Monday, February 28, 2011
I was shocked when I read that Hank Aaron said Alex Rodriguez’s head is not level enough to have the kind of year that will put him closer to breaking all-time baseball records. But Aaron went even further by comparing ARod unfavorably to Derek Jeter and saying he didn’t have the captain’s focus. Talk about stirring things up.
I can't blame Hammerin’ Hank for taking a shot at ARod. It's got to be so frustrating for him to watch a known steroid user like ARod challenge his career mark for home runs after fellow steroid cheat Barry Bonds broke his record. For me, Aaron is still the true home run king, no matter what the baseball record books say.
But invoking Jeter’s name takes things to a whole new level. Aaron has been a huge Jeter fan for a long time and I’m sure he knows all about the bad blood between Jeter and ARod. Aaron knew exactly what he was doing by bringing up the Yankees shortstop. He was getting the media’s attention. More importantly, he was getting ARod’s attention.
The New York Yankees haven’t had to deal with the ARod vs. Jeter cold war in a long time. I doubt Aaron’s jab is enough to revive the bad feelings between the two again, at least not publicly. But it’s got to annoy the crap out of ARod that he’s still coming up short in comparisons to Jeter.
There’s nothing ARod can say or do about Aaron’s criticism without coming off as a jerk. Many times in the past I thought ARod made bad situations worse simply by opening his mouth. But hopefully the new ARod is smart enough to know that it’s best for him to just take his lumps with a smile.
Thanks to Rubenstein via Wikipedia for the photo.
Sunday, February 27, 2011
Bartolo Colon went first in what Joe Girardi indicated will be a long battle for the #4 and #5 positions in the starting rotation for the New York Yankees, but the kid Ivan Nova was probably the most impressive.
The two leading candidates for the spots went first this weekend. Colon threw the ball pretty well, but he is so out-of-shape that I can't help wonder if he can make it through five innings without hurting himself or risking a heart attack. He does have the experience of being a dominant pitcher in the American League and the Yankees could feel compelled to turn to him if they are inclined to give the other spot to the young Nova. If Colon proves that he can pitch five effective innings, he will likely get one of the slots, especially with the Yankees powerful bullpen behind him.
As for Nova, we got a glimpse of the electric stuff Girardi and Brian Cashman rave about. When I saw him pitch live last year at Yankee Stadium, I was most impressed with his poise. He started the game on September 20 when they honored George Steinbrenner and unveiled his monument. That pregame ceremony was so emotional and electric, he could have easily gotten rattled. But he pitched pretty well before giving way to the bullpen in a big game against the Tampa Bay Rays. As David Cone said, he’s got to figure out a way to harness that powerful stuff to get through five or six innings rather than losing it after three or four frames. The youngster must be feeling a lot of pressure to make the starting rotation right now. But with fans like Girardi and Cashman in his corner, he would have to pitch very poorly the rest of spring training to not win one of those open spots.
Sergio Mitre threw a solid inning over the weekend and he could win that fifth starter spot, particularly if Girardi and Cashman feel they can’t rely on Colon to get into shape or Freddy Garcia to stay healthy. But I think Girardi really likes Mitre’s flexibility, and while that normally would be considered a compliment, I think that could work against him as the manager might view him to be more valuable as a bullpen piece.
It’s hard to imagine the Yankees going with two younger pitchers for those last spots, given the way they were burned in the past with a youthful rotation that basically fell apart before the season really got started. My guess is they go with Nova and Colon, provided he sheds more than a few pounds. But we really won’t know for sure for weeks. That’s what makes spring training a whole lot of fun, even though the scores are meaningless.
Friday, February 25, 2011
So it's official. Former New York Yankees and Dodgers manager Joe Torre will work for Bud Selig and Major League Baseball. I'm looking forward to seeing how an old-school guy like Torre will deal with the major issues that baseball will be facing over the next few years.
I don’t imagine Torre wants to tamper with the game he loves so much, but in truth there are significant problems that definitely need to be addressed. Instant replay is a great example. I don’t know whether baseball umpiring is getting worse or technology just makes it much easier to catch their mistakes. But the demand for replay is going to get louder with every blown call in a major game, particularly one that costs a team a chance for the playoffs or advancing to the World Series. It’s already cost Armando Galarraga a perfect game. (BTW, I remain firmly committed to my boycott of MLB Network until Galarraga's perfect game is restored, even though I don’t think it’s going to happen now, and Selig reconsiders the use of instant replay in baseball).
