Results tagged ‘ New York Yankees ’

So The Last Post-Season Doubleheader Was…

The latest weather forecast here in soggy New York suggests nothing worse than showers for Saturday night’s resumption of Game One of the American League Division Series between the Tigers and Yankees. Of course, that’s what they said Friday night as well, and the “showers” turned into rain so hard that it was literally bouncing back up off the seats and even the field at Yankee Stadium. From what I can tell, the four key parties – the Yanks, the Tigers, TBS, and MLB – all had forecasts suggesting any rain could be played through (if they hadn’t, you would have expected Jim Leyland and maybe even Joe Girardi to switch starters and hold back their aces – maybe starting relievers with starting experience like Phil Coke – in anticipation of the deluge).

In any event, just in case the game is again delayed until Sunday, MLB is reportedly prepared to play a day-night doubleheader, which is already being portrayed as an all-time historical first. Technically it wouldn’t be. Back in the 19th Century when major league baseball (then comprised of the National League and its junior rival, the American Association) was still experimenting with the idea of post-season championships, their champions played a 15-game “World’s Championship Series” with stops in a mind-boggling ten different cities. Sure enough, on Thursday, October 20, 1887, the NL Champion Detroit Wolverines and the AA-winning St. Louis Browns were scheduled to play a World’s Series game in Washington. They were rained out. So instead, on the 21st, they met up in a game that started at some point in the morning, and then the two teams traveled by train to play in Baltimore the same afternoon.

1887 World Series Scorecard - Detroit on the left, St. Louis on the right

It’s the only time the same two teams have played two post-season games in the same day, and on top of the bizarre concept, the afternoon game, played at Baltimore’s Union Park, cinched the Series for Detroit. The Wolverines, on a four-hitter by starter Lady Baldwin and a two-run homer by Larry Twitchell, pounded St. Louis 13-3 to win Game 11 and take an 8-to-3 lead in the best-of-15. The concept of ending the series once it was mathematically impossible for the other team to win was not yet locked in place, so the teams got back on the train and played Game 12 anyway the next day in Brooklyn. In fact they played the series right to the end as scheduled, with a game each in Detroit, Chicago, and St. Louis. Attendance was what you’d expect: they drew 378 fans in Chicago for the meaningless Game 14, and just 659 for Game 15 as St. Louis fans came out to watch their team which had already lost the Series!

When I first mentioned on Twitter that there had previously been a post-season doubleheader – in 1887 - I got a lot of guffaws in return. Baseball has pretty much erased the pre-1903 history of post-season championships. But as the scorecard shows, it was called “The World’s Championship Series” and it pitted the teams that had won the pennant races in each of the two major leagues. It may have been far from a final product, but to my mind it — and the ones that preceded it in 1884, 1885, and 1886, plus the ones in 1888, 1889, and 1890 — count (although the weather turned so bad, and the fans so disinterested, that they abandoned the 1890 series with Brooklyn and Louisville tied at two wins apiece).

So if the Tigers wind up playing a post-season split doubleheader on Sunday, not only won’t it be the first such event in baseball history, it won’t even be the first such event in Detroit baseball history.

History has already been made in this Series, of course: the game is the first to be suspended, rather than canceled, under the policy adopted in the middle of the 2008 World Series after the torrent that hit Philly during Game Five. But also, even as people officially connected to the game were telling each other that MLB had called it a night, a historic and amazing announcement was being made in the Yankee Stadium Club: “We have no information yet about any postponement of tonight’s game! Please do not spread rumors, gossip, or innuendo about a cancellation.”

Seriously? What were they going to do to us? Make us go sit outside? Cancel the game on us? Tape over our mouths? Screw up ticket distribution by turning the scheduled start of Game 2 into the resumption time of Game 1? Was Bud Selig going to slap everybody for innuendo-mongering?

I think they were just trying to sell one more round of drinks.

The suspension announcement came about five minutes later.

Interior of the scorecard, obviously long glued in a scrapbook. Near as I can tell, this is from Game 9 in Philadelphia, won by Detroit 4-2 on a tiebreaking single in the 7th from Charlie Bennett, for whom Detroit's stadium would later be named. Early games of the Series drew more than 6,000 fans, but by the time of this one in Philadelphia on October 19, fatigue was setting in and only 2,389 showed. The Doubleheader would be played two days later.

 

Dances With Betances As Opposed To Disco With Cisco

On September 28, 1930, with the New York Yankees firmly locked into third place and the Boston Red Sox even more firmly pinioned in last, the Yankees unveiled a surprise starter for their season finale in Boston.

George Herman “Babe” Ruth.

Batting in his customary third position,  and having already hit his customary 48 homers, Ruth scattered 11 hits, struck out three of the scrub-riddled Boston line-up, and pitched a complete game victory (his first pitching win since 1921).  A crowd so otherwise disinterested that the attendance figure is lost to history presumably roared as Ruth harkened back to his days as the best left-hand pitcher in the American League. The Yankees and Ruth would repeat the stunt at Yankee Stadium three years later:  this time Ruth added a homer and surrendered 12 hits, hanging on for the 6-5 win that ended the season, long after the vagaries of the pennant race had assured that the only question was whether the Yanks would finish six, seven, or eight games out of first.

