"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice



Clearing out his locker at the end of the season, Yankee reliever Ramiro Mendoza was asked about his future with the team. He said simply, “I want to die here”. Looks like the Yanks won’t be paying the funeral costs, after they declined to offer the soft-spoken pitcher arbitration this weekend. Along with Mike Stanton, another sturdy member of the Bronx bullpen during the past six seasons, Mendoza was given his walking papers this weekend, a direct result of the Yankees cost-cutting off-season strategy.

According to Peter Gammons, “The Yankees on Friday gave Mike Stanton 15 minutes to either accept a two year, $2.5 million per annum deal (the same offer they extended to Mark Guthrie and Chirs Hammond), and when he did not, told him thanks for compiling the best World Series and postseason ERAs of any lefthanded reliever in basebal history, take your gold watch and don’t let the door hit your derriere on the way out.”

I was disapointed that the Yanks didn’t offer arbitration to one of the two pitchers, but considering how dearly George wants to cut corners, it shouldn’t come as a suprise that the role players are the first in line. (Actually, the first would be the poor schmo’s in the organization whose dental plan is in jepoardy, but who is keepin score?) There was some unpleasentness in the way the Yankees cut their ties with Stanton, but I suppose it would be foolish or naive to expect anything less. (Tom Glavine didn’t exactly get the royal treatment from the suits at Aol, did he?) Bill Madden took the Yankees to task yesterday in the News, and I’m sure many Yankee fans share his sentiments.

Players like Mendoza and Stanton are the spoils of a championship team. But like Henry Higgens once sang about his protege E. Doolittle, I’ve grown accustomed to their face. For what it’s worth, I’ll miss them. I suspect much of my reaction is based on sentimentality rather than common sense, still here are some parting thoughts on two guys who made solid contributions to the Yankees recent success.

If Boomer Wells looks like a mook who was snatched off his barstool, given a uniform, and told he’s going to pitch in the major leagues, then Mike Stanton could very well have been the barkeep. Stanton’s face looks like a mug right out of one of Bill Gallo’s cartoons in the News. There is a timelessness to his doughy features which suggest that he could have pitched comfortably alongside Whitey Ford, and Allie Reynolds. What I always appreciated about Stanton is his accountability. Whenever he got his tits lit, he would stick around and deal with the press; a true stand-up guy. Ok, so he’s a card-carrying member of the God Squad too, but nobody is perfect. It never intruded on my image of him as an ordinary Joe from the neighborhood bar.

From what I gather, Stanton was one of the leaders in the Yankee clubhouse too (he also served as the team’s player rep). He sure looks like a ball-buster. When El Duque first joined the team in ’98, Stanton got in the Cuban hurler’s ass about his unorthodox warm-up routine. I guess he found out soon enough that Duque’s ass was red enough to begin with, and Jose Cardinal had to step in, in order to prevent the two from coming to blows.

I’m grateful for how well Stanton did his job in New York, but I don’t necessarily think he’s irreplaceable. The only pangs of bitterness I felt when I heard the news is a bit unfair, but here it is anyhow: playoff vet, Stanton gets low-balled while pretty boy Steve Karsay is making a king’s randsom, sitting pretty. When Karsay recovers from off-season surgery, he should be required to perform some sort of community service. He could start by donating some of his salary to fix up the fields just outside of the Stadium. (Actually, I like Karsay just fine: I think the entire organization, from the top on down should take more pride in fixing up the diamonds around the Stadium.)

Ramiro Mendoza has been one of my favorite Yankees in recent years. Along with Bernie Williams, he has a tranquil, shy presence and comes off as something of a dreamer. Known as “El Bruho” ( the witchdoctor), for his hard sinker, Mendoza’s soporific body language belies the effectiveness of his pitches (just ask the Red Sox, who were stymied twice by Mendoza in the 1999 playoffs). Dozie looks as if he is permanantly drugged. He doesn’t only look sleepy in the bullpen, it’s as if he barely wakes up when he’s on the mound.

When Mendoza is right, he is efficient and brisk; when the sinker ain’t sinking, it gets walloped a long way. Either way, Mendoza remains calm, even somewhat detached. Or maybe he is just resigned to the fact that sometimes you just don’t have it. There are few Yankee pitchers that have amused me as much when they were getting spanked (Hurricaine Hideki was funny too, but for different reasons). Mr. Piazza hit a couple of absolute bombs off Mendoza in 1999 and 2000. I remember being at the Stadium in August of 2001, when Juan Encarnacion, then playing with Detriot, crushed a Mendoza sinker in the left-field bleachers. It was late in the game, and the Yankees still held the lead. Torre came to get him, and Mendoza gave him the ball. He shrugged his shoulders and walked off the field with a sheepish grin, perhaps thinking, 1) at least we still have the lead, and 2) godamn, he hit that a long way.

In his own way, Mendoza is emblematic of the patience and trust the Yankee braintrust have impressed upon George Steinbrenner during the latest championship run. Back in the Bronx Zoo days, a guy like Mendoza would have been traded in the blink of an eye. (I immediately recall the fate of young Jim Beattie.) But throughout nagging injuries and being shifted from the rotation to long relief, and then to set-up man, Mendoza was one of Joe Torre’s guys and the manager always went to bat for him. That Mendoza is now expendable is not a failing of Joe Torre. If anything, the fact that he stayed around so long is a minor miracle in and of itself.

Funny how winning championships can create a degree of stability. Even when you are working for Boss George.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver