Sunday, December 30, 2012

Retiring Matsui made a big impact in New York

Hideki Matsui will always be remembered in America as a great player for the New York Yankees.

Matsui was already a three-time champion and hero in his native Japan when he came to play under the Bronx spotlight. He quickly proved worthy of the Bronx Bomber nickname given to our Yankees, with a Grand Slam in the 2003 Yankee Stadium home opener. He also quickly became a favorite of both the fans and his teammates, including Derek Jeter, who issued a genuinely complimentary statement about Matsui’s retirement.

I think Jeter had a lot of affection for Matsui because he felt the outfielder was the embodiment of a true Yankee, with an unrivaled work ethic and complete devotion to the team concept that drove the Yankees late 1990s dynasty. Matsui would have fit in very well with those championship teams. Unfortunately, he got to New York a few years too late to participate in the dynasty. But in his last year with the Yankees, the team won a World Series championship, with a big assist from Matsui in a dominant performance that earned him the series’ Most Valuable Player award.

Although Matsui spent the last three years of his US career in lesser roles with other baseball teams, he will always be remembered fondly for his time in New York.

Godspeed, Godzilla.
Thanks to Keith Allison via Wikipedia for the Matsui photo.  

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Jets horrible treatment of Tebow a disgrace

This is a primarily a baseball blog and it’s not often I comment on developments in other sports, but I just can’t stay quiet anymore about the despicable treatment that Tim Tebow has suffered at the hands of his coach and the rest of the New York Jets hierarchy.

Whatever you think of Tebow’s football skills, he does not deserve to be treated this shabbily by his bosses. There was a lot of excitement surrounding the trade for the quarterback after he led the Denver Broncos to a surprising postseason berth last season (and a thoroughly satisfying upset of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Ben Roethlisberger). But things went poorly from the start in New York, not really due to any of Tebow’s shortcomings, but because Jets management never figured out his role on the team. And now it looks like the Jets are trying to make Tebow the scapegoat for their disappointing campaign.  

Having lost faith in Mark Sanchez long ago, I thought it was only a matter of time until Tebow took over the starting quarterback job. I did not anticipate the inexplicable disdain and pettiness of his head coach. Rex Ryan has gone out of his way to marginalize and embarrass Tebow. First, Ryan waited until Tebow was sidelined with an injury to bench Sanchez in favor of Greg McElroy. Then, the coach refused to insert Tebow into the starting slot after it became abundantly clear that Sanchez has completely lost all his confidence and skills. Now, Ryan will reinstate Sanchez, despite his obvious problems, for the last game of the season due to concussion-like symptoms suffered by McElroy rather than let Tebow start at quarterback in the last game of a miserable season.

Really, how much crap is a player supposed to take from his coach? I wish loudmouth Ryan would be banished to Siberia, but the Jets don’t look inclined to make that move. They’d rather banish Tebow, which at this point is the kindest thing they could do for him.

Thanks to Jeffrey Beall via Wikipedia for the Tim Tebow photo.   

Sunday, December 23, 2012

So long Swish!

Nick Swisher did really well for himself financially this offseason.

Swisher will sign a four-year, $56 million contract with the Cleveland Indians, with a $14 million option for a fifth year. That’s a nifty deal for Swisher. I’m a little surprised he went to Cleveland given their struggles in recent years and I do wonder how his personality is going to play in the Heartland. But that kind of money is hard to say no to and it would have been difficult to match that offer in a more desirable market.

As much as I liked Swisher personally, I think the New York Yankees were right to let him walk. He is a solid, but not great player and I don’t think he is worth that kind of money or length of contract. I became very frustrated with his disappearing act during the four postseason chances he had in the Bronx. Swisher was a solid player during the regular season, but a non-factor in every baseball playoff series, including this season when the Yankees could have benefitted from him stepping up after that devastating injury to Derek Jeter.

But he had a nice couple of years in New York and I wish him well and hope his family is happy in Cleveland. Perhaps I’ll make it out to see him in Ohio next year as part of my quest to visit every ballpark in America. I’ll root for him, except if they are playing the Yankees.

Godspeed, Nick Swisher.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Jeter call lifts spirit of grieving family

With all the negativity surrounding baseball and other major sports these days, it is heartwarming to hear about the random acts of kindness made by professional athletes. Not surprising at all, Derek Jeter has yet again reached out to someone in need.