There is no comparison here to the latter-day Yanks starting rookie Dellin Betances tonight in Tampa with the Rays and Red Sox tied for the Wild Card. But it is one of the infelicities of the modern pennant race and the treating of pitchers as if they were Thoroughbred Race Horses that Joe Girardi – or any manager in his situation – must throw out a sacrificial lamb in this situation. Bartolo Colon started yesterday, Freddy Garcia has looked like crap, Ivan Nova and CC Sabathia are needed for the playoffs, and Phil Hughes had to miss a start earlier due to whatever Phil Hughes Syndrome he’s suffering from at the moment.

Who do you want Girardi to start? Babe Ruth?

In 1964 – in a far more complex four-team scramble to win the National League – as the Phillies collapsed they had to face, in the season’s last three games,  career 193-game winner Curt Simmons, then seasonal 17-game winner Jim O’Toole, and then Cincinnati fifth starter John Tsitouris, who could at least claim he’d won nine games that year. The Reds, challenging for the pennant, had to face Joe Gibbon of Pittsburgh, but then Chris Short and Jim Bunning of the Phillies. The eventual fourth-place Giants were stuck facing Dick Ellsworth, Bob Buhl, and Larry Jackson, who among them had won an astonishing 53 games for the deadbeat Cubs. But the last three games the Cardinals played saw them face the hapless (53-109) New York Mets – at home – and the star-studded rotation of Al Jackson (10 wins), Jack Fisher (10), and Galen Cisco (5). They shelled Fisher, but were promptly staved off by five innings of five-hit relief by rookie Tom Parsons, who was getting half his career wins that day (2-13 lifetime, though they would trade him for Jerry Grote).

On the last day of the insane 1964 NL season, the Giants were opposed by a 24-game winner (Jackson), the Reds had to go up against a future Hall of Famer who’d just thrown a perfect game early in the season (Bunning), and the Cardinals had to somehow overcome Galen Cisco.

Wanna see Galen Cisco’s line that day?

New York Mets   IP H  R  ER BB  SO 

Cisco L (6-19)        4  7   5    5     4      0

Galen Cisco lifetime? 25-56, 4.56 ERA.

Did you hear the Phillies bitching that the Cardinals got a soft opponent at the end? Even after St. Louis went on to win the World Series and the ’64 Phillies went on to eternal ignominy? Anybody even mention it when Cisco wound up as pitching coach…of the Phillies?

There is also something else to consider about Betances. Though we live in a time when fans are more aware of minor league prospects than ever before, last week the Rays drew weird looks when they gave Matt Moore his first big league start against New York. Moore merely struck out eleven in five innings. Betances is not quite the prospect Moore is, but he has superb motion on his fastball and is one of the top 20 or 25 pitching prospects in the minors and frankly the Yankees needed to see what he could do, eventually. Moreover, all I heard about yesterday was how, with Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jason Varitek out, the Red Sox were “stuck” starting rookie catcher Ryan Lavarnway in the penultimate game in Baltimore. All Lavarnway did was hit a three-run homer, a game-cinching solo homer, and then save the contest in the bottom of the 9th when Jonathan Papelbon froze on a squib in front of the plate and Lavarnway calmly threw the batter out at first.

Red Sox fans have every right to feel frustrated that their hopes of avoiding a play-in game hinge in part on a guy whose career consists of having gotten two outs while giving up two hits, four walks, and a hit batsman. But they have no right to complain nor claim the Yankees aren’t living up to some kind of sportsmanship standard. And ultimately – whose fault is it that the Sox are in this mess to begin with? Betances? The Babe?

 

Eduardo Nunez Of The Above

As I watched the replay of Eduardo Nunez’s 127th fielding chance of the season turn into his 11th error of the season (and open up the gates of hell for five unearned Toronto runs in the New York Yankees’ defensive inning of the second half), I was reminded of two virtually identical sentences about Nunez that were spoken, months apart, by two different Major League General Managers.

“As near as I can tell,” the first told me, “there are only two clubs who believe Nunez is anything more than a glorified utility infielder – the Yankees and Seattle.” The other said “I believe only two teams believe Nunez is more than a utilityman – maybe a Wilson Betemit. Seattle and the Yankees. And I’m not sure the Yankees really believe it.”

Both of these GM’s believed, but could not offer evidence about, the story that the Yankees and Mariners had agreed on a deal last summer of Cliff Lee for Jesus Montero and somebody, and then when M’s GM Jack Zduriencik demanded that the somebody be Nunez, Brian Cashman bailed out.

So if you’re Seattle, sometimes your best deals are indeed the ones the other GM isn’t sharp enough to take you up on, and take you to the cleaners with.

Nunez is not a major league infielder. There was a joke going around the Yankees earlier this year that he was on the roster entirely to make Derek Jeter look like a defensive all-star. Now the joke is, the Yankees feel they can trust all those whistling liners towards left that A.J. Burnett and Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia and Sergio (“Who Am I? What Am I Doing Here?”) Mitre will surrender in the second half, to Eduardo Nunez and what was his .920 fielding average before #11 dribbled away tonight.

