Results tagged ‘ New York Yankees ’

2013 Previews. AL East: The Yankees Muddlers Row.

The ball was chopped slowly and to get the out the first baseman would have to pick it up barehanded in the grass corner between the foul line and the infield dirt. The pitcher would have to hustle over but as the game’s most abused cliche reminds us every 43 minutes, that’s why they have PFP in spring training. With a speedy runner it would still be close but this was the majors and he who executes best laughs last.

The fans at Yankee Stadium didn’t think twice about it when it happened in the top of the fourth yesterday. The play was difficult, but the pitcher was CC Sabathia and his hustle and athleticism have been one of the under-publicized aspects of the franchise’s success since 2009. And of course, the New York first baseman for exactly the same length of time has been Mark Teixeira and the goaltender-like whip-lash catches he makes at the bag and his other defensive wizardry obscures the fact that if that comparatively ordinary slow chopper is hit to him 500 times over a decade he’s going to pick it cleanly at least 499 times.

Except the Yankee first baseman yesterday wasn’t Teixeira, it was Kevin Youkilis. And no offense to Kevin Youkilis, but when he reached down to scoop up the Jose Iglesias chop and toss it to Sabathia for the out he got nothing but grass and air.

An inning later Jarrod Saltalamacchia shot one into the corner in left, where Brett Gardner should have made an adroit pick-up of the ball as it rattled around. Except Gardner was in center because like Teixeira, Curtis Granderson is hurt and it was Vernon Wells. And no offense to Vernon Wells, but when he waited for the straight bounce off the fence that never comes out there, it didn’t come, and he was left to play ‘go chase’ for awhile. All things considered Saltalamacchia probably would’ve gotten a double out of it anyway but there would have been a play and every tenth or twentieth time – an out.

In neither case did the Red Sox score. But those two plays alone added ten pitches or more to Sabathia’s count and send him packing after five innings down 4-to-2, which opened things for the Yankee bullpen, which may be the least recognized problem among the cascade of them that started yesterday, and soon it would 5-to-2 and then 8-to-2 and then just as in “Young Frankenstein,” it got worse – it started raining.

The effect on the offense of the subtraction of Teixeira, Granderson, Derek Jeter, and even Alex Rodriguez is obvious. What will kill the Yankees – and I mean last place kill the Yankees; this is not the collapse of 1965, that was last year in the ALCS, this is 1966 – will be its effect on the defense. Bad defense is not only its own punishment but it makes bums out of the best of the pitchers. And to re-use yet another old joke, kid, these aren’t the best of them.

And much of this mess will never show up in the box score. The Iglesias and Saltalamacchia plays were both clearly to be scored base hits. Unfortunately this Yankee team – the Muddlers’ Row of Brennan Boesch, Ben Francisco, Travis Hafner, Lyle Overbay, Wells, and Youkilis – has been assembled through (in the memorable phrase of the equally memorable San Francisco baseball writer Hank Schulman) dumpster-diving. And defensively they’re just bad enough to not make the plays, but just good enough to not get the errors.

It’s hard to say how this impending disaster will be received in the Bronx. The Yankees haven’t had a losing season since 1992 and they’ve either won or been in contention every year since 1993. Hal Steinbrenner was still at the University of Florida Business School then, and the Yankees could and often did draw half of what they draw these days. A front office with no memory of the Bad Old Days never mind experience with alleviating them is likely to panic and throw some babies out with the bathwater (heck, the Yankees began panicking about mild media criticism more than a year ago). And the front-running fans who have filled the place during these later glory years will not know what that they were seeing, and never fully realize the implications of the fact that their new platoon third baseman was guy who had been released by the Red Sox exactly a week ago today.

Toronto: I’m not one of those stick-in-the-muds who looked at the Dodgers last year and tut-tutted “you can’t parachute in four new guys in mid-season and expect to form a team.” I mean, for one thing I’m an entirely different kind of stick-in-the-mud. But more importantly, that conclusion ignores the reality that the Giants have won two World Series while parachuting in four guys (last year) and five guys (2010).

So my refusal to jump on the Bandwagon going doing Blue Jay Way is nothing about team chemistry or parachuting or trying to meld a team while competing or Jose Reyes’s hamstrings on turf. I just think that the laudable effort to rebuild a once-great franchise has somewhat obscured some remaining problems – like a very average bullpen, very average production out of the DH spot, and trouble at third base until Brett Lawrie returns.

Plus there’s this little scandal from last year that sneaked in under everybody’s radar. The big trade for the noble Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey? It came less than a year after Dickey became one of a handful of major league pitchers to admit to taking painkiller injections during the season (Jonathan Papelbon, Jon Lester, and Clay Buchholz were among the others). In Dickey’s case this was 2011; I’ve seen no reporting about him and the drug – Toradol – in 2012:

Dickey is among the players who believe Toradol is more effective than taking over-the-counter pain pills. He said he believed the injections helped keep him on the field to pitch 2082/3 innings last season (2011), despite his injured foot. Some doctors, though, said athletes might believe Toradol to be more effective only because of the way it is commonly administered.

The emphasis there was mine.

Giving your starting pitcher a series of anti-inflammatory pain-dulling injections all seasons long is ok because the drug, while requiring a prescription, supposedly only has a slightly greater impact than a couple of Advil (injected directly into the source of your pain). Except, oh by the way, that pesky drug insert sheet references limiting its use to five days in pill form and two days for injections, and oh by the way in England physicians are instructed to start patients on Toradol only in a hospital, and oh by the way when Clay Buchholz was in a hospital with internal bleeding last June he said he thought his use of the drug contributed to his crisis and the fact that doctors had to transfuse him with three or four pints of blood.

Dickey is hardly deserving of being the only one with a finger pointed at him. My understanding is there isn’t a rotation in the majors that doesn’t have at least one regular Toradol, and that some of them may be in new uniforms this year in part because of their teams’ fears that the painkiller could mask necessary pain, the kind that warns you of impending injury. For as with any drug that dulls pain, or covers up muscular damage or exhaustion, or which neutralizes tiredness, the possibility is increased of sudden serious injury. You don’t know you’re hurting and you push it to far – and something snaps.

In short, if a Toradol scandal, or a Prescription Drug scandal, breaks in baseball this year the guys on the record as (past) users are few and far between. And only one of them is a defending Cy Young Winner.

Almost as an aside I also have doubts about the efficacy of Toronto’s rotation. Dickey went from 8-13 in 2011 to 20-6 last year. His strikeouts soared from 134 to 230 in only 25 more innings. His offensive support went up 8/10ths of a run. I don’t know if any of that is sustainable or repeatable this year – especially without the joy of facing pitchers every ninth batter. Tell me how much you’re willing to rely on Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson, to say nothing of Ricky Romero, currently of the Dunedin Blue Jays.

Boston: The gift of Jackie Bradley being ready as much as a year early – and it is a gift, his at bats are those of a 10-year veteran who draws 100 walks every year – may hide some dubious free agent signings. When your key acquisition does so poorly on his physical that you (and he) agree to cut the deal from three years to one, that’s a problem. When you are hoping that Jonny Gomes, Shane Victorino, and Ryan Dempster all had ‘blips’ last year, that’s a lot of high-odds wagering.

The Red Sox probably did themselves a favor by sacrificing the stability that was Adrian Gonzalez in order to offload the franchise-sinking contracts of Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford. But as has been noted elsewhere, they were left with a lot of contract room and not that many people to spend it on. Instead of a Josh Hamilton they went for “Clubhouse Guys” – which is great for long road trips, flights, bus rides in traffic, rain delays, etc. – but rarely seems to be the corrective folks assume insomuch as the last time I checked the game was still played out on the field and very rarely in the clubhouse.

Bradley, of course, is the real deal (though I’ve never seen a player whose Dad didn’t reach the majors use the “junior” on his uni – his reads “BRADLEY JR.”). Will Middlebrooks is legit too. If Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia stay healthy that’s four of nine positions that will excel offensively and defensively. But with David Ortiz hurt and presumably waning there is no longer a feared hitter in this line-up and given the depth of this division that’s a serious impediment to contention.

Baltimore: As mentioned in the AL Central preview the Orioles could’ve easily offed the Yankees in the ALDS last year even though they were relying on two outfielders – Lew Ford and Nate McLouth – who had been released earlier in the same season (Ford, by a team in an independent league). The O’s were reshaped by two guys who were largely viewed as having been bypassed by the proverbial parade, Buck Showalter and Dan Duquette, and featured the contributions of only a couple of homegrown guys (Markakis, Machado, Wieters, Jim Johnson).

What becomes of the Orioles when the revivified farm system begins to contribute? Dylan Bundy was arguably the game’s top pitching prospect, until this spring when he was bypassed by his teammate Kevin Gausman. Will they step into the rotation or be used out of the bullpen a la David Price? Could WBC-tested infielder Jonathan Schoop help out? Or outfielder L.J. Hoes? Could any American League team add more key parts from its own farm system as 2013 rolls along?

Tampa Bay: Well, yeah, actually.

Even while trading off Wade Davis and James Shields, the Rays still have a complete back-up rotation (Jeff Niemann in the bullpen, Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi, Mike Montgomery, and Alex Colome in the minors) to say nothing of a Cy Young Winner (David Price) and two possible future candidates (Jeremy Hellickson and Matt Moore) at the front of Plan A.

