Results tagged ‘ Derek Jeter ’

Even Big Market Fans Have A Right To Kvetch, Too

I wonder sometimes if I am still living in the baseball city in which I was born.

At almost any point from my teen years to several months ago, the New York newspapers would by now have been calling for the dismissal of Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman, and the public shaming and court-martialing of the Wilpon family.

Instead I am reading a lot about how the Yankees will be “better balanced” without Cliff Lee; that they can get the bullpen depth they need instead, and a righty bat off the bench. Yes, having Sergio Mitre as your third starter and thus sinking to a record around .500 is about as balanced as you can get.

When the city isn’t making excuses for the Yanks’ impenetrable player acquisition strategy, it is commending new Mets’ GM Sandy Alderson as a great baseball man. So’s John McGraw, and what’s more, McGraw’s made just as many big moves this winter as Alderson has.

Seriously, I’m a baseball fan who happens to be a Yankee customer, and I did not have an irrational rooting interest in whether or not Lee ended up in the Bronx. But between the Yanks’ two failures to get him, and the sudden signing of Russell Martin, I’m very dubious about the chain of logic in the front office – if any.

As I recall, the trade with Seattle for Lee fell through last summer because Brian Cashman refused to part with both catching prospect Jesus Montero and shortstop prospect Eduardo Nunez. Nunez, of course, later came up to New York and showed he might survive as a utilityman but right now doesn’t come close to being even a reliable .250 hitter. I have heard two completely conflicting sets of information about Montero: the first that he is the Super Prospect: an influential catcher in all aspects of the job, and a potent bat. The second is that he has not grown either as a defender, handler of pitchers, or check on baserunners, and that his swing has more than one hole.

In 25 years of carefully watching scouting reports, when they conflict this much, I’ve never seen the positive ones prove correct. More over, it is clear that the real catching prospect in the Yankee system is young Gary Sanchez, who cut across rookie ball and at Staten Island like lightning this summer.

And now mix Russell Martin into the recipe. And the re-signed Derek Jeter, with the loose plan that he’ll play shortstop for another two years, by which time Jorge Posada will have presumably retired and Jeter can slide over to become a 39-year old DH without any measurable power.

So Montero has no role in 2010 and Nunez won’t be thought of for a job (one he probably can’t handle anyway) until 2012? And they are in New York and Cliff Lee is not? And even assuming the statistics, the history, the precedent, and the hands of time are wrong about Jeter and Cashman is right – nobody is yelling at Yankee management? Even though there are no prominent pitchers to trade for (and don’t say “Felix Hernandez” – he has a no-trade deal and the Yankees are reportedly on the no-way list)?

And the Mets of this winter make the Yankees of this winter look like the Red Sox of this winter. When you are operating in the nation’s largest community, and your team is without a single nearly-ready position prospect, and you still haven’t bitten the bullet on Luis Castillo and Ollie Perez, and you insist there are no economic restrictions on your personnel budget, and your top free agent signees are two guys dropped by the Pirates, surely some member of the Enraged Fourth Estate that has made this city the cuss-filled territory it is today should be demanding that the team either get on the stick or let the fans in for free.

It would be nice to dismiss this as the ranting of a big market fan with a sense of entitlement and a terrible fear he is finally facing his comeuppance. But face it, in the smaller markets, when the ownership misleads you and puts an inferior product on the field, they do not have the further gall to charge you $100 a ticket in the upper deck. 

More On Jeter And 1894

It would appear that the Derek Jeter mess is down to one escape route.

Jeter should take the Yankees’ last offer, adding only one demand to a deal that will already overpay him by 50% or more. To save both his tattered reputation and the equally-sullied one of the Yanks, he should agree to the three years at $15,000,000 per and append to it a deal for an undisclosed figure that keeps him in the employ of the team in some non-playing capacity for ten years or twenty or whatever number they choose to pull out of thin air. Presumably a clause giving him an out in 2014 if he still wants to play (Japan?) could be worked in and boasted about by both sides.
Add one hug, ignore the reality that the Yankees should’ve spent the winter seeking not to mollify Jeter but to replace him, and everybody’s happy – until Jeter hits .238 in 2011.
The urgency of settlement has never been more pronounced than tonight. It’s pretty bad when three or four of your four theoretical alternatives to being vastly overpaid in New York disappear on the same day: The Dodgers sign Juan Uribe to play second, the Giants are about to sign Miguel Tejada to play short, the Rays have just put Jason Bartlett on the block to make room for Reid Brignac and Cardinals trade for Ryan Theriot (conceivably leaving the other middle infield spot still open unless the Skip Schumaker fan club prevails) – oh and Troy Tulowitzki just set the real bar for what a superb shortstop is worth (as opposed to what he was worth).
So that leaves Baltimore (Japan?)
Bad day to be Derek Jeter. He and agent Casey Close were said to have met with the Yankees today, were said to have been a little more flexible when they did so, and Jeter supposedly says he and Close will meet again tomorrow. I think, perhaps, they should.
MEANWHILE, BACK ON THE TEMPLE CUP SCOREBOARD:
I am charmingly chastised by Jenny Ambrose of 

