Sunday, July 31, 2011

Yankees feel no pressure to make bad deal

The New York Yankees didn't feel like they had to make a trade so they didn't.

Unlike previous years, Brian Cashman felt comfortable enough to walk away from all the potential deals presented to him. He didn't see anyone available that was that much better than what he has on his current big-league roster and didn't want to compromise the gems in his minor-league system.

With the Yankees playing pretty well, just two games behind the Boston Red Sox in the division and with a fairly comfortable lead in the wild card race, Cashman & Co felt no pressure to make a bad deal. Cashman wouldn’t have hesitated to pull the trigger on a good deal, but he just didn't feel the price was right on any of the players he was offered.

It feels strange watching the Yankees stand pat at the trade deadline, especially compared to the Red Sox, who made a couple of trades, including one for Erik Bedard that could help bolster their troubled starting rotation. But I don't have a problem with the Yankees not succumbing to the pressure and making an unwise trade.

The Yankees do have to prove they can beat the Red Sox at some point this season. They will just have to do it with their current roster.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Girardi off base on shorter double header games

Joe Girardi wants to shorten doubleheader games to seven innings. It's a bad idea for the fans.

Girardi is thinking like the manager of the New York Yankees when he says things like that, as he should be. And he is right that these doubleheaders are physically taxing, which is why each team being allowed an extra player just for the day would be a good idea.

But Girardi's solution is wrong for one reason: it cheats the fans. If we pay for nine innings of baseball, we should get nine innings of baseball, especially since doubleheaders are usually played these days for weather reasons beyond our control. I don't even like it when games are shortened by rain and not played to completion because they are official games with five innings in the books. I think the Yankees have been good about offering free tickets to non-premium games to fans inconvenienced by lengthy rain delays, but it’s unfair when fans pay high ticket prices – especially the prices at the new Yankee Stadium – and don’t get to see the full games.

I would not be in favor of a league-wide rule automatically shortening doubleheader games. I would imagine such a change would be a non-starter with Bud Selig, who is rightly wary of accusations that Major League Baseball is cheating its fans.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Irabu suicide sad news on all levels

News of Hideki Irabu's apparent suicide is just tragic and sad on all levels.

The former pitcher for the New York Yankees never quite lived up to the hype, which may have been one of the reasons he grew so despondent that he took his own life. But whatever drove him to such a tragic choice, I feel terrible for his wife and children, now left behind with too many questions that will never be answered. Perhaps he just felt crushed by the ridiculously high expectations for the man once dubbed the Japanese Nolan Ryan (really could anyone live up to that?).

The Yankees released a lovely statement expressing remorse over the news and deep sympathy for Irabu's family. Ironically, it might have been the kindest words the Yankees ever had for Irabu. The organization, led by George Steinbrenner, was incredibly tough on Irabu (sometimes with good reason, but unfairly and just plain spiteful at times) because of the millions paid to get him, but Irabu just couldn’t meet those high expectations. But in spite of whatever bad feelings the Yankees may have held toward Irabu for his time in pinstripes, there seems to be genuine sorrow over how his life ended.

It's a very sad day in the Yankees universe. RIP, Hideki Irabu.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Phil Hughes must now fight for his job

The message was unmistakable, if not a bit unfair: Phil Hughes must now fight to keep his job.

Joe Girardi didn’t dismiss the possibility that Hughes could be forced out of the New York Yankees rotation in favor of Ivan Nova, who was pitching very well before his unearned demotion. But Hughes is more of a proven commodity than Nova so that was an easy call. Banishing Hughes to the bullpen in favor of Nova won’t be that easy.

To be fair, Girardi put a positive spin on Hughes’ outing by saying his stuff was better and the righty pitched out of some jams and left with minimal damage. But the Yankees manager acknowledged that Hughes could be better and was still not quite the pitcher he was last year when he won 18 games.

Hughes is always the most honest person in evaluating his own performances, never feeling the need to spin his outings the way his manager does. “Better isn’t really saying all that much compared to the last outing,” Hughes said, referring to his failure to last through five innings in his previous start.

Hughes, once again showing his maturity, barely blinked when Kim Jones asked him the very uncomfortable question about Girardi opening the door to him being replaced in the Yankees rotation. But I can’t imagine he was happy hearing from a reporter that his job could be in jeopardy.

It seems a bit unfair considering that the issue that has hampered Hughes this year is a health issue (one that may be partly the Yankees fault because of the way they have used him in a failed effort to protect him). Plus, I don’t see Girardi opening the door to AJ Burnett losing his job, even though he is far more erratic than Hughes could ever be (Burnett’s bigger paycheck gives him a longer leash apparently). But perhaps Hughes can use the indirect threat to his job as motivation for the rest of the season.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Rain not Mariners CC Sabathia's real opponent

For CC Sabathia, the rain was his real opponent last night, not the hapless Seattle Mariners.

Sabathia was so focused and sharp that for about 90 minutes it looked like he was going to accomplish one of baseball's most challenging feats: the perfect game. It helped that the team he was facing on the field was a total mess after losing 16 straight games up to that point. But the way Sabathia looked yesterday in throwing strike after perfectly placed strike, it didn't look like anyone could stop him. And no one did. But the rain accomplished what the Mariners could not.

If the rain hadn't started pouring down at the stadium, I truly believe we would be talking about Sabathia becoming the latest member of the New York Yankees to achieve baseball immortality. It was fitting that David Cone was in the building last night. He was the last member of the Yankees to pitch a perfect game and he did so with the added distraction of a brief rain delay, which made you think that the Yankees big lefty could also pull of the miracle. But the baseball gods just weren't on CC's side last night, as shown by not one but two rain delays.

I just hope Sabathia's near-perfecto doesn't distract from what was another terrific performance by a pitcher who is on such a roll that calling it a roll doesn't do it justice. CC is on his way to winning his first Cy Young Award as a member of the Yankees.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

HOPE week off to another inspiring start

The New York Yankees are once again bringing hope to those who deserve it the most and receiving hope in return.

The Yankees third annual HOPE week is off to another inspiring start. The first day had Nick Swisher, Francisco Cervelli, Chris Dickerson and Russell Martin singing with members of Daniel's Music Foundation, which provides free music instruction to individuals with disabilities. As the aunt of a disabled child, it really lifts my spirits to see the Yankees get involved with such a cause.

With the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks fast approaching, it was also nice to see the Yankees highlight an organization such as Tuesday’s Children that has done so much to help kids recover from that day and other horrific tragedies. Current Yankees manager Joe Girardi and former Yankees manager Joe Torre led the very large Yankee contingent that spent the day with the kids in the program and the adults who mentor them.

I love that the Yankees players get so much obvious joy from their interactions with these well-deserving honorees, especially the kids. The players have just as much fun at these events as the fans they are honoring, as shown by the impromptu water balloon fight that broke out today. I really do love seeing the Yankees so willing to share their time with people who have suffered and overcome so much.

I want to give a shout-out to public relations director Jason Zillo, who had the foresight to understand that the Yankees can bring joy to people who deserve it the most through these simple interactions. What Zillo probably didn’t anticipate was that his players would receive as much hope as they give.

Another HOPE week brings another week of beautiful stories.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Congrats to baseball's newest Hall of Famers

For at least one day, baseball got its groove back thanks to its newest Hall of Famers.

Baseball finally had one day of peace and celebration amid the nasty dispute between Major League Baseball and Los Angeles Dodgers and the cloud of another possible Roger Clemens trial renewing the spotlight on the sport's troubled history with performance-enhancing drugs. All of that negativity was put to the side for a day as the Hall of Fame welcomed its newest members: second baseman Robert Alomar, pitcher Bert Blyleven and general manager Pat Gillick. From the video, it looks like it was an incredibly fun parade and ceremony, which must have pleased Bud Selig to no end.

All three members were worthy of enshrinement. After the surprise of being made to wait a year despite his impressive resume, Alomar seemed humbled and overcome by the honor. Blyleven’s wait was much, much longer (probably too long), but he seemed equally thrilled at finally getting his day in the sun. And I was happy to see Gillick honored for a lifetime of work behind the scenes that too often goes unnoticed.

Just once, I would love to be in Cooperstown for the Hall of Fame ceremonies (perhaps when the baseball writers finally show some love to former members of the New York Yankees). It would be nice to experience the celebration that close and to cast aside the negativity that overshadows my favorite sport, at least for one day.

Congratulations to the well-deserving new members of the Hall of Fame!

Thanks to ConspiracyofHappiness via Wikipedia for the photo.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Glow of 3,000 hits fades quickly for Jeter

Well that didn't last long.

The glow from Derek Jeter’s 3,000th hit lasted a mere 48 hours and has now been thoroughly replaced by negativity. It started with the widespread criticism of the New York Yankees shortstop all around baseball about his absence at the All-Star game. Now, amid intense speculation, Joe Girardi has bumped Jeter out of the leadoff spot in favor of Brett Gardner, a move that will thrill the talk-radio junkies.

Girardi was going to have to make the move sooner or later. Jeter was hitting in futility too often to stay at the top of the lineup. And with Alex Rodriguez on the shelf, the Yankees need all the offense they can get. But the real problem for Girardi happens when ARod returns from the disabled list and reclaims the clean-up spot. If Gardner stays in the leadoff spot and the two, three and five spots belong to Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano, where does Girardi pencil in Jeter? Can you imagine Jeter being dropped to sixth, or worse, in the bottom third of the lineup? That would be a major controversy that would make the All-Star smack-down look like a walk in the park.

The sooner Jeter is permanently dropped in the lineup, the sooner the talk will turn to how long he should be the Yankees every day shortstop, talk that will burn up the phone lines once Jose Reyes hits free agency. Jeter bristles at criticism, but he better prepare himself because he will hear a lot of it for the rest of his career.

The talk about Jeter isn’t all bad, as seen in this column outlining why Jeter could get 100% of the Hall of Fame vote when he becomes eligible. I doubt that would happen because there are way too many Jeter critics who think he is overrated because he plays in New York. But it’s a nice sentiment amid a flood of negativity about the Yankees Captain.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Soriano must prove he belongs in the 8th inning

Rafael Soriano is paid like a closer to set up games for a closer who is going to the Hall of Fame. But he is going to have to win back the 8th inning job if he really wants it.

New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi wouldn't commit to Soriano being automatically given back his set-up job when he returns from the disabled list. Good for Girardi. Sure, Soriano is earning big bucks to be the 8th inning guy, but he was not very effective in that role before he went on the DL. In contrast, worthy All-Star David Robertson has pitched like a legitimate set-up guy (and a possible successor as closer whenever Mariano Rivera decides to hang up his spikes). Aside from some times when Robertson has made things interesting with a few too many walks, he has done the job beautifully and much better than Soriano did before his DL stint.

But Girardi also has to figure out a way to soothe Soriano's feelings, which may force the Yankees manager to give him extra points in the competition for the 8th inning job. Girardi knows that Robertson is a good guy and a team-first player and will do whatever his manager asks him to do without complaint. Soriano, on the other hand, may not go as quietly.

Soriano’s ego already took a beating in the offseason when he was forced to take a job as Rivera's set-up man and give up his closer role to get the money that he wanted. But Soriano probably still sees himself as a closer and while he was willing to settle for setting up for a future Hall of Famer and an iconic Yankee in Rivera, I doubt he will feel the same way about being Robertson's set-up man.

