Saturday, July 31, 2010

Ghost of Steinbrenner lives on in trade deals



Somewhere, George Steinbrenner is looking on his team and loving what he's seeing.

Steinbrenner enjoyed making splashy deals almost as much as he enjoyed winning baseball games. He would have loved the frenzy of trade activity Brian Cashman engaged in during the last 36 hours. Beyond just making the deals, the Boss would have loved the big names coming to the New York Yankees: Lance Berkman and Kerry Wood. Both have their best days well behind them, but if they can help the Yankees win even one or two extra games, that could make all the difference in the world in the ultra-tight race with the Tampa Bay Rays.

I'm somewhat worried about Berkman's comments: he doesn't seem too happy about leaving the comfort of the team he spent his whole career with, even if the Houston Astros are scuffling in the National League Central. But it was his choice and he waved his no-trade clause, perhaps with an eye toward winning his first World Series championship.

And Wood is the pitcher's equivalent of Nick Johnson, a player who has consistently failed to live up to all the promise and hype because of numerous injuries. But the cost for these players doesn't appear to be too high, with the Yankees sending pitcher Mark Melancon and minor league infielder Jimmy Paredes to Houston for Berkman. And if they don't work out in New York, the Yankees can say goodbye at the end of the season.

Cashman is a man of his word, promising to look at options for his bullpen and bench. With Berkman, Wood and outfielder Austin Kearns, he has managed to plug all the holes on his team pretty quickly. These moves may not work out, but no one can accuse Cashman of not trying.
The Boss would be proud.

Thanks to dremiel and MissChatter/UCInternational via Wikipedia for the photos.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Maddon adds juice to Battle on the Bay


Just in case this weekend's matchup between baseball's top teams didn't have enough spice, Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon added some juice to the Battle on the Bay by referencing the steroid history of Alex Rodriguez.

To be clear, it does not seem like Maddon was taking a shot at ARod. It seems like he was just stating the obvious: that ARod's admitted steroids use took the drama out of his quest for 600 home runs for most of the country. But Maddon's comments and ARod's attempt to hit the elusive blast off of one of Maddon’s pitchers ensures there will be plenty of fireworks between the New York Yankees and the Rays as they battle for first place in the American League East division.

Not that the matchup needed any more juice, as shown by the fact that Tampa Bay has sold out all three games this weekend (a major first for the organization). The best teams in baseball are a mere two games apart. Tampa Bay can't be considered an upstart or even an underdog. Rather this is going to be a battle between two very different but well-matched teams that don’t like each other very much. Should be a lot of fun.

Thanks to imagesbyferg via Wikipedia for the photo.

ESPN losing journalistic credibility


I couldn't possibly care less about the National Basketball Association and LeBron James. But James is playing a major role in a developing issue that I care deeply about as a journalist: the apparent loosening of ethical standards at ESPN.

First there was ESPN's agreement to cede all revenues and editorial control over key decisions for the overhyped interview in which James announced he would be leaving Cleveland to play for the Miami Heat. (Full disclosure: I actually didn't watch "The Decision,” but I couldn't get away from the fallout, which dominated even non-sports news outlets the following day). Now comes news that ESPN quickly pulled an article that portrayed James in an unflattering way, consuming alcohol and surrounded by naked women.

Personally, I don't care about James partying in Las Vegas. He's a wealthy, unmarried young man and I wouldn't expect any less than his exercise in excess. Unless laws were broken, it doesn't qualify as a news story that ESPN should be covering in the first place. But I can’t help but wonder what was behind the decision to pull the story. Was it removed from the website because it was a story of questionable news value at best? Or was it pulled because LeBron's people made it known that they didn't like it? Worse, was it pulled by ESPN decision makers because of fear they would fracture their too cozy relationship with the NBA's biggest star?

I used to be a regular ESPN viewer, but started to pull away when the YES Network came into existence. That pullback accelerated when the MLB Network was launched, but I have watched more SportsCenter in recent months due to my MLB Network boycott (I remain firmly committed to my boycott until Armando Galarraga's perfect game is restored and Bud Selig reconsiders the use of instant replay in baseball). But now that I know more of what's going on behind the scenes at ESPN, I won't be a regular SportsCenter viewer any longer.

As a journalist, I know that the line between editorial and business is disappearing, largely due to the perilous economic condition of the news media. I've had to fight back efforts to infringe on my editorial independence on more than one occasion. But ESPN is well established as the broadcast leader in the sports world while attempting to expand that dominance into print and online sports reporting. The network is highly profitable and a success story in every way, which makes the decision to acquiesce to a coddled superstar and sacrifice its editorial integrity incomprehensible.

ESPN viewers deserve better and network officials know it.

Thanks to Keith Allison via Wikipedia for the photo.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Honest Andy easier to forgive for HGH use


When I first heard about Andy Pettitte's use of human growth hormone, I didn't believe it. Knowing what a good Christian the New York Yankees lefty is, I had a hard time reconciling his faith with that kind of bad behavior. During his Centerstage Interview with Michael Kay, I finally got the answer: he lost his faith during that period of his life when he was suffering from major arm injuries.

"My Christian faith is not something I just dreamed up," Pettitte said. "I believe that God puts you in certain places at certain times in your life and I got away from thinking that God had me here in a certain place at a certain time."

Ever since his HGH admission, I have felt very conflicted about cheering for Pettitte, wanting him to do well for the Yankees and knowing that he is a good guy, but also knowing what he did was terribly wrong and frustrated by the lack of punishment for him and other users. But Pettitte's honesty about his use of performance-enhancing drugs makes it easier to forgive him and root for him, especially since he seems determined to make up for the wrong. He is genuinely bothered and still disappointed in himself for the bad example he set for kids.

“You can either make a heart mistake or a head mistake,” he said. "I know my heart was in the right place. I screwed up. I made a bad choice and I made the wrong decision."

Does this mean that I've changed my mind and would vote Pettitte into the Baseball Hall of Fame if I had a vote? Absolutely not. I'm a hardliner on this issue. By Pettitte's own admission, he knew he was doing something wrong and his behavior and that of other PED users cast a permanent pall over the sport I love. For that, there needs to be consequences. Since players who used PEDs before the new drug rules went into effect are not being suspended, keeping them out of the Hall is the only available, suitable punishment.

"I would imagine it would with some people," Pettitte said of his HGH use keeping him out of the Hall. “If you believe what I say … then I would think it probably wouldn’t be that big an issue. If you don’t believe me and you think I’m lying, than it’s probably a huge issue.”

I do believe Pettitte’s faith is genuine and I also believe that he is truly sorry for his HGH mistake. I still wouldn’t put him in the Hall of Fame, but I will have an easier time cheering for him at his next start.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Torre would up the ante in Yanks-Mets rivalry


The Mets, mired in another disappointing season, have watched helplessly as the New York Yankees steamroll toward another playoff berth (and hopefully a second consecutive World Series title). But they could up the ante of the Subway Series rivalry by hiring Joe Torre to be their next manager.

I'm not advocating Jerry Manuel be fired. I think he's a good guy caught in a very bad situation, but it's hard to imagine him being the manager next year. And the Metsies are in desperate need of someone who brings instant credibility to the organization. Torre is that guy.

This column by Ian O'Connor outlines all the very good reasons why the Mets should go with Torre over all other choices, including Bobby Valentine (although I would love to see what kind of insanity would happen in Queens under Bobby V the Redux).

But to O’Conner’s argument, I would add another reason: the Mets are a dysfunctional mess where all jobs are in jeopardy while the Yankees’ biggest problem is trying to straighten out Joba Chamberlain. Say what you will about Joe Girardi, but he will likely be the Yankees manager for many more years (unless he decides the lure of home and the Chicago Cubs job is too much to resist).