I hope that Torre comes down in favor of instant replay, but it’s not a given. Old-school guys like Torre generally tend to think the game is fine just the way it is. But I think it needs to evolve with the times and replay is just one way of doing that. Selig has been resistant to the idea of expanded use of instant replay due to its impact on the pace of baseball games. But I think Torre could convince him of its merits if they can come up with a workable mechanism (limit a manager’s ability to request a replay to one play per game and specifically bar replays on ball and strike calls). But Torre may need convincing himself.
I do like the idea of an ex-manager of Torre’s stature being Selig’s right-hand man. Selig has been quite stubborn on certain issues, but Torre definitely has the credibility and the people skills to talk him into things. Just as long as Torre doesn’t let his image of the game he played and managed get in the way of changes this sport desperately needs to make.
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Hank Steinbrenner needs to stop trying to be his father George Steinbrenner. He's really bad at it.
His latest attempt to act like "the Boss" involved him taking a shot at his shortstop Derek Jeter for building a massive mansion in Florida rather than focusing on winning another World Series. How that could be a distraction is beyond me. It's not like Jeter was hammering nails himself.
It was almost exactly like George calling out Jeter for staying out too late at his own birthday party back in 2003. But there was a major difference in the father/son comments. At least his father had the guts to call out Jeter specifically. Hank's mansion comments were obviously directed at Jeter, but he did not mention him by name and demurred when given the opportunity to say he was calling out his shortstop. Hank is now in full damage control mode insisting he was not referring to Jeter.
At least publicly, Jeter never seemed to mind the Boss mouthing off, just as he seems to be blowing off Hank's comments. But it obviously grated on him that the Yankees made his contract talks a public spectacle this offseason and privately he has to be bewildered and frustrated by this latest drama.
I just don't understand what Hank and the New York Yankees are thinking. They should be planning an even bigger celebration and marketing push for Jeter's quest for 3,000 hits than they did for Alex Rodriguez's lame chase of 600 home runs. Instead, they seem to want to keep taking pot shots at their iconic shortstop.
Why would Hank go out of his way to alienate his most popular player? Perhaps he is annoyed about having to pay Jeter $51 million for the next three years, even if it was a pay cut. Or perhaps Hank is jealous of Jeter, as this column interestingly speculates. Despite that one dispute that they later turned into a hilarious VISA commercial, Jeter had an unbelievably close relationship with the Boss and Steinbrenner's affection for Jeter was obvious
My guess: I think Hank wanted to pull a classic George by trying to motivate his shortstop, coming off a rough season by his standards, with this indirect, but very public criticism. But this attempt was ill timed because the press was starting to let go of the storyline about Jeter and the Yankees locked in battle. Hank stirred it all up again with his clumsy comments, proving that when it comes to mastering the media and motivation techniques, he is nothing like his dad.
Sunday, February 20, 2011
In 1996, Joe Torre was taking over as manager of the Yankees and was asked in spring training about the shortstop position, which had been in a constant state of flux for years. He told reporters that Jeter would be the shortstop. The young Jeter was asked the same question and replied that he was being given an opportunity to win the shortstop job. Well, we know how that turned out. Not only did he win the job, he was an integral member of the team that won the Yankees first World Series in 18 years and started a dynasty that would last for the rest of the decade.
Jeter’s answer so impressed Torre that the youngster immediately became a favorite of his old-school manager, a bond that continues unbroken until this day. Joe Girardi was equally impressed with the attitude of his young pitcher. Hughes knows full well that any competition he might have faced this year vanished with Andy Pettitte’s retirement, but he is still acting like he has to fight for his job, which warms his manager’s heart.
Another sign of Hughes’ maturity is his refusal to blame exhaustion for his second-half troubles, as both Girardi and Brian Cashman did. Asked why he struggled in the latter half of 2010, Hughes’ answer was that hitters just caught up with his stuff. It was probably a combination of factors, but the fact that Hughes was willing to step up and take responsibility and pledge to get better is a positive sign for him and the Yankees.
As Cashman noted, the Yankees are in big trouble if Hughes pitches himself out of his rotation spot. But approaching the new season as if there are no guarantees is a healthy attitude to have. Just look at what it did for Jeter, launching an epic career that will eventually take him to his guaranteed spots in the Baseball Hall of Fame and Monument Park. I hope Hughes’ healthy attitude can take him just as far.