But Soriano must prove he belongs in the 8th inning. Nothing is guaranteed, especially not in Yankee land.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Will the Yankees get Jimenez from the Rockies?

Will the New York Yankees get Ubaldo Jimenez from the Colorado Rockies? Do they even need him?

With an unreliable AJ Burnett and a still-recovering Phil Hughes as the probable 2-3 starters in the playoffs, Brian Cashman probably wouldn't mind adding Jimenez to the Yankees rotation right after CC Sabathia. And no one should be surprised if Cashman pulls off a trade for the young and affordable ace of the Rockies. But I also wouldn't be surprised to see Jimenez end up elsewhere or even stay put, given the reported asking price. I don’t think Cashman is going to give up the farm he has worked so hard to develop.

Would losing out on Jimenez be a serious blow to the Yankees? No, not for the regular season. Jimenez was impressive when I saw him pitch against the Yankees last month, especially in comparison to Burnett who was pitching for the Yankees (at a painfully slow and ineffective pace, as my niece couldn’t help but note). He would be great in the Yankees rotation, but they don’t need him to make the playoffs. But they may need someone like him to beat the Red Sox in the postseason.

However, if Cashman loses out on Jimenez, he will be undeterred and will simply move on to the next target, whoever that may be. Perhaps more bargain shopping for the general manager who signed Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia, the most welcome surprises of the season for the Yankees. Neither one is any ace anymore like the young Jimenez, but they’re good enough for the regular season. And Cashman may still have a trick up his sleeve for a legitimate #2 to pair up with CC. Stay tuned.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Hughes takes positive 1st step in regaining form

Phil Hughes had a good day today and the New York Yankees are both thrilled and relieved.

It wasn’t just about getting his first win or lowering that monstrous ERA for Hughes. The righty had to show Joe Girardi and his staff that he could make his pitches and maintain his velocity and he did both of those things. Hughes gave up only two runs in six innings and made big pitches when he needed to get out of jams, getting plenty of swings and misses. Even more reassuring was his dominance in his last two innings because it’s a sign he is getting his strength back after his lengthy stint on the disabled list.

Hughes didn’t seem as happy as Girardi was with his outing, but I think the pitcher definitely took more positives from this start than his first one back before the All-Star game. Plus, I think the fact that he tried to talk his manager and pitching coach into letting him go out for the 7th inning
is a sign that he is regaining his confidence. But I think Girardi was absolutely right to pull Hughes when he did so that the young righty could leave the ballpark feeling good about his outing.

So it was a positive first step for the Yankees pitcher, one that Hughes and the Yankees hope he can build on next time out on the mound.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Jeter bats down All-Star game skip talk

As usual, Derek Jeter deflected the controversy about his decision to skip the All-Star game, but he seemed annoyed that it even became an issue.

Jeter has become a magnet for unfair and unwarranted comments and criticism, as shown by this column. Really who the hell is this guy to tell Jeter that he needs to spend more of his money on his Turn 2 Foundation, which has already helped hundreds of kids over the past 15 years? People have ridiculously high expectations for athletes such as Jeter, mostly revolving around the fact that they make so much money. But as long as they are doing their jobs to the best of their abilities and not engaging in any criminal or other behavior that would threaten that, I don’t think we fans have the right to expect more from them than that.

Jeter’s first obligation is to the New York Yankees and if he felt that he needed to use those three days to rest his calf so he could be ready for the second half, I have absolutely no problem with that. But a lot of people don’t agree. They think that if Jeter was voted to the All-Star game, then he was obligated to attend, especially since he went 5 for 5 in reaching the magic 3,000 hits mark. They fail to recognize that one good day at the plate didn’t mean Jeter’s injury was completely healed. Jeter is notorious for not wanting to admit to being hurt or needing a break so the fact that he said he needed those days off to rest the calf told me he wasn’t 100% healthy.

As angry as some people are, I don’t think there will be any long-term damage to Jeter’s reputation. The Yankees shortstop is insanely popular (the most popular male athlete in the US according to this poll) and while a small number of fans may desert him, I think most will quickly move past this, as will Jeter.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Relief or agony for Pettitte over Clemens mistrial?

I can’t help but wonder what Andy Pettitte is feeling right now. Is he relieved about the judge’s decision to declare a mistrial in the Roger Clemens case or is it causing him more agony?

Pettitte could be relieved and glad that the mistrial happened because of the possibility that the prosecution will not be able to retry Clemens. That would save Pettitte from being forced to give evidence against Clemens, a guy he still loves dearly even though they are estranged. More importantly to Pettitte, it would keep his former New York Yankees teammate and workout partner out of jail.

But the delay could also be torture for Pettitte because he now has to wait a few more months before he knows whether he will have to be the star witness against his pal Clemens, the one person whose words could have the most influence in sending Clemens to jail. As much as Pettitte was probably dreading the trial, he may have also wanted to get it over with so that he can move on with his life.

But we probably will never know as Pettitte is now retired and has gone mostly into seclusion with his family. Pettitte, whose own actions in using performance-enhancing drugs was terribly wrong and damaged the game of baseball, is one of the nicer guys in sports and loyal to a fault. I think this has to be killing him.

Roger Clemens could walk away scot-free

Federal prosecutors have shown great skill in pursuing terrorists and other evildoers, but for some reason they seem completely incompetent when it comes to prosecuting Roger Clemens. And because of that incompetence, Clemens could walk away scot-free.

The prosecutors had DNA evidence (a must for juries these days as we now know all too well from the Casey Anthony spectacle) and they had an honest and unimpeachable witness in Andy Pettitte, among other pieces of evidence. You would have thought they would make sure their case was tighter than a drum. Instead, the trial falls apart after barely starting because someone failed to check a videotape to ensure it had been edited to exclude Laura Pettitte’s backing of her husband’s version of events, which the judge specifically barred. If Clemens ends up walking because of this colossal error, whoever was in charge of that video should lose his or her job.

