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Monthly Archives: July 2007

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Series Wrap: @ Devil Rays

With the Yankees needing to win every series for the next month (and, really, beyond), I though I’d start a new feature here that takes a look at the individual performances of each just-completed series. It goes a little something like this:

Offense The Yankees scored an average of six runs per game against the Devil Rays, which sounds impressive when you consider the fact that the Tigers lead the majors by scoring 5.94 runs per game on the season. However, the Rays allowed an average of 6.17 runs per game over the first half of the season, which means the Yankees’ performance was actually close to average. I say close, because the Rays tend to give up a lot more runs on the road, so the Yankees were actually above average for a visitor at Tropicana Field, but it still wasn’t as impressive a showing as it might appear at first glance.

Offensive Studs:

Bobby Abreu: 6 for 16, 2 2B, 2 HR, 8 RBI
Hideki Matsui: 6 for 18, 2 2B, 2 HR
Jorge Posada: 4 for 9, 2 2B, HR, 4 BB, SB
Derek Jeter: 5 for 18, 2B, 2 HR, SB

Offensive Duds:

Robinson Cano: 2 for 12, IBB, RBI
Melky Cabrera: 3 for 12, 3 K, CS
Kevin Thompson: 1 for 8, 2B, 3 K
Johnny Damon: 3 for 14, 5 BB, SB, CS

Rotation Two of the four starters turned in bare-minimum quality starts, Chien-Ming Wang doing so while striking out six and walking none, and Mike Mussina doing so by gutting out six innings with bad stuff. Andy Pettitte missed a quality start by one out, leaving with two on and two out in the sixth. Roger Clemens had the only truly poor outing of the series, though it wasn’t a total disaster (5 1/3 IP, 5 R). Overall a poor showing by the rotation against a team batting Brendan Harris third.

Bullpen Allowed five runs in 12 innings, but only blew a lead once, that coming in the finale when Ron Villone entered a 4-3 game and gave up a two-run home run.

The Good:

Mariano Rivera collected two saves and closed a third game with a four-run lead. Altogether, he allowed a pair of singles and struck out four in three innings. Luis Vizcaino was perfect for 2 2/3 innings, striking out three and closing the door for Pettitte in the opener. Brian Bruney finished the sixth for Clemens on Friday, retiring his two batters on nine pitches, six of them strikes.

The Bad:

Kyle Farnsworth pitched three times, allowing two runs on a home run and a pair of doubles. In his three innings, he allowed six base runners and struck out one. Mike Myers and Scott Proctor teamed up to allow a run in their only work of the weekend on Friday. Myers faced two batters, striking out Akinori Iwamura, then allowing a double to Carl Crawford. Crawford is a career .333/.368/.722 hitter against Myers in 19 plate appearances. Proctor came on and, in the process of getting the last two outs, allowed Crawford to steal third, walked two, and gave up a single that plated Crawford. Ron Villone pitched a perfect inning striking out two on Saturday, but undid that good work by blowing a one-run lead on Sunday by surrendering a two-run homer. This after another base runner had been erased on a double play. Vizcaino had to finish his inning as well. Carlos Peña was the terror who hit both home runs against the Yankee pen. Edwar Ramirez was not used.

Defense The Yankees played fantastic defense all weekend. Their only error was Jorge Posada’s catcher’s interference in ninth-inning on Sunday. Melky Cabrera, Alex Rodriguez, and Andy Phillips, who made a game-saving play in the finale, earn special mention for their play in the field.

Conclusion The offense needs to build some momentum. The pitching staff needs to shape up. Joe Torre needs to switch Farnsworth and Vizcaino on his bullpen depth chart and give Edwar Ramirez a fair shake.


Just as they did on Saturday night, the Yankees fell behind 3-0 early yesterday as Mike Mussina showed his usual long-rest rust and spent as much time arguing with home plate umpire C.B. Bucknor as he did actually getting hitters out during the first three innings. Moose locked it down, however, and the Yankees rallied against Edwin Jackson in the fifth to take the lead, hitting for the cycle with a Robinson Cano single, an Andy Phillips triple that was badly misplayed by B.J. Upton in center (payback for Upton robbing him of a 400-foot extra-base hit on Saturday), a Wil Nieves double (his first extra-base hit of the year), and a two-run Derek Jeter home run.

Mussina fought his way through six innings with the help of some great defense, starting with his own, as he snagged a comebacker from the first batter he faced. Later in the first inning, with Carl Crawford on second and Brendan Harris on first, Carlos Peña singled to center to plate Crawford, but Melky Cabrera threw behind Harris to catch him rounding second base too far for the second out. The third inning came to a scoreless close when Hideki Matsui threw out B.J. Upton trying to score from second on a single to left thanks in part to Upton’s sore quadriceps and a great swipe tag by Wil Nieves. In the fourth, Carl Crawford ground to Andy Phillips deep at first, and Phillips beat Crawford in a footrace to the bag, colliding dramatically with the Tampa center fielder (thankfully, neither player was injured). The fifth ended on a 4-6-3 double play, and Melky again gunned out a runner at second base in the sixth as he caught Ty Wigginton trying to stretch a single.

Ron Villone came on in the seventh and promptly coughed up the lead by surrendering a two-run homer to Peña, but the Yankees quickly fought back in the eighth. Alex Rodriguez led off with a double to drive reliever Brian Stokes from the game. Hideki Matsui greeted Casey Fossum with a single that put runners on the corners. After Melky struck out, Robinson Cano plated Rodriguez with a sac fly on which Matsui alertly took second. Gary Glover then came on to face Phillips, who singled home Matsui to regain the lead and took second on the throw home. After pinch-hitter Jorge Posada was intentionally walked and Johnny Damon was unintentionally walked, Derek Jeter ground to third baseman Akinori Iwamura, but Iwamura couldn’t find the handle on the ball and all hands were safe, with Phillips scoring what proved to be a crucial insurance run.

I say crucial because Kyle Farnsworth opened the eighth by giving up a ground-rule double to Upton that missed being a home run by all of three feet. Wigginton then singled Upton home to pull the Rays within one. Rays manager Joe Maddon then pinch-ran for Wigginton with Josh Wilson with Dioner Navarro at the plate and one out. Navarro hit a hot shot to the left of Phillips at first, which Phillips snared on a full dive, then clamored to one knee and doubled Wilson off second for what would prove to be not only an inning-ending play, but a game-saving one.

Mariano Rivera wrapped things up with a heart attack ninth that started with a single by Iwamura, followed by catcher’s interference as Posada came out of his crouch to try to throw out Iwamura stealing second and tipped Carl Crawford’s bat with his glove in mid-swing. That put runners on first and second with no outs in a game the Yankees lead by just one run, but Brendan Harris ground into a 5-5-3 double play and Carlos Peña, who had driven in three of the six Devil Ray runs to that point, popped out to give the Yankees a 7-6 victory.

So, while it wasn’t a dominating performance, the Yankees did what they needed to do in taking three of four from the Devil Rays. They’ll have to play better ball to do the same against Toronto this week, however. Meanwhile, Andy Phillips, who is hitting .302/.362/.453 this season, is the story of the day. Pete Abraham kicks things off.