TempleTiernan.jpg

the Hall of Fame that the publication from which those first-ever Temple Cup photos were taken and posted here (that’s a detail of Giants’ rightfielder Mike Tiernan, warning up before Game Four at the Polo Grounds in New York, a thousand yards from Yankee Stadium, in October, 1894), “The Illustrated American,” lasted not from 1887 to around 1898, but from exactly February 22, 1890 through February 17, 1899. The magazine met an ignominious end. There may or may not have been a fire at its headquarters, but there was a bankruptcy of some sort. From the “Business Troubles” listing in the April 16, 1898 edition of The New York Times:

Deputy Sheriff Maguire yesterday sold out the office furniture, type, and plant of The Illustrated American at 209 and 213 East Twenty-third Street, for about $1,100.
Never mess with an archivist.
Jenny’s Cooperstown colleague Bill Francis tells us a little something about the events after the decisive game of the 1894 Temple Cup, in which the homestanding Giants swept the Baltimore Orioles 16-3. Again from The Times (October 9, 1894), hours after those photos were snapped:
…the victors and the vanquished saw “Dr. Syntax” at the Broadway Theatre, and afterward recounted some of the pleasant experiences of last season, over foaming bumpers of Nick Engel’s beer. In a few days the players will start for their respective homes, and the baseball cranks’ occupation will be lost until gentle Spring starts again.
You just don’t hear a lot these days about ballplayers reliving the season “over foaming bumpers of beer.”

What Price Jeter?

Let’s put aside for a second the premise that Derek Jeter believes he should be baseball’s second-highest paid player after a season in which he batted .241 against right handed pitchers. Let’s not address what it must look like in that higher plane of consciousness in which a team should pay a man $25 million a year through his 42nd birthday not because he is performing at that a supreme level of production, but out of loyalty and recognition of past greatness, and because he deserves to make nearly as much as Alex Rodriguez does.

Let’s start with reality. If the Yankees actually have offered him three years at $15 million – is there any team prepared to outbid them? The first part of that question is obviously simpler: for how many teams would Jeter be an upgrade at shortstop – or even second base – and have any marquee value?
It’s best to begin inside the division. The Red Sox are out; it would look pretty funny to see Jeter in a Boston uniform and Theo Epstein would delight in the gigantic nose-thumbing it would constitute. But the Sox believe themselves overstocked up the middle as it is with Dustin Pedroia, Jed Lowrie and Marco Scutaro, and are trying to unload Scutaro as it is (one can almost see them offering Scutaro to the Yankees as a Jeter replacement). Tampa Bay might think Jeter a better second base option than Sean Rodriguez, but they’re seeking to trim payroll, not engorge it. Toronto is set with Escobar and Hill. On the other hand, the Orioles don’t really have a shortstop despite Robert Andino’s flashes of adequacy last September.
Could any of the other big market teams be interested? At first blush you could envision a scenario in which the Mets actually do unload Jose Reyes and grab Jeter (or grab him to play second). But don’t be fooled if the first half of this shuffle takes place. Reyes would be moved to lighten the payroll and there are serious doubts about whether ownership will sign even the most economical of free agents this winter. The only real bidding war the Yankees might face for Jeter would be over before it got back to the dealer. 
In Los Angeles, Erick Aybar and Maicer Izturis had weak seasons in 2010, but the Angels love them both. Owner Arte Moreno may be enough of a Yankee emulator at heart to have named his ballpark “Angel Stadium” (and not “Angels Stadium”) but he’s probably not enough of one to spend the money on Jeter when he could spend it on Adrian Beltre and/or Carl Crawford. Surely Jeter would be an improvement for the Dodgers at second base, but as at CitiField, ownership questions remain the deciding factor in the ever-deepening Chavez Ravine. 
In Chicago, the numbers have yet to explain the Cubs’ interest in Blake DeWitt but jettisoning him to pay Jeter to play second seems unlikely. As we move into the high-end middle markets, the Rockies have just cleared the way for Eric Young, Jr., at second. The Tigers would probably be happy to add Jeter to replace the Will Rhymes/Scott Sizemore uncertainty at second, but not at these prices. The Giants need a shortstop, but the field of free agents includes two incumbents from their own club in Edgar Renteria and Juan Uribe. The Reds are in a similar situation with Orlando Cabrera testing the waters. The Cardinals are inexplicably satisfied with their middle infield mish-mosh of Daniel Descalso, Tyler Greene, Brendan Ryan and Skip Schumaker but Jeter would be an upgrade on any of them.
So now we begin to move down market. The Astros like what Jeff Keppinger did for them last year and have just traded for Clint Barmes. Jeter would clearly be an improvement here. The same for Oakland and shortstop Cliff Pennington and second baseman Mark Ellis. The Padres likewise have unappealing options in Everth Cabrera and David Eckstein. The Indians are not sold on second baseman Jason Donald, but the Pirates probably would not think Jeter enough of an improvement to demote cheap shortstop Ronny Cedeno. And in Seattle, Jack Wilson can’t hit but the Mariners rightly fell in love with his glove. Perhaps these non-spending teams could all get together and offer Jeter one large contract and share him at a rate of 27 games each.
The Jeter market, then, is Baltimore, San Francisco and maybe St. Louis.
That’s the market at $15,000,001 a year. 
The market at $25,000,000 is in Jeter’s imagination. Or in the year 2000.