The judge will decide in a few months if Clemens can be subjected to a new trial, which would start this spectacle all over again. The only positive of the delay is that it pushes everything back several months so if New York Yankees designated hitter Jorge Posada does have to testify (he was a surprising entry on the prosecution’s witness list), it probably won’t come during the middle of the baseball season.

I have long been frustrated by the fact that baseball players who used performance-enhancing drugs will probably not face any real consequences. Barry Bonds was convicted of obstruction of justice, but the jury deadlocked on perjury charges and I doubt that Bonds will do any real jail time. Clemens could be the next one to get away with what he did.

Scores of ballplayers taking PEDs caused irreversible damage to the game of baseball and most of them will not have to answer for it. The only punishment will come at the hands of the baseball writers, who will withhold their Hall of Fame votes for Bonds (never their favorite guy anyway) now that he has been convicted of at least something and will be watching (and probably hoping) to see if Clemens suffers the same fate.

Even if Clemens walks away legally, he should be kept out of the Hall. The guy has disgraced the game of baseball and should answer for it one way or the other.

Thanks to Keith Allison via Wikipedia for the photo.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Yankees locked and loaded for second half

The New York Yankees will likely make a big move in the second half simply because they are the New York Yankees. But they really don't have to.

Not to sound cocky, but I think the Yankees are in great shape. The key, of course, is their pitching. CC Sabathia is just off-the charts good right now and he is usually even better in the second half of the year. The arm injury to Phil Hughes could turn into a blessing in disguise if he can bounce back in the last three months and dominate like he did in the first half of the 2010 season. Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia just need to keep doing exactly what they have been doing, keeping their team in games and even dominating at times. If AJ Burnett ever started pitching like the #2 guy that he is supposed to be, then the Yankees would be unstoppable. But I’m not counting on it.

My only concern in the bullpen is health, particularly the health of Mariano Rivera after he had the arm problem last week. As long as he and David Robertson are healthy, I think the Yankees won’t need bullpen help. But Brian Cashman is probably scavenging for another lefty arm just in case Boone Logan starts getting drilled by lefty batters again. Rafael Soriano is supposed to be back in 7-10 days, but I’m not counting on anything from him and I don’t think he should just be given the 8th inning job back without proving himself first.

Even without Alex Rodriguez, I think the Yankees lineup will be fine. Curtis Granderson had a monster first half and Robinson Cano may be the best pure hitter in baseball. Eduardo Nunez proved he can handle the bat subbing for Derek Jeter, who will have a much-better second half now that he is free of the pressure of 3,000 hits.

The Yankees are locked and loaded. The second half of the year should be a lot of fun.

KRod trade a sign of things to come for Mets

New York Mets general manager Sandy Alderson insisted that his trade of Francisco Rodriguez was simply about payroll flexibility heading into the 2012 baseball season. I don’t buy it. I think it’s a sign of things to come.

KRod is the first player to head out the Citi Field door, but he won’t be the only one. It’s a shame because the Mets players and coaches have fought their way to a better record than anyone could have imagined. They still have an outside chance of getting a wild card berth. But they only have about two weeks to move several games closer to the top of the pack or their most tradable players are out of here. If I was Carlos Beltran, I would start packing now.

The Mets ownership and front office are taking a frustrating wait-and-see approach. If they really saw their team as legitimate contenders, they would make it clear that Beltran and Jose Reyes are not on the trading block and give this team a real chance to fight for a playoff berth. But it almost seems as if the Mets brass is waiting for their team to stumble so they have an excuse to engage in a fire sale before the trading deadline.

If the Mets are going to give up on their season, they should do the decent thing and stop teasing their fans and start talking about how they are rebuilding toward next year and beyond. But, of course, they won’t be honest about their plans out of fear of alienating their loyal fan base. It just doesn’t seem fair that they will continue to string along their fans. If I were a Mets fan, I would be really frustrated right now.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Dull All-Star game leaves something to be desired

I’m just going to come out and say it: last night’s All-Star game was pretty dull.

I hate the Home Run Derby. I’m a pitching and defense kind of fan so watching guys compete solely on who can hit the most baseballs out of the ballpark is boring to me. I only watched the derby this year to support Robinson Cano. But I have to admit that the derby was more exciting and emotional than the actual game, thanks to Cano and his dad.

For me, the first few innings of the game were fun. I loved seeing Roy Halladay and Jared Weaver dominate the hitters. But once Prince Fielder hit that three-run home run, it was like the life was sucked out of the ballpark. I know a lot of those fans aren’t very happy with Fielder these days, but Phoenix is still a National League city. Couldn’t they have shown a little more enthusiasm for the guy?

From a New York Yankees perspective, the highlight was David Robertson acting like a kid in a candy store when he took the mound in relief, excitedly cheering a fantastic catch made on his behalf by Jose Bautista (who showed the baseball world he can be more than just a hot bat). I don’t think there was a player who was happier to be there than Robertson (or more deserving) and I hope he enjoyed every bit of his All-Star experience.

Some of the best game stories happen behind the scenes and that was exactly the case for Russell Martin. I was disappointed that he was the only Yankees player not to get into the game. But that disappointment quickly gave way to pride and admiration when I found out that Martin willingly gave up his spot in the game so that young Matt Wieters could play in his first All-Star game. It was a truly selfless gesture by Martin (who has quickly become a fan favorite in the Bronx). I hope young Mr. Wieters pays it forward.

But overall it was a pretty boring game, even though it gave the National League home field advantage in the World Series. I can only hope Major League Baseball finds a way to spice things up next year because “This time it counts” isn’t doing the trick anymore.