Getting It Done

Chien-Ming Wang allowed three runs in the first inning last night, but quickly adjusted, mixing in more sliders and changeups to hold the Devil Rays to a lone single over the next four innings. Meanwhile, the Yankees chipped away with a run in the third, a Hideki Matsui solo homer in the fourth, and a two-run homer by Bobby Abreu in the fifth to take a 4-3 lead. Wang got into trouble again in the sixth, loading the bases with two outs, but struck out Jonny Gomes to end the inning and his evening. The Yanks tagged on an insurance run in the seventh thanks to some aggressive base running by Johnny Damon, who went from first to third on a single to left and scored on a groundout. That run was crucial, as, after Ron Villone pitched a perfect seventh, Kyle Farnsworth gave up a solo home run to Carlos Pena in the eighth, an inning he escaped only when Jorge Posada gunned out B. J. Upton stealing second. The Yanks got that run back in the top of the ninth, however, again thanks to Damon’s legs as Johnny walked, stole second, and scored on a Bobby Abreu double. Incidentally, speed made the first Yankee run happen as well, as, with the bases loaded and one out in the third, Bobby Abreu (there’s that man again) hit into what looked like a sure inning-ending double play, but burned up the first-base line to beat the pivot throw as Andy Phillips scored from third. Mariano Rivera shut the door in the ninth, nailing down the 6-4 win and picking up his 425th career save, which moved him past John Franco into third place on the all-time saves list. The other big numbers on the night were Abreu’s five RBIs and Chien-Ming Wang’s six strikeouts against no walks in six innings.

Today the Yanks look to wrap up the series by taking three of four, which is exactly what they need to do against teams such as the Devil Rays. The bad news is that Mike Mussina will be working on a whole bunch of rest. The good news is that he only has to be better than 23-year-old Edwin Jackson, who is 1-9 with a 7.23 ERA and a 1.89 WHIP on the season and also hasn’t started since July 4, when he gave up 7 runs in five innings against the Red Sox.


The Rocket got kicked around in Tampa Bay on Friday, the 13th as the Yankees lost, 6-4. The Bombers made Scott Kazmir work but had little to show for it (The Devil Rays flashed the leather all night along too). Jorge Posada and Hideki Matsui hit back-to-back dingers late, but it wasn’t enough. Phillip Hughes had another successful rehab start–Pete Abraham has the latest (Pete also has a nice little Chien-Ming Wang anecdote).

In other “news,” Jason Giambi, blah, blah, blah, Gary Sheff, fat mouth, blah, blah, blah.

Yanks and Rays play again tonight. Stay cool peoples, it’s another scorcher today…

Move Over Little Dog, ‘Cuz The Big Dog’s Movin’ In

The Devil Rays send their young left-handed proto-stud to the mound tonight against the Yankees’ old right-handed hoss. It’s a pretty keen matchup that we’ll look back on if Scott Kazmir ever puts it together. Thus far injuries and walks have kept him from building on the potential he showed in 2005 at the tender age of 21. Last year, Kazmir was significantly better than in ’05, but was limited to 24 starts due to reoccurring shoulder problems that ended his season in late August. This year, he’s taken all of his turns, but his rate stats are down across the board. His .347 opponents’ average on balls in play, which is pure bad luck, isn’t helping, but his homer rate is up, his strikeout rate is down, and, most disappointingly, his 4.65 BB/9 has undone all of the progress he had made in that department last year. A significant side effect of that is that he’s not going deep into games because of swollen pitch counts. All of which is good news for the Yankees, as is the fact that Roger Clemens has dominated in his last two outings (2 runs on 7 hits and 2 walks in 16 innings), and the fact that the Yankee offense seems to be clicking, following Bobby Abreu’s lead as it has all season.


The Yanks started the second half right with a 7-3 victory over the Devil Rays in Tampa Bay. Stop the presses, they are a .500 team again. I didn’t catch but the last two innings though on the count of I met up with a group of old New York Giant fans up the block (Cait Murphy came and spoke about her new book, Crazy ’08, which looks excellent). But I was thrilled to learn that the Bombers caught James Shields on an off-night. Andy Pettitte wasn’t great, but he was good enough as Bobby Abreu led the offense. Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Abreu hit back-to-back-to-back dingers in the fourth inning. Sweet.

Jeff Karstens had a re-hab start. Be nice to see him back in the bigs, huh?

Tampa Bay Devil Rays: It’s Now or Never Edition

Entering the second half of the season, the Yankees’ record stands at 42-43, a game below .500. With 77 games left to play, they are tied with Toronto in second place in the AL East, 10 games behind Boston, and tied for fifth in the Wild Card race, 8.5 games behind the Indians (who were recently passed in the Central standings by the defending AL Champion Tigers).

Things look bad, and indeed they are, but 54 of those remaining 77 games will come against teams that currently have equal or worse records than the Yankees themselves. If the Yankees can simply break even in their 23 games against contending teams (say a 12-11 record in their remaining series against the Red Sox, Tigers, Indians, Angels, and Mariners), the fate of their season lies in their ability to take advantage of the cupcake portion of their second half schedule. If they win two of every three games (in other words, just win their series) against those weaker teams, the Yankees will finish the season 90-72. That might not be enough to make the playoffs as the Wild Card-leading Indians are on a 96-win pace, but if they can mix in a few sweeps and a few 3-out-of-4 series wins, they’ll be right in the thick of it.

That said, it has to start tonight. It’s now or never. Any sort of stumble against Tampa, Toronto, Kansas City, Baltimore, or the White Sox will put the final nail in the coffin currently containing the Yankees’ season. Exactly half of those 54 games come in 27-game stretch that begins tonight in Tampa Bay. The only time the Yankees have to leave the eastern time zone during that 27-game stretch is for a four-game series in Kansas City in two weeks. If they can’t play something in the neighborhood of .700 baseball over those 27 games, that last flickering ember of hope for this season will be extinguished.

The good news is that the Yankees ended the first half of the season on a positive note, taking five of seven from the Twins and Angels, a pair of winning teams ahead of them in the standings. What’s more, Phil Hughes is on the comeback trail (he’ll make a rehab start with double-A Trenton on Friday and, if that goes well, another on Wednesday). Hughes could replace Kei Igawa as the fifth starter by the end of the month, which would give him a couple major league starts before the Yankees hit the tough part of their second-half schedule in mid-August. At this point just about everything has to go right for the Yankees to even sniff the playoffs, but the opportunity exists for that to happen.


Pastime Passings–June 2007

Two colorful characters from two different eras departed us during the month of June. Their deaths, along with those of two former major league pitchers who died earlier this spring, highlight this edition of Pastime Passings.

Rod Beck

(Died on June 23 in Phoenix, Arizona; age 38; cause of death currently unknown): One of the game’s most colorful characters of the 1990s, Beck used an overpowering split-fingered fastball and an aggressive approach to pitching in becoming one of the decade’s most effective closers. Originally drafted by the Oakland A’s, Beck was traded to the A’s Bay Area rivals, the San Francisco Giants. In 1991, Beck made his major league debut with the Giants, soon establishing himself as the team’s relief ace. From 1991 to 1997, the hefty right-hander saved 199 games for San Francisco, helping the Giants to a 103-win season in 1993 and a National League West title in 1997. Beck later pitched for the Chicago Cubs, Boston Red Sox, and San Diego Padres. A hard thrower early in his career, Beck added to his air of intimidation by growing his hair long and sporting a Fu Manchu mustache. Later on, Beck made up for a loss of velocity by perfecting his splitter and his control, aggressively pounding the strike zone with fastballs. Nicknamed "Shooter" because of his gunslinging appearance and his love of cowboy boots and country music, the chain-smoking Beck was extremely popular with both fans and teammates. During a 2003 comeback with the Iowa Cubs, the blue-collar Beck lived in his Winnebago, located just outside of the stadium’s outfield fence. Fans regularly visited Beck, who responded by signing autographs and drinking beers with his newfound friends. Beck successfully returned to the major leagues with the Padres in 2004, but encountered problems with substance abuse that led him to take a leave of absence. After struggling with the Padres as a set-up reliever, the team released him in August of that season.

After his playing days, Beck dabbled in the film industry. He took an acting role in the film, Work Week, which is scheduled for release later this year.

