As Kansas City fans boo Robinson Cano during his live interview, sitting next to Derek Jeter, on MLB Network, this question:
Why does MLB put the onus of who doesn’t participate in the All-Star Game Home Run Derby on one of its players each year? Then-NL Captain Prince Fielder got booed in Phoenix last year for leaving Justin Upton off his four-man team, and now Cano has earned the eternal enmity of Kansas City for not picking Billy Butler.
I’m not talking about the merits of the Butler decision here.
I’m talking about the merits of the Captaincy decision.
One player does not select the All-Stars, and one player does not hand out the awards, and one player does not vote in the Hall of Famers. Why does one player pick the Derby participants? Or, if the novelty and even nostalgia are worth it (remember, in the 19th Century the team captain picked the line-ups and often made the trades), why not make this really easy on him?
The Home Run Derby is necessarily a hometown event. It makes perfect sense to have a home team player in it. I mean David Ortiz just said he hoped to take just one at bat tonight and then let Butler take over as DH. Further, in these days of universal slugging it’s not like you could name a team whose candidate for the role would be an embarrassment in the contest. Why not simply say that each year, the captain of the home league team has to select a player from the host club?
Not difficult, not unfair, and not a player’s fault. I know Robinson Cano is a grown-up and can take the booing. But why in a day when fan sportsmanship is draining away, is the game encouraging people to act with frenzy towards a visiting star?
It never fails. Go looking for anything – from your comb to your Jamie Roseboro 1990 Bowman Glossy Baseball Card, and invariably you’ll stumble across something else. Which explains this card of Robinson Cano’s father, Jose. You may have seen him throwing (and rather successfully) to his son at the Home Run Hitting Contest before the All-Star Game. But the elder Cano actually became associated with the Yankees a quarter century before his son made the team. He signed with them as an 18-year old free agent out of the Dominican in 1980, but lasted just three games with their rookie league team before going home. Little Robby was born two years later, and then Dad returned to this country – and the minors – in ’83 in the Braves system, and made it to the majors in ’89 with the Astros. He pitched only six games, but started three of them, and actually pitched a pretty neat looking seven-hit complete game win over the Reds on the penultimate day of the 1989 season. That would be his last big league appearance, though he did get on two cards in ’90, and this is one of them.
The next thing to fall out of the fast pile of stuff that is “the collection” is nothing less than a 1977 TCMA card of a career minor league infielder who would only play 88 games higher than A-ball, and then branch off into another field. Yes, that’s the same Scott Boras, agent to the stars and scourge of general managers and owners everywhere. Boras spent a little more than two seasons with the St. Petersburg Cardinals of the Florida State League, and would actually hit .346 in 22 games during the season in which the card was made before moving up to AA and then winding up in the Cubs’ system. His knees gave up on him, and he went to pursue an alternative career – as a pharmacist. He got that degree and then one in law, and then wound up representing his high school teammate, former big league infielder Mike Fischlin – and the rest was a history of gnashed teeth. Mostly a second baseman and third baseman, Boras actually has some good company in that ’77 set: later Cards’ second base hero Tommy Herr, current Pirates’ pitching coach Ray Searage, and other future major leaguers like Benny Joe Edelen, John Fulgham, John Littlefield, Danny O’Brien, Kelly Paris.
But my favorite rediscovered find is a (slightly) mislabeled 1968 Yankees’ scorecard. The reason I’m showing the cover will be explained below.
The nine-and-a-half-year-old me has marked “September 18” (because that’s the date of the stats inside, as you’ll see below) on the scorecard with the then-state-of-the-art sequence of Mickey Mantle photos. But the game was actually played on the night of September 20, 1968. I remember it vividly, but not for the reason I should. For some reason I can neither recall nor locate, they turned out the lights at Yankee Stadium for the national anthem, and either there was just a light on the singer or band that played it, or people held up lights, or something bizarre. But check out my scorecard – particularly the third inning:
It was the 536th – and final – home run of his career.
I saw Mantle’s last homer. But I remember the darkened Stadium much more clearly.
If you’re wondering, this isn’t a bad scorecard for a nine-year old kid. I’ve already got the concept of marking runs batted in (the asterisks) although I was still dabbling with the backwards “K” for a walk. It was popular at the time.