The captain of the New York Yankees called Donna Soto, the mother of Vicki Soto, the young teacher killed protecting her first-grade students during the heartbreaking mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut last week. The call was a happy surprise for the family and lifted some of the clouds on what was perhaps the darkest day of their lives.  

Jeter is not the only athlete to reach out to the victims’ families. New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz met with the family of 6-year old victim Jack Pinto, who was laid to rest wearing the jersey of his favorite player. Cruz also paid tribute to his young fan by writing RIP Jack Pinto on his shoes during last Sunday’s Giants football game. Sometimes we forget that athletes are people just like the rest of us, but they are human beings and they are sharing in the pain we are all feeling over the loss of so many innocent children and their heroic protectors.  

If it were up to Derek Jeter, we never would have heard about that call. Jeter uses his superpowers for good, but he never seeks recognition for it. In his Jeter biography, The Captain, Ian O’Connor tells a great story about a firehouse visit the Yankees organization scheduled after the 9/11 attacks, of which they notified the press that Yankee players would be available to talk. But Jeter objected because of his concern that a photo op and news conference would trivialize the pain of these exhausted rescue workers and the families of the victims. The captain refused to budge and a private, non-publicized visit happened on a later date.

We usually only find out about Jeter’s good deeds when the person on the receiving end chooses to talk about them, as Soto’s sister did in publicly thanking the Yankees for a phone call that meant the world to her grieving mother. Jeter would never have said a word, mostly out of respect for the Soto family’s devastating personal loss, but also because he does most of his good deeds out of the public view. And that’s the way it should be.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Mets give fans lump of coal by trading Dickey

I just opened my email this morning to see the New York Mets are having a holiday ticket sale, which I find amusing since they just gave their fans a big lump of coal by trading RA Dickey.

Sure, the Toronto Blue Jays gave up two top prospects who might turn out to be baseball superstars. Or like so many hot prospects before them, they could crash and burn in the big leagues, especially in the glare of the New York City spotlight (if they even make it that far). But we knew Dickey could handle the heat because we saw him pitch his way to the National League Cy Young award in 2012.

A question that still lingers is if the Mets, who were portrayed as being on the fence, ultimately decided to trade Dickey because he had the nerve to express his frustration with the pace of his contract negotiations at the team’s holiday party. While I agree that the timing was terrible, I completely understand Dickey’s frustration and am bewildered that the Mets traded him rather than give him the same, very reasonable deal the Blue Jays did. Sandy Alderson firmly denied that Dickey’s comments had anything to do with the trade and I do believe it was driven more by the Mets simply not wanting to pay their ace that much money on a team that’s probably going to be pretty bad for the next few years. But I wouldn’t put it past the Mets to make such a petty move.

Even if you think the Mets made the right call in getting such talent for an ace they didn’t want to pay to keep, the problem with the move in the short term is that there is now one less reason for Mets fans to bother showing up at the ballpark. The Mets had to prove that they are committed to putting a quality team on the field right now and trading Dickey runs counter to that.

Holiday gift packs for Mets fans are available today, but I doubt Mets fans will be reaching into their wallets to get them.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Yankees losing the money race to LA teams

It’s official: the New York Yankees are no longer baseball’s freest spenders.
In what appeared to be a contracting market, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim swooped in to sweep Josh Hamilton off his feet with a 5-year, $125 million deal. I’m sure it’s a lot less than Hamilton thought he deserved, but it’s still a fantastic deal for someone with his injury and addiction history. The Angels have spent money like crazy over the past two years, signing Albert Pujols and Yankee reject CJ Wilson to long, rich deals. They went after Hamilton despite, or perhaps because of, missing out of the baseball playoffs in 2012, in an effort to re-establish themselves in the American League West by stealing their main rival’s best player.
The Hamilton signing follows the six-year, $147 million mega-deal that Zack Greinke, the only ace-type pitcher available on the free agent market, got from the Los Angeles Dodgers, who are also spending like they don’t have a care in the world. Greinke’s market was thought to be limited, perhaps not as limited as Hamilton’s, because of his mental issues and his apparent disdain for big cities. But in a “pitiful” free-agent market, as described by Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, Greinke was going to be well compensated. And the Dodgers, who bailed out the Boston Red Sox by taking several crushing, long-term deals and petulant players off their hands, were more than eager to accommodate Greinke in their battle for the hearts and minds of Los Angelenos.
In previous years, I would have believed that Hamilton or Greinke (or perhaps both) would have been viable candidates to become New York Yankees. But I barely paid attention to speculation surrounding their free agent status because I knew this year would be different, despite the embarrassing sweep the Yankees suffered at the hands of the Detroit Tigers in the American League Championship Series, because I knew there was virtually no chance either one of them would end up in the Bronx.
For the Yankees, there is a different sheriff in town in Hal Steinbrenner, who apparently cares nothing about making a big splash. His father George Steinbrenner would have overlooked both players’ personal demons and spent whatever he had to spend to convince them to come to New York. Hal Steinbrenner simply does not think that way. It’s a healthy strategy when you are dealing with guys like Hamilton and Greinke, who probably were not the best fit for New York anyway. But what happens the next time a great free agent who could be the perfect solution to a baseball problem in the Bronx becomes available? Is Hal Steinbrenner going to spend what it takes to get the guy or watch as another free-spending team like the Angels or the Dodgers snatches him up? To be determined.
Thanks to Mikejames 19 via Wikipedia for the Hamilton photo.   


Thursday, December 13, 2012

Youkilis could pull an Ichiro-like Yankees revival

I’m not crazy about the idea of Kevin Youkilis becoming a member of the New York Yankees, but I’m hoping I’m wrong about him, just as I was wrong about Ichiro Suzuki.

Reports indicate that the Yankees are close to finalizing deals with both Youkilis and Ichiro soon. I’m happy to welcome Ichiro back as he proved to be a valuable addition to the Yankees during the 2012 season. I’m a lot less excited about Youkilis playing third base for the Bronx Bombers.

My hesitation about Youkilis has nothing to do with him being a former member of the Boston Red Sox, although he will probably never earn my affection, just like Roger Clemens and Johnny Damon never won me over despite World Series championships. My issue with Youkilis is that I don’t think he’s a very good player anymore, certainly not worth the $12 million the Yankees threw in his direction. His batting average has slipped in recent years although he had a decent second half in 2012 after being traded to the Chicago White Sox. The Yankees were in a tight spot because they needed a third baseman for at least the first half of 2013, but didn’t want to make any multi-year offers to anyone due to their newfound austerity. They had to go with who they could afford and so they decided Youkilis was the best one-year option for them.  

But I’m willing to entertain the possibility of Youkilis becoming a new man in the Bronx and Ichiro is the only reason for that. I wasn’t crazy about the trade for Ichiro last season because I thought it was a typical, old-Yankees style move: trading for an aging veteran with tremendous name recognition who could no longer play up to his previously high standards. But I couldn’t have been more wrong. It turned out that all Ichiro needed was a change of scenery to rediscover his stroke and love for the game of baseball. He proved to be a terrific addition to the Yankees, both on the field and in the clubhouse.

Maybe Youkilis will win Yankee fans over, just like he won the hearts of Red Sox Nation, by pulling an Ichiro and reviving his career in pinstripes. I’m willing to give him that chance.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Hopeful ARod wants another ring

Alex Rodriguez obviously misses the love he received from leading the New York Yankees to a World Series title in 2009, however fleeting that love was.

I’m not sure even a second World Series title would be enough for ARod to once and for all win the hearts and minds of Yankee fans. But it sure couldn’t hurt. And it would be a big step up from what he’s feeling now, which is anger from Yankee fans about his most recent postseason struggles and his enormous salary, which is now choking the Yankees so hard they couldn’t afford to bring back their #1 catcher Russell Martin.

But I feel badly for ARod because he does not get the benefit of the doubt even when he probably deserves it. Like with this most recent hip injury, the news of which came out of nowhere. I was at physical therapy today and I overheard two men discussing ARod and questioning why he didn’t have the surgery months ago to help him get ready for an earlier return in 2013. But I give ARod enough benefit of the doubt to believe that he really did not realize the extent of his injury and how long it would take to fix and heal from it. I don’t believe there is any ploy on his part to collect his millions and sit around relaxing at his Miami home. And I do believe he desperately wants to win another championship ring with the Yankees.

For the Yankees’ sake, I hope ARod’s pledge to come back strong from this injury and help his team win another World Series title comes to fruition. The Yankees need ARod to be a solid version of his old self if they are ever going to get back to the Promised Land.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Yankees turned off by pitiful free agent class

Brian Cashman is as candid as can be for a baseball general manager. But even I was startled by his honest assessment of this year’s free agent class, which has so far kept him on the sidelines.

“This is not a good strong, free agent class,” he said. “It’s actually a pitiful one to be quite honest.”

Cashman is blaming the lack of aggressiveness on the part of the New York Yankees on a weak slate of free agent options. And he’s right. When the best free agent available is an injury prone, drug addict in Josh Hamilton, there aren’t many good options. In previous years, that hardly would have mattered to George Steinbrenner, who always wanted to make a splash and show the world that he only cares about winning. He would have spent whatever was necessary to put Hamilton in pinstripes. But with the Boss long gone, these are different times for the Yankees and fiscal discipline will prevail over the desire to win the back page.  

The Yankees general manager is being cautious in signing players because he does not want to make the same mistake that he and the Yankees have made in the past in throwing tons of dough at a baseball player, only to find out that player wasn’t cut out for the New York spotlight. Strange as it may sound, he simply can’t afford to make those mistakes anymore due to Hal Steinbrenner’s payroll mandate. Rather than throwing his limited funds at a player he can’t be sure can perform under the intense pressure in New York, Cashman has focused on re-signing players he knows who can: Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera and Hiroki Kuroda. It’s a wise approach and one that should serve the Yankees well, even in future years when the free agent choices get better.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Random baseball thoughts: winter meetings edition

The New York Yankees are in such a tight spot with their unexpected third base vacancy that they are willing to throw $12 million at aging nemesis Kevin Youkilis, formerly of the Boston Red Sox, to try to fill the hole left by Alex Rodriguez’s injury. The Yankees have long had a reputation for spending whatever it takes to get their man. But the Yankees are only trying to overpay Youkilis because they were rejected by several other third basemen, including Eric Chavez, due to their newfound stinginess.

There can be no mistaking that the Yankees are serious about sticking to their budget, which means Yankee fans will probably not get Josh Hamilton under their Christmas tree (and despite his talent and home-run prowess, I don’t think New York is the right place for him anyway). While a blockbuster move can never be ruled out, I suspect the Yankees are more likely to make do with what they already have.

 ·         The Yankees’ stinginess is making Scott Boras’ job a lot more difficult. He convinced Rafael Soriano to opt out of his contract after Soriano had a terrific year closing games in place of the injured Mariano Rivera. But without the Yankees, Soriano’s market is very limited. I’m sure Boras never expected to see the day when the Yankees closed their wallets this tightly, but now that it’s here, the super agent is going to have to figure out a new strategy to get his clients the megadeals that they have gotten used to.

·         It was nice to see the New York Mets lock up their only remaining franchise player in David Wright. As the Yankees are learning, good third baseman are very expensive and letting Wright test the free agent waters would have bitten the Mets in the ass. Now if they can only get RA Dickey signed to a long-term deal, they can go a long way toward making their disillusioned fan base happy again. I know they can get a nice package in return for Dickey following his Cy Young campaign, but you have to give Mets fans a reason to keep coming to the ballpark and signing Wright alone just won’t do it.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Yankees injury news good for Jeter, bad for ARod

So Derek Jeter isn’t fat as the New York Post would have us believe, while Alex Rodriguez was more seriously hurt than any of us knew.

I must admit to finding the Post picture and headline absolutely hilarious and I’m glad the New York Yankees captain has a sense of humor about it too. Let’s face it: if Derek Jeter is out of shape, there is no hope for the rest of us. But Jeter, media savvy guy that he is, could have pulled a Charles Barkley and parlayed that photo into a Weight Watchers endorsement deal if the rumors of his overweight state had not been quickly dispelled by his pal Harold Reynolds on Twitter. I’m kind of disappointed by the quick debunking because I felt like Jeter and I had something in common as I myself have put on a few pounds since my back injury. So I guess this confirms that I have absolutely nothing in common with the Yankee captain, except our mutual love for the Bronx Bombers.

Besides laughing off the fun the Post editors had at his expense, Jeter came out of his offseason seclusion to proclaim that he will be ready for Opening Day 2013. Now when it comes to injuries, we have to take Jeter’s comments with a grain of salt because the captain, seemingly impervious to pain, always says he will play despite whatever injury he is contending with. But Jeter reported that his ankle is healing as expected and he only has a few more weeks to go in his walking boot. If so, that gives him enough time for the intensive rehab that will be needed to ensure that the ankle is in tip-top shape. And knowing Jeter’s discipline and work ethic, I have no doubt he will do whatever it takes to get ready for baseball.