Jeter And The Yankees: The Back Story

This is the way the story was told to me by one of the people they turned to.

Beginning last March in Tampa, as Derek Jeter struggled through Spring Training by going 12-for-52 with only two extra-base hits and a .561 OPS, the Yankees have been worried – and worried on several different levels. Spring Training stats are usually meaningless (Marcus Thames struck out 21 times in 19 games, made the team, and flourished) and Jeter’s probably were. But his answers to one question were not so easily dismissed.
“No. It’s not that. I just have to get my upper body strength back to where it was.”
The noise quieted down when Jeter roared out of the gate with four homers and a .330 average in April. But by the time the June Swoon hit (.243, a slugging percentage of .379) the question began to be asked again. And the answer came back as before:
“No. It’s not that. I still just have to get my upper body strength back to where it was.”
The answer never actually changed. It was Jeter who finally rendered it moot by asking a question of his own some time in the unbelievable July-August stretch (2 HR, 20 RBI, .242 over a 55-game span):
“OK, what was that you were saying again?”
The question various Yankee non-players had been asking Jeter since the spring, as the ground balls multiplied and the extra-base hits vanished, was a simple one: Do you realize you are about to be 36 years old? Do you understand that what’s happening to you isn’t some failure of strength? Are you getting the hint that you have to change your approach at the plate? It was asked in any of a dozen different forms by possibly as many would-be helpers, and only when the well ran dry as the dog days approached did Jeter finally accept the possibility.
There was some hope in September that the message was getting through when his batting average perked up to .276 and the on-base percentage was the highest it had been all season at .369. But to some degree even this renaissance represented whistling past graveyards. Everybody was getting excited by Derek Jeter’s slash line of .276/.369/.333. 
The season before it had been .334/.406./.465. 
As the fine folks at Baseball Prospectus noted before the 2010 season began, Derek Jeter was in new territory. Even with eleven .300 seasons notched into his bat, there just wasn’t any indication that any shortstops aged 36 or over – unless their names were Honus Wagner – were going to produce anything but a long walk off a short pier. The nearly 400 ground balls Jeter generated in 2010 were not a statistical anomaly. They were the expected outcome of a lifetime of swings and stats and the ravages of time.
That was the point one of the umpteen coaches and advisors who worked with Jeter during the season tried to get through to him. That was the hard undeniable fact that he was so deftly sidestepping with the answers about insufficient upper body strength. Age, not laziness on the weight machine, adds that half-second to your swing. Age, not sloth, turns those little flares over the heads of the second baseman and shortstop into smothered balls skittering into their gloves. Age, Mr. Jeter, comes for us all.
The man who told me all this filled in some of the particulars with a level of hitter’s sophistication that I hope I was just barely following. If you want to adjust to age, he tried to convey to Jeter, you must quiet down at the plate. At 22 or 25 or 30 you can stand there with the bat resting against your knee if you want to as the pitchers wind up and you might still shoot one safely into the outfield. At 36, you can’t. You can’t, you can’t, you can’t.
“No. It’s not that. I just have to get my upper body strength back to where it was.”
The would-be instructor sighed. He said it had happened to him, too, maybe at an even slightly younger age, and he had been just as reluctant to admit it. I smiled and pointed to my gray hair and said remember, when you are telling him he’s not 22 any more, what you are really telling him is that he’s not just going to have to retire some day, but that he’s going to die some day. Who in the hell wants to hear that? And if you’re 36 and you’ve been doing this every day on the biggest platform in baseball without knowing real failure since you were 22, and you’ve outlasted seven double-play partners and one manager and the owner and even The Stadium, why are you actually going to believe it? And the would-be instructor smiled back and said he knew there was a reason he had decided to tell me the story and that maybe he needed to realize that this was what he was really telling Derek Jeter.
There is no suggestion here that Jeter is going to slug .465 ever again. But there is the suggestion that maybe he can do better than 2010′s .370, and that his OPS won’t come in below those of Marco Scutaro and Paul Janish and Travis Ishikawa again. It is a fairly small fix: quiet down at the plate. Lose the rocking back and forth. Lose the iconic hand extended backwards towards the umpire. Truncate the ritualistic tugs and adjustments that are beginning to remind people of Nomar Garciaparra. Think Hideki Matsui. Be still at the plate. Think about maximizing your reaction time by minimizing your movement. 
And think about $45 million over three years, which is the Yankees’ offer my friend Joel Sherman is hinting at in the newspaper, and what the latest set of grisly projections from Baseball Prospectus is suggesting (you’ll only be able to get 301 plate appearances in the third year of that prospective deal), and think of the market out there for 37-year old shortstops and realize that it is not an insult and not lowball and is in fact predicated on mutual loyalty and respect and the nauseating possibility of having to say “Now batting for Pittsburgh, the first baseman, Derek Jeter…”

