"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Burn (ed)

Some baseball fans have been predicting, and anticipating the Yankees’ fall for four or five years now. The critics have been louder than ever this spring considering the team’s mediocre start. The years 1965 and 1982 have been invoked as reminders of what could happen to the current team. Yesterday, veteran New York scribe, Vic Zeigel wrote a piece in the Daily News, making the 1965 comparison:

The Nothing Lasts Forever Club, the Bronx chapter, is about to meet for the first time since 1965. Warning: the last meeting came a year too late and was no help at all.

…The Yankees keep telling us it’s early, way early. That there’s plenty of time, plenty. (“Just you wait, ‘Enry ‘Iggins, just you wait.”) But what if these April problems aren’t solved? October doesn’t come with a guarantee. Early can get late, and time isn’t always on your side. Could it be that this team has the disease of 1965?

When George Steinbrenner hired a motivational coach last week, memories of the 1982 team came rushing back. That was the year Steinbrenner made the mistake of trying to build a team around speed. (The local press eventually dubbed the team “The Bronx Burners.”) After the Yankees lost the 1981 World Serious to the Dodgers, and the Boss apologized to the fans on behalf of his team, he allowed Reggie Jackson to walk away as a free agent. Steinbrenner ostensibly replaced Jackson’s power with Ken Griffey in right, and Oscar Gamble at DH. Davey Collins was signed as a free agent, and Jerry Mumphrey, Lou Piniella, and Bobby Murcer, all competed for playing time in the outfield (Dave Winfield, of course, was the left fielder).

Steinbrenner tried to hire Lou Brock as a speed-instructor, but negotiations fell apart when the Yankees wanted Brock to also serve as a scouting supervisor. Instead, George brought in former Olympic track star Harrison Dillard—Dillard won four gold medals in the 1948 and 1952 games. In the 1950s, Steinbrenner once raced against Dillard when they were both hurdlers. When he was contracted to serve as the Yankees’ running instructor, the 58-year old Dillard had been working as the director of purchasing for the Cleveland School System. In article written by Murray Chass on March 1, 1982, Dillard said:

George Steinbrenner asked me to come down and look at the guys and see if I could make any suggestions about their running styles…If you improve style, theoretically you improve speed. You can’t improve speed too much, but even one-hundredth of a second can be the difference between being safe and out.

…I think ball players realize that speed, while it’s not 100 percent essential that you have speed, helps a lot if you do have it.

The next day, according to “Damned Yankees,” Bill Madden and Moss Klein’s entertaining and thorough account of the Yankees from the Bronx Zoo days through the eighties, the Yankees showed up for workouts and found themselves running 45-yard sprints in the outfield instead of practicing.

Dillard’s assignment was to teach the Yankees to run. He was to scrutinize the running styles of all the players and then offer tips on how to improve each one’s technique.

“You can’t underestimate the importance of speed,” said Steinbrenner, who reminded his players that he had been a champion hurdler in his college days at Williams.

“They must have used ankle high hurdles in those days,” cracked Graig Nettles.

Needless to say, the Yankees’ speed experiment crashed and burned. Bob Lemon, who replaced Gene Michael the previous year, was fired after fourteen games, succeeded by–guess who?–Gene Michael (who in turn was fired again and replaced by Clyde King before the year was out). The Yankees finished the year in fifth place, while Jackson (.275/.375/.532), in his last great season, hit 39 dingers for the playoff bound California Angels.

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1 rbj   ~  Apr 22, 2005 7:28 am

1.  Steinbrenner a hurdler? Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! though many good/great athletes do go to pot after they finish athleticizing.

I'd just like to forget 1982.

In the mode of getting rid of big old contracts and getting younger, when is Moose's contract up. (not meant as a knock on Moose)

2 Alvaro Espinoza   ~  Apr 22, 2005 7:34 am

2.  Off topic but:

(1) Not a bad start for Lieber, eh?
(2) Who needs Hudson and Mulder when you've got Harden, Haren and Blanton?
(3) Check out the gaudy numbers in general of the retreads pitching in the NL:


3 Cliff Corcoran   ~  Apr 22, 2005 7:36 am

3.  Moose has one more year at $19 million in 2006 then a $17/1.50 million team option in 2007

4 unpopster   ~  Apr 22, 2005 8:39 am

4.  I, for one, will not be unhappy when Moose's contract is up after next year. For me, he has changed from being the kind of pitcher that I feel confident in supplying us with a W to a pitcher who gives me heartburn.

I was thinking about this last night and wondering whether his dreadful first half in '04 was not the aberration that we originally thought but a clear sign that he rapidly on the decline. Moose's performance so far this year just seems to support this unfortunate fact.

Too bad, because if he has one or two more years of brilliance, he'd actually be a long-shot for the HOF. As he is now, he's got no chance.

5 Matt B   ~  Apr 22, 2005 8:46 am

5.  1982 still gives me a nasty feeling when I think about it. Dave Collins?

Ahh, whatever happened to Shane Rawley?

6 rbj   ~  Apr 22, 2005 9:22 am

6.  Mussina's always been more of a control pitcher than power pitcher, their careers don't last as long (if I remember my Bill James correctly). He's struck me as a #2 or 3 starter, which you can do if you've got Cone or Clemens or even Pettite in front. I just hope the Yankee brass realizes that they need to bring up some talented young pitching in the next couple of years.

