Sunday, July 29, 2012

Ichiro trade, Tex feud keep things interesting for Yanks

Geez, I can’t go on vacation for one week, happily leaving my laptop behind and my Blackberry on silent mode, without the New York Yankees making headlines.

Even on a day dominated by news of the crippling, but well-deserved sanctions against Penn State, the Yankees managed to sneak into the news cycle with news of their trade for Ichiro Suzuki (yes, I did watch SportsCenter while on vacation). For the record, the trade for Ichiro feels like a panic move from the old Yankee years, when it was common for them to go after aging stars to fill a perceived hole on their team. It felt a lot like something George Steinbrenner would do (I read a terrific Steinbrenner biography while on vacation—more on that in another blog post), something that could have been incredibly disruptive to a team that was jelling despite a rough West Coast trip. I’m not sure that Ichiro is much better than who the Yankees already had on their roster, but at least Brian Cashman didn’t give up much to get him.

Fast forward to this weekend with Ichiro and his new teammates taking on the archrival Boston Red Sox, who continue to flounder in last place despite getting some of their injured stars back. Who would have thought that Phil Hughes would put the Red Sox down with a bigger performance than CC Sabathia? Well, I would have, but I have a lot of faith in the kid and CC has not pitched like an ace this year while Hughes has definitely found himself once again. But the Yankees still need Sabathia to be the guy he has been the first three years of his Yankee career if they are going to get very far in the baseball playoffs.

I thought Bobby Valentine was going to be the one to revive the dormant Yankees-Red Sox rivalry. I never anticipated that unassuming Mark Teixeira would be the one to shake things up with his ongoing feud with headhunting Saux pitcher Vicente Padilla. I don’t like anyone styling after a home run, but I can’t say I blame Tex given Padilla’s rather strange comments after their last battle up at Fenway Park. But Tex better duck the next time he faces Padilla.

I’m heading to the game tonight, where I will welcome Ichiro with open arms, even if I’m not convinced we needed him, and hoping to see the Yankees put the Saux out of their misery for good. Yes, there’s still two months left in the baseball season, but Boston looks and is playing like a deflated team and I can’t see them turning it around. 

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

Monday, July 23, 2012

Congratulations to new Hall of Famer Larkin

You had to love Barry Larkin’s enthusiasm during his induction ceremony into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

He was humble, gracious, grateful and just downright happy about being the newest Hall of Famer. The Captain of the Cincinnati Reds wore the brightest smile in Cooperstown, New York at yesterday’s ceremony officially welcoming him to baseball’s exclusive club. And it was a moment he was able to share with his dad, which made it that much sweeter.

Reggie Jackson probably thinks Larkin was only inducted into a watered-down Hall, a Hall that Jackson believes really should be reserved for baseball greats such as himself, because of declining standards by the voters. But Larkin truly deserved Hall of Fame induction due to his remarkable career, which included 12 All-Star game selections, the 1995 Most Valuable Player Award, three Gold Gloves and nine Silver Slugger awards.

To think, we could have lost Derek Jeter to the Reds if Larkin wasn’t such a terrific shortstop. How different would the course of history be if Jeter had been drafted by the Reds instead of the New York Yankees? But luckily for us Yankee fans, the Reds already had their Hall of Fame shortstop so we got ours.

But there’s no question in my mind that Larkin deserves to be in the Hall. Congratulations, Barry. You deserve it. Enjoy your moment. 

Thanks to Rdikeman via en.Wikipedia for the Barry Larkin photo. 

Sunday, July 22, 2012

No need to panic about Oakland sweep

Well, the New York Yankees were bound to run into a team that could beat them at some point.

The Yankees couldn’t continue battering their opponents into submission forever. Even the best teams lose games on occasion. So the Oakland A’s swept the mighty Yankees out in California, with two of their four wins coming in walk-off fashion. The games were all very close, with the Yankees starting pitching pretty good, but the young A’s hurlers just a little bit better. The culprit this weekend was the Yankees offense, which was throttled for the most part by some impressive young arms.

But the Yankees still have a six-game lead and plenty of games against their division rivals when they return from what will thankfully be the last West Coast trip of the year. As long as they take care of business, starting against the Boston Red Sox next weekend, they should still win the American League East by a nice margin. But I’d like to see the offense awaken again before they return to New York.

So let’s not panic about one sweep. But if the Yankees can’t bounce back against the lowly Seattle Mariners, it may be time to start to worrying. 

Friday, July 20, 2012

Yankees will survive tough break for Gardner

Brett Gardner is probably crushed by the news that he will have to undergo surgery that will likely end his 2012 season before it really got started. But the New York Yankees will survive without him.