And if the primary bounty in the Shields trade, Wil Myers, is not summoned into the Tampa line-up it will only be because of injury, or because the traditional small-ball line-up is producing satisfactorily and there’s no need to squeeze out James Loney or the platooners at second or DH.

The key Tampa weakness would seem to be behind the plate. They kept Jose Molina intact enough to appear in 102 games last year and one wonders if that can be done again, or if Jose Lobaton is a satisfactory alternative. There isn’t a catching prospect in the system and despite the sense that the Rays hit the bullseye with every one of their very few economic darts, the minors are thin generally in terms of position players (2009 was a bad draft, and every year that passes makes the 2008 selection of Tim Beckham as the overall number one pick instead of some kid named Posey look that much sillier). But the arms keep appearing, the down-market free agent signings keep producing (you realize that Loney could out-hit his predecessor Carlos Pena by a hundred points and still not hit .300?), and the veterans get transformed either into more draft choices (or guys like Wil Myers. Good grief, the team with the thinnest tightrope in the sport was somehow able to trade for Wil Myers). Marc Topkin has a superb and concise explanation of how the Rays keep the machine turning here and I offer the usual disclaimer here that I went to college with the future Mrs. Stuart Sternberg and their oldest son was an intern for me one summer.

The Division: I know this is viewed as a three, four, or even five team race. I just don’t see anybody seriously challenging the Rays, especially when Myers comes up. I’m not certain on whether the Orioles’ Tampa-like structuring and youth flood can overcome the value of Toronto’s mass additions in the race for second place; either way it’ll be close. The Red Sox are not likely to compete but also not likely to be challenged by the Yankees who – even in the disaster of last place – will still be the division’s lead story.

Tomorrow we’ll finish it up with the Tarot Card reading that those one-game wild cards make trying to predict the playoffs six months in advance.

These Questions Are Easier Than They Seem

Nothing makes simple questions needlessly complex more quickly than a lot of people needing to fill a lot of time and space. So. Let’s knock these off quickly.

Can The Yankees Void Alex Rodriguez’s Contract?

Highly unlikely. When Rodriguez admitted to past PED use four years ago, the team had a window in which it could’ve claimed he had misled them so seriously that it amounted to fraud or more likely breach of contract. It could’ve cut off his paycheck and invited him – or the Players’ Association – to sue them.

But Rodriguez could’ve just as easily responded by saying ‘thanks.’ He was coming off a 35/103/.302/.392/.573 season, the ever-willingly gullible fan base bought his line about having merely “experimented” and stopped years before, and he would’ve found somebody to pay him – and maybe even pay him more.  The Yankees still had dreams of making additional tens of millions in marketing money as Alex Rodriguez – the clean home run hitter – expunged Barry Bonds from the record book. They didn’t want to fire him.

One of the problems with breach of contract is that if you feel you’re the victim of it, if you don’t respond legally, you are – in a passive-aggressive fashion – forgiving whatever action you think constituted the possible breach. The time frame before your window to try to void a contract expires is not set in stone, but it sure as heck is less than four years.

But Isn’t The New Allegation A Whole Different Breach?

It sure would be – if Rodriguez admitted it. But he’s denying it, outright. Unless there’s another positive test out there, there isn’t a fraud/breach way out of his contract.

By the way, no, I’m not a lawyer. Don’t ask me why I’m so familiar with this topic right now. Trust me, I just am.

So Couldn’t The Yankees Buy Him Out Of His Contract?

There are several variations, but the best estimate is that the Yankees owe Rodriguez another $114,000,000. Exactly what would your motivation be to accept something less?

If he retires, he gets less. If he has to retire because of injury, the Yankees can put in a claim on their insurance on the contract. But if he keeps showing up to work, either willing to play or trying to rehabilitate himself, the club owes him the full amount.

Ask Don Gullett. The Yankees signed him the same winter they signed Reggie Jackson. Everybody knew he had a risky delivery and a cranky arm, but they still gave him a six-year contract. He pitched exactly 30 times for them, the last game coming in July, 1978. He was still showing up at Yankee Stadium and throwing stiffly on the sidelines as late as the summer of 1980. He was a non-roster invitee in 1981. His endless arm miseries produced one of the great jokes in the history of television sportscasting. Deep into one winter, Jerry Girard of WPIX-TV in New York interrupted reading the NBA scoreboard and announced there was breaking news. “This just in,” he said as the director killed the graphics of the scores and put him on camera. “There has been a Don Gullett sighting!”

Why On Earth Did The Diamondbacks Trade Justin Upton?

This is the revised version of the question “Why On Earth Would The Diamondbacks Trade Justin Upton?” The two questions have been asked 47,552 times* this off-season on radio, tv, and the internet.

Answer: In what is now a five-and-a-half season sample size, Justin Upton is a career .250 hitter with a .325 on base percentage and a .406 slug, and an average of 18 homers and 63 RBI. That’s what he’s done lifetime away from Phoenix (the homers and RBI are normalized to a 162-game season). He drove in exactly 20 runs on the road last year.

He is a supremely talented prospect who has thus far shown he doesn’t travel well.

The Braves can take some hope from the fact that sometimes disastrous home-road splits are not entirely-park related but at least somewhat comfort-related. If he’s just as good at home in Atlanta as he was in Arizona, the trade won’t be a disaster (and he still won’t be a superstar). They can still also be optimistic about a smaller sample: 1/8/.293/.388/.483 – in 58 career at bats in Atlanta.

*-I made that number up.

Why Hasn’t Michael Bourn Signed Yet?

He hit .238 after July 1st of last year.

That’s why you trade for Ben Revere instead.

Which Hall Of Famer Is This?

From The Baseball Hall Of Fame Photo Archive

From The Baseball Hall Of Fame Photo Archive

This one is not easier than it seems. HOF President Jeff Idelson tweeted that shot out today, with this enticing hint:

This brilliant lefty’s pickoff move was deemed great by Earl Weaver. He’s in the HOF, but not as a player. Who is he?

An additional hint was later provided – that he was on USC’s national college champs of 1958.

The photo provides an approximate date. That thing at the top left is the famed curved roof of the Orioles’ old spring training home, Miami Stadium, and the bagginess of the uniform suggests 1960 or 1961 at the latest.

Since Jeff has already tweeted the answer, I’m going to give it again, below. It ain’t Steve Dalkowski and it ain’t Frank Bertaina.

 

 

 

This brilliant lefty is Hall of Fame executive Pat Gillick

 

Photo Nerdgasm: UPDATED

I know, I know, Morse trade, WBC, Manti Te’o’s Invisible Girlfriend…I have something important to discuss here: Who are these guys? These are two shots taken at the Yankees’ old spring training facility at Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in the 1978-85 range. The negatives were never printed and never identified by the photographer, and they aren’t obvious to anybody. And I speak as an anybody whose proudest moment was going into the Baseball Hall of Fame’s Photo Archive three years ago and having the privilege to be shown their “unidentified” file – and to reel off seven or eight consecutive IDs in the first photos I saw. I was just beginning to draw a crowd when the muse left me. I think I had one tentative name guess for the remaining hundred in the pile.

Anyway, all we know is that they were Yankees, that we think they were non-roster invitees, and that we have three meh possibilities. Want to play?

Who are these guys?

Who Am I, Number One?

Who Am I, Number One?

Who Am I, Number Two?

Who Am I, Number Two?

As I said, there are a couple of possibilities. Number One looks vaguely – very vaguely – like Keith Smith, who played exactly 20 innings at short for the Yankees in ’84 and ’85. Let’s look at Number One and Smith, side by side…

I AM P. Keith Smith

I AM P. Keith Smith

Am I P. Keith Smith?

Am I P. Keith Smith?

Face shape looks pretty good. The eyebrows are close and any deviation can be attributed to a common eyebrow issue for us Keiths – trimming. The head tilt as part of the attitude toward the camera is one of those subtle things that often tell you more than facial features. But maybe you recognize him and it’s somebody else?

As to the other, I’m not nearly as confident:

I'm Brian Fisher

I’m Brian Fisher

I'm Kelly Scott

I’m Kelly Scott

Kelly Scott? Brian Fisher?

Kelly Scott? Brian Fisher?

I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if our Mysterious Yankee #2 is neither Kelly Scott – a pitcher who was in camp several times in the ’80s – nor Brian Fisher, a very highly rated reliever the Yankees had gotten from Atlanta and later peddled to Pittsburgh. There are a few bad color photos of Scott in which his hair looks very much like our guy. The similarities to Fisher are obvious – the mouth, ear shape, etc. – but doesn’t the unidentified Yankee look significantly older than Fisher? It’s not like these photos could’ve been years apart: Fisher was in the Yank camp just two years, ’85 and ’86.

In any event, if you want to play sleuth, feel free to use the comments. If you have photos or links to support your thoughts, lemme know. Thanks!

MantleDetailUPDATE: One of your kind comments reminds me that we have a few clues besides the faces of the unknown Yanks. Over #2’s right shoulder, for instance, is a very familiar figure.

