwhelmed with mixed emotions. Certainly there's a sadness that comes from knowing that after Sunday I'll never again be able to watch a game at the old ballpark, which has been a part of my life and my love of baseball for 20 years and which I've visited more than 125 times. There's also a curiosity about what the new place will bring and an optimism about the new memories that might be made there. There's also resignation, as this moment was sure to arrive at some point during my lifetime, even if it didn't necessarily need to be now. Above all else, however, there's anger.
I'll put it as plainly as I can. The new Yankee Stadium has been conceived and built exclusively for the high-end luxury customer. It is not for Yankee fans; it is for corporations and the super-rich. It is an oversized ATM built primarily with public money, and the cash it spits out will go directly into the coffer of the New York Yankees, a private corporation. It is a monument to corruption, greed, and the failures of our municipal and state governments to act in the best interests of the people they are supposed to represent, and a vile and disgusting insult to all but the wealthiest of Yankee fans.
By Jon DeRosa
Yankee Stadium opened in 1923. In that same year, a young first baseman from Columbia University got his first sniff of the big leagues with the Yanks and collected the first 11 hits of his career. That first baseman was Lou Gehrig and of course he hit like crazy from 1923 thru 1939 (a .340 lifetime average). His 1270 hits at the Stadium established a high standard - but not, one would think, an unattainable standard. Especially since Gehrig himself would have bettered that number by hundreds if not for his tragic disease and rapid demise.
Surely the great DiMaggio would eclipse that mark with relative ease just by staying healthy. World War 2 put an end to those thoughts. But even with the War robbing Joe of 3 prime years and possibly 300 hits in the Stadium, he called it quits at the same age as the Iron Horse - 36.
But then Mantle, of the blazing speed, who began roaming the outfield at the ridiculously young age of 19, for certain would have his 1270 hits in the Stadium by the time he was 30, right? Well ironically, his chances took a nosedive in his 19th summer when he tore his knee apart on a drainage cover in right field, skidding to a stop to defer to Joe D on a pop fly. The injury didn't rob him of an all time great career, but it certainly took away the infield hits that were the birthright of the Commerce Comet. Mantle also took 4 balls far too often and drank far too much to rack up the requisite hit total. He too retired at 36.
Hit the Bricks Pal and Beat It
The Yanks looked like they were sleepwalking through the first portion of the game last night, playing like they had a late movie to catch. Phil Hughes threw a ton of pitches early and didn't last long but Phil Coke and the Yankee pen held the White Sox scoreless and the Yankee bats rallied, good enough for a 5-1 win. Alex Rodriguez whiffed in his first two at bats and was booed. He truly looked awful. But he walked and scored the tying run on a two-out RBI single by Xavier Nady and later added a solo homer to right, a chip shot, good enough for his 35th of the year and a little bit of history.
Melky Cabrera started for the first time since early August, grounded into a double play and botched a bunt. At that pernt, the Yanks were still looking lifeless and all I could think about was the following ham-handed machismo spiel.
(Warning: a torrent of dirty words to follow.)
Oh, have I got your attention now?
The Fat Lady She's a Warmin Up
Phil Hughes is back on the hill for the Yanks tonight for the first time in a long time. Be nice to see him have a solid outing. And it'd be cool to see the Yanks pad their stats some, huh? C'mon boys, give us a lil something, something. We ain't askin much.
Let's Go Yank-ees.
Over at New York magazine, Will Leitch offers us five things that went kerflooey this year for the Yanks. Here are two of 'em:
Derek! Jeter! It hardly seems fair to dump on Mr. November, the one constant the team has, but Jeter has had his worst season in a decade. He has come on a bit in the last month or so, and he's hardly in danger of losing his job, but not even his most passionate fans can excuse his defensive liabilities anymore, and he was never able to carry the team anyway. At 34, he has clearly entered his decline. Will we see him at first base in a couple of years?
As much as I like Rodriguez I have to agree with Leitch, it is hard to see things ending well for him in New York. Of course, it'll also be fascinating to see how Jeter ages too.
And Now, the End is Near
My brother and I went to our last game at Yankee Stadium together last night. It was a fitting way to go out, being there with my bro, who is simply one of the best men I know. We sat way up in the right field upper deck, just above the top of the right field foul pole. There was a big turnout, of course, but it seemed like many of the fans were there for the event of being there more than for the game itself. And who can blame them? Sometime during the middle innings I turned to my brother and said, "Jeez, when was the last time we saw a truly meaningless game here?" And not meaningless because they had already made the playoffs, meaningless because they were completely out of the running.
We saw tourists of all shapes and sizes, American, European, Asian, there for their last look. Which has been the case all season long. In a sense, every game at the Stadium has been The Final Game of Yankee Stadium for a good portion of the crowd. The crowd sat on their hands for the most part as the Yanks didn't give us much to yell about.
Still, there were some highlights, as minor as they may seem. The cracker jack and peanut vendors in our section overthrew their targets on three occasions, good for a laugh. After the White Sox finished taking BP, the only sounds over the P.A. from 6:30 to 6:40 came from the organist who played the following medley--"Somewhere Over the Rainbow," "All My Loving," "Isn't She Lovely?" and "Yankee Doodle Dandy,"--as the grounds crew removed the batting cage and the various protective screens, dragging them across the long field, and then began to rake the infield dirt.
"I love watching them rake the dirt," my brother said and it occured to me that the image of the crew making a field beautiful is a hypnotic and soothing one that should be captured on film.
The singular event of the night came in the bottom of the first inning when Derek Jeter singled to set the all-time Yankee Stadium hit record. As the crowd cheered for several minutes, little white flashes blipped around the park, and the sun set behind the Stadium. From where we sat, you could see the almost surreal sunset, something out of a movie. The sun setting on Yankee Stadium, Jeter getting a final rousing cheer. It was too corny to be true but there it was.
My favorite part of the game came several innings later. With the bases loaded and two out, Jason Giambi faced a full count and the crowd started to roar. Our view of third base was blocked so it was difficult to see Jeter, who was on second, or Johnny Damon on third, but we had a great angle of Alex Rodriguez taking a lead off of first and then sprinting to second as Gavin Floyd delivered the ball home. What we noticed was how fast Rodriguez is, what a powerful, fluid runner. Floyd was so deliberate in his delivery, Rodriguez was just a few strides away from second by the time the pitch left Floyd's hand. Giambi fouled off one pitch, then another, and another. I wondered if Giambi walked would Rodriguez be picked off at second for rounding the base too far? Another foul. Each time, Rodriguez and Jeter stopped their sprint and returned to their respective base. Each time, they looked slower. This went on until Giambi finally struck out on the sixth offering with a full count. With the inning over, Rodriguez stood with his hands on his hips around the shortstop area as if he had just run a marathon. All that anticipation and athletic effort, all that running, for nothing.
It summed up the entire season. Sometimes, things just don't work out. By the seventh inning, the fans began to leave. The game slowed down in the final two frames as the Yankee pen did not work quickly. Nobody much paid attention to the game. Even though the place was half-full, it sounded quiet. But it wasn't a depressing feeling. It was nostalgic. It brought us back to our childhood, all those years in the Eighties where we attended games like this with the Yanks out of contention, playing out the string. Of course, there were even fewer fans back then. But it didn't matter that the game was lousy. It just mattered that we were there, at the Stadium, for one last time, enjoying each other's company, taking pleasure in the small details, feeling fortunate to watch a game in the place we've watched more games than any other stadium.
Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory #10
By Allen Barra
My father took me to Yankee Stadium for the first time in 1961. It was a game scarcely anyone remembers I do remember Arnold Hano mentioning it in, I think, the Willie Mays book he wrote in the Sport magazine series, or perhaps it was the special Mickey Mantle-Willie Mays issue that Sport magazine did in the spring of 1962.It was a charity game played between the Yankees and the San Francisco Giants, and it was Willie Mays's return to New York after three seasons.
I'll never forget my first look at Yankee Stadium: it seemed like the inside of New York City. And I'll never forget the crescendo that built up when Mays stepped out of the dugout and into the on-deck circle. Mantle, batting left-handed, hit a home run that day. (I could follow the arc of the ball perfectly as we were seated in a box seat on the third base line.) But Mays won the game with a single that drove in two runs.
One of the most vivid memories of my life was the afternoon of Monday, September 30, 1963, when my father came home from work we were living in Old Bridge, New jersey, and my father and al our neighbors commuted effortlessly to Manhattan and held up two tickets for the opening game of the 1963 World Series. I never though to ask how he got them, though I think he said something years later about it being a business friend he met at Toots Shor's saloon.
1963 was one of the few years I didn't root for the Yankees; I was so excited about Sandy Koufax that I was ready to begin studying the Kabbalah. If you don't remember what the World Series was like back then in the days before prime time then it's hard to describe. It seemed to be on everywhere you went TVs blaring out open windows, car radios at full blast, people walking the street and riding buses listening to transistor radios. I was told by my friend Jane Levy that the Koufax Series -- 1963, 1965 and 1966 were the highest rated ever. I'm not surprised.
Our view was perfect, a box seat along the first base line. In the first inning, Whitey Ford struck to the first two Dodgers and took a tapper back to the mound for the third out. I recall my father saying "Well, Koufax is going to have to go some to top that." He did, of course, striking out the first five Yankees on route to a 5-2 victory.
I have on other strong recollection of Yankee history in the early sixties. My father knew a Westchester cop who was later indicted for taking huge amounts of money in the "Prince of the City" scandal. On New Year's Eve eve, he asked us if we wanted to join him and his son, a Fordham student, at the 1962 NFL Championship game between the Green Bay Packers and New York Giants. All I can recall is that it was the coldest day I could have imagined, and bundled up inside a hooded parka, I had my first shot of brandy from the cop's silver flask.
No, actually, as I write this a few other things come back to me: the way Green Bay's fullback Jim Taylor and Giants linebacker Sam Huff kicked bit and gouged each other and had to be separated after each play, and the way some of the punts would hit a wall of wind and flutter down to the concrete-like turf. The Packers' punter, Mac McGee, I think it was, had one blocked for the Giants only touchdown.
Oddly, I did not feel that I was in the same stadium I had been in just two months earlier watching the Yankees and Giants play in the World Series. (My only memory of that game was how hyped everyone was about Mantle and Mays playing against each other.) I do not now recollect if I actually heard this or read about it afterwards: someone yelled out when Mantle came out to bay, "Hey Mickey, we came to se who is the best, you or Willie. Now we're wondering who's the worst." Mantle popped up. As he walked back to the dugout, the man yelled, "Hey, Mantle, you win."
Bob Costas told me that he was also at the game and saw the same play from the same angle; we must have been seated right near each other.
For the life of me, I can't now recall whether you could see the Polo Grounds from the bleachers at Yankee Stadium or Yankee Stadium from the bleachers at the Polo Grounds.
In 1996, when the Yankees beat the Braves in the World Series, Allen St. John and I were out on the field. How this came about, I do not now recall -- perhaps credentialed writers were allowed out on the field after games then. Someone in the dugout popped the first bottle of champagne, and the cork landed near us; Allen scooped it up and handed it to me. It now resides in a glass trophy case in my house.
Allen Barra writes about sports and culture for the Wall Street Journal and the Village Voice. His latest book, "Yogi Berra: Eternal Yankee" will be published by W.W. Norton next spring.
One Last Record
Last night, Andy Pettitte had one bad inning, the bullpen couldn't hold the line, the offense couldn't break through, and the Yankees lost 6-2. Sing me a new song.
I mocked the attention lavished on Jeter for passing Babe Ruth for second on the Yankees' all-time hit list, and YES's coverage of last night's hit and the hits leading up to it--particularly Michael Kay's call of the hit ("Hit or error? Error or history?")--was every bit as over-the-top if not moreso, but I actually think this record is pretty nifty. For one thing, it's an actual record. For another, as Kay histrionically pointed out on the broadcast, it's a record that can't be broken. Sure, Gehrig had far fewer at-bats at the old Yankee Stadium than Jeter has had in the remodeled one, but there's a purity and an absoluteness to "the most ever" that even applies to Barry Bonds.
Best of all, this is a record that honors not just the man who broke it, but the Stadium in which it was achieved. Yankee Stadium will go dark for good six days from now, but though there will never again be a meaningful game played in the old yard, and the Yankees as an organization have completely punted the opportunity to do something special for the final season of baseball's most significant ballpark, Jeter was able to give us one last piece of history, and a private kind of history at that. For all of the great performances, accomplishments, and players who have graced the field on the southwest corner of 161st and River Ave over the past 86 years, the player who got more hits on that piece of real estate than anyone else ever has or ever will is Derek Jeter. I think that's pretty cool.
There are six games left at Yankee Stadium including tonight's. Last night Alfredo Aceves was the story. Tomorrow night it will be Phil Hughes, but tonight, with Andy Pettitte pitching what amounts to a warm-up for the Stadium's finale on Sunday, there is nothing else. Yes the White Sox are in a tight race for the AL Central. Yes, Robinson Cano is back in the lineup after his disciplinary benching. Yes, Brett Gardner is finally getting another look in center field and making his fourth-straight start there tonight, but with the Yankees on the brink of elimination (nine games out with 12 left to play), I think we're finally at the point tonight at which the Stadium will become the primary focus.
The Yankees have a record of 4,128-2,429 at Yankee stadium. That's a .630 winning percentage. They have to win four of these last six games to avoid dropping below .630. That's utterly meaningless, but maybe it's something for them to play for. For a variety of reasons, I'm going to find these last six games very hard to watch, and the six season-concluding road games that follow them will be even harder.
Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory #9
By Scott Raab
I was born and bred in Cleveland, Ohio, and I've loathed the New York Yankees and everything they stand for -- arrogance, entitlement, and money-worship -- for as long as I can recall. Even past the point where I realized that I myself was a smug, spoiled, money-grubbing New York-area-dwelling media hack, I hated the hulking, brutish Yankees.
Yankee Stadium? I'd rather pass a gallstone than put a single penny in any Steinbrenner's pocket. Sure, I'd been there a few times, those memories frosted over by decades of heavy self-medication. My highlight House-That-Blah-Blah-Built memory was watching on TV when last year's Tribe clinched the LDS at Yankee Stadium. In that storied house. With Bayonne Joe Borowski, no less, on the hill. Sweet almost beyond words, and I cried like a baby to see the dogpile at the end, then went upstairs to wake up my nine-year old son and start spreading the news.
He hates the Yankees, too. But like me, he loves baseball, so last Sunday we went to see a ballgame, and to pay homage. Because you can love baseball and hate the Yankees, but you can't walk into Yankee Stadium with a hard heart -- not if you're a baseball fan. We weren't paying homage to the pinstripes or our bile; we were there to honor 85 years of history, eat some hot dogs, and unwind at a beautiful, battered ballyard.
Who knows what a kid remembers? Hell, I seem to remember admiring Mickey Mantle once upon a time. My boy loved every minute. And so did I. It was hot, brutally hot, so we had to suck it up and buy a couple of Yankees caps -- $50 that will surely help sign Grady Sizemore one sorry day -- and the upper-deck concession stands ran out of ice by the sixth inning, and yeah, the Yankees won. No problem. A-Rod belted a grand slam, Cano got yanked for dogging it, and Jeter tied Lou Gehrig's record for hits at Yankee Stadium: great ballgame. Great game.
We gave away the caps on the subway home, but I'll hold on to the day for a long time -- and to old, doomed Yankee Stadium. I don't know about redemption, and like Woody Allen, old Clevelanders don't mellow -- we ripen and rot. I had an epiphany once: In real life, there ain't no epiphanies. I don't want miracles, much less expect 'em. I took my son to see the Yankees play at Yankee Stadium. That's close enough for me.
Scott Raab is a writer for Esquire magazine.
Couple Two Things
Joe Pos has a good one: Derek Jeter v Pete Rose. This is Pos at his finest.
And thanks to Pete Abe, here's a link to a story on Joba Chamberlain's mother.
Bronx Banter Interview: Harvey Frommer
[Editor's Note: I love reading long interviews and during the first few years here at Bronx Banter was able to conduct a series of them myself. For a number of reasons I wasn't able to keep doing them. So I'm happy to present the following, a Q&A with veteran baseball author Harvey Frommer, that was done by Hank Waddles, who is no stranger to indepth interviews.]
Bronx Banter Interview
By Hank Waddles
From the moment the Yankees broke ground on the new Stadium across the street from the current park, an entire industry has been growing around the public's need to remember the House that Ruth Built. Already you can buy vials of dirt, limited edition lithographs, and pictures with facsimile autographs. I'm certain that in the months to come we'll be offered bricks, rivets, and splinters from the bleachers, assuming we're willing to take out a second mortgage in order to pay for it all. One of the finest products out there, though, is a visually stunning book by Harvey Frommer, Remembering Yankee Stadium: An Oral and Narrative History of "The House That Ruth Built". Filled with beautiful photographs that span the Stadium's history, the book tells the story of the past eighty-five years one decade at a time, relying heavily on the voices of the players, writers, and fans who took the field, reported from the press box, and walked through the turnstiles each afternoon from April to October. Last week the author was kind enough to chat with me about the book. Enjoy...