Surprise: Twins, Rays To Advance

It’s the kind of story line that can overshadow the reality of a playoff series in any sport: A superstar with an amazing season and an amazing story of overcoming the nightmare of drug addiction, facing the team that originally drafted him, with the prospect of eventually getting to a World Series against the team that gave him a second chance (and then traded him away anyway). 

It’s almost as if it’s just Josh Hamilton versus the Tampa Bay Rays.
Actually, it is almost as if it’s just Josh Hamilton versus the Tampa Bay Rays. Ian Kinsler and Michael Young had ordinary seasons, the bottom third of the line-up is a mixture of Mitch Moreland, Julio Borbon, Jeff Francoeur, David Murphy, Bengie Molina, and Matt Treanor, and the starters – Cliff Lee included – had long dead spots, and despite Nolan Ryan’s pronouncements about longer outings from them, the Rangers actually got the shortest efforts from their starters of any A.L. team. 
But, you say, what about those two hitters behind Hamilton? Boomstick Cruz is the real thing, but human history divides evenly into those times when he’s out with a hamstring pull, and those times when he’s about to sustain a hamstring pull. And Vladimir Guerrero found the fountain of youth, but only in the first half. His second half was a very pedestrian .278/.322/.426 and he has deteriorated on the basepaths to such a degree that a foot race between him and Molina would probably continue into November.
By contrast the Rays have largely been underachieving all year long. One of Joe Maddon’s lineups against Texas might feature three sub-.200 hitters. But Tampa is a disciplined, designed ballclub at the plate and in the field, their pitching is deep and even writing off Jeff Niemann, startling, and the irony of ironies is that the key to the series might not be Tampa castoff Hamilton but Texas throwaway and Rays set-up man Joaquin Benoit.
I like the Rays, and quickly, unless Texas somehow batters David Price tomorrow – and Price is 9-and-2 at home this year (and a tidy 17-and-5 there lifetime).
Meantime, trust me, I have front row seats at Yankee Stadium, there’s nothing I’d like more than to watch World Series games from them. I’m not even sure I’m going to get to see two playoff games there this weekend. I haven’t liked the chances of this Yankee team since spring training and while I commend and am heartened by their accomplishments despite glaring holes and what has become one of the most parochial and even jingoistic eras in New York media history, I think they’re not going to reach the ALCS.
The key here is the fact that the Yankees should face lefthanded starters in three of the five games (possibly, if Ron Gardenhire wants to gamble, in three of the first four). Lefthanders turn Mark Teixeira and Nick Swisher to their weaker sides (and in Yankee Stadium force them to aim at the tougher fences in left), hurt Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, and, unexpectedly, Alex Rodriguez: 6-35-.217-.441 and make Brett Gardner into a .252 hitter. The trade-off is that they enable Marcus Thames at DH and actually make Derek Jeter look like his old self (6-24-.321-.481 – correct: Jeter hit .246 against righties this year, with a slugging percentage of .317 and an on-base of .315).
You’re not overwhelmed by Minnesota southpaws Francisco Liriano and Brian Duensing? How about the prospect of Brian Fuentes coming out of the bullpen, right before or right after Jon Rauch, with Matt Capps warming up for the 9th.
We have not even discussed Yankee pitching. There is a reason CC Sabathia should be the Cy Young winner. Without Felix Hernandez, the Mariners wouldn’t have been much worse. The Rays without David Price might not be post-season favorites, but Jeremy Hellickson could have stepped in. Right now, Sabathia is the only Yankee starter who is not attached to a question mark the size of, well, Sabathia. On the other hand, I wouldn’t worry too much about Mariano Rivera’s September slump, although the Yankee set-up men are hardly what they were a year ago and I’ll believe Boone Logan in the clutch when I see him whiff Jim Thome twice.
The Twins did not prosper down the stretch (none of the AL playoff teams did) and would have loved just the thought of Justin Morneau returning later on. But since the Yankees saw them last in the playoffs, the rest of the infield has been upgraded, Jim Thome has been added at DH, and Delmon Young has gone from a dubious platoon guy to a 112 RBI man. Young struggled over the last two months, then seemed to come alive in the last ten (3-7-.293). The Twins’ lineup is also staggered to minimize repeating same-side bats, which could completely befuddle the pitching-change challenged duo of Joe Girardi and coach Dave Eiland.
Frankly, if Minnesota somehow beats Sabathia in the opener, with an ailing and/or rusty Pettitte and an erratic Hughes behind him, the Twins could sweep. I doubt that. I like them in four or five.