The Number 7 is on the one and only Mickey Mantle, who served as a Yankee spring training instructor from the year after his retirement until his health failed in the ’90s – with a couple of exceptions. Mantle was barred from baseball in February, 1983, for having gone to work for an Atlantic City casino, and wasn’t reinstated until March, 1985. Therefore you wouldn’t see a Yankee spring training photo from 1983, 1984, or a shot from early spring training 1985 (most of the fringe guys would’ve been long gone before Mantle’s earliest possible return, on March 18th).

This dates the photo to 1982 or earlier, and 1986 or later. The negatives were supposed to have originated from the late ’70s or early ’80s.

Just as importantly, you can plainly see the memorial armband on Mantle’s left sleeve. The Yankees wore those a lot, and would’ve had them during spring training in 1980 (for the late Thurman Munson), in 1981 (for the late Elston Howard), and in 1986 (for the late Roger Maris).

The images were shot on the same day – they’re on the same negative strip. So they are likely dated to 1980-81 (a smaller chance that they date to 1986). Although then, as now, minor leaguers occasionally would be seen in big league camp even if they weren’t on the roster and they weren’t formally ‘non-roster invitees,’ their likelihood of being photographed was very small (they could and were photographed separately, in minor league camp).

Thus the field of who these two men could be really shrinks to all the guys in Spring Training for the Yankees in 1980 and 1981 who I don’t recognize on sight (and in those two seasons I went from Radio Network sportscaster and reporter, and part-time photographer, to CNN sports correspondent). And that field is:

1980:  Pitchers Jim Lewis, Brian Ryder, and Jamie Werly; catchers Scott Benedict, Pat Callahan, and Dan Plante.

1981: Pitchers Curt Kauffman, Lewis, and Ryder; catchers Callahan and Kevin Shannon.

For the record there a couple of other obscure guys in the field that I’ve eliminated because they don’t look like either of these guys: pitchers Paul Boris, Greg Cochran, Tom Filer, Roger Slagle, and Chris Welsh (that’s right: that Chris Welsh, now the Reds’ announcer and then a Yankee lefthand pitching prospect). Speaking of the Reds, neither is either of them another 1981 non-roster invitee named Don Gullett,  who was still – five seasons later – trying to spend one healthy season in a New York uniform after having signed a huge free agent contract in the winter of 1976-77.

But I’m digressing. Let’s put together a rogue’s gallery of the remaining possibilities:

Jim Lewis, 1980

Jim Lewis, 1980

Jamie Werly, 1981

Jamie Werly, 1981

Brian Ryder, 1982

Brian Ryder, 1982

Curt Kaufman, 1982

Curt Kaufman, 1982

Scott Benedict, 1981

Scott Benedict, 1981

Pat Callahan, 1979

Pat Callahan, 1979

As you see, it’s an incomplete gallery. Nothing turned up for two of those catchers – Dan Plante and Kevin Shannon.

I think most of these guys are obviously neither of our unidentified Yankees. One bears a remote resemblance – I’d suggest Scott Benedict, later a renowned high school coach in Florida, might just be Yankee #1, but the chest hair and the chin in the identified shot suggests otherwise. But do you see that shot of Brian Ryder with the then-Reds farm team, the Indianapolis Indians, from 1982. We may have a winner.

Let’s look at a couple more shots of Ryder, and put them alongside our Yankee #2:

Ryder, 1981

Ryder, 1981

Ryder, 1980

Ryder, 1980

Ryder?

Ryder?

I like the 1981 black and white especially – the profile shot – as a match, but it’s pointed out below that the complexion looks more like those two shots of Jamie Werly.

Ryder was the 26th overall pick in the 1978 draft and produced 15-victory seasons in his first two full years in the minors. But after a so-so year at AAA in 1981 the Yankees packaged him and another minor league pitcher named Fredie Toliver to the Reds, for Ken Griffey Sr (it is almost impossible to recall that we used to just call him “Ken Griffey.”) Ryder and Werly never made the majors – but the latter did put together a solid seven years in the

Jamie Werly

Jamie Werly

high minors, including a season as the top pitcher in the Southern League in 1981. In a recent photo he looks a lot like Yankee #1. I think it’s one of them, shown just a few springs ago, with Mickey Mantle over their shoulder…

If anybody has any ideas on the others, feel free to post a Comment – especially if you’ve got a shot of Dan Plante or Kevin Shannon.

UPDATED AGAIN!

Finally it struck me. “Number 1″ here has been annoying me for awhile. Looked familiar, but in a disguised way. Is it possible I’m seeing a guy I knew with long, even bushy hair, and a mustache, without either?

Dennis Werth

Dennis Werth

Could I be...

Could I be…

Dennis Werth? Jayson Werth’s step-Dad?

A-Rod And Miami: What We Know

I broke the news here yesterday that representatives of the Yankees and Marlins – later identified elsewhere as New York team president Randy Levine and Miami owner Jeffrey Loria – had discussed a trade that would send the crumbling Yankee superstar Alex Rodriguez to the Marlins.

As the supplemental reporting of others indicates, this may have begun as a sarcastic response by Levine to a chimerical wish by Loria. But the ownership groups of both clubs know damn well this is no longer a joke, and they can ameliorate if not solve each other’s problem. A lot of the blockbuster transactions in baseball history have begun as jokes or expressions of exasperations (Manager Leo Durocher’s stunning move from the Brooklyn Dodgers to the New York Giants in mid-season 1948 comes to mind).

My sources have little else to add today, except to suggest that the Marlins might be willing to swap more of their overpriced stock for Rodriguez and the net differences in salary than previously indicated (say, Heath Bell and Mark Buehrle for Rodriguez and 60 million or so). That will all depend, I’m told, on just how much Miami season ticket sales drop after the disastrous 2012 season.

As to the key players, only Rodriguez is talking, saying after the Yankees’ ignominious finish in Detroit that he wanted to remain in New York and would not waive his no-trade clause.

After Yankees’ Senior Vice President/General Manager Brian Cashman had dismissed Wednesday’s report as “100% not true,” reporters Andrew Marchand and Wallace Matthews of ESPN New York and Jon Heyman of CBS then revealed the Levine-Loria conversation, and the sad fact that Cashman apparently didn’t know about it, nor the hotline it created.

Today, another embarrassed executive who was clearly out of the loop – Marlins’ president David Samson – insisted there had been no negotiations, while Heyman and others ran with the explanation that the Rodriguez talk was just a joke made last April during the Yankees’ stadium christening exhibitions at Miami and that was that.

My primary source says Marchand and Matthews have it right. It was an offhand remark that has turned into at least an avenue to discuss an anything-but-offhand trade:

What began as a casual, joking conversation between New York Yankees president Randy Levine and Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria about the possibility of Alex Rodriguez playing for the Marlins may develop into serious trade talks this offseason, according to a source with knowledge of the conversation.

Others have dismissed the story because no team is talking trades while it is in the process of being humiliatingly swept out of the playoffs. Of course they don’t. But nor does planning for 2013 freeze just because 2012 games are still being played. Anybody pay attention to the weekend of Yankees’ bench coach Tony Pena? Sunday he had to manage the last three innings after Joe Girardi got ejected. Tuesday he was back in his adjunct role at Girardi’s side. In between, on Monday, he was in…Boston. To interview for the Red Sox manager’s job.

The off-season trades, free agent signings, hirings and firings – and the possible trade of Alex Rodriguez – are all starting now. Right now.

The logic behind moving Rodriguez to Miami is impeccable. Whatever damage A-Rod did not himself do to his reputation, the Yankees have – both on and off the field. They have devalued him as a player (he helped) by the extraordinary step of benching him while the team collapsed. They benched him even against Justin Verlander, against whom he could claim a career 8-for-24 mark with three homers.

They may have even baited him into insubordination. Supposedly by accident, the now imperiled-manager Joe Girardi submitted two different lineups for the rained out Wednesday night ALCS Game 4, one featuring Rodriguez, the other without him. A former major leaguer told me today he wouldn’t be a bit surprised if A-Rod hadn’t seen his name on the initial card and told Girardi where to go – which could easily have been what the Yankees wanted him to do. If you don’t buy that bit of conspiratorial sci-fi, how about weighing whether it’s more likely that for a game that could decide whether or not they kept their jobs Joe Girardi and his coaches ‘accidentally’ wrote out two line-up cards, or the Yankees decided to try to further mess with A-Rod’s head?

It is also speculative, but the Yankees (particularly through the nefarious Howard Rubinstein Public Relations Agency) have long employed the Strategic Leak, with the receiving end usually being The New York Post (for whom Rubinstein also works, in a relationship that mainlines directly to Rupert Murdoch himself). What better and more authoritative source could there be for the Casablanca-like “I’m shocked, shocked, that gambling is going on in here” quality to the Post’s splashy story that Rodriguez was trying to get the phone number of an Australian bikini model during Game 1 of the ALCS, than the Yankees themselves? Who would know she was there? Besides the principals, who would know what the ballboy saw? Who would know all of it? The Yankees. As I alluded to yesterday the autographed-ball-as-groupie-troll bait is probably attempted ten times a day in organized baseball.

But why hurt A-Rod when you’re trying to get rid of him?