Saturday, February 19, 2011
Since Albert Pujols and the St. Louis Cardinals failed to agree to a contract extension, expect a full season of speculation about the possibility of the best baseball player on the planet ending up with the New York Yankees or the Boston Red Sox.
ESPN.com provided a helpful analysis of why the Red Sox will have plenty of money to spend on Pujols this offseason, including the expiration of David Ortiz's $12.5 million deal that will also open up the designated hitter spot for Pujols. Ortiz is probably the most popular player in Boston and replacing him with Pujols would cushion the blow of his leaving the team.
Expect a similar analysis from one of the Yankees beat writers soon. It will probably go something like this: the Yankees can afford Pujols since Jorge Posada's $52 million deal expires this offseason, which also opens up a DH spot for Pujols in the Bronx. I don’t think the Yankees can ever not afford a player, but the upside of losing Cliff Lee is that they can spend the $25 million per year they’re not paying Lee on Pujols.
I don’t buy the notion that the Yankees and Red Sox will not be players for Pujols because they are set at first base with Mark Teixeira and Adrian Gonzalez. The numbers Pujols has put up are staggering: .331 career batting average, 408 home runs and 1,230 runs batted in. He’s a good guy we can root for to break all-time records and wipe out the steroid king Barry Bonds. Plus, he’s a star that will put people in those expensive seats and drive up television ratings on their regional sports networks. Believe me, if he has any interest in coming to the Bronx or heading to Beantown, both teams will find a spot and the money for him.
So expect a long season of speculation about where Pujols will end up playing next year, a lot of it focused on New York and Boston. Nothing wrong with adding a little more spice to the Rivalry.
Friday, February 18, 2011
Listening to Johan Santana on Mike Francesa’s show yesterday, I had a curious thought. Could the misfortune of the Mets force them to trade their ace pitcher? If so, would they consider trading him to their cross-town rivals?
The New York Yankees could have had Santana three years ago, but Brian Cashman ultimately balked at parting with his young talent, namely Phil Hughes. It was a wise move on Cashman’s part as Hughes is a burgeoning, and so far very inexpensive, star. But Cashman now needs another good starter to help Hughes and CC Sabathia carry the load. Santana would fit that bill completely.
Santana is recovering from rotator cuff surgery so that would give the Yankees a valid reason to be concerned. But his rehabilitation seems to be going well and he could be back in July, in plenty of time to help the Yankees through what will be a difficult stretch run. When he is healthy, there is no questioning his abilities as the two-time Cy Young winner has won nearly twice as many games as he has lost over his career with a solid 3.10 ERA.
Santana is known as a team leader with the Mets, but the Yankees should also question his character. He was accused of sexual assault in a lawsuit last year. He wasn’t charged with a crime, but that doesn’t mean he is innocent. It just means that there wasn’t enough proof for criminal charges. Sure, the lawsuit could be a shakedown, but I have trouble mustering much sympathy for athletes who put themselves in that position, especially a married one with children.
But would the Mets even consider trading Santana to the Yankees (or another team) to free up some cash? Santana has three years and $72 million left on his current deal, not counting a $5.5 million buyout. The Wilpons insist the Madoff troubles will not keep them from fielding a competitive team. But they also vowed the fraud wouldn’t affect their baseball team at all, yet here they are preparing to sell a chunk of it to deal with the fallout. If Mets officials are forced to pay hundreds of millions of dollars to settle the lawsuit filed by the trustee for Madoff’s victims, it is reasonable to think they may have to start getting rid of their more talented and expensive players such as Santana and Jose Reyes while they can get a decent return (young minor-league studs who cost nothing).
But I seriously doubt it would happen. Mets fans would go nuts if their beloved ace was traded to the Yankees. The Madoff mess and continuing dark cloud is bad enough, but Santana in a Yankees uniform could drive all but the die-hard Mets fans out of Citi Field for good. It seems far-fetched, but stranger things have happened in baseball, including an owner being accused of complicity in a multi-billion fraud.
Thursday, February 17, 2011
Listening to Fred Wilpon’s press conference, I tried to imagine what goes through his mind when the name Bernie Madoff is mentioned or whenever he talks to his lawyers about how to get out of the mess created by his old pal.
I can only imagine the mixture of sadness, hatred, frustration and the other emotions Wilpon and his family are dealing with right now. But my guess is that yesterday the dominant sentiment was something along the lines of "gee, thanks a lot, Bernie" now that Madoff decided to defend Wilpon against accusations that he should have known about the gigantic fraud his friend was perpetrating. If Madoff had been a real friend, he never would have involved Wilpon in his scam in the first place.
