"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Observations From Cooperstown–Ankiel, The Veterans Committee, and Robert Prosky

Following baseball for nearly 40 years has taught me at least one principle: no deal is ever done until both sides have announced it. The failed Mike Cameron trade reinforces that notion. Just a week ago, some media sources were proclaiming it a done deal. A week later, it has been declared dead, apparently over the Yankees’ unwillingness to pick up all of Kei Igawa’s exorbitant salary. So for now, Igawa and Melky Cabrera remain Yankee property—for good, bad, or indifferent.

I have to admit I was lukewarm on the rumored acquisition of Cameron. Yes, he would have been an immediate upgrade over Cabrera and company, and would have come with the bonus of allowing the Yankees to be rid of Igawa, who seems to have no clue about pitching in the major leagues. Yet, the 36-year-old Cameron would have represented only a short-term solution, probably two years at the maximum. He also would have affected the offense’s continuity, with his rather alarming windmill propensity at the plate. Cameron piles up strikeouts the way that Bobby Bonds once did, but without the levels of power and patience that Bonds once displayed during an all-star career.

With Cameron apparently off the board, I’d like to see Brian Cashman resurrect talks for one of three younger center fielders available in trades: the Dodgers’ Matt Kemp, the Cardinals’ Rick Ankiel, and Kansas City’s David DeJesus. Of the three, Ankiel might be the most realistic. He’s available, mostly because he’s a Scott Boras client who is one year removed from free agency. The Cardinals don’t think they can sign him by next fall, at which time Boras will likely send Ankiel spiraling full throttle into free agency.

Cashman talked to the Cardinals about the 29-year-old Ankiel during the recent winter meetings (which once again proved to be a disappointing flop and an unmitigated bore, but that’s another story). The Cards expressed interest in Ian Kennedy, whom they really like as a rotation option for 2009. If the Yankees could package Kennedy with Cabrera and perhaps a fringe minor league prospect (someone like Chase Wright or Steven Jackson), maybe a deal could get done.

If the Yankees could sign Ankiel past 2009, he would provide several long-term benefits. He has real power (he hit 25 home runs in 2008, a remarkable achievement considering that he has been an everyday player for only four seasons). He also has a Clementian throwing arm that could play well in either center field or right. The Yankees could use Ankiel in center while Austin Jackson develops at Triple-A and then shift him over to right once “Ajax” is ready for prime time delivery.

Because of his late start as an outfielder, Ankiel might not hit his prime until he’s in his early thirties. By then, he may have improved his patience at the plate and his fundamentals in the outfield. Even if he doesn’t, he looks a lot better than what the Yankees currently have in center field…


In the aftermath of the recent Veterans Committee voting, some Hall of Fame officials are privately embarrassed by the Hall of Famers’ fourth consecutive “shutout” in the balloting process dating back to the 2003 election. The Hall of Fame thought it had fixed the process by narrowing the number of names on the final ballot to ten, but officials didn’t anticipate that some Hall of Famers would become so stingy with their votes, some to the point of submitting blank ballots. Former Yankee Reggie Jackson has become the leading practitioner of this, going so far as to write “ZERO” on his ballot. Others have been deceptive in who they’re voting for, claiming that they’ll vote for candidate X, but then failing to check his name on their official ballot.

Now the Hall of Fame is left in a quandary: how to change the process again without resorting to the public embarrassment of actually taking the vote away from the Hall of Famers. The Hall doesn’t want to be seen as punishing the living Hall of Famers, a group of men that it tries to protect with the delicacy of English royalty.

One way or another, something will have to change, because continued shutouts by the Hall of Famers are making a mockery of the Veterans Committee’s original intent and purpose. Continued no-votes will draw yawns from the media, which tend to overlook “blank” elections, while the actual candidates for the Hall (like Ron Santo, Dick Allen, and Tony Oliva) will become angry over repeated rejections. Santo, for one, has already reached that stage. Simply put, it’s a bad situation that needs to be rectified…


Finally, veteran character actor Robert Prosky, who died last week at the age of 71, had several noteworthy connections to baseball. Though best remembered for portraying Sgt. Jablonski on the wonderful Hill Street Blues, Prosky forged his most memorable film role in the baseball classic, The Natural. Portraying a character known simply as “The Judge,” Prosky lent elements of darkness and evil to the man who owned Roy Hobbs’ mythical baseball team. Who can forget The Judge’s love of the dark, exemplified in his memorable line, “Turn off that infernal light!”

Just as significantly, Prosky was a huge baseball fan who so loved the game and its history that he used to visit the Hall of Fame here in Cooperstown. Like so many attached to the art of film-making, Prosky had a special affinity for baseball that transcended the vast differences between the cultures of Hollywood and Cooperstown.

And like so many underrated character actors, he will be missed.

Bruce Markusen writes “Cooperstown Confidential” for MLB.com and can be reached at bmarkusen@stny.rr.com.