That’s not to say Gardner won’t be missed. As Yankees manager Joe Girardi has often stated, the Yankees are a completely different team without Gardner. He is the one player who can consistently create runs just by using his legs. No other member of the Yankees has that ability, including Derek Jeter, who is running very well for a baseball player of his age, but is not a stolen base threat anymore.

Ironically, Alex Rodriguez has 10 stolen bases, the most on the Yankees, leading the team in one category he really shouldn’t be leading. He gets paid the big bucks to hit monster home runs and drive in runners on base, not that he is doing a particularly good job of that these days.  

The Yankees are merely a team of sluggers without Gardner, which has worked pretty well for them and should continue to work as they cement their lead in the American League East division over the second half of the season. Part of the reason for the Yankees success in surviving Gardner’s injury so far is that they are getting significant contributions from Raul Ibanez and Andruw Jones, who have hit a combined 24 home runs and knocked in 66 ribbies.

Girardi will have to be careful about getting both veterans enough rest over the last three months of the regular season to keep them fresh for October. But in that regard, I have nothing but confidence in Girardi because he has done a fantastic job of not burning out his bullpen guys and giving his older fielders days off when needed.

As disappointed as Gardner and the Yankees are about the injury, the Bronx Bombers will continue to bash their way into October. And once they get there, I believe their good starting pitching and superior bullpen will lead the way to another title. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Jeter and Mo should be unanimous Hall picks

Both Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera should be unanimous inductees to the Baseball Hall of Fame. But it won’t happen.

A survey of baseball experts proved what I long suspected: that some baseball writers are so completely full of themselves that they would not vote for Jeter on the first ballot. While they didn’t ask about Mariano, I would imagine that he would get the same treatment from the voters.

Jeter and Mo are both considered first-ballot Hall of Famers, with their five championship rings, Mo’s perch on top the all-time saves list, and Jeter and his 3,200+ hits and counting, most all time by a New York Yankees player. But while they will easily scale the 75% threshold for induction, neither one is likely to get every single vote, no matter how much they deserve it.

As least some of the writers acknowledge the hypocrisy of their counterparts. Tim Kurkjian of ESPN noted that someone will not vote for Jeter if for no other reason than to call attention to themselves. So a writer would deny Jeter his well-deserved support just for five minutes of fame. In this age of Twitter and Facebook, that writer better be prepared for the consequences.

But Kurkjian also pointed out that some writers simply believe no player should be a unanimous pick because none of the baseball legends that came before them such as Hank Aaron or Willie Mays got in with total support. How that is Jeter or Mo’s fault is beyond me. That argument seems disingenuous.

To be clear, I’m just not guilty of a Yankees bias here. There are plenty of players who should have been unanimous inductees to the Hall, but weren’t for whatever reason. Nolan Ryan is a prime example. How could a pitcher with seven no-hitters and 5,714 strikeouts not be a unanimous pick? Were there hitters voting vicariously through the baseball writers? No, I think even the hitters would have voted for Ryan given how much trouble they had facing him.

Tom “Terrific” Seaver came closest to a unanimous induction, being named on 425 of 430 ballots in January 1992 for a vote percentage of 98.84%. But those five votes demonstrate the problems with the system. I could forgive the writer recovering from open-heart surgery who neglected to vote for Seaver. But three other writers sent in blank ballots in support of Pete Rose’s candidacy and one writer refused to vote for a player in his first year of eligibility.

I think Jeter and Mo will both lose a few votes from writers who don’t believe anyone should get into the Hall of Fame on their first try. I also think they could lose some support because of an anti-Yankees bias. But both Jeter and Mo will have a fantastic showing. Seriously, there won’t be any suspense the first time their names are on the ballot. It just won’t be unanimous, even if it should be. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Talk of Mariano Rivera return warms my heart

The mere possibility that Mariano Rivera could come back from his horrific knee injury this season has got my blood flowing.

After watching Mo writhe in pain on the Kansas City warning track (I’m really starting to develop a hatred for that stadium after Mo’s injury and the fans’ vicious treatment of Robinson Cano at the All-Star game), I had no expectation that we would see him on a mound again in the 2012 baseball season. I was resigned to the fact that the New York Yankees would have to try for another World Series championship without their killer closer. But not so fast, according to Mo, who would not rule out a return to the Yankees this year.