The imprisoned Madoff has zero credibility so his assertion that Wilpon was in no way involved nor had any inkling about the fraud means nothing. But I found Wilpon’s words to be quite illuminating, particularly when he talked about putting money into Madoff’s firm three weeks before the massive fraud unraveled. I do find it hard to believe that he would have done so if he had suspicions that Madoff was dirty. And I do believe his love for his family and his baseball team would have caused him to go running to the cops and regulators if he had come across anything resembling actual proof of the scheme.
That being said, Wilpon does have to answer for his admitted naiveté. In talking to people about the Madoff scandal, I’ve found a surprising number of folks who have little sympathy for his victims because of the idea that they should have known that their returns were too good to be true and that they let their greed get the best of them. I don’t feel that way at all, especially about the pensioners who trusted Madoff with their retirement funds. But it’s hard to make the case in defense of Wilpon, a savvy businessman who helped turned the Mets from sad-sack losers to a legitimate, and at times very successful, enterprise. Even if he didn’t have solid proof of the fraud, there were enough questions being raised by others that he should have paid a lot more attention to than he did.
For legal reasons, Wilpon is extremely limited in what he can say publicly. But he insisted yesterday he is just another victim of Madoff, not a conspirator, and that he and his fellow lawsuit defendants will be vindicated. For the sake of the Mets, he really needs to be right.
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
Posada is starting spring training camp knowing that he is now the full-time designated hitter for the New York Yankees. Brian Cashman let him know months ago that catching was no longer his responsibility so he has had time to mentally prepare for his new role. But he seems wistful about his old job even if he is resigned to his fate.
Posada, on the last year of his deal, can't even talk about what may come in 2012. But if he can be successful in his DH role this year, if he can continue to bring power and have clutch at-bats, it boosts his chances of staying with the only team he has ever played for, something that Posada seems to want badly. Becoming a good DH can only help prolong his career since Posada, turning 40 this August, won’t have to deal with the day-to-day grind of squatting behind the plate.
But I doubt Posada sees this move as a positive. His pride and fierce nature has helped fuel the Yankees’ drive towards multiple championships, but his stubbornness could also prevent him from seeing the upside of his situation. I can imagine Posada becoming very frustrated if he starts off slow at the plate. Somewhere in his mind, he could blame that on his absence behind the plate.
Maybe Posada will surprise us all and embrace his new role as DH and mentor to the talented youngsters in the Yankees’ catching corps. They could certainly learn a lot from the guy who has helped guide the Yankees to five World Series titles and caught some of the best pitchers in baseball history, including Mariano Rivera. If he can do that, he can turn his disappointment into joy and a longer tenure in Yankee land.
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
Brian Cashman owes CC Sabathia a huge apology, both for doubting the big man’s major weight loss and for sharing those doubts with the media. Sure, it wasn’t the 30 pounds that CC thought, but it was close enough. BTW, CC’s admission that he lost those 25 pounds partly by swearing off his Cap'n Crunch habit made me crave the cereal of my youth. But I haven’t gone out and bought a box since it’s not exactly Weight Watchers friendly. I don’t even want to calculate how many points a bowl of that cereal would be under the new WW system.
• Is anyone else concerned that AJ Burnett is referring to himself in the third person? I’m glad to see that Burnett is aware of his importance to the New York Yankees and is working on his mechanics. But what’s with the “they really could’ve used AJ” and the “ain’t nobody’s fault but AJ’s” quotes? It doesn’t seem like an ego thing as it is with most athletes, but it’s still weird.
• Can Joba Chamberlain rise to Cashman’s challenge? The general manager made it clear that Joba has to earn a spot in the Yankees bullpen or face the prospect of being sent back to the minor leagues since he has options. Perhaps it’s just something Cashman said to motivate Joba because some in the Yankees organization feel that he needs to be challenged. I just hope it doesn’t have the adverse effect of putting more pressure on him and messing with his head.
• Manager Joe Girardi tried to put a potential controversy to bed when he stated that Derek Jeter would bat leadoff for the Yankees. There have been intimations in the media and blogosphere about putting Brett Gardner in the leadoff spot, mostly due to his youth and speed and Jeter’s off year. But Jeter’s numbers were still better than most leadoff guys. I can’t blame Girardi for not wanting this to become an issue. He already has enough on his plate.
