Friday, January 28, 2011

Hal Steinbrenner spinning Cashman rift

Hal Steinbrenner, realizing this Brian Cashman story is getting out of control, is in serious spin mode.

Steinbrenner looked at all the papers and blogs and realized the story on the rift with Cashman about the Rafael Soriano deal and the speculation about the general manager possibly heading for the exit was completely overshadowing the deal itself. For a guy who made the move partly to appease a rabid fan base that is never truly satisfied when not counting World Series victories, Steinbrenner must have been really annoyed that his latest personnel move, a good move that should help the New York Yankees compete this year, was being virtually ignored by the media.

So he decided to step in and end the madness and speculation. He turned to the team's preferred paper of choice, the New York Post, to get the message out that Cashman is still the general manager, still a valued voice in the Yankees hierarchy and would be welcomed back with open arms if he re-signed with the Yankees next offseason. Steinbrenner got a too eager assist from the Post's Joel Sherman, who scoffed at the notion that Cashman would move his kids out of Connecticut and his wife away from her twin sister to be the general manager of the Pirates or some other small-market team. Never mind that people have moved their families for a lot less compelling reasons and that there are a lot worse places to live then Pittsburgh (I had a fantastic time there when the Yankees played that interleague series against the Pirates a few years ago--it's a great town). Personally, I would have been embarrassed to write such an obvious, ass-kissing column, but then again I'm not the one being fed "exclusives" with Hal Steinbrenner that will surely sell some extra newspapers.

What I found most interesting about the Post story was that Hal took the responsibility for the vicious public attack against Derek Jeter during the contract talks, with Hal saying he has some of the old man in him. No doubt it sounded like something that George Steinbrenner would say and do. But I again take exception with the notion that Jeter’s agent started the fight, especially since Hal himself was the one who first opened his mouth about the negotiations getting “messy.” Hal claims to be such an astute businessman, which makes it hard for me to understand how he thought publicly bashing his iconic shortstop and one of the team’s most marketable players was in the ballclub’s best interest.

But Hal was smart enough to realize that the Cashman story was getting away from him and decided to put an end to it. It’s not going to work because all the other papers and the blogs that don’t toe the company line are going to keep the story alive, at least until a bigger controversy comes along to take its place.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Cashman, Jeter destined to do battle again

Is Brian Cashman intentionally trying to piss Derek Jeter off?

First he publicly dares the captain of the New York Yankees to test the free agent market after Jeter told him he had no desire to play for any other baseball team. Now Cashman is publicly speculating that the shortstop might move to center field before his current contract is over.

Cashman won the first battle with Jeter because he and the Yankees succeeded in making the shortstop look like a greedy athlete to a lot of fans (not me, I thought the Yankees were wrong to disparage their shortstop and challenge him to find a better offer). But Cashman may not be as lucky this time, especially if his comments create another firestorm that lasts through the start of spring training.

To be clear, I don't think Cashman was wrong when he said an outfield move may be in Jeter's future. But that's a conversation that Cashman should have with Jeter before he has it with the fans. I don't expect an immediate reaction from Jeter, but he has to be resentful and angry that once again Cashman is dragging him into a controversy rather than keeping things in house as Jeter prefers.

Jeter expressed his unhappiness with the organization making his contract negotiations so public. Will he admit to being angry about this latest mess? I hope whatever he’s feeling he expresses publicly. His willingness to convey his dismay and frustration at the public depiction of him as a greedy athlete made him seem more human and likable. I’m sure he wouldn’t go as far as telling Cashman to shut up, but that will be the subtle message.

Of course, this could become a moot point if Cashman decides to leave the Yankees when his contract expires at the end of the year because a Jeter move would become someone else’s problem. The general manager was clearly upset by the Steinbrenners' decision to overrule him on the Rafael Soriano deal. Despite the Yankees urging him to spin the dispute in the media, Cashman insisted on setting the record straight rather than have all the agents of the middle relievers he dealt with this offseason thinking he lied to them about not wanting to pay $6-7 million or give up his top draft pick.

You have to wonder if Cashman feels this free about speaking out because he has an exit strategy. But until Cashman officially leaves, he should be careful not to mess with his shortstop.

Monday, January 24, 2011

More from the baseball writers' dinner

The New York chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America’s annual dinner night was full of fun surprises, starting with a guest appearance by none other than the great Willie Mays. I didn’t get anywhere near him, but just to say I was in the same room as Mays is thrilling.

For me, two other highlights of the evening did not involve any New York Yankees. Philadelphia sportswriter Bill Conlin gave a lively, hilarious speech recounting his experiences over his long career, one that he will be honored for at the Baseball Hall of Fame inductions this summer.

The emotional highlight for me was Joey Votto nearly choking up as he thanked the writers for his Most Valuable Player award, expressing sadness that his father, who passed away two years ago, wasn't able to be there to watch his son accept the honor.

Bernie Williams was on hand to provide the musical entertainment, starting with his guitar version of the Star Spangled Banner and Bernie and his band giving memorable performances of many songs, including the Bruce Springsteen classic Glory Days.

Picture of Joey Votto.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

NY writers celebrate baseball, charity

I didn't really know what to expect last night when I attended the New York chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America’s annual dinner. But I had a nice time chatting up other avid baseball fans willing to shell out $225 bucks to get a glimpse of their sports heroes.

It was an interesting night, with sportswriters coming together to honor many of the athletes and baseball officials they've spent their lives covering. Of course, they poked a lot of fun at the honorees. Mark Feinsand, chair of the New York chapter and host of the evening, had a great deal of fun at Brian Cashman’s expense, joking about the general manager’s desperate search for another starting pitcher. Fans of the New York Yankees will be happy to know that Cashman signed righty John Denny (who retired in 1986) to a four-year, $60 million deal, according to Feinsand.

The Yankees were well represented during the festivities, with Robinson Cano honored for his tremendous year and thrilled to receive his first Gold Glove. Cano was introduced by Bernie Williams, who told the story about Cano coming up to Williams in the Yankees clubhouse when he was first called up and informing the Yankees then-centerfielder that he was his favorite player growing up, instantly making Bernie feel like an old man.

Phil Hughes was supposed to be honored with the Good Guy award for his interactions with the baseball writers. But the young righty had an apparent conflict and had to answer to a higher authority than the Steinbrenners or his manager Joe Girardi: his mom Dori Hughes.

Hal Steinbrenner gave a very nice speech in accepting an award for his father George Steinbrenner's community service. In referring to his father’s quiet acts of kindness, unacknowledged until after his death last year, Hal Steinbrenner offered wonderful words of wisdom that we should all live by: that an act of charity is not charity if more than two people know about it.

Joe Torre gave what I thought was the most conciliatory speech I've ever heard. Torre was being honored with two other retiring managers Bobby Cox and Lou Piniella for their Hall of Fame careers. He expressed his great joy to be back in New York and thanked New York fans for their support through the years. In front of Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner, he also expressed his gratitude to the Boss for giving him a chance to manage his ballclub. Torre and the Yankees endured a nasty divorce that left Torre with bitter feelings towards his old employers and led to his writing a book that created a rift between him and the Yankees hierarchy. But between the invitation extended to Torre to attend last year's memorial to the Boss at Yankee Stadium and last night's expressions of gratitude by Torre, it seems like all is forgiven.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Midseason Pettitte return works for Yankees

A midseason return for Andy Pettitte would work for both the veteran lefty and the New York Yankees.

Joe Girardi indicated this week that Pettitte is throwing to keep himself in shape for a possible return, one that increasingly looks less likely to happen in spring training. But returning to the team sometime in mid-June solves a lot of problems for both sides.

It gets Pettitte back to the Yankees when they will still be in competition for an American League East division title, barring some epic early-season collapse. I think that’s unlikely, even if the Yankees must go with Ivan Nova and Sergio Mitre in the starting rotation for a few months, because I think the Yankees have a strong enough lineup and a sterling bullpen to win some of their games, including the ones that turn into slugfests.

For Pettitte, it gives him more time with his kids before he has to show up for work in the Bronx and less of a separation as his family could conceivably join him in the summer months up north. Of course, this assumes that Pettitte's heart is still in it and this reluctance to return doesn't signal a deeper longing to move on from the baseball chapter of his life. Maybe he’ll just wait to see how his teammates do early in the season and make his return once he realizes that they still need him.

It's not like there isn't precedence for this. Remember, the crude Roger Clemens announcement that he was coming back, made from George Steinbrenner's box at the old Yankee Stadium during a 2007 game. I'm sure a Pettitte return would be handled with more class and greeted even more warmly.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Time to question Brian Cashman's judgment

Maybe the Steinbrenners were right to overrule Brian Cashman after all. He’s clearly losing his mind.