Bringing Torre back to New York would be a good way to stick it to the Yankees, who are still unhappy with Torre's decision to spill the dirt in his book the Yankee Years. Of course, there are many reasons to hire Torre, but grabbing the spotlight back from the Bronx Bombers would be good enough for the Mets faithful.

Thanks to Matt314 via Wikipedia for the photo.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Snub could motivate Joba Chamberlain


Joe Girardi can spin it anyway he likes, but yesterday he snubbed Joba Chamberlain. It might have been the best thing he could have done for the struggling reliever.

Girardi had a chance to show he still has faith in Joba, but chose not to last night with the game on the line for the New York Yankees against the Cleveland Indians. When Javier Vazquez walked leadoff hitter Michael Brantley in the 8th inning, Girardi called in David Robertson, who promptly induced a double-play groundball. If Joba was still the bridge to Mariano Rivera, that would have been his spot to come into the game. Instead, Robertson got the call and the Yankees got the win.

The Yankees manager insisted he liked the matchup with Robertson facing Asdrubal Cabrera, which makes no sense considering that the two had never faced each other and Cabrera was 0 for 5 versus Joba. Girardi refused to say what he was probably really thinking, that he just didn't trust Joba in that spot after watching him struggle again in his outing Sunday against the Kansas City Royals.

It's clear right now that Joba is suffering from a major confidence problem. His outing last Thursday was evidence of that. As he was walking off the mound after escaping the inning allowing two hits and a walk but not giving up any runs, Joba didn't looked happy. He looked relieved that his outing was over. It's such a stark difference from the guy who used to annoy opponents with his overexcited antics on the mound after striking batters out with his 97-mph fastballs.

Girardi knows his players better than we do. Perhaps snubbing him yesterday was a way to motivate Joba, to encourage him to step up and be the dominant reliever the Yankees and their fans had gotten used to seeing. Let's hope it works.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Dickey completely out of line with Manuel


R.A. Dickey has been a savior for the New York Mets this season, helping to keep the team afloat during some very tough times. But yesterday he was completely out of line, vociferously arguing with his manager Jerry Manuel on the mound.

I was sitting in a restaurant watching the baseball game with the television on mute, but I had absolutely no problem getting the gist of what Dickey was saying to his manager in public and what he kept saying as he walked off the mound with the trainer. It was shameful behavior on Dickey's part considering Manuel was trying to protect him from serious injury. I understand players sometimes overreact in the heat of competition, but his sustained verbal assault on Manuel was uncalled for.

Manuel seems like a forgiving guy and he chalked it up to Dickey's ultra competitive nature. But with the Mets flailing, the last thing the manager needs is to be publicly challenged and embarrassed by one of his players. The Mets hierarchy doesn't need a reason to fire him, especially after this abysmal road trip.

In truth, it seems like Manuel had the Mets playing over their heads for most of the season so it would be sad if he were forced to take the fall. I wonder how Dickey would feel if he helped get his manager fired.

Thanks to dbking via Wikipedia for the photo.

Dawson battles baseball's drug problem


Big Bravo to Andre Dawson, the latest player inductee into the Baseball Hall of Fame, for stepping up to the plate once more this weekend to fight against the performance-enhancing drug problem that has eroded the sport's credibility.

I greatly admire Dawson for using his acceptance speech as a platform to battle the ongoing pall cast over the game by drug cheats. Not many people would have had the guts to even bring up the PED problem let alone attack players for using the drugs on a day specifically designed to celebrate baseball.

I'm sure Bud Selig was not too happy about it, but it was the right thing to do and the Hawk is the perfect guy to do it. There are some haters who insist that Dawson does not deserve to be in the Hall, which is why it took him nearly a decade to secure election. But the Hawk is a fighter and a leader and proved he has one good fight left in him.
Thanks to Amineshaker and Sacoo via en.Wikipedia for the photo.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Yankees have to restrain eager Andy Pettitte


It must have been painful for the ultracompetitive Andy Pettitte to watch his substitute Sergio Mitre get pounded by the Kansas City Royals, making the veteran lefty more determined to return from the disabled list as soon as possible. The New York Yankees will have to restrain him.

The Yankees never had a chance in yesterday's game, with Mitre coming off a DL stint of his own to give up seven runs in just over four innings. But the Yankees will live with another three or four bad starts from Mitre or some other substitute. What they can't live with is Pettitte trying to come back too quickly, only to worsen the injury and miss the rest of the season.

Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman always take the cautious approach with injuries and I expect them to be even more careful with their 38-year-old pitcher. No matter how good Pettitte tells them he feels, they can't let him go anywhere near a mound until they are convinced that he is fully healed.

I think they are more than up to the task of protecting Andy from himself. As Pettitte said earlier this season when Girardi took him out of a game: "there's no fighting Joe." Pettitte may wish he weren't so right about that, but the Yankees know they must resist any temptation to let the feisty lefty fight his way back onto the mound too quickly.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Girardi wise to use Cubs job as leverage


Joe Girardi didn't dismiss the possibility of going home to Chicago to manage the Cubs after this season. It was a wise ploy on his part.

This is the potential downside of the New York Yankees' bizarre policy of waiting until contracts expire before starting negotiations for new deals. If Girardi had been signed to an extension in spring training, none of this would be an issue. But since Girardi will be a free agent, the Yankees are going to have to fight to retain his services.

On the face of it, leaving the Yankees to manage the dysfunctional Cubs when Lou Piniella retires at the end of the season makes no sense for Girardi. The team went through a chaotic sale last year and is still acclimating to life under new owner the Ricketts family. After back-to-back division titles in 2007-08, the Cubs are 10 games out in the crowded National League Central and likely to miss the playoffs for the second consecutive year. Their ace Carlos Zambrano was suspended after feuding with teammate Derrek Lee and throwing a tantrum in the dugout. The Cubs are saddled with unmovable long-term contracts like the one given to former Yankee Alfonso Soriano.

But the pull of home and managing the team he grew up rooting for could be a big factor for Girardi, a devoted family guy. Plus, after winning the World Series with the Yankees last year (and hopefully again this year), he could relish the challenge of trying to jumpstart a flailing franchise and end the Cubs' long championship drought.

Or he could simply use the Cubs job as leverage to get a better deal from the Yankees, which would be a smart move by a very smart guy.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Posada milestone worthy of applause


Jorge Posada just knocked in the 1,000th run of his career and that's an accomplishment worthy of celebration.

Never mind the hoopla about Alex Rodriguez's 600th home run. I would much rather celebrate the accomplishments of a clean player like Posada, whose engine runs purely on adrenaline. Jorge was well aware of his milestone, immediately calling time out after reaching second base and asking for the baseball. When the scoreboard flashed the announcement, the New York Yankees catcher got a well-deserved standing ovation from the crowd.

Posada is strengthening his case to join pals Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera in the Baseball Hall of Fame. With his ribbie tonight, he became only the 5th catcher in baseball history with at least 350 doubles, 250 homers and 1,000 RBIs. Three of the previous four – Johnny Bench, Gary Carter and Carlton Fisk – are already in Cooperstown and Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez could join them after he retires (although the steroid rumors could keep him out). But Jorge reached the milestone in fewer at-bats than any of these guys.

The Yankees catcher has had a rough season, mostly due to injuries although his age and years behind the plate may be catching up with him. His numbers aren't bad: .268 batting average, 11 homers, 36 ribbies and 29 runs. But they're probably not where he'd like them to be. Not to worry, he has the rest of the second half to pull them up. For now, he should just enjoy his milestone, one that is actually worthy of applause.