Bronx Banter: There has been a flood of products over the past year relating to the closure of Yankee Stadium. Why was this project important to you personally?
Harvey Frommer: I think mine is the definitive book. I'm positioned by experience, by temperament, and by track record to do this, which I think blows away all the others. I'm not the only one to say this. The reviews I've gotten plus the people who've seen it really agree with me. Some of the other products were very quick commercial attempts to capitalize on the closure of Yankee Stadium and the creation of the new one. The bulk of them, in fact all of them, came out in the spring. Mine just came out September 1, 2008, so in a way it's like the last shall be the first. I'm very happy with what I've done. I've written eight other Yankee-oriented books, I've done hundreds of article on the Yankees, and I wrote for Yankees Magazine for eighteen years. It seems like an immodest answer to your question, but I didn't intend it to be.
BB: That's okay, that's what I was looking for.
HF: I don't like to trash the opposition. They're all good people, but I'm proud of what I do.
BB: Good. It's certainly a beautiful book, and I've enjoyed it since I received it. I went to my first game at the Stadium when I was seven years old in 1977. When was your first game? Do you remember much from it?
HF: Believe it or not, people ask me what are some of my favorite Yankee Stadium memories and what was my first game there, but I would have not been a very good interview for the book. But I found some great people to interview. Mine basically blurs through the various decades. My great thought or feel about Yankee Stadium is having the honor of Bob Shepperd doing the introduction to the book. The voice of Bob Shepperd has always stayed with me when I've been at the Stadium and when I haven't been at the Stadium. So if you want to single out a theme or a moment, I guess it's not the traditional response to that question, but it would be hearing him announce different Yankee players through the generations. I guess I probably started going to the Stadium in the 50s, and he began in 1951. I don't think I began that early, but maybe I did. But his voice ringing down through the decades -- and now he's 97 and he's not that well – I think that typifies my experience and, I guess, millions of others in terms of Yankee Stadium. Reggie Jackson allegedly calls him "the voice of God," but I call him the Voice of the Yankees. I'm giving you odd answers to good questions…
BB: That's okay. Whenever I talk to authors I think I most look forward to asking about their research and writing process, and that's especially true with your book. When did you start this project?
HF: I think the project was started a decade ago. I've always had a certain thing for Yankee Stadium. The physical job of doing it was when I got a contract that was about two years in the working. I teach oral history and also sports journalism at Dartmouth College, and some of those skills that I try to put into my students were definitely used in this particular book. I'd like to put it on the record that the New York Yankees did not cooperate with me at all. In fact, they locked me out from any access at the ballpark, to their clips, to their photographs, and to the players they could control because they were doing the official book, and mine was the unofficial book. They did me a favor, because I had really more of a challenge on my hands. The challenge resulted in my getting all kinds of interesting personalities into the book. I got a guy who was a hundred years old named Bill Werber, who was with the Yankees for about a month in 1927. I got Bob Shepperd to write the introduction. I got people who have been long time fans who had great, great stories to tell. I got a guy like [Duke] Sims, who the other books would not have thought of interviewing, who hit the last home run at the old Yankee Stadium back in '73 just before the refurbishment began. He didn't even realize he had hit the last home run. So the process really was made more difficult but made more challenging, and anybody who knows me knows I like a challenge.
Twice As Nice
Alfredo Aceves matched Mark Buehrle for six innings last night. Xavier Nady put the Yankees on top with a two run jack to dead center in the second. Aceves uncharacteristically started the fourth by walking leadoff hitter Orlando Cabrera, his only walk of the night, then was made to pay for it when Dewayne Wise turned on an inside cutter and kept it fair into the left field box seats to tie the game. Otherwise, both pitchers kept the game moving (official time: 2:39) and the opposition at bay.
Aceves was inexplicably pulled after just 87 pitches (69 percent strikes and just two three-pitch counts), but Phil Coke worked a 1-2-3 seventh to set up the Yankees breakthrough after the stretch. With Buehrle out after 101 pitches, Xavier Nady led of the bottom of the seventh by coming back from 0-2 to work a walk off sidearming righty Erin Wasserman. Cody Ransom, starting at second base for the still-benched Robinson Cano, then bunted Nady to second, and Joe Girardi sent Wilson Betemit in to pinch-hit for Chad Moeller. Ozzie Guillen called on Horatio Ramirez to turn Betemit around to the right side. Betemit took ball one from Ramirez, fouled a fastball straight back, swung through another, fouled an outside pitch down the right field line, took ball two, then laced ground-rule double over the wall in the left-center field gap to plate Nady with the go-ahead run. Brett Gardner followed with deep fly that moved Betemit to third, and Johnny Damon drove Wilson in with a single through the right side.
Girardi handed that 4-2 lead to Joba Chamberlain, who pitched around an infield single in the eighth striking out two, and Mariano Rivera, who passed Lee Smith for second on the all-time saves list with a 1-2-3 ninth. Rivera's reaction to passing Smith: "S'arright." Pete Abe says, "The closer is furious the team isn't going to the playoffs. Furious."
As with Aceves' first start, it was a nice, quick, clean Yankee win. It also moved the Yankees into a tie for third place with the Blue Jays, for what it matters. Elsewhere, the Red Sox pulled into a technical tie for first place by stomping the Rays 13-5, though Tampa Bay still holds a one-game lead in the loss column.
Chicago White Sox Redux: Fight To The Finish Edition
The Yankees haven't seen the White Sox since late April, when the Yankees took two of three from the Pale Hose in Chicago. Surprisingly little has changed for the Sox since then. The White Sox had a slim 2.5 game lead in the AL Central when the Yankees left the Windy City on April 24, and arrive in the Bronx tonight holding an even smaller 1.5 lead over the Minnesota Twins. The Sox briefly slipped down to third place in early May (though they were never more than 2.5 games out of first), but otherwise have been battling the Twins for the division lead all season long. The two teams haven't been more than three games apart since June 19, when the Sox had a four-game lead, and the White Sox haven't been more than a game behind since May 15.
A year ago, the White Sox stumbled to a surprising fourth-place finish with a mere 72 wins due largely to the impotence of their offense, which fell from third-best in the AL in 2006 (5.36 runs per game) to dead last in the league (4.28 R/G). It should come as no surprise, then, that the Sox's resurgence this year has been led by their resurgent offense, which has scored 5.05 runs per game, the fifth-best rate in the league.
Leading that charge, and thus throwing his had into the ring for league MVP, has been Carlos Quentin, who was acquired in the offseason from the Diamondbacks in exchange for minor league first-baseman Chris Carter, who was subsequently flipped to Oakland in the Dan Haren deal. Slotted in as the D'backs' starting right fielder last year, Quentin suffered through an injury-plagued season and struggled mightily in his major league stints, but crushed the ball when rehabbing in the minors. A career .313/.413/.527 hitter in the minor leagues, the 25-year-old Stanford product won the Chisox left field job out of camp this year and proceeded to set the junior circuit on fire with .288/.394/.571 rates and the league lead in home runs.
Unfortunately, the fragile Quentin broke his right wrist when punching his bat during an at-bat on September 1 and is out for the season. Similarly, first baseman Paul Konerko is out indefinitely after spraining a ligament in his right knee during a run-down on September 9. Konerko suffered a decline last year that was part of the offense's problem and has continued that decline this year. Still, his injury moves Nick Swisher to first base, creating a hole in the lineup filled by minor league veteran Dewayne Wise. The 30-year-old Wise has hit well for the Sox this year, but he's a career .220/.256/.389 hitter in the major leagues even with his solid 91 plate appearances as a White Sock mixed in. Quentin's injury makes room for deadline acquisition Ken Griffey Jr. to play full time despite his having hit just .245/.330/.347 since returning to the AL.
That all leaves the Chicago offense in the hands of the resurgent Jermaine Dye. Dye was the World Series MVP when the Sox won in 2005 and an MVP candidate in 2006 (.315/.385/.622), but last year he was one of the main reasons that the offense collapsed as he was barely above league average, and was far worse for most of the season prior to a hot August. This year he's back to bashing (.295/.348/.555), but with Quentin out, the only other man in the lineup who's meaningfully above average is 37-year-old Jim Thome, who has been healthier this year than last, but less productive on a game-to-game basis.
The Sox's postseason hopes are further imperiled by the season-ending Achilles' tendon rupture suffered by Jose Contreras, which has handed the fifth-starter's job to rookie Clayton Richard, who has a 7.09 ERA in seven major league starts.
Still, this year the Central has been one of those divisions that no one seems to want to win. The Indians came within a game of the World Series last year, but never got off the mat this year and cashed out early by flipping C.C. Sabathia to the Brewers three weeks before the deadline. The Tigers were the preseason favorites, but have traced a parabolic path this season, starting out poorly, looking unbeatable in June, and since falling back below even the Indians. The Twins have been in the fight all season but took an inexplicably long time to bring Francisco Liriano back up from the minors (he's gone 5-0 with a 1.57 ERA since returning). In fact, that could have been the difference in the division had Quentin not gotten hurt. Now things are back in flux, and the White Sox will arrive tonight desperate to keep their noses out in front.
They send reliable lefty Mark Buehrle to the mound tonight. Buehrle has made 30 starts in each of his eight full seasons in the major leagues and could pass 200 innings for the eighth-straight season with a strong outing tonight. Buehrle had a rough August (5.86 ERA), but has allowed just one run in 13 1/3 innings in September. He'll face off against Alfredo Aceves, who aced the Angels in his first major league start his last time out and will make his first start in the Bronx tonight.
Translated for audiences of all ages and backgrounds. This is good for a quick chuckle.
Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory #8
Michael Burke: "That Irish Son of a Bitch" *
Alistair Mundy's ascot, that's what it was...Alistair Mundy's dandy ascot. After all these years I've finally been able to pinpoint former Yankee president/owner Michael Burke's rediculi éclat de mode sense. (Then again it might have been that unfashionable Old Spice/turtlewreck sweater connection of his, so who knows!)
Now, while this discovery might not be as nootropic-poppin' as finding out that multi-flasking Clu Gulager was in the 60's kookifried outré folk group Miriam or that Ron Asheton of the Stooges was seriously tight with origi-Stooge, Larry Fine, and traded zany hair-pulling sound effects at the Elisha Cooked Actor's Home in L.A. with him (Asheton, I believe, was moonlighting at the time for the prestigious National Eye-Goink Monthly) but it'll do.
Years before beers started pouring like spit in a schoolyard, before a gangplank of stringy flesh had been constructed between Jonah Hex's crevisious lips, before the sweet ravages of gutter-twang swept me off my cleats...there was Michael Burke. Punk hero.
Imagine, a Yankee team president hanging with us lowcon lowlifes. His dappy loafers sticking to the same gum globs, that were probably expungiated by a lifetime of Terrence Aloysius Mahoney vs Glimpy McClusky (unknowingly the model for the spiffy George Sherrill Flat Brim Society line of baseball caps yet to come!) chaw wars, as ours. Johnny Ramone was supposedly part of our roving Stadium gang of roar. Isn't it odd, some sorta mystical pissmit, that with the 1974 closing of Yankee Stadium and their grubby unrestrooms, Johnny's trained whiffology led him to the aroma shocktherapy of the CBGB's bathroom by that September? (Hey, let's just be happy he didn't end up spoog-a-loo trough riffing at the notorious Zipper Lips Au-Go-Go Lounge in Jersey!).
But Mr. Burke, quite possibly (I haven't finished researching Paul Krassner's Realist site or Taylor Meade's unreal sight, for that matter, yet) was the only former OSS intelligence officer, CIA agent, Hollywood cutting floor movie star, head of Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus, and CBS executive to speak out against the Vietnam War which he did, when he read the names of war dead from the pulpit at NYC's Trinity Church. For someone of Burke's stature to take such a radical stand at the time, happened about as often as a fire in the Everglades, a moonlanding on the sun, or Charlie Chocks and Zestabs having a subhuman tug-o-war over the magical abra-cadaver pitchman services of Ray Oyler.
The Numbers Game
The Yankees beat the Rays 8-4 yesterday at the Stadium and won the season series against Tamps, 11-7. Carl Pavano left the game early with a hip injury and Robinson Cano was yanked in the middle of the game for not hustling after a ball. The Red Sox were in the unlikely position to be rooting for the Yanks this weekend, and both teams helped each other out: the Sox trail the Rays by just one game and the Yankees edge closer to the Blue Jays, who are currently in third place.
Mariano Rivera faced one batter, struck him out, and tied Lee Smith for second-place on the all-times save list with 478.
Alex Rodriguez hit a first-inning grand slam, the 17th of his career. He also had a bloop double in the eighth, his 33rd of the season, his best mark in pinstripes. Rodriguez scored his 101st run and knocked in his 100th RBI. He's scored 100 or more runs for 13 straight years and has driven in 100 or more runs in 11 consecutive seasons. How about this for consistency: Rodriguez has 1602 runs scored in his career, 1603 RBI.
Jason Giambi hit his 30th homer of the year. In five of his seven years as a Yankee, Giambi has hit 30 or more dingers.
As you may have heard, Derek Jeter passed Lou Gehrig's mark for hits at Yankee Stadium. Jeter had a wondeful weekend, smacking three hits in each game. He saved the best for yesterday, adding a home run to the bleachers in right-center field. With the season fading away, it's no surprise that the announcing crew on YES made a big deal about Jeter catching the Iron Horse. That's understanable and I can appreciate it, even if it was much at times. However, one thing they didn't provide us is context. I would like to know, for instance, how many games and at bats it took Gehrig to reach the mark and compare that with Jeter's figures. Moreover, I'd like to see how many home runs and doubles figure into the mix as well. It's no knock on Jeter if he's not nearly the hitter Gehrig was, Jeter is a great player and a future Hall of Famer. Still, I would have liked to see more context.
Let's face it, the Yankee announcers, some newspapermen, and a lot of fans are not rational when it comes to all things Jeter. Again, I find it annoying at times, but I get it. And I do love Jeter too. But he doesn't need to be puffed up constantly. When Jeter hit into a sharp 5-4-3 double play in his final at bat yesterday, Paul O'Neill mentioned that Jeter never hits into double plays. Well, actually, that was the 23rd double play Jeter hit into this season, a career-high (beating his previous career high of 21, set last year).
Oh, and one last number. The Yanks "tragic" number. It's down to 5.
Ship of Fools
It is a muggy day here in the Bronx. The sun is trying to come out and when it does the sky turns a lighter shade of grey. Not exactly autumn weather. The Yanks send Carl Pavano out there today to serve it up to the first-place Rays. Me, I'm going to the movies, gunna check out the Joel and Ethan Coen's new comedy, another caper about a bunch of bumbling idiots. Sounds about perfect. Hitting an 11:00 a.m. show and will be back to catch most of the game.
Thread away, if you dare.
Hey, even if these are sad times, at least there is baseball today. It'll be really sad in a couple of months when football, hockey and hoops are all we've got on our plate.
So as Aaron Gleeman says, Happy Baseball.
For better or worse, Leonard Schecter helped change the course of sports journalism, and this was before he helped Jim Bouton write Ball Four. Alan Schwarz has a great column on Schecter today in the Times. This is so cool because I was just talking about Schecter with a friend this week as we rated the great Sport magazine writers of the Sixties. He's really a slept-on figure. Props to Schwarz for giving Schecter some burn.
Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory #7
By Ken Rosenthal
My favorite memory is the Jeffrey Maier game in the 1996 ALCS. I was a columnist for the
After coming home to
Ken Rosenthal covers baseball for Fox.
All Growed Up
Barry Zito is the focus of Pat Jordan's latest profile for the New York Times Magazine. Another stellar job by Jordan. I always figured Zito was a superficial guy, a pretty boy phony, but he comes off as an interesting dude:
Zito told me his pitching problems were caused by the fact that he hadn't been himself the last few years.
Can an athlete be too smart for his own good? I think so. Being bright might make a jock a more well-rounded person, but also less of a performer. Reminds me of Billy Beane in Moneyball, realizing that he would never be a great player after rooming with Lenny Dykstra who was "dumb" in all the right ways.
Getting Over It
The wife and I have been painting the apartment. We've spent the past two weekends painting. We. That's code for me. Whenever Em says "we," I crack up thinking about The Big Lebowski, you know, the editorial "we," because I know she's talking about me.
Okay, I'm not the only one doing work, it hasn't been all me, she's been helping plenty. Which doesn't mean I've been behaving myself. I've been dutiful but sullen. In fact, I've been jerk about the whole thing. I've been doing the job, but painting is just one of those things that I can't excited about. I don't even feel accomplished when I've finished, just relieved.
Today, the bedroom and my little office were on the painting schedule and I was determined to be, if not cheerful, then at least pleasant. My mom and step-father came down to help out. When we cracked open the light green paint for the bedroom it was clear that we had made a mistake. It was too yellow. After throwing some up on one wall, an executive decision was made and Em headed back to the paint store.