Clete Boyer

(Died on June 4 in Atlanta, Georgia; age 70): Regarded as one of the finest defensive third basemen of all-time, Boyer emerged as a critical part of a New York Yankees dynasty that won five consecutive American League pennants in the 1960s. Boyer started his career with the Kansas City Athletics, but was routed to the Yankees as the player to be named later in the massive 11-player deal that also sent pitchers Art Ditmar and Bobby Shantz to New York. Boyer’s tenure with the Yankees included two World Championship teams in 1961 and ’62. Boyer also helped the Yankees advance to the World Series in ’63 and ’64. In the latter series, Boyer and his older brother Ken, an All-Star third baseman with the St. Louis Cardinals, each hit home runs in Game Seven. Boyer remained with the Yankees until the winter of 1966, when they traded him to the Atlanta Braves for outfielder-third baseman Bill Robinson and pitcher Chi-Chi Olivo. A right-handed batter who hit 162 home runs during his career, Boyer played with the Braves until 1971, when he clashed with Atlanta management and then left to finish out his professional career in Japan.

COMMENTARY: Summers in Cooperstown won’t be quite as colorful as they’ve been. That was one of the first reactions I had when I heard the sad news that Clete Boyer had died at the age of 70 from the effects of a massive stroke. In recent years, the hard-living Boyer had spent his summers in Cooperstown, signing autographs at baseball shops on Main Street or running his Hamburger Hall of Fame restaurant while spinning stories from his days as a player and coach. Boyer became a favorite in particular because of his connection to the Yankees—the team with the strongest following in upstate New York—and because of his down-home but forthright personality.

Boyer spent his first summer in Cooperstown living in the same building as me, in an apartment just above Mickey’s Place. I often ran into him while coming or going to work. Even if I was running late, Boyer’s yarns usually kept me planted for at least a few moments. Clete liked to talk about his brother Ken, an underrated player whom he felt deserved a place in the Hall of Fame. Always willing to defer to Ken’s superiority as a ballplayer, Clete talked about his older brother with pride and admiration; there was never any jealousy. I picked up the sense that Clete really missed Ken, who lost a battle with cancer at a young age in the early 1980s.

While Clete didn’t like to boast about himself as a player, he did show some pride in his work as a coach and spring training instructor. Boyer often cited his efforts with Wade Boggs, who had been criticized for his defensive play in Boston. After Boggs joined the Yankees, Boyer convinced him to assume a lower defensive stance, as a way of improving his lateral quickness on ground balls. Boyer’s hours of work with Boggs in spring training paid off, resulting in the lone Gold Glove of his Hall of Fame career.

And then there were Clete’s targets. For better or worse, he was honest about those he didn’t like in baseball, particularly Buck Showalter. Boyer worked on Showalter’s staff in the early 1990s, only to be fired by the manager under nebulous circumstances. Considering Showalter disloyal and manipulative, Clete resented Buck—and never hesitated to let anyone know about it. Another target was Casey Stengel, who managed Boyer with the Yankees. During a memorable appearance by Clete at a Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) meeting in Cooperstown, Boyer recalled how Stengel once pinch-hit for him in the first inning of a World Series game. Boyer said most of the Yankees couldn’t stand Stengel, but their dislike of the manager didn’t prevent them from winning.

Still, Clete had a sense of humor about things. At that same SABR meeting, Clete comically took note of the surroundings. The meeting, held annually in Cooperstown, took place in a funeral home just off of Main Street. As Clete’s eyes rolled, most of us laughed from our seats in the casket room.

Often dressed in a blue Yankee sweatsuit, Boyer liked to wear leg weights and brag about the condition of his calves. "Look at these calves," Boyer would say calmly but proudly. Those calves served him well during the 1960s, when Boyer established a reputation as one of the two best defensive third basemen in the American League. While most historians consider Brooks Robinson the best defender of his era—and perhaps the most skilled of all-time—Boyer had his supporters who claimed he was just as good. A converted shortstop, Boyer had terrific range at third base, perhaps even better than Brooks. He definitely had the better arm—no one was better at throwing from his knees—a cannonshot that likely would have played well in the outfield. Robinson probably had better hands, along with a cat-like quickness that we saw on full display in the 1970 World Series. Boyer never enjoyed a Series quite like that, which at least partially explains why his reputation for general fielding excellence has usually ranked behind that of Robinson.

I really can’t say whether Boyer was better than Robinson. I saw Brooks many times throughout the 1970s, but never did see Boyer play. Although I missed out on that part of his career, I’d like to think I made up for it, at least a little bit, by hearing what Clete had to say.

Bill Wight

(Died on May 17 in Mt. Shasta, California; age 87; heart attack): A left-handed pitcher who played for eight teams, Wight was perhaps best known for signing Hall of Famer Joe Morgan as a scout for the Houston Colt .45s and Astros. During his playing career, Wight known for having one of the game’s best pickoff moves; in one game against the New York Yankees, he picked Mickey Mantle off twice. After his retirement, Wight became a longtime scout, first for the Astros and then for 32 years with the Atlanta Braves.

Edson Bahr

(Died on April 6 in Seattle, Washington; age 87): One of only seven major leaguers to hail from the Canadian province of Saskatchewan, Bahr pitched in 46 games for the Pittsburgh Pirates during the 1946 and ’47 seasons. A veteran of World War II, Bahr split his time between starting and relieving after his military service. The right-handed swingman posted a record of 11-11 with an ERA of 3.37 for the Bucs.

Yankee Panky #16: Halfway There

Depending on your perspective, the All-Star break is a perfect time for the Yankees to regroup and heal, or, based on the offensive eruption that took place last Sunday, the three-day midseason hiatus is a momentum breaker.

More than anything, what the break does is offer a chance to reflect on the first half. In the Yankees’ case, most fans would prefer to look forward than ruminate on inconsistent starting pitching, bullpen performances akin to Rick Vaughn’s tryout fresh from the California Penal League, and hitting results from the left-handed chunk of the lineup that made you think they’d be better off turning around and batting righty.

On the field, it was literally 45 games of three steps back, two steps forward for the Yankees. Last Friday while subbing for Michael Kay on 1050 here in New York, Don LaGreca hit the nail on the head when he discussed how 53 to 55 wins over the last 77 games may not be enough to lift the Yankees into the playoffs, but few are ready to start preparing the team’s eulogy.

As for the coverage in general, the first 85 games featured an ebb and neap between stirring the pot and projecting the panic button. And with that in mind, here are my orders of distinction for the first-half Yankees Media Coverage.

There are actually two. The first is Alex Rodriguez’s offensive barrage. There were so many angles to explore, from it happening in an opt-out year to the technical changes made in his swing through his work with new hitting coach Kevin Long. Over the next three months, the continuation of this story — should he maintain his pace — will center around his MVP candidacy. Should the Yankees miss the playoffs and he still wins the MVP, expect comparison stories to his 2003 win with the last-place Rangers. Of course, if that happens, the uber-cynics will still say that A-Rod needs to prove himself as a clutch player in October.

The second: Roger Clemens’ signing and all the fun that brought, from the hoopla of his 7th-inning stretch introduction to his contract, to whether or not he’d only be with the team every fifth day. With the exception of one outing, he’s pitched well enough to win all his starts. And in typical Clemens fashion, he’s gone 8 innings in each of his last two starts as a sort of middle finger to those who said he’d only be a 6-inning pitcher. (Maybe Andy Pettitte said to him: “Roger, get it straight to Mo. Your chances are better that way. Get into the 8th inning as often as you can.” Sorry. My imagination got the best of me there.)

But looking at the numbers, he’s not even a 6-inning pitcher. The consecutive long starts bumped his average to 5 2/3 innings per start. And the 2.9 runs per game he’s been supported with has to leave him with flashbacks of 2006 as an Astro.

For the story that’s been repeatedly beaten over the past four months: A-Rod’s off-field foibles. I’ll admit, I’m just as guilty for getting caught up in it, since I referenced the coverage his adventures and misadventures in this space and criticized “the third baseman.” The convergence of events in Toronto: the stripper pictures and the Little League yell to distract the Blue Jays’ third baseman from catching a pop-up were a low point. Following that, the presentation of his wife joining him in Boston for what was presented as a “make-up” dinner was too much. The headlines were hilarious, though, save for the TORRE TELLS A-ROD TO SHUT UP item being posted out of context. I’m sure Carl Pavano was happy to have someone taking the tabloid heat off him. Wait, is he still on the team?

The “Holy Crap” stats, to me, are A-Rod’s late-game numbers (7th inning or later): .374 batting average (.542 in the 9th inning, 10 home runs, 25 RBIs, .769 SLG and 1.247 OPS. Aficionados knew this, but only until the past week did this note receive significant air-time.

For all the discussion of Jason Giambi’s cooperation with the Mitchell Investigation, surprisingly little has been written about the positive effect his absence has on the lineup. And by positive, I mean Melky Cabrera being the everyday center fielder and Johnny Damon as the primary DH, when something on his body isn’t creaking.


Joe Torre’s job security. Maybe he’ll be fired. Maybe he won’t. Maybe Brian Cashman will go first. Maybe they’ll both get sacked in one fell swoop. Maybe Joe Girardi came back to YES so he could be in the on-deck circle for the Yankees’ managerial job if and when something happens to Torre. Maybe that’s why he turned down the Orioles. Maybe Don Mattingly will ascend to the post. Maybe in a fit of 77-year-old craziness, GMS3 would consider recycling Buck Showalter.

And maybe, just maybe, Torre will save his job and guide the Yankees to the playoffs by not using any of his right-handed relievers except for Mariano Rivera, and reserve Mike Myers for special occasions and make Kei Igawa a reliever when Phil Hughes returns (more on this below). Wait, now I sound like Joel Sherman.

I’m really intrigued by Bruce Markusen’s hypothesis, posted in this space yesterday:

“On a more realistic front, I wonder why we don’t hear more talk about O’Neill becoming a manager. (After all, there have been whispers about O’Neill becoming the Reds bench coach in 2008.) Fiery and intelligent, O’Neill was often mentioned as a future managerial candidate at the tail end of his playing career. I know that O’Neill is concerned about spending large chunks of time away from his young children, but perhaps he’ll take a page out of Don Mattingly’s book and begin to pursue a coaching career once his children get older. O’Neill could become a curious cross between Billy Martin and Lou Piniella, and wouldn’t that be an interesting kind of manager for Yankee fans to follow after the sedate tenure of Joe Torre?”

To the Post and Daily News, for their coverage of the Steve Swindal fallout. The two tabloids are so combative with each other it’s comical. There were myriad projections of who would succeed Swindal as George Steinbrenner’s heir to the Yankees, Bill Madden of the News reported that it would be Hal the Younger to rise, while the Post’s George King refuted the story a few days later. As it stands now, according to the bevy of reports, it’s still a toss-up between the Steinbrenner brothers and the other son-in-law, Felipe Lopez.

I thought this story was interesting not only for all the Godfather parallels, but because when it comes to stories on the inner workings of the team, particularly Steinbrenner issues, Madden has a history of being accurate. I found his premise credible. Similarly, I know how George King hustles for information, and his rebuttal was just as strong.

To the prospect of trades Brian Cashman may or may not make prior to the July 31 non-waiver deadline, and between August 1 and August 31 before the waiver deadline approaches. Tyler Kepner’s look into Cashman’s plans included a cryptic quote: ”Last year’s team earned the right to get reinforcements. This year’s team’s got to still earn that right. Last year’s team showed it was a championship-type situation, fighting through a lot.”

Phil Hughes’ return and its effect on the pitching staff. A rotation of Wang, Pettitte, Mussina, Clemens and Hughes gives the Yankees the possibility of putting together several extended win streaks, provided the offense cooperates. That makes Kei Igawa a Hideki Okajima-type option (because he can pitch to righties — Torre loves that), leaving Myers to return to the role he was originally assigned: matchup lefty.

Should the Yankees continue to plod along the path to mediocrity and not take the fork in the road, per Yogi’s instructions, how long will it be before the local and national media pull the plug on the season?

I’ll save a fuller list of favorites, best and worsts, and strange occurrences throughout the media landscape as they pertain to Yankees coverage, in my season-ending recap.

Until next week …

Hotter N July

Dude, it is hot in New York. Dog Day Afternoon/Do The Right Thing Hot. Hey, anyone stay up and watch The Bronx is Burning? The Home Run Derby put me to sleep. I did wake up to catch a few minutes of the mini-series and thought it was a mess. But I only saw a few minutes. Was it any good?

Meanwhile, links: Pete Abraham on Phillip Hughes; Jack Curry on Alex Rodriguez; SG on the Bombers’ offense at the break; John Helyar on George Steinbrenner, and, finally, Steven Goldman caught up with Dr. Bobby Brown and Rick Cerrone last weekend at Old Timer’s Day. Check it out. The bit with Cerrone is especially good.

Observations From Cooperstown–Old-Timers Day

I’ll never get tired of Old-Timers Day. In fact, as I work my way into my early forties, I only appreciate this wondrous day more and more. It boggles the mind that the Yankees are the last team to hold the fort on Old-Timers Day—of the 30 clubs, they’re the only team that bothers to stage this event any more—but that’s a subject for another day. Rather than focus on what other teams are losing out on—hey, it’s their loss, not the loss of Yankee fans—let’s take a look at some of the more memorable moments from the latest gathering of legends at Yankee Stadium.

*I was amazed at the loudness of the ovation for Scott Brosius, who was one of several former Yankees participating in his first Old-Timers Day at the Stadium. Although mostly a journeyman player during his big league career, Brosius enjoyed a career year in pinstripes in 1998 and then hit that nail-in-the-coffin home run against Trevor Hoffman in the World Series. Those accomplishments, coupled with the relative recentness of Brosius’ time in New York, have made him one of the most popular of the ex-Yankees. (Imagine if Brosius had played for the Yankees in the 1980s; he likely wouldn’t even be invited to Old-Timers Day.) I guess Brosius’ cult status shouldn’t come as that surprising given how many fans lament for the hard-nosed players of the recent dynasty. The three names that fans always mention are Paul "The Warrior" O’Neill, Tino Martinez, and—of course, Scott Brosius.

*Other than Brosius, several former Yankees made their inaugural appearances at Old-Timers Day. O’Neill, the recipient of some loud chanting at the Stadium on Saturday, was the most prominent. Even into his sixth year of retirement, he looks to be in the same kind of playing shape today and rifled a line drive single into right-enter field. (Former Yankee GM Gene Michael says O’Neill retired way too early, giving up three our four more potentially productive seasons.) Given the struggles of the every-passive Bobby Abreu, maybe the Yankees should give O’Neill an audition. Well, let’s not get that desperate… On a more realistic front, I wonder why we don’t hear more talk about O’Neill becoming a manager. (After all, there have been whispers about O’Neill becoming the Reds bench coach in 2008.) Fiery and intelligent, O’Neill was often mentioned as a future managerial candidate at the tail end of his playing career. I know that O’Neill is concerned about spending large chunks of time away from his young children, but perhaps he’ll take a page out of Don Mattingly’s book and begin to pursue a coaching career once his children get older. O’Neill could become a curious cross between Billy Martin and Lou Piniella, and wouldn’t that be an interesting kind of manager for Yankee fans to follow after the sedate tenure of Joe Torre?

*A couple of Yankees from the lean years also made their Old-Timers debuts. Ken Griffey, Sr. and Jesse Barfield reappeared in Yankee pinstripes for the first time in years. I have to admit that I never much cared for the senior Griffey as a Yankee; he was a chronic complainer who showed a reluctance to try to steal bases and who bristled when the team tried to move him to first base. On one occasion, Griffey failed to show up for a game (a cardinal sin for a professional athlete), only contacting the team at a very late hour to provide a reason for his absence. I find his return to the Stadium curious; could it be an omen that Griffey, Jr. is on his way to the Bronx? As for Barfield, I have a much softer spot for the former right fielder. Though he played for some of the worst Yankee teams in the early 1990s, Barfield always played hard, displayed one of the greatest arms in recent right field history, and gave the Yankees some decent production before giving way to Danny Tartabull. Barfield also carried himself like a classy gentleman, which is one reason why I root for his son, Indians second baseman Josh Barfield.

*As the Yankees always do, the organization remembered former players who have passed away within the last 12 months. The list of names read by Bob Sheppard included Cory Lidle, Hank Bauer, and Clete Boyer, along with onetime Yankees Steve Barber, Lew Burdette, Johnny Callison, Pat Dobson, Pete Mikkelsen, and Joe Niekro, and former Yankee pitching coach Art Fowler. I knew Boyer fairly well from recent summers, in which he lived in Cooperstown and often signed autographs up and down Main Street. I also remember Barber, Callison, Dobson and Niekro from my early days growing up with baseball, yet another sign that I’m treading toward middle age.

*The theme of this year’s Old-Timers Day centered on the 30th anniversary of the 1977 World Championship team. That’s a summer that I remember vividly. I was 12 years old, still in grade school, and savoring what would be the first Yankee World Championship of my lifetime. Sixteen members of that team attended Saturday’s reunion. Also, in a nice touch, close relatives of four deceased members of that club (captain Thurman Munson, Hall of Fame right-hander Jim "Catfish" Hunter, coach Elston Howard, and manager Billy Martin) were introduced to the crowd. That left roughly ten prominent players from the ’77 squad who did not show for a variety of reasons. Several of the ’77 Yankees are managers at either the major league level (Lou Piniella and Willie Randolph), in the minor leagues (Sparky Lyle), or in the new Israel Baseball League (Ken Holtzman), thereby making them unavailable for Saturday’s ceremonies. With those exceptions, that left Roy White, Carlos May, Fred "Chicken" Stanley, Fran Healy, Don Gullett, and Dick "Dirt" Tidrow as no-shows. Stanley and Tidrow both work as executives with other clubs, so perhaps that created a conflict. Healy has disassociated himself from the Yankees since working for them as a radio broadcaster in the early 1980s. As for White, May, and Gullett, I’m not sure of the reasons behind their absences. White was fired by the Yankees after his last coaching stint, so perhaps that was a factor, while the whereabouts of Gullett and May remain unknown to me.

*Perhaps the most surprising attendee among the ’77 Yankees was Mickey Klutts, a onetime highly regarded prospect who flopped in the major leagues. Klutts (man, we had fun with that name back in the seventies) appeared in all of five games in 1977, coming to bat 15 times, but was still included in the ‘77 contingent. (Klutts actually had fewer at-bats than 1977 late arrival Dave Kingman, who has about as much association with the Yankees today as Ken Phelps.) It makes you wonder if Dave Bergman, Gene Locklear, and Marty Perez received invites to the reunion.

*The No 1 highlight of this year’s Old-Timers gathering may have been the appearance of Bobby Murcer. Given some of the grave reports surrounding Murcer’s battle with cancer this past winter, I wondered whether we’d see Murcer on Old-Timers Saturday. Not only did Murcer appear, but also he wore a uniform, sported a microphone for the YES Network, played in the actual game, and delivered a hard-hit line drive that was caught in right field. Though his uniform looked a bit baggy because of his recent weight loss, Murcer moved well for someone battling the effects of brain cancer. His hair has also started to grow back after recent chemotherapy treatments. And just as importantly, Murcer has lost none of the self-deprecating humor that makes him one of the most beloved of all the retired Yankees. Simply put, Bobby Murcer is one of the best justifications for having something like Old-Timers Day in the first place.

Let’s just hope the Yankees remain the last holdouts among major league teams and never do away with this gathering of nostalgia and remembrance known as Old-Timers Day.


Hideki Matsui, Robinson Cano and Alex Rodriguez each hit three-run homers on Sunday as the Yanks bounced back from a tough loss on Saturday by pounding the Angels 12-0. Chien-Ming Wang earned his 9th win of the season while Rodriguez added 4 RBI, giving him 86, with 30 homers and 79 runs scored. Yup, he leads the majors in all three categories. His home run yesterday moved Rodriguez passed Lou Gehrig on the all-time list. The Bombers finish the first half of the season one game under .500.

Bunch of links for you. Dig:

Tim Marchman doesn’t think the Yanks will have a fire sale this summer; Tyler Kepner takes a look at some of the Yankees’ pitching prospects; Richard Sandomir reviews The Bronx is Burning; Reggie Jackson is none too thrilled about ESPN’s mini-series; Joe Posnanski weighs in on Derek Jeter’s fielding, and SG examines how the pitching staff did in the first half of the season.

Sloppy Split

The Yankees and Angels played and ugly, sloppy game on Friday night that saw two runs score on errors, another called back when Robinson Cano missed the bag rounding third, and several other poor plays (such as missed cutoff men and third outs made at third base) on both sides of the ball and both sides of the field.

The pitching was pretty crappy as well. Bartolo Colon, who was bounced with two on and none out in the third, allowed seven runs (including both bequeathed runners, who scored on Darren Oliver’s watch). Andy Pettitte made it into the sixth, but left with none out and a man on and was charged with eight runs on the night, including that bequeathed runner, who scored with Edwar Ramirez on the mound.

Ramirez allowed an additional run of his own in the sixth to run the score to 9-9. The Yanks broke that tie in the seventh when Johnny Damon drew a leadoff walk from Chris Bootcheck, stole second, moved to third on a Melky Cabrera single, and scored when Gary Matthews bobbled Melky’s hit in center. Alex Rodriguez then laced a line-drive homer to the seats in left that put the Yankees up 12-9. Remarkably, Ramirez, Scott Proctor and Ron Villone managed to shut the door at that point, while the Yankees plated two more in the eighth against Dustin Moseley to put the final score at 14-9. Ramirez earned his first major league win despite retiring just two of the seven batters he faced against their will (one of them sacrificed).

Yesterday, following a joyous Old Timer’s Game that saw Paul O’Neill and Scott Brosius lace hard singles in their first Old Timer’s action, and Bobby Murcer make a triumphant return to the field with a hard line out, the Yankees played a game that was very much the opposite of Friday night’s circus, but was also decided by sloppy play and poor decisions. Coming off his dominant two-hit performance against the Twins, Roger Clemens held the Angels to one run on five hits and a walk over eight efficient innings (98 pitches). Angels’ ace John Lackey matched Clemens almost exactly (one run on five hits and a hit batsman over eight innings), but upped the ante by striking out eleven Yankees (including Melky Cabrera four times) and throwing 72 percent of his 107 pitches for strikes.

The Yankees got their one run in the bottom of the second on doubles by Hideki Matsui and Bobby Abreu. The Angels got theirs in the top of the third on a leadoff double by Garret Anderson and a pair of productive groundouts. With the game still tied 1-1 in the ninth, both managers turned to their bullpens, doing so exactly as they should. Mike Scioscia got three scoreless innings from his set-up ace Scot Shields, then turned to his closer in a still-tied game on the road. Joe Torre worked his bullpen backwards as he should have, starting with a pair of shutout innings from Mariano Rivera, then a scoreless frame from Kyle Farnsworth, then turning to the fully rested Luis Vizcaino rather than Scott Proctor, who had thrown 21 pitches on Friday.