The GM who doubted that the Yankees really thought highly of Nunez said if I could see his scouting reports on Yank prospects and compare them to New York’s own I would assume there were 50 or so Yankee farmhands who had the same names as other, far lesser players. It is not atypical for teams to hype prospects – the trade market is now largely based on prospects – but it is awfully unusual to see a team actually begin to believe its inflated opinion of a minor leaguer.

Nunez already disproved theories that he might be a big league shortstop (91 chances, 9 errors). Now he’s working on third base. They’ve only experimented with him in the outfield and there might yet to be salvation there. He seems to have a viable bat, with a little pop, and a propensity to get very hot for very short periods of time. But if this is all he’s going to be, and they didn’t trade him and Montero for Cliff Lee, the Yankee front office is sillier than it seems even from the outside.

My goodness, as I was finishing this up, he just fumbled another one and just barely got the ball to second for the force (on a high throw). Which makes this headline laugh-out-loud funny.

I Guess I’m A Former Old Timer (Updated)

This is an all-time first:

I am turning to the sports pages of The New York Post to discover something about my own baseball-related career:

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.

Look, it’s their Popsicle Stand and they can do what they want. More over, the Yankees – to use the Post’s phrase – once “bounced” Babe Ruth, to say nothing of Bernie Williams, and Yogi Berra twice and Billy Martin five times. I’m making no comparison, of course. But in that context, I’ve got no complaint there. I wasn’t going to say anything about this, in fact.

And then somebody from the Yankees leaked it to the paper.

On a personal level, however, I do know that I have a legitimate complaint in one respect. Old Timers’ Day is today, and I’ve been doing the “color” on the public address system for the last ten years, and one year prior to that as well (not the play-by-play; that is, obviously, entirely the province of Hall of Famer Bob Wolff and it’s my honor to sit next to him; Suzyn Waldman has usually been with us to do Old Timers’ interviews during the game). After eleven years of doing this, I think it would’ve been fitting if the Yankees had told me rather than let me hear it from somebody outside their organization the week before the event. It just seems like you’d want to preserve the dissemination of details about your company’s decisions like that to your company, rather than have a guy hear a rumor and then have to call up and ask.

I can’t vouch for the legitimacy of the motive described in The Post because this is the first time I’m hearing about it. But on a macro level, that does worry me in terms of the suppression of information. I might have been sitting in the stands when I tweeted the photos in question, but I saw nothing that any eagle-eyed guy in the press box couldn’t have seen (and trust me, they started looking). There was a coaches’ assistant in a Yankee jacket and a Shamwow-Seller’s Headset with a radar gun sitting three rows back of home plate signalling pitch speeds to Alex Rodriguez and other Yankee players in the on-deck circle on Opening Day this year, and I took a picture of it, largely because to see the signals, Rodriguez had to basically look right over my head.

The Yankees explained that the radar gun they used for their scoreboard wasn’t working that day, and the coaches’ assistant, Brett Weber, was simply supplying information the players usually got from the scoreboard. It was technically a violation of a rule prohibiting the transfer of such information from the stands or press box to the field. My point in tweeting the photo was that it didn’t seem to me to be cheating (after all, it was information about the last pitch, not the next one) — it just seemed weird. And after asking that Weber be vacated from his seat for one day, MLB accepted that explanation and he was back the next game – on the proviso that he not do any more signaling. And I haven’t seen him do any more signaling.

The problem, of course, is that Weber signaled all last year, too, and not just pitch speeds. He had a clipboard and some thin cardboard with which he seemed to be explaining to players in the on deck circle what kind of pitch they had just seen, and where it was. After the storm about the tweet broke, I talked to several friends of mine who happen to be American League managers. One real veteran gave me particular kidding grief about it and when I said it wasn’t anything new and had started the year before, he said “The hell it did. They’ve been doing all the years I’ve been coming to this place and the old Stadium and we complain and complain and nobody’s ever done anything about it before.”

For generations – and I mean pretty much since Jacob Ruppert bought the team in 1915 (or maybe it was from the time it moved from Baltimore in 1903), the Yankees have been notorious for trying to manage information. I can remember the day in a playoff series when they went after a fly with a cannon. We were setting up the interview stand in the clubhouse as the Yankees moved to within a few outs of eliminating advancing. Suddenly, the door opened and as intense a series of obscenities as I’d ever heard resonated through the room. It was a player who was not happy about having just been removed from the decisive game before its conclusion. Obviously, we in the Fox crew were being given a great courtesy – a few extra minutes to make our “set” look good. None of us would have dreamed of reporting what the player did – the definition of a gamer who had every right to blow off steam – or to whom his invective was directed. We were reporters, and we were “there” – but we were there under controlled and agreed-to conditions. The threats started to pour out of every Yankee exec who had contact with any of us that if we reported a word of it, there’d be hell to pay and jobs and contracts threatened. And we were all dumbfounded by the overreaction. We got it – and still the Yankees yelled and threatened.

