Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Mets injury woes go from bad to worse

The New York Mets were looking forward to a fresh start in 2010 after the injury problems that ruined last season for them. While the Mets managed to turn the page on the calendar, their injury problems came with them and things just went from bad to worse.

In January, center fielder Carlos Beltran had surgery on his knee, supposedly without the team's consent. Earlier this month, shortstop Jose Reyes, already trying to come back from his hamstring problems, got sidetracked by a thyroid problem that forced him to cease baseball activities for nearly two weeks. Now comes word that first baseman Daniel Murphy will start the season on the disabled list because of a knee sprain. Who will get hit by the injury bug next?

By the way, I would love for the unnamed Met who criticized the team for babying Reyes to come out of hiding so we could ask him where he got his medical degree.

The New York Yankees were pretty blessed last year with good health, aside from losing Alex Rodriguez for the first five weeks, after a 2008 season where they missed out on the playoffs when several key players went down, including Jorge Posada. Health is critical for any team with playoff aspirations and the Yankees proved that last year.

But the Mets have gotten hit pretty hard with injuries for the second year in a row and they haven't even broken camp. You have to figure the next injury is going to be a devastating blow, unless they can get Reyes and Beltran back before it happens.

If it wasn't for bad luck, the Mets would have none at all.

Thanks to Keith Allison via Wikipedia for the photo

All systems go for Yankees repeat quest

Can you really call it a prediction if the New York Yankees are picked to repeat as division leaders and eventual World Series champs? It doesn't seem like much of a prediction, but it's pretty accurate.

Several previews rank the Yankees #1 in baseball, followed by the Boston Red Sox, Philadelphia Phillies and Tampa Bay Rays (not always in that order). Why? A strong lineup with fewer question marks than most teams, namely will Curtis Granderson be able to hit lefties and can Robinson Cano really protect Alex Rodriguez. A good starting pitcher staff, led by CC Sabathia. And of course the man who puts the Yankees over the top by miles: Mariano Rivera.

Given that three of the top four teams in baseball are in one division, one could argue that the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays could beat each other up enough to allow another division champ or wild card team to beat them in the playoffs. The Phillies with Roy "Doc" Halladay would worry me in the World Series (although I would have been more worried if they kept Cliff Lee, pre-spring training injuries). But no other team has the talent and depth of the American League East three-headed monster.

The previews are pretty consistent in the one thing they believe can disrupt the Yanks quest to repeat: injuries. Mark Teixeira's sore elbow gave the team a brief scare, but a devastating blow would really be an injury to one of these three Core Four members: Rivera, Derek Jeter or Jorge Posada. I think they have enough starting pitching depth to survive a moderate injury to Andy Pettitte (although they would need him back for the playoffs), but a major injury to one of the other three would put the team's repeat quest in serious jeopardy.

Barring that, I'm confident that the Yankees will fulfill all expectations to win another title. Only four more days to go, folks.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Yankees can breathe easier on Tex, Ace

The New York Yankees can breathe a sigh of relief now that they know Mark Teixeira is going to be fine despite getting plunked on the elbow. Tex was in visible pain after getting hit by a pitch, but insists that he will be fine after a few days.

The latest medical report is that he is bruised and sore, but nothing worse than that. Tex should be ready to play on Thursday, according to Yankees manager Joe Girardi. And Alfredo Aceves, suffering from a sore back, should also be OK in a few days.

"It's good news," Girardi said.

The last thing the Yankees or any baseball team wants to see the final week of spring training is one of their big players get hurt. Even though Nick Johnson can fill in at first, losing Tex would have been a major blow, creating a huge hole in the middle of the lineup. Case in point: Marcus Thames batted third tonight between Johnson and Alex Rodriguez. Plus, Johnson is not nearly as good a defensive player as Tex and the more he plays in the field, the more you risk him getting hurt.

But it's all moot, according to the Yanks, unless they are just telling us what we want to hear.

Thanks to Keith Allison via Wikipedia for the photo.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Rain clouding Andy Pettitte's parade

Rain is apparently the only thing that can stop Andy Pettitte. For the third time this spring, Pettitte's pitching schedule was disrupted by a wash out, with the 37-year-old pitcher only throwing five innings in game action so far.

Will this be a problem for the New York Yankees #3 pitcher? Pettitte insists he will be fine despite the obvious frustration of not being able to work on his changeup and other pitches in live games. He's set to pitch on Friday and then start a week from Wednesday in the third game of the 2010 regular season. Is that enough time to get ready? He and Joe Girardi believe so, given his behind-the-scenes work. His manager thinks the rainouts might even be a blessing in disguise, given his advancing age.

The Minnesota Twins, Los Angeles Angels and Philadelphia Phillies all failed to beat him last year during the playoffs. In fact, the only real shaky outing Pettitte had during the postseason came in Game 3 of the 2009 World Series in Philadelphia after a lengthy rain delay. Obviously, someone should have been doing a rain dance.

Thanks to Keith Allison via Wikipedia for the photo.

Damon wise to try to mend fences with Yanks

In a classy gesture by New York Yankees fans, the crowd at Steinbrenner Field yesterday gave Johnny Damon a lengthy standing ovation in his first at-bat for the visiting Detroit Tigers. It was a tremendous sign of appreciation and affection for Damon, who many fans never wanted to leave the team. Damon was truly touched by the ovation, smiling and waving back to the crowd and tapping his hand to his heart in obvious gratitude to the fans and to his former teammate Damaso Marte, who stepped off the mound to let him enjoy the moment a little longer.

But for Damon, the most important moment probably came before the game when he had a chance to chat with Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, with the two men sharing an apparently pleasant conversation and quick hug.

Regardless of whether Damon blames the Yankees or his agent Scott Boras for not being in pinstripes, it's a smart move on his part to try to mend fences with the team. Several times after Damon signed with Detroit, he mentioned that if the Yanks needed a guy down the stretch, he could be that guy. As much as he might like playing for Jimmy Leyland, Damon clearly left his heart in New York. And the only way he could return to the Bronx Bombers is if he figured out a way to patch things up.

Cashman has always been of the mindset that he will go after any player who can help the team and he doesn't seem like he holds grudges so I can see him being open to a Damon reunion if the circumstances warrant it. But it would have to be on his terms. And Damon making nice with Cashman is a good way to signal that he's ready to do it the GM's way.

Will Damon ever wear pinstripes again? Unlikely, but stranger things have happened in baseball.

Thanks to Ken N and Mattingly23 via Wikipedia for the photo.

Appreciation for Tex grows deeper and deeper

New York Yankees fans have been quick to embrace Mark Teixeira, who after a slow start last year, had a monster run in the regular season and contributed to the team's 27th World Series victory, both with his fantastic glove and a couple of timely home runs. But it's nice to see appreciation for Tex growing all around baseball.

In a power ranking of Major League Baseball teams, the Yankees are ranked first, with Tex giving them the edge over the archrival Boston Red Sox. A separate list of the top five first baseman in baseball has Tex #2 behind Albert Pujols, widely regarded as the best player in the game. The list cited his presence in the middle of the Yankees lineup, and with Derek Jeter and Nick Johnson constantly on base ahead of him, there's no doubt he will repeat and maybe even surpass the numbers he put up last year.