• An Andy Pettitte return this year seems like wishful thinking on Jorge Posada’s part, just like he probably secretly wishes to be the #1 catcher again rather than the third option behind the plate. I don’t doubt that Pettitte could get the itch to play baseball again, but he made it pretty clear that he will not pitch in 2011. Maybe a year off will be just the thing he needs to get the baseball juices flowing again. Diamonds are forever, but retirement doesn’t have to be.
Monday, February 14, 2011
CC has been every inch the ace the Yankees needed him to be, guiding them to a World Series title in his first year and winning 21 games during his second season. But there is an opt-out clause in his current 7-year, $161 million contract he can invoke after this season. If CC has another big year and decides to opt out, he’s going to get a massive paycheck (yes, even bigger than the $23 million per year he is getting right now) from the Yankees as well as a few more guaranteed years on his deal.
ARod was heavily criticized for the clumsy way he opted out of his previous 10-year contract, which was announced in the middle of a 2007 World Series game. But from a business standpoint, it was brilliant move and a financial boon for him because ARod ended up with at least $50 million more guaranteed, with incentive clauses that will likely drive that figure even higher. It also benefited him because he was able to get a brand-new long-term deal before his steroids use came to light and his hip became a major concern for the Yankees.
Will CC pull an ARod and opt out? If he does, I imagine he’ll do it with a little more class than his third baseman. But this may not even become an issue, especially if CC has a mediocre or, worse, a bad year (if that happens, the Yankees are in big trouble). But after losing Andy Pettitte and being stuck with AJ Burnett for the next three years, it makes for an intriguing issue for next offseason.
If CC does decide to burn the Yankees, I won’t have much sympathy for them. The Yankees have made clear that they are perfectly willing to use all the leverage at their disposal against their own players. They can’t complain if one of them decides to use his full leverage against them to extract more money from the Empire.
Sunday, February 13, 2011
Why is Brian Cashman trying to alienate his own players? First, he picks a nasty fight with Derek Jeter during his contract negotiations and then further messes with the shortstop by publicly speculating on a position shift to center field. Now, he’s essentially accusing CC Sabathia of lying about his 30-pound weight loss.
• I’m kind of worried about Robinson Cano choosing Scott Boras to be his agent. The Yankees hold options for Cano’s services for another two years at reasonable salaries so this isn’t an immediate concern. But Boras will be angling for the biggest possible payout when the superstar finally hits free agency. As shown by the Jeter drama, the New York Yankees aren’t blameless when it comes to rough contract negotiations. But Boras is partly responsible for saddling the Yankees with the ridiculous and unmovable Alex Rodriguez contract. I can’t imagine what he’ll demand on Cano’s behalf.
• Phil Hughes seems to be taking his second-half troubles too hard. Yes, he wasn’t as good in the latter months as he was in the first half, which earned him a spot on the American League All-Star team. But he pitched superbly against the Boston Red Sox in September in a game he wasn’t even supposed to start, but the Yankees desperately needed. He pitched beautifully against the Minnesota Twins in the playoffs, but ran into trouble against the Texas Rangers. Then again, so did the rest of his team, which was outplayed in every way possible.
David Cone suggested that the Yankees’ quest to protect Hughes from injury by skipping starts and giving him extra rest was disruptive for the youngster in the second half, just as it was for Joba Chamberlain. But he also suggested that Hughes continue working on his changeup, which the young righty vowed to do. Cone, one of the best big-game pitchers of his time, likes Hughes chances of blossoming into an even better starter. So do I.
Saturday, February 12, 2011
Even as a die-hard New York Yankees fan, I take no joy in the current mess that the Mets are grappling with. The Wilpons are trying to settle a case that’s going to cost them hundreds of millions of dollars, but they will be forced to part with a chunk of their baseball team (if not the entire team) to do so. The result is that their team is in a terrible limbo with this mess bound to hang over the heads of their current players, staff and their entire operation. It will be a huge question mark for players they try to trade for or sign (if they even have money to spend). The rivalry between the Yankees and the Mets is better when both teams are relatively strong and it’s clear that the Mets will be a shell of the competitive team they used to field for a long time to come.