Selig does serious Jeter damage control

Bud Selig did serious damage control yesterday after an unnamed Major League Baseball official criticized Derek Jeter for skipping the All-Star game. It was a wise move on the commissioner's part.

When baseball players and pundits couldn't wait to jump on the Jeter-bashing bandwagon, Selig stepped up to voice his unequivocal support for the New York Yankees shortstop. The commissioner claimed that he had no problem at all with Jeter taking several days off following his historic, but exhausting and pressure-filled pursuit of 3,000 hits.

I don't know if Selig truly believes what he was saying, but he was very convincing. I doubt that the commissioner was happy about Jeter's decision to skip the game (the unnamed official may have been voicing the commissioner's true feelings), but Selig is smart enough to know that he cannot let baseball's best role model take that kind of heat.

But this shouldn’t have even become an issue. Selig can’t control what players, former players and media guys say about Jeter, but he should have told his own people to keep their mouths shut. Jeter has been and done everything MLB could have ever asked for and the one time he skips the game for some much-needed rest should not have become a bigger controversy because of that anonymous quote (and I’m truly sick of sportswriters and other reporters allowing sources anonymity just to take gratuitous shots at other people—insist it’s on the record or don’t allow them to take such cheap shots).

I’m sure Jeter is unhappy that his decision has become so controversial and he is the last person Selig & Co want to alienate. The commissioner better hope Jeter is more forgiving than usual or he might find himself getting the Alex Rodriguez treatment for a few years.

I’m truly surprised at the level of criticism Jeter is facing by a lot of people who have no idea what it feels like to be under that kind of pressure. I can’t blame the Yankees Captain for wanting some time away from all the negativity. Selig was wise to come to Jeter’s defense and I hope the commissioner’s comments temper some of this unfair criticism. But I seriously doubt it. Jeter is way too easy a target these days.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Jeter gets unfair flak for skipping All-Star game

Derek Jeter is not the only member of the New York Yankees who will skip the All-Star festivities to get some much-needed rest, but he seems to be getting the most flak for that decision.

There is a growing sentiment among some baseball observers that Jeter is obligated to attend the All-Star game even though he will not play to allow his calf injury to continue to heal. The thought is that Jeter owes the fans at least an appearance at the game, even if he does not plan to play, because the fans were kind enough to vote him in as the starting shortstop despite his sub-par year. The jeers for Jeter have gotten louder since he went 5 for 5 and blew past the 3,000th hit mark on Saturday, which some have taken as evidence that his calf is well enough to play baseball without restrictions. The backlash is somewhat surprising to me, and quite frankly unfair, considering that Jeter has never before declined to participate in an All-Star game and just got off the disabled list a week ago, but everything Jeter-related tends to be controversial these days.

CC Sabathia is vacationing in the Bahamas with his family (kind of jealous because I’ve never been there), yet he is not taking any heat so far from his decision to skip the All-Star game. Maybe that's because he was snubbed in the initial selections, was only named to the team as a replacement two days ago (well after he made his vacation plans) and can't pitch anyway since his gem on Sunday.

My feeling is that Jeter and the rest of the New York Yankees (and players from other teams as well) are under no obligation to play in the All-Star game and well within their rights to turn down the invitation, particularly if they are nursing a recent injury. I don't even have a problem with CC wanting to spend more time with his kids (baseball players are away from their families for too long during the regular season). I don't think we have any right to demand that Jeter and Sabathia get on a plane to Arizona (where it will be brutally hot and uncomfortable) just to wave to the fans.

I understand the disappointment that some fans may feel over not seeing these great Yankees in the game, especially if they paid a lot of money for those tickets. But the All-Star game is an exhibition, despite the "This time it counts" mantra of having the game decide home-field advantage in the World Series, and the players have every right to pass on the entire spectacle if they wish.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Robertson deserving addition to All-Star roster

David Robertson is going to the All-Star game and no one deserves it more.

Having been passed over in the initial selections, likely due to an unspoken bias against set-up relievers, Robertson finally got a well-deserved spot on the roster of baseball’s best after Tampa Bay Rays starter David Price bowed out due to a minor toe injury. It’s probably not the way Robertson wanted to make the team, but he will take it and enjoy it.

You could not wipe the smile off of Robertson’s face yesterday. He grinned with genuine excitement and happiness when reporters asked him about his first trip to the All-Star game. There probably has never been a guy so eager to give up his three-day vacation to go to work.

New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi was equally happy for his reliever and thrilled he got the chance to break the good news to Robertson personally. Girardi started his Robertson for the All-Star game campaign weeks ago and for it to finally happen was obviously rewarding for both the player and the manager. I have to imagine that this is one of the bright spots of being a baseball manager and Girardi could not be happier for his player. As am I.

Congratulations, Dave!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Honest Derek shows his true emotions

Not Honest Abe, but Honest Derek.

Watching Derek Jeter circle the bases after hitting the home run for hit #3,000 was one of those moments where it felt like we were finally seeing the real Derek Jeter after all these years. He was smiling ear to ear, openly celebrating his milestone (but not in a way that showed up the Tampa Bay Rays) and had that huge smile still plastered on his face when he was greeted by best pal Jorge Posada and the rest of the New York Yankees at home plate.

But it was even more refreshing and enlightening watching Jeter in his post-game interviews admit to being relieved that the pursuit is over and that he was feeling pressure to achieve the milestone at home in front of the Yankee faithful. Jeter admitted that he was lying to the media when he tried to act like the pressure wasn’t getting to him and that he wasn’t upset about the Rays refusing to play the split doubleheader, robbing him of an extra home game to get the hits he needed before the All-Star game.

During his post-game interview with Kim Jones on the field, Jeter started to get emotional when he heard the fans chanting his name over and over and Jones asked him how he felt about it, which he responded to by waving his cap at his fans. He showed even more emotion during the press conference after, which was yet another indication of just how much it meant to him to do what he did at home.