Leave it to the stat geeks to try to ruin the Tex love. A story surfaced last week about this Ultimate Zone Rating metric that put him 16th in the big leagues in terms of first baseman being able to prevent runs. To that, he and his teammates just roll their eyes. Anyone who bothered to watch a Yankee game last year knows how good a glove man Tex is and how many runs he saved with his spectacular play around the bag. This type of nonsense stat just proves that baseball can't be boiled down to numbers.

As much as I thought the Yankees needed to add pitching in the 2008-09 offseason, I was most excited by the Tex signing and grateful that Brian Cashman fought for the extra dollars to get him. Tex was one of those players I had long admired from afar, not only for his fantastic glove work and offense, but because he is one of the genuine nice guys in baseball. I'm glad he's on my team. He really is a difference maker.

Thanks to chris.ptacek via Wikipedia for the photo.

ARod at peace but questions still swirl

At the end of his YES Network interview with Alex Rodriguez, Michael Kay told ARod that he seemed happy. "I am happy," a grinning ARod said.

"I'm in a much better place right now," Rodriguez said, comparing this spring training to a far more chaotic one last season when his steroids use came to light and he had to contend with a serious hip injury.

Part of that peace comes from his monster playoff run in 2009 when he finally erased all the doubts about him coming through for the team when it counts. As ARod said, he may never get another postseason hit, but no one can take away the contribution he made to the New York Yankees 27th World Series title.

"I had a blast last October and November and it was nice to finally come through for my teammates when they needed me most," he said.

Rodriguez acknowledged that his career wouldn't be complete if the Yankees hadn't won the World Series. More interesting was his comment that he tried to convince himself before the victory that his career would be complete without a ring. I think it speaks volumes about ARod that he tries to convince himself of too many different things and it doesn't seem to work out for him. He needs to stop trying to convince himself of things that aren't true. It would make his life a lot easier.

But the Galea situation still hangs over his head. Rodriguez said it hasn't been a distraction for him and that he is looking forward to cooperating and getting past it and back to baseball. But Mike Lupica makes a good point when he wonders why it's taking so long for ARod to meet with federal investigators when Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran of the cross-town rival Mets quickly got their meetings over and done with. By not meeting with the feds, ARod is dragging this out longer than necessary.

Thanks to Keith Allison via Wikipedia for the photo.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Yanks do well on best of baseball list

The New York Yankees did pretty well on Joel Sherman's annual best of baseball list, which highlights why they will be tough to beat this year. But their cross-town rival Mets didn't fare as well, not surprising considering the year they had.

Mariano Rivera was tops in the closer category for reasons Sherman rightly felt no need to explain. Francisco Rodriguez of the Mets made the top five list, but only because Minnesota Twins closer Joe Nathan just had season-ending surgery.

CC Sabathia made the top starters list at #4, with the category featuring a nice mix of strong veterans and super-talented youngsters. But New York Mets pitcher Johan Santana just missed the cut, something he wouldn't be happy to hear considering he believes he is still the best pitcher in the National League East, ahead of top starter Roy "Doc" Halladay.

Alex Rodriguez, once considered the best player in baseball, has fallen behind both Albert Pujols and Joe Mauer, but his placement is still pretty good considering his hip surgery and steroids controversy. Even more impressive is that Yankee Captain Derek Jeter, proving the stats geeks still hold limited influence among baseball professionals, and Mark Teixeira both made the honorable mention category of best overall players.

Thanks to Keith Allison via Wikipedia for the photo.

Random baseball thoughts

Joe Nathan underwent Tommy John surgery, ending his season and placing his availability for the 2011 campaign in doubt. No question this is a major blow for the Minnesota Twins. But one thing we know about them is that they are a resilient bunch. Who would have predicted their stunning comeback to tie and beat the Detroit Tigers in that epic one-game playoff last year? As much as the loss of Nathan will hurt, they will find someone to take his place and still be contenders for the top of the weak American League Central. But if they were in the AL East, they would be in serious trouble.

* Hideki Matsui took a turn in left field for the Los Angeles Angels. He played four innings without a chance so it's impossible to say whether he can play in the outfield during a regular game. But I'm rooting for Matsui big time. He was one of my favorite players on the New York Yankees and I was sad to see him go, especially the way he was dismissed by Brian Cashman & Co. Hopefully, he can prove to everyone in baseball, including the Yanks, that's he's not done as a position player. There's no question about his bat since he smacked a home run right after a foul ball that smashed his new boss Arte Moreno's windshield. Matsui jokingly said he was OK with a demotion to Triple-A, as long as he didn't get fired. Angels fans and his new teammates are going to love him in LA.

* The Roger Clemens drama just doesn't go away. Jose Canseco sent out a Twitter notice that he received a subpoena to testify about steroids use in baseball by Clemens, Andy Pettitte and others. Canseco, who I think has unfairly been demonized around baseball, is the most critical figure in the sport on this issue since he brought the enormity of illegal drug use to light when too many others were willing to look the other way.

* Mike Scioscia got his way, one postseason too late. Major League Baseball revised its playoff schedule to eliminate an extra off day between Game 4 and 5 of the League Championship Series. I consider this a direct response to the New York Yankees winning the World Series with only 3 starters, enabled by the numerous off days. No matter, they have plenty of time to see if they can get Javier Vazquez or Phil Hughes to the point where they can be handed the ball in a big spot in the playoffs. But the way the schedule is set up, the World Series will still drag on into November, which was supposed to be an anomaly last year because of the World Baseball Classic.
I must admit I was expecting more radical changes from the committee given baseball's numerous issues, but maybe change has to happen in incremental steps. Plus, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig has to deal with the players union so navigating that chasm does take time.

Thanks to Keith Allison via Wikipedia for the photo.

Jorge profile glosses over controversies

The latest Daily News profile in its Modern Yankees Heroes series is of catcher Jorge Posada. The story does a good job of breaking down the path that got him to the big leagues, his work ethic instilled by his father Jorge Sr. and his place in the great lineage of New York Yankees catchers.

But the story glosses over some of the more controversial elements of his career. For example, AJ Burnett isn’t the first pitcher to have problems throwing to Jorge, but you would never know it from the story, which says that he has successfully meshed with the vast majority of big-name pitchers in the New York Yankees rotation. But how can they forget his epic, on-field battles with the equally feisty Orlando Hernandez? Watching the two of them go head to head was pure theater. But even CC Sabathia has reportedly had issues throwing to Posada, most recently in Game 1 of the American League Division Series last year when two pitches got away from Posada and helped the Minnesota Twins get on the board.

At various times, Posada has also let his temper get the best of him with opposing pitchers, leading to altercations on the field. The most famous incident, one that the News story mentions but doesn't elaborate on, happened in the American League Championship Series in 2003, which ended with Don Zimmer being tossed to the ground by Pedro Martinez. But he also instigated another nasty incident against the Blue Jays last year when he elbowed pitcher Jesse Carlson shortly after the pitcher threw behind Posada in an attempt to protect his hitters, two of which had already been hit that evening. I remember that fight well because I was in Toronto at the time watching the game with a friend and could not justify Posada's behavior. It could have led to major injuries and numerous suspensions of key players, which could have been a devastating blow for a playoff-bound team.

I gave the News credit last week for not glossing over Andy Pettitte's human growth hormone use so I have to give them the blame for not getting into Posada's controversies. Did they even bother to ask him about his negative interactions with some pitchers or why he lets his temper get the best of him? It's something we can't really tell from the story and it's a big hole.