Well, that’s easy. You don’t just have to find somebody willing to take him off your hands in a trade that doesn’t humiliate you. You have to convince Rodriguez to drop his no-trade clause. And nothing makes that likelier than being able to say to him ‘did you like the last two weeks? The sports pages? And the gossip pages? Would you like five years of that?’

As many columnists noted today the Yankees have no choice but to put Rodriguez in another uniform ASAP. The reason they gave him a contract through his age 42 season – the pursuit of the career home run record – is now a pointless irrelevancy. The 2009 admission of steroid use has made the ‘clean alternative’ to Barry Bonds into a pathetic joke. And, given his rate of decline and frequency of injury, Rodriguez is a less-than-even-money bet to hit the first home run milestone for which he would get one of those $6,000,000 bonuses. It’s Willie Mays’ total of 660 and Rodriguez ended the 2012 season with 647. A-Rod needs thirteen. He had thirteen as of June 26 this past season. He would hit exactly five more thereafter, in 199 regular season at bats.

You know how many homers a rate like that produces over 500 at bats? Twelve. Thirteen if you round up with a vengeance.

But more relevantly, even if Rodriguez has some sort of Jeterian renaissance ahead of him, the Yankees have spent the last week all but neutering any chance it has of blossoming in New York. They have made him – and many of the other stars – into damaged goods. Ten days ago Girardi was extolling the pricelessness of a consistent line-up. Since that moment he used seven different batting orders in seven games. In the process, he threw virtually everybody in his line-up except Jeter and Russell Martin under the bus.

The Yankees ownership can thus, with fake mournful looks plastered onto their phony faces, not pursue free agent Nick Swisher, and unload Rodriguez at any price, and sign a bunch of cheaper alternatives, because of the crisis they themselves have facilitated. For weeks they’ve been reminding me of the 1983 Philadelphia Phillies.

This is not one of the great teams of history but it was one of the most instructive. The Phils cut through the slightly-favored Dodgers in the NLCS (1-0, 1-4, 7-2, 7-2). Ever seen that Gary Matthews homer slamming off the facade of the second deck at the Vet? That sealed Game 3 and it hit about two feet below my auxiliary press box seat and it sounded like a bomb exploding.

The Phils walked into the Series as nominal favorites over the Orioles. Baltimore seemed to have a slightly better offense but Philadelphia had the pitching. Back of John Denny and Al Holland the Phils took the opener on the road 1-0. But when the Orioles took game two, Manager Paul Owens pulled a stunning move. Even though first baseman Pete Rose had gotten within shouting distance of Ty Cobb’s all time career hits record, and had gone 6-for-16 in the NLCS (5-for-9 in the last two games), Owens benched Rose, citing Rose’s 1-for-8 start in the Series, and swapped in Tony Perez against lefty starter Mike Flanagan. Perez got a weak single and looked like a statue in the field, and Owens undid his move for Game 4, but by then it was too late.

In dropping the last three games, the Phillies scored six runs and they had to blow up the franchise. They released not just Rose but Joe Morgan, too. They sold Perez back to the Reds. They offed veteran reliever Ron Reed. And in the last week of Spring Training they purged Matthews (sending him to Chicago for almost nothing, where he led the Cubs to the 1984 NL West title) and reliever Willie Hernandez (sending him to Detroit for even more almost nothing – and Hernandez won both the Cy Young and the MVP as the Tigers rolled to one of the most dominant seasons of the last 50 years).

The Phils would bubble up to the surface for a fun 1993 NL Championship (the Joe Carter World Series). But excluding that, it would be nine managers and 24 years before they would again finish first.

And the dominos all began to fall when they benched a controversial superstar who was pursuing one of the seminal records of baseball. Now why does that sound so familiar?

 

Exclusive: Yanks, Marlins Talk A-Rod Trade (Confirmed)

Updated 10:45 PM EDT: ESPN New York’s Wallace Matthews has the moving parts of the Jeffrey Loria/Randy Levine conversations that kicked off the trade talk between the Marlins and Yankees about Alex Rodriguez.

According to the source, Loria said in his conversation about A-Rod with Levine, “Alex is Mr. Miami; it would be great if he played here for us.”

To which Levine is said to have replied, “You can have him.”

Included in there is the bombshell detail that explains the unfortunate Brian Cashman’s denial this afternoon. He might be the Senior Vice President/General Manager of the Yankees, but he doesn’t make all the deals and some of them they don’t even give him a much of a heads-up on.

Updated 4:04 PM EDT: Yankees’ Senior Vice President Brian Cashman has denied to MLB.Com’s Yankees’ beat reporter Bryan Hoch that there have been any A-Rod trade talks with the Marlins.

 

Cash – whom I like – is, say, incorrect.

I’d also like to point out that the last time Brian Cashman denied something involving me, it was to tell me and a crowd of reporters that my tweet showing Rodriguez receiving post-pitch detail signals from the stands on Opening Day in 2011 was not an issue for the ballclub and the team was just fine with me and had no problem and everything was just fine. 

Three months later they threw me out as Bob Wolff’s assistant at the P.A. microphone for Old Timers’ Day and leaked it to The New York Post.

UPDATE 4:19 PM EDT: I’d also point out that Cashman may not know about any of this – yet. Not two years ago ownership – by his own admission – essentially signed a free agent without telling him. Cashman said the other 29 GMs would have loved to have “their owner force Rafael Soriano down their throat.”

Original Post: 

The New York Yankees have held discussions with the Miami Marlins about a trade involving their third baseman in crisis, Alex Rodriguez.

Sources close to both organizations confirm the Yankees would pay all – or virtually all – of the $114,000,000 Rodriguez is owed in a contract that runs through the rest of this season and the next five. One alternative scenario has also been discussed in which the Yankees would pay less of Rodriguez’s salary, but would obtain the  troubled Marlins’ reliever Heath Bell and pay what remains of the three-year, $27,000,000 deal Bell signed last winter.

None of the sources could give an indication as to how serious the discussions have already gotten, but one of them close to the Marlins’ ownership said he believed the trade made sense for both sides, and would eventually be made in some form.

Not only are the Yankees one loss away from elimination in the American League Championship Series (and as of this writing, one loss away from an ignominious sweep), but in the post-season Rodriguez is just 3-for-23 with twelve strikeouts, has been pinch-hit for twice, and was left out of one of the Division Series games against Baltimore entirely. He last homered on September 14, and has only one extra base-hit and six RBI in the 24 games since that date.

Rodriguez has become a Gordian Knot for the Yankees. As the roster grows old and the farm system is in a fallow period for position players, the Steinbrenner family wants to reduce payroll, not increase it. And while the precise salary numbers are not known, Rodriguez is scheduled to earn approximately $28 million next year, $23 million in 2014, $22 million in 2015, $21 million in 2016, and $20 million in 2017 – when he will be 42 years old. His physical fragility and declining power now make him just slightly less valuable than the average American League third baseman (by one calculation, Rodriguez’s WAR number – “wins above replacement player” – was 2.0, seventeenth best among Major League third basemen, just behind obscure rookie Luis Cruz of the Dodgers).

Nevertheless, paying Rodriguez $114 million not to play for them would seem to be against the new – cheaper – thinking at Yankee Stadium.

But to a Marlins’ franchise facing financial calamity after the failure of its combination of splashy free agent signings, a high-profile new manager, and a brand new downtown stadium, a “free” Alex Rodriguez has serious upside. He grew up in the community, owns an incredibly high-priced home there that he has been unable to move, and might be refreshed by both the release from the New York cauldron, and a possible move from third base to first base with his new club. Such a position change would be blocked in New York by the presence of first baseman Mark Teixeira and the club’s self-perceived need to rotate the aging Yankee regulars in the Designated Hitter spot.

The degree to which the cauldron was heating up was underscored by a dubious story in Tuesday’s New York Post, which claimed Rodriguez was trying to get the phone numbers of two women seated behind the Yankee dugout during Saturday’s American League Championship Series opener by utilizing the age-old athlete trick of having autographed baseballs delivered to them.

This followed last week’s episode in which tv game show host Donald Trump – tweeting last Wednesday from a team-provided freebie seat in a Yankee Stadium suite – also heated up the cauldron by resuming his online attacks on Rodriguez. Trump invoked Rodriguez’s admission of steroid use during his time with the Texas Rangers by using the more generic and damning word “drugs,” and admitted he had a personal animus towards Rodriguez dating back to what had also tweeted were “dishonorable dealings with me on an apartment deal.”

Trump was sitting in the team suite at Yankee Stadium – on the ballclub’s dime as usual – when he tweeted this:

But the “drugs” tweet was only the culmination of a day of off-and-on attacks on Rodriguez by Trump.

Before the same game:

For more than a year the club has been aggressively retaliatory towards those – like Trump – who have invoked Rodriguez’s admission of steroid use, and others who have been critical of him in any other way. Over the past summer the team suspended team Advisor and Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson for questioning what impact Rodriguez’s confession would have on the legitimacy of his career statistics. Later in the season, a Yankees’ media relations staffer bypassed a new formal appeal procedure and was heard shouting at an official scorer who had given an error to an opposing player rather than a base hit to Rodriguez. Yankees’ media relations director Jason Zillo was described in a 2011 book as being “close” to Rodriguez. In the same book Rodriguez called Zillo a “friend.” In 2011, Zillo and the Yankees had similarly tried to squelch stories about the seeming deterioration of the play of Derek Jeter.