Mo is a man of unshakeable faith and a fierce competitor so it could be just his competitive fire talking. Brian Cashman firmly dismissed the possibility of a Rivera return this year and he is not going to let Mo take chances with his health, especially not with the Yankees running away with the American League East. But with Mo (and his doctor) confirming that his knee is healing faster than expected (no great surprise given that Mo is the very definition of good health even at his age) and Mo apparently past the scary blood clot situation that delayed his surgery, it seems very possible that Mo could come back sometime in September to get himself ready for a long playoff run. Perhaps as with Andy Pettitte’s injury, Mo’s freak accident could ultimately be seen as a blessing in disguise in that the two older, clutch Yankees could return to the mound incredibly fresh for October.

Like Mariano, I don’t want to get my hopes up that we will see him on a mound again this year, but just the talk of a possible return warms my heart. Can you imagine the boost he would give to the Yankees and their fan base if he defies all expectations and returns this year to help the Yankees win championship #28? It would just add to the legend that is Mariano Rivera and provide another storybook chapter in a Hall of Fame-bound career.  

As fantastic as Rafael Soriano has been in the two months since he took over the closer’s job, there is no one I trust in a big game situation more than Mariano Rivera to protect a Yankees lead. The Yankees have lived and died with him on the mound in critical games during their championship years. And that is the way it should be.  

Monday, July 16, 2012

Bobby Valentine stirs things up again

Just when you thought the Boston Red Sox were heading toward irrelevance, there is Bobby Valentine stirring things up again.

Kevin Youkilis returns to Fenway Park tonight as a member of the Chicago White Sox after the Red Sox traded him to the Windy City in June. He will receive a well-deserved hero’s welcome from Red Sox Nation. But one person who is clearly glad to see him gone is Bobby V.

The Red Sox manager felt the need to take yet another shot at Youkilis. Back in April, Valentine said the then-Red Sox third baseman wasn’t as physically or emotionally into the game as he was before. Bobby V reignited the controversy this weekend by saying that Youkilis never got over that remark and alluding to rumors that Youkilis was suspected of making his teammates look bad by leaking stories about their drinking in the clubhouse. Apparently, trading Youkilis away wasn’t enough to rid Valentine of the hostility he obviously still feels toward his former player.

What motive does Bobby V have for stirring things up again?  Perhaps he is on the defensive ahead of Youkilis’ return home to Boston, concerned that he will be blamed for Youkilis not being around anymore. Perhaps the manager is sick of hearing how much better Youkilis is playing as a member of the White Sox when his replacement in Boston has been off the field in recent weeks due to injury. But they say the simplest explanation is often the correct one so I suspect Valentine simply dislikes Youkilis and was unable to restrain himself from taking another shot at him. Bobby V has clearly lost the ability to restrain himself from making controversial comments, which is fun for us and baseball beat writers, but not so great if he wants to keep his team from completely imploding.

The New York Yankees archrivals have had a very rough time this season. They lost three out of four games to the Yankees before the All-Star break. They are 9.5 games out of first place and are barely keeping their heads above water. But they are getting reinforcements with the imminent return of Dustin Pedroia and Carl Crawford. They still have plenty of time to turn things around, as long as they don’t get too distracted. With Valentine as a manger, that’s really unavoidable, but it’s always fun to watch. But I bet Youkilis is thanking his lucky stars he doesn’t have to answer to Bobby V anymore.

Thanks to Keith Allison via Wikipedia for the Bobby Valentine photo.  

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Yankees start second half off with a bang

The New York Yankees started off their second half with a bang, two of them in fact.

Mark Teixeira, who drew mixed reviews in the Yankees’ midseason report cards, proved that his reemergence in Boston last weekend was no fluke, hitting not one, but two home run bombs, the second of which tied the game after the Yankees were effectively throttled by CJ Wilson, who desperately wished to be a Yankee. Teixeira is a notoriously slow starter, but I think a lot of his early struggles this year could be traced to that mysterious coughing illness. I’m expecting a big second half from him now that he is fully healthy (unless his archrival Vicente Padilla decides to take another shot at him when the Red Sox come into town).

Russell Martin did not fare so well in the midseason report cards, drawing poor grades of C’s and D’s due to his offensive struggles, although his work behind the plate has remained consistent. He needed a big night more than anyone else on the Yankees roster and last night he got it. Martin’s clutch two-out base hit completed the Yankees comeback and he ended the game by throwing out his third runner of the evening. His obvious elation about the comeback victory and the huge role he played in it was priceless.

It was nice to see the Yankees start off the second half of the season with a win. All the glowing reports of their first-half performance, plus their substantial lead in the American League standings, clearly have not gone to their heads at all. We could be in for something very special the rest of the way.   