If Cashman was really willing to offer Carl Pavano $10 million to return to the New York Yankees, then it is undoubtedly time to question his judgment. I know Pavano has resurrected his career with the Minnesota Twins, but he was an absolute nightmare in the Bronx. He left town with $40 million of the Yankees' money and gave them absolutely nothing in return for it. He is unredeemable in the eyes of the Yankees faithful and probably would have gotten booed on every single pitch he threw by his hometown crowd.

The fact that Cashman would even consider a deal with Pavano is mind boggling considering the failed return of Javier Vazquez. I had a problem with that move, but at least you could make a case that Vazquez wasn't given enough time to find himself in pinstripes during his first tenure. Pavano spent four years in New York on the disabled list and the wrong side of his teammates. Even Mike Mussina, one of the least media-friendly guys to wear pinstripes in recent years, publicly called Pavano out.

This highlights the main problem of the Cliff Lee debacle: the lack of a Plan B by Cashman. He's not the only one at fault for this as I think all the Yankee officials assumed Lee couldn’t wait to take their millions. But it's Cashman's job to have a back-up plan.

Carl Pavano doesn't qualify as a good Plan B, but at least Pavano did Cashman the favor of re-signing with the Twins. If he'd actually taken a deal from Cashman and had another disastrous tenure in pinstripes, fans would be calling for nothing less than the general manager's head on a platter.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Yankees wise not to fight with their kids

After the nasty contract dispute with Captain Derek Jeter, I half expected the New York Yankees to pick a fight with their three youngsters eligible for arbitration in an attempt to save a few bucks. I'm happy that they wisely decided not to let things get ugly.

The Yankees signed Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain and Boone Logan to reasonable, one-year deals, avoiding any contentious hearings with less than a month until pitchers and catchers report.

After the year he had, I thought Hughes could have gotten a bigger raise, but he won't be hurting with $2.7 million. That's still a bargain for the Yankees considering that he, along with CC Sabathia, is seen as the only reliable member of the starting rotation. But hopefully him settling for a reasonable deal rather than fighting for the last dollar sets the stage for smooth negotiations on a long-term deal when his time comes.

In signing Logan and Joba, the Yankees bullpen is now set. Logan proved to be an integral cog in the relief corp last year and will play an even bigger role with the revamped power lineup of the Boston Red Sox. This year may be even more important for Joba. He needs to prove that he can get back to being that dominant guy we saw a few years ago and I think the Yankees will give him one more year to find it again before they start thinking about moving on.

I hate the baseball arbitration process because even the best relationships can turn sour under the pressure. But in signing their three eligible youngsters, the Yankees got at least one thing done right this offseason.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Cashman vs Steinbrenners

Are the New York Yankees reliving the days when George Steinbrenner ran his ballclub with an iron fist?

It sure seems that way with word that Hal and Hank Steinbrenner overruled their general manager Brian Cashman to sign Rafael Soriano to be the set-up guy for Mariano Rivera. I remember thinking last week that it was strange that Cashman would change course so quickly after insisting he would not give up his #1 draft pick to sign Soriano. Now it all makes sense. It wasn't Cashman's decision.

Now that the story is out, the Steinbrenners have created a real credibility problem for Cashman. Perhaps this was just a one-time occurrence. But baseball people will wonder, somewhat unfairly, about whether Cashman is truly in charge of the team or if the Steinbrenner sons are doing their best impression of their dad, who treated his general managers as irrelevant minions and constantly overruled their baseball decisions. One decision doesn't constitute a trend, but it's something that bears watching.

Whether you like Cashman's decisions or not, it's hard to argue that he doesn't have a plan. A few years ago, he declined to trade for Johan Santana, which essentially sacrificed the 2008 season. But he went after CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett and Mark Teixeira that offseason and promptly won the World Series in 2009. So his plan worked. Does he have a similar plan now and will the Steinbrenners start messing it up?

I don’t think there will be further fallout from the Steinbrenners’ decision to overrule Cashman just yet. But all eyes will be wide open for any signs of a redux of Cashman vs the Steinbrenners.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Do the Yankees finally have a plan for life after Mo?