Trump’s call for the Yankees to “terminate” Rodriguez’s contract for “misrepresentation” is not a practical solution in a time with a strong players’ union, and given the fact that in the off-season of 2007-08 the Yankees happily kept Rodriguez from leaving for free agency by giving him a new ten-year contract that ensured that his pursuit of the career home run record would come while wearing their uniform. More over, the confession came in February, 2009, and if any claim to void the contract could ever have been made, it would have been then, and not now.

The Yankees presumably are not happy with Trump’s tweets. But they are less so with Rodriguez’s vanishing adequacy. And if the Marlins provide an escape hatch – even an escape hatch costing them either $96,000,000 (if they were to swap Rodriguez for Bell) or $114,000,000 (if they just give him away, or obtain low-cost players or prospects in return for him) – the Yankees are prepared to ignore the business consequences to offload a formerly great player who with each week seems to turn into simply a more and more painful headache.

Steinbrenners Rob Reggie To Allay A-Rod

These are not your father’s Steinbrenners. For that matter, do they appear to be their father’s Steinbrenners.

In four days it will have been two years since George Steinbrenner died, and in that time his sons Hank and Hal have run their inheritance like a private vehicle for the only thing they seemed to have inherited from him: knee-jerk petulance. Their Dad grew out of its most virulent form by the time he was 60. The sons don’t seem to be moving that quickly.

Christian Red of The New York Daily News reports this afternoon that the Yankees have told their Hall of Famer and Special Advisor Reggie Jackson to “stay away” from the team, from Yankee Stadium, and from other club-related activities after his inarguable comment to Sports Illustrated that Alex Rodriguez’s admission of past steroid use “does cloud some of his records.”

It’s about the mildest form of the truth: that when combined with Rodriguez’s tone-deaf personal conduct at every stage of his career and his track record of getting smaller as the stage gets bigger, his admission of PED use – at minimum while with Texas – might be enough to give the voters the excuse they almost to a man dream of, of denying him a spot in Cooperstown.

Reggie Jackson, who said none of that and referred only to the aforementioned “cloud” and some “real questions about his numbers,” has now been banished, till further notice:

…according to two sources familiar with the team.

“Reggie is under punishment,” said one of the sources. “He’s upset.”

The comments were published at an inopportune time, when the Yankees were in Boston for a pivotal four-game series against the rival Red Sox. The punishment is not an outright ban, one of the sources said, but the Bombers felt that Jackson took a shot at A-Rod that was below the belt when he said that Rodriguez’s admitted performance-enhancing drug use “does cloud” A-Rod’s records.

“The team doesn’t need any negative publicity or aggravation, especially playing in a big market like Boston, and at Fenway,” one of the sources said. “A-Rod doesn’t need the aggravation.”

The name Steinbrenner appears nowhere in the piece. Nor does it show up in Marc Carig’s summary in The Newark Star-Ledger which adds the term “in effect suspended” and  just a dollop of context:

…club officials deemed the outspoken slugger as too “high maintenance.”

Of course the absence of a Steinbrennerian reference simply serves as circumstantial evidence that it originates from one of them (the bet is Hal – Hank had the presence of mind to step slowly away when he sensed he was slightly overmatched trying to do his father’s job). The next best reason for conclusion-jumping here is reached by asking yourself who else would’ve had the power to ban the Yanks’ last, best, living connection to the days George Steinbrenner resurrected the moribund franchise in the late ’70s. You think General Manager Brian Cashman did this? The gnomish Chief Operating Officer Lonn Trost?

Of course it could’ve been Trost’s idea. The latter source quote noted above (“The team doesn’t need any negative publicity or aggravation…”) is just dense enough to be something from him. What on earth did the Yankees just get themselves besides negative publicity and aggravation by banning Reggie Jackson just as the storm-in-a-teapot over his comments to SI had faded completely from consciousness? Who on earth would have let this wet blanket land on the eve of the All-Star Game?

But even if he did dream up this chicken spit and convince Hal Steinbrenner it was salad, Trost is not likely to have given the story to The Daily News. Just two months ago he demanded that Major League Baseball actually investigate the newspaper for another story, co-authored by the impeccable Bill Madden, that the Steinbrenners were exploring selling out.

The key to the saga is the necessity of protecting Rodriguez, even at the cost of alienating and publicly humiliating Jackson, who spent only five of his 21 major league seasons in New York but is now high on the list of retired stars identified solely with the Yankees. Mr. Red of The Daily News refers to Rodriguez as the “star third baseman” and while that’s what the Yankees desperately need people to think this year, and next year, and the year after that, and all the way until 2017 when his noose of a contract finally runs out, it is hardly still the case. This is a player, healthy enough to have appeared in 82 of the Yankees’ first 85 games, whose On Base Plus Slugging Percentage number falls below the likes of Ryan Doumit, Adam LaRoche, and Jed Lowrie – and just ahead of Chris Davis, thought to be in danger of being relegated to a platoon at first base for Baltimore.

Other than structurally I am not comparing the two cases – throwing me out and throwing Reggie Jackson out aren’t in the same universe – but we are beginning to see the outlines of a pattern of the Yankees ham-handedly overreacting in defense of their rapidly rusting former star. On Opening Day last year I finally got a clear photo from my seats of a Yankee “Coaches’ Assistant” named Brett Weber. Throughout 2010 he had given hand signals from his own seat right back of home plate to Yankee players in the on-deck circle. Nearly always, this was Rodriguez, who often looked inquiringly towards Weber for some kind of data. Gradually it had dawned on me that Weber was providing Rodriguez with details about the preceding pitch: speed, location, type.

But at the opener on a frigid March day in 2011 Weber had elevated his game. He was signaling everything except time, temperature, and traffic conditions on the Cross-Bronx Expressway.

The pictures were so inconsequential that I didn’t even blog about them here. I tweeted one shot and explained that Rodriguez was just getting confirmation of what he’d seen. What I thought but didn’t (bother to) write, was that he’s so tense that he needed confirmation from a kid in the stands with a radar gun what pitch he had just seen thrown even though he was closer to the pitch than the kid was.

But a newspaper – The Daily News, natch – published the photo two days later and I arrived at Yankee Stadium that morning as the center of attention. Major League Baseball had already instructed the Yanks to not sit Weber or anybody else in the stands. The team had already issued an explanation: namely that the Radar Gun attached to the Yankee Stadium scoreboard wasn’t working that day and so Weber was telling the players something they would have ordinarily known but for a mechanical failure.

In the middle of an ad hoc “news conference” in which I insisted that it might be bizarre for a team employee to be giving an active player a kind of hand-signal play-by-play but it didn’t strike me as cheating, who walks over but General Manager Cashman. I’ve only known him fifteen years or more and he decided to make a joke about Weber signaling for beers, and then to explain that it had all been cleared up and Weber would be back in his seat for the next day’s game, and that certainly the Yankees weren’t upset with me for tweeting the photo.

The hell they weren’t.

Since 2001 I had served as the assistant to, and “color man” for, Hall of Fame broadcaster Bob Wolff as he did the play-by-play of Old Timers’ Day over the Yankee Stadium public address system. I had occasional jokes and even less occasional insight to drop in, but mostly I was there to help out Bob, who is universally revered in my industry for his skill and moreover his generosity. Just before Old Timers’ Day 2011 Bob phoned me to say he had just been told by the Yankees that while he was invited back to “announce” the game, I wasn’t. “They said they were going in a different direction.”

I wasn’t happy about it – mostly because Bob wasn’t happy about it – but good grief, the Yankees once fired Babe Ruth, it’s their ballclub and they can do what they want. Even as I chafed at the idea that a ten-year run was over without so much as a phone call or email from them, it still never dawned on me that there was an ulterior motive.

Then The New York Post ran a story leaked to them by the Yankees that there certainly was one. The Yankees, the ‘paper’ reported, were avenging themselves against me for having tweeted the Weber/Rodriguez photo.

For the last several years, political commentator Keith Olbermann has served as an in-stadium play-by-play man for the Yankees’ Old-Timers’ Day. But the Yankees are making a change, The Post has learned. The Yankees were not happy with Olbermann posting a photo on Twitter earlier this season of a coach signaling pitches to their batters in the on-deck circle. So they decided to bounce the liberal loudmouth and will have Bob Wolff and Suzyn Waldman provide the commentary for today’s game instead.

The factual errors in the item (I had never done the play-by-play; the implication that Bob Wolff was somehow replacing me was made by somebody who knew nothing of the mechanics of Old Timers’ Day) suggested this was not Cashman cashiering me, nor the exec in charge of the event, Debbie Tymon. This was further up the chain. Even President Randy Levine insisted to me that the events were unconnected, and that I was a “candidate” to return to help Bob in 2012, and that I’d hear from the club directly next time.

Not exactly. Old Timers’ Day 2012 came and went without even a post-it stuck on my seat in the ballpark reading ‘drop dead.’

And in retrospect this petty little exercise seems like a minor note before the publicity fiasco crescendo of the move against Reggie Jackson. Note that in both cases nothing was announced, just leaked. In both cases there is executive-level action by people who don’t really know what’s going on, and who wind up exacerbating a forgotten story by resurrecting it and publicly blaming on somebody else.