ARod's milestone nothing to celebrate


I won't be rooting for Alex Rodriguez to hit his 600th home run this weekend. But judging from the reaction of the New York Yankees faithful at the stadium last night, I may be in the minority.

ARod's quest certainly hasn't generated nearly the excitement in Yankee land as Derek Jeter's pursuit of Lou Gehrig's all-time hits record and rightly so. In that case, you had one iconic Yankee pursuing another. I remember being completely bummed because I was in Las Vegas enjoying a long overdue vacation, but running around to sports bars trying to watch Yankees games so I wouldn't miss it. Fortunately for me, Jeter had the courtesy to wait until I was back in New York to catch his historic moment. It felt right to be home for that.

But I don't feel any connection to ARod's pursuit of 600 homers. In truth, I was a bit surprised to watch the reaction in the 8th inning when ARod came up to the plate. I know that a lot of Yankee fans have forgiven ARod, thanks to his clutch postseason performance last year. I have no problem with forgiving bad behavior, but celebrating it is another issue entirely. I refuse to celebrate ARod’s cheating, which helped him get to this point.
In all honesty, I expected to see more indifference to his pursuit and was bothered by the happy reaction at the stadium last night. What does it say about fans that they're willing to celebrate what is obviously a tainted milestone and the bad example ARod set for all young athletes?

It's hard for me to root against ARod performing well because he is a Yankee and right in the middle of the lineup. But I'm hoping ARod doesn't hit his 600th homer this weekend at home. If it happens on the road, then it will get the reaction it deserves: indifference, with some booing mixed in.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Girardi right pick over Mattingly for Yankees job


Many New York Yankees fans, including myself, would have loved seeing Don Mattingly take over for Joe Torre as Yankees manager. But Brian Cashman & Co made the right call choosing Joe Girardi over the legendary Yankees first baseman. Mattingly is clearly not ready for the hot seat.

The Los Angeles Dodgers lost a game to a key rival this week, partly because of Mattingly's inexperience. Even though Major League Baseball said the umpires blew the call in forcing Mattingly (subbing for the ejected Torre) to take out All-Star closer Jonathan Broxton for visiting the mound twice, the fact that this even became an issue shows that Donnie Baseball hasn't completely translated his great skills as a player to the role of manager.

Had George Steinbrenner still been the Boss, fully in control of the team, Mattingly would probably have gotten the call to replace Torre. It would have been too difficult for the Boss to resist putting a New York icon in that job; in part to blunt the criticism over the way the Yankees treated Torre as he walked out the door. But it would have been a mistake and unfair to Mattingly to put the neophyte in that job, with only a few years of coaching under his belt. And it would have been terribly painful to watch Mattingly under the extreme pressure of the New York media, which would have been all over him if he made that kind of mistake with the Bronx Bombers.

Girardi's decision making sometimes leaves me frustrated and bewildered. He can also become touchy, sometimes even hostile, when being questioned about his moves by the media. But he certainly isn't a novice. He won a Manager of the Year award with the Florida Marlins before getting the Yankees job. Girardi suffered the indignity of breaking the Yankees consecutive playoff appearance streak before winning it all last year. That might not have happened with Mattingly in the manager’s chair.

That doesn’t mean Mattingly won’t eventually be a good, maybe even great manager. He certainly has a wealth of baseball knowledge. He’s just going to need a lot of seasoning to get him ready for the job.

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

Magical run for Yankee rookie Colin Curtis


You can’t blame Colin Curtis for thinking that life is but a dream.

The 25-year-old rookie joined the New York Yankees less than a month ago, but has been in the middle of some of the biggest moments of the Yankees season. Yesterday, in pinch hitting for the ejected Brett Gardner, he had to go up to the plate with a 0-2 count and a tough reliever on the mound. Unfazed, he worked the count to 3-2 and then blasted a Scot Shields fastball over the right-field wall for his first big-league homer, making a tight lead over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim a lot more comfortable.

Although the turn of events that led to his surprise plate appearance happened very quickly (due to Gardner's uncalled for speedy hook), we probably shouldn't have been surprised to see Curtis thrive in that situation. While he hasn't played much, the youngster has proven to be clutch in his short big-league career, going 4 for 8 in pinch-hitting appearances. He's only had 27 at-bats, but has knocked in seven runs, including his feisty at-bat against 300-pound Los Angeles Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton to tie that Sunday night baseball game that led to one of the best comeback wins of the season for the Yankees.

What makes his story even more compelling is the fact that Curtis would not even be here if he hadn't beaten testicular cancer as a teenager (hear his remarkable story in his own words). For him to overcome a life-threatening disease at such a young age and go on to live a happy, productive life makes you cheer for him even harder.

Despite Brian Cashman's quest to strengthen his bench, I'm rooting for the rookie’s magical run in the big leagues to continue.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Put Sweet Lou in Baseball Hall of Fame


For once, Alex Rodriguez and I actually agree on something: Lou Piniella belongs in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Piniella was a fine player, ending his big-league career with a .291 batting average, 102 homers and 766 ribbies. He was the 1969 American League Rookie of the Year and a two-time World Series champion as a player.

His epic managing career began when George Steinbrenner put the neophyte in the hot seat as the manager of the New York Yankees. Although his Yankees tenure didn't end particularly well, thanks to Steinbrenner's famous impatience, the Boss was clearly on to something. Piniella has compiled a .521 lifetime winning percentage as a manager and won more than 1,800 games, good for #14 on the all-time list for managerial wins. He’s won the Manager of the Year award three times. Most importantly, he won six division titles and a World Series championship with the Cincinnati Reds in 1990.

Sweet Lou may be most known for his on-the-field antics and countless ejections, which he notably mocked in a hilarious commercial for Aquafina bottled water. But that doesn't detract from his managerial skills, which have resulted in a long, successful career. His fiery temper turned some players off, but others such as ARod responded well to his tough love.

For once, ARod didn’t put his foot in his mouth. Put Sweet Lou in the Hall of Fame!

Thanks to Phil 5329 via en.Wikipedia for the photo.

Long layoff equals bad start for Hughes


I was really looking forward to seeing last night's game at Yankee Stadium because I hadn't seen Phil Hughes pitch in person for a couple of months. If I had factored in his long layoff, that would have tempered my enthusiasm.

I hate to make a big deal out of one bad start, but it points to a potential problem for the New York Yankees in implementing the Hughes Rules. It seems that Hughes does not do well with too much time off between starts, which is a major problem if Joe Girardi & Co. stick to their guns when it comes to limiting his innings.

Although the Yankees have never publicized the number, the common guesstimate is 175 innings, leaving Hughes with only about 69 innings left to pitch with more than two full months to go in the regular season. That's roughly about 10 starts of seven innings, unless the Yankees try the Joba Rules approach of limiting his innings per start. We all know how that worked out, but I can't blame them for testing that route given that the skipping of starts hasn't worked for Hughes so far.

I don't think it's time for the Yankees to panic yet and run out and get another starter. But they do have to figure out a way to make the Hughes Rules work for him so that he doesn't lose his groove every time he takes a seat for an extra couple of days. Maybe tossing an inning or two during a long layoff (I don't count the All-Star game appearance because he didn't really get a chance to work through it) will help keep him sharp. But the Yankees have to do whatever they can to help Hughes avoid these bad starts that can shake a young pitcher's confidence.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

McCarver makes right point in wrong way


Baseball analyst Tim McCarver was right to call the New York Yankees childish for trying to minimize Joe Torre's role in the team's late 1990's dynasty. But he was flat wrong comparing Yankee officials to World War II leaders in Germany and Russia.