I painted my office and listened to Mike Mussina and the Yanks stink up the jernt against the Rays. 7-1 was the final. Em returned with a better shade of green and hours later when we called it quits for the night, the Yanks had a 1-0 lead on the Rays in the nightcap. Then Sidney Ponson gave up a grand slam and Emily started getting the shakes because after all of our hard work, the new green wasn't working for her either. In fact, it was making her nauseous, sick because not only didn't she like the color but she was guilt-ridden at the prospect of having to do it again, and wasting my time, my parents time, and our money.
"How could this happen?" she said, tears welling up in her eyes.
I was not a jerk. When it comes down to it, it takes so much energy to be angry and resentful, isn't it easier and more satisfying to be a good guy? I soothed her and told her everything was going to be fine. Yeah, I hate painting but it's just paint. It's just a weekend afternoon. It's not that big a deal.
The Yanks scrapped back. Derek Jeter had three hits in both games, a fine day that was treated like Reggie Jackson's three-dinger World Serious game by Michael Kay on the YES broadcast (Kay called Jeter's three single, one walk performance in the night game "a tour de force"). Wilson Betemit homered and Xavier Nady singled home the go-ahead run. The fans were lively once the Yanks got on the board, saving their boos for Alex Rodriguez who made outs in his final two at-bats with runners on base.
Mariano Rivera, jeez, remember him, allowed a run in the ninth but earned the save and the Yanks came away with a split. 6-5 was the final.
A nice way to end a long day. Still, looks like I've got more painting to do.
Let's Play a Couple
It rained all night. I stopped by a couple of record stores downtown after work and picked up a selection of custom-made cds from some friends. Then I met my old pal Anthony Pick in front of Katz's on Houston street. But I didn't feel like chicken soup so we walked south into the heart of of the hippish lower east side. After we crossed Delancy, a bearded man in a suit asked us, "Are either or you Jewish?" He was looking for recruits I guess.
Anthony set him up and said, "My father's Jewish."
"Mine too," I said.
The man replied, "What about your mother?"
"Sicilian," said Anthony.
"Sicilian?" the man said.
"My mom's Belgian Catholic."
And with that, he lost interest, and Anthony and I laughed as we walked on.
Today gives two games, the first in the afternoon, and then the make-up for last night's game will be tonight.
It's supposed to rain on-and-off all weekend, but right now, it is sunny in the Bronx.
And you know what they say about the sun:
Let's Go Yan-Kees.
Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory #6
By David Pinto
My fondest memories from Yankee Stadium both happened during a double header on July 2, 1978. Detroit was in town at a time when teams still scheduled twin bills on holidays. In game one, the Tigers shutout the Yankees for six innings, leading 2-0. Ron Guidry held a 12-0 record at that point, and it looked like his winning streak might end. In the bottom of the seventh, however, Gary Thomasson was on base with two out and Fred Stanley due up. We were sitting in the grandstand behind first base when suddenly a huge cheer went up from the third base stands. We wondered what happened, and then Mickey Rivers's head popped out of the dugout. Mick the quick came off the disable list that day, having not played since June 16th. He walked gingerly (as he always did) to the plate, and ripped a line drive to right field. Mickey Stanley leaped but didn't make the catch. While the ball was bounding away, Stanley went over to argue with the ump (I assume about fan interference). Rivers, with his blazing speed, circles the bases to tie the game! The crowd goes wild and the Yankees go on to win the game 3-2, extending Guidry's win streak to 13.
In the night cap, Graig Nettles batted third, coming up with two men on in the third. Jim Slaton came in high and tight with a brushback throw, and Graig fell to the ground avoiding a hit by pitch.
My immediate thought was that Slaton made a huge mistake. I had seen Nettles knocked down before, and he tended to respond very constructively to brushbacks, getting a hit. Sure enough, Nettles launched a three-run homer for the first score of the game. That's the way to deal with a knock down, and the Yankees went on to a 5-3 win and a sweep of the double header.
David Pinto blogs about baseball at BaseballMusings.com.
Tampa Bay Rays VI: How They Done It Edition
The Rays enter their final series against the Yankees in a virtual dead-heat with the Angels and Cubs for the best record in the majors. Everyone saw the Angels and Cubs coming, but even the bold prediction made by Nate Silver's PECOTA only had the Rays winning 88 games, a total they can achieve with a victory over the Yanks tonight. So what happened? How did a franchise that had never won more than 70 games in a single season and had finished in last place in the AL East in all but one of it's previous ten seasons suddenly find themselves atop not just the most competitive division on baseball, but challenging for the best record in the game?
The short answer is pitching and defense and just enough offense to make the first two count. A year ago, the Rays went 66-96 while enduring by far the worst defense in the majors according to defensive efficiency. This year they have the majors' best defensive efficiency. A year ago they turned just 65 percent of all balls put in play against them into outs. This year, they're turning 70.9 percent of those balls into outs. That's no small matter. The Rays had roughly 4,500 balls put in play against them last year (not counting home runs, which are typically not playable by the defense). The difference between a 65 percent and 70.9 percent defensive efficiency on 4,500 balls in play is about 265 outs, or the equivalent of nearly ten shutouts. Taken another way, the improvement in the Rays defense has shortened their opponents scoring opportunities by an average of 1.6 outs per game over the entire season. There's a lot of rounding going on in those numbers, but the impact is clear and impressive, and quite reminiscent of how the Rockies got to the World Series last year.
This improvement was no accident. It is exactly what the Rays had in mind when they asked that shortstop Jason Bartlett be included in the deal that sent Delmon Young and others to the Twins for Matt Garza and another pitching prospect. Bartlett has disappointed in the field, but the team's decision to move Akinori Iwamura to second base and (eventually) install Evan Longoria at third base has had a lot to do with their improved defense, and the overall effect of an infield of Longoria, Bartlett, Iwamura, and Carlos Peña has done wonders for the Rays' pitching staff, as has having B.J. Upton in center field for a full season to complement Carl Crawford in left.
One might suspect that superior pitching deserves some of the credit for this statistical improvement on defense, but research has shown that good pitchers to not consistently post above-average numbers on balls in play. Rather, I offer that it's the defense that has helped the pitching improve. If a pitcher knows that his defenders are more likely to catch up with his mistakes, he's more likely to pitch with the confidence necessary to challenge hitters, which is a key to success in the major leagues. (Don't take my word for it, click the Rockies link above and see what Brian Fuentes had to say about the Rockies' defense last year).
Consider the improvement made by former Dodger prospect Edwin Jackson. Last year he walked 4.92 men per nine innings and posted a 5.76 ERA. This year his walks are down by more than one per nine innings and his ERA is down to a league-average 4.06. Consider also sophomore Andy Sonnanstine, a pitcher who walks almost no one to begin with. Sonnanstine has seen his strikeout rate dip by more than a K per nine innings this year and has been handsomely rewarded for his increased reliance on his defense as his ERA had dropped from 5.85 to 4.47.
Opposing batters are having roughly league average success on balls in play against Jackson and Sonnanstine this year, which is a huge improvement over what happened last year when Sonnanstine's BABIP was .333 and Jackson's was .349. Put those two behind lefty ace Scott Kazmir, James Shields, who emerged as a solid number two last year, and Garza, and the Rays have one of the best rotations in baseball. In fact, the Blue Jays, led by Roy Halladay and A.J. Burnett, are the only American League team with a lower starters' ERA than Tampa this season. A year ago, the Rays had the third-worst starters' ERA in baseball.
The Rays have experienced a similar turnaround in their bullpen, which was baseball's worst last year with a staggering 6.16 ERA but has shaved more than 2.5 runs off that mark this year to post the third-best pen ERA in the AL. One big reason for that has been the emergence of 25-year-old lefty J.P. Howell, a failed starter victimized by a .381 BABIP a year ago. Coming into this season, Howell hadn't pitched in relief since rookie ball, but with that improved defense behind him, he's thriving in his new role. With veteran Trever Miller around as a match-up lefty (southpaws are hitting .207/.313/.280 against him this year), Joe Maddon has used Howell for longer stints. Howell has responded with a 2.44 ERA and more than a strikeout per inning while leading the Rays' pen in innings pitched.
Veteran Dan Wheeler, acquired at last year's trading deadline for utility man Ty Wigginton, has been another boon to the pen, filling in ably when rejuvenated closer Troy Percival has gone down with injuries. An even lower-profile acquisition from last year's deadline, Grant Balfour, picked up from Milwaukee for Seth McClung, didn't hit the major league roster until the end of May, but he's been a revelation ever since, posting a 1.63 ERA and striking out 12.87 men per nine innings. After missing most of 2005 and 2006 due to both elbow and shoulder surgery, former Twins prospect Balfour was similarly dominant in the minors last year and could prove to be a real find, provided he doesn't get hurt again.
Combine those drastic and related improvements in pitching and defense, and the end result is a tremendous decrease in the number of runs the Rays have allowed. Last year, the then-Devil Rays allowed 944 runs. This year, with just 18 games left to play, they've allowed a mere 582. That's an average of nearly two runs less per game (1.79 to be exact). With their opponents scoring just 4.04 runs per game, the Rays offense has had a much easier row to hoe, which is good, because the offense is the one thing that's gone backwards this year, though that was the bargain the team intended to strike when it traded Young.
That's why the Rays have gone from worst to first, but now that they've done that, they seem to have a momentum of their own. They've won six games more than their run differential would suggest, and early August injuries to stars Longoria and Crawford haven't slowed them down a lick. In fact, August was their best month of the season as they went 21-7 (.750). You can credit manager Joe Maddon with some of that. As the Yankees saw in spring training, this Rays team has fight. Indeed, after opening September with a 1-6 skid against intradivision opponents (including dropping two of three to the Yankees at home), the Rays staged a pair of late-game rallies to fend off the charging Red Sox at Fenway. On Tuesday they staged a ninth-inning comeback against Jonathan Papelbon to keep the Red Sox from passing them in the standings, and Wednesday night they matched the Sox zero-for-zero for 13 innings before dropping a three-spot in the top of the 14th to push the Sox back another game.
The Rays haven't changed much since we last saw them. Longoria has been activated, but has yet to return to action (though he could do so this weekend). Former A's first baseman Dan Johnson has been added to the Rays stock of September call-ups and made an immediate impact with the game-tying home run off Papelbon on Tuesday night in his first at-bat in the majors since April 2. The Rays have also called up former Yankee farmhand-turned-minor league journeyman Michel Hernandez. Hernandez has been with five organizations in five years since making his major league debut as a Yankee in 2003, and has yet to see major league action for any of them. This is his second stint in the Rays' organization in that span.
The Relics of Shea Stadium--Larry Gura
If Shea Stadium had featured a doghouse in 1975, surely Larry Gura would have occupied a prominent place within its walls. Such was life with the Yankees at that time, given the way that the temperamental Billy Martin liked to run his clubhouse.
Gura didn’t actually begin his career with the Yankees, but eventually found his way to Queens in 1974 and ’75 after beginning his major league days in the National League. Originally taken by the Chicago Cubs in the second round of the 1969 draft, Gura arrived in the Windy City one year later. Pitching sporadically over his first four seasons, Gura failed to impress and never gained the trust of Leo Durocher, who preferred veteran pitchers. With his major league resume spotty, the Cubs traded Gura to the Texas Rangers as the player to be named later for veteran lefty Mike Paul. (Gura has always maintained that he was part of the deal that sent Ferguson Jenkins from the Cubs to the Rangers, but that blockbuster was actually made after Gura had already been traded, so it’s a little hard to figure.) Gura never actually appeared in a game for the Rangers, who traded him in May of 1974, sending him to the Yankees for washed up catcher Duke Sims. Much like the Cubs, the Rangers lacked patience with Gura, giving up on him quickly in part because of his lack of velocity and the absence of a dominating out-pitch.
In the midst of the 1974 season, the Yankees called Gura up from the Syracuse Chiefs of the International League. The Yankees gave Gura eight starts. He rewarded them with an ERA of 2.41, a record of 5-1, four complete games, and a mere 12 walks in 56 innings. With manager Bill Virdon and pitching coach Whitey Ford in his corner, no one seemed to mind that Gura struck out only 17 batters in those appearances.
Convinced that his 1974 performance was no fluke, the Yankees penciled in Gura as their first starter in 1975, behind a quartet of Jim "Catfish" Hunter, George "Doc" Medich, Rudy May, and Pat Dobson. Gura responded by pitching reasonably well, certainly better than the standard by which most No. 5 starters are judged. All of that began to change in August, when the Yankees fired Virdon and replaced him with Martin, who had just become available after being ousted by the Rangers. Martin was already somewhat familiar with Gura, having watched him pitch in one game during spring training of 1974, when both were still with the Rangers. Based on one inning of work, Martin had determined that Gura was not ready, saying that he lacked good control, and demoted him to the minor leagues. With those first impressions solidly entrenched, apparently based on the smallest of sample sizes, Martin had little interest in watching Gura pitch meaningful regular season games. Adopting a four-man rotation, Martin removed Gura from the starting staff and dumped him in the bullpen.
So why did Martin seemingly detest Gura? First, the manager didn’t believe that Gura had enough "stuff" to succeed in the major leagues. Martin regarded him as a junkballer who lacked the smarts or experience to overcome the absence of a dominating fastball or a powerhouse slider. In some ways, Martin’s assessment sounded reasonable. After all, the Cubs had given up on Gura for virtually the same rationale. But Martin’s secondary criticism of Gura bordered on the bizarre. For some reason, Martin didn’t like Gura’s fascination with physical fitness. Gura, who observed a strict diet and workout regimen and eventually became a green belt in tae kwon do, believed strongly in his personal conditioning program. Martin just found it weird, an unorthodox fad that had nothing to do with real preparation for playing baseball. And then there’s the infamous "tennis whites" story. Martin supposedly saw Gura wearing a white tennis outfit one day and didn’t like it—not at all. (Billy sure did have some strange pet peeves, didn’t he?)
Gura actually started the 1976 season on the Yankees’ 25-man roster, but that didn’t mean that Martin had to use him. In fact, he didn’t—not even once in the five weeks that marked the start of the season. Finally, the Yankee front office ended Martin’s siege by trading Gura. On May 16, the Yankees sent Gura to the Kansas City Royals in a giveaway that brought backup catcher Fran Healy to New York. Other than Reggie Jackson, who came to trust Healy as his sole ally on the Yankee teams of the late seventies, not a single person connected to the franchise would dare call this trade a victory for the pinstripes.
After first establishing himself as an able-bodied reliever, Gura would later emerge as the top left-hander in the Royals’ rotation. Leading with his curve ball and slider, Gura learned to mix his pitches, master the strike zone, and overcome his pedestrian fastball. From 1978 to 1983, he logged at least 200 innings a season. A two-time 18-game winner, Gura posted ERAs of less than 3.00 on four occasions. Now let’s project what his performance might have meant to the Yankees. In 1980, Gura might have helped the Yankees fare better in the postseason, when they lost three straight games to, you guessed it, the Royals. One of those Yankee losses involved a complete-game effort by Gura. Take Gura away from the Royals and put him on the Yankees, and things might have turned out differently. Gura also could have helped in the 1981 World Series, which saw the Yankees lose four straight games after claiming the first two games against Los Angeles. Additionally, Gura tormented the Yankees in regular season play throughout his career, winning 11 of 17 decisions against the Bombers.
Billy Martin knew a lot of things about baseball. He knew about strategy, about the running game, about staying three steps ahead of the opposing manager. He knew how to motivate players, including guys like Rickey Henderson. But he didn’t always know about evaluating talent. And he certainly didn’t know about Larry Gura.
Bruce Markusen writes "Cooperstown Confidential" for MLB.com and can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lasting Yankee Stadium Memories #5
By Dave Kaplan
My warmest memory of Yankee Stadium is of a rainy and chilly day. This was April 9, 1999, the day Yogi Berra finally came home.
It was a day so many waited for and feared might never happen. For 14 years, Yogi, a man always at peace with himself, never buckled under constant pressures to return to the place where he'd become such a beloved legend. I learned a lot about Yogi in my new job as director of the Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center. Mostly I learned that beyond his warm and fuzzy public image, he's deeply principled and a man of honor.
And being dishonored by George Steinbrenner two weeks into the 1985 season, when he was fired as manager without the courtesy of a face-to-face meeting or personal phone call, rubbed him badly. Yogi's subsequent self-imposed exile he quietly vowed never to return as long as The Boss was in charge was admired by legions. He was the Yankee who couldn't be bought.
Fast forward 14 years when George flew up from Tampa in the dead of winter to our Museum in New Jersey. He came seeking forgiveness, in person, for one of "the worst mistakes I ever made." Yogi graciously accepted his apology in a private meeting, and slyly hinted he would return to Yankee Stadium.
So he did on Opening Day. Yogi and his wife Carmen were encircled by TV crews and photographers right outside the Stadium entrance. I was nervously excited for him as he was ushered into the employee entrance. What was he feeling? Did he ever believe this day would come? Wearing an overcoat and blue blazer and a baseball tie, he ambled his way down the steps into the Stadium's underbelly, through the twisting corridors to the Yankee clubhouse. As I walked alongside him, he almost seemed a little lost, not familiar with the surroundings. Later he admitted to a case of Opening Day nerves as if he'd never been away.