Expectations And More Minor Leaguers

My apologies for my negligence here of late. It’s been busy.

I hope to expand on each of these items separately in the next week, but watching the Rays, Rangers, and Reds flourish (as predicted in March/April) I’ll get cocky and make a few late-season and off-season forecasts:
The Red Sox got so hurt that the Yankee late-season fold (also predicted here) can’t be so bad as to include sliding completely out of the playoff picture. But if they don’t at least get back to the Series I would now expect pitching coach Dave Eiland to be dismissed, and possibly manager Joe Girardi with him. Take the bizarre pitching decisions of this Tampa series and add them to the skid Girardi steered them into during the playoffs against the Angels last year, and you have an issue that seems to become a crisis when the chips are really down.
I also would not be at all surprised to see both New York teams have new shortstops next year. Given the number of Gotham reporters and their traditional fixation with the bad, it really is amazing how little has been written about the deterioration of Jose Reyes’ defense. The Mets will at least try to trade him this winter. And in the Bronx, if it were anybody but Derek Jeter, reporters would’ve tried to run him out of town by now. Jeter has completely collapsed offensively, and is, from what I’ve been told, not handling it or the attempts to correct it, very well. At the present rate of decline he has no bargaining position in the free agent winter ahead and his best hope to stay in New York is on a one-year deal at a (comparatively) low salary and some kind of token, face-saving mutual option. If not he will be an offensive question mark picked up by a team hoping to capitalize on his reputation and his past.
Venturing further afield, I am beginning to suspect Ryne Sandberg will not get the Cubs’ managerial job. There is a future for him at Wrigley Field if he wants it, but the internal reviews of his work running Cubs’ farm clubs these last few years turns out to be far less sanguine than I had been previously told.
Now, for your dining and dancing pleasure, a few more of those wonderful minor league baseball cards of current big league figures:
75Melvin.jpg
87Beane.jpg
88Towers.jpg
87Amaro.jpg
Yes, it’s General Managers – three current, one former/possibly soon-to-be-again. That’s Doug Melvin of the Brewers on a Neil Sussman set of the 1975 Fort Lauderdale Yankees of the Florida State League, Billy Beane of the A’s from ProCards’ Portland PCL set from 1987, Kevin Towers (formerly of the Padres, perhaps next of the Mets) in the same company’s Las Vegas PCL set from a year later, and Philly’s Ruben Amaro in his pro debut at Salem of the Northwest League in ’87.

Such A Strange Day At Yankee Stadium

Alex Rodriguez: DNP – Broadcast-related injury.

There are two versions of how A-Rod came to miss this afternoon’s second game of the Yankees-Red Sox series. In the first version, with Rodriguez standing near third base while teammate Lance Berkman took his batting practice cuts, my former Fox Baseball colleague Joe Buck shouted out to him. Rodriguez, in his 17th professional season, inexplicably turned to answer him, and while not keeping his eye on what was happening at the plate, got nailed in the shin by a Berkman liner.
In the second version, Buck was minding his own business in foul territory behind third base, when Rodriguez, in his 17th professional season, inexplicably turned to yell “Hi, Joe!,” and while not keeping his eye on what was happening at the plate, got nailed in the shin by a Berkman liner.
Both versions then converge with Rodriguez then doing the Elizabeth-Elizabeth-This-Is-The-Big-One-I’m-Comin-To-See-You-Elizabeth bit, trying to shake off the pain, finally collapsing to the turf behind a protective screen in centerfield, not far behind second base (“I just remember getting hit and started jumping around like a rabbit,” he told The New York Times, “It looked like a scene from ‘Platoon.’”). Several of his teammates, who have long found Mr. Rodriguez to be a kind of dramatic figure, laughed uproariously as they surrounded him, assuming he was overdoing it. The Times includes Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira in this list. 
After being attended to by Yankee trainer Gene Monahan and a couple of Yankee Stadium paramedics Rodriguez limped off. We are told he personally told utilityman Ramiro Pena something like “You’ll have to play kid, I’m not going to make it.” It is believed the Yankee team laughter ended before the pronouncement but this has not been verified.
X-Rays of Rodriguez’s leg showed no damage and, to date, no nomination for a Tony, Emmy, or Oscar.
MEANWHILE, IN A HOLE IN THE GROUND:
Since the new Stadium opened a year ago, media have noticed this odd scene — just to the visitors’ side of the area behind home plate —  in the giant aqueduct-sized main tunnel that connects the clubhouses and runs from one end of the park to the other (forgive the eerie green colors, that’s pretty much what it looks like back there):
My assumption all this time – and my fairly good sense of direction/location from my tours of the park while still under construction in 2008 – was that this was the exact spot from which the contractors pulled the David Ortiz shirt which had been buried by a mischievous Red Sox fan (I was told the guy also buried a scorecard from the 2004 ALCS in which Boston rallied from down oh-three, but the Yanks have always denied this). But why the railing?
The answer is below:
The hole was never filled back in!
The seemingly solid surface shown in the first photo is in fact a large piece of plexiglas, clouded with dust, which can be lifted up by an alert uniformed attendant, for the benefit of fans in the Suites Club. They can then stand around and take pictures of an attempted Reverse Curse (or, for the less dramatically-inclined, a hole in the ground).

AND FINALLY:
The front edge of a new age. Heard, for the first time, before the Yanks and Sox met, from a fan, to one of the swarming Stadium employees, outside the home plate entrance: “And where did you say the old stadium was?”

Bob Sheppard and The Yankees

It took him a long time to see the amusement in the story, let alone the fact that with one accident, he had channeled the growing frustration among Yankee fans. I think in the end Bob Sheppard was just a little proud of one of his very few mistakes behind the microphone at Yankee Stadium.
It was, I’m pretty sure, 1982. It was the year the wheels fell off at Yankee Stadium. George Steinbrenner went through three pitchers, sent veteran third baseman Butch Hobson to Columbus with the instructions “learn how to be a catcher,” inspired the Rich Gossage (“take it upstairs! To the fat man!” tirade) and engaged in public disputes with two of his best players, Tommy John and Dave Winfield. A team that had won the first two games of the preceding World Series had collapsed into a quagmire of futility.
One of the players Steinbrenner had to have, no matter the cost (in this case, a future closer named Bill Caudill, and a long-term top middle reliever, Gene Nelson) was pitcher Shane Rawley of Seattle. Not long after arriving in New York, Rawley, having pitched poorly in relief, was inserted into the rotation. More arson followed – only earlier in the game. Finally, one day, not long after a Yankee player had asked me why people actually paid money to get into Yankee Stadium when he would’ve happily paid money to get out, the masochists in the seats heard this:
“And pitching for the Yankees…” 
Long pause.
“Number 26.”
Pause.
“Shane… Rawley.”
Pause.
“Number 26.”
Pause.
“If you call that….a pitcher.”
Pause.
“What?” 
Clicking sound of microphone being switched off.
Bob was mortified. In point of fact, he had given unintentional voice to the frustration of Yankee fans. It was as if “The Voice of God,” as Reggie Jackson had termed him but a few years before, had been reading everybody’s mind.
Long afterwards, Derek Jeter would pay tribute to the voice of Yankee Stadium by suggesting to management – with no offense to his successor Paul Olden – that a recording of Sheppard’s introduction of him be played whenever Jeter came to bat in the new Yankee Stadium. It is a tribute that will be carried, it is reported today, into Tuesday’s All-Star Game. And then, presumably, Derek Jeter, and all the other Yankees and Yankees fans and baseball fans like you and I, will have to let him go, with deep affection, and even deeper gratitude.

Soccer?

A lot on the site today about the “cross-over appeal” of the World Cup, and there’s no doubt about it; half the televisions in the Yankee club this afternoon were tuned to it (and half is a lot of televisions), and two of my companions and I stuck around to watch the last 30 minutes of the USA-UK tie.