Jeter is never going to be Nick Swisher, wearing his emotions on his sleeve for the world to see. But I am heartened to see him start to be so open, whether it’s Jeter admitting to being angry at the Yankees for the way they treated him during his contract negotiations to him allowing camera crews into his castle to document his journey to 3,000 to his thrilling gift to New York and mutual love affair with the Yankees faithful yesterday afternoon. After all these years, we’re starting to see some of the real Derek Jeter and it’s quite a sight to see.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Congratulations, Derek Jeter!

Talk about a guy having a flair for the dramatic.

Derek Jeter, a player not known for being a home run hitter, achieves his historic 3,000th hit with a home run. Boy, if there was ever a guy born to play on the big stage in New York for the New York Yankees, it is Derek Jeter.

The look on the Yankee Captain’s face was priceless. First, he gave an emphatic clap of the hands rounding first base when he realized the ball was gone for a homer, passing by Tampa Bay Rays first baseman Casey Kotchman, who tipped his hat to the captain in a very classy gesture. As Jeter happily circled the bases, he flashed a huge, genuine smile when he got a hug from his best pal Jorge Posada, who looked like he was on Cloud 9 too.

To all the stat geeks and Jeter haters out there, it’s time to shut your mouths once and for all. I don’t want to hear anything about how Jeter is overrated or hyped up on intangibles. You like your numbers, here’s one for you: 3,000. Here’s another one for you: 28. As in Jeter is only the 28th player in baseball history to get 3,000 hits. When you reach that number in that limited company, you no longer have to justify your career to anyone.

I am unbelievably happy for Derek and proud. Derek has grown up with us and it almost feels like an incredible milestone that was achieved by a member of my family. All true Yankee fans feel a connection to Derek, knowing that he badly wanted to do this at home for all of us to watch and enjoy. He’s never let us down in any way and we knew he wouldn’t let us down now.

Congratulations, Derek! And here’s to many more hits!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Jeter's shocking decision to film chase for 3,000

I attended last night’s game between the New York Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays with my digital camera fully charged hoping to preserve Derek Jeter’s 3,000th hit for posterity. I can’t blame Jeter for trying to do the same although I am pretty surprised by his willingness to document his journey.

The news that HBO is filming a documentary about Jeter's pursuit of the milestone doesn't surprise me. Jeter is baseball's best ambassador and an iconic member of the Yankees who is good for television ratings, even if he is dull beyond belief when it comes to the media. But the fact that Jeter would let cameras into his new castle was truly shocking, only surpassed by the fact that he allowed girlfriend Minka Kelly to be interviewed. We've never heard anything from Jeter's previous girlfriends so this should be interesting, even if she sticks to the script and talks only about baseball. Of course, Jeter made sure he retains veto power over anything recorded in his home so we won't see anything unflattering.

I guess Jeter, like the rest of us, wants to preserve the memory of this moment. Jeter is not one who cares much for personal milestones. By his own admission, the negativity of the New York press about his place in the Yankees lineup has dulled his enthusiasm about his pursuit of this historic feat. But perhaps a long time from now, when he is no longer playing baseball for a living, he can watch the documentary and be proud of what he accomplished.

I was fortunate enough to purchase my ticket for yesterday’s game months ago when Jeter’s pursuit of the milestone was expected to be a distant memory. I was thinking about going to tonight’s game, but the weather forecasts do not sound promising for game action. I definitely will not attend Saturday’s game because of a previously scheduled family outing so I may miss the historic event. But if I miss it, I can always tune into HBO for what will hopefully be a nice special, even if Jeter vetoes the really good stuff.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Phil Hughes his own worst critic

Phil Hughes was his own worst critic last night.

After a shaky performance, observers such as David Cone found positives in Hughes’ outing, including his ability to mix in all his pitches and being able to get out of jams in his later innings by making big pitches. But Hughes was having none of it. He said he wasn’t sharp, had a rough first inning and was fortunate to get out of trouble with decent pitches. Not good, but decent.

“But overall it wasn’t good,” he said. “It was nice to be back out there again and hopefully the next one is better.”

The look on the youngster’s face during his post-game interview was very telling. Hughes was obviously frustrated by his outing and by not be able to come back stronger after missing nearly three months of the season. In his pre-game interview, Hughes was genuinely sorry that Ivan Nova, who had been pitching very well of late, was demoted to the minors to make room for him in the New York Yankees rotation. That may be a big reason why Hughes feels that he has to prove himself and was disappointed not to have a better start last night.

Personally, I think Hughes is being too hard on himself, but such is the life of a professional athlete. No one expects more from them then they do from themselves. I have no problem with Hughes having high expectations for his performance, but I worry that he may be putting way too much pressure on himself and that could lead him to try to do too much and inadvertently injure his arm even more. Perhaps the All-Star break is coming at the perfect time for Hughes to take his mind off of baseball, let go of his frustration and get into the more positive mindset he will need to return strong in the second half of the season.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Pettitte will be forced to turn on pal Clemens

Andy Pettitte’s nightmare is about to come true.

Roger Clemens will go on trial on charges he lied under oath in denying that he used performance-enhancing drugs. A parade of former New York Yankees players will be forced to testify about what they knew of Clemens’ PED usage. But Pettitte’s testimony will get the most attention and headlines because of his previously close personal friendship with Clemens.

Even though they haven’t spoken in years, Pettitte to this day is fiercely loyal to Clemens and it must be killing him that he will soon be forced to give damning testimony that could put his friend behind bars. But that’s really on Clemens and his arrogant insistence that he did nothing wrong, all evidence to the contrary.