Thanks to Googie man via en.Wikipedia for the photo.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Joba, Ace must rise above disappointment

Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman finally confirming the obvious, that they were going with Phil Hughes as the fifth starter, was a huge disappointment for both Joba Chamberlain and Alfredo Aceves. Now, they must rise above that disappointment and do the best job they can in their new roles.

Of the two of them, Joba has the most to prove. It's clear that Girardi and Cashman have lost confidence in him and are trying to challenge him by not automatically giving him the most critical spot in the bullpen besides closer. By saying that Joba has to earn that spot, it's clear they don't believe he's ready for the job of setting up the incomparable Mariano Rivera. And the New York Yankees need someone reliable to do that job. They can't risk having to constantly bring in a 40-year Mo in the 8th inning to get through close games.

While he expressed happiness for Hughes, it's obviously quite a blow for Joba. But he can't feel too sorry for himself. The competition was set up so that he and Hughes would be the front runners. And he had the advantage of being free of the Joba Rules restrictions that Hughes will have to navigate this year. All Joba had to do was pitch better than Hughes and he couldn't do it. It's incredibly disappointing not just for Joba, but for the team and the fans who have seen the flashes of brilliance that once made team officials think so highly of him.

Unlike Joba, Ace has a legitimate beef. Out of the five candidates for the slot, he pitched the best in spring training. So it must have been a crushing blow for a pitcher who's only 27 years old. But Ace is learning a lesson that a lot of us with regular jobs already know: that sometimes it doesn't matter if you're the best person for the job. Factors beyond your performance influence these decisions too. For Ace, it seems that his flexibility and success in the bullpen last year were the primary reasons why he didn't get the job. And that is incredibly disappointing, especially after all of Girardi's talk of how it wasn't a two-man battle between Joba and Hughes. But Ace can comfort himself with the knowledge that the Yankees see him as a valuable member of the team.

Thanks to happyskrappy via Wikipedia for the photo.

Can Derek Jeter really be a good Boss?

Derek Jeter's ultimate ambition once he decides to hang up his pinstripes: be a sports team owner. It's a challenging goal he has set for himself, one that I have no doubt he will achieve. After all, this is the guy who as an 8-year-old kid walked into his parents' bedroom and told them he was going play for the New York Yankees.

But can Jeter be a good owner? He has a lot going for him, including the money and smarts to acquire and run a team. But he also has the advantage of having played for and been captain of one of the world's biggest sports franchises. There's not a lot in the sports world that Jeter hasn't seen or been a part of, either directly or indirectly. Plus, that determination that has made Jeter so successful in his baseball career should serve him well as an owner. If Jeter's going to be an owner, he's going to do everything he can to be a winning owner, much like he does on the baseball field.

I don't think he will let sentimentality get in the way of his decision making after he retires and has to be the owner taking into account factors like revenues, attendance and performance projections. But some decisions will be harder for him than others. Jeter, for example, has clearly been affected by the loss of Hideki Matsui and has spoken of him several times, including as recently as a few weeks ago. If Jeter had been owner of the Yankees at the time, would he have allowed Brian Cashman to so easily discard such a clutch player and a good friend? Doesn't seem likely.

Now, Jeter will never be quite like the Big Boss George Steinbrenner. He spent more time with Steinbrenner than most players so I'm sure he picked up a few things. But he will never be as controversial or outspoken as the Boss, even when it suits his interest. It's just not in Jeter's nature. Unlike Alex Rodriguez, Jeter has managed to avoid becoming involved in any major scandal despite his high profile. How he has done it in the biggest media market in the world remains a mystery to me, but it's one of the key reasons for his tremendous success.

Interestingly, Jeter didn't specify that he wants to be a baseball owner. You can assume that's the case, but you never know. Let's hope it’s the Yankees or at least one of their minor-league teams. Wouldn't that be something!

Thanks to Googie man via en.Wikipedia for the photo.

Day of reckoning yet to come for ARod

So it turns out that Alex Rodriguez didn't meet with federal investigators in Buffalo yesterday. That’s just great. I thought Rodriguez would finally have his day of reckoning and the New York Yankees could move on. But the delay just drags out this mess even longer.

The lead in this New York Times story says it all. Brian Cashman is getting tired of having to answer questions about the latest ARod fiasco. Now, Cashman is also getting sick of the constant questioning about whether Joba Chamberlain should have been in the bullpen all along and whether Phil Hughes is ready to step up and be a credible, reliable fifth starter. But I'm sure Cashman would much rather answer these baseball-related questions than about ARod's legal quandary, mostly because he does not have a lot of answers. The team and Major League Baseball have made the right decision to wait until Rodriguez sits down with the feds before they ask him about his interactions with Dr. Galea.

The delayed meeting causes a number of problems for the Yankees. It keeps them from getting answers directly from Alex Rodriguez about why he didn't stick to the authorized treatment plan and why he felt he needed to see another doctor without the team's approval.

Most importantly, it risks the possibility that there will be no resolution before the New York Yankees play their first game Sunday, April 4. So instead of focusing on beating their archrival Boston Red Sox, they could have the ARod cloud still hanging over their heads. It's the last thing that Cashman & Co. want for a team about to defend a World Series title.
While I don't expect Derek Jeter and his fellow teammates to criticize or hang ARod out to dry (they probably would have done it already if that was the case), at a minimum it's an annoyance to have these questions continuing to swirl around the team and you figure at some point it’s going to lead to an inadvertent explosion by someone that just creates a new media firestorm.

I'm hoping Alex Rodriguez's day of reckoning will come soon for the team's sake. The sooner, the better.

Thanks to Randy Oostdyk via Wikipedia for the photo.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Hughes must prove himself worthy of 5th spot

Phil Hughes officially won the fifth starter job in the New York Yankees rotation. Now he has to prove he is worthy of the job and manager Joe Girardi's faith.

Even though Hughes has struggled in outings during spring training, Girardi has liked what he's seen. Hughes has focused on spotting his fastball and working on his changeup. Refining both was a necessary precursor to winning the job.

The fallout from the Hughes victory was immediate. Chad Gaudin was given his release while Joba Chamberlain and Alfredo Aceves are headed to the bullpen. Interestingly, Girardi said that Joba has to earn the role of set-up man for the great Mariano Rivera, indicating that maybe Girardi doesn't have as much confidence in Joba as he does in Hughes.

It's time for Hughes to prove himself worthy of his manager's faith. I think he can pull it off. He's got good stuff and had a strong regular season before his rough outings in the playoffs last year and resulting behavior led to questions about his maturity. Hopefully, he's learned from that experience and is ready to rise to the challenge.

Thanks to Giants27 via Wikipedia for the photo.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Doc Gooden can't shake drug demons

For drug addicts, staying clean is an ongoing struggle, one that former baseball pitcher Dwight "Doc" Gooden has never been able to overcome. Unfortunately, it looks like the former Mets and Yankees superstar has relapsed once again.

The saddest and scariest part of Gooden's struggles is that his family has been victimized by his addictions time and again. The latest incident is the worst example of that. Gooden was arrested for DWI after crashing his car with his young son in the vehicle. I would imagine that Gooden loves his children so his addiction must really be out of control if he's taking such chances with his son's life.

Joe Girardi, a pretty compassionate guy, was saddened by the news his former mate once again fell to the temptation of drugs. Girardi and Gooden have a special bond as the New York Yankees manager caught Gooden's 1996 no-hitter. For his former teammates, it's got to be the worst feeling of helplessness to see him constantly struggling with such a terrible disease.