There were far more dire consequences threatened about a story about Roger Clemens nearly getting into a fist-fight with a fan during the subsequent World Series. I had obtained a videotape of the confrontation, but had already decided not to run it, because it showed only Clemens’ response, not the utter and unjustifiable provocation by the fan. It would’ve made a great front page for The Post, but the video not only told just half the story, in doing so, it completely erased the truth of the story and replaced it with images that implied Clemens was entirely at fault. As I say, I had already decided not to run it, told the Yankees I had it, and that I would have to run it if the story got out some other way. And while at least one executive understood my dilemma and thanked me completely for my journalistic restraint, others made efforts to somehow seize the tape from me, or prevent my network from running it (even though we weren’t going to).

I should also point out here that of all the story-suppression efforts, I never got any of them from George Steinbrenner himself. Not even when the story was about how a couple of other reporters seemed to be very close to confirming some very ugly rumors about the owner himself. I contacted the club, mostly to find out if the stuff was true (and potentially to break it myself), and while some of his underlings freaked out, Steinbrenner himself told me he had no complaints. “That’s your job. I get it.”

It’s also kind of a shame that whoever from the Yankees leaked this information about Old Timers Day to The Post put Yankees’ Vice President/General Manager Brian Cashman on the spot. In my previous capacities at SportsCenter, and later as the host of the Playoffs and All-Star Game on NBC, and of Game Of The Week and the World Series on Fox, I have often reported things Cash didn’t like, but he’s always been professional and pleasant and there are few in the media who have had the slightest serious problem with him (a record that very few other Yankee figures of the last 40 years can claim).

The day that The New York Daily News published the story of the tweetpic of Weber, four fingers raised, I happened to be at the ballpark and got corralled by the beat writers who were trying to figure out what it was all about. In the middle of this, Cashman came over to explain, and to say it was no big deal from the Yankees’ point of view (as I said it wasn’t from mine) and to very publicly reassure me that the team had no problem with what I did, or with me.

Today, this statement seems to be inoperative.

Back on that brilliant spring Saturday in April, Cash even had a joking explanation for this:“He was just ordering four beers, Keith,” Cashman said with a laugh.

So I showed him the picture I didn’t tweet and asked him (with my own laugh), if that was the case, if they really didn’t have a bigger problem than just improper hand-signaling:POSTSCRIPT: You will find this silliness in the comments. It’s worth it

I believe this also stems from Keith Tweeting a picture of Jorge Posada’s name crossed out on Joe Girardi’s lineup card on the day Posada asked out of a game. As he was NOT a ‘reporter’ that day, in my opinion, Keith had no right to post that picture other than to fuel his own ego to simply prove he can. Also, KO was obviously trying to embarrass the longtime Yankee catcher who was probably at the all-time low of a generally nice career. Who kicks a guy like that when he’s down? As a baseball fan, I find that itself is unforgivable.

FYI, I’m not only a 20+ year Olbermann fan, but a frequent and loquacious defender of his and the Posada incident has soured me so much I’m sad to say I’m starting to lose faith in his political message around which I have long based my own beliefs.

While the truth may never come out, don’t discount the Posada incident as a reason for Keith’s exclusion from this prestigious Yankee event.

Go Yanks!

Yeah, this is pretty dumb. The tweeted picture this poster has gone nuclear over was of a copy of the printed line-up/scorecard sheets the Yankees give out in the press box and to every spectator in the suites areas who asks for it. It showed where I had crossed off Posada’s name on my sheet and written in Andruw Jones’ name. It was obviously my handwriting. And I tweeted it only to illustrate tangible proof that even the Yankees had been crossed up by Posada’s unwillingness to bat ninth.

Where on earth would I get a copy of Joe Girardi’s line-up card, during a game?

Jeter’s Chances Of 3000th Hit At CitiField Wane

So I was sitting there beating myself up: of course nobody gets an MRI the same night they sustain an ordinary injury, every doctor wants to wait for the swelling to go down on anything and everything. But you cannot posit this, even with the caveat that it’s a conspiracy theory and you don’t necessarily believe it.

Besides which, I told myself, the math just didn’t work. The stint on the disabled list was long, but it wasn’t long enough. They couldn’t possibly be deliberately putting him on the shelf for a minor or non-existent injury just to delay his milestone to make sure it happened at home and not on the road, because the day after he was eligible to be activated they’d be playing in New York all right – but in the wrong ballpark.

The Yankees were not faking or exaggerating Derek Jeter’s injury just to make sure he got his 3,000th base hit in Yankee Stadium and that they could sell to a memorabilia-addicted public everything up to and including a commemorative Mason Jar full of air from the ballpark during the moment he got it.

They couldn’t be; Jeter was eligible to return from his strained right calf on Thursday, June 30, and he could resume play that day against Milwaukee, and then move into  CitiField needing only six hits or less with three games to play against the Mets, and the Yankees would rather return the franchise to the league than to let Jeter achieve his milestone in Queens and not the Bronx. Of course it wasn’t a conspiracy! They’d have to come up with some additional story that Jeter might not be ready to be activated on June 30.

Well, looky here: tonight an additional story that Jeter might not be ready to be activated on June 30.

Frankly, if he’s late by six games in coming off the DL, he misses the last game of the Yankees’ Milwaukee game, and the entirety of the Mets’ series, and the first two games of the subsequent series in Cleveland. Bring him back on July 6 and maybe he gets a knock or two or three (but not six) there, and he walks back into the Stadium with four games against Tampa Bay and still needing six hits or fewer.