Vizcaino pitched around a two-out single in the twelfth, volleying back to Francisco Rodriguez, who stranded Hideki Matsui at second base following a one-out walk and a surprising stolen base by striking out Jorge Posada and getting Bobby Abreu to ground out. In for his second inning of work, Vizcaino gave up a leadoff double to Howie Kendrick, who had been making highlight reel plays at second base all day long (mostly on balls hit by Miguel Cairo). Jose Molina then attempted to bunt Kendrick over to third, but fouled off the first attempt, then missed the second, taking off the play. After ball one and a trio of fouls, Molina grounded to the left of Miguel Cairo, who was again starting at first base in place of the stiff-necked Andy Phillips. Cairo fell to his left and smothered the ball, but bobbled it as he came to his feet, then, perhaps forgetting that a Molina was running, made a desperation throw that sailed behind Vizcaino who was covering the bag. Cairo’s throw sent Molina to second and allowed Kendrick to score the tie-breaking run. Cairo was charged with two errors on the play, giving him four at first base in two games (on Friday night he made a nearly identical play throwing behind Pettitte covering first and allowing a run to score, he also flubbed a ball in the tenth inning of yesterday’s game) and pushing the Yankees’ total to five on the day (Kyle Farnsworth threw wild to first base in the 11th, and Hideki Matsui booted a single in the fourth to putt the batter on second). Vizcaino retired the next three men in order, but the damage had been done.

The Yankees staged a rally in the bottom of the 13th. Cairo, attempting to atone for his errors, singled with one out, stole second, then moved to third on a ball that Rodriguez threw clean over Molina’s head to the backstop. Suddenly the Yankees were a productive out away from re-tying the game.

In the third inning of Friday night’s mess, with one out, the Yankees up 6-3, and runners on the corners, Joe Torre called for a suicide squeeze, which was perfectly executed by Miguel Cairo with Jorge Posada charging from third base. Now, with Cairo on third and Johnny Damon at the plate, Damon stood tall as Francisco Rodriguez threw three more balls, resulting in the same set up (runners on the corners, one out) in a sudden-death situation (extra-innings, down by one). Unlike the meaningless squeeze on Friday, a squeeze bunt here would have tied a game that otherwise could have been lost on a single double-play grounder. The man at the plate was Melky Cabrera, who already had five successful sacrifice bunts on the season. In addition to the squeeze, having Damon, who had stolen two bases on Friday night, steal second on Rodriguez (who had already allowed a steal to Hideki Matsui of all people) would have eliminated the double play and could have resulted in either a delayed double steal or a throwing error that would have gotten Cairo home without any help from the batter.

I probably don’t need to tell you what happened, or rather, what didn’t. No steal. No bunt. Melky struck out for the fifth time in the game, and Derek Jeter, who had hit into an inning-ending double play in the eleventh, grounded into a fielder’s choice to give the Angels a 2-1 win in 13 innings.

I’ve lost track of the number of times Joe Torre has failed to employ the squeeze bunt when a successful one would either tie or win a game, but I can approximate that number by saying it’s every time. According to Baseball Prospectus 2007, Joe Torre did not call for a single squeeze from 2004 to 2006 and he sure as hell didn’t call for one in the 11th inning of Game 4 of the 2003 World Series. In a lineup that includes Damon, Cabrera, Jeter, Abreu, Cano, and Cairo, all of whom will lay one down from time to time, be they bunting for a hit or, in the case of Cabrera, Cairo, and, stupidly, Jeter, sacrificing, the squeeze bunt should come in to play regularly in sudden-death situations. Instead it never does, and the Yankees are 6-14 in one-run games.

Today they try to win the rubber game behind Chien-Ming Wang who threw seven scoreless innings against the Twins in his last outing. The Angels counter with Ervin Santana, who has a 6.88 ERA over his last three starts, though he did strike out 11 Rangers in his last outing.

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Only one team in baseball has won more games than the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, that being the Boston Red Sox. This is not the happiest of seasons to be a Yankee fan, to say the least. The Angels swept the Yankees in Anaheim back at the end of May winning one high-scoring affair and two close, low-scoring games.

The upside for the Yankees this weekend, beyond Old Timer’s Day, is that they miss two of the Halos’ top three starters (Weaver and Escobar) and that they’re coming into the series on a relative high having done what they needed to do against the Twins, taking the three games not started by Johan Santana to finish their season series with Minnesota with a 5-2 record. Meanwhile, the Angels come in on something of a slide having dropped six of nine to the pitiful Royals, Orioles, and Rangers, the first of those having swept them in Angel Stadium.

Adding to the good news, tonight the Yankees get a crack at a favorite wipping boy in Bartolo Colon (career 5.32 ERA against New York). Colon is ripe for the picking having struggled with injuries all year and having posted a 7.91 ERA over his last seven starts, allowing eleven home runs along the way. Alex Rodriguez, who is a career .440/.460/1.133 hitter against Colon with a whopping eight home runs in 45 at-bats, will return to the lineup at third base looking to use that matchup to break out of a small 0 for 15 slump. Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Hideki Matsui, and Robinson Cano all have OPSs over 1.000 against Colon, and Johnny Damon (starting in left field tonight with Matsui at DH) falls just short of that mark.

On the flip side, the Angels’ hitters have pretty good numbers against Andy Pettitte as well, but only Garret Anderson and Gary Matthews Jr. have more than ten at-bats against him and only two others have ever faced him. Andy’s looking to rebound from his disaster outing his last time out.


La Leche League

The Yankees had a nice, only intermittently terrifying 7-6 win over the Twins this afternoon. The good news: they flashed some long-overdue power, and though A-Rod (0 for his last 19) sat this one out, his MRI came back normal. The bad news: Kei Igawa.

Igawa walked the first batter he faced and then allowed three straight soft singles (though Cuddyer was hung up between 1st and 2nd on one of those), a strikeout, a bungled play near the mound that became an awkward pop-up single, and another strikeout; when the smoke cleared it was 2-0 Twins. It’s rare to get significant booing at Yankee Stadium in the top of the first inning like that — people are still filing in and buying hot dogs and whatnot — but Igawa’s got the knack for it.

Those first-inning hits were pretty weak, so you could try to chalk them up to bad luck if you were so inclined… except that later in the game he would go on to enjoy much better luck, and pitch even worse. During the in-game comments, someone asked what kind of pitches Igawa was throwing, and the truth is I could barely tell. You’d probably need to get a forensics team in there to be sure: “Well, based on this partial thumbprint, it appears this was meant to be a curveball… but it’s difficult to be sure, as the ball has suffered severe blunt trauma.”

The Yanks broke through for five runs off Kevin Slowey in the second, all with two outs…

[Off the top of my head and in no particular order, the worst pitcher names* ever:
Kevin Slowey
David Riske
Homer Bailey
J.J. Putz
John Boozer
Grant Balfour
And, of course, the immortal Bob Walk.

Best non-pitcher name that I discovered by accident while looking up Pete Walker’s stats: Welday Wilberforce Walker.]

…Anyway! In that second inning, Robinson Cano homered, his fifth of the year; Andy Phillips and Miguel “Mig-Rod” Cairo hit back to back doubles to tie the game; Damon walked; and Melky Cabrera followed with a solid three-run shot to center, giving the Yanks a 5-2 lead. Melky’s been on fire recently, and his stats are beginning to come around to respectable levels, though after his molasses-slow start he still has a ways to go. Asked about Cabrera after the game, longtime friend, fellow home run-hitter, and carpooler Robinson Cano said, “we’re going to be making some jokes in the car.”

