Results tagged ‘ Hideki Matsui ’

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…”

Opening Day In Pictures

Flyovers, Steinbrenners, Bernie Williams ceremonial first pitches, Matsui’s Return – very nice events. 

For my money, the rolling ovation for Yankees’ trainer Gene Monahan was the highlight of Opening Day in the Bronx. He confirmed today that he was been receiving treatment for throat and neck cancer – the prognosis is reportedly good – and in fact he went directly from radiation this morning, to being the first member of the 2009 World Champions to be introduced at the ring ceremony.
He got a standing ovation – from the players. 

IMG_2165.jpg

You need to understand about Geno, who showed off the ring and his improved health to friends like Paul Simon (left). He began working for the Yankees while still in High School, as a spring training bat boy in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. A year after graduating he was the Fort Lauderdale Yanks’ trainer. That was in 1963. 
Ten years later he joined the big club and has been there ever since. Indeed, it is such a stretch that he has been the Yankees’ trainer in four different home ballparks: the original 1923 Stadium, Shea, the remodeled 1976 Stadium, and the new Yankee Stadium.
Gene was a Champ long before the team he trained became one, and his absence from spring training had cast a pall over the Yanks’ continuing celebration of the 2009 Championship. He is as much a part of the club as any player or any executive.
They certainly do continue to celebrate. The Hideki Matsui story was terrific, of course. You may have seen his inclusion (along with Jerry Hairston of the Padres, in civvies no less) in the ceremony, and the resultant group hug, mid-field. There was also a standing ovation during his first plate appearance.
IMG_2179.JPG
Sentiment only goes so far, of course. Matsui would pop-up, on the first pitch he’d ever seen in competition from his teammate of seven years, Mariano Rivera, to end the game.
IMG_2191.jpg
Also, a happy ending to a long-ago saga. In 1996, the late, great Bill Robinson, ex-outfielder for the Yanks, Phils and Pirates, invited me to spend a game with him as his bench coach as he managed the Reading Phillies of the Eastern League. In the seventh inning, two of my “teammates” barked at the home plate umpire’s call. Blue yelled “who said that?,” they both pointed at me, and I was ejected.
I went out and gave the ump a show. I told him he was obviously good enough to make the majors and when he did, I’d avenge myself on him. Well, guess who ump’d the plate today? The same man: Hunter Wendelstedt. Hadn’t seen him since. He spied me in the seats just before the first pitch and laughed, and later asked me to stop by the Umpires’ room where I was cordially welcomed by his crew chief Jerry Layne, and fellow crew members Dan Bellino and Mike Winters. I told the ejection story in the book Dan Patrick and I wrote about SportsCenter, and Hunter actually wants me to sign his copy – in exchange for which he gave me the hat depicted for the Umpire School run by he and his father Harry, the great former NL arbiter.
By the way, twice now Scott Rolen, who was with “us” on the R-Philies in 1996, has told me that the whole ejection set-up was the highlight of his year. Each time I’ve said to him “but that was the year you made your Major League debut.” Each time, Rolen has just deadpanned and replied “Like I said: highlight of my year.”
Hunter also noted – and it’s something for you to look for Thursday on Jackie Robinson day when all the players honor him by wearing number 42 – that the umps do the same.
Lastly, not to close on a sour note, but a few better cropped images of what’s left of the old Stadium. There is a reason for implosions (not a practical idea in a tight, old city setting like this one) and this slow-motion decline is that reason:
IMG_2148.JPG
IMG_2147.JPG
IMG_2149.JPG

2010 Forecasts: AL West

We’ll wrap this up tomorrow night with some thoughts on individual players and awards, but let’s do the last of the six divisional previews first.