Obviously, they do conduct MRIs on injuries in the hours after they occur. Even at night. But to my mind those tend to be for serious head or spinal injuries. Just a year ago, when Jimmy Rollins of the Phillies strained his calf on Opening Day (in the early afternoon no less), the Phillies waited until the next day to get his MRI done. But Jeter had his the same night as the injury and before sunrise it was evident he was going on the DL and missing the long road trip and golly if he couldn’t come back right on time he couldn’t possibly set the record at CitiField, and if he couldn’t come back within six or seven days, he couldn’t possibly set the record in Cleveland but would have a damn good chance of doing it at Yankee Stadium.

For the record, these are other important Derek Jeter dates: Sunday, he turns 37 years old. And if this is a really serious strain, and he misses three weeks more than originally expected, he’d be back on Friday, July 22, when the Yankees begin a 10-game homestand.

The truth is out there.

Yankees Hit “Send”

The relationship between the Yankees and their cash cow ticket-buyers, calm for nearly two years since the team did a 180 on the astonishing overpricing of 2009, may be strained anew.

The club tonight advised its season ticket holders that their addresses, phone and fax numbers, and club-related data, had been compromised – emailed to several hundred other season ticket holders.

Oops.

Dear Yankees Season Ticket Licensee:
We are writing to inform you about an accidental electronic distribution of information that you have previously supplied to the New York Yankees.
Monday evening, April 25, 2011 an employee of the Yankees sent an e-mail to several hundred Yankees Season Ticket Licensees.  The e-mail mistakenly attached an internal Yankees spreadsheet that listed the following information associated with your New York Yankees account:
  • Your name, and the address, phone number(s), fax number, and e-mail address that you previously provided to the Yankees
  • Your seat numbers, Yankees account number, Yankees account representative name, and the ticket package code associated with your account
NO OTHER INFORMATION WAS INCLUDED IN THE DOCUMENT THAT WAS ACCIDENTALLY ATTACHED TO THE APRIL 25th E-MAIL. THE DOCUMENT DID NOT INCLUDE ANY BIRTH DATES, SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBERS, CREDIT CARD DATA, BANKING DATA, OR ANY OTHER PERSONAL OR FINANCIAL INFORMATION.
Please note, immediately upon learning of the accidental attachment of the internal spreadsheet, remedial measures were undertaken so as to assure that a similar incident could not happen again.
The Yankees deeply regret this incident, and any inconvenience that it might cause.

The Yankees, My Tweet, C-4, And Shamwow

The reaction by most who saw the photo I posted on Twitter on Thursday seemed to be: “Are you sure that isn’t Vince, the ‘Sham-Wow’ Guy?

Apparently that was not the reaction from Major League Baseball.

Writing in The New York Daily News, Anthony McCarron reports that MLB was to contact the Yanks today about the possibility that their version of infamous infomercial pitchman and battery defendant Vince “Fettucine, Linguine, Martini, Bikini” Shlomi may have violated the ominous sounding “baseball operations bulletin C-4“:

Major League Baseball officials will call the Yankees Saturday to remind them of baseball operations bulletin C-4, which forbids team staff from communicating pitch types and pitch speed to players via hand signals, an MLB spokesman said.

This is NOT Vince and he is NOT trying to sell you four Slap-Chops

McCarron identifies the signaler as Brett Weber, a former minor league pitcher who was hired by the Yankees more than two years ago to pitch batting practice, then run the radar gun and compile offensive and defensive charts during the game.

Apparently sequences like this – which I finally captured on camera during Thursday’s season opener at Yankee Stadium – may be ‘C-4 Transgressions':

That’s Weber on the left (behind, as another wag suggested, Mother Teresa) and Alex Rodriguez on the right, more or less in the on-deck circle. He is not looking to see if Cameron Diaz is in the seats.

I sit more or less between them. Weber has, since at least the start of the 2010 season, been seated about dead center behind the plate, four or five rows from the backstop. I have not watched him through an entire game to be certain of this, but it is my impression that the signaling is heaviest early in a game, and that not it is not done to all players (and no jokes about how that’s because Weber “can’t do this all day”). I can say without fear of contradiction that this is no coincidence. I have seen Rodriguez look for the signal, nod, look away, and the signal stop.

Last year, on at least one occasion, the Yankee employee had some sort of card or card-shaped object with which he also gestured towards the players in the on-deck circle. I do recall at least one occasion last season in which I did not see Weber at the game. I can’t speak to 2009; my seats that year were about seven rows back and more or less lined up with the on-deck circle.

While McCarron concludes that Weber is signaling pitch speed to the players, and more to the dugout than to the batter in the on-deck circle, my sense was that these signals were more likely to indicate the type and location of the pitch, and specifically to the next hitter. But I’m just drawing a conclusion.

As odd looking as this has always been, it has struck me as being something less than cheating and I wasn’t looking to portray it as such. As I wrote earlier, I noticed this last year and made a few desultory attempts to capture the images, but none had been to my satisfaction until Thursday – so it was not as if I was trying to catch the Yankees at anything, and, obviously I’ve been in no hurry to do so. The same information – pitch type and speed – is flashed on the gigantic centerfield scoreboard more or less simultaneously with Weber’s gesture. McCarron explains:

Some Yankee hitters waiting on-deck look for pitch speed from that employee instead of on the scoreboard – where it is shown in most every ballpark, including the Stadium – believing the staffer is more accurate.