But ultimately it's up to Gooden to try to win the battle with his drug addictions. For his family's sake, I hope he succeeds.

Thanks to Brad Hunter via Wikipedia for the photo.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Hughes shaky but still leading 5th spot fight

Phil Hughes had a shaky outing against the Philadelphia Phillies, but still seems like he has the edge in the battle for the fifth starter spot in the New York Yankees rotation, the winner of which should be announced later this week.

Manager Joe Girardi was on the line doing a live interview with the YES Network broadcast team when Hughes gave up a loud home run. Girardi's response: pitchers have to make quality pitches and that pitch was right down the middle. Hughes settled down for a while, but later gave up two more home runs, including the game winner in the 9th inning. However, both Girardi and Hughes liked what they saw, with the youngster honing his pitches before the end of spring training and Girardi blaming the rough winds for the homers and saying it was Hughes best stuff.

Despite a recent rough outing, Alfredo Aceves has pitched better than Hughes. But it seems like his flexibility is working against him, as he can serve as both the long man out of the bullpen and a spot starter if necessary. Although he pitched better yesterday against his own hitters in an intrasquad game, Joba has pitched his way out of the rotation fight and will likely be in the bullpen when the season begins.

Thanks to Mandalatv via en.Wikipedia for the photo.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Cour Four haters need to stop doubting

You would think that at some point people would stop doubting the Core Four of the New York Yankees: Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada. But even after the fantastic years they all had in 2009 and their important playoff contributions to the team's World Series title, the haters are still out in force.

There seems to be some hand-wringing about how the Yankees are so dependent on these four aging players, Jeter being the youngest at 35. Despite Brian Cashman's youth movement, there is no question that the Yanks need the Core Four to do well to win games. And if they proved anything last year it's that youth is a state of mind.

Mo is the perfect example. He turned 40 a few weeks after the World Series, but ended the baseball regular season with a 1.76 ERA and 44 saves in 46 opportunities. Most importantly, he schooled his younger counterparts on how it's done in the postseason, saving five games and only allowing one earned run in 16 innings despite a rib injury.

Yet there appears to be doubt about whether Mo, Jeter, Andy and Jorge can repeat their strong performances. Don't count me as one of those doubters, especially after last year.

Thanks to Keith Allison via Wikipedia for the photo.

Pettitte regrets HGH use, Clemens rift

The Daily News presented a nice backstory about how Andy Pettitte came to be a pitcher in the New York Yankees organization, embarking on a path that would lead him to become one of the most successful playoff pitchers in baseball history. But any profile about Pettitte has to address his use of human growth hormone, the great asterisk to his career, and the News doesn't shy away from it.

The story does a good job of trying to reconcile how this deeply religious man who doesn't drink, smoke or do recreational drugs came to be tempted by the quick injury fix offered by HGH. It's something that even Pettitte seems to still struggle with. He points to the frustration he felt about not being able to help his team, but that doesn't quite explain how he could go against everything he believed in to do something he knew was wrong.

What's interesting is how much Pettitte is bothered by the rift his admission and subsequent government testimony created with ex-pal Roger Clemens. Pettitte is clearly troubled by the deterioration of the relationship, which is puzzling to me because it's not really his fault. He told the truth. And if his buddy Clemens had told the truth, he wouldn't be in as much trouble as he is now, with the government investigating him for perjury and his Hall of Fame election in serious jeopardy.

Baseball wise, Pettitte seems completely at peace with his career. He's genuinely humbled by all the talk of a potential Hall of Fame candidacy and his place in the history of the Yankees as one of the team's best starting pitchers.

Next up in the News series on Modern Yankee Heroes: Jorge Posada.

Thanks to Googie man via en.Wikipedia for the photo.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Jorge not going down without a fight

Even with Joe Mauer out of the picture for now, Jorge Posada still has to look over his shoulder. Super prospect Jesus Montero will start the season in the minor leagues, but it's clear that he is the catching future of the New York Yankees. So where does that leave Jorge?

Posada is right to watch his back. Brian Cashman is taking every possible opportunity to lower the average age of his team. He is not bound by sentimentality and will not hesitate to replace an older, clutch player such as Johnny Damon or Hideki Matsui with a younger Curtis Granderson and Nick Johnson. You have to imagine that he will do the same with Posada when his contract expires after next season, if not sooner.

But Posada is a feisty guy so he's not going down without a fight. I see him rising to the challenge to prove to everyone that he is nowhere near done. I expect him to put up his usual strong power numbers for the Yankees.

Thanks to Googie man via en.Wikipedia for the photo.

Home sweet home for Mauer, Twins

The local kid stays home. That's the best part of the news that the Twins and Joe Mauer reached a deal that will keep the superstar in Minnesota. It's great news for the Twins, for their fans, for Mauer and for baseball.

Twins fans were probably getting nervous as the negotiations seemed to stall, but in the end things worked out exactly how they should have. The local kid obviously wanted to stay in Minnesota, but that had no impact on his negotiating leverage. He held out and got the deal that he wanted and deserved. That's because the Twins need him badly. Could you have imagined the mutiny that would have happened in Minnesota if the team hadn't signed him to a long-term deal?

After years of fighting to get a new stadium and get out of that terrible Metrodome revenue deal that kept them pinching pennies, the Twins were finally able to spend some cash. And they are spending it on the right player. Mauer is one of those once in a lifetime guys. If he stays healthy, he's going to put up numbers that rival some of the greats in the game.

The deal doesn't guarantee that Mauer will be with the Twins for life. It's entirely possible that his $23 million per year salary will eventually become too much for the Twins to handle and they will have to trade him. But it gives him a chance to be like Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera and have a Hall of Fame career playing for one team.

Home sweet home indeed!

Thanks to Keith Allison via Wikipedia for the photo.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Joba rises to the challenge

His manager and pitching coach challenged Joba Chamberlain to step up and pitch like he wanted the fifth spot in the New York Yankees starting rotation. And he finally did during his four-inning stint yesterday, limiting the Phillies to one run.

Joe Girardi and Dave Eiland made it clear that the youngsters, namely Joba, needed to start pitching well this week if they wanted to stay in the mix for the slot. It's a good sign that the first time Joba has been challenged he actually responded in a positive way. But he can't wait to be challenged by his bosses. If Joba really wants to be a starter, he needs to prove that he can be consistent and take the ball every fifth day, even on days he doesn't have his best stuff or doesn't feel well.

So he rose to the challenge, at least for a day. Let's hope it continues.

Thanks to BubbaFan via en.Wikipedia for the photo.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Random Yankee thoughts

Chuck Knoblauch seems to have had a lot of trouble adjusting to life after baseball. The former New York Yankees second basemen pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor assault charge, adding to the long list of players having financial or legal difficulties after retiring from the game. Knoblauch was once a key part of the Yankees dynasty. But things started to fall apart while he was still playing with the Yankees, starting with the head-scratching throwing troubles that forced him to move to left field/DH. After he retired, Knoblauch was outed as a user of performance-enhancing drugs. It was a stunningly swift and sad fall from grace for a guy once considered one of the best leadoff hitters in the game.

* The Yankees hired former San Diego Padres general manager Kevin Towers as a scout. It's a good move. After spending so much time with the budget-conscious Padres, he can help Brian Cashman find ways to stick to that new spending limit.