And in both cases the motive is to somehow defend Alex Rodriguez.

Clearly Rodriguez needs it. After the tweeted photo story broke, an American League manager took me aside to thank me for stirring up the hornet’s nest. “They’ve been doing that for years, even in the old park,” he said. “I’ve complained and complained and complained – nothing. And it was always done for A-Rod.” The skipper added some texture to this by suggesting that the real need for a guy in the stands in a Yankee jacket giving pitch details to Rodriguez and other Yankees was that the team was notorious for flashing the wrong pitch and the wrong speed on the scoreboard (they would hardly be the only team accused of that crime and/or gamesmanship).

The sad part about all of this is that in both cases these are amazing over-reactions. The “signal” story went away within 24 hours and Brett Weber returned to his seat (although Rodriguez never again got the benefit of his technically-illegal wig-wagging). Reggie Jackson’s gentle honesty about the fact that Rodriguez is a freakin’ admitted steroid user resonated here in New York with all the impact of a snowball thrown into a pond and ruffled far fewer feathers than his comments about the Cooperstown worthiness of the late fan favorites Gary Carter and Kirby Puckett.

Under Steinbrenners: The Next Generation, the Yankees’ front office looks like a bunch of hand-wringing clerks wearing green eyeshades, rushing to defend Alex Rodriguez. You know what George would have done? Nothing. He might’ve updated his infamous derision of Dave Winfield and call Rodriguez “the new Mr. May,” but he would’ve taken the heat – not applied it to others unnecessarily.

Instead the Yankees: get another publicity nightmare; underscore the fragility of their third baseman’s ego and the insanity of his five-years-to-go contract; and pull the rug out from under one of their top ambassadors (and one of their guys who actually hit his 500+ home runs without any juice).

If Hal Steinbrenner – with or without Lonn Trost – is going to run this hallowed team like a Roller Derby franchise, that other Daily News story had better be true. The Steinbrenners need to sell the club. The Yankees need to be run by some grown-ups with skin of merely ordinary thickness.

Moose Skowron: The Merry All-Time World Series Great

The list of the top ten Home Run hitters in World Series history is fascinating, but not for the reasons you’d think.

Mickey Mantle still leads (and almost certainly will; Albert Pujols trails him by 14, cluster-hitter Nellie Cruz trails him by 15, and Alex Rodriguez trails him by 17). Babe Ruth (15) and Yogi Berra (12) follow. Duke Snider is fourth with 11, Lou Gehrig and Reggie Jackson tied for fifth at 10. The rest of the top ten are three men tied with eight homers each: Joe DiMaggio, Frank Robinson, and Moose Skowron.

Moose Skowron?

Bill “Moose” Skowron died today after a fight with cancer. He was 81. He was one of the most appreciated, most fun, most filter-free guys in baseball history (“Keith Olbermann! You look great! But, Jeez, ya put on a little weight, huh?”). For the last 40 years he had gradually become the stuff of anecdotal legend, roaming the various parks of the White Sox and dropping into almost anybody’s broadcast booth and inevitably being asked about the stash of Mantle-signed baseballs he supposedly kept locked away somewhere (“Oh, now don’t start on me about that again, Sheesh, I’m not talkin’ about that again”).

What got lost in all this merriment – and that’s the word for it, Bill Skowron was almost unstoppably merry - was that he was a helluva first baseman, mostly for the New York Yankees. And unless somebody gets on the stick, he is going to be in the top ten in all-time World Series home runs for quite awhile. Because while you may or may not be able to prove that there is such a thing as clutch hitting, Moose Skowron played in 39 World Series games, got 39 hits, hit his eight homers, and drove in 29 runs. He slugged .519, hit two homers in the same Series in two different years, and in the dramatic 7th Game in 1958, with the Yankees having just broken a 2-2 tie in the 8th Inning, he hit a two-out three-run job to kill off the Braves and Lew Burdette (who had only won the Series from the year before by pitching three victories for Milwaukee).

To throw more numbers at you:

Most Career World Series RBI

1. Mickey Mantle                40

2. Yogi Berra                        39

3. Lou Gehrig                      35

4. Babe Ruth                        33

5. Joe DiMaggio                  30

6. Bill Skowron                    29

Something else to consider about this cascade of stats. Moose would be the first person to tell you he was no Mickey Mantle and certainly no Babe Ruth. But he put up World Series numbers that approach both of them, with far fewer opportunities. In his first three Series, Skowron was platooned by Casey Stengel. He only batted four times in the ’57 Classic.

Skowron only had 142 World Series plate appearances. Mantle had 273, Berra 295, DiMaggio 220. Mantle homered once every 15.2 ups, Skowron once every 17.75, Berra once every 24.6, DiMaggio once every 27.5.

The RBI rate is even more impressive. Rewrite that list based on plate appearances (lower is better), with the caveat that a tack-on Grand Slam, like the Moose hit in Game 7 in 1956, can go a long way.

Plate Appearances Per World Series RBI:

1. Gehrig                           4.0

2. Skowron                      4.9

3. Ruth                              5.0

4. Mantle                          6.8

5. DiMaggio                     7.3

6. Berra                             7.6

Again, Bill’s explanation for this was pretty easy (“I was real lucky”). In point of fact, he produced in this way even though, almost invariably, Mantle, Berra, and later Maris, were batting ahead of him. As often as he might have added tack-on runs, he was probably much more often coming up after one of the epic sluggers had cleaned off the bases. He hit when it counted.

But ultimately, Moose (and although he went to Purdue on a football scholarship he was 5’11” 195 – the “Moose” came from a haircut that made the childhood Bill look like the Italian dictator Mussolini) was just endless good fun. I had the great luck to be invited by Tony Kubek to join his family at the 2009 Hall of Fame inductions. Kubek’s first roomate was Skowron, and they were proud enough of their Polish heritage that Skowron introduced the rookie Kubek to a fellow countryman, Stan Musial to get some batting tips. Moose was sitting next to be as Kubek got up to begin his acceptance of his entry into the Broadcasters’ wing. Kubek smiled towards us and said “I have to start with a story about my first year in the majors, and my first roomie, Moose Skowron, and when he introduced me to Stan Musial.”

Moose buried his head in his hands. “Oh, Jeez, Tony, don’t tell that story,” he muttered, “Jeez, don’t tell that story!” As the MLB Network cameraman raced towards us to get a reaction shot, Bill muttered again, “Keith, can’t you do something to stop this? You’re on tv, ain’t ya?” When I pointed out that I was part Polish, too, Bill sat upright and said “You’re one of us? Well, I guess that means you can’t. I’ll just have to sit here and take this.”

End Of Story: The 1912 New York Yankees.

This post contains new material and much reworked from Friday’s.

I thought we had cleared this up yesterday, but evidently not. Now my old friend Joe Buck has repeated a mistake that has unfortunately attained the aura of official history. Simply put, when the Boston Red Sox opened Fenway Park 100 years ago Friday, the faithful would have called the visiting team “The New York Yankees” – not “The New York Highlanders” (we’ll leave out any more troublesome things they might’ve called them).

The April 12, 1912 edition of The New York Times wrote of the club’s home opener: “The Yankees presented a natty appearance in their new uniforms of white with black pin stripes.”

Below you’ll see the 1911 baseball cards issued with the brands of the American Tobacco Trust, labeling the New York players “Yankees,” plus a newspaper supplement from 1907 showing a team picture of the New York Yankees.

My friend Marty Appel is just out with his comprehensive history of the franchise, Pinstripe Empire. He has some succinct insight into the etymology of the New York American League club’s name:

“Today we think the field was commonly called Hilltop Park, and the team commonly called the Highlaners. But in the first decade…the team was also better known as the New York Americans or the Greater New Yorks. On opening day (1903), the Telegram called them the Deveryites. Sam Crane in the Evening Journal was determined that they be the Invaders. In those days, team nicknames were far less formal. It was, for example, more common to say the Bostons or the Boston Americans than to call them the Red Sox or the Pilgrims.

“Hilltoppers was also used on occasion, and as early as April 7, 1904, the Evening Journal used YANKEES BEAT BOSTON in a headline. (“Highlanders” didn’t even appear in the New York Times until March 1906).”

Appel also quotes a piece from the legendary writer and historian Fred Lieb, from Baseball Magazine, in 1922:

“(Highlanders) was awkward to put in newspaper headlines. Finally the sporting editor at one of the New York evening papers exclaimed ‘The hell with this Highlanders; I am going to call this team ‘the Yanks’ that will fit into heads better.’

“Sam Crane, who wrote baseball on the same sheet, began speaking of the team as the Yankees and Yanks. When other sporting editors saw how much easier ‘Yanks’ fit into top lines of a head, they too (decided against) Highlanders, a name which never was popular with fans.”

The further back you go before the rust formed around the official history, the further it becomes clear that until the owners officially christened the team in 1913, they were known informally by many names. “Yankees” seems to have been an early favorite, “Americans” being the default second choice (just as it would’ve been for the Cleveland “Americans” or the Detroit “Americans” or – translated to the other league – for the Philadelphia “Nationals”). “Highlanders,” “Hilltoppers” and “New Yorks” brought up the rear.