The thing that amplifies this strange saga is history. In the ’70s and ’80s the Yankees and MLB were frequently at odds over an “Eye In The Sky” – an innovation by the late George Steinbrenner in which a Yankee employee (beginning, I believe, with Gene Michael, and lasting so long that the last one may have been Buck Showalter) worked from the press box level and was in communication with the dugout during games, relaying goodness knows what. The Commissioner’s Office frowned on this and monitored it regularly.

Still, two other things surprise me more than anything else about this tempest-in-a-teapot. First, it went on all last year and nobody noticed? Based on relative seat location, the signals should be visible on television, although the players looking into the crowd would not necessarily have attracted any attention.
More importantly: At Yankee Stadium, it’s a shock to consider that the club surrendered the income from the seat. That, friends, costs at least $500 a game.

2011 Previews: AL East

Did pretty good last year: picked five of the eight post-season teams, including the Rangers and Giants. So, a little late, let’s get started on the 2011 forecasts with the American League and the East:

BALTIMORE: The Orioles have a lot going for them, not the least of which is information I couldn’t have known until tonight. Brian Matusz’s injury forces their hand on young lefty Zach Britton, who drew the most oohs-and-aahs in Florida as he mastered veterans like they were platoon guys in the Eastern League. For the Orioles to be anything more than a Cinderella team, Britton, Jake Arrieta, and Brad Bergesen will have to form a “Baby Birds” rotation as effective as the Milt Pappas/Jack Fisher crowd of 50 years ago – but less likely things have happened. The O’s have a confused but deep bullpen, and a powerful line-up that also presents an airtight infield defense if Derrick Lee and Brian Roberts can stay healthy. J.J. Hardy was described in Florida as “re-born” and Vladi Guerrero is still hitting anything that doesn’t hit the mascot. It’s also Buck Showalter’s Honeymoon Year – his second season in each job (1993 Yankees, 1999 Diamondbacks, 2004 Rangers) has seen a playoff contender grow out of almost nowhere.

BOSTON: I need to tell you about this? The Red Sox added two ex-closers to the bullpen, have a line-up with six potential All-Stars in it, and Mike Cameron on the bench? And that in my night in their dugout in Fort Myers last month, the focus of the stars was cheering everything that the then-struggling Jarrod Saltalamacchia did? There is just so much depth that unlike last year the team could contend even with a star – or maybe two – falling to injury. Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford are also tremendous teammates, not merely tremendous talents. Buster Olney said it best, in mime. He put one hand by his belt to indicate the other 29 teams. He put the other at his neck: “The Red Sox are here.”

NEW YORK: The aforementioned Mr. Olney tracked the end of the Yankee dynasty to Game 7 of the 2001 World Series, but this kind of overlooked the fact that they made the post-season in eight of the next nine years, reached the Series twice, and one once. This is the year the whole dynasty ends. Alex Rodriguez is healthy again and poised for an epic campaign, and there is no reason to doubt Cano or Teixeira. But otherwise I’d rather have Baltimore’s lineup. Or Toronto’s. The treatment of Jorge Posada (he can’t even be the back-up catcher? Not even the emergency back-up catcher?) and the reliance on such late-round fantasy fodder as Russell Martin, Andruw Jones, Eric Chavez, Freddy Garcia, Bartolo Colon, and maybe Kevin Millwood is just startling. What? Juan Acevedo and Scott Erickson weren’t available? There is always the chance that Derek Jeter is right and everybody else is wrong about his deterioration at bat and in the field. On consecutive at bats in the second inning on Opening Day, a Miguel Cabrera screamer cleared Jeter by at least ten feet yet he jumped anyway as if unable to judge its height; then, a pretty ordinary liner by Victor Martinez nearly took his glove off. It seemed prophetic. I cannot see this team in the post-season, and none of its prospect-saviors: Banuelos, Betances, Brackman, or Montero, are ready yet.

TAMPA BAY: One of the explanations I heard for Austin Jackson’s blossoming in Detroit last year was that they put Johnny Damon’s locker next to his. This year he’s supposedly tutoring the gifted but so-far underachieving B.J. Upton. You’ve already heard the story of Manny Ramirez – hearing either the call of the clock or of the diminished paycheck – volunteering for spring training road trips and extra work in left. You know that Dan Johnson can produce the same kind of power/low batting average at first that Carlos Pena did. You have noticed the Rays’ rotation is as young and as deep as anybody’s this side of Philly (and might have improved with Matt Garza clearing space for Jeremy Hellickson). But Tampa is being written off because Joe Maddon and Jim Hickey have to fabricate a whole new bullpen. The readily forgotten reality is that they had pretty much done the same thing in 2010, with just as unlikely a cast. The key men: the closer Rafael Soriano (Atlanta), the 8th-inning guy Joaquin Benoit (hurt in the minors), and the lefty specialist Randy Choate (minors) had all been elsewhere in ’09. They are not likely to have the wire-to-wire reliability of a Soriano, but there is no reason why Kyle Farnsworth and Joel Peralta shouldn’t hold the fort until Jake McGee or Brandon Gomes is ready. The Rays are not in Boston’s class – who is? – but they are Wild Card-worthy.