Friday, July 13, 2012

Apologetic Reggie Jackson should go silent

The great Reggie Jackson has been humbled and embarrassed by the reaction to his ill-advised comments in Sports Illustrated. He has repeatedly apologized for expressing his opinions about Alex Rodriguez’s use of performance-enhancing drugs, even though many people, including yours truly, agree with him. He has expressed deep remorse for his hurtful words about the late, great Gary Carter’s Hall of Fame credentials. But now what Reggie needs to do is just disappear for a while.

Reports surfaced that Jackson will rejoin the New York Yankees when the team makes a West Coast swing later this month. I think that’s a big mistake. I think Reggie should stay away and stay out of sight. With the Yankees, there is always some new controversy on the horizon. If Reggie stays away until then, the impact of his words will diminish and some people will even forget what the big deal was.

But the heat is not going to die down until Reggie stops talking, if he can. Reggie loves to talk and we love him for it, but right now it’s not in his best interest. I hope he realizes that sooner rather than later, before he says something he can’t take back. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Random baseball thoughts: All-Star edition

That was an embarrassing performance by the American League All-Stars, who got spanked by the National League 8-0 and lost home-field advantage for the third year in a row. Remember when the American League had that 13-game unbeaten streak in All-Star contests? That is now a thing of the past. What was most disappointing was that the early drubbing made the rest of the game a total snoozefest. I got so bored that I fell asleep and missed the last two innings of the game. I didn’t even know that Melky Cabrera won the Most Valuable Player award until this morning. Good for him.

I     * I can’t say I was thrilled to see Justin Verlander laughing it up on the sidelines after getting pounded for five runs in the first inning, putting the American League in a hole they didn’t have a chance of climbing out of, especially since “this time it counts” gave the National League home-field advantage in the World Series. I bet Verlander will rue his performance if he finds himself pitching Game 1 of the World Series for the Detroit Tigers in some National League ballpark.

       * Just when you thought Kansas City Royals fans couldn’t behave any more despicably, now comes word that Robinson Cano of the New York Yankees had to have extra security guard his family during the All-Star game because of the disgraceful behavior of Royals fans upset at Cano for supposedly snubbing their hometown hero Billy Butler in the Home Run Derby. I thought the merciless booing of Cano was extreme, but this just takes it to a whole new level. To be fair, Yankee fans have been guilty of similar boorish behavior as Cliff Lee’s wife reported getting spit at and beer thrown in her direction during the 2009 World Series. But that doesn’t make it right, either in New York or Kansas City.  

Bud Selig and Joe Torre both expressed remorse for Cano’s treatment at the hands of Kansas City fans. Hopefully, it will be enough to convince them that they are setting these players up for this kind of treatment by putting them in the position of having to choose the Derby participants. Major League Baseball should retake control of that responsibility. They can be assured that they would be safe from that type of vicious treatment since most fans couldn’t pick baseball officials not named Selig and Torre out of a lineup.  

* You have to admire R.A. Dickey, not only for the way he has dominated opposing baseball teams this year with that knuckleball, but for what he has survived in his life to get to this point of tremendous success. My admiration for him grew stronger this week as he expressed disappointment over not starting the All-Star game, a start that he earned, without criticizing National League manager Tony LaRussa for taking the start away from him. Dickey is a class act. I make it a point to turn on the Mets games when I know he is starting just to watch him pitch. I’m rooting for him to continue his fantastic run in the second half. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Did ARod have Jackson banned from Yankeeland?

The New York Yankees effectively banned Reggie Jackson from the team after his inflammatory comments about Alex Rodriguez and other performance-enhancing drug users. While I’m sure that the ultimate decision was made by Hal Steinbrenner or one of his top deputies, I can’t help but wonder how much, if anything, ARod had do with Jackson’s banishment.

Right now, ARod has a lot more pull with the Yankees than Jackson, despite his Hall of Fame pedigree, simply because ARod is a current player. Regardless of the regrets the Steinbrenners must have over the expensive, long-term deal they gave him, they have to do everything in their power to make sure ARod is happy and comfortable, so he can be as productive a player as possible. And that means not allowing Jackson anywhere near the Yankees third baseman.

Did ARod tell someone in the Yankees hierarchy that he didn’t want Reggie around for a while? Maybe, maybe not. I wouldn’t put it past ARod to say something like that. But it seems more likely that the Yankees benched Reggie just for starting an unnecessary controversy that they were forced to deal with, one that took some attention away from the team’s terrific play heading into the All-Star break.

If someone in the Yankees hierarchy made the unilateral decision to ban Jackson, was it an overreaction on his or her part? I don’t think so. It was probably a wise move if for no other reason than to avoid any incredibly awkward encounters between ARod and Jackson that would keep the story alive.