It’s also pretty clear that the New York team we know as the Yankees was never formally called “Highlanders.”

I first heard the story of the slow evolution from “Gordon’s Highlanders” (the name of a famed British army regiment of the time, which stuck because the first team president was named Joseph Gordon, and because their ballpark was at one of the highest spots in New York) to the Yanks in Frank Graham’s first version of The New York Yankees in 1943. At that time, a lot of people who had seen the full 40-year history of the franchise were still alive – Graham, who became a sportswriter in 1915, included. I read the copy my father had had since childhood, either in 1967 or 1968.

The relevant passage is on Page 16:

“With 1913 coming up, there was an almost complete new deal. Jim Price, Sports Editor of the New York Press, had been calling the team the Yankees because he found the name Highlanders too long to fit his headlines; and by 1913 the new name had been generally adopted.”

So the Yankees were the last people to call themselves the Yankees and as Graham wrote nearly 70 years ago, the nickname had been generally adopted before the club went through the formality – in 1913.

The key to all this is Appel’s observation that nicknames were informal until the clubs began to realize they were marketing and merchandising opportunities, which probably didn’t take place until the 1920’s. Official MLB history and fans have totally reversed the team name equation. It used to be all about the cities (the 1889 World Series was “The New Yorks versus The Brooklyns”) and this is something that just does not compute to the modern mind. In fact, think of the Dodgers, who began as a new franchise in the then-major league American Association in 1884 with the uninspired nickname “Grays.” By 1888, after a spate of players got married in the off-season, they were the Brooklyn Bridegrooms. In 1899 when Ned Hanlon took over as manager, there was a famous vaudeville troupe called “Hanlon’s Superbas”- thus they became the Brooklyn Superbas. The name outlasted Hanlon, and only faded when Wilbert Robinson took over as manager in 1914 and the name changed again: Brooklyn Robins. Throughout this whole time, the fans and sportswriters used, as a kind of alternative nickname, the term applied to Brooklyn fans who were in constant danger from the labyrinth of streetcar lines throughout the city: “The Trolley Dodgers,” or, simply “Dodgers.” So when Robinson left after the 1931 campaign, the club formally declared themselves “The Dodgers” (but didn’t put the name on the uniforms until 1938). How did the Dodgers treat this confusing history? They declared their 100th anniversary to be 1990, which wiped out the 1884-89 time frame and the team’s first trip to the World Series.

And just think, we can go through this entire history controversy year after next. 2014 will be the 100th Anniversary of Wrigley Field. Only it wasn’t called Wrigley Field in 1914 and the Cubs didn’t play there until 1916.

First, back across the country and the Yankee photographic evidence.

Tip of the cap to my fellow SABR member Mark and this evidence-filled blog on the issue. He gives prominent attention to headlines from the New York Sun about the 1912 “Highlanders.” Getting lesser play? This clip from the New York Tribune, which echoes the aforementioned Times headline:Interestingly the Sun folded in 1950. The Tribune was still breathing (after a series of mergers) in 1966. The Times is still in business.

Then there’s this from 1907:

That is a postcard advertising the following Sunday’s edition of The New York American newspaper, which was to include a full-sized version of the 1907 Yankees team picture. This was just after 1907’s opening day, five years before the christening in The Fens.

Below, the 1911 baseball cards. In some of the biographies (as shown in the lower left hand corner) there are references to “Highlanders.” But the fronts tell the story:

By the way, “Quinn” in the top row? That’s Jack Quinn, whose oldest-victory mark was just broken by Jamie Moyer. These are 1911 cards. Quinn is also in the 1933 set.

In point of fact, the Yankees were the Yankees before the Red Sox were the Red Sox. Created in 1901 when the American League was founded, the Boston team was known variously as the Pilgrims, and simply “The Americans” (as opposed to “The Nationals”), the new team drew much of its talent from the successful, but eminently cheap National League team in Boston. From its earliest days in the National Association (1871) and N.L. (1876) that team had worn red stockings, and were once formally known by that name.

In 1907, the N.L. team’s manager Fred Tenney became worried about the threat of blood poisoning supposedly posed by the red dye in the socks getting into spike wounds. By year’s end, he had convinced owners John and George Dovey to eliminate the color from the uniforms. A block away, where the nascent A.L. team was struggling to gain a foothold in what was still a National League town, owner John I. Taylor immediately jumped on the opportunity and announced his team would don “the red socks” in 1908 – and a name was born.

The Yankees were the Yankees by 1906. The Red Sox weren’t the Red Sox until 1908.

Parenthetically, the N.L. team’s next nicknames – the Doves, for the Dovey Brothers, and, in 1911, the Rustlers (because Doves increasingly sounded stupid) – didn’t catch on. The Doveys sold out in 1912 to a bunch of New York politicians from Tammany Hall. Since that organization had a Native American for its logo, its operatives were known as “braves” – and thus the Boston N.L. club adopted that name, and have carried it since. In fact, a week ago Wednesday was the 100th Anniversary of the first appearance of the Braves.

Update: Wonderful Ceremony, But They Weren’t The Highlanders

Kudos to the Red Sox for taking the concept of the mega-ceremony to a new level. Whereas the Yankees closed the old Stadium in 2008 by putting a comparatively small group of all-time greats on the field at their old positions, the Olde Towne Team went the egalitarian route, and for once, bigger really was better.

The ovation for Terry Francona was terrific, and the scene of Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek pushing the wheelchairs of the long-ago doubleplay combo of Bobby Doerr and Johnny Pesky was indelible. But to me, just as important was seeing Bobby Sprowl and Billy Rohr and Wayne Housie and Jim Landis and those other dozens of the 230 in attendance whose Red Sox tenures were more cameos than careers.

This is the essence of the difference between the franchises. The Yankees are about an elite, and a sense that only the best even matter. The Red Sox – at least until ownership went crazy last fall and cut off its nose to spite its face – have always been predicated on the idea that everybody, great or trivial, has contributed something to the heritage.

I will protest, however, on behalf of historical accuracy, the continual references right now to how the opponents in both today’s game and the first ever at Fenway exactly a century ago were the New York “Highlanders.” This is one of those misunderstandings of history that never seems to get straightened out. Yes, the New York American League team was colloquially known as “The Highlanders” when it was moved from Baltimore in 1903. And yes, the name “Yankees” wasn’t formally adopted until 1913.

That does not mean the 1912 New York team wasn’t known as the Yankees. In fact the name was in common use no later than 1907. Evidence?That is a postcard advertising the following Sunday’s edition of The New York American newspaper, which was to include a full-sized version of the 1907 Yankees team picture. This was just after 1907’s opening day, five years before the christening in The Fens.

They were the Yankees. Not the Highlanders. Stop saying it.

Update: Yes, I understand that the Yankees’ official history identifies the pre-1913 teams as the Highlanders and doesn’t assign the “Yankee” name to the teams until after the 1912 season. But this isn’t about a simplified record for people who don’t really care about historical accuracy (another example: the Dodgers claim their franchise began in 1890, when in fact the 1890 team was the same one that represented the old American Association in the 1889 World Series). This is about what the fans at brand new Fenway Park, a hundred years ago today, would’ve called the visiting team from New York.

Second Update: As those who never question “history” continued to push back on this idea that because the team didn’t officially call itself the Yankees until 1913 it wasn’t the Yankees in 1912, I decided to go back to where I first heard the story of the slow evolution from “Gordon’s Highlanders” (the name of a famed British army regiment of the time, which stuck because the first team president was named Joseph Gordon, and because their ballpark was at one of the highest spots in New York) to the Yanks. Frank Graham wrote his first version of The New York Yankees in 1943, when a lot of people who had seen the full 40-year history of the franchise were still alive – Graham, who became a sportswriter in 1915, included. I read the copy my father had had since childhood, either in 1967 or 1968.

The relevant passage is on Page 16:

“With 1913 coming up, there was an almost complete new deal. Jim Price, Sports Editor of the New York Press, had been calling the team the Yankees because he found the name Highlanders too long to fit his headlines; and by 1913 the new name had been generally adopted.”

So the Yankees were the last people to call themselves the Yankees and as Graham wrote nearly 70 years ago, the nickname had been generally adopted before the club went through the formality – in 1913.

Some of the less in-the-know fans at Fenway at its christening might have referred to the visitors as “The Highlanders.” The vast majority would’ve said “Yankees” – as the New York Times had after the 1912 opener in New York: “The Yankees presented a natty appearance in their new uniforms of white with black pin stripes.”

More evidence? In the biographies on the back (as shown in the lower left hand corner), there are occasional references to “Highlanders.” But the 1911 baseball cards refer to them – unofficial or not – as the Yankees:By the way, “Quinn” in the top row? That’s Jack Quinn, whose oldest-victory mark was just broken by Jamie Moyer. These are 1911 cards. Quinn is also in the 1933 set.

In point of fact, the Yankees were the Yankees before the Red Sox were the Red Sox. Created in 1901 when the American League was founded, the Boston team was known variously as the Pilgrims, and simply “The Americans” (as opposed to “The Nationals”), the new team drew much of its talent from the successful, but eminently cheap National League team in Boston. From its earliest days in the National Association (1871) and N.L. (1876) that team had worn red stockings, and were once formally known by that name.