I only became a baseball fan in 1967 so I didn’t get to see very much Mantlean glory. But in addition to the farewell blast (which was also his next-to-last hit; he singled on September 25 versus Cleveland, costing Luis Tiant a no-hitter), earlier in 1968 I saw him hit a homer in the same game as a brash young kid from Oakland hit one. Fella was named Reggie Jackson.
CLEARWATER – As the Yankees hoped that after his minor stumble on some balky carpet that Yogi Berra has that insurance, you know, the kind that pays you cash, which is just as good as money, CC Sabathia and Roy Halladay met up in Clearwater in a dream match-up. Literally a dream, because you don’t need to spend looking much time at either roster to realize that despite the Phillies’ glittering rotation and the Yankees’ three Hall-of-Famers in waiting, neither of these teams is going very deep in the post-season (presuming they make it at all). This is contrary to Conventional Wisdom, which was last heard from telling you that Cliff Lee was going to the Yankees last winter, just as it had told you he was going to them last July. Lee is part of the Yankees’ most obvious problem: based on performance so far, Bartolo Colon is a) a vampire and b) their number two starter. Colon, with his ten-pitch warm-up sessions and newly refound control, has been a joyous mystery even to his new pitching coach Larry Rothschild. But comebacks like his almost always fizzle before the first of June and the Yanks have a long way to before Manny Banuelos, Andrew Brackman, and/or Dellin Betances join the rotation or buy them a veteran starter. The Yankees are also aging alarmingly. I will spare you my usual pronouncements on how moribund Derek Jeter is, but the recent pronouncement that Jorge Posada would not even be used as a temporary back-up catcher should tell you exactly how little the Yanks think he has left. The joke around here is that Cameron Diaz was feeding Alex Rodriguez popcorn in that Super Bowl luxury suite because he now gets too tired doing it himself. Jesus Montero offers a glimmer of youth but the reality is that in two at bats today, Roy Halladay made him look like he’d never been to the plate before (to be fair, Halladay did the same thing to Robby Cano). The Yanks only matchup with Boston at the back of the bullpen and if their lineup is better than Tampa’s, it isn’t much better. The Phils have an advantage the Yanks don’t – the NL East may be as bad as the AL East is good, but they have two enormous crises. I ran into my old friend Ruben Amaro in the hallway just before first pitch and he swore he felt better than he looked – and he looked exactly like a General Manager of a team with a devastating rotation and no second baseman or right fielder. Chase Utley’s injury is a riddle wrapped in an enigma inside some tendinitis and it would be called “indefinite” if only Amaro was that certain. Nobody has any idea what’s next, and Utley’s absence not only puts a Wilson Valdez or Josh Barfield in the lineup, but it also deranges their batting order and perhaps places Jimmy Rollins hitting in a three-hole for which he is ill-suited. Right field may be a bigger problem still. You could make a viable platoon out of Ben Francisco (who absolutely kills lefties) and John Mayberry, Jr (he homered again today) but both hit right-handed. In news that should terrify every Philadelphian, Domonic Brown’s replacement four of the last five days has been Delwyn Young, a scat back of a utility infielder who was not good enough to stick with the Pirates. This is a team that is suddenly in deep trouble on offense – Halladay looked gorgeous for six innings today but they got him only three hits before Sabathia left) and as awe-inspiring as the Four Aces look, having Brad Lidge close for them is like owning four Maseratis and employing a staff of blind valet parkers.
Whether or not his team actually beats the New York Yankees, I have to start this by standing up and applauding Ron Washington’s primary gamble.
Versus All Minnesota LHP 11-39 .282 two 2B, two 3BVersus Fuentes & Mijares 1-7 .143Versus Duensing & Liriano 10-32 .313
Admittedly it’s a small sample (two starts and five relief appearances) but there are some indicators. Though Marcus Thames tattooed Brian Duensing for a home run, none of the Yankee Seven hit a long ball off any of the lefties, even though Posada, Rodriguez, Swisher, and Teixeira all batted righty against them.
This is not unique to the Bronx. I’ve heard it in Boston, I’ve heard it in Philly, I’ve heard it in all the places where the smart fans dwell and even the ones where they don’t.
1. Alex Rodriguez ties up the game in the bottom of the ninth with a two-run homer off Jonathan Papelbon.
2. Papelbon retires Robinson Cano for the second out to keep alive his chances of getting out of the game alive.
3. Papelbon hits Francisco Cervelli on the elbow putting the winning run on base and bringing home run threat Marcus Thames to the plate.