But I doubt Jackson’s banishment will last very long. I would expect to see Mr. October back in the Bronx in October. But until then, Reggie should keep a very low profile to get back into the Yankees’ good graces. 

Rude Royals fans rain on Robinson's parade

I didn’t think I’d see a worse display of sportsmanship and sour grapes than the St. Louis Post Dispatch putting an asterisk on its back page headline about Johan Santana’s no-hitter against the Cardinals. But the Kansas City Royals fans proved me wrong.

The non-stop abuse Royals fans heaped on Robinson Cano of the New York Yankees turned what should have been a positive, festive event into a nightmare for the Yankees second baseman that overshadowed what was truly a fun competition. I was astonished by the lack of class shown by the hometown fans.

I understand their disappointment over Billy Butler not making it on to the American League Home Run Derby team, but it’s not Cano’s fault that he was forced to choose his team before he knew who was going to be on the All-Star roster. If anything, their misplaced anger should have been directed at Major League Baseball. But there was no justification for the constant vitriol they directed at Cano. I was actually embarrassed for Royals fans, whose lack of hospitality proved them unworthy of hosting the All-Star game.

Cano claimed he wasn’t bothered by the sustained booing, attributing his poor performance in the Derby to a lack of sleep following Sunday night’s late marathon against the Red Sox. But it seemed that he was somewhat unnerved by the vicious treatment. He’s a member of the Yankees so booing comes with the territory. But I’m sure he didn’t expect that kind of treatment at an event that is supposed to celebrate the game and be a fun display for the fans. And he sure didn’t deserve it.

I’ve never been to St. Louis or Kansas City before and I’ve always wanted to go, especially to St. Louis, which is known to be a great baseball town. But after their behavior over the last few months, I think I’ll spend my travel dollars elsewhere. 

Monday, July 9, 2012

Happiness for AJ Burnett

There were a lot of feel-good stories in the first half of the 2012 baseball season. But for me, AJ Burnett pitching so well for the first-place Pittsburgh Pirates is one of the best ones.

Sure, most of the talk around baseball this year has revolved around exciting young players such as Mike Trout, Bryce Harper and Giancarlo Stanton, deservedly so. But after struggling during most of his three-year tenure with the New York Yankees, I’m very happy that Burnett finally found a place where he belongs, one where he is not weighed down by our often unrealistic expectations.

To be fair, Burnett did not live up to the hype of his $82.5 million contract, given to him in large part because of his dominant performances over the Yankees and the Red Sox while in a Toronto Blue Jays uniform. But that massive contract often overshadowed the fact that AJ came through with some big-game performances for the Yankees, including a crucial Game 2 win in the 2009 World Series and a clutch division series victory last year against the Detroit Tigers.

Perhaps AJ simply belongs in a place like Toronto or Pittsburgh with a more supportive fan base rather than under the never-ending New York media glare. He’s already won 10 games this year (his Yankee protégé Ivan Nova leads the Yankees with 10 victories at the break) to help the Pirates take first place in their division and I’ll be rooting for him to continue with his solid pitching in the second half of the year.

I’m glad AJ found himself again. Perhaps we’ll see him back on the Yankee Stadium mound in October, pitching against the Yankees for the National League champion Pittsburgh Pirates in the World Series. Wouldn’t that be something? 

Yankees leave Red Sox in the dust

The New York Yankees could not feel better about themselves heading into the All-Star break, with a commanding lead in the American League East standings after another Boston beat-down.

Granted, the Yankees’ play was pretty sloppy at times this weekend, with Hiroki Kuroda giving up the 5-run lead his offense staked him to on Friday night and Phil Hughes unable to pitch out of the mess his defense put him in during Saturday’s double-header nightcap. But they took three out of four games against the Boston Red Sox after getting strong performances by Freddy Garcia and Ivan Nova and a resurgent Mark Teixeira, who wisely decided not to further escalate his feud with a nut like Vicente Padilla.

More surprisingly, they got a turn-back-the-clock performance by Andruw Jones, who has been terrific subbing for the injured Brett Gardner all year, but really stepped up his game against the Red Sox this weekend. He hit four Monster home runs, constantly breaking the hearts of Saux fans anytime they thought their team might finally have a leg up on the hated Yankees. But even more impressive to me was his outstanding defense, including slamming against the Green Monster to make a terrific, rally-killing catch, which immediately conjured up images of a young Jones patrolling centerfield for the Atlanta Braves.

So despite all their injuries and lackluster play during the first six weeks of the season, the Yankees find themselves comfortably in first place with a 7-game lead over the Baltimore Orioles, nearly 10 games up over the Saux (which, let’s face it, is the only team that all Yankee fans truly care about regardless of their problems) and the best record in baseball.  

I hope Joe Girardi and his squad enjoy their All-Star break vacation. After their first-half performance, they’ve definitely earned it. 

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Teixeira-Padilla feud gets even nastier

Just when you thought the feud between Mark Teixeira and Vicente Padilla couldn’t get any nastier, it just did.

Padilla gave a Spanish-language interview to NESN, the Boston Red Sox media outlet, in which he accused Teixeira of mistreating his Latino teammates. For Padilla to turn a baseball disagreement into a racial issue is so far out of bounds that it’s just not right and makes me think the man has a couple of screws loose.

If Teixeira did threaten to hit Padilla with a bat, which I seriously doubt, it was something said out of frustration and anger over constantly getting hit in response to Padilla’s headhunting while Padilla hid behind the safety of the designated hitter. It was not something said to Padilla because Teixeira doesn’t like Latinos. Teixeira clearly does not like Padilla (Tex took great pleasure out of his game-winning hit over Padilla), but that isn’t because he is Latino. It’s because the guy is a coward who doesn’t care about his teammates. I wonder how Frank Francisco, whom Padilla accused Tex of also mistreating, feels about being dragged into this ugly drama.

With the scrutiny the New York Yankees receive, if there were any racial tensions between Teixeira and his teammates, we would probably know about it. But in Tex’s 3 ½ years with the Yankees, there’s never been a bad word said about him, anonymously or otherwise, by any of his teammates. In fact, there’s only constant praise for what he brings to the club, even during his offensive struggles.

Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine tried to laugh off the feud by saying that Padilla hasn’t been headhunting this year, but that he has to get back to that. I could understand a manager wanting to diffuse the situation, but he doesn’t seem to be taking seriously Teixeira’s chief complaint: that Padilla is going to end up seriously hurting someone if he doesn’t stop.

And Teixeira made a great point that Roger Goodell wouldn’t stand for his football players intentionally trying to hurt other players. Witness the stiff and justified punishments he handed out for Bounty-gate. Bud Selig and Major League Baseball shouldn’t stand for it either. The next time Padilla hits Teixeira, and there will be a next time, Selig should immediately suspend Padilla for at least 10 games.

I have a serious problem with someone who uses allegations of racism to justify his own bad behavior. Padilla is completely out of control, but we already knew that, didn’t we? 

Saturday, July 7, 2012

ARod finally feels Jeter’s pain of betrayal

Alex Rodriguez must finally understand how his former pal and now frenemy Derek Jeter felt when ARod criticized him in Esquire all those years ago.

ARod is getting a taste of his ownmedicine after being called out by Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson in Sports Illustrated this week. The former New York Yankees great said ARod has no place in baseball’s hallowed Hall because of his use of performance-enhancing drugs. To be fair, Reggie took shots at plenty of people in the article, including many of his fellow members of the Hall and even one who died very recently in Gary Carter, which has earned Jackson plenty of criticism. But the shots at ARod got the most attention because they are both members of the Yankees organization and supposedly friends and because anything involving ARod is controversial.

The Yankees third baseman invoked the “with friends like that who needs enemies” line before declining to talk about the impact of these comments on his relationship with Jackson. But he is clearly pissed off, as he has every right to be. Jackson has every right to express his opinion that the PED users should not be allowed in the Hall, an opinion shared by me and many other baseball observers. I even give Reggie credit for daring to say what many of his fellow Hall of Famers are probably thinking. But given Jackson’s position as special advisor for the Yankees, it was probably unwise for him to have specifically targeted ARod, even if he is right.

I doubt ARod and Reggie were ever as close as ARod used to be with Jeter. Remember, Jeter opened up his home to his pal when ARod was with the Seattle Mariners and visiting New York to play against the Yankees. I vividly remember a video of the two of them teasing each other (Jeter jokingly once sent ARod a signed Derek Jeter baseball card as a gift). But ARod ruined that relationship completely when he took those shots at Jeter in that Esquire article.

ARod made some ill-advised and insensitive comments about how Jeter was never the threat another team worried about when facing the Yankees. Jeter was blindsided and deeply hurt by the comments and never really forgave ARod. Most of their conflict in the latter years was not about the Esquire article, but about Jeter’s annoyance with ARod’s vanity and selfish ways, according to Ian O’Connor’s terrific book The Captain. But that Esquire article broke their friendship. ARod now knows how it feels to be publicly stabbed in the back by someone you considered a friend.