Yogi made his rounds in the clubhouse, warmly greeted by players who'd never met him. Old friends like Joe Torre, Don Zimmer and Mel Stottlemyre eagerly embraced this gnome of a man whose remarkable life and history were so intertwined with Yankee Stadium.
Finally, as the Yankees gathered in the dugout for the pregame ceremonies, which included the raising of the 1998 championship banner, there Yogi sat on the bench. Players walked by patting him on the leg for good luck. Then Bob Sheppard, in his inimitable style, created a hush in the crowd when he said, "Now let's welcome back a special guest..."
He listed Yogi's incredible accomplishments, including his record 10 world championships, and called him "a source of inspiration to his teammates a man of conviction...Let's welcome back," said Sheppard, his voice rising, "Yogi Berra, No. 8." The Stadium erupted with a deafening roar. I was allowed to watch from the corner of the dugout as Yogi walked to the mound in a driving rain where David Cone applauded with his glove. He shook Cone's hand and tossed the first pitch to Joe Girardi, who rushed toward him with the ball, excitedly. "Thanks Yogi, this is a real thrill," he said. Then as Yogi walked off, he gave a half-wave to the crowd which was still standing, cheering and chanting, "Yogi...Yogi...Yogi." For the man famous for saying it ain't over til it's over, it was over. Yogi Berra was back in Yankee Stadium.
Dave Kaplan is the Director of the Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center.
According to Mike Puma, writing in the New York Post, Bernie Williams will return to Yankee Stadium for the closing ceremonies on September 21st:
"It will bring me back to my first time in 1991, when I played my first game," Williams said. "It will be amazing. The fans are going to be great. I'm obviously very sad to the Stadium go - you have a lot of great memories - but you move on."
It's never a given. How true. The weather has turned in New York over the past few days, the fall chill is in the air. For a long time now, I've come to associate the change in the weather with playoff baseball in the Bronx. Now that the Yankees won't be playing in October, I'm not upset, but grateful that the Yanks had such a great run of consecutive playoff appearences. Hopefully, they'll make it back next season. Or the year after that. The comforting part of being a Yankee fan is the belief that they will win again, and sometime soon. Who knows, it could be fifteen years or even forty years before they win another championship. But it could also be three years or next season.
Anyhow, it'll be nice to see Bernie again. Along with Mariano Rivera, he's one of my very favorite Yankees of them all.
Why You Dirty...
Juan Gonzalez has the latest the politics of the new Yankee Stadium.
A Change Is Gonna Come
Hitting coach Kevin Long has promised to follow Robinson Cano home to the Dominican this winter and rebuild his swing. He has the technology:
The work there will be extensive and represents a complete overhaul of the infielder's swing.
MLB.com's Bryan Hoch as the story.
Need a Laugh
This is pretty good. Via Pete Abe:
"I'm going to be reviewing the entire organization," Hank Steinbrenner told the AP in Tampa today. "We're going to do everything we can to win next year. We're not going to wait. Do everything we can that makes sense. We're going to fix what we have to fix. We're going to have to look at what has been done wrong over the last five years, which I've had one year to try and figure out. Clearly, a lot of mistakes were made."
At least he didn't apologize to the city of New York.
The Hit Man
Equal parts Frank Thomas, Dick Allen and Babe Herman, Manny Ramirez is profiled today by Jay Jaffe over at Baseball Prospectus.
Heard this One Before?
Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory #4
By Ed Randall
Though I grew up only three-and-a-half miles away, I was never a Yankee fan. Still, I anticipate a profound sadness that the stadium I grew up in is soon to exist never more.
Yet, I might have more of a connection, a predisposition, to the franchise than I ever care to admit. My father's birthday was September 10th, the same as Roger Maris'; mine is October 20th, the same as Mickey Mantle's.
The stadium cast a long and continuing shadow on my life.
I went to grammar and high school for 12 years in the same building at All Hallows just three blocks away and took the subway behind the center field fence. I threw snowballs from the platform near pedestrians below while waiting for the northbound train (in making that stark admission, I trust the statute of limitations has expired).
I saw my first game there and have very vague memories of being fascinated by the TV cameras in the outdoor photo box.
Perhaps another sign foreshadowing my career calling.
I recall standing near a ramp leading to the box seats as a child when a door swung open and there stood Johnny Blanchard in all his Yankee pinstriped splendor and his shiny black spikes that clicked when he took a step. It was breathtaking. Today, ironically, Johnny Blanchard, fellow prostate cancer survivor, sits on the Advisory Board of my charity, Ed Randall's Bat for the Cure.
Back then, patrons in the lower level--which we could rarely afford--exited the park by walking on the field! Imagine slowly making your way along the warning track up the left field line, turning right past the visiting bullpen and auxiliary scoreboard and then, the best part, past the monuments. More than once did I walk out onto River Avenue through the Yankee bullpen where countless home runs came to rest and where everyone from Joe Page onward warmed up. Somehow, even then I knew the importance of what I was experiencing.
That ritual made me want to do one thing: genuflect.
Top Twenty Five Moments in Yankee Stadium History
Over at WFAN's website, the intrepid Sweeny Murti gives us his list of the 25 top Yankee Stadium Moments. Excellent job by Murti here, as he combines research and reporting to provide a lively and entertaining list. Part of the fun is seeing if you agree with his take. Personally, I would have the Louis-Schmeling fight in the top Five, if not top Three. What do you think? This is oodles of fun from Murti. Check it out:
Kick the Bobo
During the Seventies and Eighties parts of the Upper West Side were tough. My grandparents lived between Columbus and Central Park West and you had to know which blocks were cool when walking from their place over to Broadway. Columbus avenue became gentrified first, then, slowly Amsterdam avenue followed. My old man worked at a hardware store on Amsterdam avenue for a bunch of years in the Eighties (you can see it in a shot from the Pacino movie Sea of Love). More than anything, I remember hearing music on Amsterdam avenue. There was always something playing. Something like this maybe:
Speaking of Willie Bobo, remember this from Pete Nice (I really dug the re-mix):
Serch gets kicked in the grill.
Caught In A Clinch
Yesterday afternooon, for the third game in a row, the Yankees got out to a quick start and emerged with little to show for it. Sure they wound up blowing out the Angels on Tuesday night, but only after Alfredo Aceves had made a 1-0 score hold up for five innings. Yesterday, the Yankees got two runs in the top of the first on a pair of walks, a Jason Giambi RBI single and a balk by Angels spot-starter Dustin Moseley, but Andy Pettitte gave one back in the bottom of the inning on a Garret Anderson double, a wild pitch, and an RBI groundout by Juan Rivera.
Johnny Damon led off the third with a walk, but got picked off ahead of a single by Derek Jeter, who was subsequently stranded at first base. A one-out single by Xavier Nady in the fourth was erased by a 3-6-3 double play off Hideki Matsui's bat. Then in the fifth, Pettitte fell apart. Singles by Gary Matthews Jr., Anderson, and Guerrero loaded the bases with none out. Pettitte then rallied to strike out Rivera and Kendry Morales, and got ahead of Robb Quinlan 1-2, but Quinlan battled back to a full count before delivering a two-RBI single that gave the Angels the lead which was inflated to 4-2 when Guerrero scored on Nady's subsequent throwing error.And that was that. Pettite walked the next batter and got the hook. Jose Veras, Phil Coke, and Joba Chamberlain stopped the scoring there, but so did Moseley and relievers Jose Arredondo and Scot Shields, passing the game to Francisco Rodriguez. Down to their last out, The Yankees mounted a threat with a walk by Giambi and a single by Xavier Nady that put pinch runners on the corners, but Rodriguez got Hideki Matsui looking to earn his 56th save of the year and move into second place on the single-season saves list. He'll pass Bobby Thigpen soon enough.
At that point attention turned to the Rangers-Mariners game, which was broadcast for the remaining fans on the Angel Stadium scoreboard. The M's had an early 4-0 lead, but the Rangers tied it up with a pair of two-run homers off M's starter Jared Wells in the fifth. Seattle got back out ahead with two runs off Kevin Millwood in the fifth, but another two-run homer tied the game back up at 6-6 in the sixth. The M's took the lead again with a run in the bottom of the sixth and added another in the bottom of the seventh. That was enough to survive a Chris Davis solo homer off Miguel Batista in the eighth and when J.J. Putz struck out Michael Young to wrap up Seattle's 8-7 win, the Angels clinched the AL West for the fourth time in five years.
As things stand now, the Angels will face the Wild Card team in the ALDS. As of this writing, the Rays had a 1.5 game lead on the Red Sox and the two teams were tied 1-1 in the 12th inning at Fenway. The Angels have faced the Red Sox in the postseason three times, but have lost all three series. In recent years, they've been swept twice in the ALDS by Boston and haven't won a postseason game against the Sox since they held a 3-1 in the 1986 ALCS. The fifth game of that series was the game in which Dave Henderson homered off Donnie Moore in the ninth inning to prevent the Angels from reaching their first World Series. So, you think the Halos are hoping they wind up facing the Rays?
The Angels entered this series with a chance to clinch the AL West and have closer Francisco Rodriguez tie or even break Bobby Thigpen's single-season saves record, but they exchanged blowouts with the Yankees in the first two games, forcing Rodriguez, stuck at 55 saves to Thigpen's 57, to wait to make history against some other team. Meanwhile the second-place Rangers failed to help the Angels out last night, and it's only with a Rangers loss that the Angels could clinch with a win today. The Rangers' game in Seattle starts more than an hour after today's afternoon tilt in Anaheim, so even if the Angels do clinch today, they'll likely be back in their clubhouse when it happens, sparing the Yankees the indignity of watching another team celebrate.
Andy Pettitte, who is now officially in line to start the final game at Yankee Stadium two turns from now, takes the hill for the Bombers. Pete Abe has a story on Pettitte today that blames Andy's recent struggles on the disruption of his usual off-season conditioning caused by his inclusion in the Mitchell Report:
The workout regime that he believes has been the base of his success was not abandoned. But Pettitte did not put in the amount of time he usually does.
Though he doesn't come right out and say it, Pettitte strongly suggested to Abraham that he wants to return to the Yankees next year both to pitch in the new Stadium, and because he believes he can recover his form of a year ago by avoiding any other interruptions to his offseason program. If he does, he stands a very good chance of moving past Lefty Gomez into third place on the franchise's all-time wins list. Gomez isn't quite Babe Ruth, but I'd be all for bringing Andy back next year given the struggles of the team's pitching prospects this season.
In other news, Ivan Rodriguez and Torii Hunter will both serve two-game suspensions starting this afternoon as punishment for their dust-up on Monday night.
Should the Yanks be concerned about Robinson Cano? That's the question I fielded today on New York Baseball Today:
The New Third Amigo
Don't look now, but Alfredo Aceves has passed Ian Kennedy on the Yankees' prospect list. The two pitchers are very similar. Both are right-handers of unexceptional stature with similar repertoires (91 mile per hour fastball, changeup, curve). Both went from high-A to the major league rotation in their first year of pro ball, and both have impressed in their September call-ups.
The difference between the two is that Aceves did last night all of the things the Yankees have been trying and failing to get Kennedy to do all season. He threw strikes, worked quickly, and mixed in all of his pitches. That last is the most significant. In his various unsuccessful stints in the major leagues this year, Kennedy has been a two-pitch pitcher, throwing straight fastballs to spots (and often missing) and trying to get his outs with his changeup. Last night, Aceves varied speeds and breaks on all three of his pitches (really four as his best pitch is a cut fastball with some impressive movement) giving him an assortment several times more varied than Kennedy's.
Of course, Aceves maturity on the mound comes from his maturity off it. Aceves may be in his first year of "pro ball," but he has six years of professional experience in the Mexican League behind him while Kennedy was pitching in college in 2006. Despite that, Aceves is just two years older than Kennedy. It's possible that Kennedy could learn what Aceves knows in the next two years, but even if he does, he's unlikely to be much better than Aceves is now. The real question is exactly how good is Aceves now? He'll certainly be in the mix for next year's rotation, but is he just a younger, wilier Darrell Rasner, the sort of pitcher who can fill a vacant rotation spot and slide back into a long relief role when the rest of the starters get healthy, or does he have the potential to be a mid-rotation guy like many hoped and even assumed Kennedy would be as early as this year?
Whatever he is, it's worth recognizing that in one short season he's passed fellow 25-year-old Alan Horne, Jeff Marquez, and even Kennedy on the Yankees' list of starting pitching prospects, which may tell you as much about Horne, Marquez, and Kennedy as it does about Aceves.
Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory #3
By Steve Lombardi
In terms of having a lasting memory of "this" Yankee Stadium, it's difficult for me to single out one particular "in-person" game experience and say "That's the one." In truth, I've been very fortunate when it comes to being at the Stadium for some special games.
I have been there for many Opening Days. In fact, I've been to so many of those that I've lost count. If I had to guess, I would say that I've been to at least a dozen of them. This includes the one in 2003 where Hideki Matsui hit a grand slam against the Twins (in his first home game as a Yankee). That was one of the coldest days I ever spent at the Stadium.
I've also had the privilege to attend many post-season games at the Stadium. My first was Game Two of the 1977 ALCS - where Hal McRae tried to kill Willie Randolph on a take-out slide during a double-play attempt in the 6th inning. In addition to that one, I was there for Game One of the 1977 World Series, Game Two of the 1981 World Series, Game Six (Get ya' tokens ready!) of the 2000 ALCS, and Game Five of the 2001 ALCS. All of those were good memories.
Of course, I was also there for some post-season clunkers as well. These include Game Two of the 1997 ALDS, Game One of the 2001 ALDS, Game Three of the 2001 ALCS, and (yikes!) Game Six of the 2004 ALCS.
However, the absolute best post-season experience was witnessing, in-person, Game Seven of the 2003 ALCS. I will never forget being there to see that incredible event. Still, it's hard for me to say that the Boone-Homer game is my "lasting memory" of Yankee Stadium.
Why? Well, I'll never forget being there for that game for sure. But, I'll also always remember being there on August 22, 1976 when the Yankees scored 8 runs in the bottom of the 9th inning to tie a game where they were losing, 8-0. And, I'll never forget being there during the second game of a double-header on September 9, 1981 when Dave LaRoche used "La Lob" to whiff Milwaukee's Gorman Thomas. And, I'll never forget being there on July 1, 2004 when Derek Jeter dove into the stands after catching a pop-up.
Heck, I'll always remember being there for Sam Militello's first game on August 9, 1992 because my buddies took me there as part of my bachelor party and Militello pitched so well. And, there are several other "fun" times at Yankee Stadium that I will remember forever in addition to that ALCS winner against the Red Sox in 2003.
This is why it's impossible for me to pick "one game" even a game as legendary as Game Seven of the 2003 ALCS as my "lasting memory" of Yankee Stadium.
So, then, what is my "lasting memory" of this Yankee Stadium? Well, in the end, I believe that my lasting memory of "the Stadium" will be that "this one" was "my Stadium."
I did see my first Yankees game on August 8, 1973 at the "old" Stadium. But, that was the only time I was at the "first" Stadium. And, I did see a handful of games at Shea Stadium when the Yankees played there in 1974 and 1975 (including Billy Martin's first game as Yankees manager). But, without question, I've seen the most of my "in person" Yankees games at this current Yankees Stadium. I have no idea how many, but, to be conservative, I would estimate that it's been over 150 games (since 1976).
When I start to ponder my current age and life expectancy, the increasing family demands of my time, and the estimated prices for tickets to the "new" Yankee Stadium, I figure that there's no way that I will ever attend as many games in the "new" Yankee Stadium as I have attended at this "current" Yankee Stadium.
Therefore, "this" Yankee Stadium the one that opened in 1976 will forever be "my" Yankee Stadium. And, that's my lasting memory of "the Stadium." For the rest of my life, I will always remember the "collective experience" of being at this Stadium.
Hey, if you're going to have a lasting memory, why not make it a big one?
Steve Lombardi blogs about the Yankees at Was Watching.com
Last night's game started off a lot like Monday night's 12-1 humiliation. Bobby Abreu erased a Derek Jeter single* with an inning-ending double play in the first. In the second, the first three hitters reached on a single, a hit-by-pitch, and a double resulting in a run and putting men on second and third with none out, but Ervin Santana struck out Hideki Matsui and Robinson Cano before getting Chad Moeller to line out to end the threat. In the third, Abreu delivered a two-out single, but was promptly thrown out stealing second with Alex Rodriguez, who had singled to lead off the previous inning, at the plate. The Yankees stranded another two-out single in the fourth and went down in order in the fifth.
What was different was Alfredo Aceves. Making his first big league start in front of 31 friends and family members and 43,011 strangers, Aceves worked quickly, mixed his pitches, threw strikes, and made quick work of the Angels. Pitching to contact, Aceves got into just two three-ball counts all night, both of them full counts, one of which ended in a strikeout of rookie Brandon Wood, and didn't walk a batter. He consistently got ahead early, throwing first-pitch strikes to 20 of the 26 batters he faced, and after three of his first four outs traveled a fair distance in the air, he got ten of his last 17 outs on the ground and two more by strikeout.
To be sure, the defense behind Aceves' helped out. The first out Aceves recorded came when Robinson Cano made a great sliding stop to his right, then spun to his feet to throw out the speedy Reggie Willits. Alex Rodriguez made several nice plays at third base including eating up a hard hopper in the second and making a nice backhanded play on a shot down the line in the third.
Robinson Cano made another nice play in the fourth with a diving stop to his left that he tried to turn into a 4-6-3 double play, but Derek Jeter let Cano's throw clank off his glove as both runners reached safely. That came after the runner on first had reached by lining a ball off the right wrist of a diving Jason Giambi. Though both plays would have been exceptional, they should have been made. Undeterred, Aceves took matters into his own hands by reaching across his body to stab a comebacker and start an inning-ending 1-6-3 DP. Aceves has a face of stone on the mound, but after escaping that jam he pumped his fist and shouted a few words in Spanish.
With the score still 1-0 entering the sixth, the Yankees finally gave Aceves some insurance. Derek Jeter led off with a deep fly into the gap in right center. Gary Matthews, who had just been put into the game in place of Torii Hunter, whose back was acting up, got to the ball, but had it clank off his glove for what was initially ruled a triple (later changed to a three-base error). Bobby Abreu followed with a five-pitch walk, and Alex Rodriguez cashed it all in with a three-run jack that made it 4-0.
Those runs came just in time as Aceves appeared to be fatiguing a bit in the bottom of the sixth. Though he had thrown just 60 pitches through the first five frames, allowing just a trio of scattered singles, his pace slowed in the sixth. Reggie Willits took five pitches to ground out to Cano. Garret Anderson then worked a nine-pitch at-bat (just the second three-ball at-bat of Aceves's night), eventually winning the battle with a groundball single in the gap past Cano. Mark Teixeira followed by lacing a high fastball into right center for a double, pushing old man Anderson to third. Aceves then got Guerrero and Matthews to groundout, but Anderson scored in the process.
Given two more insurance runs in the seventh thanks to a Chad Moeller single and a Johnny Damon dinger that drove Santana from the game, Joe Girardi sent Aceves out for the seventh. Six pitches later, Aceves was back in the dugout getting congratulated on seven strong innings of one-run baseball against the team with the best record in the majors.
Aceves didn't blow anyone away last night, and he didn't show any particularly overwhelming pitches, but, as advertised, he mixed his pitches to a dizzying degree. Aceves throws a fastball, a cutter, a changeup, and a curve, but seems to have a variety of breaks and speeds on each one. His fastball topped out at 93 miles per hour and tended to sit around 91, but he threw some 92 mile per hour pitches that dove like sinkers and some 88 mile per hour pitches that almost looked like splitters, as well as cutters in that same range that stayed level but moved side to side. His changeup sat in the mid-80s, but seemed to have a curve-like hop to it. Later in the game, he threw back-to-back straight changeups at 81 and 78 mph to get the final out of the sixth. His curve tended to be in the high 70s and have a moderate break, but in pursuit of the final out of the fifth, he threw Sean Rodriguez a 76 mph back-door yakker that was a called strike (a generous strike zone from home plate ump Ed Rapuano also worked in his favor), then got Rodriguez to groundout on a less-severe 78 mph curve.
All totalled he gave up one run on five hits (four of them singles) and no walks in seven innings while striking out two and throwing just 89 pitches, 71 percent of them strikes. Save for the lack of strikeouts, that's a near repeat of his line from his two relief appearances. Dig:
RP: 7 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 7 K
As for the rest of the game, Damon added a solo homer off Justin Speier in the ninth and Brian Bruney and Damaso Marte slammed the door without incident. So the day after taking a 12-1 whooping, the Yankees dropped a 7-1 score on the Halos, who came no closer to clinching as the Rangers beat up on Felix Hernandez to beat the M's 7-3.
In the other notable out-of-town game, the Rays, leading Boston by just a half game, took a 3-2 lead into the bottom of the eighth at Fenway only to have Dan Wheeler give up a two-run homer to Jason Bay and hand Jonathan Papelbon a 4-3 lead in the top of the ninth. Joe Maddon sent Dan Johnson, who had just been called up before the game, in to pinch hit, and Johnson greeted Papelbon with a game-tying homer over the Red Sox's bullpen in right center. After a Willy Aybar lineout, rookie Fernando Perez, who had pinch-hit in the seventh, doubled to left and then Dioner Navarro doubled him home to make it 5-4. Troy Percival then walked the leadoff man in the bottom of the ninth, but struck out Jason Varitek, and got David Ortiz to fly out. With two outs, pinch-runner Jacoby Ellsbury stole second and went to third on Navarro's throwing error only to have Coco Crisp pop out two pitches later to end the game and inflate the Rays' lead to 1.5 games.
Aceves Up Their Sleeve
The Angels can clinch the AL West tonight if they beat the Yankees and Mariners beat the Rangers, but from the Yankees' perspective, the big story is Alfredo Aceves, who will make his first major league start. A 25-year-old Mexican League product, Aceves is in his seventh year of pro ball, but his first in the U.S. He started the year with high-A Tampa, where he posted a 2.11 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, and 4.63 K/BB in eight starts before being promoted to double-A Trenton, where he posted a 1.88 ERA, a 0.86 WHIP, and a 5.83 K/BB in seven starts.
Aceves was promoted again at the end of June, this time to triple-A Sranton, but a groin injury delayed his first triple-A start. After four abbreviated rehab appearances for Scranton, Aceves returned to his normal starting role, but with less success than he'd had at the lower levels. Aceves' first four post-rehab starts saw him allow 16 runs in 20 2/3 innings, but he seemed to make the necessary adjustments from there, posting this combined line in his last two triple-A starts before being called up to the majors: 12 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 5 BB, 16 K. In two major league relief appearances thus far, Aceves has been similarly effective: 7 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 7 K.
Here's a note from Chad Jennings following those final two starts for Scranton:
After his last start . . . Aceves was talking about using his body more to generate a little more velocity on his fastball. There was in fact a little more velocity last time and this time, but Aceves said he has looked at tape of his last start and no longer thinks he's doing anything mechanically different. It just felt that way. The key for him is working faster, getting himself in a groove and not thinking about things too much. He picks the pitch he wants to throw, and he throws it. The game moves faster and he works a lot better.
Earlier in the year, less enthusiastic scouts dismissed Aceves as a strike-throwing junkballer who lacks an out-pitch and tops out as a number-five starter in the majors, but I was at his major league debut, and the Yankee Stadium scoreboard was registering his fastball at 94 to 95 mph. That's likely an inflated number, but there was definitely some zip on his heater, and he complimented it well with his secondary pitches.
Here's a scouting report from his double-A catcher P.J. Pilittere, courtesy of Thunder Thoughts' Mike Ashmore:
He's a guy that's going to have no patterns when he pitches. He's got four pitches that he commands real well, and he can throw them at any time in the count. That's a definite talent to have. He kind of makes my job a little easier because he's got a really good gameplan, and he really knows himself well. He does a good job on his own of trying to set up hitters, so it's different and kind of refreshing, almost, to work with someone like that who's thinking about the game along the same lines I am.
Because he came on so fast and seemingly out of nowhere, it's hard to say what the Yankees have in Aceves, but with a few good starts in these dog days of September, he could throw his hat in the ring for next year's rotation.
Start Spreadin' the Blues
Ben Kabak has the latest in Yankee News Inc.
Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory #2
By Dayn Perry
I'm a to-the-grave Cardinals fan. I'm not a Yankees fan. Never was. I don't dislike them--in fact, I appreciate what they've meant to the sprawling history of this game. Mostly, I'm indifferent to them as a team. What I am not indifferent to, however, is New York City and the Yankees' indelible place in it.
I grew up in a small town in South Mississippi, which, other than the human elements native to all of us, had little in common with New York. When I was in second grade, however, I read a story about young girl named Frieda who lived in New York. The story told me about her walks to school, her rides on the subway, and her interactions with kinds and colors of people I'd never imagined. Frieda's life seemed impossibly different from mine, and this place she called home, well, I needed to know more about.
When I got home from school that day, I dragged down the "N" volume of our World Book Encyclopedias and looked up Frieda's home town. The foldout map of New York was like nothing I'd ever seen before. It was sinewed with roads, train lines, expressways, side streets, and all the rest. It was just a map, but you could almost sense the clots of humanity that made the map a real place. And the names in and around New York were just as fascinating--fascinating in their hard sounds and the hard places they evoked. Hoboken. Brooklyn. Bayonne. Canarsie. Nyack. Red Hook. Hell's Kitchen. Pelham Bay Park. Bensonhurst. Scarsdale. And my favorite name of all: The Bronx. It was the toughest, most perfect word I'd ever heard. It sounded like a punch in the gut. It grabbed you by the collars. Bronx. And what kind of place had "the" in front of it? Whatever it was, there could only be one. After all, it was "A Bronx."
I don't remember how old I was when I found out that the Yankees toiled in the Bronx--that place with the unforgettable name--but I do remember that my estimation of them increased dramatically. I was 19 years old when I finally made it to New York City, and I greeted it with wide, mystified eyes. I was 30 when I finally made it to Yankee Stadium (via the 4 Train, of course), and I've never paid less attention to a baseball game in all my life. I was too busy taking in the architecture, the perfect weather, the cold beer, and, from my seats in the distant reaches of the upper deck, the view of that perfect word: Bronx.
In the years between the time I first read about Frieda's New York and first set foot in Yankee Stadium, my fascination with the American urban experience consumed me. As it was for so many people drawn to the stew of the city, New York was it. It was everything, including those guttural names on the map. I'll always remember Yankee Stadium for bringing together two of my abiding passions, baseball and the city of cities, like no other venue--no other thing--could have. It's an urban game to me, baseball, despite its apocryphal origins in the countryside. It's always been about cities and energy and crowds and fathers and sons and those without fathers and without sons. Hell, the ballpark, in some regards is itself a city--people thrown together, haphazardly and at times uncomfortably, to feel and live. Some arrive late; some leave early; and some stay for the full nine innings, never thinking of going anywhere else.
On that day in Yankee Stadium, I didn't pay much heed to what was a damned fine game. But I stayed all nine innings, and I never thought of going anywhere else.
Dayn Perry writes about baseball for Fox.
Will You Be My Hero?
My grandmother died twenty years ago this past August. I remember sitting in the first row of the funeral home on the upper west side when my father approached me and said, "There's somebody here I think you'd like to meet." I walked outside where Alec Baldwin was signing the condolences book. My father had been friends with him for several years by then--I'm not exactly sure how they met--but I had only become aware of Alec that summer when he was featured in Beetlejuice and then Married to the Mob. Previously, I had been invited me to see him in a production of Joe Orton's Loot but for reasons I don't recall, I passed. But by the end of that summer, I was really interested in him because I had an ill crush on Michelle Pfieffer.
Over the next three or four years I saw Baldwin every so often, for coffee with my dad, or at one of the parties the old man threw. I got his phone number and pestered him regularly. I can only imagine that I annoyed the hell out of him but he was good to me. I remember him being extremely charismatic and very funny. He was also serious-minded, smart and driven, very sure of himself, the kind of dynamic personality that can make a huge impression on a young person, especially one who was as insecure as I was at the time. I had no confidence with women. I was good friends with many pretty girls and rejected the ones that showed any interest in me. I was one step away from Duckie, the Jon Cryer character in Pretty in Pink.
Alec gave me advice with women that I was much too timid to do anything with. He also pumped me up when I had tough times with my father. After college, I lost touch with him (he spent more time in California, eventually got married), or, more to the point, I stopped hounding him. Still, I'll always be greatful for the little time he spent with me. At the time, it made me feel important, like I mattered to somebody who had "made it," a man who was a success.
I got to thinking about Alec over the weekend when I read Ian Parker's profile on him in The New Yorker. It is a good piece but one that left me feeling sad. Maybe that has more to do with me, how I once looked up to him saw him as something not exactly human, but as someone who had the world licked, had it all figured out. He doesn't, of course. Which makes him just another man, struggling with his mistakes and his achievements. In the article, Alec comes across as not only being restless but unhappy in spite of his recent success. That's not entirely surprising. Still, I admire his ability to look at his work in a critical manner:
"Do you want to know the truth?" Baldwin said to me not long ago. "I don't think I really have a talent for movie acting. I'm not bad at it, but I don't think I really have a talent for it." He described the film actor's need to project strength and weakness simultaneously. "Nicholson's my idol this way. Pacino. There's a mix you have to have where the character is vulnerable, the character is up against it, but there's still a glimmer of resourcefulness in his eyeyou look at him and the character is telegraphing to you this is not going to last very long. 'I'm down'Randle McMurphy, Serpico, whatever it is'but it's not going to last, I'm still going to figure my way out of this.' " In contrast, he referred to Orson Welles. "Welles was a powerful actor, but he wasn't always a great actor," Baldwin said, with, perhaps, a faint nod to his own career. "Even when Welles was lost, he was arrogant."
I think Baldwin has a great leading role in him. Whether or not the stars ever align to give him that shot is anybody's guess. But I hope it happens.
The Yankees looked like they might have something going against Jon Garland early in last night's game. Johnny Damon led off with a single up the middle. Derek Jeter followed with a walk. After Bobby Abreu ground into a fielder's choice, Alex Rodriguez dropped an opposite-field flare in front of Vlad Guerrero to plate Damon. Jason Giambi got ahead of Garland 3-1, but the Angels starter came back to strike him out on a called strike down and in for the second out. Xavier Nady reached on a Baltimore chop to loaded the bases, but Garland got Hideki Matsui to ground out weakly to strand all three runners.
That was all the Yankees would get. After Robinson Cano led off the second with a single, Garland retired 12 men in a row, taking him through the fifth. Meanwhile, the Angels tied the game on a manufactured run in the bottom of the first when Chone Figgins singled, stole second, moved to third on a groundout, and scored on a sac fly. They then took the lead in the third when infield prospect Brandon Wood led off with a solo homer off Carl Pavano.
The Yankees finally got back on base against Garland in the sixth when Bobby Abreu led off with a four-pitch walk, but Alex Rodriguez erased Abreu with a 6-4-3 double play. Jason Giambi tried to reboot the inning with a ground-rule double, but Xavier Nady grounded out on the first pitch he saw to end the inning.
Then the roof fell in. Rookie second baseman Sean Rodriguez led off the bottom of the sixth with a solo homer off Pavano. A hit batsman, a single, and a groundout plated another run, ending Pavano's night after 75 pitches. Dan Giese came on, fell behind Vlad Guerrero 3-0, got two strikes on foul balls, then gave up a monster two-run jack that ran the score to 6-1.
Torii Hunter followed that homer with a single then stole second and third around a walk to Juan Rivera. When Mike Napoli grounded to third, Hunter broke for home, but he was out by a good 20 feet. Hunter slowed his momentum as he approached Rodriguez, who tagged him out while standing in front of the batting circle, but Hunter still dipped his shoulder a bit and made solid contact with the Yankee catcher. As he proceeded behind Rodriguez, Hunter slipped on Napoli's bat and bumped into Rodriguez's back. Rodriguez, already a bit miffed that Hunter didn't slow up even more than he did, answered back by elbowing the Angel center fielder out of his way as he walked the ball back toward the pitcher's mound. Hunter took offense to Rodriguez's elbow, ran up and shoved Rodriguez in the back igniting a bases-clearing scrum that saw little action, but got both players ejected.
Moments later back in the dugout, Yankee pitching coach Dave Eiland, who had been in the middle of the scrum, passed out and fell off the dugout bench. Eiland immediately regained consciousness and was able to walk back to the trainers room with the help of some of his players, but no one really knew why he had fainted. After Wood singled home two more runs to make it 8-1, Girardi went out to the mound to replace Giese with Edwar Ramirez and could be seen explaining to his players that Eiland just flopped over and that he had no idea why. Fortunately, after being examined by one of the Angels' doctors, Eiland was given a clean bill of health.
Said Girardi after the game, "He's been fighting a cold, and he worked out hard this morning, and I think last time he ate was 1:00, and he took some medicine during the game. He got lightheaded and dizzy and passed out, but he's okay now."
The Rodriguez/Hunter affair also had a happy ending, as the two apologized to one another and hugged it out after the game. Said Hunter of the incident, "The ghetto came out. I hate that."
That just left the Yankees to wallow in what swelled to a 12-1 humiliation at the hands of the Angels, who could clinch the AL West tonight with a win and a Rangers' loss. The Yankees are playing the role of jobber to the hilt.
Los Angeles Angels of Anahiem III: Jobber Edition
A "jobber," in pro wrestling terminology, is a no-name wrestler whose primary purpose is to give the popular heroes and villains someone to beat in between hyped-up grudge matches. At this point in the 2008 season, the Yankees are nothing but a jobber. Of course, the jobber can't let on that he's only in the ring so that the more famous wrestler has something to do, so they strut about and flex their muscles just the same as the other guy. Joe Girardi has become quite practiced at this, but much like Iron Mike Sharpe or Leaping Lanny Poffo, he's not really fooling anybody.