McCarver was trying to make a legitimate point about the lack of tribute paid to the former manager by officials in the organization, most notably snubbing Torre during the festivities celebrating the last game at the old Yankee Stadium. The Yankees have every right to be angry with Torre if they feel he violated organizational confidences in the writing of his book the Yankee Years. But these attempts to undermine his legacy, aided in part by revisionist history writing by the New York media, are petty and childish. On that point, McCarver is right on target.

The mistake he made was in invoking the image of a painful war that cost the lives of millions of innocent people. Like Dwyane Wade, McCarver has discovered that the mere mention of a national tragedy in the context of discussing a sports issue is unwise, potentially hurtful and detracts from the reasonable argument he was trying to make.

But I hope that this doesn't turn into something akin to a political ploy, where critics blast away at one part of a comment in the hopes that people will ignore the larger, legitimate point. It is absolutely fair to say, as McCarver did in a very clumsy way, that the Yankees have not properly honored Torre's legacy and should rectify that as soon as possible.

Thanks to Matt314 via Wikipedia for the photo.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Pettitte a tough loss for Yanks to overcome


I've long believed that a major injury to one of the Core Four would have the greatest potential to derail the New York Yankees this year. That injury came yesterday to Andy Pettitte.

Pettitte is heading to the disabled list, out for at least four to five weeks, according to general manager Brian Cashman. While I think losing Mariano Rivera for that amount of time would be a greater loss due to the mess that is the Yankees bullpen (which actually did well in yesterday's victory), Pettitte has been the most reliable member of the Yankees rotation all year. Losing him will be tough to overcome and the fans know it, with 60% saying they are very concerned about his injury in a Daily News poll.

The media is now begging for a trade and I'm sure Cashman will look at all available starting options. But I doubt he's going to mortgage the future with the Yankees still in the first place with the best record in baseball. None of the internal options such as Sergio Mitre or Chad Gaudin can really take Pettitte's place, but if they can hold opposing teams to three or four runs each outing, that might be enough to keep the Yankees in games, especially with Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez finally swinging the bats well.

But no matter how the Yankees play it, losing Pettitte is a major blow. With AJ Burnett’s struggles, Pettitte had become the stopper of losing streaks and I doubt that’s a role that either Mitre or Gaudin can fill.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

AJ must earn his teammates forgiveness


Can baseball players every truly forgive and forget?

AJ Burnett seems to be genuinely sorry that he hurt his hands in a fit of anger and even sorrier that he initially lied about it, putting Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman in the unfortunate position of lying to the media without realizing it. But mostly, Burnett feels badly that in physically hurting himself, he could have jeopardized the New York Yankees’ campaign to repeat their World Series championship.

The righty apologized to his teammates and several of them, including Captain Derek Jeter, said the incident is behind them. But is it really? Burnett wasn't particularly effective even before being lifted early, but he put the Yankees in a tough spot against their chief rivals in the division and the game quickly spiraled out of control. If the Yankees finish the season behind the Tampa Bay Rays, will his teammates look back at that particular game and cite it as the moment they lost control of their own destiny?

Paul O’Neill’s name has been mentioned a lot in the last 24 hours because he was a player who often let his emotions get out of control. Girardi, a long-time friend of the right fielder, invoked O’Neill’s name in talking about how in the heat of competition, players sometimes express themselves in the wrong way. But his outbursts never resulted in an injury that hurt the team, which then-manager Joe Torre warned him against. In contrast, Kevin Brown earned Torre’s ire when he punched a wall and broke his hand. The surly Brown didn’t generate a lot of good will with his teammates and that incident cost him in the clubhouse.

Has Burnett done irreparable damage to his relationship with his teammates? He obviously has a better relationship with them than a guy like Brown ever did, but that doesn't mean they're not pissed off at him. If AJ really wants to earn their forgiveness, he needs to pull it together emotionally and be the consistent #2 starter that the Yankees need. His struggles haven't gotten as much attention as they should have because Andy Pettitte has taken over Burnett's position in the rotation. But with Pettitte likely headed to the disabled list, Burnett must start pitching like he did in the first six weeks of the season. If he can do that, then all will be forgiven.

Anger at Yanks over Sheppard funeral unfair


I must admit to be very surprised by the amount of vitriol directed at New York Yankees players, particularly Derek Jeter, for missing Bob Sheppard's funeral this week and I think it's quite unfair.

Yes, it would have been a nice tribute if Jeter or other players would have attended, but it seems clear that there was a lack of communication between the organization and the players about the funeral arrangements. I was a little surprised that Jeter in particular didn't know about the funeral time and date, especially since it seems like the Yankees keep him in the loop on almost everything.

But even if he had known, it’s clear from the shortstop’s uncharacteristically emotional reaction that Jeter is taking George Steinbrenner’s death really hard and I wouldn’t have blamed him if he just didn’t feel emotionally prepared to attend a funeral. People respond to death in different ways and maybe the notoriously private Jeter felt that he needed time to himself to grieve and no one has the right to judge him for that.

The critics are basically calling Jeter a hypocrite because he has Sheppard's recorded voice introducing him at every at-bat, which to me is the ultimate tribute because the legendary announcer's voice will be kept alive as long as the Captain is around.

From what we know of Sheppard, especially the stories we’ve heard in the week since he passed away, he would have been horrified and embarrassed by the anger directed toward the players in his name. I think it’s time we all do what Sheppard would have done and quietly move on.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Will Girardi be the new villain for Boston fans?


The Boston Red Sox made an incredibly classy gesture with a heartfelt tribute to New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner and longtime public address announcer Bob Sheppard, honoring them with a moment of silence at Fenway Park that was respected by the 37,000+ in attendance despite their hatred for the Bronx Bombers.

But Steinbrenner’s death leaves a gaping hole in the hearts of Red Sox fans for one key reason: he was the guy they loved to hate. It was easy to despise the Yankees under the tumultuous reign of the Boss, which consisted of fierce battles between the two teams both on the field and in the front office, memorably leading to Larry Lucchino’s infamous “Evil Empire” nickname for the Yanks. But now that the Boss is no longer around to curse, who will the Red Sox faithful direct their anger toward?

My money is on Yankees manager Joe Girardi. He managed to piss off Red Sox Nation by choosing Alex Rodriguez over Kevin Youkilis for the All-Star team. I can see the argument in favor of Youkilis, but you can’t expect any manager to pass over his own guy for a player from his team’s arch enemy. Girardi gave them reason to be even madder at him when he announced that Boston third baseman Adrian Beltre would be replaced on the All-Star roster by Michael Young. The problem was that Beltre hadn’t withdrawn from the team and had no intention of doing so and he is apparently still angry at the slight from Girardi, who never apologized directly to him for the gaffe. Most importantly, Girardi guided the Yanks to their most recent World Series title and is inching closer to another playoff berth, which will likely come at the expense of the Red Sox.

Boston fans will always hate Yankees Captain Derek Jeter, even if they privately admit to some grudging respect for him. And ARod for sure is a real easy target. Even CC Sabathia could be the bad guy due to his willingness to knock down Red Sox batters in retaliation for his guys getting hit. But Girardi has inadvertently offended the Red Sox faithful twice. And if there’s one thing we know about Red Sox fans, they never forget.

Pleasant surprises in first half for Yanks


The first half of the season was filled with plenty of surprises and more than a few disappointments for the New York Yankees, who despite having the best record in the big leagues, have plenty of room to improve their performance in the second half.

Biggest surprise: I expected Brett Gardner to play well this year. Instead, he played like an All-Star, even if he didn't actually make the team (seems like Gardner preferred the rest). He is hitting .309 with an on-base percentage near .400. He's already scored 56 runs and stolen 25 bases and his ability to steal almost at-will adds an element that the Yankees lineup had been sorely missing during the championship drought years.