TORONTO: Like Baltimore, rookie manager John Farrell has an airtight batting order with 20-homer power at every spot in the line-up, and a rotation and bullpen that could be heaven or hell. I prefer Baltimore’s starters to Toronto’s, but Farrell’s unique background of college head coaching, major league talent development, and major league pitching coaching, might enable him to get more out of the Jays’ mix of what I think is an overrated Ricky Romero and a cast of dozens. It is simply tough to imagine a team hitting as many home runs as the Jays will and still finishing last.

THE FORECAST: I don’t think the top two spots are at issue. Boston wins, the Rays probably take the wild card. The question becomes whether the Yankee collapse, and the Oriole and Jay growth spurts, happen rapidly enough to unleash Steinbrennarmageddon in the Bronx: the Yankees finishing last. I suspect we will see them occupy the basement long enough for the kind of good old-fashioned accusation firestorm and managerial firing speculation that used to make 161st Street the Bronx Zoo. But I do not think both sets of birds will fly with equal success. I may have Toronto and Baltimore switched here, but I see it: 1. Boston, 2. Tampa Bay, 3. Baltimore, 4. New York, 5. Toronto (and the last three, very close indeed).

 

 

Champagne Ivan Nova In The Sky – and other lessons from Tampa

Still not sold on the Yankees’ rotation and the question marks still begin at the #2 slot, but the work of first Ivan Nova and then Phil Hughes on consecutive nights in Tampa was unavoidably impressive. A year ago Nova proved himself a gutsy pitcher (he happily plunked Jose Bautista and then asked him in Spanish “what are you going to do about it?”) but one who started to have trouble when he’d come out for the fifth inning. Wednesday he again opened with an HBP then retired all the other Orioles he faced, including six of their regulars, and most importantly expended only 59 pitches over six innings. If he could repeat that kind of economy they would have to inducted him into Cooperstown this July, so anything remotely close makes him a legitimate big league starter (BTW note to NYC radio/tv: he’s “Eevan” – the man is not a Russian wrestler with a cutesy name). Hughes was not quite so dominant last night versus Tampa (facing at least eight regulars) but he looked much more like the Cy Young candidate of last year’s first half than the almost .500, almost 5.00 guy of the second half. The other headline out of the Yankee camp is Alex Rodriguez. Whatever the origin of his hip problems, for the first time in two years he looked like he could pivot with them fully, launching titanic homers on both nights, one that disappeared into the night in deep left, the other that towered out more towards center. Rodriguez also looks more agile defensively, and ranged neatly to his left last night to grab a sharply hit ball, planted confidently, and got off one of his old-fashioned rocket throws to beat the runner at the bag. Since if they hope to compete with the Red Sox and Rays, the Yankees have no margin for error, a vintage year from Rodriguez is essential, and the pitching tumblers like Hughes, Nova, A.J. Burnett, and Bartolo Colon all have to twirl perfectly or the post-season is an impossibility.

False Spring In New York

Pitchers and Catchers report, New York temperatures clear 40 degrees, and somebody issues a forecast that references “55” by the end of the week and it’s not the age of the latest pitcher the Yankees invited to camp.