In this week's three-game series in Anaheim, the Yankees could be the jobber against whom the Angels clinch the AL West. Our own Bobby "The Brain" Timmermann believes that could make the Halos the first team to clinch a division against the Yankees since the Blue Jays did so in 1985 (though, unlike those Jays, the Angels won't be eliminating the Yankees in the process). The Angels magic number entering this series is three. Any combination of Angels wins or Rangers loses totaling three will give the Angels their fourth AL West title in the last five years.
The Yankees could also be the jobber against whom Francisco "K-Rod" Rodriguez ties or even breaks Bobby Thigpen's 18-year-old single-season saves record. Thigpen saved 57 games for the White Sox in 1990. Rodriguez has 55 saves so far this year. Heck, it's entirely possible that Rodriguez could tie the record and clinch the division all at once against the Yankees. That's pretty special. It's a good thing MLB sent one of their most talented jobbers to take the fall.
The Yankees remain mildly interesting because of their starting pitchers. Carl Pavano will make his fourth consecutive start tonight facing Jon Garland. Hot prospect Alfredo Aceves will make his first major league start tomorrow against Jered Weaver, who was pushed back a day after accidentally cutting his hand in on the bench in the visitors dugout at Comerica Park last Tuesday. Wednesday will find Andy Pettitte, whose Yankee career could be winding down, back on the bump against Ervin Santana.
The Yankees' primary interest, however, will likely be in scouting pending free agents Garland, first baseman Mark Teixeira, and perhaps even left fielder and former Yankee Juan Rivera. I don't expect the Yankees to show much interest in Garland, though he could be useful as a league-average innings eater if Pettitte doesn't return, or Rivera, who is yet another former Yankee farmhand whose reluctance to draw walks undermines his other talents, but they'll certainly be in the mix on Teixeira, a Gold Glove defender and switch-hitter who has hit .360/.441/.610 since being acquired from Atlanta. Of course, given those credentials, his $12.5 million salary this year, and his agent, Scott Boras, the Yankees may have to take out a second mortgage on the new Stadium to meet Teixeira's price.
Don't Mess with Mr. Inbetween
There is a nice little post on Derek Jeter over at YFSF reminding us to appreciate what we've got, to ac-cen-tuate the positive. Durability sure is a major part in a great career--Jetes, Rivera, Rodriguez. That could go at any moment, and not necessarily in a dramatic Ken Griffey Jr way, but in a nagging Chipper Jones way. Shame to see Tom Brady go down for the season, and it's too bad about Billy Wagner as well.
Remembering Yankee Stadium
There are three weeks of baseball left in the regular season. The Yankees start the day in fourth place and we are left hoping for small victories--Mussina winning twenty, Abreu and Rodriguez reaching 100 RBI, Rivera keeping his ERA under 1.50. Since the Yanks are all but out of it there will be plenty of time to get sentimental about the final days of Yankee Stadium.
In the spirit of saying a proper goodbye, I've asked a group of writers and baseball enthusiasts for their take on a lasting Stadium memory. Most entries are short, just a few hundred words, but I've left the length up to their discretion.
I'll be posting one guest post per day for the rest of the season. But I'd also love to hear from you guys as well. So if you've got a favorite memory, a funny scene or incident from the old place, please send it to me at email@example.com (Don't leave just leave your thoughts in the comments section, cause I'd like to cut-and-paste a group of them in a series of posts, The Banterites Remember Yankee Stadium, or something to that effect.)
Thanks and enjoy.
Lasting Stadium Memory #1
By Anthony McCarron
It's strange, but most everything else about that night is a blur, dissolved into a torrent of deadline writing, scrambling around the clubhouse for quotes and later, in the Stadium press box, for the words to detail the looming Subway Series this time, for real that was coming between the Yankees and Mets.
All that furious effort, I don't remember any of it, not even hitting the computer button that would send my final story to the editors and signal the end of my workday. That the Yankees rallied from a 4-0 deficit, that the Mariners scored three times in the eighth to make it close again and October pariah Alex Rodriguez was incredible for Seattle with four hits, including a homer and two doubles? Forgotten until I looked at the boxscore recently.
But what I'll never forget is what happened after David Justice's Game 6 home run in the seventh inning of the 2000 ALCS against Seattle, the shot that essentially put the Yankees in the World Series yet again.
My God, the press box of the old place was shaking. Swaying. There were 56,598 souls in the stands that night, Oct. 17, 2000, and all of them must have been stomping as Justice rounded the bases, as they begged him to come out of the dugout for a curtain call.
Frankly, it was unsettling and for more than just a single moment. I stopped re-working my running game story the one that has to be to editors as quickly as possible once the outcome is decided and put my hand next to the computer sitting in front of me to feel the vibrations. Yikes.
I was in my first season on the beat. I had worked the 1999 World Series and knew that the Stadium could get raucous, but this was something else, scary and amazing at the same time.
Afterward, Justice, an affable fellow who mostly enjoyed dealing with the press, talked about the indescribable what it's like to hit a huge home run in an important spot with the baseball world watching. "I wish y'all could feel it," he said.
We can't, of course. For a moment, I had my own feeling in its wake, though, just as memorable for me.
I have been at most of the epic events at the Stadium of the last 10 years or so, from dirty chapters of the Yankee-Red Sox saga to late-night, story-busting home runs in the 2001 World Series. But no memory has endured the same way. It is still the first thing I think of when people ask about working so often at Yankee Stadium.
Anthony McCarron is a reporter for the New York Daily News.
End of An Era
Over at New York magazine, Chris Smith profiles the Yankees at the start of the post-George Era (I caught the link from Steve Lombardi at Was Watching):
In his prime he was an imperious bully. But George Steinbrenner was also a bully with a vision, and his impatience and his money revived a moribund franchise and propelled the team to six world championships. Steinbrenner did a lot of mean-spirited and dumb things, but his sense of urgency permeated the organization. And not coincidentally, Steinbrenner took the Yankees from a threadbare castoff valued at $10 million to a thriving behemoth worth more than a billion dollars. The TV network he created, called YES, has become a bonanza, and next year, another Steinbrenner dream will come truea state-of-the-art, cash-minting, $1.3 billion new stadium.
Torre's gone, the Stadium is going, George no longer runs the team. It's a brand new era for the Yanks.
The Bronx is Up, Battery's Down
Ken Arneson hipped me to this. Thought it was nifty. Dig.
Come Back, Sweet Pea
A few days ago, Pete Abraham ran an item on how the Yankees have handled "The Final Year of Yankee Stadium." Previously, he suggested that it'd sure be nice to see Bernie Williams show up in some capacity. I couldn't agree more. It was a drag that Bernie wasn't there for Old Timer's Day. But nevermind about that, so long as he shows up before the final curtain drops two weeks from yesterday.
According to a post over at the Bats blog, Tyler Kepner has this from Steve Fortunato, Bernie Williams' marketing rep:
Asked if Williams would visit Yankee Stadium during the final home stand, Fortunato seemed to indicate that he would. Williams has not returned in public to the Stadium since his last game there as a player in 2006.
Work it out, bro. We miss ya.
Derek Jeter turned on a fastball in the first inning and lined a home run to left field. The sound was true, a resounding crack. You don't see Jeter hit many dingers like this and it felt like a good sign. (It was Jeter's 1000th career RBI; he later singled to tied Babe Ruth on the all-time Yankee hit list.) The Mariner's scheduled starter, Carlos Silva, scratched with pain in his back, was replaced by Ryan Feierabend, who came into the game with just one career big league victory to his name. Xavier Nady added a solo homer in the second and it felt like the Yanks would be able to give Mike Mussina plenty of run support.
But it wasn't to be. Feierabend mixed in a decent fastball with a good change up and pitched seven fine innings. The Yanks did not score again. They had a couple of chances. In the fourth, the Bombers had runners on second and third with one man out. But Robinson Cano had a sloppy at bat at struck out swining; Jose Molina ended the inning with a fly ball to center. The next inning, with two men out, Jeter on second and Alex Rodriguez on first, Feierabend, on a timing play, threw to first, and had Rodriguez nailed. The M's caught Jeter to end the threat.
Meanwhile, Mike Mussina started off well but gave up a two-run homer to Adrian Beltre in the third and a solo shot to Jose Lopez in the fourth. The M's scrapped another run in the fifth and without any hitting, Mussina's bid for his eighteenth win fell flat. Lopez added another solo homer in the eighth, this one against Jose Veras.
The Yanks put two runners on in the ninth against J.J. Putz. Giambi was hit by a pitch and Hideki Matsui singled, the Yankees' first base hit since the fourth inning. With two out, Wilson Betemit pinch hit for Molina, and got ahead in the count, 2-0. He swung through a fastball and took another pitch out of the zone and then fouled a fastball back. He was just a touch late. It was a good hack. The late afternoon sun cast long shadows on the fielders. The hitter, catcher and ump were in the shadows at home plate. Putz poured another heater over the plate, Betemit waved at it and the game was over.
Final Score: M's 5, Yanks 2.
So after beating the Tigers last Monday and then taking two-of-three in Tampa, the Yanks lost a weekend series to the worst team in the American League. The Jays beat the Rays again on Sunday and Toronto moved a half-game ahead of the Yankees into third place.
Yup, your fourth place Yankees. No win for Moose, no win for the Yanks. No nuthin but a whole lot more of the same. Good grief.
Can I Kick it?
Yes, You Can.
Moose goes for his 18th win today in Seattle.
Let's Go Yanks.
And just cause, here's a shot of my favorite sneakers of all-time. They came out in the early Nineties. Nike re-issued them a few years ago, but the second version are more rugged, more of a sturdy, hiking shoe. I prefer the original.
Felled Former Fish
There are two interesting pieces in the Times sports section today: The first, by Tyler Kepner, offers a peek inside Carl Pavano's misbegotten Yankee career; the second story, by Michael Schmidt, profiles Dontrelle Willis who has been pitching in the low minors this season. According to Schmidt's article, Willis is still an upbeat personality, picking up the tab for post-game meals. But the photograph that accompanies the article shows Willis sitting off to the side, looking lonesome. Both articles are a reminder of not only how difficult it is to sustain a big league career but also just how lonely and isolating the game can be.
Late Night Smile
I've never been to Safeco Park, as I mentioned yesterday, but it is an easy ball park to romanticize. More than anything, it's the sound of the train that gets me. From my apartment in the Bronx I can both see and hear the subway in the disance. It is not an imposing sound, it is faint, but it is always there and I find it comforting.
In the first inning last night, Bobby Abreu hit a line drive over the fence in center field. The sun had left the field but there were two patches on the outfield wall, just to the right of center. Jeremy Reed, the Mariner's center fielder chased the ball to the wall before turning back to the field. But you could see his shadow against the wall, and for a moment the image was hypnotizing. It was a brief moment. Just as I noticed it, Reed's shadow--of him turning back towards the field--was gone.
The game moved along at a brisk pace for the first five innings. Ryan-Rowland Smith worked especially fast, and Sidney Ponson threw strikes and had some help from his fielders. The Yanks were up 2-0 in the sixth--Jason Giambi added solo homer of his own--and Ponson got the first two men out. But then he gave up back-to-back singles followed by a line drive home run (Raul Ibanez) and the Yanks were playing the same-old-song again.
Fortunately, the Mariners are even worse than the Yankees. Smith was relieved in the seventh (he allowed a lead-off single to Ivan Rodriguez), and three Seattle relievers later, the Yanks had a 7-3 lead. Abreu had the big hit, a two-run triple, and Giambi added an RBI double.
Joba Chamberlain gave up a run in the eighth and Mariano Rivera was brought into the game to get the final out of the inning, which he did. Our man Mo--nice to see him in a game again--sent the M's down in order in the ninth, lowering his season ERA to 1.43 and giving the Yanks a 7-4 win.
A nice win. Yes, it doesn't mean much at this pernt, but as Nuke LaLoosh once said about winning, "you know, it's better than losing."
Most of the Banter Crew have their hopes pinned on Mike Mussina picking up win number 18 today. Let's hope he's in good form and that the bats are blazin.
Sun Setting for Yanks
Bonzone vs a Rookie tonight in Seattle. There was no sun in New York today, just rain and wind. Anyhow, here's a nice picture to look at...
Let's Go Yan-Kees.
The Melky Way
The Yankees called up Melky Cabrera before last night's game, but according to Pete Abe's article on Melky this morning, that had as much to do with the team's concern over Bobby Abreu having jammed his wrist sliding into second base on Thursday night as with Cabrera's performance over his three weeks with triple-A Scranton.
Melky's traveled a winding path since hitting .280/.360/.391 as a 21-year-old rookie in 2006. He opened last season on the major league bench and struggled, but after taking over in center field on June 1, he hit .325/.375/.482 for three months before slumping in September for the second straight year. When Cabrera opened this season with a .299/.370/.494 April (including five home runs against a previous full-season high of eight), it looked like Melky was emerging as the star player the Yankees had hoped he'd become, but he hit just .226/.274/.293 from May 1 through his, by then, overdue demotion in mid-August.
According to Pete's article, when Melky was sent down, he was charged with improving his play in three ways: "Be more selective at the plate, try to steal more bases and be more vocal in the outfield." Two of those goals can be measured objectively, while the third pertains to Melky's defense, which was the least of his problems at the time of his demotion. With that in mind, here's a quick look at how Cabrera's reeducation went over the past three weeks.
From May 1 through his demotion, Cabrera walked 18 times (four of them intentional) in 339 plate appearances, a rate of one unintentional walk every 24.2 trips. In 66 plate appearances with Scranton he walked eight times (none intentionally), a rate of one unintentional walk every 8.25 trips. It's a small sample, to be sure, but I'm willing to believe that improvement can be maintained. As a rookie in 2006, Melky walked 56 times (three intentional) in 524 plate appearances, a rate of one walk every 9.9 trips. What's hidden in those numbers, however, is the fact that four of those eight minor league walks game in a single game. Factor those four plate appearances out and he walked once every 15.5 plate appearances over the rest of his time at triple-A. That's still a marked improvement, but not one that gets him back to that 2006 rate, which is really where he needs to be.
In the majors this year, Cabrera stole 9 bases and was caught twice (an 81 percent success rate) in roughly 129 times on base (not counting times he reached on errors or fielders choices). In the minors, he stole one base in four tries in roughly 27 times on base. Its clear that Melky was forcing things on the bases in Scranton. With the Yankees, he attempted a steal once every 11.7 times on base. In Scranton, he attempted a steal once every 6.8 times on base. Then there's these comments from Chad Jennings pertaining to Scranton's games on August 22 and 23:
Melky Cabrera got thrown out trying to steal third base in that decisive ninth inning. At the time, the tying run had already scored and Cabrera was in scoring position with one out. [Manager Dave] Miley said Cabrera was running on his own and was none to happy with his decision to go. . . . I understand that Melky Cabrera wants to prove to the Yankees that he's willing to play hard -- and you can't deny he's run out every ball and play good, hustle defense -- but he was just caught stealing second. Last night he was caught stealing third in tie game in the bottom of the ninth. Sunday he was thrown out foolishly trying to stretch a single into a double. Cabrera needs to show he's willing to hustle, but right now the greater concern might be whether or not he's a bonehead.
With regard to the time he was thrown out stretching, Jennings reported that Scranton hitting coach Butch Wynegar said Melky told him he was just trying to show hustle. Wynegar responded by explaining the difference between hustle and bad baserunning. Melky's a fast player, but he's not a blazer, and he was stealing at a high percentage in the majors this year, which is the most important thing to consider when evaluating a base thief. Again, the minor league sample is extremely small, but the early returns suggest that the Yankees would be best off leaving well enough alone when it comes to Melky's basestealing and focusing on smart baserunning instead.
Overall, Cabrera hit .333/409/.368 in Scranton, which isn't a far cry from what his rival Brett Gardner did down there this year (.296/.414/.422). Going back to Jennings conversation with Wynegar, Melky showed up two days before he was required to report to Scranton and, if nothing else, is aware of the fact that he needs to prove himself to the organization. Melky told Pete Abe, "I tried to have a good attitude. I want to do the work," and Pete reports that Joe Girardi's heard good things about Melky's work ethic with Scranton.
Right now, I expect Melky to start the 2009 season back in Scranton and have to earn his way back up. He'll still be just 24 next season (he's almost exactly a year younger than Gardner) so there's plenty of room for hope and for him to still come away with a long, productive major league career, and the demotion appears to have served as a sufficient wake-up call. The only question now is if the Yankees can focus his renewed determination into the necessary skill set for him to succeed as a major league starter.