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman is also expected to testify during the trial. From a Yankee fan’s perspective, this is annoying because Cashman will have to spend some time on the witness stand talking about events with Clemens that happened more than 10 years ago when he should be focusing on potential moves to improve his current team. Hopefully, the Cashman testimony won’t take too long and he can quickly put it behind him and get back to work.

The Clemens trial creates another nightmare for Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, who has enough on his hands trying to wrest control of the Los Angeles Dodgers away from Frank McCourt. Clemens is the only one on trial here, but MLB will be judged too because Selig and other officials looked the other way for far too long while the balls were flying out of the ballpark. Selig & Co better prepare for another flood of daily articles about steroids and human growth hormone use in baseball.

Expect a highly sensational trial, perhaps even bigger than the Barry Bonds trial that had the media’s attention for weeks earlier this year (a fiasco that isn’t over as prosecutors decide whether to retry the slugger on perjury charges), because of the specter of a reluctant Andy Pettitte testifying against his former best pal. It will be extraordinarily painful for Pettitte, but fascinating for the rest of us.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Plenty of time for Jeter to redeem his season

For the next week, everyone in the New York Yankees universe will be consumed with Derek Jeter’s historic drive for 3,000 hits. After Jeter achieves his milestone, everyone will move on to more important things, including the Yankees captain himself.

Jeter’s subpar offensive season and whether he should continue batting leadoff for the Yankees will immediately become the focus of all-things Jeter once the celebration dies down. The Yankees shortstop, his teammates and especially his manager Joe Girardi are going to have to get used to answering some very uncomfortable questions about Jeter’s place in the lineup. No teammate is going to dare to criticize him publicly (I don’t even think Alex Rodriguez is dumb enough to make that mistake again), but surely the whispers will start if Jeter continues his run of futility at the plate.

The Yankees first-place standing has taken a lot of pressure off of Jeter. If the Yanks were five games behind the Boston Red Sox or some other division foe, then Jeter would be facing a much-worse onslaught of questions about his performance. But as it stands, the Yankees have survived a series of damaging injuries and three weeks without their captain just fine.

Now Jeter has plenty of time to redeem himself in the second half of the 2011 season. If Jeter can get on a hot streak and push his average close to .300 (still below his lifetime average, but very respectable), then the daily musings about his ability to continue leading off games will slowly fade away. I still believe, perhaps naively, that Jeter can turn his season around and become, if not the player he once was, then a solid representation of the clutch guy we all know and love. Jeter has to not only believe it but prove it too.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Right move on Nova for Hughes stings nonetheless

I feel really bad for Ivan Nova, who became the odd man out once Phil Hughes proved he was healthy enough to return to the New York Yankees rotation.

The young Nova pitched really well and seemingly started to get into a groove of late after gaining more and more confidence with each passing start. His numbers – 8 wins against 4 losses, a decent 4.12 ERA pitching in the American League East – certainly don’t justify banishment to the minors.

But the Yankees clearly made the right call. Going to a six-man rotation would have been too disruptive for the rest of the staff, especially ace CC Sabathia, who likes to take the ball every fifth day and throw 120 pitches. Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia, who saw another terrific effort wasted yesterday by a lack of offense, a rare off night by Mariano Rivera and critical misplays late in the game, have both been too good to take out of the rotation. And hell would have to freeze over before the Yankees pull Mr. Erratic AJ Burnett and his $82.5 million from the rotation.

The talk of putting either Nova or Hughes in the bullpen just didn’t seem like a great option either. I understand and concur with Joe Girardi’s thinking when he says he doesn’t want Nova’s development stunted by unpredictable use out of the bullpen. After the unfortunate season-ending injury to Joba Chamberlain, the Yankees got a lot of questions about Hughes possibly reclaiming his job as Rivera’s set-up man, a move Girardi and Brian Cashman firmly declined to make. Even though Hughes excelled in the bullpen in 2009, the young righty also excelled as a starting pitcher last year and the Yankees have to think of him in that role long term as Garcia and Colon won’t be around to save their rotation forever.

Nova has proven that he has the talent, stuff and heart to be a big-league pitcher. I just hope he isn’t too crushed by his demotion, which really has nothing to do with him.

Disappointing end to Subway Series for Yankees

I don't expect the New York Yankees to win every baseball game they play, but the way they lost the last game of this year's Subway Series was truly disappointing.

Just one strike away from a sweep of the Mets, who looked like they had been gutted by the loss of Jose Reyes and two defeats at the hands of their cross-town rivals, the Yankees couldn’t close the deal, not even with the great Mariano Rivera on the mound. Mo simply didn’t have it yesterday and the Yankees lost the game, which proves how dependent the Yankees are on their 41-year-old, irreplaceable closer.

But all those supposed Yankee fans who want to give Derek Jeter’s job away should pay careful attention to what happened yesterday. Ramiro Pena, subbing for the slightly injured Eduardo Nunez, who was subbing for the seriously injured Jeter, made two crucial errors late in the game. Brett Gardner and Russell Martin saved him from paying for the first error, but could do nothing about the second error, which gave Jason Bay the opportunity to go from Met goat to hero.

For Pena, whose defense is supposed to be his forte, it was his second terrible defensive game. And Nunez, who swung an ultra-hot bat against the Mets, hasn’t been any better defensively. He would have more than a dozen errors already if it wasn’t for the sleek glove work of one Mark Teixeira. Jeter may not be the Derek Jeter who clutch hit and fielded his way into the hearts of Yankees fans, but there is no question that these are plays he makes with no problems, no matter how much the sabermatricians insist that he is a bad shortstop.

But no worries. Jeter will come back tonight to reclaim his rightful place at shortstop and with Phil Hughes set to return to the big-league mound on Wednesday all will be right in Yankees world again. As long as they can get that bitter taste of yesterday’s loss out of their mouths.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Robertson most disappointing All-Star snub

It’s hard to complain about the All-Star team with six New York Yankees making the roster, but I have to admit to being really disappointed by the exclusion of David Robertson.