Runner-up: Andy Pettitte decided against retirement after his remarkable playoff run and it was good for the Yankees because they would not be in first place without him. Sports Illustrated's recent cover story on the Year of the Pitcher didn't feature a photo of Yankees ace CC Sabathia or future ace Phil Hughes. It featured the veteran lefty who is giving a clinic on how to be a successful, older, but wiser big-league pitcher. What are the odds against a 38-year-old pitcher having an 11-2 record and a 2.70 ERA? Don't know, but if I had bet on the lefty, I would have made a lot of money this year. I'll settle for the best record in baseball. Thanks, Andy.

Least surprising: Javier Vazquez struggling through the first two months of the season and being banished to the bullpen was not a surprise at all. But he has managed to get his mind and mechanics straightened out. He's had several stellar performances recently, most notably against King Felix Hernandez, but has lost games mostly due to a lack of run support.

Biggest disappointment: I thought that Joba Chamberlain would be able to return to his fierce ways once he was free of the Joba Rules and knew he would be the 8th inning guy. But he hasn't yet been able to pull it together and has been right in the middle of some of the team's worst losses this year. Joba is going to have to get himself straightened out or he will find himself supplanted by Hughes, who will be on a strict innings limit for his own protection.

Runner-up: I expected Derek Jeter to build on what was one of the best seasons of his Hall of Fame career, especially now that he is in his walk year (not that he's actually going anywhere). Instead, it seems like he's regressed, with a batting average about 40 points below his career mark and his defensive range limited again. Perhaps Jeter is playing hurt or playing every day is too much at this point in his career. But I think even Jeter would acknowledge that he hasn't met what are his and his fans' admittedly high expectations. I'll be looking for a big second half from the Yankees Captain.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Midseason grades off the mark for some Yanks


With the second half of the season about to start for the New York Yankees, the beat writers are all giving out their mid-term grades for player performances. Some of the marks are right on target, but others make you shake your head.

No question Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte earned those straight A's for their stellar first half performances, followed closely by the well-deserved A- marks for Phil Hughes. But the A's for CC Sabathia are a bit too generous, especially when factoring in that so many of his wins came against the hapless Baltimore Orioles. I would classify his first half more like a B, with a lot of promise to rise over the second half with the way he's been pitching recently.

When it looked like AJ Burnett was ready to shed his Mr. Erratic image once and for all, I thought he was well on his way to earning straight A’s. But his bad June lowered his marks to C’s. In contrast, Javier Vazquez was flunking until he started to turn things around in the last two months, raising his average to a C with several really sharp performances. But Pettitte, Hughes and lately CC have been so good that the starters collectively get a B in my book.

As good as the starters have been, Joe Girardi can't keep hoping for them to serve as their own bridge to Mo, which is why the rest of the bullpen, namely Joba Chamberlain, needs to step it up in the second half. I'd put the reliever grade, not including Mo, at a C-.

I also thought the B's given to Derek Jeter were a little too high. Yes, the Yankees Captain started the season on fire, but his current batting average is about 40 points below his career average and he again has had trouble on defense after a remarkable season in the field last year. I know Alex Rodriguez has 70 ribbies, but most of his key hits came in the last week or two and he was MIA for most of the season so how he earned those B’s is beyond me.

It says a lot that the best marks on the offensive side go to Brett Gardner, who started out competing for a full-time outfield job, and Robinson Cano, who responded to questions about whether he could protect ARod by having an MVP-caliber season. I would give the overall lineup a C+, mainly because of its inconsistency although there have been signs of improvement in recent weeks.

Overall, I thought the Jersey paper did the best job in grading the Yankees. It was a tough, but fair report card.

How would you grade the Yankees so far?

http://www.northjersey.com/sports/pro_sports/98484879_Yankees__midseason_report_card.html

http://sports.espn.go.com/new-york/mlb/news/story?id=5380587

http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/baseball/yankees/2010/07/15/2010-07-15_as_new_york_yankees_open_second_half_bench_and_bullpen_need_help_but_starters_an.html

Boss had a love-hate relationship with media


George Steinbrenner had the most fascinating love-hate relationship with the media. His interactions with New York Yankees beat reporters offered amazing insight into how one person could be both a master manipulator and an ally.

It's not often that reporters will admit that they are being used by sources, even though that is often the case. But current and former Yankee beat reporters such as Jack Curry and writer-turned-broadcaster Michael Kay have marveled about Steinbrenner's ability to manipulate reporters to his advantage, pitting them against each other and using their desperation to please their editors' insatiable need for Steinbrenner scoops to plant misleading stories and sometimes outright lies in the newspapers. Reporters who stayed in Steinbrenner's good graces were rewarded, but those who called him out for feeding them BS were punished by unreturned phone calls from the Boss, the death knell for a Yankees beat reporter during Steinbrenner’s heyday.

But even his interactions with the press point to the grand contradiction that was George M. Steinbrenner. Tyler Kepner recalled that the Boss regularly returned his calls in the fallout of the worst journalistic crisis experienced by the New York Times: the Jayson Blair fabrication scandal. Steinbrenner freely gave Kepner information as a sign of support and appreciation for the paper's fair coverage of him and his team. It was an incredible insight by Steinbrenner into the detrimental impact that the Blair scandal was having on the paper and his realization that he could help them through the crisis by ensuring they had valuable nuggets from the Boss.

Overall, it's quite clear that the Steinbrenner years were dreadful for reporters. If they were lucky to be on the receiving end of a call from the Boss, reporters could count on a major scoop that would sell thousands of additional papers. But if one of their competitors got that call, there was hell to pay from their actual bosses. In that sense, Steinbrenner had a control over the media that was unmatched by any other public figure.

Reporters seemed to be relieved that the Boss largely faded into the background in recent years, allowing them to compete on an even level by cultivating their own sources within the organization and sport without fear that Steinbrenner would tip the balance in favor of whomever his favorite reporter happened to be at the time. But I’m sure they also missed the roar of the Boss, who was always the best story in town.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Death could propel the Boss to Hall of Fame


George Steinbrenner's death could have the perverse effect of actually propelling the Boss into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

There will always be a contingent in baseball blaming the Boss for creating a competitive imbalance or wanting to punish him for his brutal treatment of his managers, executives and players. They will want to penalize him for constantly flouting the rules of baseball, especially in publicly criticizing baseball officials, opposing team executives and umpires, or tampering with other teams' players. And they will definitely want to keep him out for his most notorious acts: pleading guilty to making illegal campaign contributions and paying a known gambler for dirt on one of his own players.

But if Dave Winfield, who suffered the most public violation at the hands of his Boss, can find it in his heart to forgive Steinbrenner and insist that he deserves a place in the Hall, other people will follow his lead. Listening to all the tributes that poured in yesterday, it seems clear that many are ready to look past Steinbrenner's temperamental ways and horrendous abuse of his employees and support his candidacy.

It's not like Steinbrenner hasn't done a lot for baseball. His determination to return the Yankees to greatness elevated the entire sport and helped turn it into the thriving business that it is today. He turned a $10 million investment into a $1.6 billion franchise and won seven World Series titles in the process.

But it’s hard for me to say that I would vote for the Boss. I’m not a Steinbrenner hater by any stretch and I truly appreciate his determination to put a championship-caliber team in the Bronx every year. But it’s too difficult for me to overlook his torment of so many people, even if he did privately try to right the wrongs. And I don’t think his charitable works offset all his negative actions, including his willful law and rule-breaking. I would probably vote no on the Boss, but wouldn’t be surprised or offended if others decided he deserved a place in the Hall of Fame.