Missed it by That Much
Two outs, top of the eighth. Brandon Morrow, the Mariner's young right hander, was throwing a no-hitter against the Yanks. Hideki Matsui was on first, having drawn a walk, the third of the night against Morrow, who simply overwhelmed the Yankee offense with a live fastball and a tough breaking ball. Joe Girardi sent up Wilson Betemit, who hasn't been seen much in recent weeks, and Betemit quickly fell behind in the count. But then he ripped a line drive to right field for a double and the no-hitter vanished. Matsui scored and suddenly the Yanks were in the game, trailing just 3-1. In the ninth, Derek Jeter led off with a single against J.J. Putz, pronounced "Puts."* Bobby Abreu had a nice at-bat, working the count full, and then hit the ball hard to left center field. But the ball was tracked down and caught for the first out. Alex Rodriguez swung at the first pitch and hit a hard ground ball up the middle that was snagged and he was thrown out at first. Finally, Jason Giambi popped a ball close to the stands around third base, which Adrian Beltre snagged for the final out.
The Mariners did not get their no-hitter. But they did get the win, 3-1. Andy Pettitte pitched a nice game. Morrow was a whole lot better.
* In New York, if you spell your name P-U-T-Z, and pronounce it Puts you are a bigger Putz than your name suggests. Actually, I've heard Putz is a really good guy. Still, I'm sayin...
Seattle Mariners III: Audition Edition
It was nice to see the Yankees take two of three from the division leading Rays. It was nice to see them score 33 runs in their last four games. Unfortunately, neither really means much. They Rays still have a double-digit lead on Bombers, and the Red Sox are still 7.5 games ahead of them in the Wild Card chase, now with just 22 games left in the regular season.
Tonight, after a 3,000-mile flight, the Yanks take on the only team in the league that has been mathematically eliminated, the 54-85 Seattle Mariners. The M's are back in spring training mode, using their meaningless September to audition some of their minor leaguers and try some others out in new roles. The big story tonight is 23-year-old fireballer Brandon Morrow, who will make his first major league start after having made 100 relief appearances for the M's over the last two seasons. Morrow posted a 1.47 ERA in relief this year, has struck out 10.17 men per nine innings in his big league career, and supposedly has a six-pitch repertoire.
If that sounds like a recipe for a frustrating night of Yankee baseball, focus on the fact that the Yankees are also auditioning a starter tonight. Andy Pettitte is pitching on a one-year deal, so the Yankees will likely be watching his last few starts for signs that it would be worth offering him another one-year deal for 2009. Last year, Pettitte's strong second half helped propel the Yankees into the playoffs, but this year, the veteran lefty has posted a 5.54 ERA since the All-Star break, a 7.04 ERA in three season starts against the Red Sox, and his ERA+ on the season is below league average for the first time in his 14-year career. In his last two starts, Pettitte has been roughed up for 12 runs in 11 innings.
Pettitte's value this season has been largely tied up in his ability to take the ball every five days and pitch deep into games. He and Mike Mussina are the only Yankees not to have missed a start this season, and the 36-year-old Pettitte is averaging more innings per start (just less than 6 1/3 innings per turn) than the 39-year-old Mussina. Given that, the solution to the Pettitte question ultimately has more to do with how the rest of the 2009 rotation shapes up than how Pettitte himself performs this September. If the Yankees can fill up the five rotation spots without him, they should probably do so, but if they're going to need an innings-eater to take one spot, bringing back fan favorite Pettitte on a discounted one-year deal would be the smartest and safest option.
The other options for next year's rotation include Chien-Ming Wang (who will be returning from the foot injury that ended his season in June), roughly 150 innings of Joba Chamberlain (minus any that might be used in another workload-limiting stint in the bullpen), the 40-year-old Mussina (who looks likely to re-sign), a big-ticket free agent the team might not land, and a group of youngsters and minor league vets led by Phil Hughes and Alfredo Aceves. Given that, having Pettitte on hand to eat up 200 innings would likely be worth the one-year investment, particularly as a backup plan to that big-ticket free agent, but if Andy's unable to pull out of his current slump, it will force the Yankees to think much harder about whether or not they really want him occupying a rotation spot that a prospect could emerge to fill and Darrell Rasner or his like could fill in the interim.
The Relics of Shea Stadium--Bobby Bonds
In 1975, the Yankees played the last of two seasons in which they called Shea Stadium their home. Reggie Jackson had not yet arrived, nor had Willie Randolph. Roy White, while still a good player, was past his peak. Thurman Munson was beginning to establish himself as a star, but was still one year away from being recognized as the American League MVP. So who was the Yankees’ best player during that final season at Shea? It had to have been the man that few remember as a Yankee. He was the same man that younger fans now remember mostly as the father of Barry Bonds.
How talented was Bobby Bonds? He was the most gifted outfielder the Yankees had during the entire decade of the 1970s, more talented than even Jackson, a future Hall of Famer. A 30-30 man with game-breaking speed, Bonds was much faster, could play center field with skill and precision, and had just as much power. Jackson was physically better only in one respect; he had a stronger throwing arm, and even that capability had diminished by the time he joined the Yankees in 1977. Bonds was certainly more talented than the man for whom he was traded to New York after the 1974 season, Bobby Murcer. Bonds had more power, speed, and range, and drew more walks. Murcer made better contact, but that was about it. Clearly, Bonds was better.
Yankee fans didn’t care that Bonds had more physical ability and was capable of putting up superior numbers. They bemoaned the loss of the beloved Murcer, whose down-home personality, smooth left-handed swing, and embodiment of the little man made him an icon at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees could have traded Murcer for Hank Aaron or Frank Robinson and still felt a backlash from fans who believed the front office had been disloyal to a favorite son.
In spite of the hostile welcoming party waiting for him at the Shea Stadium turnstiles, Bonds played well during the first half of the 1975 season. He picked up enough votes in the fan balloting to win a spot as a starter on the American League All-Star team. His only adversity occurred in June, when he missed a week’s worth of games because of a strained knee. But then came a larger obstacle, one that arrived in the form of a mid-season managerial change.
It would be a shame if the New York Sun goes out of business but sure it isn't looking good for the paper. I've really enjoyed their coverage of sports and the arts. Tim Marchman and Steven Goldman have been great, as have columns by Allen Barra, Jonah Keri, Jay Jaffe and other voices from Baseball Prospectus.
Here is Goldman's latest, already a day old, but still worth checking out:
Unfortunately, the Yankees are about to enter a period that's anything but standard, a period in which they may require a complete rebuilding, one that takes not one overhaul, but several. The Yankees will say that they don't need to rebuild, that they are only a few pieces away Mark Teixeira, perhaps, or C.C. Sabathia from being back in championship form. Cashman will say this, and when you hear those words, you should know to a cold certainty that things are going to get worse before they get better.
In the New York Observer, Howard Megdal adds:
New York also has numerous questions to answer in their lineup. Jason Giambi had a monster first half. But Giambi seemed to wear down in the second half, and while New York is highly unlikely to pick up his option, the Yankees need to decide if it is worth bringing back this popular player as he turns 38. Of course, if New York doesn't, the free agent market offers the allure of Mark Teixeira and Adam Dunn.
The Big Yawn
The Rays needed a win and they played well on Thursday night while the hapless Yanks played like they had a plane to catch. Okay, that's not fair. Maybe it just seemed that way. Scott Kazmir was solid, allowing just one hit over six innings, though he did walk five batters. But Darrell Rasner didn't make it out of the second inning and gave up five runs. Alfredo Aceves threw five innings in relief, giving up just one run and was a bright spot, and the Yanks did make it interesting late.
Tampa led 7-0 going into the ninth but the Yanks scored five runs before calling it a night: with two out, Derek Jeter smacked a three-run homer to right and then Alex Rodriguez hit an absolute blast into the catwalk in left. Rodriguez's shot was dumb nice, career dinger #550. But it was too little too late, the story of the Yankees' season, as Xavier Nady popped out to end the game.
So our boys take the long cross-country flight to Seattle where Melky Cabrera will re-join the team. Speaking of cross country, check out this soporific soul classic by Archie Whitewater, the perfect lullaby for a long trip:
Ras v Kaz
It has a nice ring to it, doesn't it?
Hey, how about dem Yanks? Be nice to see them continue to give the Rays troubles, wouldn't it?
C'mon boys, time to spoil all the fun down south.
Let's Go Yan-Kees.
The Happy Re-Cap
Matty. The Great One.
I know I threw a ton of stuff at you today, so here's a quick linkorama to a feast of New York Giant goodies:
Giants for a Day: Dreaming of the old Penn Station and the Polo Grounds:
Lookit Here: A video piece with accompanying article on the New York Giants Nostalgia Society for SNY.TV.
So Long, Farewell: Arnold Hano and Roger Angell bid farewell to the Polo Grounds.
Bronx Banter Video Bites:
Number One: An Introduction.
Number Two: The Truth Hurts. Tales from the dugout in the '54 World Serious.
Giants Fan in my Soul: A guest article by Greg Prince.
Bronx Banter Bite Number Three: The Candy Man Can (aka, The Del Crandel Story).
Number Four: Spahnie, How I Luv Ya.
Number Five: The Lady is...An Ump.
Number Six: Showtime.
And finally, here's one last morsel, a New York Giants reading list from Greg Prince:
Perry Barber has umped fantasy camps and spring training games for years. This past winter, she worked home plate for a Mets-Cards exhibition, part of the first all-female umpiring crew to work a big league game.
The Lady is...An Ump
Here's a bit from one of the Koolest Kets I've ever had the chance to meet, the one and only Perry Lee Barber: a Jepoardy champion at age 19, a nightclub singer who opened for Springsteen, Billy Joel and Hall and Oates in her twenties, and a huge baseball fan who has been a professional umpire for the better part of the last thirty years:
Spahnie, How I Luv Ya
The Candy Man Can
Richie talks about how hard it was not to root for the Giants when he was working the visiting team dugout at the Polo Grounds:
Giants Fan in my Soul
I became a fan of the New York Giants when I was nine years old. It was during the 1972 season.
Fifteen years after the New York Giants played their last game.
In an All in the Family episode called "Edith Finds an Old Man," Edith does exactly as the title describes. She brings home an elderly loner she found wandering through the supermarket, Archie blusters, we learn some valuable lessons about how society should treat senior citizens and Gloria declares toward the end that since she didn't know her own grandparents, we can adopt Mr. Quigley (and his girlfriend, no less) as honorary Bunkers.
I recall that sitcom moment here because I suppose I did the same thing as Gloria Stivic. I adopted the displaced New York Giants as my own grandpa: my own baseball grandpa.
Never mind that I never saw the New York Giants play. Never mind that the New York Giants ceased to exist five years before I began to commence. Never mind that there is no trace of Giants fandom in my biological lineage. Never mind that I don't care a whit for the San Francisco Giants. To me as a real-time New York Mets fan, the San Francisco Giants are just some windy stopover on the way to getting swept in San Diego.
I'm a New York Mets fan in my heart and a New York Giants fan in my soul. Those are my teams. Earlier this season, I prematurely wrote off the 2008 Mets as dead. But the Giants, they're actually deceased since 1957.
Your team being dead at the present time, however, is no excuse for not remaining loyal to it.
The Truth Hurts
In 1954, the Yanks won 103 games but lost the pennant because the Indians were seemingly unstoppable.
Richie McCabe was the bat boy in the Indians dugout at the Polo Grounds during the '54 Serious. Here's a little story about an encounter with Bobby Avila:
Bronx Banter Bites
I've souped-up a series of exclusive Bronx Banter takes on the summer gathering of the New York Giants Nostalgia Society. They are intended to be little nuggets of Noo Yawk Lovliness.
Here's the first of six short clips that will be posted over the course of the day.
So Long, Farewell
In the coming weeks, we'll see more than our fair share of tributes to Yankee Stadium. Here are a couple of excellent farewells to the old Polo Grounds...
Arnold Hano, who wrote the terrific account of Game One of the 1954 World Serious, A Day in the Bleachers, was on hand for the Giants last game at the Polo Grounds. He wrote about the experience for Sports Illustrated:
It was a few minutes before one o'clock in the afternoon, and Willie Mays and Valmy Thomas were socializing in center field of the Polo Grounds with Pittsburgh Pirate Outfielder Jim Pendleton, against all the rules of the game. It was obviously going to be that sort of day.
Six-and-a-half years later, Roger Angell said goodbye to the Polo Grounds in a short essay for The New Yorker:
What does depress me about the decease of the bony, misshapen old playground is the attendant irrevocable deprivation of habit--the amputation of so many private, and easily renewable small familiarities. The things I liked best about the Polo Grounds were wights and emotions so inconsequential that they will surely slide out of my recollection. A flight of pigeons flashing out of the barn-shadow of the upper stands, wheeling past the right-field foul pole, and disappearing above the inert, heat-heavy flags on the roof. The steepness of the ramp descending from the Speedway toward the upper-stand gates, which pushed your toes into your shoe tips as you approached the park, tasting sweet anticipation and getting out your change to buy a program. The unmistakable, final "Plock!" of a line drive hitting the green wooden barrier above the stands in deep left field. The gentle, rockerlike swing of the tloop of rusty chain you rested your arm upon in a box seat, and the heat of the sun-warmed iron coming through your shirtsleeve under your elbow. At a night game, the moon rising out of the scoreboard like a spongy, day-old orange balllon and when the whitening over the waves of noise and the slow, shifting clouds of floodlit cigarette smoke. All these I mourn, for their loss constitutes the death of still another neighbhorhood--a small landscape of distinctive and reassuring familiarity. Demolition and alteration are a painful city commonplace, but as our surroundings become more undistinguished and indistinguishable, we sense, at last, that we may not possess the scorecards and record books to help us remember who we are and what we have seen and loved.
Man, how I wish I could have seen that joint up close.
Earlier this summer I went to a meeting of the New York Giants Nostalgia Society up in the Bronx. Here is a piece I did for SNY on the meeting:
"For some reason the Giants didn't get a love lock on the people of New York the way the Dodgers did on the people of Brooklyn," says Roger Kahn, whose seminal book, "The Boys of Summer", helped perpetuate the myth of the Brooklyn Dodgers. "The Giants were New York's original team. The old New Yorkers rooted for the Giants. The Yankees were tourists."
In addition, I shot and produced a short video for SNY. Here it is. Hope you enjoy (and thanks go to Dave, Jonah, Fred and Jay for helping me put it all together):
Giants for a Day
My grand father was a circumspect, bookish man who believed that actively rooting for a sporting team was an essentially foolish activity, a waste of time. At least the impression I always got. He was the most passive fan you could imagine but he was a Giant fan because the Giants were New York's team when he was growing up. My father, hot-tempered and emotional, took after his mom's side of the family and rooted for the Dodgers, even though he was raised in Washington Heights. He was ten when Jackie Robinson joined the team, and liked to tell me that he was "second to none" as a Jackie Robinson fan. I heard the names Pee Wee and Pete Reiser and Cookie Wookie Lavagetto as a kid but I never heard about any of the Giants, other than Willie Mays.
Of course, we all know about the Dodger's enduring legacy in Brooklyn, but I've always found it curious that the Giants are all but forgotten. After all if I could go back in time, I'd go to the Old Penn Station:
...and the Polo Grounds:
That said, I'm going to make today all about the old New York Giants who started playing ball in San Francisco fifty years ago. Much more to come shortly...
Alex Rodriguez's Historic Home Run
The Yankees jumped out to an early lead on Edwin Jackson and the Rays last night. After four innings, the score stood at 6-3 Yankees, but the next four frames went by without another tally. With two outs in the top of the ninth, Bobby Abreu worked Troy Percival for a 12-pitch walk, fouling of six full-count offerings before taking ball four. Abreu then stole second on Percival's 0-2 pitch to Alex Rodriguez, which was a ball. Rodriguez fouled off the 1-2 pitch, took ball two, then crushed a pitch down the left-field line that sailed over the foul pole.
The ball was ruled a home run, but Rays catcher Dioner Navarro animatedly disagreed, and his manager, Joe Maddon, convinced the umpires to use instant replay for the first time in major league history. Three of the four umpires, including crew chief Charlie Reliford retreated through the visitor's dugout to the replay area and emerged two minutes and 15 seconds later to uphold their call. Reliford emerged first from the dugout and twirled his left index finger over his head to affirm third-base umpire Brian Runge's original call on the field.
Watching the replays shown on YES, the ball appeared to sail over the left-field foul pole, then hook foul behind hit, clanging off a catwalk near the back wall of the stadium. Still, there remained some confusion due to the fact that there was a yellow foul pole extension attached to that catwalk, despite the fact that it was set significantly back beyond the outfield wall. The ball clearly hit the catwalk to the left (foul) of that yellow indicator, but only after sailing over the actual foul pole when leaving the field of play, which is exactly how all four umpires saw it both live and in the replays.
Said Reliford after the game, "We all believed it was a home run, but since the technology is in place we made the decision to use the technology and go look at the replays. . . . If there had been no argument, obviously we wouldn't have because all four of us believed the call was correct on the field. Because [Maddon] disputed it, and it was very close, and now the technology is in place, we used it."
Rodriguez's double-checked homer gave the Yankees an 8-3 lead, bounced Percival from the game, and pushed Rodriguez past Mike Schmidt on the career home runs list. The Rays picked up run in the bottom of the inning off Jose Veras to set the final score at 8-4 Yanks.