With the signing of Rafael Soriano, it looks like the New York Yankees finally have a plan for life after Mariano Rivera. But is it a solid plan?

Soriano’s talent, age and closing experience make him a natural choice to succeed Mo when the legendary closer finally decides to call it quits, perhaps when his new deal ends in two years (although I hope he keeps pitching for as long as he can). Soriano saved 45 games in 2010, helping the Tampa Bay Rays capture the American League East division title from the Yankees. Now he will come to New York and be the set-up guy, an apprentice to Mo rather than his immediate replacement, which alleviates the pressure.

Signing Soriano is a wise move on the part of Brian Cashman and the Yankees. It doesn’t directly address their most glaring need for another solid, reliable starting pitcher to share the load with CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes, but it improves their chances of winning if they can shorten games. It also salvages what has been to this point a rather disappointing offseason and helps the Yankees put a plan in motion for the day when they no longer are able to hand the ball to Mo and quickly put games into the victory column.

There is one major flaw in the plan. Soriano’s deal allows him to opt out of his contract after the first or second season. With agent Scott Boras, that’s a distinct possibility, especially if Boras thinks he can get Soriano more money later on. The fact that Soriano was even willing to come to the Bronx to set up for Mo could be a sign of good character, a willingness to wait his turn and a knowledge that he is not giving up his chance at another World Series run by leaving the Rays for the Yankees. But the cynic in me wonders whether he just came to New York to get the most money.

Overall, I think it’s a smart move by the Yankees. We’ll just have to see if Soriano can stick with the program.

Thanks to texas_mustang and UCinternational via Wikipedia for the photo.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Jeter ready to prove critics, Yankees wrong

Derek Jeter has heard all the criticisms of his recent job performance and the questions about whether he is getting too old to continue manning the shortstop position for the New York Yankees. He’s seems determined to prove all those critics, some of them residing in the Yankees front office, wrong.

During Jeter’s unnecessarily tense contract negotiations, Brian Cashman had the nerve to publicly raise questions about Jeter’s performance to justify the Yankees’ hard-line stance and dared him to seek offers from other teams after Jeter already let it be known he had no interest in testing the market. Jeter was clearly hurt by the nastiness of the Yankees’ vitriol, but I’m sure he realizes that the Yankees have concerns about him as a shortstop, even if they should have kept those concerns out of the media. He’s going to work extremely hard to prove that all these concerns are unfounded, that his best years aren’t behind him and that he has more Jeter-like seasons in him.

Jeter is ready and focused, starting to work on his swing a few weeks before spring training rather than enjoying the rest of his vacation. Despite all their nasty chatter, the Yankees have to be rooting for Jeter to do well, considering they do not have a shortstop anywhere need his caliber to replace him in their organization.

This is going to be an important season for Jeter. Barring a major injury, heaven forbid, he’s going to reach that magic 3,000-hit number that will guarantee admission into the Baseball Hall of Fame (even though realistically he is already a lock). But Jeter is going to have to prove to the Yankees and to the baseball world and to all his critics that he is not done, not by a long shot. Given the extra motivation, I expect Jeter to have a big year. I’m looking forward to him making the Yankees and the rest of his critics eat their words.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Hoffman always second fiddle to Mo Rivera

Closer Trevor Hoffman will retire as the only pitcher in baseball history to save 600 games, an extraordinary accomplishment. But sometime this year or next, Hoffman will likely find himself once again in a familiar position: playing second fiddle to Mariano Rivera.

Hoffman, whose best years came with the San Diego Padres, will end a terrific career with an all-time record 601 regular-season saves. Rivera just inked a two-year contract to continue closing games for the New York Yankees and only needs 42 more saves to catch Hoffman.

But Mo will still be considered the greatest closer in baseball history even if he does not surpass Hoffman because of his postseason dominance. Rivera has 41 postseason saves, by far the most of any pitcher and well above Hoffman’s four saves, and a miniscule 0.71 ERA pitching against the best teams in baseball during the playoffs. In their only significant head-to-head matchup, Mo helped the Yankees secure a quick and easy four-game sweep of the Padres while Hoffman gave up a 3-run blast to Scotty Brosius that sealed the Padres’ fate in the 1998 World Series.

Not that any of this matters much at this point since both men are going to the Hall of Fame, probably on the first ballot, despite the reluctance of the baseball writers to support the induction of modern closers such as Lee Smith and John Franco. Hoffman has had a fantastic career and earned the respect and admiration of people throughout baseball, including Rivera.