But, while firmly believing that neither game is as much a sport as it is a cultural inheritance, and freely stipulating that if neither had ever been played and both were invented tomorrow, both would have a hard time catching on anywhere in this electronic age, I have to insist: I just don’t think soccer measures up to baseball in any respect excepting the joy people derive from each.
More over, soccer’s support in this country reminds me of a dining room set we got when I was seven. It and the accompanying swivel chairs were much ballyhooed, and in the style of that Keep-Up-With-The-Joneses era, my mother boasted about them to all the other mothers. Came the grand day of the dining set’s arrivals and the swivel chairs were unavailable, on back order, and identical looking non-swiveling chairs had been given us as loaners. Well, one of my mother’s friends came over and decided to one-up my mother by explaining the history of these chairs, her familiarity with the product, and her superior ability to judge the efficacy of the swivel mechanism. The chairs would not budge, but she would not let that stop her. While seated in one, she lifted it up, half with her feet, half with her hands, and bounced it a few times to the left and a few times to the right. “Yes, I can tell,” she said, “you got the good ones. Not the best, we have better ones, but these are good too.”
In her mind, they swiveled.
To me, that’s an American soccer fan, seeing suspense and action where there is little. More disturbing, perhaps – and maybe this is why European fans in particular are noted for their violence – is the almost complete non-interaction of the spectators with the sport. Fans are kept engaged at all times at a ballgame; in every one of them at least one baseball winds up in the seats, and if you’re lucky, a player will, too. Fans can impact play on the field without doing more than standing and moving their arms (ask Steve Bartman, or, me, in an identical play at Yankee Stadium in 1972 or 1973 involving no less than Moises Alou’s Dad as the fielder). To effect the game, the soccer fan must run on to the field. Or sing. Or run on to the field while singing.
It doesn’t swivel. Sorry.
But enough of that. Back to the world of Daniel Nava and somebody who owns a Bryan Bullington shirt. The Nava story is self-explanatory (has soccer had one like that since Dixie Dean retired?), the Bullington one I’ll get to in a moment.
First, a shot of one of my friends at the ballpark today. 

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Ex-soccer player himself, was happy with the tie, didn’t see anything special in the US-UK game.
Jason Bateman is a Dodger fan, in town to reveal a new online comedy site he will co-populate with Will Arnett (not attending today’s game). Here, Jason, also the Commissioner of his own fantasy league for five seasons, signs a baseball for a fan who obviously no longer cares about the value of the baseball.
A considerable debate preceded this about where exactly he should sign the thing since the store-bought ball appeared to have a logo placed in the traditional “sweet spot.” I suggested that it no longer mattered, providing his signature was not upside-down compared to the manufacturer’s inscription on the ball itself. If you happen to see this ball on eBay with the inscription erased, this photo will serve as the certificate of authenticity.
EXPERIMENTING WITH AN APP
Downloaded this thing “CameraOne” for iPhone – I think the cost was $1.99 – and it gives you a zoom on the phone. It’s a little grainier than I would like, but not by much. Examples:
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Derek Jeter at the plate, at the left; the Golden Knights of the U.S. Army Parachute team arriving early.
One last image, from last week, a Pirates’ fan missing a foul ball and, in frustration, throwing his glove. He was wearing a shirt representing Bryan Bullington, the first pick in the 2002 draft, who had a lifetime 0-3 record in Pittsburgh. If he’s a relative, that’s one thing. Otherwise, you might want to have a tailor take the lettering off. It’s like going to a Mets’ game wearing a shirt with “CHILCOTT” on the back.
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2010 Forecasts: AL East

Having careened through the NL (Rockies beating the Braves in the NLCS, after the Rockies had beaten the Reds, and the Braves the wild-card Giants), we begin three nights’ worth of AL divisional previews, in the East:

Wow does
BALTIMORE not have pitching. Surely they could
have pitching by 2011, but right now
there is nothing on which to rely beyond Kevin Millwood, and no team relying on
Kevin Millwood has made the post-season since 2002 (and what is the excitement over
a pitcher who has produced exactly three winning seasons since that long-ago
last playoff appearance?). There are also worries offensively. Adam Jones was a
superstar at the All-Star break, but flatlined soon after, and any team relying
on Garrett Atkins clearly has not seen a National League game since 2006.

Here is
the unasked question in BOSTON: would the Red Sox rather have David Ortiz at DH
this year… or Luke Scott? Where, production-wise, will Not-So-Big-Papi fall in
2010? I think he’s behind Guerrero, Kubel, Lind, Matsui, Scott, and maybe
others. If the demise of the beast continues, the Red Sox are suddenly
presenting a very pedestrian line-up, one that might be the second weakest in
the division. Of course, Theo Epstein might have made this determination
already, which would explain the willingness to fill the big openings with the
great gloves of Beltre, Cameron, and Scutaro, rather than slightly bigger bats
that couldn’t have changed the overall new dynamic – the Red Sox are a pitching
and defense outfit. Mind you, as those outfits go, they’re among the best in
recent years. The rotation is deep enough to survive Matsuzaka on the DL, the
bullpen robust enough to survive if that soggy finish by Papelbon in the ALDS
was more than a one-game thing, and the cadre of young cameo pitchers has been
refreshed with the rapid maturation of Casey Kelly. But no matter how the Old
Towne Team fairs in 2010, keep the Ortiz thought in the back of your mind. What
if the second half of ’09 was the aberration, not the first half? Will the Sox
have to bench him? And if so, could the twists and turns of fate find them
suddenly grateful that they had been unable to trade Mike Lowell?