CC Sabathia’s exclusion from the American League All-Star team is the most surprising snub. The Yankees big lefty is leading the league along with Justin Verlander. But CC’s value to the Yankees goes beyond his statistics. Every time CC picks up the baseball, the Yankees can count on Sabathia going eight innings and giving most of his bullpen a day off by getting the ball directly to Mariano Rivera. Sabathia, since the day he first put on those pinstripes, has carried the Yankees on his back and is a huge reason for the Yankees first-place standing. But CC will survive this snub.

The most disappointing snub was suffered by David Robertson. I know it’s hard to make the All-Star team as a set-up man, but there was no one more deserving of a spot than Robertson. Not only has he put up terrific numbers, he has kept the bullpen together amid the devastating season-ending injury to Joba Chamberlain and the ineffectiveness and eventual injury of Rafael Soriano. I think it would have meant a lot to Robertson to get the nod and I just hope he’s not too disappointed.

I wasn’t surprised by Mark Teixeira’s absence from the All-Star team even though I think he has had an impressive run recently, particularly in the power department. With his three infield colleagues already voted in by the fans, Curtis Granderson’s earning a slot with a Most Valuable Player-worthy season and Russell Martin installed as the back-up catcher, someone had to be left behind and Tex was the odd man out.

Out of the three snubbed Yankees, I am most hoping for Robertson to still have a chance to make the team. CC and Tex have both been All-Stars and will make the team again in the future. But if Robertson stays in the set-up role in which he has excelled, future All-Star bids will be hard to come by. Maybe he can still make the team—with pitchers not being able to pitch in the game if they start on Sunday, the rosters are not set in stone.

Reyes injury deflates Mets in Subway Series

Derek Jeter is not a jinx, but Alex Rodriguez sure is.

A day after ARod called Jose Reyes "the world's greatest player," the Mets shortstop was forced to leave a crucial Subway Series game against the New York Yankees with a hamstring injury. Coincidence? Not if you’re superstitious and believe in jinxes. Jeter isn’t nearly as superstitious as other ballplayers, but he jokingly defended himself against the notion that his impending return will jinx the Yankees, who are 14-3 since the captain landed on the disabled list against his strong objections.

The Mets are praying that Reyes isn’t seriously hurt like Jeter was. But they have to be worried, or maybe even terrified, given Reyes’ injury history. The shortstop has been the sparkplug for the feisty Mets, but without him, they are mediocre at best. If he is headed to the disabled list to join David Wright and Ike Davis, there is just no way the Mets are going to be able to contend in the National League East. And if Reyes is on the disabled list, the Mets can’t even trade him for some prospects if they start to fall out of the race.

The Reyes injury instantly deflated the Mets and their fans. Yes, Bartolo Colon was surprisingly sharp for a guy who just came off a two-week stint on the disabled list. But after the Reyes injury, the Mets had no fight in them until scoring two meaningless runs in the 9th inning off of Sergio Mitre, who will never be confused with Mariano Rivera.

If I’m a Mets fan, I probably hate ARod more than ever.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

ARod news cast pall on Subway Series

Alex Rodriguez is having a mixed weekend off the baseball diamond.

First the good news: Dr. Anthony Galea, who treated ARod after his hip injury, has agreed to a plea deal on felony charges, avoiding any possibility of ARod being hauled in front of a jury to testify under oath about the treatment he received from Galea. The New York Yankees third baseman seems to have dodged a bullet and avoided making statements that could subject him to disciplinary action by Major League Baseball. Bud Selig & Co have been watching the case because Galea was known to have treated some patients with human growth hormone, the use of which the league is trying to eradicate.

But MLB’s not done with ARod yet. Now Selig & Co will have to examine whether ARod has broken a vow to stay away from illegal card games. I don’t know that baseball can discipline ARod even if it does find evidence of this type of questionable behavior, but Selig must be really annoyed about having to deal with another ARod problem while he has the whole Frank McCourt/Los Angeles Dodgers mess on his hands.

The most irksome thing about these latest ARod-related news flashes is not so much that they happened because we expect drama with ARod no matter what. But it’s really frustrating that this news came to light during an exciting match-up between the Yankees and the Mets, casting a pall over the Subway Series and taking attention away from the baseball being played on the field.

I was hoping for a controversy-free weekend full of great baseball, but with ARod on my team, that's apparently too much too hope for.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Mets feisty play brings extra juice to Subway Series

There’s some extra juice to this weekend’s Subway Series and it’s all because of the New York Mets.

Of course I’m thrilled by the New York Yankees’ recent dominance over any team unfortunate enough to cross their path these days (Sorry, Prince Fielder – bet you had more fun in NY when your dad played for the Yankees). And they have surpassed even my expectations with their ability to step up in the face of some devastating injuries (Phil Hughes’ first half stint on the disabled list, Joba Chamberlain’s shocking season-ending arm injury).

But it’s the Mets feisty play of late that should make this Subway Series really interesting, quite fun and memorable. This is their chance to prove that they can keep up with the big boys in baseball. If they could sweep the Yankees, then they will prove that they aren’t just a tease, that there is a reason for Mets fans to cough up their hard-earned dough and head to Citi Field in the second half of the season (for me, the cannolis are reason enough).

The Mets have a lot going for them this weekend, starting with the sterling play of one Jose Reyes (no, I’m not about to give him Derek Jeter’s job, but I can admire Reyes’ play from my comfortable perch). Without CC Sabathia pitching this weekend, there isn’t one game that you would say that the Yankees should automatically win. So the Mets have a chance, not a great one, but good enough.

Let’s play ball, baby! The battle for New York begins again tonight.