Hoffman was great. Mo was just better.

Thanks to Djh57 via Wikipedia for the photo.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Dallas Green's pain felt all over baseball

Every so often, we’re given a painful reminder that baseball is just a game. A terrible tragedy served as a reminder of that again this weekend.

Dallas Green, a former manager of the New York Yankees and Mets, is going through the worst kind of loss, the loss of a child. His granddaughter Christina Taylor Green was the youngest victim of a murderous rampage in Tucson, Arizona. Green adored his granddaughter and his pain is palpable. It’s a pain that’s being felt all over the baseball world.

My heart goes out to Green and his family. I thought it was terrible that a legislator and a judge were attacked by a madman, but when I heard that he shot and killed a child, my heart broke. I obviously don’t know Green and his family personally, but lots of baseball people do and are rushing to provide whatever comfort and support they can.

Unfortunately, I feel helpless to do anything and I’m sure many people feel the same way. I’m hoping that Bud Selig will announce that Major League Baseball will set up some kind of scholarship program for smart, ambitious kids like Christina to help them follow their dreams. That way at least something positive will come from this senseless tragedy.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Clemens still haunting former pal Pettitte

I don't know if the upcoming trial of Roger Clemens is causing Andy Pettitte to have doubts about returning to the New York Yankees for one final baseball season, but Clemens continues to haunt Pettitte on a personal level.

Bob Klapisch wrote a compelling column that raised the possibility that the Clemens’ situation is preventing a reunion between Pettitte and the Yankees, which Yankee fans desperately want and the team desperately needs. I would imagine Pettitte would have already told the Yankees he wasn’t coming back if the Clemens trial really was a factor in his decision process because he has no control over when he might be summoned to help send his pal to prison. More likely, Pettitte is just having a more difficult internal struggle than usual, with his oldest children just years away from college and coming off an injury-plagued second half that had Pettitte frustrated by his inability to help his team.

But Pettitte obviously still misses his former friend. His desire to rekindle the friendship was on full display during his Centerstage interview with Michael Kay last year. I don’t think he wants Clemens back in his life enough to lie for him on the stand, but a court appearance at the trial would be the final nail in the coffin of the friendship. I would suggest that a conviction of Clemens would finally release the strange hold he still seems to have on Pettitte except that I think Andy would just torment himself about the role he played in Clemens’ demise, even if all he did was put his hand on the Bible and tell the entire truth.

Putting the baseball issue aside, what I hope for Andy Pettitte is that he somehow finds peace with whatever happens with Clemens, that he realizes that Clemens made his own choices and has to live with the ramifications and that he appreciates the friendship for what it was, but finally figures out a way to move on.

Thanks to Keith Allison via Wikipedia for the photo.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Yankees must give Pettitte whatever he wants

I laughed when I saw a report that the New York Yankees were "willing" to pay Andy Pettitte $12-$13 million to come back for another year. The Yankees will give Pettitte whatever he wants, whether it’s as much time as he needs to make a decision or as much money as he wants.

A New York Post reporter seemingly violated unwritten baseball protocol by showing up at Pettitte’s doorstep uninvited to ask him the question that all of us Yankee fans are dying to hear a positive answer to: Are you coming back?

The Yankees are desperate for a yes on that one too. Brian Cashman is playing things unbelievably cool, not panicking and throwing tons of money at the lesser free agents still on the market just because he lost on out on Cliff Lee. But if Pettitte calls Cashman to tell the general manager he is on for another year, Cashman will be relieved and he will also have no choice but to give Andy whatever he wants.

Unlike with the Derek Jeter situation, Pettitte has all leverage and should use it to the fullest extent. If Cashman tries to say no on the money that Pettitte wants, the lefty can simply call it quits. And if he let people know that he was willing to come back, but the Yankees refused to acquiesce to his monetary demands, the Yankee faithful and the media will come down ultra-hard on Cashman and the Steinbrenners, perhaps even calling for Cashman’s head.

Don’t forget what happened the last time Pettitte left the Yankees. He pitched masterfully in the 2003 World Series, simply getting outdueled by a young Josh Beckett in Game 6 despite another great postseason performance. He then took a lot less money to go home to Houston and the Yankees suffered the indignity of blowing a 3-0 lead in the 2004 American League Championship Series and watching the Red Sox finally reverse the curse with a World Series championship. That happened in large part because Joe Torre didn’t have a reliably clutch Pettitte to stop the bleeding. With the retooled Red Sox gunning for the Bronx Bombers this year, the Yankees have to be desperate to avoid a 2004 redux.