Reggie better hope ARod is a lot moreforgiving than Jeter is. But as they say, what goes around comes around. 

Friday, July 6, 2012

Jackson: Keep PED users out of Hall, except Pettitte & Clemens?

I don’t blame Reggie Jackson for being angry at Alex Rodriguez, Barry Bonds and the other performance-enhancing drug users. I can’t even imagine how bad it feels to watch these guys pass you on baseball’s all-time home run list, knowing that they cheated their way to the top.

But unlike Jackson, I make no distinction between ARod and Andy Pettitte when it comes to PED usage. It’s clear that Jackson would be okay with Pettitte being elected to the Hall of Fame out of an abundance of affection for the lefty, who grew up in the New York Yankees organization. He clearly does not have the same level of affection for ARod. 

Some writers may follow that route, voting in favor of good guys like Pettitte while ignoring controversial players such as Bonds and ARod. But I don’t think that’s fair. I’ve always liked Andy Pettitte myself, a lot more than I ever liked ARod, but I still wouldn’t put him in the Hall if I had a vote because he cheated. Affection for the player should not be the deciding factor. The damage they caused to the game by cheating should outweigh everything else.

I do wonder if Jackson is right about Roger Clemens being elected to the Hall of Fame. His eligibility begins next year and he was acquitted of the federal charges filed against him, as Jackson notes. But a court of law and the court of public opinion are two completely different things. Just because he beat the charges doesn’t mean he is innocent. A lot of guilty people beat the system, because of incompetence by the prosecutors, weak evidence or even their likability.

I wonder if the Clemens acquittal will give enough baseball writers cover to vote for him, if they are so inclined. But I suspect that too many writers hold my view, that anyone even linked to PED usage should not get in, which kept Mark McGwire out of the Hall of Fame for years before he even admitted his steroids use.

Jackson will always court controversy because that is just who he is, but I doubt that Major League Baseball will be happy to see such a prominent Hall of Famer talking about an issue that they probably hoped would go away for a while after the Clemens trial. But Jackson has every right to express his belief that the cheaters don’t belong in the Hall. I also hope that the Hall remains free of the PED users and I make no exceptions for anyone, not even Pettitte and his pal.  

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Joba Chamberlain closing in on a comeback

Tomorrow is a big day for Joba Chamberlain. No, it’s not his birthday, but if it was, his birthday wish would probably be to come through tomorrow’s simulated game pain free.

It’s a big step on Joba’s way back to rejoining the New York Yankees after last year’s devastating, unexpected elbow injury and the fluke trampoline accident that dislocated his ankle. So far, Chamberlain has passed all the tests and reported no lingering pain from either injury (although he has an incredibly high pain tolerance, throwing gas with a torn ligament in that elbow right up until the injury was discovered).

The Yankees bullpen could use a fresh arm. The relievers, with the notable exception of Rafael Soriano, have really struggled of late. I suspect the struggles can be traced back to them being forced to throw too many innings earlier in the baseball season when the Yankees starters were struggling to get past the 5th and 6th innings. If a healthy Joba can help lessen the workload, Joe Girardi can give some of those arms some much needed rest.   

I’m rooting to see Joba back in pinstripes as soon as possible, as long as he doesn’t rush through his rehab and reinjure himself. He would make a strength of the Yankees team even stronger. But for me, it’s about more than just making the Yankees a better team. I always root hardest for the homegrown Yankees and Joba is definitely one of those so I would love to see him back on the mound, throwing gas like the Joba of old. 

Monday, July 2, 2012

Old Timers' Day never gets old

Some people might find the pomp and circumstance of Old Timers’ Day at Yankee Stadium annoying. I am not one of those people.

Despite the already sweltering heat at 11am, I arrived bright and early for Sunday’s Old Timers’ Day festivities because it’s one of my favorite days of the baseball season, one I look forward to every year. I take pictures of every single former New York Yankees player introduced and cheer wildly for all my old favorites, including Tino Martinez and Bernie Williams, who got the loudest ovations. I was kind of hoping Tino would hit one out again this year, but it didn’t happen. Maybe because he wasn’t facing David Cone, who grooved him a pitch in last year’s game and has no problem taking partial credit for that homer. 