Girardi's non-moves cost AL All-Star game


Joe Girardi has always made some questionable moves in managing games for the New York Yankees. Apparently, managing an All-Star team raises his bizarre strategies to a whole new level.

When David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox led off the 9th inning with a single and the American League down two runs, Girardi left the tortoise-like Ortiz on the bases when he could have sent Ty Wigginton back into the game to pinch run for him. Then, the Yankees manager had three different chances to send Alex Rodriguez up to pinch hit. An ARod bomb at any time would have tied the game, which apparently Girardi was so concerned about that he didn't even send his third baseman to the plate. Instead, we had Adrian Beltre, who was so banged up that he almost didn’t make the All-Star roster, and Ian Kinsler, a good player who only has four homers this year, up at the plate to end the game for the American League. Why did he put ARod on the All-Star team if he wasn't going to use him?

Even Girardi didn’t have a reasonable explanation for his non-moves. He talked about pinch running ARod for Beltre if he got on base. But why not just use ARod, a more dangerous batter, if you were going to remove Beltre anyway? Girardi also pointed to the possibility of extra innings and how that would impact his lineup. But you have to tie the game before you can win it. The Yankees manager has a bad tendency to over-think these situations and it seems clear that he was paralyzed into inaction.

Girardi talked about how important home-field advantage is in the World Series. But he didn't manage like it was, leaving his big gun on the bench with the game on the line.

Jeter hurting over loss of his friend the Boss


Derek Jeter doesn't usually show emotion in public so it was obvious that he was hurting yesterday over the loss of his friend George Steinbrenner.

We're so used to seeing the New York Yankees shortstop in full control of his feelings, but Jeter's eyes were red and he got teary several times when talking about his unusually close relationship with the Boss. The Yankees Captain got to see Steinbrenner in moments that the rest of us will never know about, got a chance to have a personal friendship with him that not many people had.

Jeter was the only guy who could get away with mercilessly teasing the Boss, as he did on Opening Day when he demanded Steinbrenner take off his Ohio State ring (Jeter is a Michigan guy) and put on the new World Series championship ring he and Joe Girardi just bestowed on the Boss. Jeter was planning to visit Steinbrenner in Tampa during the All-Star break. Unfortunately, Jeter never got a chance to say goodbye to his friend and his heartbreak over that was written all over his face.

Jeter is fiercely protective of Steinbrenner's legacy, calling him the best owner in baseball, and I expect that to grow even stronger. The Captain has long believed that Steinbrenner belongs in the Baseball Hall of Fame and I expect him to mount a long, aggressive, but quiet campaign to ensure the Yankees owner gets in. Coming from Jeter, a popular future Hall of Famer himself, it will have a lot of weight.

But Jeter's thoughts were elsewhere yesterday. Given his obvious devastation, I give him a lot of credit for making it through his All-Star appearance in one piece. But there's no question that Steinbrenner’s death is very painful for him right now. The Yankee Captain can often seem like a larger-than-life figure, just like his Boss. But for one day, Jeter was just like the rest of us, just a guy who lost his good friend.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Steinbrenner death a great loss for Yankee fans


I feel like someone in my family just died.

My immediate reaction this morning when I first saw the news about George Steinbrenner's death was shock, followed by many tears. I shouldn't have been at all surprised because the Boss has been unwell for years now, but it was both stunning and personally devastating. For true fans of the New York Yankees, George Steinbrenner was the overarching presence in our lives for many reasons, but mostly for restoring the Yankees to greatness.

One of the few comforts of death is that it gives people an opportunity to share their experiences about the person they've lost. All day we've heard some wonderful stories about Steinbrenner's interactions with players and managers, both the good and the bad. Willie Randolph chuckled several times in recalling his experiences with the Boss, including that Mrs. Steinbrenner stopped speaking to her husband for weeks for letting Randolph leave the Yankees.

We've also gotten to see clips of his infamous television appearances, with my favorite being the Miller Lite beer commercial he did with Billy Martin where he ends up firing the Yankees manager for daring to disagree with the Boss about why the beer was so great.

Coming just two days after the passing of Bob Sheppard, Steinbrenner’s death is another harsh blow to a distraught team and fan base. People will have serious disagreements about his legacy and place in baseball history. But no one can question that he made the Yankees both interesting and relevant and he created a dynasty for us younger fans that pays tribute to the great Yankee teams of the past and for that I am incredibly grateful to him.

Rest in peace, Boss!

David Price right choice to start All-Star game


As much as I would have loved seeing Andy Pettitte or Phil Hughes start the All-Star game for the American League, Joe Girardi did the right thing in picking David Price to start the Mid-summer Classic for his squad.

Both Pettitte and Hughes had a lot going for them. Pettitte is having the best season of a borderline Hall of Fame career with an 11-2 record and a 2.70 ERA at the break and would have been the sentimental choice, given that he is nearing the end of his career (according to Pettitte, but we've heard this before). Hughes, the up and coming future ace of the New York Yankees, has posted an 11-2 record with a 3.65 ERA and would have started the game at the stadium 10 minutes away from his home. Girardi would not have been faulted too much for going with one of his guys and I’m sure the Yankees manager will get both of them into the game.

But the greatness of the young Tampa Bay Rays ace cannot be denied. He is having a phenomenal season, with a 12-4 record and a 2.42 ERA, both leading the American League and helping the Rays keep pace with the Bronx Bombers. “I think the American League has a bright young star on our hands in our starting pitcher David Price, who is still only 24 years,” Girardi said.

“It hasn’t hit me yet,” Price said. “It’s a huge honor to be here and it’s an even bigger honor to be one of the two starters. I’m very happy to be here.”

A well-deserved honor. Looking forward to tonight, watching Price go head-to-head with that other young stud Ubaldo Jimenez for the National League.
Thanks to Wknight94 via Wikipedia for the photo.

Swisher's early HR Derby exit good for Yanks


I'm really glad Nick Swisher bombed in the Home Run Derby.

Bombed in a good way of course as Swisher only hit four dingers, which guaranteed his elimination in the first round of the contest, finishing in sixth place. David Ortiz, the designated hitter of the Boston Red Sox, was the eventual winner with more than 30 homers.

If the main concern about players participating in the derby is exhaustion, the New York Yankees don't have to worry. Swisher barely broke a sweat and he only took about a dozen swings in the tournament, which shouldn't have a big impact on his stroke for the second half of the baseball season.

Swisher was well supported by his teammates Robinson Cano and Alex Rodriguez, who laughed during Swisher’s appearance and teased him mercilessly about how embarrassing it would be to get blanked in the contest. The Yankees right fielder managed to avoid that fate.

I'd say it was the perfect outcome for the Yankees in that Swisher got to participate, but didn't get hurt or too tired.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Even in death, Sheppard's voice will last forever


I've been so sad about the passing of Bob Sheppard, the legendary announcer of the New York Yankees, that I'm just now writing about his death.

Sheppard was 99 years old so his death was not unexpected, but that doesn't make it any less painful for the Yankees Universe. But we've gotten to hear a number of great Sheppard stories from the people who knew him best, from those who were most touched by their interactions with the nicest guy in the Yankees family.

Joe Girardi reminisced about talking to Sheppard for the first time. "It was amazing when you heard his voice in person because it was always from up above and then when he would come down and talk to you, it was a thrill," he said. "He is going to be dearly missed. He was a wonderful man."

Sheppard "means as much to this organization as any player," said Yankee Captain Derek Jeter. "He was part of the whole Yankee Stadium experience. I grew up listening to him and it's a thrill for any player to be introduced by him."