Does it
seem to you as if Brandon Wood has been on the verge of breaking in to the LOS
ANGELES line-up since Mark Langston was the Angels’ pitching ace? Whether it’s
been four years or forty, this is the first time the team is actually relying
on Wood, and the
pressure is probably a lot more intense than generally understood. If Wood does not produce
a power-filled season, or doesn’t hold on to the job, the Angels will have to
revert to the Chone Figgins-driven line-up, only without Chone Figgins. It’ll
be tough enough adjusting to Erick Aybar at the top of the line-up, without the
Halos also failing to add the last layer of punch they missed so dearly in the ALCS
last year. The emergence of Kendry Morales and the resuscitation of Howie
Kendrick gave life to the club last year, but face it, four key positions are
beginning to creak a little bit with age, including the now three ex-Yanks in
the line-up. Torii Hunter should be terrified at Mike Scioscia’s insistence that
he may occasionally use Hideki Matsui in left. If placed between Matsui and the
periodically mystified Bobby Abreu in right, MLB might consider letting Hunter
ride a Razor. Pitching is deep but once you get past Jered Weaver, not very
intimidating, and Joel Pineiro might have been the off-season’s most overrated
signing (Fernando Rodney might have been the second, but with or without him,
the bullpen is the team’s top asset).

OAKLAND
looks like an all-or-nothing proposition. Anderson, Braden, and Cahill might
emerge as world-beaters. Sheets and Duchscherer could make remarkable
comebacks. Bailey could expand on a ROTY season. Or literally any one of the
six could lose his job by June 1. The ailments of Joey Devine and Michael
Wuertz thin out an already thin pen, and the line-up, while energetic and
dynamic, does have to play 81 games on the road against teams that actually hit
those things where, you know, the ball goes past those walls behind the gents
standing on the far lawn – what are those called again? Honestly, if your
line-up looks like it could be beaten up, man for man, by that of the Royals,
you could be in for a long summer, even if every one of the pitchers come
through.

With the
strategic building in SEATTLE over the last two years – Figgins, Wilson,
Gutierrez, Lee, even Byrnes and Snell and League (to say nothing of Wakamatsu)
added to the Ichiro/Felix base, it would seem it would be almost impossible for
the Mariners not to be favored. But as I have suggested before, Jack Zduriencik
managed to make the one move that could undo all the good ones. Ask the 2004-05
Dodgers, who thought he was the guy who could take them over the hump. Ask the
2006 A’s, who thought he was the missing piece (and surrendered Andre Ethier to
get him). Ask the 2007 Padres, who brought him in for the stretch run (and
infamously coughed up the division to the Rockies). Ask the 2008 Rangers, who
signed him, only to start shopping him at mid-season. Ask the 2009 Cubs, who
gave him $30 million for three years and sent him home before the first year
ended because nobody could abide his presence any more. Ask the fans he’s
confronted, the reporters he’s confronted, the play-by-play man he ran up
several flights of stairs in hopes of knocking silly. It’s not as if Milton Bradley
has had a few problems. This is six clubs in six seasons and the longest he
lasted with any of them was until June 29th of the second year. I
don’t know what it will be, I don’t know when it will be, but Bradley will do
something to cost the Mariners the division. And if this somehow does not come
to pass, he will have earned an apology from me – but probably will not have
asked for it, because he would have already experienced an epiphany in which
his consistently uncontrollable behavior would have appeared as unacceptable to
him as it has to everybody else, and he
would have apologized to the Cubs. And the Rangers. And
the Padres. And the A’s. And the Dodgers (and just for good measure, Cliff Lee
is not only hurt – he has the most nagging and unpredictable of injuries for a
baseball player, ‘something in the abdomen.’)

The
line-up in TEXAS frightens me. I know Josh Hamilton is not going to hit 57
homers. I understand Vlad Guerrero has aged. I’m sure Chris Davis could repeat
the first half of 2009. I noticed Ian Kinsler’s on the DL. Without them this
is still the most potent batting order in the division.
So the Rangers’ questions are, as
ever, on the mound. But in addition to reclaiming Darren Oliver and bringing
back Colby Lewis from banishment, Texas has one other answer to those
questions: Neftali Feliz. It is impossible to watch him pitch and not see
either a super closer, or a 250-strikeout starter. Either one of them will do
the Rangers fine upon his maturation; for now, a dominating 8th-inning
presence will probably win them the division. And it will be fascinating to
watch any player struggles completely overshadowed by the good or bad conduct
of a manager – not to make a comparison that would be slanderous to the
good-hearted Ron Washington, but we haven’t seen that since Billy Martin died,
and it occasionally helps a team get on with its business while the skipper
takes the heat.