I don’t blame Irving Picard for going hard after the Mets. He is trying to get as much dough as he can for the real victims of Madoff, those people who put their retirement savings in his hands. What’s most disturbing about his complaint is that it alleges the Mets ignored certain signs that could have helped stopped the fraud a long time ago. If sophisticated investors like the Wilpons couldn’t or wouldn’t stand up to Madoff, the retirees he stole money from never had a chance.
I doubt that anyone can save the Mets, but Cuomo is a good pick to try. As a former governor of New York State, he is used to dealing with nasty partisan disputes and bickering (and this contest will continue to get uglier and uglier as the Mets defend themselves against Picard’s accusations). Hopefully Cuomo can figure out a way to get the two sides to come to an agreement that works for both of them, getting as much money out of the Mets without crippling the franchise forever.
Friday, February 11, 2011
I completely understand the way Mark Buehrle felt about wanting to see Michael Vick get hurt. I felt the exact same way as I was watching Ben Roethlisberger play in the Super Bowl.
I kept hoping that one of the Green Bay Packers would put a hit on the Pittsburgh quarterback so bad that he wouldn’t get up. I know that sounds terrible, wishing to see an athlete hurt during a game. It’s not something I normally root for. In fact, I usually feel bad watching players go down with injuries, even players on opposing teams.
But watching "Big Ben" play in the Super Bowl after he allegedly sexually assaulted a college student last year made me sick to my stomach. Just because he was never charged with a crime doesn’t mean he didn’t do what he was accused of. The district attorney dropped the charges because he didn’t have enough evidence, especially after the young woman, knowing what she was in store for from the media and psychotic sports fans, chose to walk away rather than fight Roethlisberger and his entourage of protectors.
I admire Buehrle’s willingness to break the code and call out a fellow athlete for his bad behavior. But at least Vick did time for his horrible mistreatment of animals. What Roethlisberger did was far worse because he did it to another human being and was never properly punished. Sure, he got a six-game suspension from the National Football League, but that punishment was not enough to match the heinousness of what he did, especially after being reduced to four games.
I’m a firm believer in what comes around goes around. I look forward to the day when Roethlisberger finally gets what is coming to him, whether it happens on or off the field.
Thursday, February 10, 2011
Of course, Derek Jeter getting hit #3,000 will be the most iconic and memorable moment of the regular season. And I will love watching Mariano Rivera inch closer and closer to taking his rightful place at the top of baseball's all-time saves list. But in terms of wishing someone success for the entire season, I'll be cheering for Joba to once again find the electric stuff and the attitude that made him an instant superstar in New York.
What I really want for Joba more than anything is for him to find his rightful place on the Yankees. A few years ago, he looked like he was destined to take Rivera’s place closing games. But the Yankees completely ruined him by shuffling him back and forth between the starting rotation and the bullpen. Now he’s not even an option to pitch the 8th inning, let alone the 9th frame.
The Steinbrenners clearly have lost faith in Joba. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have felt the need to overrule Cashman and force him to sign Rafael Soriano. But I hope he can prove them wrong and reclaim his status as a reliable and trustworthy reliever in Joe Girardi’s bullpen.
Can Joba do it? Well if the New York tabloids are to be believed (and I don’t believe them all the time), his weight could be a problem. If he is out of shape, that doesn’t bode well for his chances of reclaiming a top job or his mental state heading into the baseball season. Granted, I would probably have been upset or even depressed after the Soriano signing myself. But I hope for Joba’s sake he can rise to the challenge.
I always hated Joba’s hijinks on the mound after striking someone out to end an inning. I want all pitchers to be like Mo, simply walk off the mound with little more than a mild fist pump, if that. But Joba’s histrionics reflected a confidence and cockiness that was a sign of just how unhittable he had become. I hope to see it again and soon. It would mean that Joba found his mojo.
Wednesday, February 9, 2011
Manager Joe Girardi was the latest to wade into the discussion by saying the Yankees plan on Jeter playing shortstop through the length of his current deal (three years plus a Jeter option for another year). Girardi may have been trying to tamp down the speculation, but his suggestion that Jeter can play short for another four years seems unrealistic and possibly at odds with Brian Cashman’s view of Jeter’s abilities.
For his part, Jeter blew off talk of a possible move by insisting he is only focused on playing short this year. Jeter is generally a master at not letting small disputes become major controversies so his reaction was unsurprising. But you know he’s not happy that it’s even a topic of conversation.