Through The Looking Glass
Joe Girardi got some heat for taking Carl Pavano out of his last start after just 72 pitches despite the fact that Pavano had allowed just one run on three hits through six innings. I had no problem with it. The Yankees had a slim one-run lead, the one run Pavano gave up came in the sixth, he'd only struck out one batter, and the Blue Jays had been hitting the ball hard but right at the Yankee fielders all night. The Yankees won the game 2-1, but that didn't seem to take much heat off the Yankee manager.
Pavano was actually better in his first start, when he struck out five and got nine ground balls (as opposed to the three he got against the Jays). In his two starts, Pavano has walked just two and allowed no home runs. It's tempting to argue that letting Pavano audition for a contract for 2009 is against the Yankees' best interests right now, but he's actually been the Yankees second-best starter the last two times through the rotation.
Pavano takes a clean 2-0 record and a fine 3.27 ERA into tonight's game against the Rays. He'll be opposed by Edwin Jackson, who is one of the unsung heroes of the first-place Rays. A failed Dodger prospect acquired for relievers Danys Baez and Lance Carter prior to the 2006 season, Jackson entered this season with a 5.64 career ERA and a 5.02 career BB/9. This season, he's boasting a 3.81 ERA and an improved 3.98 BB/9. Over his last seven starts, he's 6-1 with a 2.59 ERA; over his last 12 starts, he's 7-2 with a 3.07 ERA. In four starts against the Yankees this year, he has a 2.59 ERA, a 3.33 BB/9, and has allowed just one home run (to Hideki Matsui), though the Rays are just 2-2 in those games. One of those loses was by a score of 2-1 in a game started by Jackson and Sidney Ponson. Tonight's game could prove to be a similarly unlikely pitchers duel.
Brush Up Your Baseball
Gelf's Varsity Letters reading series is back in action tomorrow night downtown at the Happy End Lounge (302 Broome street, between Forsyth and Eldridge). Harvey Frommer, who wrote the text for a gorgeous new over-sized book about Yankee Stadium, Remembering Yankee Stadium: An Oral and Narrative History of "The House that Ruth Built", will be there as a featured speaker as will Buster Olney, who wrote The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty, and David Zirin, author of A People's History of Sports in the United States: 250 Years of Politics, Protest, People, and Play. If you are around, pop on over and check, check it out.
Thanks to the tireless word machine better known as Joe Pos, I caught up with Nick Dawidoff's recent feature on Johnny Mac for the New York Times Magazine.
Mac is still a pill, after all these years.
Smoke Em if You Got Em
I caught some of Midnight Run on TV recently and was struck by how many cigarettes were smoked in that movie. It didn't faze me at the time, of course, but now...Man, it's hard to imagine that the Smoking-is-Foo! Universe is still so relatively new, isn't it? In childhood photographs of anyone my age and older, you'll see all forms of grown ups smoking, ashtrays on the coffee tables. Smoking was replete.
I gave up smoking more than ten years ago. But every once in awhile I'll see an old movie that still makes smoking look, if not glamourous, then at least desirable. What are some of your favorite smoking flicks?
Alex Rodriguez is now tied for 12th on the all-time home run list with some dude named Michael Jack Schmidt. Rodriguez has 1,588 RBI in his career. He's scored 1,591 runs. He may in fact be the most frustrating great player we've ever watched but there is no denying that he's great.
Mazel props, dude.
It's Only Seventeen
Xavier Nady hit a ball to the moon in the fourth inning of last night's game. Well, it would have gone to the moon, but the catwalk suspended from the Tropicana Dome roof got in the way. That bomb gave the Yankees a 3-1 lead they wouldn't relinquish. The Bombers added two in the fifth, one in the sixth, and capped it off with Alex Rodriguez's 30th homer of the year leading off the eighth. Meanwhile, Mike Mussina scattered ten hits, allowing just two runs over six-plus innings, struck out ten and picked up his 17th win of the season, leaving him with five chances to get the three more wins he needs to set a career-high in that category.
Joba Chamberlain and Dan Giese both made strong returns from shoulder tendonitis. Chamberlain needed one pitch to kill a Rays rally in the seventh and working around a walk and a single for a scoreless eighth. Giese worked a 1-2-3 ninth, striking out Carlos Peña to seal the 7-2 Yankee win. Chamberlian's velocity was a bit down, but he said after the game that his mechanics were a bit out of whack from the time off and that he expected everything to fall into place in his subsequent outings. Most importantly, his shoulder felt just fine.
B.J. Upton made the play of the game on a drive by Rodriguez in the top of the second. Running full speed toward the wall in center, Upton snow-coned Rodriguez's line drive in the webbing of his glove before taking one step up the wall to slow his momentum. In the bottom of the inning, Eric Hinske made the boner of the game (in a game that had its share) when he raced around the bases for a triple while watching Nady and Johnny Damon chase after the ball in left center. Hinske slid safely into third base head first. Only then did he discover that Willy Aybar, who had singled before him, had been held up at third. Forced to vacate the base, Aybar was throw out easily at home. Hinske then failed to score on a subsequent groundout by Jason Bartlett, leaving the game scoreless entering the third inning.
Rodriguez's homer tied him with Mike Schmidt for 12th in major league history. Barring injury, he'll be chasing 600 this time next year.
Tampa Bay Rays V: Too Little, Too Late Edition
Congratulations to the Rays on their first winning season, playoff berth, and division championship: You've come a long way, baby.
The Yankees are 7-5 against the Rays this year, which is a solid showing against a team that leads them by 12 games in the standings. Sadly, it's done them little good. The Yankees could sweep their remaining six games against Tampa Bay, match their record against third-part opponents, and still finish six games out in the AL East.
We're in an odd stage of the Yankees' season. Best I can tell, just about all of the fanbase and most of the media have come to grips with the reality that the Yankees will miss the postseason for the first time since 1993, but because they're still "just" seven games out of the Wild Card with 26 left to play, the team itself, as well at its broadcasters, need to at least pretend they're still in it. It's true that it ain't over 'til it's over, but the Yankees have to gain one game on the Red Sox over the course of each remaining series to arrive in Boston on September 26 in position to pass Boston with a series win, and even that doesn't account for the second-place team in the AL Central, whom the Yankees also trail in the Wild Card race. It's just not going to happen.
What's left now is saying farewell to Yankee Stadium, preparing for next year--be it by giving Alfredo Aceves a start or two in place of Pavano or Ponson, letting Brett Gardner start in center field, or hoping Hideki Matsui gets on a hot streak to increase his trade value--and Mike Mussina's pursuit of 20 wins, which continues tonight in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Mussina enters tonight's game with 16 wins and will have five starts left afterwards (against the Mariners, Rays, White Sox, Orioles, Blue Jays, and Red Sox). The Yankees have won Mussina's last six starts, but Moose earned the win in just three of them due to late-breaking run support. Still, Mussina's been excellent over that stretch, posting 2.93 ERA and averaging 6 2/3 innings. In fact, over his last 17 starts, Mussina has a 2.92 ERA and has averaged nearly 6 2/3 innings per start. Only once over that stretch has he failed to complete six innings and only once has he allowed more than four runs (both coming in the same game against the Orioles). Still, he has just 9 wins in those 17 starts, due in part to losing scores such as 4-2 (twice), 3-2, and 2-1. That makes four wins in six starts a tall order, and four wins in five starts should he lose tonight extremely unlikely.
Moose's mount opponent tonight is Matt Garza, who has displayed a Verlander-like inconsistency. Over his last nine starts, Garza has held the opposition scoreless four times, including two shutouts. In the other five games, he has allowed 24 runs in 27 1/3 innings. The trend: three of those four scoreless outings came against Toronto. The exception: one of the shutouts was a two-hit, nine-K performance against the Rangers in Arlington. Garza has faced the Yankees once this year, shutting them out over seven innings back on May 12. In his next start, he gave up seven runs in 4 1/3 innings. Such is Garza.
Both Garza and ace Scott Kazmir (who faces Darrell Rasner on Thursday) spent time on the DL early in the season. Carl Crawford and rookie sensation Evan Longoria are on the DL now, with Crawford likely out for the year. Rocco Baldelli missed most of the season, though he's recently returned as Cliff Floyd's platoon partner at DH. Floyd also spent time on the DL earlier in the season, as did Longoria's predecessor/replacement Willy Aybar, All-Star catcher Dioner Navarro, infielder Ben Zobrist (who is currently platooning with Eric Hinske in left field), last year's breakout star Carlos Peña, shortstop Jason Bartlett, and a handful of relievers, among them closer Troy Percival, who is due to return from his third DL stint tonight, and last year's closer Al Reyes, who pitched himself off the team after returning from his DL stint. Beyond that, Crawford was below average when healthy, Bartlett's been a huge disappointment on both sides of the ball, and B.J. Upton is slugging a mere .397 with just 8 homers after slugging .508 with 24 jacks in fewer plate appearances last year.
How Do You Spell Relief?
Yankee Panky #63: August and Everything After
“Alex Rodriguez homered Sunday off Roy Halladay, as did Jason Giambi, but it was too little, too late for the Yankees.”
“Don’t expect the Red Sox to shed any tears over playing their last regular-season game at Yankee Stadium. But if the champs sweep the Yankees — and throw some dirt on New York’s playoffs dreams — pinstripe fans might be crying all winter. Call it karma for years of suffering.”
“Bottom line, they sucked.”
The first two quotes represent one part truth and one part anti-Yankee sentiment. Hank Steinbrenner’s quote was all truth, and media outlets from New York, Boston, and the national scene took that quote and ran with it like Bo Jackson in Tecmo Bowl.
Doomsday coverage – the words “final nail in season” were used in numerous articles — pulled a matador move late Thursday and into Friday as Jason Giambi saved the team’s playoff hopes for a little while. Story headers reading “Maybe the Yankees aren’t done yet” fed the Optimism Machine. Friday’s gutsy victory over possible future Yankee A.J. Burnett — a win in which I thought Joe Girardi should have been taken to task for removing Carl Pavano after six innings and 72 pitches — prompted more “Maybe…” talk. And like many, I was pumping my fist when Hideki Matsui ripped a bases-loaded double to give the Yankees a 6-2 lead over Toronto. I was thinking “sweep.” I was happy to see the Yankees score all six of their runs with two out. I was even happier to see the Yankees do to the Jays what had been done to them so many times this season: pound the starting pitcher and get into the bullpen by the fifth inning. But what happened over the final four innings was a microcosm of the entire season. The Jays’ last four relievers — Jason Frasor, Brandon League, Scott Downs and B.J. Ryan — threw first-pitch strikes to 10 of the 14 batters they faced, immediately putting the Yankees’ offense on the defensive. Ryan was the only member of the quartet to fall behind two hitters in a row and throw more balls (10) than strikes (9) in his appearance. Conversely, the Yankee relievers’ inability to throw Strike 1, particularly on the part of Damaso Marte and Jose Veras, contributed to their demise.
"I don't care how it looks," Derek Jeter said. "I'll take an ugly win over playing well and losing."
The Yankees scored eleven runs in the first three innings yesterday, knocking Justin Verlander out the box with the quickness, but the Tigers came back and scored six in the fourth and by the end of five it was 11-9, New York. So much for a laugher. But such is life for the 2008 Yankees, who scored two more in the top of the sixth on a big RBI single by Derek Jeter as the Yanks survived to beat the Tigers, 13-9.
Sidney Ponson and Edwar Ramirez were not effective but Brian Bruney, Phil Coke (making his big league debut), Damaso Marte and Chris Britton were able to throw up zeros. Coke, a left-hander with a weak chin, and a delivery that reminded me a little bit of both David Wells and Al Leiter (except Coke slings the ball in a more exaggerated manner than either of them), had a nice inning and looked poised. Six of the Yankee starting nine had multiple hits; Alex Rodriguez had four RBI.
Yanks slide down to Tampa tonight for the start of three against the world-beating, Rays. Mike Mussina goes for win #17. According to the Daily News, Joba Chamberlain will be activated before the game and will be used in the bullpen for the rest of the season. In the long run, I like Chamberlain as a starter, and so do the Yankees. Seems like it would make sense to use him anyway they can right now. What's your take on him being used out of the pen for the month of September?
Detroit Tigers 2.1: May Showers Bring August Flowers Edition
Back on May 11, the conclusion of the Yankees' lone series in Detroit this season got rained out, so the Yanks are stopping off in the Motor City for a Labor Day matinée on their way down to face the first-place Rays. The Yanks are 1-4 against the Tigers thus far this season, the one win coming in Detroit in the last game the two teams played. That was Darrell Rasner's second start of the year, in case you weren't sure just how long ago that was.
Back then, the Tigers were a disappointing team that was hitting a bunch, but not enough to overcome the awful performance of their starting pitchers. Though the Tiger hitting has cooled off a bit and their pitching has improved, the team is still a disappointment, lingering below .500 in a season in which they were expected to crush their division.
Justin Verlander starts for the Bengals this afternoon. He's been wildly inconsistent. In eight second-half starts, he's allowed one run or fewer three times and five runs or more the other five with nothing in between. He'll face Sidney Ponson, who has allowed 11 runs in his last 6 2/3 innings over two starts. Neither pitcher has faced the opposing team this season.
Today is September 1, which means major league teams are allowed to expand their rosters beyond 25 men. With their top two minor league affiliates in the postseason (a good sign for the future of the major league club), the Yankees have started slowly by bringing back Chad Moeller and calling up lefty reliever Phil Coke. That's a pretty wild turnaround for Coke. Barely more than a month ago he was a double-A starter who thought he had been traded to the Pirates in the Xavier Nady deal. Now he's a major league relief pitcher with the Yankees. Not bad.
Coke, who is 26, combines with 25-year-old Alfredo Aceves to give the Yankees a pair of potential long-men in the pen down the stretch, though Aceves' performance yesterday suggests he could emerge as a high-leverage guy with a quickness. Coke posted a 2.51 ERA in 20 starts and three relief outings for double-A Trenton this year, then moved up to triple-A and spent most of his time there pitching out of the pen with superior peripherals (22 K, 5 BB, 0 HR in 17 1/3 IP), but worse results (4.67 ERA). On closer inspection, that ERA is inflated by his adjustment to his new level and his new role, as his ERA over his last ten outings was 2.70.
Word is the bullpen will receive further reinforcement tomorrow when Joba Chamberlain is activated, though if Ponson has a third-straight bad outing today, Joba, Aceves, or even Coke could wind up taking Sir Sidney's next turn in the rotation.
Minute By Minute
Space is generally the most precious, sacred thing in the world for a New Yorker. You often don't get much of it, but even a couple of feet can feel generous when you are on a crowded subway car. Stand on any busy avenue and wait for the light to change. The traffic shoots by and then suddenly, for a break of fifteen to twenty seconds, the avenue is clear, almost deserted and you've got space to breath, space to move.
All of which goes to explain why Labor Day is one of my favorite holidays in the city. The town is dead (and, as Emma mentioned yesterday, it makes you pine for a car just so you can park it). But it's only dead for another day, for a handful of hours. It's the calm before the storm because starting tomorrow morning the city will be buzzing again--families back from vacation, kids back to school. It will be congested again and summer will be over.
In the early nineties, I remember going to the Museum of Broadcasting with a friend to watch Dennis Potter's final TV interview. He was dying and was drinking liquid morphine to numb the pain; there was no telling if he'd be able to remain lucid for the entire interview. But he did and he was brilliant:
We all, we're the one animal that knows that we're going to die, and yet we carry on paying our mortgages, doing our jobs, moving about, behaving as though there's eternity in a sense. And we forget or tend to forget that life can only be defined in the present tense; it is is, and it is now only. I mean, as much as we would like to call back yesterday and indeed yearn to, and ache to sometimes, we can't. It's in us, but we can't actually; it's not there in front of us. However predictable tomorrow is, and unfortunately for most people, most of the time, it's too predictable, they're locked into whatever situation they're locked into ... Even so, no matter how predictable it is, there's the element of the unpredictable, of the you don't know. The only thing you know for sure is the present tense, and that nowness becomes so vivid that, almost in a perverse sort of way, I'm almost serene. You know, I can celebrate life.
Sometimes it takes an existential crisis to stop us in our tracks and notice the world around us. The friend I saw the interview with died several years later of cancer.
Last week, Emily upgraded our phone service. We now both have blackberries. I've noticed people walking around the streets these days with their heads buried in their palms, looking into their phones or their i-pods. I've caught myself doing the same thing. (Mel Brooks once said, "We make fun, 'look at the old guy bent over and spitting,' pretty soon we're bent over and spitting.'" Few weeks ago I called a friend on my cell phone and said, "You know those Herbs that talk on their phone as they are walking down the street? Well, now I'm that Herb too.") Another thing to keep us plugged in and tuned out. It is the rare occasion when I am at home with nothing turned on--usually, I've got the TV and the computer going.
It's more of a struggle than ever to keep our minds clear. But a day like today always drives home the little things for me. Soaking up the final lonely hours of summer before the bustle of autumn returns.
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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