The news was not as good for Alex Rodriguez. He will be out until at least June because of a needed surgery on his left hip, disturbing news considering he has already endured major pain and lost time due to his surgically-repaired right hip. His absence will force the Yankees to find a substitute for the first three months of the season at third base and in the middle of the Yankees lineup.

But I reject the argument that people criticizing ARod for his poor performance in the 2012 playoffs somehow now owe him an apology. We can only make decisions or judgments on performance based on the information at hand and news about this injury did not surface until more than a month after the postseason ended. And ARod is going to have to deal with the fresh round of speculation that his use of steroids has led to his deteriorating physical condition.  But given the chokehold ARod’s contract has on the Yankees payroll, the Yankees have to do everything they can to get him healthy and back on the field, even if he never reclaims his status as baseball’s best player.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Drug cheats will likely miss out on Hall of Fame

Those of us who do not want performance-enhancing drug users to darken the doorstep of the Baseball Hall of Fame apparently have reason to be optimistic about the 2013 voting.

A rather intensive survey by the Associated Press (apparently more thorough than this year’s election polling) demonstrates that Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa, all linked to the use of PEDs in some way, likely have no chance of induction into the Hall this year.

I never expected Sosa to have a real chance at first-ballot induction. Sosa was a one-trick pony (even his hometown baseball writers refuse to vote for him) and that trick was up as soon as he was definitively linked to steroids by the New York Times. But I thought there was a slim chance enough writers would overlook the misdeeds of Bonds and Clemens and focus on their earlier careers, which some argue were Hall of Fame-worthy even before they even turned to drugs. I often want to ask people who make that argument how they know that Bonds and Clemens weren’t dirty, cheating in some form or another, back then. When it comes to those two, they have not earned the benefit of the doubt.

The survey does leave open the possibility of future induction, particularly for Bonds and Clemens, as some writers will simply punish the two by not voting for them on the first ballot. But that’s a question for another day, one that will be debated endlessly if they fail to score the first time around.

But Bill Madden today makes an excellent argument that the debate over the PED cheaters is overshadowing truly deserving Hall candidates such as Jack Morris and Craig Biggio. I was disappointed that Morris, the epitome of a big-game pitcher, did not get in last year, partly because of the anti-induction campaign launched by the stat geeks against his candidacy. But he got just shy of 67% in 2012, which bodes well for his chances in this round of balloting. I’d be surprised if Biggio, with his 3,000+ hits doesn’t make it in, although he could be hurt by voters who don’t believe he is worthy of first-ballot induction. If that’s the case, expect him to come really close in the balloting this year, which sets him up for election in 2014.  

So I won’t just be rooting against Bonds, Clemens and Sosa. I will be cheering hard for Morris and Biggio. Let these two deserving candidates in, writers!
Thanks to Wjmummert via Wikipedia for the Sosa photo.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Mariano Rivera back for final curtain with Yankees?

Mariano Rivera is coming back to the New York Yankees because has way too much pride (the good kind of pride) for his Hall of Fame career to end on the Kansas City warning track. But will this be the final hurrah for the legendary Yankee? I think it could be and we all need to prepare ourselves for that possibility.  

Like with Andy Pettitte, the negotiations on Mariano’s new deal seem to have been relatively painless, even though he took less money to return to the Bronx after his unfortunate knee injury. But once Mo decided on one more year, he and the Yankees quickly came to an agreement because they know that they are meant for each other and that they need each other.

But this has to be a transition year for the Yankees. I suspect Mo is going to call it quits after this season. Even though the pull of baseball is strong, there were signs that the pull of family was getting stronger for Mo. If he is injury free, he will likely put up Mo-like save and ERA numbers and then walk away on a high note. The Yankees are going to have to spend 2013 testing David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain and the rest of their relief core to see who has the guts to step into those legendary shoes.

This is a transition year for Yankee fans as well. We’re going to have to make peace with the fact that in the near future we are not going to have Mariano closing games for us anymore. We’re going to have to live with the sheer nervousness of slim 9th inning leads that other baseball teams navigate on a daily basis, but that we haven’t worried about in 15 years. We’ll just have to enjoy this while it lasts, however much longer that will be.