DIVISION FORECAST:
As suggested, I like Texas. Oakland’s pitching could jell to challenge them;
Milton Bradley could go AWOL on May 1 and save Seattle’s season; Brandon Wood
could be everything the Angels ever wanted from him. But I don’t think any of
those things are going to happen. Rangers by a five or six game margin, with
the others following in a jumble I can’t quite yet discern.

LEAGUE
FORECAST: I think Tampa ends up with the best record, Texas the worst, and the
Rays will handle the Rangers easily. The Wild Card will go to Boston, most
likely, and they should probably dispatch Detroit, setting up a re-run of 2008,
including the TB victory. This time I like the Rays to win the Series, five
years after other owners seriously murmured about moving them or contracting
them.

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.

Unlikely Spring Training Questions From A Waiting Room

These have been bouncing around my head all off-season; some are tempests in teapots, some a little more substantial – I just havent heard many of them asked…DID the Yankees actually upgrade? Acknowledging that a healthy Nick Johnson, freed of all defensive worries, could win a batting championship (or at least the On Base crown), is a trade-off of Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, and Melky Cabrera for Curtis Granderson, Johnson, Randy Winn and Brett Gardner really a win? Has Cabreras clutch late-inning hitting been forgotten, or merely written off as a statistical fluke?…ON the other end of the Granderson trade, do the Tigers know Phil Coke wasnt that great against lefties during the first half of last year, and basically stopped getting them out at all after September 1 and in the post-season?…HAS Roy Halladay ever been tested in a pennant race? Does it matter? I seem to recall several clubs drooling over the various Javier Vazquezes who pitched in obscurity in Montreal and Arizona and even Chicago…DID the Angels look at Joel Pinieros last months worth of work in 2009? Did they break out his fly-ball to ground-ball ratio? Did they note that a sinkerball pitcher who cant get the ball down will probably end up in mopup relief?…WHY hasnt anybody else written that if Milton Bradley doesnt sink the Mariners, theyll be the first?…lastly IF you are the Nats and you have as exciting a prospect as Ian Desmond and you havent unloaded Cristian Guzman, why do you go ahead and sign Adam Kennedy?

Game Six: Godzilla Versus Mega-Damon

Fascinating subtext to Hideki Matsuis five-RBI night and Johnny Damons MVP-caliber performance over the first five games. They are in essence competing for the sane job on the 2010 Yankees. It is unlikely New York wants to trust either in leftfield next year, certainly not at these prices. But either would make – as Matsui already has proven – a top-of-the-line DH.

CC Yawns

The view from the not-so-cheap-seats:

If attitude foretells outcome, Game One might have been over when CC Sabathia yawned while completing his warm-ups before facing the Phillies in the bottom of the first. Not that Sabathia pitched poorly nor was expecting the Phils to roll over, but for symbolic contrast you can’t beat Sabathia’s yawn compared to Carlos Ruiz calling time, up 6-1, two out, bottom of the 9th, 0-2 on Jorge Posada – and running out to talk to Cliff Lee when Lee was an out away from one of the modern Workd Series pitching masterpieces. Turned out he was reminding him there was a runner on. 
Also disturbing, and far more visible on the tv replay than in the ballpark, was Hideki Matsui’s vapor lock on the bizarre Jimmy Rollins trap-catch of Robinson Cano’s dying liner in the 5th. Matsui’s obligation, in the absence of conclusive guidance from the umpires, is to get his butt back to first base as soon as Cano has passed it. As it proved, Matsui was entitled to return to the base and Cano was out. But even if it was the other way around, Matsui, forced at second, then standing at first does not in any way endanger a Cano who is safe at first. The umpires also did a mediocre job making clear that Rollins had caught the ball and not trapped it, but it’s Matsui’s responsibility to not let himself get tagged out for a deflating double play.
I don’t think any Yankee other than Derek Jeter hit one of Lee’s pitches squarely, and there by itself is another decisive contrast: those two homers by Chase Utley were, as you’ve doubtless heard, the first surrenderred by Sabathia to a lefthanded hitter at Yankee Stadium this year. One good team played above expectations, the other, well below them.

Blame The Hat

Hate to see pitchers show up their fielders, even on a dumb play. But even in that context, more power to John Lackey. If he’d gone over and thrown either Erick Aybar or Chone Figgins to the ground after their collective moronity in the bottom of the first in the Bronx, I wouldn’t have made a citizen’s arrest.

What Lackey might have done is to check just how thick the hood is, that Aybar is wearing under his hat and over his noggin. I’m not kidding around here; last year a college classmate of mine who happens to be the wife of the owner of the Rays gave me one of the Elmer Fudd Earflap Hats that Tampa Bay and the Phillies wore in the Series, and the first thing I noticed about them was how thoroughly they muffled sound and create an audio disconnect for the wearer. Not quite to the degree earphones or earplugs might, but significantly – and I think it’s safe to assume that the taut headgear Aybar was wearing as he stared at Figgins and they let Hideki Matsui’s pop-up drop between them had the same effect.
It isn’t just a question of volume being reduced, but of the creation of the same fishbowl sense you get when you’re really stuffed up, or if you were to climb in the old “Cone Of Silence” from Get Smart. Your head feels like it’s in a cocoon, and you thus feel very detached from what’s going on around you – and sometimes you adjust accordingly. This is not to excuse Aybar but he might have assumed he just couldn’t hear Figgins calling for the Matsui pop.
As to Figgins, I have no clue. Maybe his ears had frozen off.
Blogging time has been limited here of late but I’ll point out two truths about the Championship Series before they get too far along to make any stupid predictions worthwhile: I still don’t like the idea of starting Sabathia in Game Four (or if the weather is utterly uncooperative, maybe Game Three) but I think the Yankees are the better of these two teams. And as to the Phillies, I’ll point out here the dumbest reason of all time to pick the Dodgers.
In my lifetime, the Phillies have made the World Series on three occasions: 1980, 1993, and 2008. I, meantime, have only traveled to Philadelphia to see a Phillies game in person in three years: 1980 (as a fan, and photographer), 1993 (to do play-by-play for ESPN), and 2008 (as a fan).
I did not go to a Phillies’ home game this season. I was kinda surprised they didn’t send me a bus ticket or something.

Managers (Updated)

I’ve mentioned elsewhere that annually, Terry Francona lets me sit with him, on the bench, during a spring training game. This is half out of friendship and half, I think, to remind me how little I actually understand about managing – or baseball itself – compared to the pros.

Having acknowledged that, and presented the caveat, I’d still like to point out that actual major league managers have done the following things in the last few days:
Mike Scioscia sent poor Brandon Wood back to the minors – having given him, I believe, three starts during two weeks in the bigs, during which he hit the ball with authority and acquitted himself well in the field – so he could bring back Reggie Willits on the premise that “some of the outfielders are a bit nicked up.” This after explaining that previous plans for Wood were scuttled because Gary Matthews had played so well, and despite the fact that Chone Figgins and even Wood himself can play the outfield. The logical extension of this utterly illogical handling of one of the game’s premier prospects must be that the Angels hope to waste all of Wood’s options and wind up selling him on waivers, or possibly to the Samsung team of the Korean League.
Joe Girardi benches Hideki Matsui against Jon Lester Monday, even though Matsui had been hot, and particularly so against lefties. He thus instead DH’s Jorge Posada, who promptly sends himself onto the DL, requiring Joe to pinch-hit for Posada with… Matsui.
And though the Diamondbacks might be the coldest team offensively in the majors, and though he has one guy who can play first and third, another who can play first and left, and a third who can play third and second (poorly), when facing Jeff Weaver in the latter’s first major league start since 2007, Bob Melvin leaves Tony Clark on his bench. Batter-Vs-Pitcher numbers are sometimes misleading. But Clark was 7-for-11 lifetime against Weaver with two homers. The D-Backs got five hits off Weaver.
What’s worse is, if early in the week, Melvin happened to stand on a piece of paper that had fallen from the stands with the words “Play Tony Clark against Weaver” written on it, and his team had scored a run during the inning, he might’ve made the line-up change out of superstition.
Managers know 50 times as much as we do. Just not every second.
 