7 Simone   ~  Apr 22, 2005 10:31 am

7.  Despite the glee being expressed by the Yankee critics and the dismay from many Yankee fans, no sports dynasty lasts forever so they aren't predicting anything new or shocking. Players leave and get older that is just the way it goes. This has been a hell of a good run for the Yankees as dynasties go and I am thrilled that I was able to witness their accomplishments.

Also let me take this opportunity to bust bubble of those predicting doom and gloom. The Yankees are not going to become bottom dwellers for years and years. A whole heap of those contracts will be gone by the end of 2006 and even more by 2007, opening the door for the signing of new younger players to form the bulk of a competitive team.

8 markp   ~  Apr 22, 2005 10:35 am

8.  "He's struck me as a #2 or 3 starter, which you can do if you've got Cone or Clemens or even Pettite in front." Mussina's ERA+ since joining the Yankees are 142, 108, and 129. His career ERA+ is 127. Pettitte's career ERA+ is 117 and in only 3 of his 10 seasons did it exceed Mussina's average season. How the heck does Pettitte get "in front" of Mussina? Cone pitched over 200 innings a grand total of once for the Yankees. In Moose's four years here he's failed to reach 200 IP once-last year.
I think drawing conclusions after 4 starts is kinda silly, especially after his excellent September and October.

How do Arod, Jeter, Sheffield, Johnson, Posada, Matsui, Pavano, Gordon, Rivera etc. resemble Collins, Rawley, Mumphrey et al? 2005 and 1982 have zero in common. Why do guys like Vic Zeigel, after having said the same dumb stuff every year since 1998, still get credence? Just because he writes for a newspaper and he's been around for a long time (obviously) doesn't give him any more insight than anyone watching the games on TV.

9 Dan M   ~  Apr 22, 2005 10:56 am

9.  I'm just trying to figure who's this year's Dave Revering.

How long are the Yanks going to make we wait in the rain tomorrow before they call the game?

10 rbj   ~  Apr 22, 2005 11:12 am

10.  It just seems to me that the other guys could go in and dominate a game, while Mike relies upon finess. I do like him, and he's dependable but I just have never pictured him leaving the other team quaking in their shoes.

11 markp   ~  Apr 22, 2005 11:14 am

11.  Dave who? Joking.
While 1982 wasn't a very good year, they won 91 in 1983 and would have been wild cards in 85 (with 97 wins!) and 86. They had a better record than the world champion KC royals in 1985. As the past several years have shown, wild cards can win rings.
Calling the Yanks of the 80's bad teams is wrong. They won more regular season games in the 80's than any team in MLB.

12 brockdc   ~  Apr 22, 2005 11:21 am

12.  It still amazes me how they won so many games in the mid-eighties with guys like Bob Tewksbury and Dennis Rasmussen anchoring the pitching staff. Just shows how solid their hitting was(Bobby Meacham excluded).

13 brockdc   ~  Apr 22, 2005 11:21 am

13.  I meant Bob Shirley. Tewks had a pretty nice career, though Bob Gibson he wasn't.

14 Alex Belth   ~  Apr 22, 2005 11:49 am

14.  Another randomly good year for the team, during a period that was probably worse than the eighties, was 1970 http://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/NYY/1970.shtml, when they won 90 games.

15 Cliff Corcoran   ~  Apr 22, 2005 12:26 pm

15.  rbj, I think you're really giving Moose short shrift. Allow me to remind you of his near perfect game in Boston. Now, any pitcher can have a good night, but Moose when he's on his game can shut a team down completely. Dominant? yes. Ace/#1? yes. He may not be scary like Unit or Clemens, but he can dominate nonetheless. He's not a junkballer. His fastball, while not a true blazer, is a key part of his arsenal. His career K rate is 7.17 per 9IP and he walks no one (barely over 2 per 9IP). The only problem is I might have to change all of the above to the past tense.

16 KJC   ~  Apr 22, 2005 12:28 pm

16.  "Despite the glee being expressed by the Yankee critics and the dismay from many Yankee fans, no sports dynasty lasts forever so they aren't predicting anything new or shocking."

Very true. These journalists/people that are predicting the Yankees' decline year after year are probably the same ones who said the Red Sox would win the World Series the past bunch of years. Keep saying the same thing year in and year out, and eventually you'll be correct.

Plus, as Simone pointed out, it's not like the Yanks will ever be the Devil Rays...

17 jpark   ~  Apr 22, 2005 1:06 pm

17.  The Yankees will most likely be fine this season, and at least win the wild card and contend for the title. What fans should be worrying about is the next few years. Yes, contracts will be clearing up, but just realize how many parts will need replacement over the next two to three years: At least two starting pitchers, closer, RF, CF, 2B, 1B (unless any one thinks it'll be aceptable to have a 35 year odl Giambi starting), Catcher, at least two middle relievers. Even Derek Jeter can be expected to show some serious loss in productivity as he hits his early 30s. If we had some real talent in the pipe from the farm system, it wouldnt be so bad. On top of this, there's a possibility the next collective bargaining agreement will further clamp the Yankees spending.
I don't see the Yanks falling to the basement, but I could see them falling to merely .500

18 brockdc   ~  Apr 22, 2005 2:55 pm

18.  Another advantage of a well-stocked farm system is benefitting from a player who is actually entering his prime. We keep getting the hot girlfriend who has just decided to become born-again.

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