These should all be good signs for baseball here in Big Town, and once again optimism balloons like CC Sabathia before his gallant off-season knee-saving conditioning program. And I’m not buying a word of it. In fact, 2011 is shaping up as one of those rare seasons in which neither of the local teams seriously contend, perhaps a year like 1967.
That was my first true season of baseball awareness, inspired by the events of a birthday party for a neighbor named Wolfgang (Wolf wasn’t originally from around here) at which each of us was given a pack of baseball cards and everybody else’s contained the bonus “miniature poster” and mine didn’t and I vowed to get one and I was hooked. This minor childhood trauma is recounted because my vague memory is that Wolf’s birthday was May 10th, which the record books will show you was the last 1967 day in which either the Mets or the Yankees were at .500 or better. Between them the ’67 New York clubs lost 191 games and had the 17th and 20th worst records in all of baseball in a time when all of baseball consisted of 20 teams.
I didn’t see it at the time. I was eight. But clearly, the missing “miniature poster” was a sign of things to come during that awful season.
It’s not going to be that bad, but I continue to get the impression that not one correspondent or fan or executive of either of the teams has any idea exactly how bad it is going to be. The telltale sign is the Mets and Yankees both ended 2010 in decided spirals, yet if the Yankees had not spent gaudy money on the largely unnecessary Rafael Soriano, identifying this city’s biggest off-season acquisition would require an argument over the relative merits of Russell Martin, Ronny Paulino, and Brad Emaus.
The Mets are bleeding at second base, dependent in the outfield on the comebacks of two mega-contract free agents who might not have been good ideas when they were healthy, and absolutely without hope if their closer doesn’t put both his problems with the law and his fastball behind him. The Yankees are facing a superstar’s existential crisis at shortstop, and a far greater drama behind the plate than anybody’s letting on. And barring the kind of luck you only find in Fantasy Leagues, neither team has the starting pitching to expect to compete in their divisions.
I don’t have to fully regurgitate my stance on Derek Jeter. I am as sentimental as any baseball fan, ever. But I get far more choked up about a team making the post-season every year than I do about whether one player performed for 17 seasons with one team or “only” 15. As near as I can figure it, instead of cutting the cord now (or at least keeping their obligations to a minimum), the Yankees have designed some sort of plan by which Jeter will be permitted to deteriorate further at shortstop this year and next, and then be moved to the outfield where he will squeeze out Nick Swisher while producing a quarter of Swisher’s offensive value. 
I get it. Everybody loves Jeter. I’d like to point out the Yankees released Babe Ruth, fired Yogi Berra, trashed Tino Martinez, demoted Bernie Williams, and traded Elston Howard to the Red Sox. Not every great player stays that way until he’s 40 and gets to go out on his own terms. The Yankees’ decision on Jeter will not only cost them playoff appearances, but it will still end in tears, and an even messier conclusion in which Jeter hits .217 and is benched or released or put on waivers or all of the above.
Something also has to give in this odd mish-mosh at Catcher. Jesus Montero is supposedly ready, despite wildly varying reports on his ability to hit or catch anything that isn’t straight down the middle. If there wasn’t already uncertainty about the youngster, it would have been supplied by the acquisition of Russell Martin, who clearly still has the capacity in him for a strong comeback. And then there is Jorge Posada, supposedly still a vibrant presence at bat if not behind the plate, and ready to slide in to the DH role much of the time. Where ever the truth lies here, there are still three guys going into two positions, along with some thought that the DH spot will be used as a parking place for Alex Rodriguez and an At Bats opportunity for Andruw Jones, Ronnie Belliard, and Eric Chavez.
By the by, did you know that Chavez – the new utility cornerman and presumptive emergency middle infielder – has played twelve years in the major leagues and has spent exactly 28 and two-thirds innings playing anywhere except third base? Not games – innings. 

I am also probably belaboring a point I’ve made here before about the Yankees’ starting rotation: They don’t have one. While Sabathia is, simply, one of the best free agent signings in the history of the sport, the questions that follow him do not begin with “who replaces Andy Pettitte?” or “what about A.J. Burnett?” They start with the presumed number two, Phil Hughes, who was a flaccid 7-6, 4.90 after the All-Star Break and was eviscerated twice in the ALCS by Texas. Assuming Hughes enters 2011 as an established front-line major league starter is itself a leap. Then comes the nightmarish implications of the Burnett mystery. Then come the Ivan Novas, Sergio Mitres, and the veritable Old-Timers’ Day grouping that greets new pitching coach Larry Rothschild. Freddy Garcia? Mark Prior? Bartolo Colon? No wonder Kevin Millwood is generating enthusiasm by comparison. Why not Scott Sanderson? Dave LaPoint? Kevin Mmahat?
This team is going to compete with the Red Sox and Rays? This team is going to compete with the Blue Jays who off-loaded the Vernon Wells contract. This team is going to compete with the Orioles in their Buck Showalter Honeymoon Year.
And still the Yankees are in better shape than the Mets. From the middle of last summer onwards, what passed for buzz inside CitiField was some sort of vague sense of doom. It had to do with the jailed Ponzi Schemer Bernie Madoff, but no other details emerged. It didn’t seem to make much sense; the Wilpon family had insisted it had not suffered greatly at the hands of the ultimate financial snake oil salesman, and all evidence backed up their assertion. Now it becomes clear that the owners were in trouble not because Madoff had stolen their money, but because he hadn’t. They are the defendants in an extraordinary billion-dollar suit that claims they knowingly pocketed the profits from a kind of privatized Enron disaster. While the action is headed to mediation by former New York Governor (and former Pittsburgh Pirates farmhand) Mario Cuomo, it has already paralyzed the team’s finances and threatens to continue to do so for an indefinite period.
Which explains why the Mets, when still vaguely competitive last June and July, added no payroll. Which explains why the bullets were not bitten on the statues that replaced Luis Castillo and Ollie Perez. Which explains why, when another bat was needed, the Mets could reach only for Mike Hessman. Which explains why men named Wilpon did not take the fall in October.
Jason Bay and Carlos Beltran are enigmas. Jose Reyes is at the critical step, forwards to greatness or backwards towards underachievement. Ike Davis and Josh Thole are dedicated and gifted players who may not bring enough power to their respective positions. The second baseman could be a Rule V draftee. There isn’t one starting pitcher who isn’t weighed down with a huge question mark (Mike Pelfrey’s head, Jon Niese’s endurance, Johan Santana’s shoulder, Dillon Gee’s inexperience, the overall health of Chri
sses Young and Capuano, and the likelihood that R.A. Dickey actually found himself last season at the age of 35). And the bullpen? You don’t want to know about the bullpen.
So as winter today loosened its grip just slightly after a mean-spirited winter, I am thinking not about the warm spring breezes in the Bronx and Queens. I am thinking again about Wolfgang’s birthday party and the prospect that this year, every New York fan’s pack of cards will be missing something he was counting on getting.
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