Igawa had a quick second inning and a passable third, but came undone again in the fourth. After a double and two quick outs (thanks to nice plays on line drives by Jeter and, believe it or not, Johnny Damon in center), Igawa walked tiny (but lovable!) .202 hitter Nick Punto, then got what he deserved: a two-run double, a single, and a tie game. Igawa recovered and made it through the fifth, but not before making thousands of viewers reflect with nostalgia on Tyler Clippard.

The Yanks then got scoreless relief from Luis Vizcaino, Scott Proctor, and Kyle Farnsworth… I feel this moment should be commemorated with some sort of plaque or official proclamation. But moving on. In the bottom of the 8th, the Twins brought in effectively twitchy submariner Pat Neshek, my choice for the final AL All-Star Vote (and I certainly wasn’t alone). With two out and Jeter on first, Matsui broke the 5-5 tie with a massive shot to right-center, and I may be wrong about this, but it seems like even though Matsui only has 10 homers this year, a lot of those have really been crushed. Rough day all around for Neshek, who also lost the 32nd All-Star vote to Hideki Okajima… but I still want a "Pitch in for Pat" t-shirt.

So it was 7-5 Yankees going into the ninth, but Mariano Rivera, thoughtful guy that he is, didn’t want fans to get bored. So decided to heighten the excitement by allowing two consecutive singles (though the second should probably have been called an error on Jeter, on a DP ball no less). He then settled down and, after a tense moment with one out, runners and second and third, and Joe Mauer at the plate, induced an RBI groundout; finally, Michael Cuddyer was called out on a somewhat questionable checked swing strikeout, ending the threat and the game. That moves Mo into a tie for third on the all-time saves list with John Franco (really? I always liked John Franco, but third all-time?). After the game, Rivera said he was thrilled with the personal milestone and determined to reach second place, and that this was just as important to him as the Yankees’ record–… oh, just kidding:


"The most important thing is that we won the game," he said. " … It’s not about me."


* “What’s the pitcher’s name?” “What’s on second!” Sorry, had to get that out.

…by a thread…

The Yanks played well enough to lose on the 4th of July. When Johan Santana is the opposing pitcher, you know it is going to be a tough day, regardless. But the Yanks let the game get away from them late and fell to the Twins, 6-2. Still, the Bombers have a chance to win the series with a victory this afternoon and I’ve got a hunch that Kei Igawa will pitch well. Alex Rodriguez, who is 0-for-his-last-19, is not in the starting line-up.

Let’s Go Yan-Kees!

Card Corner–Sparky


Sparky Lyle—Topps Company—1979 (No. 365)

Even if he never throws a pitch again, Mariano Rivera will retain the legacy of being the greatest closer, or relief ace, in Yankee history. Rich "Goose" Gossage, likely to be enshrined in Cooperstown in 2008, would probably come in second on the lists of most fans and media members. Yet, somehow forgotten in the argument of great Yankee relievers is a pitcher who was a contemporary of Gossage in the 1970s and early 1980s. Albert "Sparky" Lyle (pictured here in his 1979 Topps card, his final as a Yankee) might not have been Mariano Rivera, but from 1972 to 1977, he was pretty much lock-down untouchable in the seventh, eighth, and ninth innings of many Yankee victories. He was also one of the most colorful characters to ever wear Yankee pinstripes.

As a youngster, Lyle earned the nickname "Sparky" from his father, who took note of his seemingly unending level of energy. His left arm had plenty of life, too, and drew interest from the Baltimore Orioles, who signed him to his first professional contract in 1964. When the Orioles left him unprotected, the Red Sox drafted him after the season and converted him to relief. It was the perfect place for the inexhaustible youngster, who could better channel his energies pitching frequently out of the bullpen rather than once every fourth day as a starter.

In 1965, Lyle did something he would come to regret. He faked an injury and spent 15 needless days on the disabled list. Fortunately, he also met Ted Williams that spring. The Red Sox’ legend encouraged Lyle to learn how to throw a slider, a pitch that had always given the "Splendid Splinter" some difficulty. The slider would become Lyle’s trademark on the mound.

Although Lyle enjoyed some success with the Red Sox, his career began to fully blossom with the famed 1972 trade that sent him to the archrival New York Yankees for first baseman Danny Cater and a player to be named later (the immortal Mario Guerrero). It was 35 years ago that the Yankees pulled off that heist; it remains one of the primary reasons the Yankees and Red Sox no longer do business on the trade front.

During his Yankee years, Lyle also emerged as one of the game’s leading pranksters. Lyle compiled an impressive list of practical jokes for his resume, including the following highlights:

*During one of the team’s charter flights, Lyle quietly approached Yankee broadcaster Phil Rizzuto, who was not only sleeping but was known for being particularly squeamish when it came to anything like lightning, snakes, or figures from the world of horror. When Rizzuto woke a few minutes later, he was greeted by the angry countenance of "The Wolfman." Donning the mask of the famed Universal Studios monster, Lyle had succeeded in giving the nervous Rizzuto one of his most frightening mid-air moments.

*In one of his most memorable stunts, Lyle once procured the waterbed that belonged to teammate and fellow left-hander Mike Kekich (also a notable flake: see wifeswapping). Lyle then hung it from the scoreboard at Milwaukee’s County Stadium, displaying it during a game for fans—and his Yankee teammates, including Kekich—to appreciate as it dangled in the wind.

*Lyle arranged to have a casket delivered to the team clubhouse at Yankee Stadium. As manager Bill Virdon prepared to address his players in a team meeting, the casket creaked open. Emerging from inside the casket was Lyle, who slowly sat upright and then delivered his best Bela Lugosi imitation while cryptically mouthing the words, "How do you pitch to Brooks Robinson?"

*Of all the Lyle pranks, his trademark stunt became his "treatment" of birthday cakes that arrived at Yankee Stadium. When a player celebrated a birthday during the season, the Yankees typically arranged to have a large birthday cake delivered to the clubhouse. As soon as Lyle got wind of the cake’s impending arrival, he prepared to take action. Waiting in the clubhouse until the cake was placed on a table, Lyle then pulled down his pants (including his underwear), jumped up in the air, and proceeded to sit on top of the cake! With another cake effectively buried, yet another Yankee teammate was frustrated in his effort to celebrate his birthday. (Former Yankee outfielder Ron Swoboda once exacted the ultimate revenge on Lyle, doing something unmentionable to one of his birthday cakes.)

In spite of his continued ruination of birthday cakes, Lyle remained a popular player in the Yankee clubhouse. While several personalities on the Yankees clashed with each other, Lyle remained outside of the fray. Later in his career, he joined the Texas Rangers, where he fit in well in a clubhouse that featured an array of offbeat characters, including Oscar "The Big O" Gamble, Jim "Emu" Kern, and the ultimate hot dog, Willie Montanez.

Equipped with his own humorous perspective, Lyle became a natural candidate to collaborate on a book about the Yankees’ tumultuous seasons of 1977 and ’78. Lyle’s The Bronx Zoo became one of the best-selling sports books of the decade. In 1990, Lyle moved into the realm of fiction, collaborating on a novel that featured the intriguing title, The Year I Owned the Yankees.

Given his bent toward practical jokes and the lighter side of sports, it might come as surprising that Lyle has become a successful manager in the minor leagues. As the skipper of the independent Somerset Patriots, Lyle has led the team to three Atlantic League titles—in 2001, 2003, and 2005. If he continues to follow that pattern, Lyle will add a fourth league title to his resume in 2007.

Bruce Markusen is the author of eight books, including the award-winning A Baseball Dynasty: Charlie Finley’s Swingin’ A’s, the recipient of the Seymour Medal from the Society for American Baseball Research. He has also written The Team That Changed Baseball: Roberto Clemente and the 1971 Pittsburgh Pirates, Tales From The Mets Dugout, and The Orlando Cepeda Story.