Postscript: Melvin deserves less tweaking, and I recall my snark. Tony Clark was put on the disabled list this afternoon (Wednesday) with continuing wrist problems. Presumably Bob knew about this Tuesday. It certainly denies us a chance for Melvin to take a re-test: Clark has four career homers against the pitcher Arizona faces tomorrow night, Chris Young.

Rockies + Bullpenwinkle

The Closer Carousel never stops; the only true accomplishment is knowing when it’s going to start spinning dangerously like the merry-go-round at the end of Hitchcock’s “Strangers On A Train,” and if the carny is going to get to the shut-off valve in time or if the entire bullpen is going to get launched in the general direction of the cotton candy machine.

As remarked here earlier it’s obvious the Nationals are in the most turmoil at the moment, but one wonders if that situation might not straighten itself out quickly and be replaced by the chaos bubbling to the surface in Colorado. Manny Corpas has pitched himself out of the top job, out of the set-up job, and probably out of the majors. Huston Street has lost the job, won it anew, but hardly gotten a firm handle on the reins. Taylor Buchholz is clearly not near a return from injury (he was just shifted to the 60-Day DL). You’re left wondering if Jason Grilli will actually wind up closing. He has the classic ’80s-’90s biography page: onetime top prospect who never quite made it as a starter and drifted around.
Of course Washington is already there, but, and this is nothing more than a hunch, that Content loud of Joe Beimel, Julian Tavarez, Kip Wells, Garrett Mock, and Joel Hanrahan will resolve itself, probably later than sooner, with Hanrahan back in the job. Again, it’s just a hunch.
NEW HOUSE, SAME RIVALRY

Terry Francona said he loved the new Yankee Stadium, but as a creature of habit, he was more than a little thrown by the disruption of his rituals from years of coming to the old one. “No better place to win on the road, no worse one to lose,” he told me from behind the desk of the visiting manager’s office, a space about four times larger than the one in the old house. The Sox were most floored by the pre-game press briefing, which exceeds what baseball used to do for the World Series: a large, carpeted, well lit room with about 140 chairs, a podium for a moderator to call on reporters for questions, two wireless microphone wranglers, and a camera platform in the back filled with equipment.
IMG_0727.JPG
It did look a little like Tito was addressing a sales workshop.
As to the Yankee-Red Sox rivalry, now accelerated, future shock kind of way by all the intra-divisional play, he noted that “it seemed like that series in our place was a long time ago.” His charges then went out and contradicted him, waiting out a 2:20 rain delay, scratching Phil Hughes for a run in each of the first four innings, getting the benefit of Joe Girardi inexplicably benching Hideki Matsui when he’s been hitting lefties well, and outlasting two Teixeira home runs to take the first ever Sox-Yanks game in the new park.
Francona is, in fact, such a creature of habit that the charts and data taped to the dugout wall around him? He likes to print them out, and tape them up, himself.
BASEBALL BLOOPER OF THE WEEK:

It went by too fast to get an image, but when the Yankees asked their nightly trivia question, they pulled an ironic doozy. The contestant was asked to identify the oldest pitcher to win 20 for the first time. Among the choices were Mike Mussina (the correct answer), ’50s Yankees ace Vic Raschi, and Fritz Peterson, the pitcher who achieved the all-time lowest career ERA inside the original Yankee Stadium.
Except the video didn’t show Peterson, it showed his teammate Mike Kekich. And any vintage Yankee fan, or baseball expert, or student of the weird culture of the ’70s was instantly flashed back to 1973 when Peterson and Kekich exchanged more than just identities on a scoreboard. They traded wives, and families, in an infamous event that was shocking even then.
And 36 years later Kekich was mistaken for Peterson.
The real punchline to the Peterson/Kekich “trade” was not the latter’s banishment to Cleveland that summer, but the fact that while the ex-Mrs. Kekich actually married Peterson, Mrs. Peterson soon left Kekich, leaving him awaiting a Wife To Be Named Later.
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,867 other followers