1 ny2ca2dc   ~  Dec 19, 2008 3:50 pm

I'd also love to have Ankiel, but I doubt a Kennedy/Melky/C-prospect gets it done. I realize it's only one year of Ankiel, but the guys STL would be getting are pretty down in value...

2 Jehosephat   ~  Dec 19, 2008 3:54 pm

I like your way of thinking Bruce. As I lurk and read these threads day after day, the same drums get beaten, which is fine. What seems to get lost in the discussions, especially as we get farther away from the 90's is that the teams that did well in the postseason weren't chock full of big free agent signings. The difference seems to be that they were more complimentary signings that fit together very well. I wouldn't necessarily call it chemistry, but the Yanks of the latest dynasty were able to put it all together. They weren't big sluggers or hard throwing fireballers or blazing basestealers. As I write this it occurs to me that the guys on those teams were extremely well-rounded as players (at least to me, who listened to most of those games on WCBS and ESPN Radio.). I don't know if anyone can help me out with some statistics to back that up or refute it, but it seems the recent Yankees seem to be a disparate box of shiny parts that are pretty good individually, but can't be put together to make one good working machine.

3 Chyll Will   ~  Dec 19, 2008 9:45 pm

[2] I agree with you essentially, Jump, but I do wonder how easy piecing together a team the way it was done in the 90's can actually be ten years and a whole new business dynamic later. Would the Yanks be able to piece together a mix of vets and youth in the same manner as they did with the 90's given today's superstar economics? Also, how much accountability do we assign to agents and owners if we are going to complain about overpaying? I assume the GM is not solely responsible for making up and signing off on the dollar amounts (though they may recommend a figure...)

4 williamnyy23   ~  Dec 19, 2008 10:20 pm

[2] It's reasonable to harken back to the "good old days" of the 1990s dynasty, but doing assumes that dynasty are easy to build. After all, those Yankees teams had homegrown stars at C, SS and CF. Talk about being strong up the middle. It's alot easier to build a team with well rounded players when you have that framework.

Also, as [3] notes, the revenue in MLB hasn't just increased since 1996-2000...it has exploded. As a result, more teams have more money to pay super stars top dollars.

Finally, if you look at the recent Yankee lineups, many have been very well rounded. Aside from Arod, no one would really qualify as dominant. What set the dynasty teams apart is they had well rounded pitching staffs to complement the offense. Because of some big name free agent signings and player development, it looks like the 2009 Yankees have the chance to approach that once again.

5 Chyll Will   ~  Dec 20, 2008 1:20 am

Can anyone explain how the hell this happens if you're a Yankee fan? Don't respond to it because I think it's a Spam Scam, but just in case you crawled from under a rock for the first time, here's something you should beware of...


6 Chyll Will   ~  Dec 20, 2008 1:32 am

[5] Oh I get it, someone asked about the "awaitig moderation" thing. If you post a link, Alex and Co. have to check it for safety first. No problem. It's a Craigslist link in the free section for Free Yankee season tickets to "old" Yankee Stadium in 2009-10. You have to be either a complete moron, completely clueless about the Yankees or a tad greedy for a good deal to fall for something like that as the poster implies, but it's because it's so hard to believe that I think it's a phishing expedition. Craigslist was a good idea gone so bad it needs to be shut down and reorganized. Like the Knicks >;)

Oh, and R.I.P. "soul brotha" Dock Ellis - http://tinyurl.com/43qqr9

7 mikew   ~  Dec 20, 2008 11:22 am

Given that the Yankees have added 2 quality starting pitchers and my belief that they have an ample supply of young pitchers, some of whom will mature into Major League pitchers I would now be willing to offer a young pitcher in a trade. One center fielder who might be available is Vernon Wells. He has a huge salary increase in the near future and the Blue Jays are probably already thinking about moving him.

The Jays might be hesitant to upgrade a team within their division but being realistic there are not too many teams that can absorb Wells’ salary. I believe their choices are limited and Kennedy might look like a solution to a hole in their own roster. (Personally I believe Kennedy will be a major league starter but I also believe when the Yankees signed Sabathia and Burnett at least one or two young pitchers became available to be used for trades. And to get quality you also have to give quality back.)

By the time Wells’ salary increase occurs the Yankees will have at one and as many as 3 large salaries leaving the team. So a large salary for a quality centerfielder who is still in his prime might not be a problem for the Yankees. Without the salary dump this potential trade heavily favors the Yankees but absorbing the very high cost of Wells’ contract might make the trade viable.) The Yankees would probably have to offer Melky as well and maybe a lower level prospect but if such a deal could actually take place the Yankees would but time for Jackson who may be more than one year away from the majors. And an outfield of Damon in leftfield, Wells in centerfield and Nady in rightfield gives them a pretty decent defensive and offensive outfield.

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