* The Bronx Bombers took full advantage of their off day Monday and their spring training home of Tampa, heading to nearby theme park Busch Gardens for a day of fun. Yankee newbies Curtis Granderson and Randy Winn were among those enjoying what looks like a day of fun and sun. I wish I had been there. Not because the Yankees were there. I just love roller coasters.

* Yankee single-game tickets go on sale Friday at noon. I'll be in Buffalo, playing tourist until Syracuse starts its quest for another national title at the HSBC arena that night, but I'll try to find an Internet cafe.

* Former Yankee favorite Ronan Tynan emerged in a Red Sox jersey with hints that he could start singing at Fenway Park. It's not like Boston is stealing Babe Ruth back. Red Sox Nation can have him. I was getting tired of watching him sing at the stadium.

Thanks to Staff Sgt. Michael R. Holzworth via Wikipedia for the photo.

Mauer in Yankee pinstripes? Bad for baseball

Heading into spring training, it looked like catcher/MVP Joe Mauer was closing in on a nice, new long-term contract with the Minnesota Twins. Now with negotiations seemingly stalled, talk of a possible trade is starting to emerge, with the New York Yankees right in the middle of the speculation. Getting Mauer would be great for the Yanks, but bad for baseball.

As much as I would love to have Mauer, I have long advocated that he and other young superstars in the game stay with their ballclubs. I'm a big believer in parity in the game and the other teams need to retain their talented youngsters to stay competitive. Plus, I'm getting sick of this whole notion that the Yanks are constantly buying world championships, which conveniently ignores the fact that the Bombers hadn't won a World Series since 2000 before last year and often lost in embarrassing fashion. The Twins are opening their new stadium and there's no reason they can't afford to keep their best player, unless that decision to go without a roof in Minnesota comes back to bite them in the ass.

There's no question Mauer would be a great fit with the Yankees. He would instantly bring youth and health to a position currently held by one of the oldest players on the team, 38-year-old Jorge Posada. He would help Brian Cashman further his youth movement, which started in earnest during the 2008-09 offseason with the signings of Mark Teixeira and CC Sabathia. And he would be a force in the middle of that lineup for the next decade, giving Tex and Alex Rodriguez proper protection.

If Mauer does become available, then the Yanks should definitely do anything they can to get him, including offering their stud catching prospect Jesus Montero in return. But I hope it doesn't come to that.

Thanks to Tod Baker via Wikipedia for the photo.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Pujols right about the sad state of journalism

In a roundly-criticized exclusive story, ESPN's Buster Olney reported that the Phillies have held internal discussions about the possibility of swapping All-Star/MVP first basemen Ryan Howard and Albert Pujols. The story has a lot of people upset, including Pujols, who, without naming Olney, criticized stupid people who like to write stories that aren't true and are always trying to speculate and start a story so they can say that they had it first.

Pujols is angry, for sure, but his comments are remarkably insightful and an accurate reflection of the sad state of journalism, including sports journalism. This is the type of story that happens when sportswriters face too much pressure from their editors, publishers and yes, their readers, to come up with instant scoops. So you end up with overworked, underpaid reporters desperately trying to find something, anything, remotely newsworthy to file.

Teams have internal discussions about pretty much every aspect of their operations and roster, much of it speculative as staffers are encouraged to throw out any and all ideas to improve their ballclubs. So it is entirely possible that the Phillies tossed around the idea of trading for Pujols. That discussion could have easily happened in the offices of the New York Yankees or any other baseball team. Really, who wouldn't want Pujols, widely considered to be one of the best, if not the best player in the game today? But that doesn't mean the Phillies actually took any action. It just means they talked about it. And if they didn't take any steps toward making it a reality, such as a conversation to feel out the Cardinals on a possible trade, then it's a non-story.

Olney is a very good sports reporter and writer (he used to cover the Yankees for the New York Times) so I don't doubt that there is some truth to his story, even if the Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. denied it. But Olney himself has become a major part of the story, something no journalist wants. This could even hurt him going forward in his reporting, not only with Pujols and the Cardinals, but with any baseball people salivating at the prospect of Pujols hitting the free-agent market.

If a Pujols for Howard trade actually happens, Olney will be vindicated. But right now, he finds himself in a bad place, right in the middle of this story.

Thanks to Rafael Amado Deras via Wikipedia for the photo.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Pressure on Cano to be the 5th man

Robinson Cano's struggles driving in runners from scoring position will no longer be as easy to overlook as they used to be. If he can't protect Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira, the baseball world will know about it very quickly.

Cano is now set the take over the fifth spot in the lineup, replacing the super-clutch Hideki Matsui. Manager Joe Girardi and hitting coach Kevin Long have both expressed confidence that the New York Yankees second baseman is ready to assume such a critical spot in the lineup. Cano seems grateful for that confidence, but he needs to reward it. And that means showing patience at the plate, not swinging at bad pitches and not getting himself out.

Can he do it? He certainly is talented enough and has improved several aspects of his game in recent years, most notably his defense. But Cano has also show signs of immaturity, slacking off on his workload. Girardi and Long think those days are behind him and that he's ready for the challenge. For the Yankees sake, I certainly hope so.

The pressure is on. It's time for Robby to step up and be the fifth man.

Thanks to kidsire via Wikipedia for the photo.

No need to worry about CC

Anyone worried about CC Sabathia due to his two previous poor starts can finally relax. But they shouldn't have worried in the first place. As manager Joe Girardi said, CC is the least of his worries.

A lot of great pitchers tend to struggle in spring training, mainly because they are not focused on winning a job, but on experimenting with new pitches or trying to work out mechanical flaws. That seems to be what happened with CC. He gave up 3 runs, but upped his pitch count to nearly 60, focusing on getting to game strength, which for CC means 110-pitches minimum.

New York Yankees fans don't have to worry about our ace. CC will be CC when the games start on April 4 against the archrival Boston Red Sox.

Thanks to chris.ptacek via Wikipedia for the photo.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Vote Tex for all-sports commissioner!

Mark Teixeira's too young to be thinking about a career after baseball, but I nominate him to be commissioner, not just of baseball, but any sport. In fact, if the top job of the NCAA opens up, Tex would be great fit.

Tex outlined some good solutions to some of the problems or non-problems in major sports today. I particularly agreed with his desire for a playoff in college football (though it could probably be more than just eight teams, maybe 10 with the top two teams in the rankings rewarded with a bye). I also liked that he advocated keeping the college basketball tournament intact. March Madness is the most perfect postseason format of any major sport. So of course they're going to try to ruin it by expanding it to 96 teams.

Tex obviously loves other sports and cares enough to want to see them played in the best shape possible. So maybe when he is done winning World Series titles with the New York Yankees, he can apply for a job with the NCAA. Or MLB. Or NFL. Or NHL. Or the Olympics. Anyone of these organizations would be lucky to have him.

Thanks to Keith Allison via Wikipedia for the photo.

Mariano's life story quite compelling

Mariano Rivera's story of growing up as a child in Panama to become the greatest closer in baseball history is quite compelling and beautifully told in today's Daily News. Mo is the second subject in the newspaper's Modern Yankee Heroes series and it is truly a fantastic story.

What I loved most about the story is that so much of it is told in Mo's words and that gives great insight into how he became the man he is today. The story starts out with Mo describing how he and the other kids in his neighborhood used to fashion all their baseball equipment from cardboard, string and branches. This, of course, led to some mishaps and injuries, but also showed that when kids truly love baseball, they'll do anything to play. And nobody loves playing baseball more than Mo.

The story also gives great insight as to why Mariano is such a generous guy. Growing up with nothing, he learned the importance of giving and sharing, something he does today both on and off the baseball field. Rather than zealously guarding the secret of his killer pitch, he will teach the cutter to anyone who will ask. Though he's reluctant to talk about it, he also shares from the millions he has made from being a playoff hero with his people back home, one of the reasons why we New York Yankees fans don't mind him earning every last dollar he deserves.

Next up in the Daily News series on Sunday: Andy Pettitte

Thanks to edogisgod via Wikipedia for the photo.

Separating Yanks, Red Sox is a no-go

In a bold column today, Joel Sherman of the New York Post offers some interesting suggestions on how to solve baseball's competitive problem. Actually, first Sherman derided the notion that baseball has a competitive balance problem, suggesting that the real dilemma was that the two biggest, most resourceful teams are in the same division. His first suggestion: moving either the New York Yankees or the Boston Red Sox to the American League Central.

I give Sherman credit for offering a suggestion he acknowledges will be considered blasphemous, but messing with the Rivalry is not the way to go. The timing of it makes sense in a way, with the Red Sox having won two World Series championships to forever banish the curse and the Yanks finally coming out on top to open and close the decade with titles. But it's just unrealistic. Yankees-Red Sox is too much of a box office boon, critical for both the Yankees trying to squeeze every dollar out of their new stadium and the Red Sox trying to squeeze every dime out of their old one. I doubt the suits at ESPN or Fox would go for it either. And Sherman failed to answer a key question: which team moves? Do you really think either the Yankees or the Red Sox would agree to a realignment that would have them making less money and longer road-trips to the middle of the country to play in a different time zone? Good luck with that.

The second suggestion of eliminating the unbalanced schedule doesn't really work either. As much as the Blue Jays and Orioles want to be more competitive, they also love the revenue that comes with frequently hosting the Yanks and Red Sox. I've been to Yankee and Red Sox away games in Toronto and Baltimore and NY and Boston fans fill up the stands, spending thousands of dollars not just at the stadiums, but at the hotels and nearby attractions.

In the other divisions, do the Twins and Tigers really want to face either the Red Sox or Yankees more when their races are already so tight that they needed Game 163 to decide their playoff fate? Plus, the move would essentially concede the AL Central to NY or Boston, leaving the rest of the division fighting over a wild card berth rather than a division title.

I don't see as much of a problem implementing Sherman's third suggestion of adding another wild card team. It would add more spice to the playoff races and probably more dollars to baseball's coffers. My main objection is that I don't want to get into an NBA-like situation where the playoffs last for six weeks so baseball would need to figure out a way to ensure the playoffs don't drag into November. Also, I'm not sure how much benefit it would be for the division-winning teams to have so many days off before their first playoff series. The number of days off last year was great for a Yankees team going on a 3-man rotation, but Angels manager Mike Scioscia hated it and he wasn't alone. An intriguing idea, but let's see if it gets any traction.

Thanks to M@ via en.Wikipedia for the photo.

Clemens lawsuit a pain for Yanks, Mo, Jeter

Roger Clemens defamation lawsuit against former trainer Brian McNamee has long been an annoyance for the New York Yankees organization. Now it's about to become a real pain for both the team and his former teammates.

McNamee just filed documents listing Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter as potential witnesses in his countersuit against Clemens. Now that doesn't mean they will actually see the inside of a courtroom on this issue. I'm sure Mo and Jeter will hire lawyers to fight any subpoenas. But it does make you wonder why they are being listed as potential witnesses. Is it a stunt by McNamee's lawyers to drag two legendary Yankees into the courtroom, knowing that Clemens former team and teammates will put intense pressure on him to drop or settle the lawsuit? Or is McNamee saying that Mo or Jeter actually know something, that they can testify they saw Clemens being injected with performance-enhancing drugs?

We know why Pettitte is likely to be called as a witness to support McNamee's version of events. Pettitte was officially outed as a user of human growth hormone in the Mitchell Report on PED use in baseball, which the Yankee pitcher quickly confirmed. A few months later, he disclosed that Clemens admitted to using HGH.

If the case ever does make it to trial, it would be a nightmare for the Yankees. Imagine the spectacle of Mo and Jeter, long celebrated for their accomplishments on and off the field and for not giving in to any peer pressure to use PED, having to testify at a trial that will focus on the use of PED by their former teammates. Knowing how humble those two are and how Jeter in particular fiercely guards his privacy, it could be an embarrassing spectacle for both of them. And they can thank their old pal Clemens for putting them through it.

Thanks to Keith Allison via Wikipedia for the photo.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Captain Jeter king among shortstops

Nomar Garciaparra's retirement and Jose Reyes' thyroid condition should give New York Yankees fans a renewed appreciation that Derek Jeter is their shortstop. For all the talented shortstops that have played Major League Baseball over the last 15 years, Jeter is king.

Amid all the talk about how long Jeter can keep playing shortstop, it's easy to forget that he's already played the position for 14 full seasons with no signs of slowing down anytime soon. Jeter has outlasted so many shortstops, including Garciaparra and Alex Rodriguez. I was re-watching that Superstar Shortstop video that was produced in 1999. Host Ozzie Smith talked about how Jeter, Nomar and ARod were on track to join the elite group of shortstops in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Now, only Jeter's admission is guaranteed with Nomar suffering a steep drop-off in his performance that will keep him out and ARod haunted by his steroids use that should keep him from gaining entrance.

Even here in New York, there have been shortstops playing for the Mets who were supposed to knock Jeter off his pedestal. Ray Ordonez was this defensive genius compared to Jeter, yet he couldn't hit to save his life, with a .246 career batting average compared to Jeter's .317, and was eventually run out of town. Reyes was supposed to be a swifter, more talented shortstop, and he does have a solid .286 career BA and 301 stolen bases. But he can't seem to get healthy enough to stay on the field, battling numerous leg and back injuries. And he is nowhere near as clutch as the Yankee Captain.

Jeter himself is sympathetic to Reyes and the difficulty he has staying healthy, but he can't really relate because he regularly plays nearly full seasons of baseball, only once missing significant time due to a dislocated shoulder, and he even came back from that in the minimum six weeks. Yankee fans are quite lucky indeed.

Thanks to OneTwo1 via Wikipedia for the photo.

Reggie wrong to defend Torii comments

Reggie Jackson, well versed in controversy from his career with the New York Yankees, is wrong to defend Torii Hunter's comments about race in baseball.

I'm sick and tired of athletes or their defenders claiming that their comments were misinterpreted or misrepresented anytime they say something offensive. Hunter is a smart guy and he knew exactly what he was saying when he called Latin American ballplayers imposters and imitators. And he played into the worst kind of stereotype when he talked about getting Dominican ballplayers for a bag of chips.

First, Hunter should be grateful that he was raised in America, where he had the opportunity to get drafted and make a nice living playing baseball in the big leagues. Second, as the Aroldis Chapman contract proved, signing a talented Latin American player isn't cheap. Third, if it wasn't for Major League Baseball's eagerness to scout the globe for talented players, we might never have seen legendary players like Mariano Rivera, who will retire as the greatest closer ever.

Hunter's point about the dwindling number of African-American kids playing baseball and aiming for a major-league career is a good one, but it's obvious that he blames Latin American players in part for that trend and that's completely unfair. And it's not something Jackson should be defending, no matter how much he likes or sympathizes with Torii Hunter.

Thanks to ShawnKbell via Wikipedia for the photo.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Joba feeling pressure of 5th starter fight?

It could be the lingering effects of a flu bug that caused Joba Chamberlain to get hammered in his latest spring training outing. But it's still difficult to watch Joba struggle mightily in his quest to become the fifth starter for the 2010 New York Yankees. Perhaps Joba is feeling the pressure of what is the most intense baseball battle of spring training for a team coming off a World Series win.
No better authority than CC Sabathia talked about how the pressure to win a starting job can overcome a young player, recounting how he was moved to tears when he mistakenly thought he failed to make the Cleveland Indians big-league club nearly a decade ago. As a starter, Joba has felt pressure, most notably in his struggles during the second half of 2009 although team officials should take most of the blame for that due to the constantly evolving Joba rules that completely messed up his head.

But he seems immune to the pressure as a reliever, coming out of the bullpen firing bullets and burying opponents. Perhaps Joba's personality just makes him best suited to the bullpen. If that's the case, the Yankees should stop trying to turn him into something he's not and let him focus on being the best set-up man in the big leagues.

Thanks to jcasabona via Wikipedia for the photo.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Things go from bad to worse for Mets, Reyes

As if things couldn't get worse for the New York Mets, now comes word that shortstop Jose Reyes will be out anywhere from two to eight weeks because of an overactive thyroid. A day after Reyes publicly proclaimed he didn't have a thyroid problem, mere hours after the Mets released a statement saying he did, comes news that he has a serious condition that's worse than doctors initially thought. His condition will prevent him engaging in strenuous physical activity, including baseball-related exercise, a real problem for a guy trying to come back from hamstring injuries.

This is the second time in several months that the Mets have been at odds with one of their players over a medical condition, following Carlos Beltran's decision to have knee surgery before the team formally gave the OK. Reyes apparently was frustrated with Omar Minaya & Co. for jumping the gun on his injury report to the media. You would think that the Mets learned from the Beltran situation and would have made sure they and their player and his people were all on the same page, but apparently some lessons go unlearned.

Aside from Reyes getting healthy again, the big concern for the Mets is figuring out who will play short in the meantime and anchor their lineup. In a widely criticized move, the Mets were planning to have Reyes hit third until Beltran returns. With both Reyes and Beltran out, the Mets lineup is completely exposed, with Jason Bay the only solid run producer. Boy, I wonder how much Bay is rethinking and perhaps regretting his decision to sign with the Mets. He should have known that for a team as dysfunctional as the Mets, things always go from bad to worse.

Thanks to alpineinc via Wikipedia for the photo.

Don't need math to prove Yanks are #1

A local math professor described as baseball's chief geek picked the New York Yankees to win more games in 2010 than any other team in Major League Baseball. Bruce Bukiet said his modeling predicted the Yankees would have 103 victories, 10 more than the Rays and 11 more than the Red Sox, to cruise to an easy win in the American League East.

But you don't need fancy math to prove the Yankees are the best team in baseball. The core of their 2009 World Series championship team has returned, with two major exceptions in Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon. We'll see if Nick Johnson and Curtis Granderson can replace those clutch bats in the lineup. But you have Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira coming back to keep the heart of that lineup intact. On the pitching side, you have the dominant CC Sabathia, followed by AJ Burnett and playoff hero Andy Pettitte. And of course, the ultimate weapon: Mariano Rivera in the bullpen.

The Yankees definitely have some decisions to make about their team, but the only real weakness they have is the bench. That's not a major problem on a team with guys like Jeter and Tex who play almost every game. The only thing that could stop the Yanks is if a couple of their core guys go down with injuries, like in 2008. But if the Yanks can stay healthy, the chief geek will be proven right.

Thanks to the Silent Wind of Doom via en.Wikipedia for the photo.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Classy gesture by BoSox for retiring Nomar

I hate to compliment the New York Yankees arch rivals, but the Boston Red Sox did a nice thing for Nomar Garciaparra, who officially retired from baseball today. Boston signed Nomar to a one-day minor league contract, which allowed him to retire with the Red Sox, the team he achieved most of his success with.

The Red Sox and Nomar didn't exactly part on the best terms, with the then-shortstop sitting out an epic game against the Yankees in July 2004 in which Derek Jeter dove into the stands after catching a popup, leaving him bloodied and bruised. A few weeks later, Nomar was traded to the Chicago Cubs. But the Red Sox treated Nomar badly, as Jeter himself noted in the only time I can ever recall him even remotely criticizing another organization, by floating his name in trade talks involving then-Texas Rangers shortstop Alex Rodriguez.

But all is apparently forgiven. Nomar thanked Red Sox owners and officials for allowing him to retire as a Red Sox. "To be able to have that dream come true, I really just can't put it into words," he said, choking back tears during a news conference. "To be able to say I came back home and to be back to Red Sox nation is truly a thrill. It's good to be back."

Red Sox President and CEO Larry Lucchino welcomed Nomar back. "It gives us enormous pride to recognize the respect you have for the organization, the connection you feel to the organization, the connection you feel to our fans and to Fenway Park. I'm here to tell you the feelings are mutual. When the history of the Boston Red Sox is written again, there will be a very large and important chapter devoted to Nomar Garciaparra."

Very classy, indeed!
Thanks to Dlz28 via en.Wikipedia for the photo.

Hope Syracuse makes the Pinstripe Bowl

Boy, if the Syracuse Orange football team can recover from a string of devastating seasons to place third in the Big East, they would be rewarded with a prize that would warm my heart: a bowl game at Yankee Stadium. Being both a Syracuse and a New York Yankees fan, that would be nirvana for me.

Unlike their basketball counterparts, the #1 team in the country and a favorite for a national title, the Syracuse football team has fallen on hard times since my days as a student during the Donovan McNabb era. Back then, going to a Saturday football game was just a normal part of student life. Now with the football team struggling and the basketball team winning one national title in 2003 and gunning for another, basketball is king.

But after a 4-8 season last year under new head coach Doug Marrone, a high-profile bowl appearance at Yankee Stadium would be just the thing to snatch back some of that attention. If they can pull it off, my plans for December 30 are set.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Cervelli thankfully OK after concussion

Francisco Cervelli seems A-Ok after being drilled in the head by a pitch a few days ago, suffering a concussion. Cervelli said he is about 70%, with a full workout planned today.

"I feel better and I hope tomorrow I will feel 100%," he said yesterday.

The New York Yankees backup catcher revealed that he suffered a concussion in a 2005 game so this is the third time he has suffered this potentially dangerous baseball injury. But Cervelli also admitted that he was worried about this recent injury since the pitch hit him on the same spot where he suffered his second concussion in November.

Joe Girardi & Co. must be breathing a sigh of relief. First and foremost, it seems as if Cervelli has healed rather quickly from what could have been a devastating injury. But it also keeps the Yankees from having to scour the big leagues for another backup catcher, with Cervelli set to catch about 50 games this year. If the next few days go well, Girardi said he will put Cervelli back in the lineup on Friday.

"He's the boss," Cervelli said. "If he says Friday, it's Friday."

Thanks to MissChatter via Wikipedia for the photo.

Aceves making 5th starter tough call

Alfredo Aceves is making his team's decision on a fifth starter as difficult as possible. And that's a good thing.

Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman have a tough call to make. Ace, who was fantastic both in the bullpen and as a spot starter last year, has been perfect so far in spring training and Cashman seems to be open to him in the rotation.

In an interview about 10 days ago, former Mets general manager Steve Phillips said the New York Yankees should put both Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain in the bullpen and hand the fifth starter spot to Aceves, Chad Gaudin or Sergio Mitre. He argued that by having both Phil and Joba set up Mariano Rivera, the Yankees could strengthen the bullpen and limit their starters to six-inning stints, keeping them fresh for the playoffs. Given the Yankees reliance on a three-man rotation last year, that's probably a wise choice

Ace is staking his claim to that fifth spot. If he keeps pitching the way he has, it will be hard not to give him the job.

Thanks to Giants27 via Wikipedia for the photo.

Javy Vazquez off to a decent start

When Jimmy Rollins hit the first pitch thrown by Javier Vazquez for a home run, I couldn't help thinking, here we go again. But Vazquez recovered nicely, striking out four of the remaining six hitters he faced with a nice mix of fastballs and breaking pitches. After his outing, Vazquez seemed surprised by Rollins' eagerness to swing the bat in a spring training game.

"Jimmy likes to swing at the first pitch, but the first pitch of spring training, I didn't know he was going to swing," Vazquez said with a laugh. He added that he "just wanted to throw strikes" and that he didn't know if his breaking pitches were as sharp as they looked because he threw a couple of bad changeups.

My enduring memory of Vazquez is from Game 7 of the 2004 American League Championship Series, the most embarrassing game of the modern New York Yankees era. But Vazquez said the atmosphere around the team is completely different from his first tenure. "There are some guys in the clubhouse that keep the club a little looser than before," he said.

Pitching behind the three-man rotation of CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett and Andy Pettitte that won a World Series last year, the pressure is off for Vazquez. All he has to do is pitch like a solid #4 starter and that will be more than enough for the Yankees. I have doubts about whether he can actually do that, but I hope I'm wrong.

Thanks to Kevin.Ward via Wikipedia for the photo.

ARod tale more twisted by the day

The latest Alex Rodriguez controversy keeps getting more and more twisted by the day. The Canadian doctor being investigated by federal authorities now says that he treated the New York Yankees third baseman for his hip injury with anti-inflammatory drugs, but not human growth hormone.

Dr. Tony Galea's admission raises more questions for both ARod and the Yankees. High on the list for the team will be whether ARod's representatives lied to them when they told the Yankees they had never heard of Galea when the team asked point blank if he ever treated ARod. Is it possible that ARod hid that information not only from the team, but from his own people? Highly unlikely. I doubt ARod even makes a restaurant reservation for himself, let alone an appointment for treatment of his hip injury.

Another twist came when the doctor who performed the hip surgery said he never authorized Dr. Galea to treat ARod with an anti-inflammatory drug, which could create major problems with the Yankees who have the contractual right to approve any doctor treating their player. If ARod needed such a drug, why didn't he just go to his team-approved doctor?

The Yankees are reportedly angry with ARod and this is only going to fuel that anger and give them ammunition to punish ARod. I doubt they would try anything as drastic as voiding his contract, but you can be sure that the team will hang him out to dry on this issue. The Yankees are probably tired of being seen as the poster team for baseball players using performance-enhancing drugs so I expect to see them distance themselves from ARod as much as possible.

Thanks to Googie man via en.Wikipedia for the photo.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Pettitte ready for another title run

Andy Pettitte isn't going to claim this is his last year playing baseball. He's done that too many times, only to make the decision after much agonizing to return to the game rather than retire, a fact that his teammate and pal Derek Jeter openly mocks.

I thought Pettitte could have gone out on top last year after playing a pivotal role in the New York Yankee's World Series championship. Most of his previous flirtations with retirement were driven by a cranky elbow and a desire to go home to his family. But Pettitte and his family talked it over and they were supportive of him returning to the Yankees. Plus, he realized that he was feeling too good to quit. In fact, the lefty said it was "totally strange" that his elbow was feeling so good.

"I don't want to retire too soon," Pettitte said.

So here he is, back with the team and focusing on another title run. Pettitte's recipe for success is simple. "I was able to stay healthy," he said. "I felt like I was pretty consistent, which is good. I was able to stay out of big innings and get some outs when I needed to."

Sounds good to me.

Thanks to kidsire via Wikipedia for the photo.

Lame Oscar show makes me happy for baseball

It's a good thing we have spring training baseball. If we were relying on last night's Oscar telecast for entertainment, we would have been seriously disappointed.

A surprise appearance by Neil Patrick Harris in a musical opening held promise, but the night quickly went downhill from there. Co-hosts Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin had a few funny lines, namely a faux stare down with George Clooney, always game for a good joke. But mostly all they had were a bunch of lame jokes directed at the nominees themselves, including at co-star Meryl Streep for having the most Oscar nominations and losses. Surprisingly, they took no shots at Washington or Albany, which has supplied plenty of material of late. I think Martin did better when he hosted the Oscars solo a few years ago, memorably making fun of the Hollywood establishment's Democratic leanings and Tom Cruise's financial planning ("Every week, he takes a million dollars and puts it away, like it's not even there," Martin said.)

The lack of upsets was the other disappointment. I was very happy for Jeff Bridges, who got a long overdue Oscar for his fantastic acting and musical performance in Crazy Heart, and Sandra Bullock, a favorite comedic actress of mine who surprised me in the tender, if exaggerated the Blind Side. But there were no shockers this time around, which always spices up the telecast and the next-day chatter. No Alan Arkin over Eddie Murphy. No Julia Ormond over Lauren Bacall, who was saluted for her honorary Oscar last night. The Hurt Locker won over the money-machine Avatar, the right choice as Hurt made a greater impact with its depiction of the constant danger surrounding our troops despite Avatar's stunning visuals and planet-friendly message. But Up in the Air was better than both those movies with pitch-perfect performances from Clooney, Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick and plentiful humor mixed in with the sadness of real people telling stories about how losing their jobs upended their worlds.

But now that the Oscars are over, back to important baseball stuff. Nick Johnson is supposed to play today. Can he get back on the field? That's the big question for New York Yankees fans.

Thanks to David Shankbone via Wikipedia for the photos.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Daily News spotlight on Captain Jeter

Starting today, the Daily News is publishing a special series on modern Yankee heroes. First up to the plate: Captain Derek Jeter, of course.

Given that Jeter has been in the headlines for the last 15 years, the issue doesn't have a lot of fresh information. But there are a few interesting tidbits. Tino Martinez tells a story from Game 4 of the 2001 World Series against the Diamondbacks: forever known as the Mr. November game. Jeter came in the dugout in the 10th inning and told his teammates that the game was over. Just after midnight, he made good on that prediction, slamming a home run into right field to end the game.

There are also a couple of stories that really give a sense of what Jeter is like as a person and how much he cares about his fans, especially those struggling through the toughest times.

I'm looking forward to the Mariano Rivera issue next Sunday. The Yankees closer doesn't get as much ink as his teammate so there should be some good insights into what makes him great.

Yes, you can read the story online, but it's not the same, especially with all the photos of Jeter on and off the field. Go ahead and buy a copy before they run out. Newspapers need all the help they can get these days.