So the Yankees won’t push Pettitte for an answer. They will just wait patiently and pray that he decides he has another year in him and then write a nice, fat check if his answer is yes.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Better late than never for Blyleven, Alomar

I’ve spent so much time (and two blog posts) on the guys that didn’t make it into the Baseball Hall of Fame that I haven’t congratulated the two deserving players who did become members of the exclusive club: Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven.

For Blyleven, the 14th time was a charm. He finally cleared the 75% hurdle for induction this year after coming painfully close last year, falling less than a percentage point shy of election. Despite lingering doubts about his resume and whether he was dominating enough to be considered a Hall of Famer, Blyleven’s candidacy got a nice boost in recent years from the rise of the stat geeks, who continue to insist that wins and losses don’t tell the whole story.

Alomar only had to wait one year, but it shouldn’t even have been that long. His Hall credentials were never in doubt, but the voters decided to punish him for the infamous spitting incident with John Hirschbeck and his subsequent disclosure of the umpire’s personal sorrow over the death of his son. But Alomar long ago asked for and received forgiveness from Hirschbeck, who for years has been one of his biggest supporters. Alomar is also dealing with some very questionable issues in his personal life, but those have nothing to do with his performance on the baseball field.

So two guys who deserve to be in the Hall of Fame finally got in. Perhaps they’ll be joined next year by Barry Larkin and Jack Morris, two players who have the credentials to be in the Hall, but are still waiting for that call.

Thanks to ConspiracyofHappiness via Wikipedia for the photo.

Yankees getting little love from Hall voters

Once again, no player who wore a New York Yankees uniform got anywhere close to the Baseball Hall of Fame. I wouldn’t call it a snub, but the former Yankees currently eligible for enshrinement are not getting much love from the writers.

Legendary Yankee Don Mattingly has more important things to worry about, namely prepping for his first season as a big-league manager. But it’s disappointing that Donnie Baseball continues to slip in the voting, falling from 16.1% last year to about 13.6% in 2011. But Mattingly seems at peace with not making the Hall as a player. Perhaps he can follow in his mentor Joe Torre’s footsteps by becoming a Hall of Fame manager (as Torre will soon gain entrance on the strength of his stewardship of the 1990s Yankee dynasty).

In his 9th year on the ballet, closer Lee Smith is also watching the Hall slip further away from his grasp. His 478 career saves (third-most in baseball history behind Trevor Hoffman and Mariano Rivera) are just not getting any respect from the voters. He still has six more years of eligibility, but his vote totals have not made the slow, but steady upward movement that would indicate he has any chance to make the Hall.

But Tim Raines, a beloved teammate during his baseball career, is inching upward after garnering 37.5% of the vote, up from 30.4% last year and 22-24% during his first two years. Raines was one of the most dynamic leadoff hitters in the game and that, combined with his popularity, works in his favor. Given that he still has more than 10 years of eligibility left, he could follow Bert Blyleven’s slow path toward enshrinement.

None of the other eligible former Yankees will even get another chance at the Hall after falling well short of the 5% needed to stay on the ballot. My boy Tino Martinez only received the support of six writers in his first year of eligibility. I wasn’t expecting Tino to get anywhere close to enough votes for enshrinement, but I was hoping for a better showing for a guy who was such an integral part of the last Yankee dynasty.

At this rate, the Yankees may have to wait until Mariano Rivera or Derek Jeter retires before they get another player into the Hall.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Hall voters right to keep steroid users out

There is no longer any question that the writers deciding who gets into the Baseball Hall of Fame are determined to keep out players linked to performance-enhancing drugs. Good for them. It’s the right decision.

I am a firm believer that no players linked to steroids or human growth hormone should be allowed into the Hall, but even I was shocked by the minimal support for the candidates whose careers are now forever marred by their PED usage.

Rafael Palmeiro was considered by some observers to be a borderline first-ballot Hall of Famer simply because of his numbers. While some writers view Palmeiro as an accumulator of stats rather than a legendary player worthy of enshrinement, his 11% vote total makes it clear that his positive drug test will likely keep him out of the Hall. Ditto for Juan Gonzalez, who at one point was one of the most feared hitters and the highest paid player in the game, but could only muster about 5% support.