The Clippers beat up on the Bombers to a 6-2 score, but it was all in good fun. The game was close heading into the last inning, but Sterling Hitchcock got slapped around a little bit and this being an Old Timers’ Day, there was no relief in sight. Some of my favorite moments: Mick the Quick still hustling, with Rivers nearly beating out a grounder to short to start the game, Tino’s infield popup that nobody bothered to try to catch, Homer Bush, ever the good sport, donning the catcher’s gear and bumping into the home-plate umpire in futile pursuit of a foul ball. I was also glad to see Bernie have a good day, driving a ball out to Rickey Henderson in centerfield for a sacrifice fly and hitting a line drive for his second ribbie in his next at-bat. I also got a kick out of seeing Tanyon Sturtze come off the mound to catch a popup, something current pitchers are reluctant to do, as part of a 1-2-3 inning and then head out to right field to replace Paul O’Neill.

The bonus of the day was that one of my favorite current Yankees, Phil Hughes, pitched a fantastic game. I was beginning to feel like I was Phil’s jinx after the 1st inning when he gave up those two runs. He has gotten hammered in a couple of previous starts I attended. After that rough first frame, I vowed that I would never attend another one of his starts if he lost, just in case I was in fact his jinx (yes, I can be ridiculously superstitious when it comes to baseball). But luckily for me, I mean for Hughes, he took the bull by the horns and pitched an outstanding game, surviving what must have been brutal on-the-field conditions to throw shutout ball the rest of the way.

So my favorite youngster pitched a hell of a game after my favorite old timers had the time of their lives. It was a good day all around, despite the heat. But after sweating through two baseball games this weekend, I may avoid the stadium for a while, at least until this heat wave breaks. 

Congratulations to Yankee All-Stars

The New York Yankees will be well represented at this year’s All-Star game, even without Rafael Soriano.

Yankees Captain and shortstop Derek Jeter, second baseman Robinson Cano and centerfielder Curtis Granderson will all make the trek to Kansas City to participate in the Midsummer’s Classic. It’s a well deserved honor by all three, even though Granderson is the only one who’s been consistent throughout the year, with Jeter slumping badly over the last month and Cano having trouble driving runners in from scoring position before his recent hot stretch.

In previous years, the American League All-Star game was always top heavy with Yankee and Boston Red Sox players. But CC Sabathia was the only other Yankee to make the team and he will sit the game out due to his injury. It’s truly shocking how hard the Saux have fallen, with only David Ortiz slated to represent Boston in the game.

Befitting their status as the dominant team in the American League in recent years, Texas will have seven players on the All-Star roster, led by Josh Hamilton, who shattered the voting record with more than 11 million votes in support of his candidacy. Barack Obama and Mitt Romney can only wish they can match that type of enthusiastic support in November.
There will be no repeat of the controversy over Jeter skipping the All-Star game as the Yankee shortstop has promised to appear this year. Jeter may rather have the time off, but he no longer has a choice in the matter due to the Derek Jeter rule that all players  voted to the team must show up to play, barring some time of emergency or injury. And as image-conscious as Jeter is, he must realize that skipping the All-Star game again would cause major damage to his reputation.  

Still, it is nice to be recognized, something I’m sure all the Yankee players enjoy, especially Cano, the reigning Home Run Derby champ who will captain this year’s AL team. I don’t really care much about the derby, but will tune in to support my Yankees.  

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Rafael Soriano should make All-Star team

Rafael Soriano is not among the top five save leaders in the American League, but I still wish his name would be called when the All-Star team is officially unveiled later today.

Soriano technically didn’t get the save yesterday afternoon, but he saved Boone Logan by seemingly effortlessly dispatching the Chicago White Sox in the 9th inning. Watching Soriano come in to end the game, I’m reminded of what a godsend he has been since taking over the closer’s job for the injured Mariano Rivera and David Robertson. I was pushing for D-Rob to get the job after Mo went down for the season, but Soriano grabbed hold of the job and has refused to let go. He has been nearly perfect in save opportunities this year, with 17 of 18 saves converted, the most saves in a season by a guy not named Mariano Rivera since Mo took over the job for good in 1997.

When the great Mariano goes down and the New York Yankees find a replacement for a future Hall of Famer who has not just made the devastating loss manageable but has actually contributed to the now first-place team’s renaissance, that player deserves special recognition. That is why I’m hoping that Soriano is rewarded for his efforts with a spot on the All-Star team.  

It probably won’t happen, with six guys ahead of him in the saves category, some of whom also have very compelling and worthy numbers. Soriano may even prefer it that way, having already been an All-Star once before in 2010. Under the new rules, players named to the team must show up, barring some kind of personal catastrophic event or injury, which I refer to as the Derek Jeter rule after the Yankees shortstop declined to play in the All-Star game last year.

Soriano may prefer to spend the time with his family rather than in scorching Kansas City. But even if he does not make the team, he should be proud of his contribution to his team’s renaissance because they couldn’t have done it without him.