Oh is this
a conflict of interest. This will be the 39th season my family has
had season tickets in NEW YORK, and I’m not convinced the Yankees will be
hitting me up for playoff ducats this fall. Things I do not expect to see
repeated from 2009: 1) A.J. Burnett’s reliability and perhaps even his stamina;
2) Joe Girardi’s ability to survive without a reliable fifth starter (if Phil
Hughes really can pull it off in this, his fourth attempt, he might become the
fourth starter if my instincts on Burnett are correct); 3) Nick Swisher’s
offensive performance (his average and his RBI totals have never
increased two years in a row); 4)
Derek Jeter’s renaissance (as the Baseball Prospectus
folks note, 36-year old shortstops
deteriorate quickly); 5) Jorge Posada’s prospects of getting 433 plate
appearances (which begs the question: if you were hoping to DH Posada on
occasion, why did you sign as your primary DH, a guy who cannot play the
outfield, and can barely play first base?). As I have written here before, I am
not buying the premise that what in essence was a trade of Melky Cabrera,
Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui, for a full-time Brett Gardner plus Curtis
Granderson and Nick Johnson was necessarily an upgrade – even if Javier Vazquez (9
career post-season innings; 11 career post-season earned runs) was thrown in,
in the bargain. Anybody wanna buy some of my tickets?

In TAMPA
BAY, I’m betting 2009 was the fluke and not 2008. What does one not like about
this team? Is rightfield confused? Stick Ben Zobrist there and let Sean
Rodriguez have a shot at second. That doesn’t work? Wait for mid-season and the
promotion of Desmond Jennings. You don’t like Crawford and Upton? Bartlett and
Longoria? Pena? The law firm of Shoppach and Navarro? The Rays seem to summon a
fully-grown starter from the minors each year – Price in ’08, Niemann in ’09,
Wade Davis in ’10. I do not think Rafael Soriano is the world’s greatest
reliever, but his acquisition is an acknowledgment that championship teams do
not muddle through with closers who pitched in All-Star Games prior to 2001.
What is the most remarkable fact about this extremely talented and balanced
team can be summed up by the caveat I have to offer in praising them. Shortly
after they were ransomed from Vince Naimoli, I discovered to my shock that a
college pal of mine had, for all these years, been married to the man who had just
done the ransoming.
A
few innings later, Stu and Lisa Sternberg and I sat in their seats at Yankee
Stadium and he was earnestly asking how I thought he could convince the players
to accept a salary cap so the Rays could contend. I told him I wasn’t sure, but
he wouldn’t have to worry about it any earlier than our next lifetimes. So what
you are seeing in Tampa is, in fact, Plan “B” – and it may be the greatest Plan
“B” in baseball history. 

Did you
know TORONTO is a small market team? Here is something the writers apparently
promised not to tell: the Jays got almost nothing for Roy Halladay. Sorry. When
the reward was Travis D’Arnaud, Kyle Drabek, and Michael Taylor, it was only a
pair of pants being pressed. When the Jays inexplicably swapped Taylor to
Oakland for the lump-like Brett Wallace, it became the full trip to the
cleaners. One of the oldest rules of talent evaluation is: if a prospect has
been traded twice in four months, he may not be quite the prospect you think he
is (one of the older rules is: if one of your starting middle infielders has a
weight clause in his contract, you only have one
starting middle infielder). On top of
which, when you consider the Jays paid $6 million in salary offset for the
privilege of giving Doc away, this trade has to be called what it was: a salary
dump in which ownership was admitting it had no interest in competing. Jays
fans are left to cheer three very exciting hitters in Aaron Hill, Adam Lind,
and Travis Snider; to try to get the correct spellings and pronunciations of the
guys in their rotation (“excuse me, are you Brett Cecil, or Cecil Brett?”);
and, since there really won’t be much else to do under the roof this summer,
buy and read injured reliever Dirk Hayhurst’s marvelous book The Bull…
oh, sorry, did I already mention it?

PREDICTIONS:
Tampa Bay steps back into the forefront in an exciting race with the
well-managed but decreasingly potent Red Sox, and bests Boston by a game or
two. The Yankees contend – possibly even dominate – into June or July before the
rotation, and/or Posada, and/or Jeter, blow up, and they fade to a distant
third. The Jays and Orioles compete only to be less like The Washington
Generals.

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