The hardest call for me would have been Jeff Bagwell. He was one of the great players of his generation and he got the 6th highest vote total. But it’s apparent that the majority of voters suspect that his numbers are based on PED use and will not vote for him, just like they didn’t vote for Mark McGwire before he confirmed his steroids use. I’m one of those people who believe you can’t hold something against a guy just because you think he did it, but I clearly have the minority opinion here.

The writers deserve high praise for taking an unpopular stance, one that I wholeheartedly agree with. I’ve long been bothered by the lack of punishment for PED users. These players got away with, and many were made ridiculously rich by, their bad behavior during their playing days. I don’t think they should be rewarded any further. For some of these players, the lack of Hall support will be a huge blow to their egos and therefore a just punishment.

Thanks to Googie man via Wikipedia for the photo.

Monday, January 3, 2011

AJ Burnett's birthday wish for rebound year

What do you get for a guy who has everything? Well if it’s AJ Burnett, that’s a tough one since his biggest birthday wish is probably to put a hellacious 2010 season behind him and put forth a better performance in 2011.

Aside from wishing media phonies like ESPN's Colin Cowherd would stop speculating about the state of his marriage, Burnett probably wants nothing more than to have a rebound year and prove that he can be a dependable pitcher for the New York Yankees, to show that Brian Cashman didn’t just throw away $65 million on him. Burnett seems to take it badly when he thinks he let his team down, which he did in 2010 and likely desperately wants to reverse that stigma.

I’d like to believe he can do it. Remember, this guy started off last season like gangbusters, looking like a legitimate ace while CC Sabathia was still looking for his groove. More importantly, Burnett was a pivotal performer in the 2009 playoffs, helping the Yankees secure critical Game 2 victories in three different series. But first he has to deal with whatever mental issue handcuffs him out on the mound.

Cashman and Joe Girardi have expressed confidence that Burnett can be a reliable pitcher for them again. They have no choice but to believe that, especially if Andy Pettitte walks away for good. They need Burnett to show that he can harness all that talent and finally become a stud pitcher befitting his potential. Burnett probably wants that too.

Happy Birthday, AJ. Blow out your candles and hope your birthday wish comes true.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Yankees happy to say goodbye to 2010

The New York Yankees must be thrilled that 2010 is finally over, considering all the miserable events they suffered through.

At the top of the list has to be the death of iconic owner George Steinbrenner, even if his passing was perfectly timed to escape the estate tax that could have forced his heirs to sell the team. Love him or hate him, the Boss’ willingness to outspend every other team in baseball and pursue the best players with unmatched vigor played a critical role in the success of the Yankee franchise. But the Yankees also lost their heart & soul with the death of legendary announcer Bob Sheppard.

The stated goal of the Yankees every year is to win the World Series so the loss to the Texas Rangers in the American League Championship Series ranks as the worst on-field moment. After easily stomping over their perennial doormat Minnesota Twins, the Yankees were embarrassed by the Rangers. They looked old and inflexible and manager Joe Girardi took his questionable in-game decision making to new levels.

The Yankees have also been losing the offseason battle to the Boston Red Sox, a team that has showed a determination to get back to the playoffs by pulling off a trade for one of the brightest stars in the game in Adrian Gonzalez and signing another young superstar in Carl Crawford. In just those two moves, the Saux created a mighty lineup that promises to wreak havoc in the American League.

In contrast, the Yankees offseason has been characterized by an ugly contract dispute with Derek Jeter in which the team publicly questioned their captain’s ability to continue to perform at a high level and portrayed him as another greedy athlete, a portrayal that resonated with a lot of fans likely due to their personal financial struggles. Ironically though, Jeter was just ranked as the most beloved athlete in New York, suggesting that the shortstop emerged from the clash without any permanent scars.

What does all this mean for 2011? With Girardi returning to pencil in nearly the same lineup every day (with the exception of Jorge Posada becoming a full time designated hitter), the prospects for improving on last season’s performance don’t look terribly promising. If the Yankees fail to make a major move before spring training, they will go into another season hoping that a fresh start will be enough to dispel the memory of a miserable 2010 season.

Thanks to the New York Yankees and MLB via Wikipedia for the photo.