I can’t blame Jeter for not wanting this distraction. He has enough to worry about, including rebounding from a subpar (for him) 2010 season and striving for that 3,000 hit that will stamp his ticket to Cooperstown and the Baseball Hall of Fame. The last thing he needs is to have reporters and fans constantly questioning him about moving to the outfield, particularly when the Yankees have yet to firm up his replacement at short. We keep hearing about Eduardo Nunez, but who knows if the kid is ready for the challenge of playing in New York, let alone replacing an icon like Derek Jeter.
So a move that won’t happen in 2010 will continue to be the talk of spring training camp for the Yankees. At least we’re not talking about Jeter’s contract anymore.
Monday, February 7, 2011
Bernie Williams showed up, a little late of course, last week to watch his pal Andy Pettitte get the send off that he never got from the New York Yankees. But no worries, that day should come soon.
Bernie's #51 would have been retired and his plaque put up in Monument Park already if he had officially retired from baseball, which he has yet to do but seems like he is leaning toward this year. Aside from playing for the Puerto Rican team in the World Baseball Classic in 2009, Bernie has been completely focused on his music to great results, including a Latin Grammy nomination. So he's one of those uniquely talented people who have been successful in two completely different careers.
The centerfielder had a wonderful career with the Yankees that ended with a .297 batting average, 287 home runs, 1,257 runs batted in, one batting title, four Gold Gloves and, most importantly, four World Series championships. There were hard feelings for a few years after the ugly spat between Williams and the Yankees (more specifically, Brian Cashman), but that seems to be a thing of the past. Bernie has been invited to several events at Yankee Stadium for musical performances and ceremonial first pitches. I’m sure the Yankees would love to have a day for Bernie at the new stadium soon.
Bernie will be eligible for the Baseball Hall of Fame next year. I don't think he will make it, but I expect a solid showing in the vote as Bernie was a key member of the late 1990s Yankee dynasty (and really the first home-grown Yankee to make a strong contribution to the team in years). But his numbers have definitely earned him a place in Monument Park, where he will be lovingly remembered along with all the other great Yankees.
If such a ceremony happens this year, I will go out of my way to be there. Bernie was always a favorite of mine because he was such a good guy and a great player and a hero to us Puerto Ricans. I admire that even now he is still trying to give back to the Latino community in every way possible. To achieve the level of success Bernie has in two careers and still be so humble and thoughtful is inspiring and I can’t wait to celebrate his accomplishments.
Sunday, February 6, 2011
Judging from the glowing press this weekend, Andy Pettitte may stand a better chance at the Baseball Hall of Fame than most performance-enhancing drug users. But that doesn't mean he should get in.
Pettitte is so universally liked by baseball writers that some of them may be willing to overlook his admission of human growth hormone use. It would be easier for some of them to cast their vote for a good guy like Pettitte rather than a jerk such as Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens, even though their stats are more Hall-worthy than Pettitte’s. And the way Pettitte handled the HGH situation, admitting what he had done rather than fighting the truth, earned him some honesty points all around baseball. Unlike Jason Giambi, we knew exactly what Pettitte was apologizing for because he had the guts to say it. And Pettitte seemed genuinely sorry for what he had done.
But I don't think Pettitte is getting in. I think there are too many writers who, like me, believe that no one who used HGH or steroids should be allowed into the Hall. I can’t give Andy Pettitte a pass no matter how much I like him personally or appreciate everything he’s done for the New York Yankees.
Plus, he will lose votes from writers who simply don't believe his stats are good enough. No doubt he has had a wonderful career, winning about 100 more games than he lost and striking out 2,251 batters. He had the most victories in the last decade of any pitcher in baseball. But some writers will make the case that his 3.88 ERA is too high or that he never was the most dominant pitcher in his league (even though he was runner-up for the American League Cy Young award in 1996).
What Pettitte has going for him in the Hall debate is his postseason brilliance. Everyone remembers his epic Game 5 performance in the 1996 World Series against the Atlanta Braves. But I think people will find his role in clinching the 2009 title for the New York Yankees to be even more impressive, doing it at his age and finishing off three different teams on the way to the championship. Those five World Series rings will look good to some of the more traditional voters.
I don’t think Pettitte will get a Hall pass from the writers, but he might actually have a more respectable showing than some of the other PED users because he is so well-liked by the media. We’ll have to wait to see how he does, but I’m not optimistic about his chances for induction.
Saturday, February 5, 2011
Hey, Brian Cashman, what's your next move?