In 1907, the N.L. team’s manager Fred Tenney became worried about the threat of blood poisoning supposedly posed by the red dye in the socks getting into spike wounds. By year’s end, he had convinced owners John and George Dovey to eliminate the color from the uniforms. A block away, where the nascent A.L. team was struggling to gain a foothold in what was still a National League town, owner John I. Taylor immediately jumped on the opportunity and announced his team would don “the red socks” in 1908 – and a name was born.

The Yankees were the Yankees by 1906. The Red Sox weren’t the Red Sox until 1908.

Parenthetically, the N.L. team’s next nicknames – the Doves, for the Dovey Brothers, and, in 1911, the Rustlers (because Doves increasingly sounded stupid) – didn’t catch on. The Doveys sold out in 1912 to a bunch of New York politicians from Tammany Hall. Since that organization had a Native American for its logo, its operatives were known as “braves” – and thus the Boston N.L. club adopted that name, and have carried it since. In fact, a week ago Wednesday was the 100th Anniversary of the first appearance of the Braves.

2012 Previews: A.L. East

AMID all the curiosity and nostalgia about the sudden unretirement of Andy Pettitte, there rested one question that is absolutely fundamental to understanding the 2012 American League Eastern Division race.

Why?

I heard people ask Pettitte about how it happened, when it happened, why he wanted it to happen, how his arm was, how his legs were, how his head was. I heard questions about when Brian Cashman called him and how often and how much he was offered and how much he eventually signed for and why it took him so long and when he’ll be ready.

What I did not hear was a question about why – in the wake of trading the best hitting prospect they’ve produced since Robinson Cano for a starting pitcher, and in the wake of signing a free agent starting pitcher, and with a training camp full of young starting pitcher prospects – why did the Yankees feel they needed Pettitte?

Even at the point when Cashman traded Jesus Montero to Seattle for Michael Pineda (and then incongruously compared Montero to Miguel Cabrera), the Yankees had a surfeit of starting pitchers. CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, Freddy Garcia, and Phil Hughes were all back (and Bartolo Colon could’ve been). Manuel Banuelos, Dellin Betances, and Hector Noesi were awaiting opportunities. And then Pineda was added. And then Kuroda. And then Pettitte.

I understand no team divides its 162 starts evenly among five men and if you go through a year with only two rotational changes it’s been a blessing from above. But to add so much is to suggest not that you’re worried about injury or attrition, but about the quality of what you already have. I don’t think the Yankees trust Nova, I think they feel Hughes’ moment is passed, I presume they have no faith that the moment will arrive for Banuelos and Betances. And after his flaccid spring, I’m sure they’re wondering if the Pineda thing was a disaster too.

It was.

Jesus Montero probably can’t catch a lick and the Yankees didn’t have first base open for him to move to. But a player like him, with that kind of high ball opposite field power, is far more scarce than a Michael Pineda at his best, let alone a Michael Pineda who didn’t gain velocity in the off-season, only weight. The Yankees seem deliberately intent on ignoring the reality that they are aging dangerously on offense. I realize that part of the solution to that is to free up the DH spot that Montero would’ve filled, by a rotation of the wheezing Alex Rodriguez, the unpredictable Nick Swisher, the aging Derek Jeter, and the calcified Andruw Jones and Raul Ibanez. But it would seem those guys, and the offense, would’ve benefited a lot more from taking days off and letting the kid get 600 plate appearances and 30 homers.

And while my theory of Cashman getting as much pitching protection as he can speaks well to his preparedness for the ever-growing chance of injury or unreliability among his hurlers, there is no similar cushion being built for the line-up. This is a dreadful bench, from Francisco Cervelli (no power), to Eduardo Nunez (no glove), to Jones (no future). And there’s nobody in the farm system to fill the deficiencies before Gary Sanchez and Mason Williams arise during the early stages of the 2016 presidential campaign. There was a guy but they traded him for a starting pitcher so good that they had to talk a 39-year old out of retirement to replace him. Lord help the Yankees if Curtis Granderson hits like he did last September, or if Rodriguez (“he’s in great shape; oh yeah, he was in great shape last year before he broke”) or Teixeira or Russell Martin get hurt. Or Cano. No Cano and they might not be even a factor in the pennant race.

That’s why I’m picking TAMPA BAY in this division, and handily. This is still a popgun offense, although I giggle every time I read somebody rip them for bringing back Carlos Pena to replace folk hero Casey Kotchman. Casey Kotchman had 560 plate appearances last year in Tampa and drove in 48 runs. A first baseman almost has to try to achieve a statistic that pathetic. In any event, Andrew Friedman has upgraded the offense from anemic to serene, improving by small measure at first, at DH, and at short (where Jeff Keppinger is bound to supplant the .193/.223 boys, Sean Rodriguez and Reid Brignac). Desmond Jennings is clearly blossoming into a star, and if B.J. Upton can hit merely .275, he will finally become one as well.

And the Rays have the best pitching staff in baseball. Even if Matt Moore is hyped and James Shields returns to earth and David Price keeps underachieving, they can pull Wade Davis back from the bullpen, and bring up Alex Cobb, Chris Archer, and half a dozen other guys from Durham. If the magic spell that made Kyle Farnsworth a top closer suddenly snaps, they have Fernando Rodney and Joel Peralta and Jake McGee and J.P. Howell to give it a try. The Rays probably have not just the best staff, 1-through-14 in baseball; they may have the best staff, 1-through-28. Who knows: if everything doesn’t go wrong maybe they dangle some of those prospects at mid-season and get some hitting?

The problem in BOSTON last year was pitchers drinking before the games were over. The problem in Boston this year could be fans drinking before they begin. Outside of Adrian Gonzalez and Jacoby Ellsbury there isn’t a player on that 25-man roster about whom there is not one huge question. How soon will Kevin Youkilis’ crazy grip finally irreparably damage his hand? Can Carl Crawford actually face a pennant race? Is Buchholz healthy? Or Lester? Or Beckett?

Most importantly, to paraphrase long-ago skipper Joe M. Morgan, “who is running this nine?” New manager Bobby Valentine, showing my earlier criticisms of him may have been extreme and unfair, wanted Jose Iglesias at shortstop and hard-hitting, rapidly-improving Ryan Lavarnway behind the plate (Lavarnway being the only Red Sox player who didn’t panic down the stretch last year). He was overruled – and he certainly wasn’t overruled by newbie GM Ben Cherington. Years ago Terry Francona, John Farrell, and Theo Epstein came to the realization that Daniel Bard didn’t have the emotional chops to be a starting pitcher, and was best served firing gas out of the pen. They’re all gone, Bard was shoved into the rotation, is flailing just as the former bosses knew he would, and now presumably staggers back to the bullpen as broken goods behind the physically sketchy Andrew Bailey (Mark Melancon might close for them yet).

It’s a mess. It’s a mess that could almost accidentally come together in triumph and bolt into the pennant race, but – and heaven help me I’m agreeing with Curt Schilling – it looks like it is going bad quicker than he and I expected it to.  Ah well, maybe they can hire Francona back at some point and he can sift through the ashes and rebuild The Olde Towne Team with an eye towards 2014.

The question in TORONTO is: could it be going good quicker than anybody expects it to? Seven spots in the Jays’ lineup don’t particularly startle you, until you reach the conclusion that the guys occupying them could all, realistically, hit 20 homers apiece this year. This does not include Jose Bautista, or the first full year of The Brett Lawrie, who might become Canada’s first true homegrown baseball hero since The Larry Walker. The Blue Jays might be good for 250 home runs – Adam Lind could easily jump from one of the “other seven” to All-Star status – and the only defensive liability of the bunch, catcher J.P. Arencibia, could soon be supplanted by uber-prospect Travis D’Arnaud.

The Jays will hit and field. Their bullpen – fresh-armed Sergio Santos, protected by the underappreciated Coco Cordero, joining the incumbent Casey Janssen – with Darren Oliver actually finding a team he hasn’t previously played for – is newly solid. The questions are all among the starters. Only Ricky Romero has a resume, but during Toronto’s remarkable spring in dreary Dunedin (I know, I know, spring training stats, but they are 22-4 as I write this), Henderson Alvarez, Brett Cecil, Brandon Morrow, and even Deck McGuire and Kyle Drabek have looked sharp. Dustin McGowan is, in a tradition as old as time itself, hurt again – but perhaps only for a few weeks. If there’s one thing John Farrell knows it’s how to translate pitching potential into success. Just slight success out of the rotation and the Jays could vault into contention.

As to BALTIMORE they seem to be planning to use Wilson Betemit and Nick Johnson as part-time Designated Hitters. End Communication.

AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST FORECAST:

Faint heart never won fair predicting contests. I’m convinced about the winner, and taking a flier on the runners-up. It’s possible one of the Wild Cards comes out of this division but I’m not convinced any more. The Yankees and the Red Sox are not locks, and they are so not locks that I will assume New York will finally suffer the kind of position-player calamity that accelerates its decrepitude. TAMPA BAY is your champion, TORONTO second, NEW YORK third (close), BOSTON fourth, and BALTIMORE should’ve been relegated already.

NEXT TIME…I don’t know, I haven’t written it yet.

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