A few years ago when Sheppard's health began failing, other people stepped in to take over the public address duties at Yankee Stadium. But being introduced by someone other than the "Voice of God" never sounded right to Jeter, who asked Sheppard to record his introduction so the shortstop would never have to be introduced by anyone else.

"As long as I'm playing, Bob Sheppard will always announce me," Jeter said.

So even in death, Sheppard will be a presence at Yankee Stadium, which is great for us and future generations of Yankee fans.

Rest in peace, Bob Sheppard! We miss you already.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Yanks have double standard on HR derby


Why is it OK for Nick Swisher to participate in Monday's Home Run Derby when it was not OK for Robinson Cano?

I've heard all about how the New York Yankees wanted to protect Cano's tender back. But I also distinctly remember the back issue not being raised until the second day of Derbygate. When Cano first got the invite to participate in the derby, manager Joe Girardi and hitting coach Kevin Long talked about the exhausting effort required and the ill effects suffered by some participants in the second half of the season. So why were they so worried about that with Cano, who has the best natural swing of any of the Yankees, yet not nearly as concerned about the impact it could have on Swisher? I would be more worried about Swisher's swing getting all messed up, the way it was during the playoffs last year.

Swisher made sure he got the blessings of Girardi, Long and Brian Cashman before agreeing to participate in the derby, but I don’t like the fact that he even asked, especially since he must have heard about the concerns expressed earlier in the week by his manager and hitting coach about Cano’s participation. But it seems like Swisher got their approval pretty easily and that points to a bad double standard by the Yankees. I wonder what Cano thinks about that.

Let me just say I'm not a fan of the HR Derby. I don't like the way it has overshadowed the All-Star game. And I didn't vote for Swisher several hundred times to watch him take batting practice for a couple of hours. If it were up to me, none of the Yankees would participate in the derby. I thought the Yankees were right to pull Cano out of the contest. But they shouldn’t have given Swisher their blessings to swing for the fences.

Joba's struggles will put Hughes back in pen


Joba Chamberlain's struggles virtually guarantee that Phil Hughes will reclaim his job as Mariano Rivera's set-up man sometime this season.

The New York Yankees will spin any such move as an effort to protect the valuable right arm of young Mr. Hughes, the way they tried to protect Joba last year, and that will be partially true. But Joba's inconsistency will leave them no other choice than to bring in Hughes, who is much more reliable out of the pen, in key 8th inning spots.

The shift will likely begin when Hughes is having a couple of starts skipped in August and September. The Yankees will bring him out of the bullpen and they will say it's just to keep him sharp. But if a game is tight in the 8th inning and both Hughes and Chamberlain are sitting out there, Hughes will get that call. And if he does as well as last year, the Yankees will keep him there for the playoffs.

As of now, Joe Girardi says he still believes Joba can do the job. “The stuff is there,” he said. “He’s a human being that’s giving everything he’s got out there. I don’t get frustrated and I still believe in him."

But that faith will only go so far. With the division on the line, there's no way Girardi can bring Chamberlain into a tight game if he’s still this unpredictable in September. It wouldn’t be fair to his teammates, the way it wasn’t fair to Javier Vazquez last night that his phenomenal performance was wasted. For now, Joba will keep getting the 8th inning call, but if he doesn’t get himself right, Hughes will step into the role that he is very comfortable with.

Javy ignores trade talk to pitch best game


Javier Vazquez should have and would have been the story of last night's game between the New York Yankees and the Seattle Mariners if not for Joba Chamberlain's latest implosion.

Javy somehow managed to ignore all the trade talk that had his days in New York numbered to pitch his best game of the year. He outpitched King Felix Hernandez, who was pretty awesome himself, by taking a no-hitter into the 6th inning and getting out of a major, bases-loaded jam in the 7th inning to preserve a slim 1-0 lead. Vazquez leaped off the mound in complete joy when Ramiro Pena caught the blooper that ended the inning, a rare, but encouraging outburst that says a lot about how far Vazquez has come this year.

“I feel good, just to get all that behind me and move forward,” Vazquez said of his early-season struggles. “That’s something I feel good about.”

The Cliff Lee talks could have been a major distraction for both Phil Hughes and Vazquez, one of who would have lost their spot in the Yankees rotation. Instead, they both responded with phenomenal games, extending the trend of superior starting pitching that carried the Yankees to a seven-game winning streak that would have been eight if Joba didn't completely unravel in the 8th inning. Vazquez was a lot more forgiving and magnanimous than I would have been, expressing disappointment that the team didn’t win, but not about his brilliant effort being wasted. But Joba was blunt about it.

“I definitely let Javy down,” he said.

Vazquez yesterday showed Yankee fans what Brian Cashman, his biggest fan in the organization, sees in him. Javy definitely needs to be more consistent, but he showed just what he can do when his mind is right.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Lee will get his chance to join Yankees soon


Sounds like Cliff Lee was really excited about joining the New York Yankees. He'll get his chance soon.

Before the proposed trade from the Seattle Mariners to the Yankees fell apart, Lee and his wife were talking to his good pal CC Sabathia and his wife about the best neighborhoods in the metropolitan area. Maybe it was just the excitement of leaving a losing team for a major playoff contender. But it sounds like Lee thought he got his wish a few months early, not having to wait until he hit free agency to come to New York.

There's no question the ace lefty will be the Yankees top free-agent target this offseason, even with Carl Crawford on the market too. Javier Vazquez's contract is expiring and the Yankees can put his $11.5 million toward the much more reliable Lee’s salary. If Andy Pettitte actually does retire, the Yankees could use another lefty in the rotation. Brian Cashman’s eagerness to go after Lee now, even though the Yankees don't need him at the moment, means Hal Steinbrenner is perfectly willing to loosen the purse strings for a player of Lee's caliber despite all the talk about the Yankees budget.

For Lee, coming to New York is all upside. He will get more money from the Yankees than any other team in baseball and can insist on a no-trade clause to put an end to all the disruption in his life caused by being traded three times in less than a year. He’ll get to pitch alongside Sabathia again and won’t be expected to carry the team. And he will be with a playoff contender every year. New York can be a rough town, but Yankee fans will love Lee because they know he’s not afraid of the big stage, as he’s proven against the Yankees time and time again.

So Cliff Lee can be a Yankee if he really wants to be. All he has to do is wait a few months.

Thanks to Galaksiafervojo via Wikipedia for the photo.

Hughes shows maturity in avoiding Lee distraction


No one would have blamed Phil Hughes for becoming unhinged by all the Cliff Lee talk, but the youngster showed a maturity beyond his years by responding with a brilliant performance.
The New York Yankees weren't getting Lee to send him to the bullpen, so one of the Yankees current starters would have had to make the move barring a trade. Given the team’s determination to protect his priceless right arm, Hughes was the most likely candidate. His success as Mariano Rivera's set-up guy last year would have increased those odds, especially factoring in Joba Chamberlain's Jekyll and Hyde routine. But it would have been unfair to Hughes, given his hard work and success in becoming one of the best young starters in baseball.

If I was Hughes, I would have been livid about the prospect of being sent back to the bullpen after an All-Star first half. Even just the talk would have created bad feelings for me and might have affected my performance on the mound. But not Hughes. He responded with his strongest outing in weeks, giving up only one run in seven solid innings of work, just another sign of his maturity and why his future as the Yankees ace is secure.

Hughes said the Lee trade talk didn't distract him, that he was more focused on the guys with the bats in their hands than on Lee. Now he doesn't have to worry about moving back to the bullpen to make room for someone else. He can head to the All-Star game, proud of his first-half performance, as he should be.