Andy Pettitte's official retirement leaves a gaping hole in the starting rotation of the New York Yankees. Cashman was hoping against hope that Pettitte would see the size of that hole and decide to save his team from falling into it. Although Pettitte strongly felt the pull of his team, he just couldn't bring himself to ignore the fact that he didn't have the fire in him to play baseball anymore.
With no Andy Pettitte, Cashman has to figure out what to do next. And no, collecting has-been guys such as Mark Prior, Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia doesn’t count as a solution, even if they are low-risk moves. None of those guys can hold a candle to Andy Pettitte and his big-game rep so they can’t be expected to replace him. The first time one of those guys blows a game against the Boston Red Sox, fans are going to be calling for someone’s head.
The Yankees are praying that AJ Burnett can turn things around, can finally figure out a way to harness his immense talent and stay out of his own head long enough to find success on the pitching mound. But Burnett couldn’t do that even after the emergence of Phil Hughes helped the talented youngster zoom past the erratic Burnett in the Yankee rotation and in the eyes of the organization and its fans. There’s no real reason to think he can do it now with the added extreme pressure of having to step up without Pettitte around for the Yankees to lean on. So hoping that Burnett can shake off the ugliness of his 2010 season doesn’t count as a plan.
In the post-Pettitte Yankees universe, Cashman has to figure out what to do next. In truth, I have no idea what his next move should be. But I’m not the Yankees general manager. That guy better come up with something good.
Friday, February 4, 2011
“In my heart of hearts, I was done,” Pettitte said.
There’s no question it was a tough decision for Andy, probably one of the hardest calls of his life, to walk away knowing that the Yankees badly needed him to anchor the pitching staff. If he had returned after Cliff Lee rejected the Yankees, he would have been practically canonized in New York. Instead, Pettitte walked away from his team and the chance for one last fat paycheck to go home to Deer Park, Texas for good.
“Mentally, I was just going to make myself do it,” he said. “I felt like the Yankees needed me and I didn’t want to let everyone down. (But) I wasn’t going to be 100% in and if I’m not 100% in, I just felt like I shouldn’t do it.”
Today was an emotional day for the Yankee family. Pettitte's nerves were obviously shot, both by his agonizing decision to call it quits as well as having to explain it to the assembled media at Yankee Stadium. But it brought tears to my eyes watching Pettitte at the podium knowing that I won’t be seeing him on that pitching mound again. I’m sure I wasn't the only fan tearing up.
Boy, did the Yankee crowds love him, mostly because of his ability to step up and fight like hell to win games. It felt like Andy was on the mound starting every big victory in the playoffs for the last 15 years and the fact that he was so reliable endeared him to the Yankee faithful.
“You have to enjoy those moments out there to be successful in them,” Pettitte said. “I enjoy that even though it was a little uncomfortable for me. You enjoy that, when the crowd’s getting into it and cheering. But I didn’t feel like I needed that in my life.”
Since his heart wasn't in it anymore, it was the right decision to walk away, no matter how much the Yankees and their fans needed him. Pettitte made the decision with his heart, which is what he was always all about.
Thursday, February 3, 2011
I had the faintest hope that Pettitte would see how dire things would be for the Yankees without him and give them one more season, even if it meant not seeing him in uniform until June. But deep down I think I could tell that this was the end, that what Pettitte wanted more than anything was to go home to his family and Texas for good.
The saddest part of this is that we never really got a chance to say goodbye. Unlike in 2009 when Andy won the game clinching the Yankees' World Series title, the Yankees were sent home for the winter in Texas in 2010 short of their goal. We never had the opportunity to cheer Andy off the mound after another great playoff start ahead of what will hopefully be a joyful retirement for him. Instead, we will have to settle for a press conference that the Yankees probably had to insist on having for him rather than giving him the standing ovation he deserves.
I’m happy to honor what was a remarkable career in pinstripes, which really got started when the then 24-year-old rocked the Yankee universe by winning 21 games in 1996 and began his playoff heroics with a thrilling 1-0 victory against the great John Smoltz that put the Yankees on the brink of their first World Series title in 18 years. For me, there’s a little sadness mixed in knowing that if Pettitte hadn’t succumbed to the temptation of human growth hormone we could be talking about him having a real shot at the Baseball Hall of Fame. But most Yankee fans will only remember his 19 postseason victories, including the six that clinched series wins and established him as the ultimate big-game pitcher.
So the Core Four now becomes the Core Three and the Yankees are a little less than they were before.
Farewell, Andy. We'll miss you.