Bruce, his wife Sue, and their daughter Madeline reside in Cooperstown, NY, a stone’s throw from the Hall of Fame.

Silva Bullet

Who are these guys and what have they done with the 2007 New York Yankees?

The Yankees jumped out to an early 1-0 lead last night when Johnny Damon and Melky Cabrera singled and Damon scored on a groundout. Chein-Ming Wang made that hold up by limiting the Twins to a double through the first three innings. In the fourth he ran into some trouble, walking the first three men and giving up a single to Justin Morneau, but he escaped with the lead because the first walk was erased when Jorge Posada caught Jason Bartlett stealing, and Torii Hunter followed Morneau’s bases-loading single by grounding into a double play. Wang got another DP following a leadoff single in the fifth. By then his lead had swelled to 3-0 thanks to a two-run Robinson Cano home run in the previous frame. Wang pitched out of trouble again in the sixth and then the Yankees went to town dropping a five-spot on Carlos Silva and Juan Rincon in the bottom of the inning.

The onslaught started when Jorge Posada hit a single to center that bounced past Torii Hunter allowing Posada to head to third as the Yankee dugout erupted in laughter as the sight of their 35-year-old catcher running out a would-be triple. Posada actually had two triples last year, but had gone three years without one before that (and remains without one this year as the hit was scored a single and a two-base error). Posada scored on a wild pitch, but the bases didn’t remain empty for long as Hideki Matsui doubled and Bobby Abreu, in the midst of another three-hit night, singled him home. Andy Phillips then flew out to the warning track in left driving Silva from the game. Abreu greeted Rincon by stealing second. Rincon reacted by hitting Cano in the foot. Johnny Damon moved the runners over with a groundout, and Melky Cabrera drove them home with a single, moving to second on the throw home, which Cano avoided by sliding outside of home plate and sticking his left hand in between Joe Mauer’s leg and tag. Derek Jeter then singled home Melky to complete the scoring.

Wang, Scott Proctor, and rookie Edwar Ramirez each pitched a scoreless frame to wrap things up, Ramirez dazzling by striking out the heart of the Twins’ order on 14 pitches in his major league debut. Ramirez is exactly as advertised. His uniform hangs on his skinny frame, but he throws 90-mile-per-hour fastballs mixed with sliders then puts hitters away with a changeup in the high-70s that just falls off a table when it reaches the plate. Michael Cuddyer, Justin Morneau, and Lew Ford (hitting for Torii Hunter who was ejected in the eight for jawing at home plate umpire Ron Kulpa from the dugout) each went down swinging, missing Ramirez’s change by a good foot each.

Some other items of note: Alex Rodriguez went 0 for 4 and came out of the game after popping up to end the Yankees’ sixth-inning rally, but didn’t seem to be favoring his sore hamstring. He’s expected to DH tomorrow, and remains one of just two players to start every game this season (Ichiro Suzuki being the other).

Johnny Damon has a hit in six of his last seven games (including the suspended finale in Baltimore), but he’s only hitting .267/.333/.400 over that span and did not play in the only game the Yankees won against Oakland over the weekend. Melky Cabrera, meanwhile, is hitting .320/.378/.469 since taking over in center field on June 1. In 1994, a 25-year-old Bernie Williams hit .289/.384/.453 in his fourth major league season, which made that the best year of his career to that point. At age 22, Melky Cabrera may just have arrived as the Yankee center fielder of the future.

In these first two games against the Twins, Derek Jeter is 5 for 10 from the three-hole. Robinson Cano, who was 2 for 22 coming into the series, is 3 for 6 with a homer and a walk while batting ninth. Hideki Matsui has figured out that he’s trying to pull the ball too much. Matsui, who had a single and a double in his last 23 at-bats coming into last night’s game, had a single and a double in last night’s game alone. Finally, Bobby Abreu, who was 4 for 41 coming in to this series, got a pep talk from Roger Clemens prior to Monday night’s game (Clemens told him he was the hitter he had feared most when facing the Phillies the last few years, and that he needed to go back to being that guy) and has gone 6 for 7 with a walk and a monster home run in the first two games against the Twins.

It’s my belief that Abreu is the key to the Yankees’ season. The offense seems to go in which ever direction he goes. Indeed, during last night’s game, YES posted a stat showing that Abreu has hit roughly .350 in Yankee wins and roughly .150 in Yankee loses. As the Yankees saw down the stretch last year, when Bobby Abreu’s on his game, he’s a difference maker. Alex Rodriguez may be having a monster season, but with Jason Giambi out possibly for the season, and Damon making me wonder how Kevin Thompson or Shelley Duncan might do as the everyday DH, Abreu needs to be the Bobby Abreu Clemens remembers.

Here’s hoping facing Johan Santana this afternoon doesn’t undo all of that good stuff.

Chipping Away

The Yankees continue their quest to gain ground on the Twins tonight as Chien-Ming Wang faces off against Carlos Silva. Last year this would have been a mismatch, but Silva has rebounded from his disastrous 2006 season to be roughly league average. The most noticeable change in his game is that he’s posting his highest walk rate as a starter (remember, this is the guy who walked just nine men in 188 1/3 innings in 2005). It could be that, after a season of serving up meatballs (246 hits and 38 homers in 180 1/3 innings in 2006), Silva has figured out that there’s a limit to pitching to contact.

Chien Ming-Wang, who is just a year Silva’s junior, has been exploring similar things this year, using his slider to increasing his strike-out rate by more than a K per nine innings, though that’s been countered by a corresponding reduction in his ground ball rate. Curiously, with Silva walking more men and Wang striking out more men, the two have very similar peripherals (Silva has exactly one more walk, strikeout and home run allowed, albeit in 8 2/3 more innings). Wang’s still the better pitcher, of course, and holds a comfortable advantage in hit rate, ERA, and WHIP. In fact, Wang has failed to complete the sixth inning just once in his 12 starts this year and has allowed more than four runs just once, while Silva has done each four times. Since May 16, Wang has posted a 2.64 ERA in eight starts, going 6-1 with one no decision while allowing just two home runs in 58 innings.

Of course, the big story tonight will be how Alex Rodriguez feels the day after straining his hamstring in a collision with Justin Morneau at first base. If Alex Rodriguez misses a significant chunk of time due to the injury, the Yankees can chip away all they want, but all they’ll have to show for it is a pile of rubble. One thing’s for sure, Miguel Cairo will be starting at third base tonight.

By the way, for those who stay up late enough, I’ll be making an appearance on Steve Thompson’s show on WCCO radio in Minneapolis tonight at midnight to talk Yankees. You can listen live on their website.

Nice Win, Bad Break

Roger Clemens pitched a strong, efficient game against the Twins on Monday night, good enough for win #350 in his storied career, as the Yanks rolled 5-1. Clemens needed only 97 pitches to complete eight innings. He was helped out by an aggresive Twins offense; normally, Clemens uses up close to 100 pitches to get through five or six innings. But his splitter was working and the Twins were duly impressed.

It was a much-needed win the Yanks, but then again, aren’t all their wins much-needed these days? Bobby Abreu absolutely plastered a ball high into the upper deck in right field and had three hits all told.

However, it wasn’t a free-and-easy night as Alex Rodriguez came up lame with a strained hamstring after colliding with Justin Morneau at first base. He was able to walk off the field on his own. Still, the thought of Rodriguez missing a significant chunk of time is disheartening to say the least. He’ll be checked out by a doctor today. Hopefully, he’ll just miss a few games. Even if they have to shut him down until after the break, so be it, so long as he’s not gone for a month or more. Pete Abraham is cautiously optimistic at best.


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