Crisis averted as Yankees don't get Cliff Lee

Major League Baseball avoided a mini-crisis yesterday as Cliff Lee was traded to the Texas Rangers instead of the hated New York Yankees.

Imagine the uproar if the Yankees, already with one of the deepest starting rotations in baseball, actually landed Lee? The screams from some baseball experts and fans of other teams would have been relentless, some calling for a salary cap or at least increased penalties for rising payrolls. Not that the Yankees care too much.

But I care. The only benefit of those fruitless years without a championship was that they proved that money isn't everything, that having the highest payroll does not guarantee the ultimate success. So when the Yankees finally won again last year, even though they threw a lot of money at the best free agents in the offseason, it was about them having a great team with strong chemistry more than it was about the money. Trading for Lee when they already have the best record in baseball and don't really need him would have changed that perception. Even I, a die-hard Yankees fan, thought it was overkill.

The Yankees can't be faulted for trying to make the trade, even if it does seems pretty greedy to trade for one of the best pitchers in baseball when they already have three legitimate aces. They saw an opportunity and tried to take it. It didn't work out for them and they are quite unhappy about it. But it will help them to refocus on what they actually do need to improve their ballclub. And it avoids a mutiny in baseball.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Going after Lee now seems like overkill


I'm sure the New York Yankees hitters are rooting hard for Brian Cashman to trade for Cliff Lee before they have to face him tonight.

There is no question that Lee is the premier pitcher on the trade block and any team would be lucky to have him. But I'm a bit surprised that the Yankees are going to trade for him now, giving up their prized catching prospect Jesus Montero, with only a guarantee of three months of service.

I could see the urgency in going after Lee if the Yankees starting pitching was weak or struggling, as it was during the championship drought between 2000 and 2009. But the Yankees have one of the best rotations in baseball and it has been, by far, the most influential factor in the team's success. Remember, this is a team that leads baseball with a 54-31 record despite an inconsistent lineup and bullpen. So going after Lee now, rather than waiting for his pending free agency, seems like overkill.

Let me be clear: I’m not arguing against Lee as a player, especially not after they way he’s pitched against the Bronx Bombers. I would have encouraged the Yanks to go after him in the offseason, particularly with Javier Vazquez’s contract expiring and Andy Pettitte on the constant verge of retirement. It’s just that giving up your best prospect for a guy you can’t be sure of signing reeks of a desperation move and the Yankees are not desperate.

Thanks to Galaksiafervojo via Wikipedia for the photo.

Yankee fans shower Swish with love, votes


New York Yankees fans took to their computers and cellphones to "send Swish" to the All-Star game.

After this weekend's series against the Seattle Mariners, Swisher and several teammates will head to Anaheim to represent the Yankees and the city of New York in next week's midsummer classic. Showering our playful right fielder with love, we cast 9.8 million votes in his favor (I voted for Swish several hundred times) in Major League Baseball's Final Vote, ensuring his victory in a tight race against the Boston Red Sox Kevin Youkilis (suck it, Boston!) and three other players.

Bravo to the Yankees marketing staff for a brilliant campaign, which was built around the perfect player. Unlike Mike Francesa, I did not think the campaign was over the top. I thought the email encouraging Yankee fans to vote for Swisher 33 times (his uniform number) at 3:30 ET right before the voting ended was particularly clever.

Swisher played like he was on cloud 9 yesterday, reaching base five times with four hits and a run, including a double to set up the Yankees rally that led to the eventual winning run. He raised his All-Star caliber numbers in the process: .307 batting average, 14 home runs, 48 ribbies and 53 runs scored.

The thing I love the most about Swisher winning the fan vote is that he's not even trying to play cool about it. He was obviously thrilled to make the All-Star team and incredibly thankful to the fans for making it happen, filming a video to express his gratitude directly to his fans. That's the way players should react.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Cano should have pulled himself from HR derby


Robinson Cano has every right to be upset that the New York Yankees let the media know he wouldn't be allowed to participate in the Home Run Derby before they let him know. But he should be more upset with himself than anyone else.

The home run contest has become the glamour event of the All-Star festivities and I can see why Cano would be eager to participate, getting the national attention he deserves for his MVP-caliber season. But he should have declined the invitation knowing full well that his back was so stiff he’s needed treatment for days. The second baseman also should have pulled himself out of the derby once he realized that manager Joe Girardi and hitting coach Kevin Long had concerns about how it would impact him.

Granted, Girardi and Brian Cashman should have made sure Cano knew first that they were pulling him, but he shouldn't have put them in the position of forcing him to withdraw. Cano has been around long enough to know that the Yankees are the ones paying his salary and his first obligation is to them.

Cano was on the bench last night and clearly wasn't happy about the turn of events. But he should lay most of the blame on himself for this one.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Yanks should clean up their PED problem



It’s nice to see Alex Rodriguez and Andy Pettitte trying to fix the mistakes they made in using performance-enhancing drugs, but I really wish the New York Yankees would finally deal with the PED problem within their organization.

ARod and Pettitte are going to attend an August fundraiser at Yankee Stadium for the Taylor Hooten Foundation, an organization dedicated to raising awareness about the dangers of steroids named after a young man who used steroids and took his own life. The event will auction off items signed by ARod and Andy Pettitte, both of whom have admitted to using PEDs. It’s a good way to own up to their responsibility to young fans and try to prevent kids from suffering Taylor Hooten’s fate.

But it also serves as another reminder that the Yankees have failed to address the problem of PED use within their own ranks. Today, five more minor leaguers were suspended for violating MLB’s drug policy, including two players in the Yankee farm system. A disproportionate number of these suspended minor leaguers are Yankees, including Sergio Mitre who made it to the big league roster last year.

As much as they probably don't like to be reminded, the Yankees remain the poster team for PED abuse in baseball. The organization really needs to step up and do something about it, starting with extensive counseling on both the dangers of PED and the right ways for young players to take care of their bodies. Have ARod and Pettitte talk to the younger Yankees about staying away from these poisons. I think it’s the least they can do.

Mo puts Yankees 1st, Cano does not


The New York Yankees must have breathed a sigh of relief when Mariano Rivera announced he was willingly withdrawing from the All-Star game due to a couple of nagging injuries. But they probably started sweating again when Robinson Cano announced he would participate in Monday's Home Run Derby. The Hall of Fame closer is putting his team first while the rising star is not.

Mo revealed that the left side injury that sidelined him for a week in May is still bothering him and pain in the right knee cropped up since the series against the Los Angeles Dodgers a few weeks ago. Rather than attend the All-Star game, he will return to New York after the Seattle series this weekend and take advantage of the Yankees extra-long All-Star break to heal. It's not the first time Mo, always a team-first player, has withdrawn from the All-Star game. If the 40-year-old closer continues pitching beyond this year, it likely won't be the last.

Meanwhile, Cano will be giving his manager Joe Girardi and hitting coach Kevin Long heartburn due to his decision to participate in the Home Run Derby. Long made it clear before the game that he did not think it was a good idea because of the exhausting effort required and the ill effects suffered by some participants in the second half of the season.

Cano said he was surprised by the invitation, which speaks to the problem caused by the derby. Many of the big power guys, such as Alex Rodriguez, simply refuse to participate due to the belief that the contest gets them out of good batting habits. Major League Baseball asked Cano, now one of the elite players in the game, because they need as many big names as possible to keep ESPN happy about the derby's ratings and the popularity of the contest.

The Yankees would not be in first place without Cano’s MVP-caliber first half. But Cano needs to realize, as Mo has long known, that his primary obligation is to the Yankees and that he needs to put the team first. He should withdraw from the derby immediately.