4. The Yankee crowd boos.
You’re aware of what Thames did next. I’d just like to stop at the booing part. Nobody’s suggesting a Bronx crowd should be applauding Papelbon for plunking a Yankee, but, honestly, if Cervelli can get up and walk to first, that’s a good thing, why on earth are you booing the gift of the winning run sent to first on a hit batsman?
The superb symmetry did not end with two homers by Robinson Cano – named, of course, for Jackie Robinson. The Yankees were forced to get the last out in a 6-2 win over the Angels from the last man grandfathered in to wear Robinson’s uniform number 42, Mariano Rivera.
FROM YANKEE STADIUM – Robinson Cano, named for Jackie Robinson, homers twice. Jackies widow, Rachel, appears at the ceremonies here tonight, and continues to defy age. She is elegant, beautiful, and moves with grace and confidence. She is 87 years old -you would be hard-pressed to believe she is even 60. The night, with everybody up to and including the umpires wearing Number 42, is perfect (or would be if it hadnt dropped 15 degrees in the fourth inning!).
once again, how happy would they have been if you had told the Phillies before
the World Series started, that after four games, all this would have been true:
Sabathia would be winless against them in two starts?
Utley would have hit three homers against Sabathia?
Philly sluggers would have produced two-homer games and seven blasts total?
Blanton would have produced a five-hit, two-walk, seven-strikeout performance?
Lee would have pitched a complete game?
Phillies would have rallied off the Yankee bullpen in the eighth?
Howard would have stolen a base and then scored the tying run thanks to his
Teixeira would have held to 1-for-14, Melky Cabrera 2-for-13, Robinson Cano
2-for-14, and Alex Rodriguez, 2-for-15?
Girardi would have had to bench one outfielder and might have to replace
another one due to injury?
are the little things that usually put a team ahead three games to one, not
behind by that margin. While Johnny Damon has rightly been lionized (and would be the Series MVP to this point), there are two totally under-reported secrets to the
Yankees’ success. Consider the last outs Sabathia got last night: Jimmy Rollins
lined a one-bouncer directly to Alex Rodriguez, and Shane Victorino flied right
to Nick Swisher. Throughout the Series, particularly last night, the Yanks’
major league scouting – coordinated by Gene Michael – has positioned its
fielders nearly perfectly, exploiting pitch selection and a thorough knowledge
of where each Philadelphia hitter is likely to hit a given pitch. I’ve always
thought somebody could get a PHD calculating just how little Yankee fielders
had to travel to get balls hit by the Braves in the 1999 Series, when Michael’s
charts were at their maximum value.
other hidden headline: Damaso Marte, a pitcher who before the Series would have
been ranked somewhere behind the Phillie Phanatic in likely impact on the
outcome. All he has done thus far is strike out Utley and get Howard on a fly
while the first game was still close, punch out Howard and Werth and get Ibanez
on a liner in the third game, and retire Howard on another fly last night. He
has been flawless after a 9.45 ERA and just five holds during the regular
But by no
means are the Phillies dead. One of the realities of those “Advantage Phillies” stats listed above is that they either won’t last, or that if they do, they are likely to suddenly start producing dramatic results for Philadelphia, and possibly in sufficient supply to produce three straight wins. And Joe Girardi has opened the door for that slim hope with the decision to go with A.J. Burnett on short
Rather than risk Chad
Gaudin, with Burnett available on extra rest in Game Six, and Andy Pettitte on
the same (or Sabathia) for Game Seven, he will pitch Burnett with a line-up
behind him that could lack not just a DH, but also perhaps Cabrera and Jorge
Posada. As it lays out now, Burnett, Pettitte and Sabathia will all go on short
rest in pursuit of one win. Or it won’t be Pettitte in Game Six – it’ll be Gaudin anyway.
So, you’re the Phillies and three games into the World Series, you have already beaten CC Sabathia, and two of your stars have each produced a two-homer game. You’ve limited Melky Cabrera, Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez, and Mark Teixeira to one hit apiece. You caused Joe Girardi to bench Nick Swisher, you’ve faced Phil Hughes for four batters and gotten three of them on base, and you’ve not only scored first in every game, the latest you’ve scored your first run is the third inning.
The view from the not-so-cheap-seats: